Chapter 1: Under the Cypress Trees
“Flowers in season
And rain in its time
For the missing ones to return
We need nothing more”
We Need Nothing More, Shlomo Artzi
Four in the afternoon on a Wednesday found the NCIS MCRT squad room a little more lethargic than the usual. Except, that is, for Agent Gibbs’ team, who were extra cranky and loud as ever.
Agent DiNozzo was moodily staring at the window. Agent David was assessing Agent DiNozzo.
“Tony, what has the window done to you?”
“The window hasn’t done anything to me, Ziva. It’s a window. It can’t do anything.”
“It can if you throw someone through it.”
“No, then you’d be doing something to someone using the window.”
“Are you contemplating making use of the window, then?”
“No, Ziva, I believe that is more your style then mine.”
Agent McGee raised his eyes from his keyboard. “Unless he was going to jump out himself,” he added, and then hastily raised his hands in surrender as both Tony and Ziva glared at him. “Hey, I was just saying!”
Predictably, that was the moment at which Agent Gibbs materialized behind McGee’s desk. “You were just saying what, McGee?”
“That, uh, Boss, uh...”
“That Tony would sooner throw himself out the window than another person,” supplied Ziva.
Gibbs turned his attention to her. “Who are you planning to throw out the window, David?”
“No one. But Tony is considering the window conspicuously.”
“For the hundredth time, Ziva, I am not looking at the window.”
“Then what are you looking at?”
“Do you see what’s that, outside?”
“It’s the Navy Yard, Tony,” said Tim. “You see it every day.”
“It’s rain,” said Tony with a put-upon expression. “It’s not supposed to rain this hard in May!”
“Actually, the month of May has the highest average precipitation in Washington DC,” Tim told him.
Ziva snorted. “You are not made of sugar,” she told Tony. “You won’t melt.”
“Oh, easy for you to say -”
Preoccupied by their bickering, the three agents failed to notice Agent Gibbs’ phone ringing. Thus, they all startled when Gibbs said, loudly, “Grab your gear. We have a missing Navy lieutenant.”
“Where, Boss?” asked Tony as the three agents reached for their bags and got up.
It took Gibbs an extra half a second to speak, and that was warning enough for his agents before he said: “Karnei Shomron.”
“Gesundheit,” said Tony automatically.
Ziva’s expression froze and her face paled. “Israel?” she demanded. “A US Navy lieutenant has gone missing in Israel?”
“That’s right,” said Gibbs, too evenly.
“One impending diplomatic crisis, coming right up,” muttered Tim, grabbing his emergency toothbrush from his drawer and putting it in his bag.
“Boss, are we going to...” began Tony.
But Gibbs was already halfway to the elevator. “Let’s go,” he called behind his back. “We’ve got a plane waiting.”
Gibbs did not say another word about the case until they were in the air. Then he produced a folder and passed it around.
“First Lieutenant Dana Weissman,” he said. The woman in the photo had strawberry-blond hair, brown eyes and a light tan. “25. She was on vacation in Israel, visiting her older brother and his family.”
“She was born in New England,” said Tony. “What’s her brother doing living in Israel?”
Ziva shot him a withering look. “He must have made Aaliya,” she said. Then she turned her attention back to Gibbs. “Has she gone missing from his house?”
“He reported her missing.”
“Karnei Shomron is across the Green Line,” she said. “It’s surrounded by Palestinian towns, the inhabitants of which are none too happy with the Israeli Settlers taking away land that should be theirs.”
Tony blinked. “Should be?”
“It’s across the Green Line,” repeated Ziva impatiently.
“It’s in the West Bank,” said Tim. “Part of the territory that Israel occupied in the 1967 Six-Day War.”
“The West Bank?” asked Tony. “Isn’t that area forbidden for US citizens?”
“Karnei Shomron is in the area under full Israeli control.”
“Isn’t the entire -”
Gibbs cut them off. “Geopolitics later,” he said. “Case now. Ziva, you think this could be a terrorist act?”
She shrugged. “Could be; chances, I don’t know. We’ll have to talk to the Shin-Beit.”
“The Israeli NSA,” supplied Tim before Tony could ask.
Ziva continued. “IDF Intelligence Corps would also be active in that area,” she said, “but the Shin-Beit will probably be easier to establish cooperation with.”
“We’ll also need the IDF’s intel,” said Gibbs.
“The Shin-Beit will have it.”
“No inter-agency turf wars in Israel?” asked Tony.
“After two Intifadahs?” Ziva retorted grimly. “Not anymore.”
They left Washington on a Wednesday, late in the afternoon, with temperatures in the 50s; they arrived at Israel early on Thursday afternoon to obscene brightness and temperatures in the high 70s. Tony felt himself begin to melt around the edges just stepping out of the plane’s belly. The heat out on the tarmac, in the blazing sunlight, was insufferable.
There were two cars and one man waiting for them, not fifteen feet from the ramp. The cars were an SUV and a sedan, both dark. The man was leaning against the latter with his back and one foot, arms loose to the sides of his body. He was 5’9”, about 170 pounds, solidly built; his hair was short-cropped, thinning and noticeably grey; skin medium-tanned, for an Israeli, with the expression lines showing around his mouth; his eyes were hidden behind a pair of elegant thin-frame, dark-tinted sunglasses that Tony approved of very much; and he wore khakis and a short-sleeved button-down that was on the smarter side of things, for an Israeli. All around, Tony estimated the man to be in his late thirties.
The man waited until they all stepped off the ramp, then pushed himself forward and folded his glasses on his shirt in a single compact motion and offered his hand.
“Section Chief Erez Shalev, Shin-Beit,” he said shortly, but not tersely. “I’m in charge from my organization.”
“Gibbs,” said Gibbs shortly, and somewhat more curtly. “These are Special Agents DiNozzo, McGee and David.”
If Shalev recognize Ziva’s name - he should at least recognize the Israeli pronunciation, Tony thought - he didn’t show it. He merely nodded and tossed Gibbs a set of keys. “The SUV’s yours for the duration,” he said. “I’ll show you to HQ.”
“We’d also like to talk to Isaiah Weissman,” Gibbs said.
Shalev nodded. “There’s GPS in the SUV,” he said. “Leave there by seven.” He fished out his wallet, produced a calling card and handed it to Gibbs. “Details of the Sector Officer. She’s already there. I’ll let her know you’re coming.”
“What, we get to wonder around Israel without a babysitter?” asked Tony.
Shalev’s expression didn’t flicker. “It’s a 50 kilometer drive if you take Route Six and the GPS is reliable. Leave at least an hour before dusk and you won’t run considerable risk of getting shot at. Shootouts aren’t common,” he continued, “but I’d rather not explain to your bosses why you were shot at on my watch.”
“Understood,” said Gibbs. He started in the direction of the SUV.
Tony snuck a look at Ziva. She seemed unfazed, but...
“On your six, Boss!”
Tim might have had more awkward half-hours in his life than the drive from Ben Gurion to the Shin-Beit HQ, but he couldn’t recall any. Ziva had gotten into the back seat of Shalev’s company car, which forced Tim to ride shotgun. Neither she or Shalev had said a word during the drive; Shalev had the radio turned to some talk-show in Hebrew, and Tim didn’t dare to ask him to change the station. Shalev reminded Tim of some Marines he’d met, who seemed to only ever consider people with an eye for the kill.
Ziva was all wrong, too. It was expected, as this was her first time in Israel since they had left her behind following Rivkin’s death, but that didn’t make it any easier. It wasn’t all that unusual for Ziva to be quiet, or be more interested in the scenery than in the people around her, but Ziva was never so still. He could see her, partially, in the mirror as he tried very hard not to fidget. She didn’t move at all, muscles relaxed, as if her body was uninhabited. It reminded him of the first few months after Somalia, and that made his lungs tight.
The sight of the Shin-Beit HQ was a relief, both because they have finally arrived and because it was so different from Tony’s horror tales of the Mossad HQ. Tony had described a warren of bare concrete cubes; this was a modern, elegant tile-and-metal building. The spacious atrium, where he and Ziva were issues visitors’ passes and checked in their cell phones, was marble and blissfully chilly, and the elevator was large and silent.
Then they stepped into the hallway, and if the floor was linoleum and the walls whitewashed instead of both being bare concrete, it was still cement and disconcertingly narrow. Tim’s heart sank.
They passed by six security doors before finally Shalev stopped by one.
“Check your cards,” he said.
Tim didn’t get it, but Ziva passed her card across the reader. The light blinked green and in the complete stillness of the hallway, Tim could hear the lock click open and then, after a moment, click shut again. Rather than wait for Shalev to turn that cool gaze on him, Tim tested his card too. This time, when the door unlocked, Shalev pushed it open and indicated for them to step in.
Tim wasn’t quite sure what he expected, but this wasn’t it. They were standing in a small hall that opened into several other rooms, and they opened into even more rooms. Some had doors, but most appeared to be open, and all were packed full with people and workstations.
“It’s like a hive,” he said before he could think better of it.
“Kaveret,” said Shalev, like he was agreeing, and Tim figured that that was the Hebrew word for ‘hive’. “That’s what we call it. This way,” and he started in one direction. “You’re free to go inside the hive, but please do not wander the halls unaccompanied, even to the bathroom. That’s on the other side of the hall, by the way. Coffee corner that way; anyone can direct you.” He stopped in one of the open chambers, where a woman in her late twenties appeared to be waging a war against three phone lines and two computer monitors. She looked up at them and waved, but did not pause what she was doing. “This is Ravid Kogan,” said Shalev. “She’s XO for this section. Anything you need, ask her or me. My office is here,” he said, pointing to a door behind Kogan’s desk, and then pushed another door open. “This one’s assigned to you.”
The room was as claustrophobic as any other workspace in the hive, but it had four desks, three computer stations and two phones.
“Thank you,” Tim said.
Shalev nodded once, and turned to his own office without a word. The door closed behind him on its own.
“Chatty guy,” Tim remarked as he deposited his bags on the floor and reached for a keyboard.
“He has work to do,” said Ziva shortly. She didn’t look in his direction, let alone at him.
Tim felt himself flinch. This was Tony’s place, or Gibbs’. There was nothing Tim could do for her. Nothing, that is, except focus on the case. Except that - “This operating system is in Hebrew.”
“The icons are the same,” said Ziva. She was busy with her own computer. “All the data we need should be accessible through the shared network folder, the shortcut to which is on your desktop.”
There really was a shortcut to a folder named Weissman on the desktop. “Handy.”
She said nothing.
It was going to be a long afternoon.
The last - and only - time Tony had been to Israel, it’d been straight from the airport to Tel Aviv and back. The area around Ben Gurion was primarily fields, he remembered that much; otherwise, it was all new to him.
The fields turned to tree-covered hills, which reminded him of Ziva saying This is like the forest I played in as a child, and then the trees turned to half-grey shrubs. As they drove north, the hills became smaller and lower, and the towns increased in number and density. By the time they exited the highway to the smaller road that would take them to their destination, the area around them could be best described as suburban. Then, as they turned east, the hills began to rise again - the grey, shabby-shrubby variety - and the towns were again distant things at the top of the hills.
Tony knew exactly when they crossed the Green Line, too, because there was a road block and a bunch of bleary-eyed uniformed teenagers (not one of them over twenty, to Tony’s eye) who made him and Gibbs step out of the car and circled them like so many alley cats in the twenty minutes it took them to get phone confirmation that the two NCIS agents were, in fact, who they said they were and were not smuggling weapons in the SUV.
From there the hills kept getting higher and shrubbier until, finally, they reached the industrial outskirts of the town of Karnei Shomron and then the town itself, with its 6,300 townees (according to Wikipedia) in their red-roofed houses.
Very near the town entrance, a dark car identical to Shalev’s was parked, and against it lounged a person in a nearly-identical posture. This, though, was a 5’5” woman. She wore beige cargo pants and a matching cargo vest over her black t-shirt, and the loose-fitting clothes made her figure harder to assess. Her hair was light brown, and pulled back in a ponytail, the tip of which touched the base of her neck. Her eyes, too, were brown, but her skin was fair.
She waited for them to approach her before she straightened.
“Yael Dunski,” she said, brusquely. Her first name was two distinct vowels in a quick succession.
She did not, Tony noticed, offer her hand.
Gibbs offered her a half-nod. “Gibbs and DiNozzo,” he said.
She nodded once. “I’ll take you to the Weissmans. No need to bring that clumsy thing,” she jutted her chin at the SUV, “into town, if you’re okay with that.”
“Is it okay to leave it here?” asked Tony, blinking against the view. It was chillier up there, and there was a nice wind, but it was still very bright.
“What kind of a crime rate does a town like this have, anyway?” asked Tony as they stepped into the car. Gibbs rode shotgun. Of course.
“Nonexistent,” said Dunski. “Unless toilet-papering the school before graduation counts.”
“Kids will be kids,” said Tony cheerfully.
In the mirror, he saw Officer Dunski smile.
“Is that why you have floodlights for street lights?” asked Gibbs in that misleading agreeable tone he sometimes used.
“Neighbouring towns are Palestinian,” said Dunski matter-of-factly. “Cars get stolen, but that’s the military’s problem, not the police’s.”
“Wow, you’re just rocking the PR, aren’t you,” Tony said.
Surprisingly, that earned him another smile, albeit sardonic. “It’s a sad world,” she told him, “so we laugh.”
“I bet it sounds cooler in Hebrew.”
“Ha’olam atzuv, az tzochakim,” she said, and made eye contact through the mirror. “Does it?”
“I’ll get back to you on that,” he said. “Just so we’re clear, are we really talking Hamas having kidnapped a US Navy officer?”
“Not Hamas,” she said. “This is the Bank, not the Strip.”
“Doesn’t mean there aren’t terrorist here,” said Gibbs.
“If there weren’t,” said Dunski, “I wouldn’t be here either.” Then she stopped the car. “We’re here.”
Back on the plane, Ziva had said that the Shin-Beit would be more cooperative than the Intelligence Corps. Two hours after arriving at the Shin-Beit, Tim thought that if this was cooperative, then he didn’t want to see non-cooperative.
The Northern Shomron Section Chief himself had picked them up from the airport. The Weissman folder was exhaustive. It had maps, aerial photographs of the area, everything the State of Israel knew about the family, and way more outright intelligence than Tim thought they’d be given. As for the physical conditions, the computer could be newer but Tim had seen older machines at NCIS itself, the two phones were in fact two lines, and they had more room than plenty other people in the same hive, sad as that was.
On its face, the Shin-Beit was being exceedingly nice to them. In practice, Tim wanted to scream.
The first sign was when, about half an hour after they arrived, Tim decided that a coffee sounded like a good idea and went in search of the aforementioned coffee corner. Ravid, still battling with the phones, pointed him that-a-way, rattled off a list of instructions too long for Tim to remember, tacked a distracted smile at the end and turned all of her attention away from him.
Tim managed to follow through on the first three turns, or he thought he had; when he asked for directions again he discovered he had missed the first one. So he went back to the starting point, managed to follow on three turns but by the fifth had to ask for directions again. All in all, he had to ask for directions six times to get to the ‘coffee corner’ - which turned out to be a fully-equipped kitchenette - and four to get back. Each time, all the inhabitants of the room he was in looked up when he said “Excuse me,” and then all but one immediately resumed their work; each time, the instructions he’d been given were detailed, but quickly spoken; and each time, just as the person’s attention had turned to him fully and with an odd, distracted courteousness, it disappeared just as fully once the instructions had been delivered once.
