This whole mess had to happen in an election year.
Ziva rouses slightly at some point when a weight settles on her shoulders. She cracks open her eyes to see Gibbs pulling a blanket over her shoulders. "Go back to sleep," he murmurs, all un-Gibbs-like.
"You don't need to be awake right now," and Ziva believes him because this is Gibbs and he never lies to her. So she closes her eyes again, warmer now, but sleep is a little longer in returning.
"What's this world coming to?" Gibbs asks someone else in the room.
A dry chuckle. Ducky. "You sound like an old man, Jethro."
"I feel like one today."
"Don't be ridiculous."
"It's not ridiculous." The voices grow softer, moving away. "I saw Jenny and Paula today, clear as day, but it wasn't them."
"Consider yourself lucky," Ducky tells him. "I turned around and was presented with an exploded corpse and Ari Haswari."
"Ziva took care of him."
A pause, and Ziva makes certain she appears to be asleep. "Of all the people to stick into a situation this screwed up, it had to be Ziva."
"Come now, Jethro, she did an admirable job today. She saved everyone in the building."
"That she did."
The voices stop for a moment and Ziva thinks they have left, then she hears a footstep on the floor and a whispered voice,
"But she still can't pretend to sleep to save her life."
Ziva fakes a snore and the footsteps move away and this time, Ziva really does let herself fall back into slumber.
When Ziva wakes for real, the sky is dark on the other side of the glass and voices move softly around the room. The memories of the day lay heavy on her mind and she takes a moment to lie still and let the day crash over her.
Captain Jefferson Wayne is dead in the same way as the rest of Delta Team, and Replicators are to blame.
The ceiling of the room, hastily converted from a medical isolation ward into a quarantined unit with security posted at every entrance, is spotless white amid the florescent lighting. Ziva stares hard at the tiles as she tries to compartmentalize the day into lines that will allow her to face the others without screaming or breaking down.
First of all, the Earth is safe. Ziva knows that the SGC will go over every inch of the NCIS building and the Navy Yard and anywhere Jeff Wayne has stepped in the weeks of his vacation in Washington, talk to everyone person he met and make a history of everything he did.
When the doctors released Sheppard earlier in the day, he'd turned to Ziva and said he was taking Lorne and Colonel Carter to go talk to Wayne's family. Then he'd told Ziva to watch the NCIS team in case anything happened, which it wouldn't but Ziva had been secretly happy to not have to speak with the young Captain's soon-to-be-grieving family.
It is this feeling that now tastes like shame in Ziva's mouth.
But the Earth is safe. All the people on the Earth are safe from the latest threat from the Pegasus galaxy and Keller has gone back to Atlantis to start testing everyone there, so everyone will be all right.
Well, almost everyone. Ziva only has to blink to see Ari's face in her mind.
Enough of this. Ziva sits up and stretches out the twists in her back. When she glances around the room, she sees the two unfamiliar MTAC technicians, Parker and Jackson, playing cards with Henderson, Garcia and Manasseri. The table before them is strewn with small colored candies as chips. Ziva wonders if she should warn the technicians how much money she has lost playing poker with Manasseri, but decides against it. It is only candy, after all.
Gibbs and Ducky are at the other end of the long room, talking between themselves. Abby holds court with Tony, McGee, Lee and Palmer in the middle of the room, although from the looks of Abby's sugar jitters, the woman might break through the glass any moment now in a run worthy of Willy Coyote.
Ziva blinks the sleep from her eyes and looks again, but as sure as the sun rises in the morning, Jimmy Palmer sits beside Michelle Lee and they are holding hands and hadn't Palmer been outside the quarantine?
She's still waiting for her brain to catch up with whatever reality she has awoken to, when Abby catches a glimpse of her and barrels over, jumping onto the couch beside Ziva. Abby smells of peanut butter and chocolate and Ziva's stomach rumbles with hunger and there isn't time for her to analyze that leap before Abby wraps Ziva in a bone-crushing hug.
"You're awake!" Abby exclaims. Before Ziva can comment on this declaration of the obvious, Abby snuggles in at Ziva's side, one arm around Ziva's shoulder. The woman is fairly vibrating in place. "I knew you'd have to wake up at some point."
"A good guess." It has been several months since Ziva has needed to handle a sugared-up Abby, and she's forgotten how she once did it. "What time is it?"
