The first hint Ziva has that things are going to get much worse, very quickly, is the ding of the elevators and the emergence of Mossad Officer Michael Bashan into the NCIS office.
Ziva, who is standing by her desk trying to think now that she no longer has a place at NCIS, feels her entire world narrow down to a single point of threat. This is her father's doing, it has to be, she thinks in a dim haze as two other men fold themselves out of the elevator after Michael. They do not look like much of a threat, but Ziva knows their type, and these two men are even more deadly than she. She does not know why they are here for her but it cannot be good.
And she is alone. McGee is sequestered with Abby, Tony with human resources and Gibbs in with the new Director and there is no help for Ziva now.
Michael walks to her, his deadly shadows two steps behind. "Officer David," he says, with words so like danger that Ziva's stomach cramps. There is nothing more loyal or deadly than family, and Mossad has always been her safest haven and mostly deadly threat. "NCIS Director Vance has informed me that your presence is no longer required."
"So I have been told," Ziva replies, speaking the same accented English as Michael because no matter what they might say, Americans dislike hearing any Semitic languages in their office buildings. "If you wanted me at the embassy, you could have called."
A new presence makes itself known behind Ziva and she doesn't need to turn. The scent of aftershave with that barely perceptible antiseptic hint of the autopsy room tells her that Doctor Mallard approaches. Suddenly, Ziva doesn't feel so alone.
The sensation is only temporary.
"In light of your dismissal from NCIS," and Michael smiles with overly white teeth, "You have been reassigned. I am here to brief you on your new posting."
It is too soon, too fast, and the inevitability of it all twists Ziva's stomach into outright pain. Still, she makes herself breathe, tries to keep calm over the spike of adrenaline in her veins. "Of course," she murmurs, because to say anything else would be suicide. "Allow me to gather my things--"
"There is no need." Michael's eyes never leave her face. "You will need nothing from this place."
Her balance falters, if only for a moment. She knows what this means. Being summoned by these men with such haste, not being allowed near her desk where she has weapons, can only foreshadow one of two things. A quick bullet to the base of her skull at the next opportunity, or orders for a suicide mission, both resulting in her death.
Ziva wonders why her father would authorize such a fate for her, then wonders if he knows she killed Ari all those years ago, then wonders at herself for being so certain her father would see her dead.
Ducky is closer now, a warm presence at her side. Ziva knows without a doubt that he would fling himself in the path of bullets for her, and she suddenly realizes that she loves him, as she loves Gibbs and McGee and Tony and Abby and Jennifer, all in different ways but as a family, and it's gone as surely as if they all had been in that California diner with Jenny when the bullets came.
She will not let Ducky come to harm.
She draws herself up, looking directly into Michael's eyes and letting him see that she knows what is happening. "I may need nothing, but there are a few personal items that I would not leave to my successor."
Michael waits. After a long moment in which Ziva plots out five ways to escape these men in the elevator, he nods. "Gather what you need." The men stay at his back.
Ziva turns and finally sees Ducky, and he is just as she imagined, angry and dangerous and oh, what she would have given to have known him as a young man. "Do you need help, my dear?" he asks, and they both know he does not mean with the packing.
Ziva shakes her head. "This is the way it has to be, Ducky."
She takes only what fit into her handbag; an orange running toque, a sparse collection of personal photographs, a tiny wooden dreidel given to her by McGee the previous winter. A small jeweller's box from the back of the drawer fits into the palm of her hand, hiding a small curious sapphire pendant twisted in silver. The jewel had reminded Ziva of something Jenny Shepard admired in Cairo, years before, and Ziva planned to surprise Jenny with the present on the woman's next birthday.
Jenny is dead now, and the dead take no adornments with them to the bosom of God.
Ziva gives the jewel box to Ducky. Memories of the dead only make one weak, and if Ziva is to survive beyond nightfall she can afford no weakness. She cannot find the right words, and so says nothing as she closes her bag. Her sidearm and NCIS badge go into a drawer, which she locks. The keys jingle in her grip as she hands the ring to Ducky. Her whole life in Washington on one metal ring: her car, her apartment, her desk, her locker. Ziva forces her voice to stay steady as she says, "Could you ask Abby or Tim to have someone pack up my apartment into storage?"
He knows then that she's not planning on coming back. His precise surgeon's fingers close around the keys. "Come with me to say goodbye to Abby," he says, and she knows it for an offer of safety, and something in her heart breaks as she cannot accept. With Jenny's death as a fork in the road, her fate lies in a different direction
"I cannot, Ducky." And because she may never see him again, she hugs him tight.
"Ziva, let me help," he murmurs in her ear.
She pulls back before answering. "It will be all right," she says, and it's not a complete lie. "I will call if I can."
Ducky's hands are full of pieces of Ziva's life as he looks at her. "Ziva."
"Ducky." Ziva smiles to keep back any sudden tears she may have over the losses of the day. "Please say goodbye to everyone for me."
She doesn't name names. She doesn't say anything else. She only picks up her handbag and turns her back on NCIS as she is escorted to the elevator and away from the people she loves as family.
The car drives east. The two bodyguards sit in the front of the car, leaving Ziva and Michael a semblance of privacy.
Michael waits until they clear the Navy Yard's security perimeter to speak, slipping finally into the familiar Hebrew. "This assignment is directly from your father."
Ziva does not know if she wishes to believe the man.