He’d asked for instructions in the coffee corner, too, and made Ziva’s instant coffee from the tin that the Israelis eyed with a semi-fond exasperation while he used the Nestle for his; percolators did not exist in Israel. Ziva’s expression cleared when she tasted her coffee, and for a second Tim thought that the excursion was worth it, but then she grimaced as if in pain, muttered something that sounded like Jol mejurban (no, Chol mechurban, the Hebrew consonant was rougher than the Spanish one), and pushed the cup away.
Well. He’d known that one might backfire.
So the interface was in Hebrew and all the programs that were not standard Microsoft-issue were new to him but, mostly, he managed. Some kind, hard-working soul had even translated most of the Hebrew documents and conversations on file to English, which had to be quite a bit of work considering the Israelis had less than a day to prepare for them.
Tim still missed quite a bit of context, though, and Ziva was busy analyzing chatter-patterns from the nearby villages and ignored him wholly and, anyway, international banking was not her thing. It wouldn’t have been a problem, really, except that he did not have access to anything outside the section’s own computer cluster, and that meant no dictionary, Wikipedia or any other resource.
That was when Tim discovered that the Shin-Beit people offered professional help the same way they offered instructions to the coffee corner: you were told precisely what you asked, nothing more, and only once.
Which Tim could have handled - because he was smart enough and, after years under Gibbs, reasonably independent - but he’d been awake for 24 hours, give or take a few, during which he’d had about half the calories he should and had been dealing with a foreign culture, and that’s to say nothing of the seven time zones crossed.
He needed help, and nobody was helping.
He had five minutes to try and get a grip on himself while Ziva found someone to escort her to the bathroom, and then she came back, closed the door behind her which Tim had deliberately left open because the room was too small and he was tired, looked in his general direction, and said: “Stop panicking.”
“What?” He followed her with his eyes; she’d already returned to her desk. “What are you talking about?”
“You annoy them,” she said, eyes on the computer. “Stop panicking.”
“I am not panicking!”
“That,” she told him.
“That’s not panicking.”
“It’s uncontrolled temper that is not murderous rage.”
“And that’s called panic, now?” he asked, knowing exactly how irritable he sounded and unable to help it.
She looked up, briefly, but her eyes went to some point on the wall behind his head. “It’s the Shin-Beit,” she said.
“You say that like it explains everything.” Her chin tipped down, and Tim spoke quickly, before he’d lose her attention. “Help me out here!”
“There is a Hebrew idiom for people who won’t solve problems they might be able to solve on their own, if they cared to,” she said coolly. “It’s small head.”
“Oh, is that what you think I’m doing?” he demanded, pushing himself up.
“Well, clearly -”
“Because from where I’m looking at it, there are things I need in order to do my job, Ziva, and no one is telling me how to find them!”
“That’s because you’re supposed to find them yourself!”
“Well, excuse me, but in case you haven’t noticed this is not my office I’m working out of, here. It’s not even my country, or my language, or...”
“Deal,” said Ziva shortly. “It’s what everybody else does.”
He opened his mouth, closed it, opened it again. “Is this also how these people help each other?”
“‘These people’,” she said, and he could hear the air quotes, “do not expect anyone to look after them, nor do they burden colleagues with things that are irrelevant to their job.”
“Things like suffering the human-typical effects of being tired and jet-lagged?”
She snorted. “You’ve only been awake 24 hours,” she said. “No one here notices before it’s at least thirty.”
“You’re unbelievable, you know that?”
She said nothing. Her gaze was studiously on her computer, but her shoulders were tense.
“Unbelievable,” he muttered. He was going to add I’m going for coffee, but she would have only said something else nasty - probably about not bothering anyone with his not magically knowing the layout of the hive - so instead he just went out, and informed the first person who looked at him that he needed an escort to the bathroom.
Isaiah Weissman’s file told Tony that there would be little children. Three children under the age of eight and a baby, to be exact. Standing by the car in the street and looking up the stairs to the two-story house, Tony listened to the racket and said: “That sounds like a lot of people.”
“Naomi Weissman’s family lives in town,” said Dunski. “Her parents, two siblings and a sister-in-law were over when I left to fetch you guys, as well as three of Isaiah’s friends. And their rabbi,” she added, as if in an afterthought.
That summed up to eleven adults, but that still did not explain what Tony was hearing. Pointedly, he said, “That sounds like a lot of kids.”
“Eight, including Isaiah and Naomi’s,” said Dunski.
“Great,” muttered Tony.
“Why are they all here?” asked Gibbs.
“For Isaiah,” said Dunski, plainly, as if nothing could be more obvious. She crossed the road and started up the stairs. “You coming or what?” she called over her shoulder.
The yard was surrounded by a hedge, and so Tony couldn’t see into it until they climbed the twenty stone-paved stairs and reached the garden gate. The front yard wasn’t very large, and the swing set took up half of it. Tony counted three boys playing on the swings and monkey bars. Two toddlers were playing on the porch, supervised by two women in their 20s or 30s, one of whom was holding a baby. Both wore full-length skirts, shirts which sleeves reached past their elbows, and headscarves.
It could be a peaceful domestic scene, but it wasn’t. Both women radiated tension, their shoulders tight and their lips pursed. Tony plastered on his best smile, but neither woman seemed to even notice.
Dunski greeted the women in Hebrew and they replied in kind. She didn’t head for the front door but rather cut through the porch and entered the house through the French doors. Gibbs followed without a comment; Tony followed, feeling slightly uncomfortable.
The French doors opened to a living room, where six men sat and talked. Isaiah Tony recognized from the photo; he was also the palest one, and the only one red-eyed. The two older ones had to be the rabbi and the father-in-law. The remaining three, Isaiah’s friends, eyed the two agents with thinly masked suspicion.
In the open space kitchen he could see two women, tight-lipped and anxious. One was in the same age bracket as the women on the porch and the other older; they bore striking similarity to each other and to one of the women on the porch. Tony figured these three for wife, mother-in-law and sister-in-law. The remaining man and two children were - by the sound of it - upstairs and playing a video game.
Isaiah and the two older men stood when the three of them entered.
Dunski said something in Hebrew that had to be an introduction, because she gestured at Gibbs and him with one hand and said their names. Then she said, in English, “Agents Gibbs and DiNozzo, these are Isaiah Weissman, Netanel Carmi and Rabbi Shlomo Ben-Ezra.”
All three men offered their hands to shake.
“Thank you for coming,” said Isaiah, even as the rabbi closed both his hands around Gibbs’ in a similar sentiment.
“Just doing our job,” said Gibbs.
Two of Isaiah’s friends got up. “Please,” said one of them, looking at the two agents and gesturing at the two overstuffed chairs he and his friend just vacated, “sit.”
“Thank you,” said Gibbs. He and Tony took the chairs; Isaiah, his father-in-law and the rabbi sat on the couch; and the two other men fetched themselves chairs from the dining table. Dunski remained standing, positioning herself to the side of the couch, with a clear view of both the front and French doors. He and Gibbs could only see the latter.
They were going to have quite the audience for this interview.
“I understand your sister stayed with you, here?” asked Gibbs.
“Yes, of course,” said Isaiah. “She hasn’t been to Israel in four years, since before Moriya was born.”
“Moriya’s your middle daughter?”
Isaiah’s expression relaxed minutely. “Yes.”
“Has your sister been with family the whole time?”
“Most of the time, yes. We’ve been to Jerusalem together. But she also rented a car, so she could have day trips without three children in tow.” He smiled a little, but his hands clenched in his lap. “She was going to visit Rosh Hanikra. When she didn’t return by the evening...”
“Rosh Hanikra iz norf,” said the father-in-law. Tony supposed he meant “is north.” “All de way to Levanon. We did not expect her back before de night.”
Isaiah’s hands twitched again. “They found her car...” he said. He turned slightly, looking up at Dunski.
She nodded. “It’s still being processed,” she told the agents. “I’ll show you it and the preliminary report when we get back.”
Gibbs nodded slightly. “Where was it found?” he asked.
“To the side of the road,” said Dunski. “Same one you came in on.”
“Was it her first time driving on her own around here?”
“No, it wasn’t,” said Isaiah. He sounded disturbed. “She drove on her last visit, too - it was much more dangerous, then. She knew to not go off the road. She knew to not stop for anything. I can’t think why - I just don’t understand.”
“Leave that to us,” said Gibbs. “That’s what we’re here for.”
“Thank you,” said Isaiah again as they got up to leave. Some of the other men present echoed the words, others just nodded. “Please bring my sister home safe,” he added.
“We will,” said Gibbs. “You take care.”
Isaiah only nodded.
This time, when they passed through the porch, the women nodded at Tony and Gibbs also.
When they were back on the street, Gibbs asked, “You searched where her car was found?”
“Trackers and dogs,” Dunski said. “Still ongoing. By the fuel in the tank, she never made it out of the Shomron that morning. Fingerprints are a negative - just the family.”
“I want to see that spot.”
“Trackers should be waiting for us there.”
There were five people waiting for them where Lt. Weissman’s car had been found: a tracker, a Shin-Beit operative with a full scene-investigation kit, two soldiers to keep an eye on the cars, and a very bored military driver with an mp3 player and an alarmingly large supply of smokes. The guards and the driver looked as young and worn out as the soldiers at the block had; the tracker looked even wearier, but at least he and the operative didn’t make Tony itch to ask if they were fully legal.
Dunski introduced everyone and then detached her attention from Gibbs debriefing with the tracker and the operative to Tony. “You’re not made for this weather, are you?”
In the full-blown sunlight of three in the afternoon, not even the hillside breeze could make Tony not feel like a slow-cooking turkey. “No,” he said. “Not really.”
Dunski grinned, a sudden, mischievous expression that disappeared as quickly as it appeared. Then she turned to the three men.
“Hi, Tzadok,” she addressed the tracker, “we getting that extra security?”
He shook his head. “It’s that or the search,” he said.
Yael nodded once, sharply, and turned to Gibbs. “Only one of you can go on the field,” she told him. “By the book I should have two armed guards on each of you, and Tzadok and Ariel here make one and a half.”
“Got our own guns,” said Gibbs.
Her voice didn’t lose its perfect mild composure as she said, “I don’t need to tell you why that is not a good enough answer.”
“No,” agreed Gibbs after a bit. “DiNozzo.”
“I’ll call when I’m back.”
Tony opened his mouth to ask And what am I supposed to do?, thought better of it, and said instead: “Yes, Boss.”
Once Gibbs and the two Israelis were far enough, he turned to Dunski and asked, “Are you really out of manpower, or did you have a precog moment?”
“Half and half,” she said. She turned back to her car. “Come on,” she tossed over her shoulder. “They’ll be gone for a while. I’m giving you a tour.”
Dunski drove them out of the West Bank, and then turned north where Tony and Gibbs had arrived from the south.
“Where are we going?” he asked.
“You’ll see,” she said.
“Not if we die in a fiery crash before we get there.”
“Hey, I have never so much as put a scratch on a car.”
“I have no idea how,” Tony said through gritted teeth. Dunski had driven normally enough before, but once on their own she turned out to be nearly as bad as Ziva.
“Five minutes and we’re there,” she promised.
Five minutes turned out to be an accurate assessment, and ‘there’ turned out to be another town, the name of which Tony wasn’t even going to try and pronounce. It seemed smaller than Karnei Shomron and possibly a little older, the plants having had more time to grow; between that and its hills being rounder and not as steep it felt softer, somehow, and not as alienatingly sharp.
“Nice place,” Tony commented.
“I grew up here,” she said.
Tony turned from the window to her. “Really?”
“Really,” she said. Her smooth calm had still not wavered.
Driving down the main street of her childhood town, Tony found it to be a little more creepy and a little less a show of professionalism.
She turned into a cobbled street that seemed to border with the town’s center and parked. “First stop,” she said.
“What’s here?” he asked as he followed her out of the car.
“Most everything that isn’t houses,” she said as she walked along the street. “See that building over there, cropping up on the other side of that mound?”
“The orange-y one?”
“Yeah. That’s one of the school buildings. You can’t see the lower classes building from here. But right there, over the treetops, that’s the junior high.”
He had absolutely no idea what she was up to, but in the short time he’d known her he’d already learned that there would be a point. “High school?” he asked.
She shook her head. “Town’s too small,” she said. “There’s a bigger town a couple of klicks from there. They take high school students from the entire region. From Karnei Shomron and its nearby towns, too.”
He huffed. “Policing your own back yard?”
She smiled, but there was no humor in it. “Come on,” she said, turning back. “Next stop.”
She turned the car around and they drove back up where they came from. At the town’s entrance, she turned the other way and parked it in a small gravel yard.
“What’s here?” he asked.
“You’ll see in a moment,” she said. She bent down, picked up a few pebbles from the gravel, and handed him one.
“What’s that for?”
“Tokens of remembrance.”
“What? Hey, wait up!”
He followed her across the road and up the gravel lane that led into the trees, cypress planted among wild pines. Then the lane turned right and Yael with it, and Tony realized where they were.
“Cemetery?” he asked.
“Yes,” she said, voice tight. She turned right and down again, into a smaller section distinct from the main part of the cemetery. Here the gravestones were all of an identical make, and the ground was paved stone.
“Why does this part look different?” he asked.
She stopped at the middle of the section and turned to him, tipping her face up to look him squarely in the eye. “You already know.”
“It’s the military section,” he said, quietly.
“Military,” she agreed, “and Intelligence, and those killed in terrorist acts.”
Intelligence, like her, like Mossad; terrorist acts, like Ziva’s sister that they never talked about. Tony turned around, slowly, counting headstones.
“How big is this town, again?” he asked.
“About five thousand,” she said. “It’s been here for about twenty years.”
Tony swallowed. Too many headstones.
Dunski moved, walking among the graves, slowly, her hand brushing the tops of this headstone and the other. “Shachar,” she said. “He was shot dead in Lebanon when I was little. His family lived next door. Ilay,” she said at another, “military medic, killed in a second-blast bomb when he ran to help the victims of the first. His little sister was in my class. Roy, training accident. He was in my class.” She went on, matching names to a total third of the headstones, leaving a pebble on each. Then she circled back around to one of the headstones, the dates on which told Tony that here lay a child.
This grave, Dunski knelt next to, turning her back to him as her hand all but caressed the stone.
“Tali David,” she said.
Tony’s stomach dropped miles deep into the ground.
“It was the last week of August,” Yael continued. “They went to the amusement park. A girl only three years older than Ziva blew herself up.”
Tony swallowed, looked down at the pebble in his hand, swallowed again, and then walked over, knelt by Yael and placed his pebble next to hers. There were no other pebbles on Tali’s headstone.
“You knew Ziva?” he asked.
“Same class,” she said. “From kindergarten to twelfth grade. I sat Tali’s shiva’a with her.”
The schools she’d shown him, Ziva had went to; the playground across from it, Ziva had played in; the forest on the other side of this very hill, too. Tony’s throat was tight.
“The coming Monday,” Yael said, her conversational tone turning to flint, “is Memorial Day. You understand?”
Ziva’s second year in the States, Abby had made the mistake of wishing Ziva a happy Memorial Day. The bruise that Ziva’s slap had left took days to disappear. “Yes,” he forced himself to say.
She turned her face to him. Her eyes were too bright. “This Monday at eleven in the morning there will be a service here,” she told him. Her voice had gone steel and stone, ferocious. “Their father will go to the central State service like every year. Their mother died last year. Ziva is going to stand here this Yom HaZikaron, do you understand?”
“She is going to be here and witness her sister’s death and her own grief honoured with everybody else’s,” she said flatly. She pushed herself up. “You went into hell and brought her back; you make this happen, too.”
On their way out, she stopped to wash her hands in a basin. “Jewish ritual,” she said, voice still uneven, before he asked. “Leave death where it belongs.”
