A/N: Spoilers through the current season.
This was already about 60% complete when Shabbat Shalom aired, but the events of that episode made it particularly relevant, so I went ahead and wove those events into the story. Major thanks to the writers of NCIS for finally providing the one death that was necessary for me to conclude this WIP, since it had been sitting on my hard-drive for the better part of a year.
And as an irrelevant side-note: today is my 21st birthday. Huzzah.
It was supposed to be Ari.
Of the five Davids, she thinks, out of everyone who could have survived the chaos and the grief that bound them, she never would have picked herself; it was always supposed to be Ari.
That was a pact beyond words. It was something she had tried not to dwell upon, but the training and the skill and the deadening calm of her brother had made him the strongest candidate to carry on that legacy. Her father had known this from the start. He had trained them both as warriors; but for all her strength and cunning, for all of her devotion, in something that she suspected might either be ironic or downright tragic, it was her capacity for love, her ability to touch and to feel, which assured that she would not outlive her brother.
Because Ari had never cared. Because Ari could kill without feeling it. Because Ari didn't love strong and relentless, or bind himself by heart and blood to those around him – because he had no one to die for.
She edges from one end of the morgue into the other. Cold fluorescent lights glinting on the steel and the tile and the glass, the sterile room, she paces.
And through everything, in the silence, she outlives them all; and she wonders at the pure absurdity of that.
She had once believed that losing Talia had been the hardest thing she'd ever have to live through.
She's not sure how long it's going to take her to reach the far side of the morgue. But it helps that she's alone with herself.
And as she moves, she remembers Talia. All those nights and memories of waking from her nightmares, images burning hot like flashbulbs against the empty night; of mothers weeping, embers smoldering on plastic bags and school books scattered in the street. Of her sister. Of the body that wasn't a body anymore (it was pieces – flesh and cloth and fire). She remembers the agonized thought that her sister had come into the world as a living, breathing, whole human being and had left it in pieces. Her sister splattered all over the marketplace; her sister's memories pooling out of her skull, eyes dark and hurt and vacant. Grey matter and dust on the pavement. The images born out of grief and rage, spoiling her, twisting up in agony inside of her until the pain of it had brought her to choking, noiseless tears, doubled over in the night and grieving; and learning – without realization of the things to come, and how this was only the beginning – how to fall from grief to vengeance without grace.
And she remembers that early hatred which came to her in those darkest hours of the morning, alone and far from home, thinking that nothing in her life would ever be as hard as losing Tali. Not just because the grief had overwhelmed her, but because she hadn't really intended to live for very long after that.
And, dam al yadiha, she had all but begged the world to claim her.
She's surprised to find that the fire of her former self, the anger and the malice, has been smoldering far beneath the surface all along.
It's a damn dark legacy her father hands to her. She hates that he's always known that it would be this way; she hates that he fostered it and dared not break its course when first he had that chance.
She hates the ones that died and she hates herself for hating them.
She weeps, and grieves, and then falls silent, and there is a brief and buoyed moment where she feels herself struggling to tamp the anger down, to spurn that part of herself that she thought had died out in the Horn of Africa. But the struggle is brief, and it passes, and her former self is rising to the surface, the spiteful and scorned, the sharp end of the spear; and all she has is vengeance in her heart.
She thinks that her first mistake might have been choosing to feel and to touch; she thinks her father's mistake might have been expecting that she would never learn to do both.
But she touches the cold steel door of the morgue drawer, feels the warmth of a gun in her hand. The life she'd just begun to paint around her fades away; she knows this feeling, and part of her wishes she didn't, but it's a graceless dive from grief to rage, and it's the memory that pulls her down again.
She wants to tell him everything.
The good and the bad, the hurt that he's caused, the things she lost and the things that were taken from her. She wants to open up her mouth to speak; she wants words and other sloppy miracles. She wants to wound him the way he wounded her, to lash out, to be honest and heartbreaking. But he's dead and nothing changes. Closure falls away behind the cold, steel door. And suddenly it's not just the hurtful things she wants to say to him, it's everything. It's how her day was going, the things she's done at work, the new coat of paint on her kitchen wall and the things she had for breakfast, the way they used to talk when she was little and all the world was new to her. Like a father and a daughter, the way they should have been.