"When he heard that NCIS was through with you, he moved very quickly to get you into this new assignment. He knows how well you work with the American military."
If there is sarcasm in Michael's voice, Ziva can not find it. She remains silent as the car enters the freeway.
"Why is Jennifer Shepard dead?"
Ziva clears her throat. This is... was part of her role, to share confidential NCIS information with Mossad. Jenny knew that as part of the deal to keep Ziva in Washington, and Ziva isn't about to let Leon Vance change the rules now.
"An old enemy found her in California," Ziva explains.
"You were assigned to protect her there," Michael says.
"She ordered us to stand down," Ziva counters. "She evaded us."
"Why would she do such a thing?"
Ziva lets her eyes slip to the passing scenery on the other side of the tinted bulletproof windows. She had seen the whispers between Jenny and Ducky and Gibbs over the past few months, how Jenny's hands were beginning to shake, how she would walk into things, how her body grew gaunt and her eyes hollowed with illness.
Ziva should have given the pendant to Jenny months ago.
"I suspect she was dying," Ziva says, because there is no shame in staring death in the face and choosing to destroy one's killers in the final moments. "She wanted it like this."
And Michael does not contradict her, because he knows Ziva has no reason to lie about such things.
"What is this mission my father has prepared for me?" Ziva asks into the stillness. "I will need to return home to gather supplies."
"We have been to your apartment and have packed your personal belongings," Michael says, reaching into a briefcase by his feet. "You will not return there."
Ziva's hand clenches on her lap. These men have been through her home, have touched her personal belongings, and the thought makes her skin crawl. "Where are we going?"
"The airport," Michael says. "You are booked on a commercial flight to Colorado Springs. The plane leaves in two hours."
Ziva turns her head, confused. "What is at Colorado Springs? My target?"
Michael sighs. "This is not an assassination assignment, Ziva," he says in a long-suffering voice. "You will be an observer for the Israeli government. Think of it as a continuation of your position at NCIS. An investigator."
"What will I investigate?"
Michael hands her a single page, stamped at the top with the seal of the United States Air Force and a red caution of top secret. "Atlantis."
Ziva frowns at the paper. "What is Atlantis? A codeword?"
With a glance at his watch, Michael settles back in his seat. "Atlantis is a project run jointly by the American military and the United Nations," he says with just a hint of impatience.
"Of a sort." Michael keeps his eyes on Ziva's face. "Atlantis is the name of an operations base in another galaxy. The Americans have been running a secret interstellar exploration program out of Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado for the last decade. We have not been able to get an operative inside the base until now, even though the Israeli government is made privy to all developments as part of our agreement with the Americans."
Ziva's fingers crumple the paper as the car accelerates into a merge. "A base in another what?"
The car leaves Ziva standing at the curb outside of domestic departures at Dulles with only her ticket, handbag and a suitcase packed by strangers. She's still in her funeral dress and people stare.
The first thing she does is find a small shop that sells suitcases and buys a new one at random. She will not board a plane with a strange suitcase. She closets herself in the handicap stall in the ladies washroom to transfer her clothing, shaking the cloth out and examining everything for bugs. Whoever packed her bag included so much of her life that they must have watched her for a while; her family photographs and the book from her nightstand and a tiny doll from Abby, and in the bottom of the suitcase lies the small decorated mezuzah case from her front door.
Ziva's fingers shake on the small metal case protecting the inscribed parchment. It was a gift from her mother's uncle, a young man when he escaped Poland in the early days of the War. She'd affixed the mezuzah into the frame by her apartment door one month after she started on Gibbs' team, and to find it here cements the message from her father.
There is no going back.
She kicks a hole in the old suitcase, pockets her Star of David necklace and goes looking for a security officer, throws on a heavy Spanish accent and explains how she ripped the case and wants to find a place to discard it without bothering anyone, and the man smiles at her innocent expression and her cutely fumbled English, and pays more attention to her breasts than to examining the case before he places it behind a security desk, and offers to escort her to her departure area, but she laughs and says she needs to telephone her Mama in Rota, and walks away before the man can insist.
Before she goes through security, Ziva finds a phone booth and dials Gibbs' cell from memory.
"What?" he demands as a greeting, loud and angry and he cannot know it is her, but his anger rips at her heart. She loves this man, in ways she cannot even begin to describe, and she misses him already.
"Jethro," she says, his name foreign on her tongue.
"Ziva?" He is instantly on guard. No doubt Ducky has told him everything. "What's going on?"
Ziva breathes deep, feeling the press of humanity around her. "I have been reassigned by--"
"Screw that!" He is so angry that the force of emotion travels down the line and quiets Ziva instantly. "If you're in trouble--"
"Gibbs!" Now is it Ziva's turn to interrupt. "What did you expect to happen? This is my life. I take the jobs I am given by my father." These are not the words she means, but she is an airport and even if the security is American, she will not use buzzwords like 'assignment' or 'Mossad' in case there are prying ears. "That is all this is. Another job."
Gibbs breathes heavily. "Is that what we were?" and those are words tinged with pain, and Ziva forces herself to remember that no matter how she buried a friend and boss on that day, Gibbs lost a partner and a lover and his entire team in a fit of retribution.
"No," she says, and the full pain of her loss hits her. She is losing a family she has held close for three years. "You are more than that."