Ziva turns her head to stare at Abby, ignoring the shooting pain across her temple and neck. "How can this very moment be 'tomorrow'?"
"The same way we can be attacked by SkyNet in MTAC." Abby stretches out her legs. Across the room, Tony tilts his head to get a better look as Abby's skirt rides up her thighs and McGee gets that annoyed expression on his face and smacks Tony across the back of the head. "It only gets really strange when all of a sudden you find yourself in yesterday."
Ziva raises her eyebrows at Tony, who give her his innocent face and turns back to Lee. "It is after midnight?"
"Why is Palmer here?"
Abby shrugs. Her fingers move restlessly on Ziva's shoulder. Oddly, Ziva finds she does not mind, even though she is usually more uptight about personal boundaries. "He talked his way into quarantine by saying that since he was helping Ducky with the autopsy, he might have caught whatever it was and got himself locked up in stir with us."
Ziva takes another look at Palmer and Lee. "I can see how concerned Jimmy is about Ducky."
Abby dissolves into a fit of the giggles, burying her face against Ziva's shoulder as she shakes with laughter. It must be the lateness of the hour, but Ziva starts laughing as well.
It feels so normal that an edge of the tension in Ziva's body slides away. Yes, people are dead, but they have been avenged, and no more will die. Not on Ziva's watch.
Abby's still giggling when the room's doors swing open and Sheppard breezes in, carrying a large stuffed toy octopus. Lorne follows in his wake, struggling with several large pizza boxes, and then Rodney McKay of all people brings up the rear.
"Hey everyone," Sheppard says laconically. The bruises on his face are purpling nicely, but he's still able to smile at the room's assembled inhabitants. "Sorry to keep you waiting, but there's still processes and procedures to be followed. You know how it is."
The man makes a subtle hand gesture at three Marines at the poker table, who have risen at Sheppard's entrance with more alacrity than Ziva would have given them credit for this late. Ziva must hide a smile when Henderson raises an eyebrow at Lorne, who shakes his head, before sitting back down. Ziva knows the men on Lorne's team have fierce loyalty for the Major, even more than they do Sheppard, yet another interesting fact about life on Atlantis.
A movement in the corner of her vision distracts Ziva. It would seem that Gibbs also spotted the exchange for what it was. "Do you have any idea how much longer we'll be in here?" Gibbs asks Sheppard.
While Lorne wrestles the pizza boxes onto a table, Sheppard twitches his good shoulder a fraction of an inch. "General O'Neill's still working on processing everyone's paperwork."
"What paperwork?" Ziva wonders aloud. In her defense, she has been asleep for some time and might have missed a few things.
"Everyone has to sign non-disclosure agreements and promise to not even think about dissolving metal alien robots ever again," Abby says with pointed cheer. Her clear green eyes fix upon Sheppard. "Not even a little."
Sheppard jerks his attention over to Abby, who is still draped over Ziva. His expression does not change much, but Ziva has been watching his face in dangerous situations for many months and she can tell that something other than Abby's words has interested him. With Abby, it could have been the short plaid skirt or the knee-high white socks or the saddle shoes. Tony has explained the appeal of the schoolgirl look to the American male, but Ziva always thought that was just a Tony thing.
"Here," Sheppard says, tossing the stuffed octopus at Abby. "Sorry about your hippo."
"Hippo?" Ziva echoes. She really is far behind on this conversation. "What happened to Bert?"
Abby takes a deep breath. "When Captain America--"
"Colonel America," Shepard interjects.
"--went flying through my office door, he landed on Bert and totally squished him flat," Abby continues. She hefts the octopus. "Don't think you can bribe me with toys."
"It's not a bribe, it's a thank you," Sheppard tells her, drifting closer. McKay's on his heels and quiet, which for Rodney must be some sort of miracle. "The doctors tell me that another inch to the left and I'd have been a goner. That hippo saved my life."
Abby sniffs. "Liar."
"I'm not lying." Sheppard hesitates. "Maybe I'm exaggerating a little."
"Exaggerator?" Abby shoots back. Her glare softens. Ziva has seen that expression on Abby's face before, and her heart sinks. If Abby starts making googly eyes at John Sheppard, Ziva may be forced into extreme action.
"It's more hyperbole," Sheppard says. He frowns. "I'm hyperbolic?"
