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ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
SEQUEL: To Down the Path.

Further Down
By Jaina


"We met for the first time when I was thirteen."

Ziva hesitates, not sure what made her say those words. The moment she says them, she wants to take them back. She can't do this. She can't risk losing Abby.

Abby notices her silence and her stillness. She wiggles around on the couch, being careful not to fall off, until she can face Ziva. She strokes her fingers down Ziva's cheek.

"You met who, honey?"

Ziva lowers her eyes, until her hair falls forward and covers her face. She reaches out blindly for Abby's hand, and clutches it to hers with painful tightness. She holds their joined hands tightly to her chest.

"I met my brother."

"Oh. You didn't grow up together?"

Ziva shakes her head slowly. "We led very different lives." She almost chokes at the understatement.

She's walking home from school. She was dismissed early again for fighting. She hears rapid footsteps running up beside her. She waits until they're almost on top of her and then sidesteps deftly. She doesn't look over, but hears a stutter step.

She sees a tall shadow keeping pace with her. She doesn't start to walk any faster than she's already walking. No one is allowed to intimidate her, except perhaps, for her father.

Finally Ziva's curiosity gets the better of her. She glances over at the person walking beside her. She's startled to find that he's an older boy. Not her age, but just barely an adult. She studies him carefully, looking him up and down.

Some of the girls at her school would think that he was handsome, worthy of drooling over and whispering about wistfully to their friends. She is not one of those girls. What she notices is the way that he carries himself. He knows how to move and he does so with strength and economy of motion. No gesture is wasted and everything is carefully calculated. He looks friendly enough, but when he looks down at her, it's the look in his eyes that finally sends a shiver through her.

They are totally at odds with his casually smiling persona, cold, dead and haunted.

She looks down. He follows her until she's a block from her home and then he turns left as she goes right and disappears into a crowd of people. But the next day he meets her as she leaves school once again.

She eyes him warily. She trusts no one. No one, except Tali. "What do you want?" The thought crosses her mind that he wants her to be his girlfriend. She doesn't look thirteen and the boys at school have already begun noticing that fact. She considers it for a moment. He's older and could provide access to things she can't get or do at her age. The other girls at school would be jealous. All good reasons, but still she doesn't think so. Something about him unsettles her.

"I want to get to know you."

Only her continued wariness keeps her from saying that she doubts he's truly interested in anyone but himself.

"I am not whoever you think I am."

"You are the daughter of Deputy Director David, yes?"

She glares at him and keeps walking, even as she wonders how he knows this. She and her sisters do not advertise what their father does.

He tugs a lock of her hair to catch her attention. She catches his wrists and twists it around painfully, and stomps down hard on his foot pinning him in place.

"Don't touch me."

He lets go and when she finally lets go of him, he slips away as he had the day before. She doesn't wonder if she'll see him again.

But when she gets home she sees him sitting on the couch in the living room next to her father. When she enters the room, her father's face lights up.

"Ziva," he booms, "He was just telling me that he'd met you on the street."

Her father lifts up the boy's wrist and holds it to the light. She can see the bruises her fingers left already standing out on his skin. He lets go of the boy and gestures her over to him. He wraps an arm around her thin shoulders and squeezes excitedly.

"He tells me that you reacted commendably. I'm proud of you, my girl."

He smiles down at her, but it's not him that she's paying attention to. Behind her father, she can see the boy's eyes burning in fury as he watches them together. He isn't even able to maintain the pleasant smile that is his face's constant look, even when she had managed to hurt him. That's when she really, truly knows that he's dangerous.

Her father doesn't notice the look as he turns back to the boy, who quickly masters his expression.

"What did I tell you," he asks. "You will not get the better of Ziva. I think you will get along quite well, the two of you."

Ziva doubts it, even as she realizes that this was just another test that her father has set her. She sees the way the boy looks at her. They will do many things, compete against each other in everything, work towards a common goal even, but they will never just "get along".

"Ziva, this is your brother, Ari."

Abby's fingers squeeze her own so hard that Ziva thinks they might break. "He was just a boy. A man that my father introduced me to - wanted me to work with."

Abby is even paler than usual. Her usually expressive features are completely blank. It's almost frightening.

Ziva knows that she's said too much and too little, but she's not really sure what to say to Abby. Ari cost Abby so much. There is no way for her relation to him not to be a betrayal.

They lie there in silence until first one and then the other drifts off into sleep. Slender shafts of light slipping in through the blinds wake them in the morning.

At Ziva's solemn face, Abby asks, "It wasn't a bad dream was it?"

"No," Ziva admits softly. She lets out a breath slowly. "Do you want me to go?"

"Yes. No. No," Abby repeats as if reassuring herself that's what she truly wants.

"I don't...I knew you'd worked with him. I knew that. But somehow this - knowing that you really knew him, that you really worked with - it makes it more real. You worked with the man who killed Kate. You helped him."

Tears fell down her face, and one hand knotted into Ziva's hair painfully. Ziva didn't try to stop her. "I'm sorry, Abigail. I'm so sorry that he hurt you so badly." She reached up with a shaky hand, and held it just over Abby's cheek. She finally lowered it slowly, until she gently brushed tears from Abby's cheek and stroked her hair back.

"I killed him for what he did." She lets the words hang between them.

"You trusted Gibbs," Abby whispers so softly that Ziva can hardly hear her. "Gibbs trusted you."

Ziva feels a tear of her own burning in her eye. "He did."

"Then that's good enough for me."

It's only then that the tears streak down Ziva's face.

The End

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