Gibbs exhales slowly, and in the stillness Ziva hears the rhythmic thumping in the background. He must be in Abby's lab. "Do you need me?" he asks. In that instant, Ziva imagines all the things this man would do for her, and she for him. All the things she has done for him, the beloved brother she killed for him and for betrayal's sake, and the distance she would walk from God if he asked her.
"No." She rests one hand on her suitcase. "This is the way things have to be."
"Where are you going?"
The briefing in the car flashes before Ziva's eyes. "I am going to Colorado."
"What the hell for?"
"Since I worked so well with NCIS, I will continue working with the American military." There is more, so much more, but she cannot explain. "I will call you if I can."
A chatter on the other end of the line distracts Gibbs for a moment, then he is back. "How did this happen?"
"It is the way these things always go," and she hesitates because there is no painless way to say this, "I was always assigned to NCIS at the discretion of the director."
And she is dead, are the words that remain unsaid.
"It will be okay," she continues quickly, not sure if she's seeking to reassure him or herself. "I am going to work with the Air Force."
"The U.S. Air Force?"
"For the most part." She imagines the expression on his face. It hurts more than she had anticipated. "I will not forget the Rules, Gibbs, even working with the Air Force."
"You'd better not," Gibbs growls. His voice catches on the last word. "Here, say goodbye to Abby," and Gibbs vanishes before Ziva can tell him all the things she should not say.
"Ziva!" Abby's voice comes down the line, and it sounds as if she has been crying. "Where are you? What about the Air Force? Why did you leave so quick?"
Later, Ziva will not remember what she says to Abby, because as she speaks with a woman who slowly became her friend after three long years at NCIS, she finally realizes all that she is losing. She wants to blame someone; Jenny for leaving them behind and going off to die, or Vance for kicking her into the storm, or herself for not forcing the issue with Tony and going after Jenny sooner.
But there is no profit to blame, and Jenny made her choice, as has Ziva, and the black fabric of her dress is soft across her knees.
Gibbs comes back on the phone and for a few seconds, they say nothing.
"Todah rabah veShalom, Gibbs," Ziva finally gets out. She hangs up the phone before she breaks down.
She will not appear weak in front of a man who has done more for her than anyone.
Colorado in May is hot and dry. An Air Force driver picks her up at the airport and drives her east towards the Cheyenne Mountain base. She sits in the back with the windows down and the hot air blowing her hair about her face.
The next ten hours are a blur of paper and lectures and more paper. She is given a medical exam that includes devices from one of Tony's science fiction movies, things that glow and things that spin and things that have no describable purpose.
Finally, they tire of poking needles into her arms and send her to the commissary. The lateness of the hour presses down on her more than the weight of twenty-five stories of dirt over her head. Time moves oddly underground, and Ziva can't remember if they buried Jennifer Shepard that day, or the day before.
She is halfway through a soggy sandwich when the doors swing open to admit someone else to the quiet room. He's tall, with wayward hair conspiring to make him even taller. He wears civilian clothing and hasn't shaved in a few days, but the face is unmistakable from Michael's photographs. Lt. Colonel John Sheppard, military commander of the Atlantis expedition.
He is not what Ziva expected.
The man grabs some food at random from the cooler and slouches over to a table by the wall. He doesn't sit so much as collapse into the chair, poking at the food as if contemplating the effort to unwrap it.
Ziva clears her table and goes to where the Colonel sits staring at his food. After a long moment, he raises blinking eyes to her. Ziva's first impression is, he looks so tired.
Then, as she takes in the whole picture, the dark circles under his eyes and the fatigue weighing him down, the pallor of his skin under his tan, she amends that to, he has been hurt.
"Hi," the Colonel says after a few moments of silence. "Can I help you?"
"I am Mossad Officer Ziva David," she introduces herself, hands smoothing over her skirt in a nervous gesture she thought she had left behind in Tel Aviv. "I look forward to working on your team."
He stares at her so long that Ziva's stomach sinks, back to that first day with Gibbs at NCIS three years before. "You're the late addition to the crew," he finally says, his voice faintly accusing, as if it is her fault he can't place her. "There was something about strings being pulled while I was at breakfast."
Ziva sits without being asked, folding her hands on the table top. There are many things she will tolerate, but never the assumption of nepotism. "In Mossad, there are two types of agents," she says, willing herself to remain calm.
"The quick and the dead," he shoots back, and the confused air about the man vanishes for just a moment, just long enough for Ziva to recognize it and to realize she's fallen for his camouflage. "I'm not saying you can't do your job, it's just..." He rakes his hands through his hair, sending it in impossible directions. "What is your job, exactly?"
Ziva draws in a deep breath. It has been a long day and everything is bottled up in her chest and the pressure of her day is starting to make her careless. "I have been working at NCIS in Washington," she begins, because it's the only thing about her life that matters. Mattered.
This, of all things, causes the Colonel to perk up. "Cool," he says, gifting her with a fraction more attention. "We've got Marines on Atlantis."
The commissary door slams open and Ziva reaches for a non-existent gun because it's after midnight and she's had a bad day and for some stupid reason, she sat down with her back to the door and some days she can't understand how her stupidity hasn't killed her yet.
In storms a man of about forty, balding slightly, wide blue eyes and a bit soft around the middle and his hands and mouth are in constant motion and he doesn't even seem to notice Ziva sitting with the Colonel, just slams across the room and sits beside the Colonel and steals his pudding cup before Ziva can gather her wits.
