The ride to NCIS is painful. McGee tries to offer his front seat to Ziva, but she will not sit next to Tony for any amount of comfort. Gibbs tires of it all quickly and throws the keys at Tony's head, pulling Ziva into the rear of the truck for the ride.
Separated from the front seat by a thin layer of plastic, Ziva and Gibbs stare at each other for a few long minutes. Gibbs breaks first. "You don't look so good."
Ziva rests her head against the smoothest spot she can find. The tension of the past twelve days will not leave her shoulders. She has spent the last several months riding in Puddlejumpers and spaceships, in horse-carts and motorized barrows, and she has forgotten the roughness of the shocks on the NCIS truck. "I have been awake for over twenty hours and I have not been sleeping well," she says, voice almost impossible to hear over the noise of the car. And then, because she has apparently lost all sense of caution when it comes to Jethro Gibbs, she adds, "The autumn lightening storms reached the city last night and they are making me dream of Ari."
Gibbs stares silently at her for a long time. "What's really going on with you?" he finally asks.
Ziva brushes the palm of her hand across her forehead. Exhaustion is pulling at her but she cannot afford to rest. Not yet. Maybe not ever. Without looking at Gibbs, she said, "Sheppard?"
"Still here," the man answers over Ziva’s comm.
"I will be going off-channel for a few minutes."
The man lets out a small breath. "If that's what you want. Keep your eyes open, we'll be here."
"Understood." Ziva taps on her earpiece and the electronic hum goes dead. She's finally alone in the back of the truck with Gibbs, who hasn't moved a muscle since they got in the back of the truck. "That is Lt. Colonel Sheppard," Ziva explains, because it occurs to her that some level of explanation might be in order. "He is the CO on the expedition I am on."
"Yeah, I know," Gibbs says, startling Ziva. "Tony told me."
"Tony?" Ziva demands. It takes her a long moment to remember that Tony briefly met Sheppard in August, at the hotel before the ill-fated encounter at Tony's apartment. "What exactly did Tony say?"
"Very little," Gibbs admits. "Which, for DiNozzo, is rather telling."
"Perfect," Ziva mutters. She had hoped that no one would ever know about her bad judgment in breaking Rule Twelve. "Abby wrote me that the team was back together again."
"Sort of." Gibbs taps a rhythm on his knee as he speaks. "The new Director started a second Major Case Response team to work in coordination with mine on the really big cases. The rest we split up."
"Who is the team lead on the second team?"
Gibbs flips the cover open on his notebook, then closes it again. "DiNozzo."
Tony has his own team. A faint rush of pride comes over Ziva from a place in her head she cannot decipher. "But then why is he here today?"
"We all trade off on weekend duty, you know that." Gibbs finally puts his notebook down. "I got McGee and Jardine, and DiNozzo has Lee and Brown, he transferred in from Quantico."
"Good," Ziva says, mind still stuck on the idea of Tony DiNozzo being a team lead. "That is good. NCIS is lucky to have them all. You all."
There is no comment about Ziva's absence, but she does not expect any.
"So what's so important about this Marine that SecNav's calling me at seven in the morning on a Sunday?" Gibbs asks suddenly.
"As I told Tony--"
"Come off it, Ziva," Gibbs interrupts. "I've had SecNav call me exactly twice in my entire career, and the other time was after an assassination attempt on a foreign ambassador."
Ziva thinks over the intelligence files she has seen on NCIS. "Yemen?"
"Bahrain. Why is SecNav breathing down my neck on Captain Wayne?"
Ziva pulls her tablet onto her lap and, after hoping this will not have her executed for treason, opens Wayne's full service record. She hands the tablet to Gibbs. "This is Captain Jefferson Wayne, USMC."
Gibbs has to take a moment to put on his glasses, but he is soon intent on the file. It lists all details of the Marine's citations and decorations, including words Gibbs does not have the security clearance to see.
Words like Atlantis.
Gibbs reads in silence for a very long time. He does not seem to have problems with the touch-tablet, and since there is nothing for Ziva to do, the motion of the truck's passage lulls her into a doze.
She's jerked back to consciousness when Gibbs put the tablet into her lap. "It says that every member of his most recent team is dead."
Ziva rubs at her eyes in an attempt to wake herself up. "Reconnaissance Team Delta," she says. Gibbs nods. "Yes."
"Why was the team changed?"
"A routine shuffle to accommodate Captain's leave request. Also, Major Lorne wanted to have Delta Team get back to working with a scientist."
"Who's Major Lorne?"
