"Agent Afloat Atlantis" by mhalachai
The next morning, Ziva sits in the cafeteria, drinking coffee as if it will wash away the nightmare memories of Ari's blood on the basement floor. She reads McGee's email (like Abby's but with more details and less obvious glee) and Ducky's essay on childhood vaccinations and growing up with polio scares. There is no word from Gibbs, but she didn't expect any.
Tony has not sent her anything.
It's twenty-five hundred hours that evening when Ziva hides in Sheppard's office and pulls Tony's postcard once again from its carrying place in her computer case. The words have not changed, nor has her inability to make sense of the conflicting emotions in her head. After a few minutes, Ziva tucks the postcard away and buries her face in her hands. She's not sure if she'll ever be able to dig it all out and make sense of the tangle.
As she sits there, the door blasts open and Sheppard and Lorne tumble over each other. "We've got a problem," Sheppard pants. The men have been running but Ziva doesn't want to think about what can have them moving so fast so late. "The SGC computers just got a hit on Captain Wayne back on Earth."
She does not know what they are going to say, but it does not matter. Ziva knows that something bad has happened, something she did not stop, and her heart turns over with a sickening thump.
"There was a hit on his record by NCIS in Washington," Lorne puts in, his hand gripping the doorframe so tight his knuckles are white. "Request for information in a homicide."
Ziva is already on her feet, pulling things into her knapsack. She knows the exact commands on the NCIS computers to send such a request for information, which is only sent when the NCIS agent is certain of a murder victim's identity.
Captain Jefferson Wayne, United States Marine Corps, an original member of the Atlantis expedition, another of her men, is dead.
Ziva spins and grabs at her computer, jabbing hard at the screen until she comes to the file that confirms what she already knows, sending her heart into her throat with panic and sudden breathless comprehension.
"Until three weeks ago, Captain Wayne was on Reconnaissance Team Delta with Bianco and Carvahlo and Weisz," she says, staring at the record of the most recent team shuffles as if it might suddenly vanish. "And now he is dead."
"Just like the others on his team," Lorne says in a quiet anger. "This can't be a coincidence."
"What was he doing in Washington?" Sheppard asks Lorne.
"He's on a month's liberty," Lorne says. "His mother's getting married, and Jeff's been on Atlantis with hardly any leave since the beginning so we cleared him for an extended leave."
Ziva tries to breathe normally but it will not help. It is late and she feels sick to her stomach with everything that has happened, and this is only the start. "Do we know how Captain Wayne died?"
"No," Lorne says. "When NCIS hit the firewalls on Jeff's files, they pulled back and shut us out. The SGC is trying to track down someone in DC to get to NCIS headquarters and deal with this but--"
"There is no time," Ziva snaps. Her fingers are already flying over her computer to dump all of the information from the servers onto her tablet. "I know NCIS, I know Washington, and I know this case. I have to go back to Earth."
"What if this is a coincidence?" Sheppard asks, eyeing her closely.
Ziva does not bother to dignify that with a response. "How can I get from the SGC to Washington?" she asks Lorne.
"The Odyssey is in orbit and they know you're on your way," he replies. "They'll transport you to the crime scene in DC."
"All right," Ziva says. She has her computer and her full off-world kit, but after a moment's rational thought, Ziva makes herself unstrap the sidearm holster from her leg. She cannot go walking around Washington so obviously armed. She instead slips the sidearm into her bag and is out the door. With Lorne and Sheppard by her side on the walk to the Gateroom, there is no real conversation, but that is to be expected after so much violent death. In the Gateroom, Lorne veers up to the control room and Woolsey, while Sheppard stays with Ziva.
"You sure about this?" Sheppard asks, voice nearly drowned out by the boom-crash of the wormhole stabilizing.
"I must be."
"Because Tracy never went off-world with Delta team when Wayne was with them."
Ziva slips her arm through the strap on her bag, eyes never leaving the Stargate. "Tracy died in a way different from the other three," she reminds Sheppard.
"Yeah." Sheppard rakes his hand through his hair, which has been looking rather subdued as of late. "You need anything, the SGC will give it to you."
"I know." Ziva looks up at the announcement of IDC acceptance from Earth. "I..." She leaves off trying to reassure Sheppard. She has nothing left to give the man.
From above them, Woolsey calls down, "Officer David, good luck." She nods at him, not really sure she can speak at this point.
Sheppard's hands on her arm spin her around before she takes that first step towards Earth. "Hold on." He rips the Atlantis insignia and the Israeli flag from her shoulders, giving her a wan smile. "That's better."
So when Ziva leaves Atlantis on the hunt for Captain Wayne's killer, she does it annoyed at her CO. It's something.