But her father now is dead, and she just wants to tell him everything.
Yetomah, she thinks. It's a wonder that her father lived this long, and it's a wonder that she never stopped to notice; that she wasted so much time, and now it's gone.
She glances sideways at him as he enters. She doesn't like the way he's looking at her, like there's something terrible and frightening written on her face, and she suspects the reason she's sure the look is justified. He knows her too well by now.
She needs to fill the space of the morgue with something other than loaded looks and emotion and so she speaks, her voice tight and almost warped.
"Vance?" she asks.
She expects a gesture, but his entire body has gone still.
"Jackie's dead," he says.
She feels the flicker of an emotion that resembles pity. She has no grief for Jackie Vance or for her widower; the closest thing that she can manage is that one feeble flicker of pity. And before she's had much time to dwell on it, or even to acknowledge its existence, the feeling tucks itself away inside her mind and she forgets, because the anger and the vengeance leave very little room for anything else; and because she doesn't want to think too much about anything just yet.
"Why?" she rasps, and feels her brow furrowing because she doesn't even understand what she's asking when the word leaves her lips.
But Tony swallows hard. It's a wonder that he canunderstand her when she doesn't even understand herself.
"We don't know anything yet."
That's such an understatement that she almost wants to laugh.
His gaze clips down to her hip and she feels strangely and suddenly self-conscious. She moves her hand to her belt and she knows exactly what he's looking at.
"They didn't take your gun," he observes, moving his gaze back to her face.
"No," she says, eyes darkening. "Are you going to take it, Tony?"
The corner of his lip twitches upward for an instant, his eyes never leaving hers.
"Do I need to?"
She hesitates; he notices.
"No," she says, and despite that moment of pause he doesn't question her any further. He moves instead to stand closer to her, finally looking away and dragging his gaze across the wall of metal drawers. "Gibbs and McGee are still at the hospital," he says, almost idly, as he moves.
She flexes her hands. Makes a point of looking at the drawers.
"Ducky?" she asks.
She feels him looking at her.
"At the hospital," he says. "Abby's there, too. For Vance."
"Are they afraid of me?" she asks suddenly.
She turns to find him looking baffled and a little apprehensive.
She looks away and shakes her head; she hadn't meant to voice that thought and doesn't want to dwell on it, but there's some hurt in the knowledge that she's suffering and her friends are elsewhere.
There's another long, quiet moment as he looks at her and she's suddenly angry with him for not being flippant or funny or Tony. She flexes her hands again and a phantom pain shoots up her wrist. She lets her fingers glide over the grip of the gun at her hip and doesn't care that Tony is watching as she does it.
Finally, she turns to look at him.
She knows that she looks flighty and grief-stricken, but she hopes he can see that there's something harsh smoldering inside of her, hopes that he recognizes the old Ziva stirring, and suspects that he will, because, of course, he's Tony.
"I need your help," she says.
He nods. His eyes are glinting in the cool, fluorescent light, and with a jolt she realizes that there's something stirring up inside of him, too, and maybe it's as old and angry as she is.
"Anything," he says.
And it's strange that she survives them all; it's strange, the legacy her father left to her. And part of her prays that this fire will pass, that the anger and the need for blood will burn itself out; that her world will finish cleansing itself with this one last violent lurch.
But she's the last of her kind. She's the last man standing. Her mother and her father and her siblings are violently, irrevocably gone;
and she's not quite sure what to do with this legacy they've left to her.
A/N: The Hebrew for those who are interested (I don't even need a translator anymore! High five! But please correct me if I'm wrong):
"dam al yadiha/דם על ידיה "= "blood on her hands"
Anyway, I learned the other day that reviews, like human hair, can be used to sop up marine pollutants. It really works! So I've started a collection to use in Puget Sound. Send some my way and I'll make sure it goes to good use!
The reviews, I mean.
Not the hair.
You can keep the hair.