"--so beyond stupid that I can't even begin to explain it, it's like their absolute moronicism is playing Twister with their paperwork and it's like they're trying to sabotage everything we've done for the last four years!"
The man punctuates the sentence by jabbing a spoon through the air. The Colonel slumps down in his chair and relaxes just a little. "The IOA said no, huh?"
"We need Sam!" the man rants around a mouthful of pudding. "I mean, it's not like you suck or anything, Sheppard, but we need someone who can actually understand half of what we're doing in Atlantis so I don't have to spend all my time explaining it and you're not that smart--"
The Colonel rolls his eyes at Ziva, and she wonders if they do this routine for all the new people.
"--and I finally had convinced Sam that we needed to go ahead with lots of crucial experiments with the ZPM and now, now, Woolsey told me to file a requisition!" The man's voice rises with righteous indignation. "He wants me to do paperwork to do my job!"
The Colonel drapes his arm across the back of the man's chair and takes a sip of coffee. "What's wrong with paperwork?" he asks, giving Ziva a quick wink.
The man spins in his chair, menacing the Colonel with the pudding cup. "I haven't spent a decade saving the universe with my superior intellect to do paperwork!" He tries to say more, but starts sputtering instead and the Colonel takes pity on him, plucking the pudding cup away before it can do any harm and patting the man on the back.
"Easy, McKay, I get it. And I agree."
"So what are we going to do about it?" McKay seems ready to storm the castle, but the Colonel grips his shoulder hard, and most of the fight goes out of the man.
"We're not going to do anything but our jobs, McKay." The Colonel lets his hand drop. "We'll save the galaxy from Michael and the Wraith and all the other big bad things out there, and we'll do it the way we always do."
"What, by tripping around until we luck out on the right answer?" McKay snaps.
"Well, I was going to say, 'with style', but whatever."
Ziva is seriously starting to wonder how much of this exchange is for her benefit.
McKay lets out a huff, and then seems to notice Ziva for the first time. "Hi," he says, confused.
"Doctor McKay," Ziva said in greeting, holding out her hand. Her briefing contained almost as much information about this man as the Colonel. "I am Ziva David."
"Hi," McKay repeats. He lets go of her hand and turns to the Colonel. "Who's she?"
"She's coming with us to Atlantis," the Colonel says, going back to his coffee. "As..." His eyebrow lifts. "What are you going to do?"
Ziva puts on her best smile. "I believe my paperwork say I am to be 'auxiliary support'."
"What does that mean?" McKay demands. "Is she a scientist? Are you a scientist? What's your area of study?"
"The study of getting stuff done," the Colonel says before Ziva can formulate an answer. "She's not a scientist. She's been with NCIS."
"What's NCIS?" McKay demands.
"But you're not Navy."
"But we have Marines and someone needs to keep them in check."
McKay gives Sheppard a withering glare, but before he can speak the Colonel jabs a finger against his chest.
"I'm the only one who gets to harass the Marines," the Colonel says. He settles back in his chair and puts his arm back on McKay's chair and Ziva wonders if he knows how very comfortable he appears with this man. "Now, McKay, we leave early tomorrow, so go get some damned sleep and get out of my hair."
McKay rolls his eyes and leaves without saying goodbye to Ziva.
When the door swings closed behind McKay, the Colonel drops the attitude and sits up, intent and focused and the change sets Ziva's heart pounding in her chest. "Look, I know you can do your job and you're very efficient and all that. But the Pegasus galaxy isn't like working in DC. I don't care if you're not strictly military, in Atlantis you're under my command."
His glare is good, but Ziva has spent three years under Gibbs and she's not cowed. "I spent three years in the Israeli military after I left school, Colonel Sheppard," she tells him. "I understand the chain of command."
"I thought it was only two years for compulsory military service for Israeli women."
She stares at him for long enough to get her point across. "It is."
He nods and sits back. "Here's the deal. I know I've got to take you with us, but we don't know how it'll work out. It may be great, you might likely be eaten by a grue, who knows."
A year before, she would have asked him to explain himself, but Tony's continued torment of McGee had done so much to further her education in the idiosyncrasies of North American culture.
"So I say we give it a month and then see how things stand."
"That is fair, Colonel," Ziva says, because he may have received orders to take her to Atlantis, but in practicality, a military commander could have shelved her if he didn't want her. Or was it benched?
"So, cool. And call me Sheppard." He smiles at her from behind his coffee cup. "So, got any questions about Atlantis?"
Michael's briefing only served to whet Ziva's appetitive for information. She leans into the table and looks Sheppard square in the eye. "How does one kill a Wraith?"
The look in his eye is one of approval, and Ziva thinks, this might work.
The next day is a whirlwind of wonder. After the darkness of Stargate Command, Atlantis is light and open and beautiful. Stepping through the Stargate, walking into another galaxy, is almost enough to reduce Ziva to open-mouthed gaping.
In what Ziva will later discover is standard operating procedure, there is an emergency right away and McKay takes one look at the mess and vanishes in disgust. Sheppard snags a passing Marine and shoves him at Ziva, muttering about "the official Pegasus welcome wagon" before storming up the steps to the group of grown men and women throwing a collective temper tantrum.
The Marine, a Sgt. Stackhouse, almost drags Ziva out of the large room into the hallways. Only there does the tension slip away from his shoulders. Then he snaps back to almost-attention. "Welcome to Atlantis, ma'am."