The ramp at the SGC does not feel like Earth. It must be the lack of sleep, but this is like any other off-world mission in the Pegasus galaxy. The lack of a handy weapon sets Ziva on edge.
"Officer David," says a military man at the base of the ramp. He is vaguely familiar; Ziva recalls having passed him in the halls on her last trip to Earth. "Colonel Mitchell, SG-1."
"Do you have any more information on Captain Wayne's death?" Ziva demands. It is only after the man hesitates that she realizes that she is being rude, but she has no energy to make it better.
"Not yet, ma'am." The man smiles, no hard feelings. "The Odyssey is going to beam you to the crime scene and hopefully you'll be able to get an idea of what's going on."
"Odyssey transport in ten seconds," someone calls from the SGC's glassed-in control room.
"Do you know anything at all?" Ziva presses.
The man shrugs. "Not much at this point. The NCIS agent in charge of the investigation is a Jethro--" The bright lights of the transport cut off the rest of the name, but Ziva does not need more.
"Gibbs," she mutters to herself.
The Odyssey transport technician looks at her in mild surprise. "Ma'am, we're going to transport you to a sheltered space one hundred yards from the reported crime scene. If you'll switch your comm to channel seven, we will have you at all times."
Obediently, Ziva pries free her earpiece and connects to the Odyssey's communications network. "This will not put me within the crime scene, yes?"
"No. I mean, yes."
The man looks more flustered than should be allowed. "You'll be across the street from the crime scene, ma'am. Ready?"
"No, but you may go ahead anyway."
The white lights fade to the chill overhead sun of a Washington morning. Ziva quickly scans the area. She's in a deserted alley, with the traffic sounding from nearby. Most ominous is the overtone of sirens.
Five men down, Ziva reminds herself, and steps forward.
The area is surrounded by gawkers held back by police tape and harassed uniformed officers. Ziva walks with purpose across the street, remembering a million times when she was supposed to be on the other side of this tape. The scene is so familiar that Ziva's heart skips for a moment. She knows those officers, the ways they move, and she imagines that she knows what they are saying.
The yellow tape stops her progress, making her uncertain as to what her next move should be. She must be on the other side of the tape, finding out what happened to Captain Wayne, but she does not know how to take that first step.
In the end, the decision is not hers to make. Tony spots her first. He's talking to McGee while taking pictures of the scene and of the bystanders. When the lens sweeps past Ziva, Tony's movements slow, and he lowers the camera.
"Tony? Hey, earth to DiNozzo!" McGee calls, holding up an evidence bag. Tony does not move, only stares across the lot at Ziva.
She wonders what he sees. In the past seven weeks, she has put on muscle and lost some body fat that she could ill afford to spare. Her hair is tied back in a harsh braid, and the weeks of investigation and little sleep have left her pale with dark smudges under her eyes. And here she is, once again on NCIS's doorstep, this time in worn combat boots and her grey and red expedition jacket. Just another off-world mission, Ziva tells herself sternly, and raises her hand in greeting to Tony.
"Boss," Tony calls over his shoulder. Gibbs is on his feet in an instant, picking Ziva out of the crowd. Ignoring Special Agent Michelle Lee calling out to him, Gibbs heads across the lot to where Ziva stands.
"Special Agent Gibbs," Ziva says in greeting, not sure what to make of the man's expression. "You are investigating the death of Marine Captain Jefferson Wayne?"
Gibbs stares at her for a long moment. "What are you doing here, Ziva?" he asks, lifting the police tape for her to duck under.
"Investigating the murder of one of my men." There are too many things in that sentence for Gibbs to question, but Ziva hopes that she can distract him long enough to get some details for herself. "Captain Wayne is-- was, attached to my new posting."
Gibbs' glare burns into her, but Ziva just stares back. She has faced down Wraith and monsters in the Pegasus galaxy, and Gibbs has never been able to cow her for long.
"Where is the body?" Ziva presses. Tony appears to hover at Gibbs' shoulder, but she cannot afford to look at him, not yet.
"Ducky and Palmer took the body back to the morgue," Gibbs finally says. "McGee and Lee are just finishing up the scene sketches."
Ziva looks at Lee, tiny in her NCIS jacket, and then at McGee, watching the confrontation with wide eyes.
"You want to tell me why I should tell you anything about my crime scene?" Gibbs asks.
Ziva knows how this can go. She's working for an international agency with a joint team of Air Force men and Marines, and she has not spoken with Gibbs since that phone call from the airport in May. She has nothing to offer him. She cannot even share with him the truth.
Her earpiece crackles as more comms are added to channel seven. "David?"
Ziva frowns, taking one step back from Gibbs as she touches her earpiece. "Sheppard?"