“Can we...?” he asked as they drew near the car.
“Their old house,” she completed. “Of course.”
“I’m not making promises,” he told her.
“No,” she agreed. “Not to me.”
Tim looked up at the sound of a woman’s voice. Ravid the XO was standing at their office door. She must have taken the eye contact for tacit permission, because she stepped into the room, grabbed herself one of the chairs and all but crashed in it, the picture of exhaustion, legs stretched forward and her head tipped back, staring at the ceiling.
“All set for tomorrow,” she declared.
“What’s tomorrow?” he asked.
“Friday,” she said, in a voice that said Dufus.
“Muslim holy day,” said Ziva, hiding behind her monitor.
“Muslim gossip day,” said Ravid. “And I’ve been on the phone chewing people out since six in the morning, getting us all the CommInt coverage we could need and the extra translators we’ll need to sift through all of that intel in time.”
So that’s what she’d been preoccupied with, every time Tim passed by her desk. “Thank you,” he said.
“What the hell for?” she asked, with vehemence that surprised him.
She cut him off. “That’s my job,” she said, in the same. “It’s just my job. You don’t thank someone for that.”
“Why not?” he asked.
She shifted her head and looked at him. Her gaze was half incredulous and half flint. “Because it’s what I’m supposed to do,” she said, carefully, as if she wasn’t sure he’d understand. “It’s not...” She paused, struggling to find words.
Tim took advantage of that. “Does that mean it should be taken for granted?”
That earned him another incredulous stare. “Duh,” she said. “That’s expected. Oh, god,” she repeated, massaging her neck. She made a face. “Can I just hide in here in quiet for a few more minutes? And then I’ll go and make us all coffee. Deal?”
It was the nicest thing anyone had said to him in nearly thirty hours. “Deal,” Tim said firmly.
The sound of Tony’s voice, loud and clear across the hive, came as a blessed relief for Tim. He’s had worse afternoons and could, in fact, name a handful off the top of his head, but those all involved the death or serious threat thereof to someone Tim cared about.
Things were seriously wrong in the world if Tony made his head hurt less, not more. Even if watching Tony grin so hard when Tim was feeling this miserable made him want to punch that grin off Tony’s face.
“I,” Tony announced brightly and loudly as he and Gibbs entered the NCIS office, “have a new favorite beverage.”
“Good for you, Tony,” Tim said.
“Ice Aroma,” he declared.
Ziva made a short, harsh bark that was too far removed from laughter. “Of course,” she said.
Oh, thank goodness, Tim thought. Tony was here and Ziva would be mean to him instead. “What’s Ice Aroma?” he asked.
“Too much sugar, some cream and a little coffee, in the texture of finely crushed ice,” said Ziva.
“It’s a coffee slushie,” said Tony. “A really, really good coffee slushie.”
“I’m glad to know your afternoon was productive,” Tim said. “Because mine was a complete waste.”
“Oh, that wasn’t even the highlight of my afternoon, McGrouch.”
“Then what was?” Tim asked, knowing Tony would only become worse if not given his serve.
“Meeting an old school pal of Ziva’s,” Tony said. “Remember Yael Dunski, Ziva?”
Ziva’s head snapped up. “Yael?” she demanded. “How is she involved?”
“She’s the Sector Officer,” Gibbs said. “Is that a problem?”
Ziva’s lips were pressed into a very thin, very flat line. “The only reason Yael can be trusted on the matter of the day of the week,” she said, “is because that information can be very easily verified.”
“You’re saying she can’t be trusted,” said Gibbs.
“I’m saying Yael lies,” snapped Ziva. “I’m saying Yael has been practicing her handling since she was eleven. She can be trusted to do what she believes ought to be done.”
“And that may include lying,” said Gibbs.
“Often, it does,” Ziva said. She frowned. “You say she is a Sector Officer?”
“Problem with that too?” asked Tony.
Ziva glared daggers at him. “Yael has served as a handler in the Intelligence Corps,” she said. “She’d been recruited into the Shin-Beit directly into a coordination position when she was twenty one. It would have been reasonable for her to be a Sector Officer four years ago.”
“So?” Gibbs asked.
“I don’t know,” Ziva said.
Gibbs nodded once and sat on the edge of one the computer-less desks. “The lieutenant’s car was found to the side of the road,” he said. “Broad daylight, no prints, no signs of a struggle. The brother doesn’t seem to know anything.”
“I went through both their lives,” Tim said. “I think we can rule out all the usual motives, Boss.”
“Nothing specific in the chatter,” Ziva said.
“So basically,” Gibbs said, “we got nothing.”
Chapter 2: A Door Into Nighttime
“To the sea we bring our sorrow
And so the sea is salty
And it’s very sad I can return my arms
But I cannot return my longing”
To Cry for You, Aviv Geffen
They had landed at one in the afternoon, Israel-time; Tony and Gibbs arrived at HQ at half past four; at half past five, when they headed out, the North Shomron Section’s hive was every bit as busy as it had been when Tim and Ziva had stepped in three hours before.
Ravid must have correctly interpreted Tim’s expression, because she caught his eye and said: “We have a saying: mitzet ha’chama ad tzet ha’neshama.”
“What does it mean?” he asked.
“From when the sun comes until the soul leaves,” she answered.
“I suppose this would be regarding your work hours,” Tony said.
Ravid shrugged. She pushed around the stacks of papers on her desk and produced a calling card and a sheet of paper. The card she handed to Gibbs. “The address for your hotel,” she said, and then handed the sheet to Tony. “And a list of decent places to grab dinner within walking distance of it.”
“Bless you,” said Tony. He scanned the list. “Ice cream? Seriously?”
She gave him a tiny, tired smile. “Best in town,” she promised. “Possibly the best in Israel.”
“That actually sounds like a good idea,” Tony said. He gave her one of his cheesy smiles. “Show us out?”
Ravid’s gaze shifted to a point behind their backs. “Nir!” she barked. “Make yourself useful!”
Tony’s expression buoyed Tim all the way out of the building.
The Shin-Beit had either a wacky sense of humor or a pretty solid grasp on what could make four jumpy NCIS agents a little less on edge, because they’d reserved the team a suite instead of four single rooms. The suite seemed nice enough at a glance, but Tony only had eyes for the view from the porch. Tony dropped his bag on the carpet, pushed the pocket door open and stepped outside, blinking against the sunset.
“Did you see that?” he called out. He gave it a few seconds and then, when there was no reply - not even a snappish comeback - twisted around to look into the suite’s living room. No Gibbs, no Ziva, and one Tim collapsed on a couch. Tony went back inside and closed the door against the humidity.
“You look like a marionette with its strings cut off,” he told Tim.
Tim didn’t even bother to open his eyes. “Feel like it, too.”
Sound like it, too, thought Tony. “Gibbs and Ziva?” he asked even as he looked around.
“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Tim said.
Three bedroom doors were open: two empty and one with Gibbs’ bags. Two more doors were closed and, upon a careful visual examination, appeared to be locked from inside. Tony could hear the water from behind at least one of those doors.
Gibbs and Ziva were both in the shower, then. In two separate showers, to be precise. And Tim was looking the most miserable Tony had seen him in quite a while.
Tony came over and sat on the couch across from Tim. “That bad?” he asked, keeping his voice relatively low.
“Worse,” replied Tim in kind. “I was cooped up with a spooked Ziva all afternoon, surrounded by dozens of unhelpful, cagey - ”
Yeah, Tim didn’t like Shin-Beit operatives, that much was clear. Tony was still fuzzy on what exactly happened. He cut Tim off and focused on the critical point: “Ziva doesn’t spook.”
“She does when she’s locked up in the headquarters of the Mossad’s sister-organization, and back in Israel for the first time since you-know-when.”
Tony made a face. “Point,” he agreed. Ziva was, in so many words, throwing a completely justified post-traumatic freakout that wasn’t Tim’s problem to solve, and which Tony needed to handle before Gibbs came down on her and things really went to shit.
“I’ll tell you what,” he said. He pushed himself up. “You can have the shower first, after Ziva’s done with it, and tomorrow she’s totally my problem and you don’t need to so much as look at her.”
“Thank you, Tony,” Tim said, in his I-am-ever-so-surprised voice. “Now I truly know that the world is ending, as you have just been nice to me.”
“Yeah, don’t get your hopes high,” Tony said. He patted Tim’s shoulder - poor kid didn’t open his eyes even at that - and went over to fetch his bag. “We’ve got one room with straight ocean view and one half-overlooking the pool, and I’m taking the ocean.”
The really sucky thing about jet-lag wasn’t the tiredness. It was that tired or not, you still woke up at insane hours in the night. Or morning. Tony lay in bed and pondered that for nearly fifteen minutes before he gave up and pushed himself up, thinking to sit on the porch and stare at the ocean for a while as he wasn’t nearly suicidal enough to risk waking cranky teammates by trying to figure out Israeli television.
The lights from the promenade painted the world outside the glass door a warm orange. Tony pushed the door open and stepped out. The floor was slippery with condensation under his feet. The night air was cool, somewhere in the low 60s, and Tony half-contemplated going inside to grab a better cover than a tank top even as he leaned on the railing to watch the beach below.
It wasn’t crawling with life, exactly, but it was still remarkably busy for 2 a.m.. Wholesome traffic, though, high school- and college-aged kids, nothing that set off his old cop instincts.
He almost jumped when he heard Ziva’s voice say, “Enjoying the view?”
He turned around. She was standing as far from him as she could and still be on the porch, close to the door that he had left open. Wearing a grey NCIS t-shirt, shorts and with her hair down in messy, voluminous curls, she seemed young, somehow, but not like the officer he had known five years before. This Ziva had lost most of the protective shielding that that woman had.
“Yes, actually,” he said after too-long seconds of silence. He turned back around. “It’s surprisingly busy for two in the morning.”
“It’s Thursday, Tony,” she said.
He could be wrong, but it sounded like she was walking closer to him. “Yeah, so?”
He wasn’t wrong, because she laid her elbows on the railing only one foot from him. “Israeli weekend is Friday and Saturday.”
“So this is, like, Friday night here.”
“That is correct.”
Something occurred to him. “Hey, wait. So the big intel-gathering op tomorrow -”
“Security organizations regularly work on the weekends,” she told him, calmly.
“So I don’t need to feel guilty about ruining these people’s weekend.”
There was a considerable pause before she said, “It is not your fault.”
They weren’t talking about the case, anymore.
He felt her turn more than he saw it. “I am going to -”
He turned to catch up with her. “Get your gun.”
That made her pause. “How did you know?”
“Because it’s what you do,” he said, and did not add when you’re nervous. “Wanna come take a stroll on the beach with me instead?”
She stared at him. “Are you serious?”
“Totally. Nice sandy beach, wee hours of the morning - hey, wanna bet we can find an all-night café? This is the other city that never sleeps, isn’t it? New York of the Middle East?”
He counted five heartbeats before she said, “I’ll get my sandals,” and all but ran back inside.
Tony grinned at her back and, following her inside, loudly complained: “You have sandals?”
They’d passed three all-night kiosks and a café in the not-even-hundred yards between the hotel front door, which faced the road, and the beach below. Once out the door, though, Ziva headed for the beach like iron to a magnet.
“Wow,” he said, squinting against the light as he surveyed the shoreline up north. “Tel Aviv’s pretty big.”
“Some of those lights are Herzelia,” she said. “Not Tel Aviv.”
“Yeah?” he turned around and pointed at the bunch of lights to the south, pretty enough to be a postcard. “Is that still Tel Aviv?”
“Yes, and no. That’s Jaffa.”
Typical Israel, that, Tony thought. Nothing had a straight, simple answer.
“Hold my sandals?”
But Ziva had already removed her sandals and held them to him. Tony took the sandals, and then watched her jog down the beach. No, not jog: run.
He was pretty sure she hadn’t taken her cell phone. If Gibbs woke up now, they were screwed.
A group of boys passing by called out something at him.
“What? I don’t speak Hebrew.”
The boys did the boy-equivalent of giggling. “Nice girlfriend!” a different boy called out.
She wasn’t his girlfriend and they were lucky Ziva was already too far to hear them, but correcting them would also prolong this interaction. “Thank you!” he called at them, and they continued their stroll.
He mulled in place, watching the groups of teenagers, couples in their 20s and joggers with their dogs, and waited for Ziva to come back.
She did, ten minutes later. Tony watched her pace and then - thinking that at worst he’d get chewed out, and that wasn’t half-bad considering the State of Ziva - opened his arms wide. He was almost surprised when she accepted the gesture, throwing herself at him across those last few feet.
He caught her and they swiveled, trying to not fall. She was sweaty, and sticky, and Tony was about to voice a complaint except he knew what Ziva’s breath sounded like after working out, and this heavy, irregular rhythm wasn’t it; and a ten-minute run wouldn’t make Ziva tremble like that.
She was pressed against him, the side of her face against his shoulder. He held her a bit more tightly. He knew that rhythm of her breath, too, that tension in her muscles that only barely did not spill over into tremors. Ziva was not-crying, silent and dry-cheeked against his shirt, each breath the sound of a struggle.
There were a thousand things one usually said under such circumstances, shh and it’ll be all right and don’t worry, and each of those things would make her push away.
“I’ve got you,” he murmured against her hair. “I’ve got you.”
Don’t bother coming in before noon, Ravid had said. We won’t have any new intel before then. Tim appreciated the intent, but for one thing Gibbs would have never allowed it and for another, the entire team was awake and only marginally less grumpy than the night before by five in the morning. Thankfully, Ravid’s list of eateries also had the address of a 24/7 breakfast place, and Tony had nagged them into going there. A large breakfast of eggs benedict, pastries and coffee went a long way towards making Tim feel vaguely more human, and even Ziva looked less like she was planning a mass-murder with the dining knife.
Until she narrowed her eyes at him over the rim of her coffee cup. “Do you have anything but suits?” she asked.
“No, I’m afraid I don’t.”
“I have a t-shirt,” Tony said. “I think.”
“We are going back to the hotel and you are going to change,” she told Tony. “And then we are going to find you both acceptable clothes.”
“Shopping, Ziva?” Gibbs asked. “Seriously?”
She waved one hand dismissively. “We are in the middle of Tel Aviv. It will only take twenty minutes.”
Buying shirts was, indeed, easier than navigating a city of Israeli drivers. One hour later, when they stepped into the hive to find the few people present dressed in polo shirts, jeans and sneakers, Tim was deeply grateful of Ziva’s insistence. Problem was, though, that Ravid was right: there was nothing for them to do but review their work of the previous day. An hour after they arrived Tony was climbing the walls and, as a result, so was Tim. After half an hour of listening to Tony pretend to solve crosswords in Hebrew, a language in which Tony couldn’t so much as name the letters of the alphabet, Tim had had enough. He got up, marched to their office’s door in four decisive steps, and pulled it open. “Out,” he told Tony, pointing in that direction. “Go annoy someone else.”
To Tim’s horror, Tony jumped off the desk he was sitting on, tossed a cheerful “Okay,” and headed out.
Tim stared at his back. “Tell me I did not just get Tony killed.”
“Not very likely,” said Ziva from where she had her head buried in a review of the suspected terrorist organizations in their sector. “But tortured, perhaps.”
“Hey!” he heard Tony’s voice from somewhere in the hive. “Do you guys have large sheets of paper around here somewhere?”
“A3 sheets good enough?”
“A3 is great!”
“Cupboards on that wall. Put it back together when you’re done taking it apart.”