Ziva raises an eyebrow, but does not comment on the man's haste. "Thank you. Is it always so..." She weighs the political inferences of several English words. "Loud?"
"No, ma'am." A hint of humor creeps onto Stackhouse's face. "But the Colonel will set it right." He stands aside to usher her down a flight of stairs. "Are you the Agent Afloat?"
Ziva almost misses a step. "What did you say?"
His eyes snap straight ahead. "Scuttlebutt says you're from NCIS. Coming here, that would make you Agent Afloat, Atlantis."
Ziva stops dead in the hall. "We are in a city," she says, and she gets that feeling again that she is missing something.
Stackhouse motions at a set of nearby windows. Ziva shifts her duffel higher on her back and looks out at an endless expanse of water and at two moons hanging heavy in the evening sky.
"It's a floating city, ma'am," Stackhouse says, and then further knocks the ground out from under her by adding, "And sometimes it flies."
This all has to be a trick.
Stackhouse hands her off to the XO, Major Lorne, who isn't working in his office so much as hiding. Ziva gets a smile and an earpiece and a map of the city, and it's only when the Major asks why she's there that things begin to falter.
"I am auxiliary support," is all she can offer him, words to fill the time as they walk down beautiful airy halls, past men and women from all of Earth's countries.
"I'm not exactly sure what that means," Lorne tells her apologetically, and interrupts Sheppard over the comms to ask him where he should be taking Ziva now.
"I don't care," Sheppard says in a tight voice, possibly unaware that Ziva is on the same channel and can hear him. "Tell her to fix something."
Lorne's frown makes him resemble Tony in ways that kick the air from Ziva's lungs, but then the moment is gone. "Is there something broken?"
"How the hell should I know, do I sit around with a lot of spare time on my hands?" Sheppard's voice over the comm is drowned out by the sudden strident tones of McKay. "Lorne, now is not a good time!" and the line goes dead and Lorne lets out a sigh.
"You heard the man," Lorne tells Ziva with a long-suffering smile. "There may be something, somewhere, that needs fixing."
"Is it always like this?" Ziva wonders aloud, trailing along beside the Major.
"It's usually worse."
Ziva dashes all hopes that he's kidding when she see the expression on his face, and it only reinforces her earlier thought that the universe has gone mad.
She hopes Tony, wherever he is, isn't have as crazy a time on his first day as Agent Afloat.
It'll be two weeks until she gives up trying to figure out her job title. In the meantime, every day she leaves her bedroom and takes her little flat computer thing and spends her time being Gibbs.
Not really. There is less slapping and yelling when she does it, but she finds people around the city and does what Gibbs spent three years teaching her: getting them to talk.
At first, most people think she's with Woolsey, the new commander, and give her cursory responses, especially the scientists who seem to be suffering from Carter-withdrawal. But Ziva perseveres, and word gets out that she's on a job from Sheppard, and soon she hits upon the magic words:
"What needs to be fixed?"
Sometimes the responses are factual, in that this door sticks and there's something wrong with the water filter on the east-southeast tower. There is the perennial answer of get rid of the Wraith and anyone heard what's up with Michael? No one comes out and says they have problems with anyone else. Not at first.
It's subtle, and like any investigation, there's a pattern hiding there, waiting to be teased out by seeking questions.
So every morning she laces up her trainers for an hour-long run around the city, or does morning calisthenics with the enthusiastic Marine contingent, then showers and ties back her hair and learns a little more about the Ancients and the city and the Wraith.
Mostly, however, she learns about the humans supplanted to Atlantis by a well-meaning international contingent of politicians and bureaucrats.
And true to form, there has never been such a mess as is made by politicians.
Time passes and then it's her sixth day, the Sabbath by the Earth calendar but it doesn't matter as they're in another galaxy and God will understand that she's busy. The intel comes in bits and pieces and her report for Sheppard is progressing nicely. After a solitary breakfast by sunrise, Ziva gathers her computer and follows the map to the botany labs.
Botanists are early risers, it seems, and Ziva finishes with half the department in under an hour. The other half, she's told, are away on missions or in the infirmary or dealing with personal issues, which, she suspects, means they've been interacting with Woolsey and are taking some personal time to avoid punching someone.
She's halfway down the hall when someone swings around the corner up ahead, and all Ziva's eyes register are the red hair and female form and her mind freezes on Jenny when the woman looks up and smiles and it's not Jennifer Shepard at all because Jenny is dead.
"Hello," the woman offers shyly, ducking her eyes away from Ziva for a moment. "You must be Ms. David, everyone's been talking about you."
Only with years of Mossad training can Ziva makes herself smile. "I am. You are Dr. Brown, yes?"
"Katie, please," and the woman so unlike Jenny Shepard guides Ziva over to one of the wide window bays and they sit and talk and Katie is soft and open and she stutters sometimes on her suggestions for deficiencies in the city's plant supply and her hopes to renovate one of the long buildings on the southern pier as a greenhouse to make Atlantis more food self-sufficient.
Ziva eventually leaves without making a fool of herself, but only barely. She escapes down the halls, deserted this far from the city core, down stairs, down and down, until she's finally standing on the northern pier under an alien sky.
The wind this close to the water is quick to whip around Ziva, the salt tang of an alien ocean teasing at her. Ziva slings her computer over her shoulder and sits on the railing of a breakwater to watch the water crash against the city, only meters below her feet.