Gibbs flinches minutely to the name. Yet another oversight on Ziva's part, but there is nothing she can do to fix it now. "Yeah, it's me," Sheppard is saying on the channel. "Me and McKay are all here on the Odyssey. We've also got Lorne's team and Dr. Keller."
"In case you need backup."
"Woolsey sent us in case this needs containment," Sheppard cuts her off. "Stay on channel, okay?"
"I will." Ziva glances at the blood spatters on the dirt by the white outline tape. Wayne's blood. "What are the ramifications of sharing details of my investigation with NCIS?"
"Nice say-nothing phrasing," Sheppard says.
"Lorne here, Ziva," the Major's voice enters the conversation. "We're looking for expediency. Can you use your discretion on this?"
"Yes," Ziva answers immediately.
"Then it's your call," Lorne says. "Just try and avoid giving away the entire program."
"Understood." Ziva leaves the channel open as she steps back up to Gibbs and Tony.
"Captain Wayne was a member of a highly classified joint international military and scientific expedition and I believe that his death may be related to the project," Ziva says in a hurry. There. No state secrets given away.
Gibbs blinks at her. Then he scares her to death by saying, "How many others have you lost?"
Ziva takes a moment to catch her breath. "Four. How..."
"I read your email this morning," Gibbs says, which is surprising enough. "How long ago?"
"They died twelve days ago. When they left on mission, Wayne had already been released for liberty. He was supposed to have returned within a month."
"That's a long time to be on liberty," Tony says, unable to take his eyes off Ziva and she does not have time for this.
"He has been deployed for over four years," Ziva answers. "His mother was to be married and he wished to stand up for her at the ceremony." Little details are coming back to Ziva now, of conversations in the mess hall, Weisz teasing Wayne about having to wear a 'monkey suit' and Bianco demanding details on the religious aspects of the Protestant ceremony. Just a random conversation between men who are all now dead. Ziva hauls her mind back from the rush of memory and the futility of death. "When was his body discovered?"
Tony waits for Gibbs' nod before responding. "A janitor on his way home from the graveyard shift called it in from a payphone on the corner," Tony says. "Ducky's preliminary puts the time of death at around five in the morning."
Ziva blinks and draws breath to speak before she realizes something about what Tony just said is off. "He could discover the time of death? Wayne's liver was still there?"
Tony's eyes widen at her question, but Gibbs skips ahead in the conversation. "The livers were gone in your other men?"
Ziva's earpiece crackles. "That's an affirmative," Keller says into Ziva's ear. "Every trace of the liver was gone in the three back on Atlantis."
"The livers were gone in three of the men," Ziva repeats. "Did Ducky say if there was anything different about the bodies? Any entry wounds?"
Tony opens his mouth to speak, but he never gets the chance. Gibbs has grabbed Ziva's arm and hauls her back to the edge of the crime scene. "This isn't the way it's going to work," he says, shoving her back under the police tape. She stumbles before she comes to a halt, her face burning at the indignation of being caught off-guard. "You don't get to hold back information and expect us to give you what we've got."
"I have not--" She cannot even finish the sentence
"Who are you talking to?" Gibbs demands. He points at her earpiece. "You're either in, or you're out."
Ziva pulls herself up to her full height to glare at Gibbs. "The full details are classified--"
"So's my investigation," Gibbs interrupts. "I'll send one of my agents over to take your statement in a minute." The man spins on his heel and stalks across the lot. Tony remains where Ziva and Gibbs left him, staring at the scene with a horrified fascination.
Ziva swears in Hebrew. It takes a cough in her ear pulls her back to herself. "You did the right thing," Sheppard tells her.
"I have been removed from the crime scene," Ziva says. She makes sure there is no one looking over her shoulder, then pulls her tablet from her backpack and opens the autopsy files on Weisz. The details on his body's condition are grotesque, but she has had days to internalize the information and it no longer hurts her.
"Don't worry about it," Sheppard says. "The SGC finally tracked down Brigadier General O'Neill and he's on his way in to do some damage control. Lorne's talking to him on his cell."
"Why was he not called in sooner?" Ziva demands, thinking how much easier this would all be if an actual general was there instead of her.
"Apparently cell reception's a little hard to get wherever he and Sam were fishing. He'll be back in town in a bit with the Colonel." McKay's indistinct voice near Sheppard's mouthpiece distracts them both for a moment. "If you were a General, wouldn't you leave Washington at every opportunity?"
"I believe Dr. McKay was speaking about the presence of Colonel Samantha Carter on General O'Neill's fishing trip," Ziva tells Sheppard. It is easier to fall back on the details and gossip of life on Atlantis than to think about how Captain Wayne's body will look cut apart on Ducky's table in Autopsy. "I did not know they fished."