When a few minutes passed without another sign of life from Tony, Tim approached the office’s door and cautiously peered outside. Two rooms across to the one direction, Tony was busy digging though a wall-sized supply cupboard. It was easy to see why whoever had given Tony directions earlier saw fit to describe ‘searching’ as ‘taking apart’. Tony was digging through the mess, whistling a tune from one movie or the other. Everyone seemed to be ignoring him.
“Has he been buried under the floor yet?” asked Ziva when Tim retreated back to his desk.
Several minutes after that, it was Gibbs who went in search of Tony. Not ten seconds passed before Tim heard him say loudly: “Should’ve made that a dunce cap, DiNozzo.”
Tim let go of his mouse and went to see what had Tony done now. The few seconds it took Tim to find Tony were long enough for Gibbs to disappear, probably to make himself another coffee. As for Tony, he was walking around the hive wearing - Tim stared: Tony had made a huge paper hat out of the A3 sheet.
“Tony, what is that?”
“It’s a hat, Tim.”
“It helps him think,” said one of the Israelis from his workstation.
Tony pointed at that person with both his hands. “What he said.”
“It helps you think,” Tim repeated.
“That’s what he said,” agreed another one of the Israelis, pointing at Tony.
“See?” asked Tony proudly.
“Tony, did you spike my coffee with anything?”
“No, Tim, how could you ever suspect me of such a thing?”
“Because he’s not an idiot,” said the last Israeli who spoke.
“Okay, so you probably didn’t spike their coffee.” Tim took a deep breath. “Gibbs was right. You really should write a D on that thing.”
That was when Gibbs’ voice sounded behind his back, demanding: “Was there a doubt, McGee?”
At least some things still made sense.
When they walked in at nine in the morning, the hive was nearly empty. By the time the day’s new batch of intelligence started flowing in around 11:30, it was half-full. Tony didn’t need to ask, or sit by his computer, to know when the trickle became a flow. Casual conversation ceased almost between one breath and the other, but it was more than that. Like a switch being flipped, the atmosphere in the hive changed from something that reminded him of the squad room on a lazy afternoon, to MTAC during a high-profile op.
“What have we got?” Tony asked when he re-entered their office.
“All of Qalqilyah talking about Lt. Weissman,” said McGee. “This is an insane. I don’t know - ”
Tony made it to his workstation and unlocked it while Tim talked. “Oh,” he said as he saw his incoming queue.
“Ignore that,” said Ziva sharply. “That’s the analysts’ job. Work only on what I forward you.”
“Then what are we doing?” McGee asked.
“Cross-reference with financial background,” Ziva told him. “It’s the last thing the analysts will get around to. Tony - pretend this is one of your movies. See if anything looks like it might have a plot.”
“Anything I can do?” asked Gibbs.
Only three workstations. Right. It was also tacit instruction for Tony and McGee to follow Ziva’s lead on this.
“Find a laminated map,” Ziva said. “There has to be one laying around somewhere. And a set of markers.”
Also no plasma, and what appeared to be thousands of conversations that passed the automated screening and reached the analysts’ queue.
This was going to be nasty.
When the flood slowed back down to a trickle, Ziva sent Tony and Gibbs to cross-reference the map with the analysts’ more in-depth analysis, claiming that they had the better perception of the overall shape of things. Tim’s opinion - and judging by Tony’s frown and the way Gibbs averted his gaze, theirs too - was that Ziva did not need the actual map to perceive the picture, but was reluctant to interact with the Israelis more than she had to.
Tim’s head was light with hunger. A glance at the compute clock clarified why: it was half past three. He needed some calories, and he needed them before the migraine set in.
“I’m going for coffee,” he told Ziva. He’s also seen some cookies in the coffee corner, earlier. “You want some too?”
She said nothing.
Tim made it half the way to the coffee corner - or so he hoped - when one of the analysts got up, stretched her arms above her head, and said something in Hebrew that got a few raised hands in reply. Then she looked at him and said in English: “I’m going for some real coffee before they close up shop. You coming?”
“Yes,” he said, then winced at how emphatically he’d said it. Rather than seem displeased or apathetic, the woman smiled at him.
Tim liked her already.
“Anat,” she said once they were in the elevator, holding out her hand. She was petite, 5’4” with her wedges, and skinny; her skin was darker than most anyone’s in the office, like coffee with only very little milk, and her shiny black hair was pulled back in a tight ponytail.
It sounded like a first name, so he said “Tim,” as he shook her hand. “Ahnat?” he tried.
She nodded once. “Nice.” She glanced down at her watch. “Last minute,” she remarked.
“That’s pretty early to close.”
“It’s Friday,” she said. She sounded part patient and part amused. “All kosher food-places have to close early enough for their workers to make it home before sunset. And all food-places at government workplaces are kosher.”
“It’s okay. Like I said, we’re lucky.”
The coffee stand was on the ground floor, in the opposite direction of the security desk from the elevator. Anat carried on a short conversation in Hebrew with the barrista. When Tim tried to place an order for himself and his team, Anat made a cutting motion with her hand.
“He’ll still be here in ten minutes,” she said, jerking her head to indicate the barrista. “I’m taking a cigarette break, and you’re stuck with me. We’ll get everyone else their coffee after.”
They got their coffees and headed outside. There were no benches, and the slab of cement that seemed to serve as one was in full sunlight. Anat gave him a critical look and frowned as they sat down. “You should get sun protection cream,” she asked. “Twenty minutes in this weather and you’re fried.”
“Well, I didn’t know we’d be going outside, did I?”
“Point,” she agreed. She shook a smoke and a lighter out of a thin pack she’d carried in her pocket, lighted the cig and took a long drag. “This is cool for the season.”
“Remind me to never visit in summer,” he said, and immediately: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean -”
She waved her left hand dismissively. “Are you always like that, or only when a pack of jackals think you’re a soccer ball?”
She took another drag. “Don’t worry about the guys,” she told him. “They mean well, they just forget you’re not young. Well,” she corrected, “you are young, you’re just not staying. They’ll get over it.”
“I have no idea what you just said,” he told her. ‘Young’ meant ‘new’, he supposed; Anat was several years his junior, easily.
She chewed her lip and took a few more drags of smoke. Eventually, she said: “You look kinda...” she held her elbows stiffly, mimicking shock “...in there. And -” she made a face. “Ugh. I know what I want to say, I don’t know how to say it.”
English as a second language. Her accent was good, but pronunciation wasn’t everything. Tim thought about it for a moment. “You’re saying I shouldn’t let it get to me if I think your people are being hard,” he said, “because they don’t mean it.”
“They mean it, just not like - ” she waved her hand impatiently. “We only ever work with new people when we need to teach them,” she said.
“That was supposed to be teaching?” Tim asked, incredulous.
She shrugged. “No time for people who don’t learn fast.”
“Jeez,” he muttered.
“Kick them in the head,” she suggested. “That’ll remind the guys you’re not young, just not ours.”
“Thanks,” he said.
She made a face but, instead of telling him to not thank her, said: “You’re welcome.”
They sat in silence for a few moments before he said: “You’re being nice. Nicer,” he corrected.
She laughed. It wasn’t bark-like, but it wasn’t free of tension, either. “I wanted a fucking cigarette,” she said. “And I needed to refuel on sanity. You’re it.”
“Glad I could be of service.”
This time, her smile was genuinely amused. “You’re good.”
If his return smile was too relieved, she didn’t comment on it.
Tony stared at the pile of brown paper bags McGee had returned with, along with the coffees. “Did you buy out the cafeteria?”
“No, Tony,” McGee said, looking entirely too pleased with himself, “they gave it for free.”
“Gave it for free,” said the pretty little lady McGee had disappeared with fifteen minutes before. “They do it at the end of the day.”
“The end of the day? It isn’t four yet.”
Yes, McGee was definitely being McSmug.
“Tim!” squealed Abby over the video conference. “Tim, Tim, Tim!”
Alone in the semi-dark conference room, Tim felt some of his tension leave his body. “It’s good to see you too, Abby.”
“What took you so long?” she demanded. “Where is everyone?”
“They’re in the office,” he said. “I’ll have to redial the internet connection every ten minutes anyway, so I thought I’d sneak in a call before I get them.”
“Why do you have to... oh, ops-sec, right. How are you?” And before he could answer, she added: “That bad?”
“Getting better,” he said.
“That bad, huh.”
“Yes,” he admitted with a sigh, sliding down in the chair. “Yes, pretty much.”
“So,” she shifted closer to the camera, “tell me.”
“Well,” he rubbed his hand over his face, “the weather’s not that bad, not that you’ll know it by the way Tony won’t stop complaining. We got a really nice hotel, and Tel Aviv’s actually pretty cool, once you get over people’s driving.”
“Do they all drive like Ziva?”
“They all drive like Gibbs.”
“How is Gibbs?” she asked. “And Tony and Ziva?”
“Gibbs is going to kill someone soon, if we don’t catch a break.” Tim rubbed the back of his head self-consciously. “Tony... well, he’s pretty much the new favorite pet.”
“Um.” Abby seemed unsure. “Is that good or bad?”
“They love him,” he assured her. “Gibbs is not so happy, but it keeps everyone else happy, so.”
“Ziva is...” Tim sighed. “She isn’t happy, and you know how Ziva gets when she’s unhappy.”
Abby winced sympathetically.
“Anyway...” he began. There was a knock on the conference room’s door. “Hold on a sec. Yes,” he called out.
Anat stuck her head in. “Lunch is here,” she told him.
“Thanks,” he told her.
She nodded and closed the door.
“Lunch?” demanded Abby. “McGee, it’s, like, five in the afternoon in Israel right now.”
“I see.” She made a shooing motion. “Go. Eat. Don’t come back without Gibbs and Tony and Ziva.”
“I promise,” he told her, rising from the chair.
She shifted her weight nervously. “Take care, okay?”
“Okay,” he told her. “I promise.”
Ravid and Yael returned while Tim was away on his mysterious errand with his new girlfriend. The two senior operatives were dressed in what Tony now recognized as Shin-Beit field clothes - cargo vest and pants over a dark t-shirt - and they both looked like they had spent the entire day outdoors, too.
Ravid glanced at where most everyone had gathered in one of the larger spaces, waiting for their various lunch orders. “I see we’re all ready for debrief,” she said.
“Wow,” Tony said, because all anyone else did was pull their chairs closer. “So much for hello.”
He was unprepared for Ravid to reach up and smack the back of his head lightly. “Make me cold coffee or shut up,” she told him.
“There’s sushi for you,” one of the Israelis said, addressing her. “Should be here any minute. Didn’t count on you, though,” he said, nodding at Yael.
“I’ll steal somebody’s fries,” Yael said with a slight smile.
“We missing anyone?”
“Anat and the other guy are at the conference room.”
“Is that code for kinky workplace sex?” Tony asked.
This time it was Gibbs who smacked his head.
“Kinky voyeuristic workplace sex,” said the person who spoke last. “Your guy said something about video conference?”
Tony felt his face relax. “Abby! Our tech,” he explained.
Ravid nodded. “Somebody go get them,” she said. She cleared some folder from a desk and sat on it, cross-legged. She removed her vest and dropped it next to her, revealing her t-shirt.
Splayed across Ravid’s shirt, a white cartoon dog chased a white cartoon cat. The text underneath said Fast Food.
“Love the shirt,” he remarked.
She glanced down at the print and then back at him. “Hopefully you won’t be in the country long enough to buy one yourself,” she said, “but leave me the address and I’ll mail you one.”
He blinked. “Thanks,” he said.
The phone line connected to the outside world rang. Tony could understand exactly two words in the Hebrew exchange that followed: mishloach, which meant ‘delivery’, and ochel, which meant ‘food’.
It took several more minutes first for Tim and Anat to return, and then for the three people who’d gone to fetch the food from the gate to come back bearing a hell of a lot of paper bags. Ravid did not mention debriefing again until everyone had a chance to dig into their hamburgers, sushi and stir-fry.
There were a thousand and one things wrong with Israel, but the food so wasn’t one of them.
Ravid nodded at someone, and he began to talk. “Lots of chatter,” he said between bites of his late lunch. “Big surprise.”
That had to be some sarcastic Hebrew expression.
The man pointed up at large whiteboard, where there was a long list of names in Hebrew and Arabic, most of them streaked through and some with asterisks next to them. Two were circled.
“Star says organizations or movements who claimed responsibility for the event,” he said.
Tony felt Gibbs shift next to him. Uh-uh, he thought. Not good.
“Line says high probability they didn’t do it.”
“Factors?” Ravid asked.
“Lack of training. Lack of manpower. Lack of,” the man paused, searching for a phrase, “a good hiding place,” he concluded.
“Non-circled?” she asked.
“Circled laying low?”
“Aren’t we supposed to be chasing the chatting guys, not the silent ones?” Tony asked. He’d asked that before, but didn’t get a satisfactory answer.
It was Yael who answered. “They know we’re listening,” she said. “They’re not stupid. Whenever we stop an attack they hold their own debrief, try to figure out where it went wrong for them. They know what we can see, what we can hear and how fast we can and do crack codes. Barking dogs are either stupid, or they don’t bite.”
“So what are we going to do about the silent dogs?” Gibbs asked.
“Already being done,” she said. “We have UAVs in the air. Visual going now, and thermal will take over after dark. Anywhere any person of these two organizations goes, anyone they talk to, we’re going to know and we’re going to follow.”
It was a good plan. It was a solid plan. It had one major loophole, though. But Tony wasn’t about to ask out loud But what if she’s already dead? and, apparently, neither would anyone else.
Chapter 3: What the War Stole
Gibbs in the confrontation scene was written by Sol.
“You promised a dove with an olive leaf
You promised us a home, and peace,
You promised flowers in the spring
You promised us your word to keep”
Winter ‘73, Education Corps Music Band
There was something wrong with the case. Gibbs knew it, in his gut: they were not looking at it right. Karnei Shomron hardly had any crime at all from Jewish perpetrators, though, and with Lt. Weissman being merely a tourist visiting family, Palestinian terror was the only option that remained. It made sense, but it was still wrong.
In the meantime, Gibbs was having an apple and pecan pie for dinner, with an impressive scoop of not-overly-sweet banana-and-honey inc cream on the side. Tony had insisted on ice cream, and Ziva had assured Tim that the ice cream parlor also had non-ice cream dishes. Tim had, indeed, ordered a sandwich, though he had a milkshake with that; Tony’s waffle, conversely, was apparently meant to make up for the caloric deficit of two and a half days of irregular meals; and Ziva ate her pancake medallions faithfully but, Gibbs noted, without any real appetite.
She’d also placed her order in English, in a much better American accent than she usually spoke in. She’d done the same that morning, buying shirts for her teammates. She was so careful to not appear to have misplaced loyalties without holding back on anything she knew that could be useful, and the strain was showing. That was why they were a team, though. Tony’s clowning around had redirected all unwanted attention from Ziva, giving her the illusion of privacy that she needed.
Presently, Gibbs’ people were arguing over which ‘ice cream cocktail’ to order, but he knew they wouldn’t. Not in a foreign country, not with a case hanging over their heads, not when they already had so little control over the situation.
Control. Gibbs frowned a little. It reminded him of something he wanted to know. “Hey, Ziva,” he said. The bickering ceased immediately. “How old would you say these people are?”
“Which of them?” asked Ziva carefully after a moment. There was no question was to who ‘they’ were.
“Say, Ravid,” he answered her. Ravid held authority, and they had rapport with her.
“28?” Tony seemed a little shocked. “How’d you figure that?”
“She had to have served as an officer, but she did not make captain. That’s 22 or 23. She has to have graduated with an undergraduate degree. That’s three more years. This is clearly her last pre-supervisory position and she is held in high professional regard by her colleagues, so she has probably been with the organization for about three years. Therefore, 28.”
