This isn't really a second chapter, just another morbid character study. Maybe I'll turn this into a series of creepy one-shots. Yes? No? I don't know where these babies come from, but I'm full of 'em. I'm really interested in the psychology of our favorite NCIS team. I'm writing a whole 'nother fic about just that. (Yes, that was a bit of not-so-cleverly-disguised advertisement. Well spotted!) Anyway, enjoy, if you can. As I said, it's kinda morbid.

Disclaimer: yeah, right.

Part II

She has always liked solitude, always enjoyed a moment of quiet in a world that was anything but. Sometimes she thinks it was moments like these that have kept her sane all these years.

Sometimes she thinks it was moments like these that drove her insane.

But this is not solitude and, whatever this is, she does not like it.

The truth of the matter is she doesn't know what 'this' is, only that it echoes silence and smells of perfume.

The perfume is her own, of course, because, while this is not solitude, she is definitely by herself.


Tude, the state or condition of being.

Solus, only, single, alone.


The word strikes a chord within her and suddenly the stifling echoes of nothing are blasted to bits.


That's exactly how she feels, and the satisfaction of having found an accurate description is steam-rolled by another newcomer to this potluck party of emotions.

And, again, she is at a loss as to what she's brought to the table, so she does a taste test, if you will, gauging her emotions in cold detachment like her father taught her all those years ago.

There is definitely weariness, lying stale and graying in a casserole pan. She's sampled this particular dish enough to distinguish it easily by the dry taste it leaves on her tongue.

Then there is regret, which is served 24-7 in this emotional kitchen. It tastes bitter, like salt and heartbreak, and smells, oddly, of gunpowder.

Then there is another dish, fairly new, that she has labeled, after much deliberation, happiness.

Happiness is not something she tastes often, in its sharp contrast to the bitterness of her buffet. It makes her feel warm inside, and leaves a sweetness on her tongue, and she is not sure how she feels about it. For so long there was nothing, nothing but weariness and regret, and now there is something.

She doesn't know how she feels about this something.

There is also a substantial serving of resentment, that is sharp and cold and painful.

There is anger, there is always anger, in its hot spiciness. Anger is familiar. Anger is real. Anger rushes through her veins and leaves her cheeks hot and her eyes burning. When she is angry she feels alive.

There is also another new feeling, one she has done her utmost to shut down, that tastes like happiness, only sweeter, stronger, and smells like him. But she doesn't think about it, in a childish conviction that if she ignores it, it will go away.

Each day it gets harder to slam the casserole lid back on the dish, because each day the feeling is a little stronger.

Whatever it is, it is an acquired taste, and she's beginning to like it.

And then there is fear.

Fear is icy cold and tastes of salty tears and coppery blood. It leaves her feeling hollow and brittle. She's firmly covered this particular dish, but she thinks the lid must have a crack, because no matter how hard she tries, there is always fear.

Fear is always there, and it completely submerges everything else in its poignancy.

Fear is real and substantial, tangible and solid, overwhelming in its absolution.

Anger makes her feel alive, but fear makes her feel human.

And humanity is weak.

She is not weak. She is powerful.

She is invincible, but she is scared that she may not be, because fear is also doubt, and doubt leads to hesitation.

Hesitation leads to death.

Yes, there is fear, but there is always fear, and that is not what she feels now. Now she feels empty and isolated and utterly alone.

She feels alone, and she does not like it.

She doesn't like the empty feeling, the hollowness, the chill on her skin that reminds her that she has no one.

She doesn't need anyone. She was raised not to need anyone. She was raised to be self-sufficient, to rely on no one but herself, to trust nothing but her own judgment.

But she knows now that it wasn't her own judgment she was raised to trust.

It was not her own thoughts she acted upon. It was drilled into her, and the roots are imbedded into her very soul.

She thinks that uprooting these thoughts, these judgments she was raised to build her life upon, to sacrifice her life for, might counter the loneliness.

But she can't.

No matter how hard she tries, she cannot let it go, cannot let this little piece of them that she has formed herself around go.

She's scared to.

But she thinks that what she is scared of, more than loneliness, more than doubt, more than fear, is that when she uproots these foreign beliefs that are not her own, but have been forced upon her, there might be something.

She is scared of that something. It is unknown. It is as foreign, if not more so, as the roots, because that something is her.

She knows who she is.

She knows her strengths, she knows her weaknesses, she knows how to defeat these weaknesses. She knows how to act, how to react, how to fight fear, how to inspire fear.

But, despite all this, perhaps because of all this, she is a stranger to herself.

She's afraid, because when she is cold and detached, she can look at herself, and she doesn't know if she likes what she sees.

She knows she should. The person she sees is exactly how her father raised her to be. She is capable and smart, in both a scholarly and a street-wise way. She is strong and independent and beautiful and intimidating.

Despite all this, perhaps because of all this, she is not sure that she likes what she sees.

Because she does not see herself.

She sees her father.

It is her own face that looks back at her in the mirror, but it is her father's vision that she sees.

And that is what scares her.

What scares her is this new doubt, because doubt was drilled out of her in those sweltering days in the desert.

Doubt leads to hesitation. Hesitation leads to death.

She needs to be able to trust herself, and for years and years and years, that was all she had to trust.

She knows now that what she trusted was not herself, and so the seeds of doubt are sown.

It is herself she needs to trust, and until she can do so, she is nothing.

And she knows that she cannot trust herself until she knows who she is, and right now she doesn't.

The only way she will ever know who she is, will ever see herself, not her father, in the mirror, is by ridding herself of everything that has become her. She needs to lose everything in order to build it up again.

And that is why she is scared.

Because in losing everything, she will see herself.

She's afraid that when it is all stripped away, there will be something. She's afraid of what that something is.

But most of all she's afraid that when it is all stripped away, there will be nothing left.

Nothing at all.