"You know what they say."
Ziva lets out a sharp breath. "If this is another of your American sayings--"
"No, just that you can always tell the branch by their leisure activities. In the Air Force, there's fishing. Also, for example, I golf--" Sheppard's voice stops suddenly when Lorne comes on air.
"Ziva, the General's going to get you back onto the scene. You can expect full cooperation from NCIS."
Ziva looks up from her computer to see Gibbs pulling his cell out of his pocket. The brief conversation is enough to thoroughly irritate the man. "Who is on the other end of the line?" Ziva asks in awe. She knows from experience that it takes a great deal of intervention to annoy Gibbs so obviously on a crime scene.
"SecNav," Lorne says, sounding satisfied. "Now, get back to work."
Ziva mentally shuffles several retorts, but Gibbs is motioning to Ziva to get back over there, so she stows them all and ducks back under the tape. She walks the field, watching her step and taking great care not to smile.
Halfway there, she spies something in the dirt that freezes her in her steps and has her scrambling for her tablet. She opens the death scene photos from the planet and skips down to a handful of some strange markings in the mud of an alien world where her men died.
The markings are identical.
Ziva sinks into a crouch to avoid disturbing the markings. Everything about the marks are the same, and if she hadn't spent days staring at the photos, she would have walked right past them.
"What do you got?" Gibbs asks from somewhere to her left. She never looks up, just points at the dusty ground. Gibbs drops a yellow evidence marker beside the mark and someone snaps a few photos. "What is it?"
Secret technology be damned. Ziva expands the photo to full-screen and holds up her tablet for all to see. "This handprint was found near the scene where we found the four bodies," she says. McGee takes the tablet from her hands to examine closer. "At the time we were not sure which of the men it belonged to, but do you see where the small finger, the... piggy? Here it digs the deepest into the ground, but it is never the strongest finger."
"I think she means pinky, Boss," McGee says, comparing the photograph to the handprint in the dirt.
"She's right, sir," says Lee. "In cases of even the most frenzied of clawing, the pinky finger usually leaves the lightest mark, but if this is a hand mark, there would have to be something happening with his strength."
Ziva raises her eyes to the woman. Tony's staring at Lee with a grossed-out expression on his face. "She's developed an inexplicable fascination with forensic pathology," Tony explains.
"In any event, she is correct," Ziva says. She grabs her computer back from McGee before the man can open any classified files.
"And it's a solid connection between Ziva's crime scenes and ours," Gibbs interjects. He watches Ziva with curious eyes. An angry Gibbs is one thing to contend with, but Gibbs in an investigative mood is even more dangerous. "Why is SecNav so interested in this Marine?"
"That was the Secretary of the Navy on the phone?" Tony asks.
Ziva hunches her shoulders in as a gust of cold wind rushes across the lot.
"Dinners at the White House, SecNav on speed dial," Tony says with an insincere smile. "You're certainly moving in high circles."
Ziva zips her jacket up to her throat, fingering the mended seam from where a Wraith's knife had come close to slitting her throat one cold September day. "I would be more surprised if your SecNav was uninterested in a Marine's death on home soil," she says distantly, and turns away. She will not look at Tony.
Gibbs claps his hands together. "We finish processing the scene and get back to NCIS to find out what Ducky finds in the autopsy." He looks at Ziva. "You need a lift?"
She begins to tell him no, that she will call a taxi, but stops when she realizes that she has no Earth money and no way of gaining any. It's the first time she has been so unprepared for a mission in many years. "Yes, I need a ride," Ziva says when she regains her head.
"Okay," is all Gibbs says. He turns and barks at Lee to stop her gawking, and Ziva is left alone in the middle of the field with her computer.
"Keller's working on what might have caused those hand marks," Lorne says over Ziva's earpiece. "We'll figure this out, Ziva."
"What if this is not something that can be explained by... normal means?" Ziva asks. She's aware it looks as if she is speaking to herself. She is also too tired to care if she appears crazy. Sometimes, she feels as if she is already there.
"Then the SGC rides in and cleans everything up," Lorne tells her.
"And if this happens again?"
"We'll stop it."
"Ziva." Lorne waits until Ziva quiets. "We'll stop it because we have to. It's that simple."
"You have never struck me as an optimist," Ziva says.
"And you're too pessimistic."
At this, Ziva lets out a sigh. "I do not know if you know this, Major, but pessimism is not an unknown trait in we Israelis. We call it pragmatism."
"Ziva!" Gibbs shouts across the lot. "If you're done talking to your imaginary friends, get over here and give us a hand!"