McKay can take no more. "Oh, for heaven's sake," he snaps. "The only thing hyperbolic about you is your hair--"
Sheppard's grin goes fixed, like it does when he's trying to decide whether to hit Rodney or kiss him. So far, the hitting has won out ever time and Ziva just hopes she'll be around when Sheppard decides to swing the other way. "McKay, do you mind?" he hisses.
Abby's on her feet in an instant, stuffed octopus forgotten on the couch. "Rodney McKay?" she asks, in that tone of voice reserved for star forensic scientists and men bearing CafPow. She sticks her hand out and gives Rodney's a good shake when he automatically reaches out. "This is so cool."
McKay's just gaping at Abby like he has been hit between the eyes. "I-- You... I thought you were younger. Or something," he stammers.
"Huh? Oh, no, it's just the skirt," Abby says, still grinning like she's met a celebrity. Ziva must physically cover her mouth with her hand to hide her smile. After all the times McKay has complained about no one giving him his proper due, and when presented with it in the form of a five-foot-ten Gothic forensic scientist in a schoolgirl skirt, he cannot even speak. "You totally have to tell me all about that tractor beam death ray you aren't supposed to tell me about."
"Uh..." McKay looks helplessly at Ziva. She takes her hand down and smiles sweetly at the man.
"Doctor McKay is quite inventive," Ziva tells Abby. She catches Henderson and Garcia staring at them, and she winks. Manasseri slaps Garcia on the back and laughs quietly. "He can MacGyver any piece of technology into a solution for any problem." Ziva waits for a beat, then adds, "He is very good with his hands."
McKay's ears go red, Abby's smile grows wider, and Sheppard glares daggers into Ziva.
"Then you can tell me all about that too," Abby declares. She yanks on Rodney's hand and pulls him off to the side of the room, questioning the whole time with Rodney stammering back, leaving Ziva to face down an annoyed Sheppard.
"Was that necessary?" Sheppard asks.
Ziva reaches up to pat him on the cheek, but he ducks out of the way. "Your ego will survive," she replies. "Abby will have much to discuss with McKay. About science."
The glare remains. "You don't know what a Carebear Stare is, but you can work MacGyver into a sentence?"
"MacGyver was a very informative television show for a young Mossad officer," Ziva retorts. "What good will a stomach full of 'love' do in a war zone?"
Sheppard rolls his eyes at the ceiling. "You realize that if McKay gives up any more program secrets, we'll be taking Ms. Sciuto back to At--" He shakes his head at his own close call at saying secret words. "Back with us?" He shoves a shopping back against Ziva's chest. "Here."
Ziva takes the bag from him, wondering at its weight. "What is this?"
"Picked up a little something for you at Target." Sheppard sticks his hands in his pockets. "You didn't have a chance to bring a change of clothes. It was Lorne's idea."
Ziva peeks into the bag. What she sees there throws her more than anything else that has happened since the Replicators were eradicated from NCIS.
Carefully, in case this is a booby-trap, she reaches into the bag and pulls out the bright blue bunny rabbit slippers.
Sheppard's face goes blank.
"Thank you," Ziva says slowly. "Although I already have shoes..." She looks back into the bag. "Why have you brought me Y-fronts?"
Sheppard tries to grab the bag but Ziva dances out of reach. This makes no sense at all. Why has John Sheppard bought her rabbit slippers and men's underwear?
"Are you sure this is not for you?" Ziva asks, holding the bunny slippers over her head. Sheppard takes the opportunity to snatch the shopping back from Ziva's hand.
"That's not mine," Sheppard says desperately. He looks at Lorne, who's holding a suspiciously intense conversation with McGee over the pizza. "This isn't my stuff! I must have grabbed the wrong bag--"
"You will not get out of this so easily," Ziva tells him. They are the centre of attention in the room, but she has had little enough sleep to not care. "You have given me bunny slippers, and you must accept the consequences."
"Your XO is supposed to protect and support you in the field. I do not think a shopping trip to Target counts as enemy territory." Ziva hugs the slippers to her chest, knowing Sheppard will not voluntarily put his hands that close to her breasts unless he wants to die.
Still, Sheppard takes half a step towards her before abandoning the idea. "The General wants to see you," he says gruffly. He holds out his hand. "Here, I'll watch those for you." He is generosity itself, but Ziva holds her head high and sails out of the room in full possession of her bunny slippers, if not her sanity.
Gibbs is quietly laughing at her as she goes.