"The XO. He is also in the Air Force."
The corner of Gibbs' mouth twitches at that. "What can you tell me about where Delta was before Wayne left?"
"I am not sure." Ziva hugs her tablet to her chest, hoping the sharp edges will keep her alert. "Until half an hour before I arrived at your crime scene, we had assumed that whatever killed the rest of the team was due to something recently encountered. I did not have access to the reports on Delta's previous missions."
"We'll need those files."
Gibbs words are soft, but they are the catalyst to finally pull Ziva back to wakefulness. She looks at the man, not knowing what to say.
His blue eyes narrow slightly. "But that's not why you're here," he says after a moment.
Ziva rests her chin on the edge of the tablet, feeling very much the schoolgirl under that gaze. "If Captain Wayne's death is related to the expedition, then the project oversight committee will handle the remainder of the investigation."
"What about justice for Captain Wayne?" Gibbs drives the knife home.
Ziva thinks about all she has seen in the Pegasus galaxy, and how justice there comes quicker than on Earth. "I will see that justice is served."
Gibbs lets his head fall back against the cupboards with a thump. "Is there anyone else from your expedition on liberty right now?" is all he asks.
"I will inquire." Ziva taps at her earpiece. Lorne's questioning voice is the first thing she hears. "Major, is there anyone else from the expedition on--" She stops herself in time. She almost said on Earth, and oh, what a disaster that would be. "On liberty in Washington?"
"No," Lorne says at once. "We had Dr. Tanaka in Japan, Captain Chen with his family in San Diego, and Dr. Esposito in Santiago. All three have been beamed back to the SGC and are undergoing testing."
"What about personnel recently released from service?"
"Scanned and vetted, David. It's not any of our people." He hesitates for a moment. "Are you staying with us this time?"
"Yes, I will be in contact," she says. Gibbs just shakes his head. "Has Dr. Keller found anything else?"
"Not yet. She's going over the autopsy reports with the SGC doctors. We'll let you know if we find anything."
"Oh, and David, just to let you know, one of the things General O'Neill is going to do is to have Wayne's body released to the Air Force and moved back to the Mountain."
Ziva refrains from screaming at the man. "Why did you not do so in the first place?" she demands.
"Because the SGC wasn't sure if Wayne's death was due to the program or to DC's normally high crime rate. And now that NCIS has control of the body, things are... complicated. We'll need the General to oversee the transfer."
"How long do we have?" Ziva asks, forgetting that there is no longer a we, only NCIS and her.
"A few hours. There's paperwork and stuff."
The truck progresses at the Navy Yard gate with the usual boredom of passing through security. With Gibbs at her side, Ziva has little trouble in gaining clearance to the base. They drive the familiar path to the garage and after the evidence is signed into the cage, Gibbs herds everyone into the elevator. Ziva takes the back corner, too tired to think about any potential threat from her former team. It is nothing against them, but still. One thing that Mossad and Atlantis have in common is the demand for constant vigilance, and Ziva is entering her second full day of wakefulness.
McGee catches Ziva's eye and smiles hesitantly. "I'm sorry about Captain Wayne," he says softly, and if Ziva pretends very hard, she can imagine that Tony DiNozzo is not staring at her in the enclosed space of the elevator.
"Thank you," Ziva murmurs. Then, because she does not want this to turn into an interrogation of herself, adds, "Your most recent book has made many members of my expedition very... happy."
"Ziva..." Sheppard's voice comes as a warning in her ear. She just smiles at the confused McGee.
"The military CO is a big fan, in particular."
The tips of McGee's ears go pink. "I'm glad he liked it. There are some minor edits in the print copy, though."
Ziva waves the edits away as a matter of course. "He finds the characterization fascinating."
"Why, does he have brain damage?" Tony mutters. The unexpected words send an icy chill down Ziva's spine and she's already preparing for a fight when Gibbs hits the emergency switch on the elevator controls, bringing the elevator to a halt. The man just turns and stares first at Tony, then at Ziva. Then he slaps at the controls again and the elevator resumes its upwards path.
He does not even have to say a word.
The elevator doors finally open and disgorge the NCIS team and Ziva onto the familiar office floor. There are fewer people around than Ziva remembers. It takes her a whole minute to recall that it is a Sunday and so the office is rightly vacant.
In Pegasus, she has walked into too many vacant rooms, the inhabitants taken by the Wraith or disease or famine. The parallel sends another chill through her.
The desks have changed. Tony veers off to drop his hat on a desk on the other side of the divider while McGee goes to Ziva's old desk. Gibbs is the only constant in the changing world of NCIS. Imperturbable as always, the man goes to his desk as he has for years.