She concentrates on the waves. It's been too long since she went to the beach. When she was a child, they often went on a week's vacation to the sea, her and Mama and Tali and everyone except for her father. After Tali was killed by a suicide bomber, Ziva never went back to the sea.
The last time she was by the water had been in Los Angeles, with Tony, while Jenny was running for her life and hiding even from those who were supposed to protect her. The last time she saw Jenny, Jenny was dead.
The pounding of the waves makes the air tangy, and Ziva licks salt from her lips.
Jenny is dead and Ziva never had a chance to say goodbye. She knows that's how these things go. The step between life and death comes in an instant, even for those who walk into death with eyes wide open. Only...
Ziva closes her eyes on the sudden rush of hot tears on her cheeks. Only, Ziva hadn't had a chance to close that chapter on her life and now she never would.
It had happened only once, in Cairo, after Ziva saved Jenny's life from an assassin's bullet. The night had been hot and both had been drunk on the near-miss, and while Ziva had been the one to step against Jenny and kiss her breathless, Jenny had been the one to pull Ziva into the bed and tangle her beneath the sheets until dawn.
Ziva opens her eyes on the empty sea. Jenny is dead and Ziva shouldn't lie to herself, not anymore. They'd never spoken of their encounter, as Jenny was afraid for her career because the backwards priorities of the Americans towards sexuality, but Ziva had bought the sapphire pendant for her lover as well her friend.
"And in this, I am a fool," Ziva tells the sea, wiping her tears away. The wind rises in response, pulling tendrils of hair out of her ponytail.
She stares at the sea until her eyes hurt from the glare. Only then does she pull her computer around and resume work.
The sun is almost directly overhead when the pitter-patter of combat boots alerts Ziva to a visitor. She looks around to see Rodney McKay, his eyes wide. "You shouldn't be down here," he tells her, and proceeds to sit on the pier beside her.
"Why not?" Ziva continues typing.
"Well-- um, a wave might sweep over the side and you'll be washed into the sea."
"I have been sitting here for..." She consults her watch. "Over three hours. In that time, no wave has come higher than that mark there." She points. "Next objection?"
His hands wave while he speaks, and Ziva does not think he realizes how much he gives away without saying a word. "What if someone needs to get in touch with you?"
"I have my earwig."
He makes a face. "They're called earpieces, not earwigs, you make it sound like they're mind-eating insects or something."
Ziva serenely opens another file. "Next?"
He snaps his fingers. "Sunburn! The UV index is over seven!"
"I am Israeli, Dr. McKay." She shifts around to look at him directly. "We know about the sun. Why are you here?"
"Because you shouldn't be down here," he tries again, but his gaze slips down to her computer. Ziva has to restrain a smile. She has him now.
"You will see my report in time, Dr. McKay."
He rolls his shoulders back, failing at his attempt to pretend that he does not care. "Are you sure you're being complete enough?"
Gibbs' interrogation trick number thirty-six when dealing with children and the annoying: Ask what questions one should ask. "Is there someone I have not spoken with?" Ziva asks, although she is pretty sure she knows what he will say.
And sure enough, he launches directly into, "Me! I'm the senior scientist in Atlantis and I'm on Sheppard's team and I know everything that goes on around this place and no report on what's broken in this place is complete without talking to me because I know everything about what's wrong!"
Ziva sighs, thinking back to the interviews with some of the engineers who had asked very nicely if maybe McKay could be transferred back to Earth in exchange for Colonel Carter. But that is not what the man needs to hear, and in any event, those words are for Sheppard alone. "Dr. McKay, if that is the case, I would not need to speak with you."
He gapes at her. "That makes no logical sense!"
Ziva wonders if this is how McGee feels like, trying to explain computer terms to Gibbs. "Dr. McKay, what would you do if you realized that something in the city needed to be repaired?"
"I'd fix it, of course!" he blurts out without thinking.
"I rest my case," Ziva says as she sets her computer down on her lap. "I do not need to talk to you about things in Atlantis, because you can fix anything that you know is wrong."
She means tangible things, of course, because she knows his type and he will not think of people's feelings or egos. That is why she is here.
Or, at least, what she is doing while she tries to figure out what she is doing in Atlantis.
McKay refuses to leave her alone, however, and Ziva spends the rest of the day with the man in the cafeteria. He tells her every single thing about the city and its inhabitants that needs to be optimized, and if she can't get to him accept responsibility with, "Why have you not fixed it?" or "The IOA will never let you do that" or "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means," she puts it into her computer for Sheppard to deal with later.
The sun has set and Ziva's drunk enough coffee to put Gibbs on edge, when Sheppard appears at the table with Major Lorne in tow. "McKay, where the hell have you been?" Sheppard asks. Something about the man's manner sets Ziva on edge. He's not unhappy or anxious, just looking at her warily
"I've been busy with your little fix-it project," McKay says.
"What fix-it project?" Sheppard's eyebrows go up. Even his hair looks confused.
McKay points at Ziva. She holds up her computer and says, "You told me to find out what was wrong on Atlantis and I am doing so."
"Did I say that?" Sheppard turns to Lorne. "Did I say that?"
"Yes, sir," Lorne replies blandly. "Last week."