The meeting with O'Neill is brief. After Ziva kicks off her boots and puts her feet into the bunny slippers, she sits on the edge of the commandeered desk and eats an entire carton of ginger beef and rice while O'Neill and Colonel Samantha Carter go back and forth with questions about everyone in quarantine and if they would sell state secrets and so on until Ziva wishes she could shoot something.
Finally, the pile of paper is completed. O'Neill lets his head fall to the desk with a thunk. He does not notice as Carter steals his spring roll.
Ziva asks, "Are there not any members of your own military you can be asking these questions of?"
"Sheppard recommends your judgment, and we don't have anyone who knows the NCIS personnel as well as you," Carter responds. The woman is too chipper to have spent an entire day wrestling with a planetary crisis.
"You could talk to Special Agent Gibbs," Ziva suggests. "He has worked with everyone longer than I have."
"Gibbs," O'Neill says, drawing himself upright again. "Didn't the Secretary of Defense call him a loose cannon?"
The corner of Carter's mouth twitches. "Actually, sir, I think he was referring to you."
"Ah, right." O'Neill blinks tiredly at Ziva. "Is there anything else?"
"This is your meeting," Ziva reminds him.
"True. Go on, head back into quarantine and keep an eye on everyone until we sort this whole mess out. And try and keep your forensic scientist away from McKay, I don't want her pumping him for information."
Ziva straightens her jacket as she stands. "Why, is there something else might Abby pump him for?" she asks in her most innocent voice.
Sam Carter chokes on a mouthful of rice.
When she gets back to quarantine, Abby and McKay are in the middle of a blazing row about the superiority of different types of sciences and to all appearances are enjoying every minute of it. The poker game is once again going, with McGee and Lorne added to the ranks of the game.
Sheppard is by himself in the window, as far away from Tony and Gibbs as he can get without physically launching himself through another glass window. Ziva does not hesitate as she makes her way to Sheppard's side.
He shoves something greasy towards her. "I saved you a slice of pizza."
"What's on it?" Ziva asks, unwrapping the offered meal cautiously.
"Ham and shrimp, covered in a cream sauce."
Instead of the anti-kosher horror he had just described, Ziva finds a slice of vegetarian pizza. "Now what?" she asks around a mouthful.
"More of the same," Sheppard says. "The paperwork's still not done, and so this crew's stuck for a while. I was thinking of clearing the Atlantis personnel out, letting them talk amongst themselves."
"But leaving me here," Ziva predicts.
"But leaving you here," Sheppard admits. "Just in case. I cleared it and we can head back to Colorado day after tomorrow." He checks his watch. "Make that tomorrow."
Ziva is watching McKay and Abby across the room as Abby launches into another tirade, taking no guff from Rodney. "You should leave McKay here as well," she tells Sheppard. "As you are leaving me."
Sheppard follows Ziva's gaze. "Why?" he asks, sounding rather tired of everything.
Ziva pops a tomato from the pizza into her mouth. "Abby once wrote a academic paper on alien abduction. It would be best if she were to receive the proper information from the donkey's mouth."
"Donkey's ass-- no, you mean horse's mouth," Sheppard says automatically. "And she's not supposed to know anything. Unless this is some underhanded way to get her to follow us home."
Ziva opens her eyes wide. "I do not know what you mean." She holds up her crust as a peace offering. Sheppard accepts as he wanders off.
The Marines stand as soon as they see Sheppard's signal. Sheppard himself drifts off to say something to McKay, and Lorne heads over to Ziva while the proceeds of the poker game are sorted into Henderson's hands. "What's going on?" Lorne asks in a quiet voice.
She does not pretend ignorance of his real meaning. "I merely thought that Abby might like to get to know the man who saved all of our lives."
"That's bull and you know it. What are you pulling?"
Ziva carefully examines Abby's open body language, her shoulders back and her spine straight, her knees crossed, and all of her attention on McKay. Ziva knows Sheppard sees the flirtation in Abby's stance, and wonders if McKay will need to be slapped over the head to understand. "I only wish to move things along. Our lives are not long enough for inaction."
Lorne stares at her in disbelief. "You're just stirring up trouble," he tells her. "And it's going to come back on me."
"It will not!"
"It always does!"
Ziva tilts her head at his unexpected annoyance, and then she remembers something. "You have next month in the betting pool, yes?"
"I don't know what you're talking--"
"That pool we are not supposed to ask or tell about--"
Lorne shushes her. "Don't go breaking things while I'm gone," he chastises her in parting. "Especially my CO."