Lee skirts Ziva with an apologetic smile on her way to the plasma screen. Every one of the NCIS agents has a role now, and Ziva feels momentarily bereft of a mission. It takes her a moment to rally. Captain Wayne is her charge, his death not changing the responsibility Ziva has towards him.
Gibbs slaps his cellphone closed. "Abby's almost here," he says. "In the meantime, what do we have?"
Tony's already moving, his face set in an easy grin too sincere to be real. "We have photographs, sketches, a body and a witness statement from the guy who found the body, and next to no physical evidence."
"There's the hand mark in the dirt," Lee volunteers.
"Which ties the body to Ziva's investigation," says McGee. "Other than that, Boss, we're light on clues." Gibbs looks at McGee for only a moment. A moment is all he needs. McGee clears his throat and continues. "Which means we'll need to decipher which of the seemingly inconsequential pieces of physical evidence have any bearing on the case."
"And we need it in under two hours," Gibbs tells them.
"What happens in two hours?" Tony asks.
"Ziva's people are coming to take over the investigation."
"Mossad?" Lee questions tentatively. The pitying look Tony gives her irritates Ziva.
"No, probie. Ziva works for the Air Force now." He keeps his attention on Lee, excluding Ziva to the point where it has to be deliberate. "Which makes total sense as Captain Wayne was a Marine."
McGee's staring at Tony with a level of incredulousness that Ziva has rarely seen. Gibbs is flipping through his notebook, his back to Tony and Lee.
"After all, the Marines have such a long history of working under the Air Force and civilian investigators," Tony continues, hands in his pockets now.
A low sigh in Ziva's ear draws her attention away from Tony. "You know, Ziva, if you were to accidentally push him into a wall, I could get the General to spring you from the pokey," Sheppard murmurs. "On my honor."
"What is the 'pokey'?" Ziva asks, loud enough for the agents to hear.
"Is it preceded by 'hokey'?" McGee asks as he loads images from the camera onto the plasma.
"No," Ziva says, drifting across the floor to his side. Intellectually, she knows the room is not moving, but there is a sense of motion missing from her world. McKay always swears that Atlantis does not rock like a boat, but Ziva finds herself wondering.
"Then it probably means a jail cell." McGee hits the controller and Ziva is staring at a full colour version of Captain Wayne's body.
As grotesque as it had been to look at the decomposing bodies of Delta team, Wayne's body is worse. The early morning sun highlight brilliant flashes of colour on the dusty ground. Wayne's face frozen in terror, his eyes wide and bloodied. His fingers are bloodied too, and it takes all of Ziva's fortitude to not flinch as she steps closer to the screen.
"He appears to have clawed at something," Ziva says, more to her audience on the Odyssey who have not seen these photographs.
"That's what I thought at the scene," Lee says. She nudges McGee to get him to skip forward in the photograph to a close-up of Wayne's hands. "But there were no signs of blood at the scene that would match with the size and shape of human claw marks."
"Would there be?" Gibbs asks in his 'I'm testing you' voice.
Lee looks at the man with less awe than she exhibited in the field, and Ziva reminds herself that the woman is a fully trained NCIS agent with years of experience. "The victim's hands appear to be bleeding from torn nails. The level and location of blood would usually not appear from an external source, such as defensive wounds on an attacker."
"He still had a knife in an inner coat pocket," Tony adds from the sidelines, just out of Ziva's line of sight.
McGee raises a questing in eyebrow.
"He was a Marine," Gibbs says. "No Marine being attacked wouldn't have gone for a knife if the opportunity presented itself."
Ziva hears their words, but something is poking at her brain, pulling her away from the conversation. She takes one more step towards the screen. "Tim, can you go back?" she asks without turning around.
The images flip back, to the initial photograph of the Marine's body. Ziva's eyes trace over the supine form, over the bloodied hands, the terrified face, the trickle of blood out the side of his mouth, and wonders what it is she is supposed to be seeing.
"Why did Dr. Tracy only have one boot?" Ziva murmurs to herself. Pieces of the puzzle slide together as she flashes back to the planet and the four decaying bodies in that stone hut, and when she finally realizes what is wrong, she wishes to kick herself for being so unobservant.
Captain Wayne's chest is intact.
The body wears a clean white shirt over a normal chest cavity, no hints of blood or missing ribs, and it's so very different from the bodies back on Atlantis that Ziva does not know how she missed it.