“What about McRomeo’s girlfriend?”
“Tony, she is not -”
“24 or 25,” said Ziva. “There is a university course schedule hanging over her desk, so she is probably working part-time until she obtains her degree. Body language suggests that she, too, has been a lieutenant.”
“Shalev?” Gibbs asked, to confirm the baseline.
Ziva shrugged. “30, 32 at most,” she said. “This is his first supervisory position, and he has been holding it for about a year.”
“How can you tell?” Tony challenged.
“Ravid holds the professional authority within the section,” Ziva answered. “Shalev’s role appears to be primarily towards other organizational units.”
“You said Dunski would have held this kind of a job four years ago,” Gibbs said. “She’s your age. How does that work?”
“She is also of a similar background to mine,” Ziva reminded him. Not coolly: that was not a good sign. “She has been training since childhood.”
“She’s been pushed ahead of her time.”
“No. She matured before her age-peers.”
“Then what’s going on, here?” he asked. He didn’t need to say, There are no coincidences.
Normally, he knew, she would have said I don’t know and he would have had to pry the answer from her. Bad loyalties, like bad habits, died hard; Gibbs preferred that to the other way around.
Instead, Ziva said simply: “Her true role must be covert within her own organization. The section seems to accept her position as it appears to be.”
“Uh-uh,” Tony said. “This can’t be good, right?”
Dunski had had Tony to herself for over an hour, the day before, and it did not escape Gibbs’ attention that she had plied him with overly-sweet ice coffee not only against the heat but also against some emotional shock. What Dunski had said to Tony, what she had done, Gibbs didn’t know. He did know that no matter how good Dunski was at playing people, Tony was committed to Ziva’s best interest more than he was to his own self-preservation.
“Call Abby,” he told Tim. “See what she can dig up before we go back in there tomorrow.”
“Advantage of the time differential,” Tim agreed. “As soon as we’re back at the hotel, Boss.”
Gibbs nodded, and flagged a waitress for their check. “You do that.”
Saturday made Friday seem fully formal in comparison. That the person who came to escort them upstairs wore cargo shorts and flip-flops should have been a warning. The shirt definitely was omen enough.
Tony managed to hold it in until the elevator door closed on the five of them, and then he burst out with: “What is that?”
The Israeli smiled; Matan, Tim thought his name was, the guy who’d shot down Tony’s not-a-dunce-cap with a ‘paper UAV’. “Thought you’d like it,” he said.
Tony’s expression was part-horrified, part-fascinated. “For a certain value of ‘like’,” he said. “What is that?”
“It’s Pink Freud,” Matan said promptly.
“It does seem an appropriate description, Tony,” Tim said. Matan’s shirt was white with a pink print of Sigmund Freud’s portrait.
“Sharp observation skills today, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said.
The elevator dinged and opened at their floor.
“Thank you, Boss,” Tony said, unperturbed.
The hive was almost completely empty. Those present abandoned their usual workstations and bunched near the coffee corner. One of them waved the NCIS agents over. “You’re not in punishment,” he said. “We cleared you some desks. You can log in from here.”
Gibbs grunted; Tim swallowed back his automatic thank you.
One of the other guys leaned back in his chair and craned his neck to follow Ziva into the coffee corner. “What’s in the bags?” he asked.
“Milk and chocolate wafers,” Tony said.
Ziva had insisted on passing through a 24/7 kiosk on their way in; having just witnessed the difference Saturday had on Israeli businesses, Tim understood why.
“Good. We have Bamba, popcorn and frozen pizza, but not enough sugar.”
“Okay, I have to ask,” Tony said. “Are all Saturdays Weird T-Shirt Days, or...”
“...it’s Give DiNozzo Shirts to Stare At day,” said the guy who’d invited them to sit.
Tim was maybe beginning to feel slightly less panicked, because he’d sought Ziva’s eyes to exchange a look of Oh dear, they are encouraging Tony before he remembered that Ziva wouldn’t meet his eyes, and hadn’t since she and Tony argued over who would throw whom out the window.
Tim swallowed his anger, and grabbed himself a desk.
If Thursday had been like this, then Tony had a better idea of why Tim had been so snarly on the matter of Shin-Beit operatives. The guys’ questionable taste in t-shirts supplied conversation for about ten minutes, but then their attention simply vanished; Tony might as well not be in the room. His hugging Ravid hello in response to her “Hug me, i’m a tree-shirt” T has not even gotten glanced at. With no information blitz hanging over their heads, Tony just couldn’t get social traction.
He was acutely aware that Tim and he were the only sources of tension in the hive. The Israelis all gave off a sense of controlled calm that, when coming from a soldier, Tony usually took to mean things were really not going well; Ziva retreated far under her skin in a close emulation of the same; and Gibbs, who packed so much tension it made the hairs on Tony’s neck stand from ten feet away, had taken himself to a different hive-space where he was not likely to upset anyone.
Not that these people would be upset if someone blew a bomb under their desks. Tony was tempted to improvise one from the supplies in the kitchen just to test this hypothesis. Even if he was proven wrong, being a punching bag still beat being useless.
Tony hated feeling useless.
Then an idea occurred to him.
“Do you think I could find an open branch of Aroma somewhere in this city?” he asked.
“Only twenty,” said Nir, who’d earlier had the guts to implicitly acknowledge Ziva’s existence.
Tony had been working with Ziva long enough to understand that that was the Hebrew equivalent of About two dozen. Great. “Who’s walking me to the door?” he asked.
Tony was totally right: not even strong and silent Shin-Beit operatives were totally cool about working over the weekend. The hive Tony walked back into had a markedly lighter atmosphere than the hive he’d left forty minutes before. Everyone were still glued to their workstations but the radio was on, and somebody had dug out a beach ball. Tim was two minutes from stroke due to the accumulated cognitive dissonance, but that was still better than two minutes from a meltdown.
By the time Tony was done dolling out Ice Aromas, sandwiches and fresh croissants, the situation progressed to people kicking off their flip-flops to rest their feet on the desk and singing - deliberately off-key - along with the radio. Unsurprisingly, the latter earned the former’s flip-flop precision-aimed at his head.
“You sound like a cat,” Matan informed Nir. “It’s bad enough that we’re listening to that on a Saturday, we don’t need to listen to you, too.”
“Why is there a problem with this song and Saturdays?” Tim asked.
“It’s a song about a bunch of bored soldiers spending Saturday on the base,” explained Matan. “Time stretches like gum...”
“...already read all the newspaper,” continued Anat, “sang all the songs...”
“...fixed all the socks,” continued Nir.
“Now, I wonder why that would be a bummer,” Tony said.
Anat picked up the flip-flop laying halfway between her and Nir and tossed it at Tony’s head. Tony caught it and sent it careening back. The friendly game of catch lasted until Ravid intercepted their flip-flop with the other.
“Woo!” The cheer was totally honest. “Awesome shot!”
“I’d slap you upside the head,” she said dryly, “but I think you’d enjoy that too much.”
They made it safely to lunch; they made it safely past lunch. Gibbs had to take himself and the car and go away, at some point, but Ziva and Tim were both slowly relaxing and the locals weren’t walking on eggshells around them as much, and Tony began to nurture the hope that things would continue to get less awkward.
When Ziva spoke Tony felt ready to do cartwheels with joy.
“If you could please change the station,” she said to the room at large.
“Exactly how many songs about spending the weekend at work does Israel have, anyway?” Tony asked.
No-one reached to change the station. Ziva’s shoulders stiffened. Suddenly, Tony had a really bad feeling about things.
“That is not what this song is about,” Ziva said, stiffly.
“It’s the children born after the Atonement Day War talking to their parents,” said Nir. “How despared their parents were after the war, how much they wanted something to hope for.”
Their children, Tony understood: post-war baby-boom.
“Their parents promised them peace,” said Ziva. She didn’t look at Tony, though: she was looking in the general direction of the other Israelis. “They promised to keep their word.”
Tony’s bad feeling intensified.
“In the song, the children of winter ‘73 say that now that they are themselves soldiers, young men and women in need of something innocent, they do not hold it against their parents that they had made promises they couldn’t keep,” Ziva continued. “The singers are themselves the children of ‘73, who were in service at the time this song was recorded. The man who wrote the song, who put those words in their mouths, was of their parents’ generation. Obviously, he had imagined their forgiveness.”
“Yes,” said Matan.
It sounded like an agreement but it wasn’t, and Tony’s senses screamed at him that Matan wasn’t nearly as affable as he seemed to be, not in that moment.
“But that’s because kids can be whiny that way,” Matan said.
They were not talking about the song, anymore - maybe they never had been - and Ravid just lost every bit of respect Tony had for her because she was in charge and all she did was observe with unreadable eyes. Gibbs was gone, Tim was attempting to hide under a desk and Tony needed to find a way of not throwing Ziva to the wolves without destroying the cooperation they needed for the case.
Anat got up from her chair, walked over to the radio and changed the station. Everyone’s attention snapped back to their work, as if nothing had happened. Anat made eye contact with Tony, indicated with her head in one direction and then disappeared in another.
By the time Tony managed to wrangle Ziva to the hive’s exit, Anat was already waiting for them there. She was holding a bag of Bamba, which she wordlessly offered to Ziva.
After a moment’s hesitation, Ziva accepted.
Anat saw them downstairs and outside. Then she lit herself a smoke and hung back by the door, giving Tony and Ziva as much privacy as possible as he directed Ziva by the elbow to a sun-bombarded slab of concrete that passed for a bench.
He forced her down and sat next to her.
“You don’t need to manhandle me,” she snapped.
He wanted to say You’re really awful on friends sometimes, you know that? but this was the kind of situation that Gibbs would have handled if he’d been there, and Tony needed to say something Gibbs-like.
“If you think that what that asshole said is worth anything, then you really are that stupid,” he snapped.
She didn’t slap him. He would’ve preferred it if she had.
“Seriously, Ziva,” he said in a voice more like his own. “He was just -”
Ziva cut him off. “Facts are, I walked away,” she said. Her voice was flat, dangerous, like one of the knives she used to wear. “Facts are, I quit. I have a forty-hour week in a country whose enemies are half the world away, where parents do no tell their children to watch out for bombers and suspect objects when they board a bus, where enlisting is a choice. While those people - this is not an unusual load for them, Tony, and this is an easy section at peaceful times. These people had been doing this since they were eighteen and they will continue to do this until they retire. And I walked away.” She threw her hands up in the air. “I walked away and left them another pair of hands short in this war that’s twenty kilometers from their doorstep. Who am I - who are you - to say that they are not justified in calling me a weak, whiny child?”
I am the one who came for you, he thought. You are the one who would have died for them, before they left you to die. He didn’t say that, though. He picked up the bag that Anat had given her from where Ziva put it on the concrete, opened it and offered it to Ziva.
Ziva stared at it as if it was a snake.
Without otherwise moving Tony reached with his other hand, fished out a buttery, yellow piece of puffed corn, and popped it in his mouth. The crunchy noise of chewing made Ziva glance up at him.
He was pretty sure what she saw on his face, for all that neither of them would ever put a name to it.
She still didn’t move.
Tony fished out another piece of Bamba and held his hand out without dropping her gaze. After long, agonizing seconds, Ziva raised an open hand, letting Tony place the token of acceptance and forgiveness in her palm.
Her hand shook so bad that, symbolically, she dropped it before she could put it in her mouth.
Gibbs knew something went wrong when it was Ravid who came to escort him from the atrium. He reached for the emergency stop switch as soon as the elevator’s door closed on them.
“Don’t,” Ravid said. “Only if you want alarms to go off in the entire building.”
Obviously, he thought crossly. Before he could demand to know what was going on, Ravid said: “One of mine picked a fight earlier.”
“A fight?” he asked, in the same inflection in which he would have said, Ya think?
“He was an ass,” she said succinctly. “I gave him a shower and DiNozzo picked up the pieces on your guys’ end.”
So it’s DiNozzo, now? he thought but did not ask out loud. Perhaps Ravid said to him that one of her own had been out of line, but evidently she tacitly agreed with whatever that person had done. That gave him a pretty good idea of what had gone down.
He didn’t try to get anything more out of her. As soon as they were through the hive’s door he stomped off to the office assigned to his team. The door was closed, which was another bad sign. Tony and Tim both jumped out of their seats and very nearly out of their skin when Gibbs burst through the door without knocking first; Ziva did not so much as twitch.
He didn’t even need to raise his eyebrows at Tony. The man looked at Ziva once, and then followed Gibbs out of that room and in search of another one with a door. It was a very short search as Ravid was at her desk, immediately outside their door, and she pointed them at her supervisor’s empty office without a word. She met Gibbs’ eyes calmly, and that just made him more pissed off.
“What the hell happened, DiNozzo?” he demanded as soon as there was a door between they and everyone else.
“Argument about the radio, Boss.”
Gibbs stared at him. “What?”
“There was this song that rubbed Ziva the wrong way, and her asking to change the station rubbed someone else the wrong way.”
“What’d he say?”
Tony winced and said, “He sort of called Ziva immature and whiny.”
Just because it was bound to happen did not mean it was any less enraging. “And?” Gibbs demanded.
“I got her out of there,” Tony said. “When we came back we went in the office and shut the door. Ravid didn’t back us up, Boss. The only one who did anything but shut up and look away was Anat.”
Anat was her section’s probie and, loose and messy are Israeli hierarchies tended to be, that still put her at the bottom of the totem pole. “Her people give her flack for that?”
“Doesn’t look like it, but,” Tony shrugged, “what do I know.”
Gibbs cut back to what was important. “How’s Ziva?”
“Honestly, Boss?” Tony’s smile was so forced it was almost a grimace. “Probably not worse than before. I don’t think Matan said anything that the voices inside her head haven’t been saying. Metaphorical voices, I mean. Not that Ziva is hearing voices. Because that will be so much worse than before. I’m rambling, aren’t I. Shutting up now, Boss.”
Matan, Tony’s pal; and Ravid hadn’t backed them up. That explained the specific texture of Tony’s agitation.
Gibbs changed track. “Anything new on the case?”
“Uh -” Tony took a deep breath, and then exhaled it sharply. “They’ve been striking names off that board and drawing X’s all over the map all afternoon, and Ziva would have said something if there was anything definite. That’s all I know.”
Telling Tony that he did good was a sure way to knock him off-course, so what Gibbs said was: “Get back in there. I got it.”
Gibbs needed these people’s cooperation to find his missing lieutenant, but the hell he would let them harass his team while they were at it.
"We need to talk," he snapped at Ravid as he walked out of Shalev’s office.
She took her hands off her keyboard and swiveled in her chair to face him, her legs crossed in a figure four. Her face was an unreadable mask and her voice on the cool side of cool as she said, "We're talking."
So that’s how it was going to be. "You wanna do this here,” he said, tone clearly indicating that this was not going to be a quite conversation, “that's fine by me."
She blinked once, taking in his body language, and said, "The conference room is there for a reason." She pushed herself up and started towards the hive's door, only glancing behind once to check on him.
They walked out the hive and down the hall to the conference room without a word. She unlocked the room, slapped the lights on and then held the door so he could step in first. Then she stepped in and closed the door behind her, leaving it unlocked.
The door was at about half the length of an oval table large enough to sit twenty. Ravid positioned herself near the head of the table, but slightly to the one side. She remained standing, body language still communicating the quiet before the pounce.
He took a step closer to her, not yet pushing the boundaries of her personal space. "You got a problem keeping your people in line?"
I chewed him out, she’d said in the elevator, or something to that effect, but she seemed to understand what he referred to because rather than remind him of that she raised her eyebrows at him and said: "They're all grown ups; it's their job to tell themselves how to behave, not mine and not anybody else's."