Sheppard veers past her one last time on his way to the door. "I can take those bunny slippers to the base for you--"
"Leave!" Ziva orders.
Sticking out his lower lip in a pout, Sheppard goes.
Ziva does not relax until the door closes behind Sheppard. The McKay and Abby argument makes no sign of ending soon, so Ziva turns on her heel and shuffles past the couch where Tony and Ducky sit, to where Gibbs sits on a chair staring out a window at the Washington night lights. Ziva leans against the windowsill in silence.
After a few minutes, Gibbs clears his throat. "I've talked to a few Marines who've gone through Colorado Springs since the mid-90s," he says quietly. "There's always been a whole lot of secrecy and loyalty to the program."
"Marines are always loyal."
"To the Corps," Gibbs corrects. "But not the program, not like this. I always wondered what they were doing down there to create that kind of loyalty."
"You know I cannot tell you any details beyond what you saw today, Gibbs."
"And I don't want to hear them." Gibbs glances up at her. "It's just..."
Ziva frowns. She has seldom seen Gibbs at such a loss for words.
He tries again. "Today, I watched Jenny and Paula try to kill Tim and Tony. I saw Ari standing large as life and I watched you shoot Kate in the head."
"They only looked like the dead," Ziva says uncertainly. "We only knew they were Replicators because Ducky was strong enough to withstand their interrogation techniques."
"And because you were there to see them for what they were." Gibbs pushes to his feet and joins Ziva at the windowsill. "There are so many ways today could have gone wrong."
"But they did not." Ziva watches the lights of a helicopter landing on the hospital's helipad across the complex. "We did what we needed." A loud exclamation across the room makes Ziva wince. "McKay and Abby especially."
Gibbs chuckles. "There'll be no living with her after this."
Ziva gapes at Gibbs. "Did you just quote a movie?"
"I don't know what you're talking about."
Tony DiNozzo pops up between them, making Ziva jump. "Did someone say movie?" he asks with a grin.
Ziva and Gibbs lock eyes. "It's good to see that his sense of subtlety continues to evolve," Ziva states.
"That's why they made him team leader." Gibbs steps back. "Don't you two kill each other while I'm gone."
"I'd never kill Ziva, boss," Tony protests.
"He'd never succeed," Ziva says over him. She smiles at Tony, but not really feeling it. Her stomach churns with apprehension. This is the first time they have been alone since that night at his apartment.
He smiles again, sheepish and shy, and Ziva's insides melt. It is not fair, the way he makes her feel.
She will blame this on the day's trauma.
"So," Tony says. He attempts to lean casually against the wall, but he leans in a little too far and knocks into the light switch and plunges the whole room into darkness. People protest, and the lights come back on. "Sorry," Tony calls.
Ziva cannot help the smile that spreads across her face. In some ways, Tony really has not changed in all in the years she has known him.
"Are you going to talk to me at all?" Tony asks, starting to look a little worried.
"That depends," Ziva says.
"What's it like being team leader again?"
Tony hesitates for a moment, as if trying to figure out if she is serious. Finally, he says, "It's the same as last time. I've got Lee tripping over her feet to get things done, McGee keeps popping up like athlete's foot, and I can't get no respect." This last is said in a very bad impersonation.
"So exactly like last time."
"Pretty much, yeah."
Ziva gives Tony the once-over. "You seem to have survived the day in one piece."
He shrugs. "Once you see your dead boss try to assassinate a co-worker, you gain a little perspective."
Seeing as how Ziva spent the morning chasing her dead brother about, she will agree with that. "Do you have plans today?"
"You mean tonight? I've got this standing order with Air Force security--" He breaks off when Ziva punches his arm. "It's what, Monday? I've got the day off because of the weekend. Why?"
"If we get out of here soon, I have a day off as well before I must return to my duties. We could try for that cup of coffee again."
He blinks at her. Then again. "You do remember what happened the last time we tried that, right?"
Ziva will not back down. Her day truly has put some portions of her life into perspective. "I do."
"And you want to try again?"
He's too serious and it's making Ziva nervous. "The sex wasn't that bad, was it?" Too late, she realizes that the joke might not be taken well at all.
But Tony just looks flustered and confused. Ziva wonders if she will have to slap his head to get her point across. "No, it was okay-- I mean, more than okay, it was--" He stops before he can get himself into trouble. "So, hey, a day off."