Captain Wayne's body has its internal organs, or at least the liver. Captain Wayne's body has an intact sternum. The only thing tying his death to those in Pegasus is a lone handprint.
A handprint that sets Ziva's heart to racing with the idea that this is not yet finished.
Ziva spins around to see Jimmy Palmer beaming down at her. He's already changed into his blue autopsy scrubs.
"Dr. Mallard didn't say you'd be coming in today." The young man smiles even wider for a moment.
McGee clears his throat. "Ziva's new command includes Captain Wayne," the agent says in an undertone.
Palmer's smile vanishes in an instant. "Gee, Ziva, I'm sorry, I just--"
"What are you doing up here, Palmer?" Gibbs interrupts.
"Oh, Dr. Mallard wanted me to give this to you," Palmer says. He hands Gibbs an evidence bag containing a small metal object. "Abby isn't in yet and Dr. Mallard thought it might be important."
Gibbs signs off on the evidence transfer before donning a glove and pulling the object out into the light. "What is it?"
"Dr. Mallard wasn’t sure."
Ziva steps into Gibbs' personal space to look closer at the object. It is the size of an egg, rather flat, metallic with no discernable markings on it.
"You ever seen anything like this?" Gibbs asks her.
"I have not." Ziva casts her mind back to the weaponry and artifacts on Atlantis, and cannot come up with a single comparative object. "Where was it found?"
"Under Captain Wayne's tongue."
"What's it made of?" Tony asks.
"We're not sure. Dr. Mallard said it looks a little like one of those kitchen things you can rub on your hands to get the garlic smell off."
"Why would it end up in our Marine's mouth?" Gibbs slips the object back into the bag.
Ziva keeps her eyes on the object until Gibbs puts the bag on his desk. Then she asks, "May I go speak with Ducky?"
"Go ahead," Gibbs says. "Palmer, take her down."
"Oh, um, Dr. Mallard asked me to get his bag out of the van--" the young man stammers.
"Then drop Ziva off in autopsy and then keep going to the garage," Gibbs says. It's less of a suggestion than a demand, and Palmer heads to the elevator with alacrity.
Ziva gives Gibbs the look he deserves, then logs off her computer and lays it on McGee's old desk. "I will return shortly," she warns Gibbs.
Gibbs turns his back on her, already focusing on the case, so Ziva follows Palmer to the elevator. He's holding the door for her, always the gentleman.
"Thank you," she murmurs. The elevator walls are mercifully solid as she leans back, waiting for her head to stop spinning. She cannot shake the idea that something is waiting for her around the bend.
"Dr. Mallard will be glad to see you. Except that one of the Marines is dead," Palmer hastens to add. "We're still unsure about the cause of death."
Exposure. Knife wounds. That creature from Alien. Ziva manages to give Palmer a tiny smile. "It is most likely a simple explanation," she lies.
To her mild surprise, no voices from the skies speak into her ear at that one.
The elevator stops and Ziva steps into the sterile hallway outside Autopsy. Palmer is off again with a wave, and the door slips shut on a silent expanse.
The silence is unnerving.
Then a burst of static in Ziva's ear makes her jump. "--copy, David?"
"Lorne, what is it?" Ziva asks. The apprehension in the man's voice is very audible.
"You went off channel for a few minutes," Lorne says. "Major interferences with our communications."
Ziva's heart pounds hard in her chest. "I thought that our comms were impervious to terrestrial jamming systems?"
McKay comes into the conversation at full tilt. "The last thing we heard was you asking someone named Tim to go back, and then the systems went straight to hell and I really, really hope that these readings are wrong."
"Ziva, what just happened down there?" Lorne demands.
The apprehension pushes down on Ziva in such a rush that her stomach cramps. The only thing that changed in the squad room after Ziva asked McGee to change the photographs had been the entrance of Jimmy Palmer and the metallic object from Captain Wayne's body.
"In the crime scene photographs, Wayne's torso was intact," Ziva says as she pulls her sidearm from her waistband and straightens her arms. From this angle in the hallway, she cannot see into Autopsy and that not knowing claws at her brain. "A metallic object was found in his mouth."
"That doesn't sound like what happened to Delta team."
"Delta team was out in the open for a very long time." Ziva presses her back against the wall and inches toward the corner. She is overreacting, she tells herself, but there are no such things as coincidences in her life and Ducky is alone in that room. "Captain Wayne has been dead for less than five hours."
She takes a breath and looks around the corner, though the glass doors of the Autopsy room. She can't see Ducky.
But she does see the impossible.
She sees Ari.