"It's still your job to remind them of that when they aren't behaving. Unless you don't want to keep them in line, and then we've got a whole other problem."
He didn’t expect her shoulders to relax as she narrowed her eyes at him. A beat later, she said: "It does not become my problem unless it's a continuous thing, Gibbs. If that's what this is about, take your cultural prejudices, step out of this room and let me get back to my work." Her even tone took on a shade of dismissal.
Gibbs was not impressed. "Funny thing about cultural prejudices," he said, in that fake-calm tone he reserved for particularly stubborn suspects. "They go both ways."
She pulled the chair at the head of the table and sat down, legs crossed but less aggressively than before. "I see we're going to be here a while."
He put both hands on the edge of the table and leaned in towards her. She leaned into the cushy chair to hide a barely-perceptible flinch.
"You got a problem with any of my people,” he said, voice low and dangerous, “you come to me. You don't let your people play stupid, bullshit pissing games that make it harder for everyone to get work done."
"My job is to coordinate work in this section and see that these people have all the resources they need,” she said. Her face was calm, but her voice was flint. “If this ability had been hindered, I would have acted. I mean no disrespect, but your presence here does not contribute to the search for the missing woman."
"Lieutenant Dana Weissman," he said, sharply. "She has a name."
Just like that, the Ice Queen facade cracked, showing some of the fury underneath. "They all do," Ravid snapped.
Knowing an in when he saw it, Gibbs chose that moment to abruptly change his tact. “How often do you deal with cases like this?”
"Kidnapped foreign citizens? It's a first in the Bank. Kidnapped Israelis?" Her lips pressed into a thin, hard line. The muscles around her eyes shifted. "Best case scenario, they die quick."
She’d be thinking Nachshon Wachsman and Gila’ad Shalit, he knew, not Operation Thunderbolt. He was taking a hammer to a fly, but this was all the leverage he had. Gibbs pushed himself off the table, straightening. "Putting the impossible pieces together to get the answer, that’s what my team does on a regular basis,” he said. The impossible, like the Somalia op; Ravid would get the reference. He let his voice become lighter, more conversational, as he continued. “They're damn good at it, too."
Her eyes remained on his. She said nothing, but her nostrils flared.
He kept her gaze, and softened his voice further, making his words a request rather than a demand. "Let us help."
She looked at him for a long moment. "Sit down," she said finally. The words were bitten short, but her voice spoke of the bone-deep exhaustion of a lifetime of war. "You're making my neck sprain."
After a moment, he did. He pulled himself the chair right next to her, the position of a trusted advisor. He’d push his wins while he had them.
It was another moment before she spread her arms. "Over the past few days you've had access to all the same information that we have, recent and historical," she said, in the voice of the woman who’d managed a fifty-person debrief with a feather’s touch. "You have been present in all the same briefings. What would you do?"
"Go over it all again,” he said immediately. In his experience, it almost always worked. “Interview the family again."
He didn’t expect bitterness to break all over her features. "That's what we've been doing all day. Us here, as well as the Intel Corps and the operatives in the field. You are welcome to the family tomorrow; approaching an observant family between Friday afternoon and Sunday morning is a sure way to lose any chance of their cooperation."
The matter of her not having stopped her people from being vicious still hung, but Gibbs knew better than to try and take an axe to Israeli fatalism when time an issue. Ravid was committed to the case and would not tolerate anything that interfered with it: that would have to suffice.
He’d offered her hope, though; he’d invoked what had to be some of her worst professional and national failures, promised help, and then told her nothing she did not already know. Her body communicated openness, vulnerability almost, but her eyes were clear and assessing. This was a test as much as it was gift, and to fail it would badly damage the cooperation he was trying to salvage.
He offered her a wry smile, and kept his voice on the fond side of gruff. "We've done more with less, Kogan." In this sub-culture, Ziva had told him, a last name could be a token of a camaraderie.
Ravid expelled a deep sigh. She placed her palm flat against the desk as if to push herself up, but didn't, just yet. "I don't know about you," she said, "but I could use a coffee."
He knew enough to understand it translated to: No hard feelings? so he said, still lightly, "As long as it's not that sugary crap you keep feeding DiNozzo."
She blinked at him perplexedly, and then burst out laughing.
Tim had no idea how it could be that Gibbs and Ravid had returned smiling and headed for the coffee corner together. Tony and he spent a while trying to dissect that. Eventually, though, the discussion had gone stale, and when Tony turned all of his attention back on Ziva, Tim took it as his cue to get out. There were plenty empty spaces in the hives on a Saturday, and it wasn’t too difficult for him to find a quiet corner.
He didn’t noticed anyone approaching him until someone set a cup of dark, fresh-smelling tea next to his mouse. When he raised his head, he saw Anat.
“This will help your headache,” she said.
He wasn’t going to ask how she knew his head hurt. “Thanks,” he said while she dragged herself a chair so she could sit next to him.
“Al lo davar,” she said. “Hebrew for ‘you’re welcome’,” she explained. “Word-to-word it’s ‘nothing for.’”
He blinked, startled. If she had any idea how ironic what she’d just said was, though, then she didn’t show it.
“Thank you for before, too,” he said.
She nodded, the single, sharp motion he’d gotten accustomed to over the past few days. “‘If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen’. Wasn’t it one of your presidents who said it?” She leaned forward, elbows on the desk, before he recovered enough to reply. “It’s like that.”
She made it sound like advice, rather than criticism, so Tim reigned in his initial reaction. “Why are you doing this, Anat?” A seven-minute sanity break was one thing; this degree of involvement was another.
“Because it needs be done,” she said, “and I care enough to do it.”
It was a bad question to ask, but - “Why do you care?”
She slumped back in her chair and considered him for a moment. A muscle twitched in her cheek, like the beginning of a lopsided smile or a grimace. “I saw people leave whole, and be returned like spare change,” she said. “Maybe sometimes you people are idiots about pushing your way on other people but - I like the world better with at least the promise of there being somewhere safer.”
The idiom made his skin crawl. Tim was beginning to wonder how much of the tiredness he felt since Wednesday was jet-lag and overworking, and how much of it was the quiet hopelessness masked by Tel Aviv’s lively, sun-drenched party-town normalcy.
“Sorry,” she said suddenly.
Tim swallowed back a sigh, picked up the tea she’d brought him, and told her: “Nothing for.”
Chapter 4: Not Even God May Enter
Content Advisory: (mildly graphic) depictions of captivity and violence in this part.
“Hookers on the fence and a demon burning in my blood
As I go clubbing with dead soldiers in my heart”
July-August Heat, Synergia
Saturday night found Team Gibbs in the living room of their hotel suite, drapes drawn shut to prevent the sunset glare from interfering with the video conference on McGee’s laptop, which was set on the coffee table, facing the couch. McGee occupied the center spot on the couch, leaning forward with his elbows on his knees for better access to the computer should he need it; DiNozzo sat to his left, leaning forward as well; David was on the right hand of couch, leaning against the corner of the backrest, her left foot tucked under her and her right arm loosely circling her right knee, which was drawn up. Gibbs hung behind the couch’s backrest.
“I’m sorry, guys,” said Abby, her voice tinny through the laptop’s speakers. “I went through the forensics reports on Lieutenant Weissman’s car with my very best metaphorical fine-tooth comb and, best I can tell, these guys know what they’re doing. We’ve got pollen and soil from everywhere the lieutenant had visited and the fingerprints of her and everyone in her brother’s family including the baby, but that’s all. Oh, and Avis’s favorite detergent. That too”
Gibbs leaned over the backrest of the couch. “Anything you’d expect to find that’s missing?”
“Uh -” Abby hesitated for a second. “If the kidnappers never came inside the car? No.”
“How do you lure someone outside the car on a road where people don’t drive at night for fear of being shot at?”
“With a child,” said Ziva.
The three who were in the room shifted to look at her, Gibbs now leaning on his left forearm.
“You bring a child with you?” Tony asked.
“No,” she answered. “You leave the child by the roadside, and hide. Does the topography allow for such a tactic?”
“There are nice slopes on either side of the road,” Gibbs said.
“Yeah, you could hide a small army in there,” Tony agreed.
“Would they really use a child this way?” Abby asked.
Ziva’s voice was as flat as her eyes when she said, “They have before.”
“So they didn’t know who they’d get, when they set up their trap,” Gibbs said.
“They didn’t,” Ziva agreed.
“Okay,” Tim said. “How does this help us?”
“It would have taken weeks of planning to get a band through the blockade into Area C,” Ziva said, “at the very least. Let alone a week before Independence Day.”
“What does that have to do with anything?” Tim asked.
Ziva’s expression said, Are you stupid? All she said out loud, though, was: “Palestinian terrorists would love to execute an attack in time to disrupt Independence Day. The IDF puts Palestinian territories under lock and key well before any important anniversary.”
“So these guys are good at what they do,” Gibbs said.
“Very good,” she agreed. “And it was a key criterion in narrowing down the list of potential perpetrators, but this is not the most important implication.”
“Then what is?” Tony asked.
“They’d want her body to be found on Independence Day,” she said.
“That’s Tuesday,” Tim said.
“Ideally,” she replied, “on Monday around eight in the evening.”
“Oh, oh, I know!” said Abby. “That’s because in Judaism, the day begins on sunset, right?”
Ziva gave a half-nod. “Yes,” she said.
“You’re saying we’re on a time limit,” Gibbs said.
“They don’t need to keep her alive until Monday to dump her body that day,” Ziva said bluntly. “But it wouldn’t have been worth it for them to retreat out of Area C.”
“How the hell do you hide a person from the IDF in there?” demanded Tony.
“That’s a problem for the aerial photography unit,” said Ziva. “Photographic analysis of a land cell of this size takes time, Gibbs. There’s nothing to be done about that.”
“The US Navy have their own unit,” he pointed out.
“Who do not know this cell,” she replied. “Ask them, and this is what they’ll tell you: that a unit familiar with the sector will solve this puzzle in the time it’ll take them to learn it.” She paused. “That they are capable of hiding her in Area C also tells us they have significant financial resources.”
“Isn’t that a hell of a lot more organized than your average Hamas operation?” Tony asked.
“Not in the least,” she said. “Though in this region...”
“Spit it out, David,” Gibbs said when moments passed and she did not continue.
“All the signs say we’re looking for a group connected to the Palestinian Authority’s security organizations, but operating out of Qalqilya, which is under Hamas Governorate, and using Hamas tactics. The truce between Fatah and Hamas is only a few weeks old, but this op had to have been brewing for months,” she said, sounding quite exasperated. “Before the truce, Hamas would butcher Fatah whenever they got the chance. For a joined Hamas-Fatah group to even exist this long, let alone to execute such high-impact attack -”
“This could be an even worse diplomatic disaster than it already is,” Tim said. “And that’s before we factor in that the PA’s security depends on American aid.”
“How could these guys go undetected?” Tony asked.
“Easy, DiNozzo,” Gibbs said. “They maintain ops-sec as well. And like McGee just said, there’s a good chance we might’ve trained them.”
“Do our lovely allies know all that?” Tony asked, pointedly.
Ziva made a short, ugly bark of laughter. “That’s their job, Tony,” she said. “Any analyst at least six months on the job would have known all that the second he or she heard that an American officer had been kidnapped from Route 55.”
“And they still can’t find whoever did this,” Gibbs commented. “Ziva, you go talk to that family again tomorrow. DiNozzo, you’re with her. McGee -”
“Go over flagged personal profiles, cross-reference and look for a pattern connecting Fatah and Hamas,” Tim completed.
Gibbs glanced at the laptop. “I’ll try to talk them into zipping you a copy of their database,” he told Abby.
“That’s going to take a hell of a lot of trust on their part, Gibbs,” she said.
“Yeah, well,” he said. “Looks like Ravid and I now have an understanding.” He straightened. “All right, that’s it. In your beds, everyone. We’re starting bright and early tomorrow.”
The alarm clock had, in fact, woken him on time, but Tony remained in bed, waiting. Ziva had an entire repertoire of ways to wake him up, and giving her a chance to do so would give him a chance to evaluate just what kind of a day was this going to be.
Ten minutes later, when Ziva dragged him by the collar of his pajama shirt and half-dumped him on the floor, Tony figured that it was going to be a no-nonsense-but-not-outright-triggered kind of a day. He had been hoping for deliberately-aggressive, which held the potential for his injecting humor into the situation, but it was still better than one of the more paranoid options.
The bright shirt was another positive sign.
“That’s a very orange shirt,” he noted over breakfast.
“Isaiah’s rabbi is rather Right-Winged,” she replied between bites. “It stands to reason that he is as well.”
“What that’s got to do with the colour of your shirt?”
“Orange was the colour of settler protest during the Disengagement. He’ll recognize my name as Israeli, might expect me to be familiar with the reference.”
“Instant rapport,” Tony noted. “Nice.”
She shrugged. “Are you done? We should be back in Tel Aviv by noon to avoid Memorial Day traffic.”
“Memorial Day? I thought that isn’t until nightfall.”
“The Central Ceremony is at eight,” she agreed, “but traffic begins much earlier. The entire country will be one big traffic jam by two in the afternoon, and this will not let up until Wednesday.”
That forced him to reassess both her shirt and her wake-up method of choice. That she did not even try for the car keys, despite his deliberately dangling them, and that she did not complain about his driving even once, even that he deliberately observed the speed limit, made him revoke his initial assessment completely. This day was so triggered that Ziva had crossed right over paranoid, and straight into detached.
Ziva barely said a word during the forty-minute ride to where the lieutenant’s car had been found, and then during the fifteen minutes she stood by the roadside, looking around and thinking about who-knows-what. Tony’s attempts to start a conversation were met with silence, dismissive handwaves and monosyllabic replies.
“So?” he asked when she finally returned to the car. “Any epiphanies?”
“I think,” she said. “That it’s a good thing I packed an orange shirt.”
“What is that supposed to mean?”
She shook her head. “Right now, all I have is a gut feeling.”
One did not invoke gut feelings on Team Gibbs unless one seriously meant it. “And what is your gut telling you?”
“You have that rule,” she said. “‘The wife always did it’.”
“That’s because they nearly always do,” he said.
She looked away. “I think I have my own rule, now.”
The only sounds that met Tony’s ears when he and Ziva exited the car by the Weissman house were the wind and the birds. Tony took that as an indication that this time they wouldn’t run into a crowd of twenty.
This time, it was Isaiah and one of his friends sitting on the porch, watching over a single sleeping baby in a playpen. Isaiah stood to greet them.
“Mr. Weissman,” Tony said in greeting, speaking quietly so as to not wake the baby.
“Agent DiNozzo,” Isaiah replied in kind. He offered his hand, which Tony shook, and gestured towards the seated man behind him. “Naomi’s brother, Uriel Carmi.”
“My partner, Agent Ziva David.”
Isaiah’s expression turned to surprise and no little amount of confusion. Uriel’s became a mask. Isaiah angled towards Ziva but did not offer his hand as he said: “That’s an Israeli name.”
“I was raised here,” Ziva said simply.
Behind Isaiah’s back, Uriel’s expression grew darker.
“Ah,” Isaiah said. His eyes flicked down to Ziva’s shirt and back up to her face. “Please, do sit down. How can we help?”
“I would like to review your sister’s movements in the twenty-four hours before her disappearance,” Ziva said once they were seated.
Something passed across Isaiah’s face, too quick for Tony to recognize. The fingers of his one hand twitched. All he said was, “Of course.”
“Vould you like samfink to drink?” Uriel asked. “Coffee, vater...?”
“Water would be great,” Tony said. “Thanks.”