"And you can tell me about the Terminator Aliens?"
Ziva smiles sweetly and steps closer to Tony. "Not a chance," she breathes in his ear.
Across the room, Abby and McKay continue to argue.
When Ziva finds Sheppard at the air strip the following day, the man's being huffy and it doesn't take more than one ignored question for Ziva to turn her back on the man for the entire flight to Colorado. Lorne's too busy doing paperwork to pay either of them much mind and McKay... well, his mind is somewhere else. It is just the four of them for this trip back to Pegasus.
When they finally make it down to the Stargate, they must wait for the dialing sequence. Ziva tightens her backpack on her shoulders, ready to go.
"Abby's a little strange, isn't she?" McKay says suddenly to Ziva. He barely glances at the bunny slippers she's mounted on her backpack in a parody of a trophy kill.
"She is a lovely person," Ziva says serenely, and smiles widely just to see McKay frown. "And most intelligent. Have you been telling her forbidden state secrets?"
McKay sputters and Sheppard narrows his eyes at the man. Lorne edges away from the whole conversation. "We talked, she's smarter than the average scientist--"
For Rodney McKay to admit someone else is smart is tantamount to a request to a marriage proposal, and Ziva wonders how much she missed by spending the day in Tony's apartment. "Did she show you her tattoos?" Ziva asks.
McKay's ears go red and Sheppard's growing more annoyed by the minute. "I saw a few," McKay stammers.
"Did you see her crucifix?"
She meant it as a tease, but the blush spreads to McKay's cheeks and Ziva forgets to watch Sheppard's reaction as she stares at Rodney.
McKay fumbles with his pockets.
She does not mean to sound so incredulous, but it must have been a challenge to McKay, for he lifts his chin and glares right back at her and says, "Why not?"
Sheppard huffs and turns towards the Stargate, his hair vibrating in affronted outrage. Ziva figures he will get over the fact that someone else got the girl this time (or maybe that someone else got McKay).
She lifts her fist in the air. McKay just stares. "Are you going to hit me?"
Ziva rolls her eyes. "You must stop thinking like such a geek," she tells him, and must physically take his hand to complete the fist bump.
The wormhole engages and they are given the all-clear; Sheppard's moving up the ramp in an instant and McKay's hot on his heels, badgering Sheppard with a question. Lorne joins Ziva for the short walk, saying in an undertone, "I hate dealing with domestic issues."
"Sheppard is upset at being left out?" Ziva raises an eyebrow. "Maybe next time he should ask if he can join in." For she saw the looks Abby gave to Sheppard in the hospital when he gave her the stuffed toy.
There is a thud on the metal as Lorne misses a step, and Ziva walks through the wormhole on her own.
Atlantis is the same as she remembers. A storm batters on the windows but the lights inside are warm, the floors move every so slightly as the winds batter the city, and the air is sharp and familiar. Woolsey welcomes them home and congratulates them in a subdued fashion, befitting their losses. He alerts them to a briefing the following day, accepts their words of greeting, and takes himself off to whatever he does in the evenings.
Lorne squares his shoulders and aims himself in the direction of his office. Ziva, Sheppard and McKay are left in the middle of the Gateroom. McKay and Sheppard are involved in some sort of staring match, very much like boys in the schoolyard, and Ziva will leave them to it. "Until tomorrow," she says, and moves to leave.
"Hey, David?" Sheppard says. She turns back. The exhaustion around his eyes is very apparent, and Ziva wonders if he has even slept since they left Atlantis. "Good work out there."
A warm glow of pride burns in her chest, but she keeps her features schooled. It is like receiving praise from Gibbs, and it comes to Ziva with a great shock that she has grown to respect Sheppard as much as she respects Gibbs. When has this happened? In the end, all she says is, "Thank you," and escapes from the Gateroom without saying something totally inane.
The halls are empty this late in the Atlantis night. She is greeted by people she sees, welcoming her back and commiserating about Captain Wayne's death. It is part of life on Atlantics, this acceptance of death in the line of duty, more than it had ever been at Mossad. She wonders if she will ever be able to return to Mossad, after her time in Atlantis.
She drops her knapsack off in her quarters and takes to the halls again, her fingers brushing over the mezuzah in passing. She wanders for a while, getting reacquainted with the city while the storm rages. Her feet take her past the mess hall, where she sees Sheppard and McKay sitting with Ronon and Teyla and the baby for a late-night powwow. She stays away. That team needs its time.