Sheppard rubs his eyes. "Really?" His hand falls. "Go figure. Hey, McKay, Zelenka was wondering if since you're obviously taking the day off, if it was okay if he took the ZPM off-line--"
McKay is out of the hall before Sheppard can finish the sentence.
"Sir?" Lorne's eying Sheppard like the man kicked a puppy. "Wasn't that a little bit far to stretch the truth?"
"I'll make it up to Zelenka later." Sheppard jerked his chin at Ziva. "Come on, up. You and me need to have a little talk."
They walk in silence until Sheppard has them suitably far away from any signs of life. Then he plants his feet on the ground and leans his shoulders against the wall. "What the hell are you doing here?"
Ziva doesn't have any idea what he's talking about. "You wanted to speak with me--"
"I mean," Sheppard says loudly over her words, "Why are you in Atlantis?"
"I received an assignment from the deputy director of Mossad." As she speaks, her shoulders go back and her chin comes up and she's far enough away to dodge a physical attack, if it comes, and she doesn't know what's happening. Sheppard has had six days to come after her. What's changed now?
Sheppard's arms cross over his chest, his hand far enough away from his sidearm for Ziva to breathe easier. "I got your full file today."
Which means he hadn't seen it before.
Which means he had no idea what she is capable of.
"You're a trained assassin and intelligence officer!" he says accusingly. As if she was unaware of the fact. "And you're in my city! What's your assignment?"
"It's not what you think," Ziva tries.
"Then explain what I should be thinking!" Sheppard shouts, pushing off the wall and Ziva drops her computer and there's a moment when she doesn't know how this is going to end.
They stand for a moment, ready for the fight, then Ziva holds up both hands, fingers wide and empty. "My assignment is not hidden from you," and it's hard to hold onto the English words now. "I am here to help in anyway that I can."
"Are you telling me that Mossad sent me one of their best agents to do paperwork?" He doesn't believe it, and there's only one way to solve this.
"The deputy director wanted me here to help," she says again. "It's... it's partly reprimand."
"Because you let the director of NCIS get killed," he says. He's the first person to say those words to her face and it's like a fist against her jaw because he's not right and he's not wrong.
When she can breathe again, she licks her lips, tasting the memory of the sea's salt. "The matter of which you speak is... complicated."
Sheppard never breaks eye contact. "These were part of your file," he says as he pulls some paper from a hip pocket. "NCIS Director Leon Vance doesn't pull any punches."
He tosses the paper at her and she manages to catch it with suddenly boneless fingers. It feels like a betrayal and she shouldn't have expected anything else.
Sheppard holds up the other paper in his hand. "The other version out of NCIS is that you're an excellent investigative agent with an eye to detail and interrogative ability unrivalled and that we're damned lucky to have you."
It's a little hard to breathe. "Who... who is that from?"
"It's a joint effort." He unfolds the paper and gives it to her. The typewritten words, on NCIS Director letterhead, are bordered with Gibbs' messy handwriting. Gibb's name slides over the edge of Jenny's signature, and it takes Ziva a moment to look at up the date on the letter.
Jenny had written this letter of recommendation for Ziva on the day before the flight to Los Angeles. Gibbs had obviously added his opinions after the fact, but still, for Jenny to have written such a final recommendation for Ziva... Just how ill had Jenny been?
Sheppard carefully takes the papers back from Ziva. "Which of these do I listen to?"
Ziva wants to tell him about Gibbs and Jenny and how they are good people, good agents, but she can't get the words out.
"Which of these guys do I want at my back in a fight?" Sheppard asks, and then it's easy.
"Gibbs. And Jen-- Director Shepard."
Colonel Sheppard nods as he folds the papers into his pocket. "Why are you here?" he asks again.
"The deputy director of Mossad is my father," Ziva says, and Sheppard doesn't seem surprised. "I do not know his reasoning, but I suspect he wanted someone here whom he could trust. There is no hidden mission."
Sheppard nods again. "Okay."
"Just like that?"
"What did you expect, the thumbscrews?" Sheppard asks. "Come on, you and me are going to have a little talk about how you need to keep your Uncle John in the loop when it comes to secret ninja assassin skills."
"Oh, I am not a ninja," Ziva says quickly, in case he wasn't using a figure of speech. "Just well-trained in the arts of surreptitious movement."
That seems to worry Sheppard, but at least Ziva is trying.
There are many conversations that stand out in Ziva's memory, but her talk with Teyla Emmagen is most enlightening on exactly how things are in the Pegasus galaxy.
Before she can find Teyla, however, she has a non-conversation with Ronon; they're both working out in the gym and she's warming up with some moves she knows from krav maga and Ronon's in her face, asking for a demonstration. She manages to get in some good body blows before he picks up on the defence. At the end of the session, she asks him what he thinks needs fixing and he grins and says, "My ribs" and that's pretty much that.
The one person she avoids is Richard Woolsey. She hates politicians on a good day and he seems to be aggravating everyone to such a degree that she stays away. She does not want to tell her father she has been sent back to Earth because she could control her temper by attacking the expedition leader.
As her ill-luck would have it, Ziva finally manages to run Teyla to ground just after Teyla finishes speaking with Woolsey. Ziva knocks on the open door of Teyla's quarters. The baby is making cranky noises and Teyla whirls on the intruder.
"Hello," Ziva says, drawing on the inner strength that got her through three years with Gibbs. "I can come back if this is a bad time."