Uriel nodded, got up and disappeared indoors.
“Dana’s movement starting Tuesday morning, then,” Isaiah said. He rested his chin on his closed fist, frowning. “She went to Tel Aviv that day, to visit the Nachlat Binyamin crafts fair. She left here around ten in the morning.”
Ziva nodded. “After the morning rush,” she commented.
Isaiah smiled a little, involuntarily. “Yes,” he agreed. “She had schawarma for lunch, if I recall. She’d hoped to take a seaside stroll, but it was too hot for her. She was back home by five in the afternoon.”
Uriel returned, carrying two tall glasses covered in condensation.
“Thank you,” Tony said as he accepted one glass.
“You’re velcam,” Uriel said, a little stiffly.
Well, Tony thought as he downed a third of the of the blissfully cold water, at least he didn’t tell us to not thank him.
Ziva, too, drank some before putting her glass down and continuing the interview. “And after Dana returned?”
Isaiah shrugged, a little helplessly. “We had dinner,” he said. “The next morning she left before Dror and Moriyah left for school. It was the last I’ve seen her.”
Ziva nodded. “Let’s review before that, then.”
“Agent David, if I may ask,” Isaiah said, “what are you looking for?”
“Anything at all,” she said. “Now -” Suddenly, her expression changed.
Tony could feel it, too: a buzzing in his ears, heaviness behind his eyes, his vision swimming. He reached for his gun even as Ziva did the same.
Neither of them made it in time.
Sunday brought with it full occupancy at the North Shomron section. The hive was no noisier than it had been on Friday, though, despite having at least twice as many people. Gibbs had not so much left their office's door open, as he did not close it when McGee had left it so. Gibbs was tempted to wander about the hive, but he knew better than to communicate idleness or overbearing to several dozen overworked, cagey Israelis.
Around ten in the morning, Ravid came for him. He did not realize that anything was the matter until he realized she was heading for the hive's door. He could ask her what was going on, but he didn't – not if she was trying to keep it a secret from her own section.
Not, that is, until they were in the elevator.
"What's going on?" he asked.
"Downstairs," she said.
That, he thought, sounded even worse.
They exited the elevator at the ground floor, and then took a narrow corridor to the back of the building, where they had to pass through another security checkpoint before taking a different elevator downstairs. Gibbs did not need to be told to know that here, he would do well to stay close to his escort at all times.
He knew a war room when he saw it, and the room Ravid had finally showed him to was one. Shalev, her supervisor, was already there, as well as several technicians. There was a video link projected unto the main screen, and the person at the other end of it was Dunski.
From bad to worse, then.
"Now is anyone going to tell me what's going on?" he demanded.
"It's a good news, bad means kind of situation," Dunski said.
Gibbs raised his eyebrows at her. "Just how much am I going to hate it?"
"We've got visual on some of the people from the band who kidnapped your officer," Dunski said.
"What'd you do to get that?" he asked. "Tear somebody's nails out?"
"That requires permission from the Supreme Court," she replied blandly, "which I do not have and which they would not grant. Allowing your agents to be kidnapped does not require such permission."
"What?" he demanded, stepping closer to the screen in his anger.
"I asked you be brought down here," she said, in the same Teflon voice, "so that you would not hear it from a third party."
"You let Hamas have David and DiNozzo," he said, flatly.
"No," she said.
“Like Fatah is so much better."
“Not Fatah either,” she said calmly. "A Jewish terrorist cell, of which Isaiah Weissman is part."
Gibbs stared at her. "Jewish," he repeated.
"We have our crazies, too.”
Gibbs turned on Shalev and Ravid. "You knew?" he demanded.
"Knew what?" Shalev said dryly.
Gibbs rounded up back on the screen. "Where the hell are my agents?"
"In an old chirbe with an IR camo net cast over it," she said. "It stands to reason Dana Weissman is there, too. I have two UAVs on them and a heli on standby."
"Great," he spat. "Pull them out now."
"No can do," she replied. "I have an underground to eliminate."
"And my agents are bait." He regarded her image on the screen. "I heard you're a cold bitch, Dunski, but this pretty impressive."
"I have a Division's worth of live intel," she told him. "I have med-evac on standby and every possible commando competing for rescue rights. You're not going to believe me, but I have them covered."
"You let them walk into a trap," he snarled at her. "You had damn well better have them covered." The guillotine motion he made was instinct; one of the local techs responded, cutting the connection.
Gibbs rounded up on the North Shomron Section Chief and XO. "Did you know?" he repeated.
"That that woman in that job made no sense unless something else was going on?" Shalev asked rhetorically. "I've been not paying attention to that."
"And this seems all right to you?" Gibbs demanded.
He was not prepared for Ravid to jut her chin up, and demand in returned: "Does the world seem all right to you?"
"Is that a reason, now?" He shot back.
"It's a reason to not let a bunch of fanatics start another round of bloodshed," she snapped.
"And double-crossing and endangering your allies seems to you like a good way to achieve that."
"I'm not Jewish Desk," she said. It was more than a statement of fact: it was an apology. It was in her inflection, in the way she spread her hands slightly to the side.
He could push it; he wanted to push it. Tony and Ziva were out there, having been caught off guard somehow, at an undisclosed location in the middle of nowhere, and Gibbs would not trust Israelis to find a coin under a street light, not if the ‘coin’ was a person.
Dunski swore that she had surveillance. Ziva had said that Dunski should never be believed without verification.
He changed tact. "I want the surveillance feed."
Shalev looked to the techs, and nodded. Seconds later, the view from both UAVs came up on the main screen, showing an old, dilapidated stone cabin in the middle of an abandoned field.
"And I know my people really are there how, exactly?" he asked sharply.
Ravid said something in Hebrew to the techs. One of them nodded and, a few tense moments later, pointed to a monitor.
Gibbs did not need verbal instructions.
The playback begun seconds later. Gibbs watched wordlessly as Ziva and Tony joined Isaiah and the other man on the porch, engaged in conversation, received a drink and, seconds later, collapsed. He remained silent as the lieutenant's brother and the other man loaded his two unconscious agents into the other man's car and drove off to the cabin.
He turned around. "I'm going to be in the loop from now on, is that clear?"
"As much as we are," Shalev said.
Tony didn't know where he was when he woke up, and what the time was. He was pretty sure he'd been drugged, though: his head weighed about a ton, and his mouth felt full of cotton. It was also taped shut. He was bound with zip ties – he could feel the hard edges of the plastic digging into his wrists and ankles, as well as above his elbows and knees – so the cut-off circulation could be why his limbs were tingling and distant. And as if all this wasn’t enough, it was hot.
He forced his eyes open. His vision was blurry, but he could still recognize Ziva, seemingly still unconscious, similarly tied and dumped on her side, same as he, by the wall across from him.
Tony shifted a little so he could rest his head a little farther away from where he’d thrown up upon waking, and thought: What the hell happened?
He tried to organize his memory. The last thing he could remember was Gibbs, telling them to re-interview the family – no: he and Ziva talked about her shirt over breakfast. It was Sunday. They’d gone to interview Isaiah Weissman again.
Had Ziva and he made it to Karnei Shomron? Tony struggled to remember. He was pretty sure he and Ziva wouldn't have stopped for a small child by the wayside. Either they had stepped straight into a trap, though, or –
- or they had stepped straight into a trap. He’d been drugged and likely so had Ziva. Tony struggled to hold back his bile as he realized what that meant.
He needed a distraction and he needed to think, so he lifted his head again and tried to get a look around. The room was approximately fifteen by ten foot big, and made of stone. The ceiling was flat. There was a bunch of empty water bottles in the one corner, and not far from it several crates that Tony thought looked military-issue: ammo and guns, more than likely. And there, behind the crates -
Lt. Dana Weissman struggled in her own bonds so that she could look at him; she was lucky enough to have her arms tied in front of her, rather than behind her back. She was dressed, in what were probably the clothes she’d worn on Wednesday morning, about as dirty as could be expected. Her eyes was bleary and not entirely focused. What Tony could tell of her skin seemed unhealthy, and possibly red. Partially dehydrated, then, but nothing life-threatening. Yet. Tony was more worried about infection: she’d torn the flesh around her bonds open, and, left untreated, the gashes became infected and inflamed under the caked blood.
Blood infection would become an issue at some point.
It was probably still Sunday. The room they were in had a window but it was boarded and, anyway, Tony couldn’t reliably tell the time by the sun at this latitude. His memories of everything after Saturday night were wonky and full of holes, as could be expected, but he distinctly recalled Ziva saying that Monday night would be the ideal time for Lt. Weissman’s body to be found, and he had no doubt that three dead Americans would be more effective than one. Their kidnappers needed time for the body-drop, so Tony figured they had until Monday afternoon. Tony seriously hoped Gibbs would find them before then.
When minutes passed and Gibbs did not yet return, Tim knew that this was either really bad or really good news. When he peered outside the office’s door and everything seemed normal in the hive, Tim figured that this was bad.
His suspicion was confirmed when Gibbs returned with an expression like a thunderstorm and closed the door behind him. “Get Abby,” he ordered. “Get her to find everything she can about the Jewish Desk. Don’t come back until you have it.”
Tim said, “Yes, Boss,” and went to find Anat.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d been awake when Ziva woke up as well. He felt like it could have been an hour or less, but Tony was aware that he was less lucid than he thought, and it might as well have been hours. His shoulders were burning already, and every struggle against the zip ties informed him he’d already bruised himself.
He knew Ziva awoke before she opened her eyes, because her expression went from the open exhaustion of sleep to the blankness of waking uncertainty. The blankness turned to relief as soon as she opened her eyes and her gaze landed on him and, just as quickly, to crushing disappointment. It took several seconds for the blankness to reassert itself.
This was a different blankness, though. It was bleaker, emptier: it was the look Tony had seen on her in Somalia, where in the time it took them to realize she was missing and find her she had had to learn how to disappear so deep underneath her own skin, how to shut her mind so completely, that no drugs and no degree of pain could get to her.
Tony tried to scream against the tape on his lips, thrashed against the zip ties, did his best to get Ziva’s attention. By the time he understood - remembered - that it was entirely possibly Ziva had removed herself so thoroughly she could not hear him, he was breathing hard and the entire right side of his body, which he was laying on, tingled and burned with new aches: his upper arm and hip were definitely bruised, his shoulder was shot through with needles, and it felt as though he’d scraped the skin off the outside of his knees. Thank goodness for socks, he thought hazily, testing his ankles.
He really hoped Gibbs would find them soon.
Tim did not expect Abby to say, “I hate it when he does that!”
“What?” Tim asked. “Wait, you’ve already been looking into it?”
“Well,” she said, “you asked me to find out about Yael Dunski.”
“Yes,” he said cautiously.
“So I can tell you everywhere she’s lived and every civilian phone number she’s had and what where her school grades, but all I can tell you about her life at the Shin-Beit is the size of her paycheck. Everything else is un-hackable: it’s just not on any system connected to the outside world.”
Abby was in lecture-mode, so that only perked her right up. “Do I look like a defeatist to you? You know I’m not. So when the direct approach failed me, I went in search of everything I could find out about the Shin-Beit in general.”
“And that’s when you found out about the Jewish Desk,” he said. “Whatever that is.”
“It’s the Shin-Beit department tasked with non-Arab terrorists,” she said, with entirely too much cheer. “The most mysterious department in the Shin-Beit, their very existence was unknown in Israel until the murder of Prim Minister Rabin in 1995.”
“They’re a hush-hush department within a hush-hush organization,” Tim summed up. “That’s great.”
Abby beamed. “I know!”
“I don’t see what’s so great about that.”
“Well, while I was looking at everyone and everything, I also looked into Isaiah Weissman’s rabbi.” Abby made a face. “Let’s just say he has really yucky opinions, okay?”
“He’s a fanatic,” Tim elaborated. “And you think Dunski wasn’t there to protect the Settlers from the Palestinians, she was there to protect the Palestinians from them.”
“And earn their trust by pretending to be their protector,” Abby agreed. “Isn’t this cool? In a really nasty sort of way, but... You know.”
“What I want to know is why we weren’t told any of that,” he said, crossly. “At least about Rabbi Ben-Ezra.”
“Yeah, I’ve been thinking about that, too,” Abby said. “And I think I know why. The section you’re with, this isn’t really their job, isn’t it?”
Tim stared at the screen. “You’re saying they did give us access to everything they have,” he said. “They, the section, specifically; and the Jewish Desk screwed us all over.” He buried his face in his hands. “Oh, this is so bad.”
“Tim, what happened?” she asked. “When you said Gibbs asked after the Jewish Desk, I thought you had a breakthrough.”
“Something bad happened, Abby,” he said. He pried his hands away from his face. “Something really bad,” he repeated. “Ravid asked Gibbs somewhere before, and he came back all...”
“And Tony and Ziva went to re-interview the family this morning, and it’s way past lunch time and they should have at least checked in by now, and...”
“Oh, no!” Abby’s hand flew to her mouth. “You don’t think...”
“Yeah,” he said, miserably. “I do.”
That the Shin-Beit’s systems were not physically connected to the rest of the world wouldn’t leave Tim be. It made no reason for Mossad security protocol to be any less stringent than the Shin-Beit’s, but he and Abby had managed to hack into the Mossad when they needed to find out what had happened to Ziva, nearly two years prior.
“Anat?” he asked on the way back to the section. “Can I ask you something? It’s not about the current case.”
“You can ask,” she said. “I don’t promise to answer.”
“Fair enough,” he agreed. “Does Mossad - um - do they use similar security protocols to you guys?”
“They’re identical,” she answered unhesitatingly.
“So - um - if someone found out something, something that they really weren’t supposed to,” he said, “how do you suppose it could have happened?”
She thought about it for a moment. “Did the Mossad have reason to think that someone would be looking for that information?”
“Yes. I mean, maybe.”
“Then they let you have it,” she said simply. “They couldn’t tell you directly, or they thought you wouldn’t believe them if they did. So they made it possible for you to find out for yourselves. It’s a classic Intelligence Community technique.”
“I never said that was us,” he said, automatically. His mind was spinning.
Anat snorted. “I’m nice, Tim, not stupid.”
“Thank you,” he said, quietly, because she appreciated that he said that and because he thought she would understand.
She touched his hand. “We’ll get them back,” she said, gently.
He looked up at her, startled. “What -”
Still as gently, she said: “You just told me.”
There was a car approaching. Tony wasn’t sure at first, despite the stifling silence: there had been nothing but the breathing of the three of them and the buzzing of memories inside his head for too long. And a single car couldn’t be a rescue. A rescue would come in complete silence, or else with blaring sirens.
Outside, the engine stopped. First there was silence, then the sound of dirt crunching under human gait and then, finally, the door was pushed open. Lying on his side in an attempt to minimize the pressure on his joints, Tony’s gaze tracked from floor-level upwards: hiking sandals, worn blue denim, a light blue t-shirt and, finally, Isaiah Weissman’s face, contorted in concern that - it seemed to Tony - could be nothing but mockery.
That was the man’s sister lying bound and gagged on the floor, her wounds untended, looking anywhere but at her brother.
Isaiah put down the fresh six-pack of water bottles, released one from the wrap and went over to kneel by his sister.
“Hey, Dana,” he said, voice quiet in the silence of the stone cabin.
She still wouldn’t look at him.
He cracked open the bottle, set it on the floor and reached to pull the tape from his sister’s lips, taking odd care to not tear off her skin.
Would someone treat a prisoner this way that they were determined to execute? Tony wondered. How had Dana ever ended up in this predicament?
“Isaiah,” was the first word from her lips, voice cracked and dry. “Isaiah, please -”
“Sh, Dana.” Isaiah reached to the back of her head. “Sh. Here, drink.”