Lorne is not in his office, and it only takes Ziva a few minutes to figure out where he might be.
Captain Wayne's quarters are located in the heart of Marine country in the southeast tower. The door stands open and Ziva watches for a few minutes from the hall as Lorne carefully boxes the dead man's possessions.
He knows she is there, but he puts all of his attention on his task until the box on the bed is full. "You going to stand there or give me a hand?" he finally asks.
"I was uncertain you needed help."
"Need, no." Lorne smiles wryly. "Jeff was a neat SOB."
Ziva enters the room and sits on the chair by the wall, out of Lorne's way. This is ritual for him, and he treats the possessions of the dead with such honor and respect that Ziva cannot intrude. "How is his mother?"
Lorne never pauses in his slow and deliberate packing. "Coping, somehow. The whole family was still there from the wedding." He shakes his head. "It's a hell of a time to die."
"There is never a good time for a mother to lose her son."
Lorne removes a small woven scarf from a drawer, smoothing out a wrinkle from its brilliant blue and red folds. "He got this from one of the Athosian girls," Lorne tells Ziva. "She was taken by the Wraith on a trading mission in Jeff's second year here. I didn't know he'd kept this."
"Maybe as a reminder of how precious life is?" Ziva offers.
Lorne shakes his head. "More like a nice gift from a pretty girl."
Ziva looks around the room, at the lack of personal touches in the Marine's decor, and does not say that Jeff Wayne was not a man to keep meaningless things.
The fabric flows over Lorne's fingers, silent like river waters. "Maybe I'll see if the SGC can get this to his mother."
"That would be nice." Ziva sits with Lorne as he finishes packing up Wayne's possessions and helps him carry the boxes to the storage room, where they are labeled and prepared for transport back to Earth. Lorne has that hollow look in his eyes again, so Ziva tactfully bids the man a good-night and takes herself back into the corridors.
The storm outside has grown in strength. Ziva heads to the control room and makes her way onto the balcony. It is the best vantage point in the city to see the storm. But Ziva is not the only person with such an idea.
She joins Shepard under the overhang, out of the way of the worst of the rain and wind, and settles back to watch the planet's wrath on the city. Sheppard says nothing and Ziva has no reason to speak.
A spectacular flash of lightening zaps the north pier, making Ziva jump back instinctively. Sheppard never flinches, just grabs her shoulder and squeezes hard in reassurance. Once the boom of thunder fades, he asks, "Did anyone tell you about when the Genii attacked the city in a storm?"
"McKay has," Ziva says once she finds her voice.
"Yeah." Sheppard stares out into the night, searching for something in the flash and fury of the storm. "It's amazing, what she puts up with."
Sheppard's hand is still on her shoulder. "You can go back."
She frowns up at him but does not dislodge his hand. For one thing, he's blocking most of the wind. "Back to where?"
"NCIS. They'd take you back if you asked."
There's a silent question in his tired green eyes, even as the wind whips the cold rain around them. At her back, there is a door into the city itself, offering protection to the humans in her care from the wind and rain on this alien planet.
"I know," Ziva says finally. She squeezes Sheppard's hand, wondering how long he has been up here, for his fingers are bloodless and ice-cold.
"So you've thought about it," and he's so much like one of her aunts, all pessimism and gloom that she wonders how he sleeps at night.
"I have thought about it."
Ziva steps back, letting Sheppard's hand fall back to his side. "And I will see you tomorrow morning."
The wary expression on his face thaws, for just a moment.
"Now go inside before you catch your death and Major Lorne must become the CO," she continues, because she's really not sure what she might do if Sheppard were to thank her for staying.
Sure enough, Sheppard rolls his eyes. "Thanks, mom." Yet he turns back into the wind, and with a shake of her head, Ziva leaves him to his hypothermia.
The city is settling down for the night, the lights dimming and the walls making those soft settling noises that only people with the ATA gene can hear. It's as familiar as breathing to Ziva, this slow relaxation into sleep.
There is always the subtle worry that an enemy will attack in the night, but the city will shelter them, and the men and women manning the stations will warn them and protect them from harm. It is the same as any night in Tel Aviv, the very real dangers warring with the irrepressible knowledge that tomorrow will dawn and life will continue.
For tomorrow is another day.