Teyla's hands flex against her sides and she relaxes her shoulders with a great deal of effort. "I must feed my son," she says in a melodic voice. Ziva has always been a sucker for voices.
"Would you like privacy?" because Ziva has no idea what the customs are for Teyla's people.
"Most of your people seem offended by a woman feeding her child," Teyla says, the steely edge to her words softening. She picks up her squirming child and he quiets almost immediately.
Ziva bows her head in acknowledgement of that fact. "I have found that North American and Western European cultures seem to have over-sexualized the female breast. Especially those without children."
Teyla pauses in undoing the strap on her shirt. "That is a most interesting interpretation on the matter." She smiles for the first time. "Please, come in."
Ziva seats herself on a chair while Teyla arranges her son against her chest. The baby starts nursing immediately. "What is his name?" Ziva asks. Talking about children is always a guaranteed method of opening a conversation with a parent.
"He is called Torrin." Teyla fixes a curious stare on Ziva. "You are newly from Earth."
"I am," Ziva acknowledges with a nod. "I am called Ziva David. Thank you for taking the time to see me."
Teyla smoothes back the hair on the baby's head. He remains oblivious to everything but his meal. "What else can I do?"
Ziva's hand stills on her computer. "I do not know what you mean."
Teyla fidgets unnecessarily with Torrin's clothing before she responds. "Your people seem to think that birthing a child makes a woman incapable of rational thought," she says finally. "I have been informed that I am to 'take it easy'." She spits the words into the space between them.
Ziva contemplates several responses to this, but from what everyone has told her about Teyla Emmagen, the woman does not respond well to platitudes, and rightly so in Ziva's mind. Anyone who can survive life in a galaxy with the Wraith and then, later, with the Earthers of Atlantis, is not to be trifled with.
So Ziva sets her computer to the side and crosses her legs, and gives up a little of herself. "My mother went back to work a month after the birth of my sister Tali," she says. "She is... was, Mossad. Like myself. She could have taken more time, but she always put the safety of her people over her personal feelings." The memory brings a small smile to Ziva's lips, in spite of herself. "She told me that all of Israel's people were her family, and she must work to protect them all as she would us."
Ziva's mother had died in an undercover operation when Tali was seven years old, and Ziva had never forgiven her father for being so cold after her funeral.
"I agree with your mother's sentiment," Teyla says. "The people of this galaxy understand that we must work together to fight the Wraith, all of us, not just a select few."
The baby breaks off from nursing and lets out a small cry of what sounds like agreement.
Teyla shifts the baby to her other breast before continuing the conversation. "Israel is your people? Or your homeland?"
"A little bit of both," Ziva says, because she took in the teachings of the Torah like breathing as a child. "Although I have been in America for three years, and before that, all over the world. My world," she hastens to add, because she is speaking with a woman who travels between planets without a thought.
"I have not heard of this land of yours," Teyla says. "I have not heard much about your world at all, outside of Dr. McKay's thoughts on Canada. I find that I wish to know more." She looks at Ziva expectantly.
Well, Ziva certainly wasn't expecting this. "I am not sure..." What about this is giving her such hesitation? Teyla's eyes are on her again, and there is a challenge in the woman's gaze. It is not as if anywhere told Ziva she wasn't supposed to speak of Earth to their allies. "I can tell you much about Earth, I am just not sure you will wish to hear it all."
Teyla's eyes spark. "In the words of Colonel Sheppard, try me."
So Ziva takes a deep breath and tells Teyla about Israel and Mossad, which leads to the history of the Jewish state, and then the War and the Holocaust and then back to the present day and the battles between civilizations and religions and how human beings always seem to find reasons to kill each other.
Ziva leaves with a promise to come back the next day to hear Teyla's story about the Pegasus galaxy and the long struggle with the Wraith. Her head is full of turmoil and wonder at how Teyla has worked with people from Earth for so long and hasn't heard any of these stories. She wonders what Sheppard has told her.
Her feet move without any input and she finds herself out on the north pier again. The sun is setting on the horizon when Ziva takes off her shoes and dangles her bare feet above the surf and writes letters home.
To McGee, she asks when his next book will be out and states that if he so wishes, he might want to write about Director Flock's heroic death and how LJ Tibbs manages with a new team, for she believes the fictional telling of how they manage will have to better than what they are living. She does not tell him how much she misses being around him all day at work.
To Ducky, she says she misses his stories and having tea with him, and she thanks him for helping her figure out American culture. She does not ask him how Gibbs is holding up.
To Abby, she writes of the sights she has seen and the oddities of working with the Air Force, and that there are no forensics where she is and she finds that she misses the hum of the mass spectrometer. She thanks Abby for being Abby and apologizing for not saying goodbye in person. She does not say how she misses Abby's unique take on the world and her odd taste in music.
To Gibbs, she writes how his rules and his techniques are making her assignment, details vague, much easier. She tells of how his additions to Jenny's letter were much appreciated, and she wishes him luck with his new team. She cannot tell him how much he means to her because that is not who they are.
In a letter to Tony, she gets as far as, Jenny wanted to die the way she did and then I miss you before she deletes the draft and writes only, I too am now stationed on the sea.
She attaches a photograph of the Atlantean sea that the censors will most likely remove and watches the sun dip below the water, the moons high and bright in the sky. The sea spray bathes her feet and she sings a Hebrew prayer because she knows she cannot return home from this world unscathed.