She struggled, but it was a token gesture, no strength behind it, and lasting only until the water touched her lips.
He let her have about a third of the bottle before removing and recapping it.
She coughed a little. “Isaiah, why?” she pleaded. Her voice was still raspy, but far more human. “Brother, you don’t have to -”
“Dana, please.” His voice was anguished. “Why did you have to make me do this? Why couldn’t you keep silent?”
“Because this is wrong, brother-mine. It’s a travesty -”
He slapped her.
“They are civilians too,” she rasped out.
Isaiah spat. “They are terrorists from the womb. Their children sneaking into our houses to kill our babies -”
“- the fathers of whom sneak into their villages to pillage the poor man’s lamb,” she countered.
He slapped her again. Her head hit the stones.
“Dana, please,” he said a moment later, as if he was the one in a position to beg. “This doesn’t have to happen. There’s still time. Say you won’t tell -”
“I am sworn to protect the innocent from the scum of this world,” she said, voice steady, for all that it was faint and scratched. “Even when the scum is my own brother.”
Isaiah did not slap her again. He got up, dug out a roll of tape from the crates, tore a piece and went back and knelt by her to tape her mouth shut again. Then he picked up the water bottle, stood up, dusted himself off and - to Tony’s surprise - went over and knelt by Ziva.
Ziva’s eyes remained closed. She was, to all appearances, still unconscious. The angle was such that Tony could not see Isaiah’s face, but he could read the tension in Isaiah’s body as he paused and then raised his hand to check Ziva’s pulse at her neck.
There was a loud crash and a burst of air and light, a small object hurtling through the window and then - so quickly that only later did Tony understand what had happened - the bright, loud explosion of a flash-bang grenade.
Soldiers streamed into the smoke-filled room through the door that Isaiah had left unlocked. The first few cleared the room - which required little more than a glance - and shouted a single word before pouncing on Isiah. That word had to be Medics, because a mini-flood of them followed within a second. There were no gurneys, which confused Tony even if healthy early-twenties boys could easily carry an adult person. His confusion lasted for the few seconds in which he blinked against the bright light outside, noting the many APCs and other vehicles pulling in, and then he was dumped in the back of one of those vehicles and realized that it was, in fact, an infirmary on wheels.
Ziva was sitting on the gurney across from him, eyes wide and dark and face expressionless. Her name was the first word he said when the medic removed the tape from his mouth.
“She’s fine,” the medic snapped, pushing Tony back down on the gurney even as he cut through the zip ties. “Better than you are. How did you ever do that,” he indicated Tony’s wrists, “to yourself in a single afternoon. Idyot.”
“I was trying to break free,” Tony said, “it’s kind of the thing to do when one is tied up.”
“From plastic cuffs? You’re lucky you didn’t tear your muscles to the bone. Sit. I will tie you down if you don’t.”
“You just want to have reasons to rant at me,” Tony said lightly.
The irritated look the medic gave him was not amused in the last. “That,” he said, pointing at the piece of duct tape, “can go right back on.”
Tony shut up.
Ziva’s medic left first, and Tony’s a bit later. They were alone in the medi-van for no more than seconds, though, before someone else climbed in: someone who wore beige, instead of olive greens.
“Yael?” Tony asked, surprised.
She grinned at him and tossed him something. Tony caught it automatically - wincing at the pain in his wrists after the fact - and looked down to see a bar of marzipan in his hands.
“For the shock,” she told him. “And if you tell me you’re not in shock, I’ll bring Effie back to yell at you some more.” To Ziva she offered a small package wrapped in greaseproof paper, and an azure-blue sweatshirt.
Ziva stared at the sweatshirt but, in the dim shadows of the van’s back, Tony couldn’t read her expression.
“So this is your op?” he asked Yael instead.
“Yup,” she said, cheerfully. She came over and sat down next to him. “You guys tripped them up good. Your lieutenant is looking good, by the way. The heli will be here any second to take her to Tel HaShomer. You guys are doing way too good to justify air-evac, I’m afraid.”
“Yael,” Ziva said. She was holding up the sweatshirt.
Yael’s eyes snapped to her. “Keep it,” she said, cutting off whatever Ziva was going to say. She stood up, walked the short distance across the van’s width and closed Ziva’s hands around the garment, pushing them back towards her chest. She said something in Hebrew, to which Ziva did not reply, and walked out.
“What was that all about?” asked Tony after a few seconds.
“That’s her course sweatshirt,” Ziva said. Her voice was thick with something. “At the end of military training courses, people usually design their cohort a t-shirt or a sweatshirt, depending on the season.”
“What happened to yours?” he asked.
“I don’t have one,” she told him. “I was detailed to Mossad immediately after boot camp.”
Tony swallowed around the lump in his throat. “Oh,” he said.
“Eat your marzipan,” she said after a moment’s pause.
A few seconds later, she was the one who said: “Oh.”
He looked up and saw that she had the greaseproof paper spread across her knees, and had broken off a piece of the white slab inside. There was something like wonder spilled over her face.
“What is it?” he asked.
“This halva...” she said. “It’s extremely hard to come by, nowadays.”
“How hard?” he asked carefully.
“Search-for-weeks hard,” she said. “Smuggle-out-of-Nablus hard.”
“Oh,” he said.
Silently, she held her hand out to him, offering him a piece.
He closed his fingers around hers as he took it.
Chapter 5: Stubborn, Silent and Grey
Content advisory: aftermath of the last chapter's violence, some post trauma, hospital setting, memorial service
Friendship, Haim Gouri
Standing by the curtain railing that separated Dana Weissman’s bed from the others in the ER, Gibbs thought that she looked the part of the rescued hostage. Her complexion was the pallor of trauma and exhaustion; a mash of bruises on her cheek; dirt matted in her hair and on her clothes; and where her hands emerged from the thin hospital blanket he could see the bandages wrapped around her wrists, where - the nurses had told him - she was lucky not to have torn her veins open by struggling to break free. Her forearms were red and swollen halfway to her elbows, what with the untreated infection. There was more than one kind of an antibiotic in her IV.
Her eyes were closed when he pulled her curtain aside. She opened them at about five seconds.
“If you were a nurse,” she said, “you would’ve moved by now.”
“Agent Gibbs,” he said. Her pupils dilated in surprise. “NCIS.”
“Oh,” she said.
There were no chairs in the ER outside of the pre-triage waiting area. “May I?” he asked, indicating the short distance between the curtain rail and her bed. He knew a palm print when he saw it on someone’s flesh.
“Yes,” she said after a moment.
He moved slowly, careful to keep his hands where she could see them. “How are you feeling?” he asked as he approached, closing the curtain behind him for an illusion of privacy.
She tried for a smile. “Better now.”
“That’s good,” he said, carefully. She’d know and be angry if he used the little-kids voice with her, but he wanted her to know she did not need to put up a front. He offered her a half-smile of his own. “Otherwise?”
She thought about it a while. “Ask me in a week? Or tomorrow,” she amended, correctly interpreting his expression.
“Okay,” he said, keeping his voice in the same register as before. “I’d like for you to tell me what happened, but that can wait, too. The important thing is that we got you, now. Everything else can wait.”
Moments passed. Eventually, she sighed: “Isaiah.”
“Your brother?” he prompted.
“Yes,” she said. “He and his friends. I - something seemed wrong. I looked around. I listened. I understand more Hebrew than they realized. Wednesday morning - today is Sunday, right?”
“Yes,” he confirmed.
“The medic told me, and I asked the nurses, but I wasn’t sure -” Her hand twitched, and her face clouded.
“Hey,” he said, gently. “You’re not being silly.”
She huffed a little. That motion might’ve been her jutting her chin, if she was standing up. “Easier said,” she replied.
He let all of his sincerity into his voice as he said, “I know.” After a moment, he prompted: “Wednesday morning?”
“I was supposed to leave early. I delayed, to let Naomi take Dror and Moriyah to school. They didn’t need to be there for it. Then I confronted Isaiah, told him I knew what they’re up to. He - I -” Her face contorted; he could tell it was a struggle to not close her eyes. “I didn’t expect him to hit me,” she said in a low monotone. “He hit me - two, three times. The next thing I remember, I was there.”
By protocol, he should ask her where ‘there’ was. He didn’t. It wasn’t that urgent. “Thank you,” he told her.
She shook her head against her pillow. “Thank you.”
He could tell her that he’d done nothing, but that was not what she needed to hear. “Just doing our job,” he said, simply.
“Are they your people?” she asked. “Who were there today?”
“Yeah,” he admitted.
She didn’t say it, but he could read it in her face, in the parting of her lips before she spoke: funny way to go about a rescue. “Thank them too, for me?” she asked.
“They’ll be here in a short while,” he told her. “You can tell them yourself.”
She nodded a little. “Will you stay with me until then?” Her open palm sank a little into the mattress - a tacit invitation.
“Yeah,” he said, carefully sitting down on the edge of her hospital bed. “Of course.”
In retrospect, Tim should have known better than to let the hospital staff close the curtain separating Tony’s and Ziva’s beds. No; he should have known better than to let the staff sit those two on separate beds, given the way Tony had been clinging to Ziva’s hand when they came off that military ambulance, Tony on a stretcher and her walking next to it. Tim wasn’t Gibbs and he wasn’t Ducky, though, and it didn’t occur to him how Tony would react to not having a direct line of sight on Ziva until it had already happened, and Tim had to push his way through what seemed to be a sudden congregation of all the ER staff to get to his teammates.
“It’s all right!” he shouted at everyone as he pulled at the curtain on instinct. “It’s all right! No, you do not need to that,” he added at the nurse who approached Tony with a syringe. “Tony!” he grabbed the man by his shoulders, careful to not block his line of sight on Ziva. “It’s all right, damn it! We’re in the hospital, they were just trying to be nice.”
Because talking sense to Tony was ever not completely futile.
Thankfully, that was when Ziva finally noticed what was going on. “Tony!” she snapped. “You’re causing a scene.”
Tony inhaled deeply, and then all but collapsed against Tim. “Ziva?”
“You’re an idiot,” she informed him.
Tim eased Tony back onto the bed and caught the eye of the nurse who seemed to be in charge. “Do not close that curtain again,” he told her.
She nodded once and said, wryly, “Duly noted.”
It surprised Gibbs none at all to find Tony and Ziva on the same narrow hospital bed. They had the curtain drawn open, which afforded them no privacy but allowed them to see around. Tony was sitting, leaning against the head of the bed with pillows stacked under his swollen ankles. Ziva had somehow maneuvered both of them so that she leaned against Tony to the left of Tony’s torso, her feet dangling off the side of the bed. She was holding a blue balled-up something - a sweatshirt, perhaps - close to her abdomen.
“Hi, Boss,” Tony said as Gibbs approached them.
“Hi,” Gibbs replied, putting the two orange juices on the bedside bureau, next to the white slab of something that just might be food. He reached for one of Tony’s gauze-wrapped hands. “How bad?”
“Left hand’s got some stitches,” Tony said. “Just a flesh wound, Boss.”
Gibbs said nothing. He pushed up the short sleeve of Tony’s shirt an inch or so, revealing the bruising underneath. There’d be the same under Tony’s pants, he knew, but neither Tony or he said anything.
Nor, for that matter, did Ziva. She kept her eyes on the wall or on the floor, anywhere but at another person.
Gibbs picked up one of the OJs. “Can you hold that?” he asked Tony, carefully arranging the man’s fingers around the plastic cup.
“Seriously, Boss,” Tony protested.
He still needed both his hands to hold the cup. Gibbs helped him get his arm around Ziva so that he could do so comfortably, but said nothing. He left the other cup on the bureau and sat on the edge of the bed, on Ziva’s other side.
“Hey,” he said carefully, in his softest voice. He reached with his right to tap her shoulder lightly. “Ziva.”
“I am fine,” she said, gaze still cast down. “I have no bruises or lacerations.”
“Yeah,” Tony said, irritably. “She didn’t try to get out of the zip ties.”
That told Gibbs all he needed to know. “Hey,” he said again. He pulled in his right and used his left instead, to pull her towards him. “C’mere.” Sounds that meant nothing, really, just enough for her to know that he was there, and not angry.
She moved with him, so it wasn’t completely like rearranging a particularly heavy doll. But she did not lean into him, either.
“Don’t say it was nothing,” he told her, trying to get her to cradle against him. “It wasn’t to me. This is not all right, Ziva,” he added; at least she laid her head on his shoulder on her own, even if the gingerly motion screamed of caution. “This is not all right,” he whispered into her hair.
Her hand let go of the balled-up something suddenly, blue fabric spilling across her lap, revealing the white-printed cursive Hebrew. Gibbs had never seen that hoodie before. Not knowing where it came from but understanding that it was of importance, now, he only straightened it to see that it didn’t fall, but otherwise left it in place.
It was the right thing to do, because finally she let go, letting her weight rest against him. He heard her swallow, heard the catch in each breath.
He tightened his hold. “Oh, Ziva,” he whispered into her hair. Oh, daughter, he formed the words, barely even a breath.
Each of her own breaths came quicker, now; but that was healthy tension in her body.
It wasn’t all right, not at all. It had been worse, though, and one day - one day - it would be all right.
Not knowing what drug had been used to knock them out, and having reason to suspect that it still hasn’t cleared from their system, the ER doctor who’d seen them for all of sixty seconds had prescribed NSAIDs. Some NSAIDs, Tony discovered, were no less effective than the Good Drugs, messed with one’s head none at all (for which he was grateful) and were actually supposed to do something for bruised and inflamed tissues. NSAIDs still had side effects, though, and a bad interaction between what they were prescribed and the knock-out drug had sent Ziva sprinting to the bathroom.
That was how Tony was on his own when Yael came.
“I hate you,” he told her. His voice sounded flat, monotone, but he was too tired and too pissed to care.
“I figured you’d say that,” she said as she sat down on the bed that was supposed to be Ziva’s.
“You knew,” he accused.
“Yes,” she agreed.
“You knew,” he repeated. “You hoped we’d get kidnapped, didn’t you? You set us up.”
“I didn’t share what I knew,” she agreed. “It allowed the quickest and safest way of rescuing your lieutenant, as well as effective means to incriminate the entire Ben-Ezra group in a single strike.”
He nearly repeated that he hated her, but thought better of it. “You know,” he said, conversationally, “I used to be a cop. You remind me of some husbands and fathers I ran into, then.”
“The ones who bring their wives and children flowers or chocolate after beating them up, and say they’re sorry,” she said without blinking. “But you genuinely needed the sugar, and I am not sorry.”
“I’m surprised you’re not trying it anyway,” he said. “Obviously you don’t mind lying.”
She smiled. “You’re not going to trust me, no matter what I do,” she began.
“Damn right I won’t,” he interrupted.
“You were never going to trust me, no matter what I did,” she continued, “if for no other reason then because Ziva would have told you to, and because your boss is too smart for that. So I decided I wasn’t even going to try. I might as well be comfortable.”
“Yeah? And how are you comfortable?” he challenged.
“Contradictory,” she said simply. “I lie, most of the time. I say the truth when I care enough for it. Ziva and I used to be best friends, since we were little and until her work with Mossad took her out of her country for months and years at a time. I want what’s best for her, whether either of you believe me or not. And right now, you guys are what’s best for her.”
He snorted. “Yeah, right,” he said. “If you wanted what’s best for her, you would never -” His throat closed up. The scents of sweat, blood and stale Caf-Pow suffocated him, desert sunlight somehow in his eyes in the fluorescent-lit room.
“Do you think she didn’t know?” Yael asked, oddly gentle. “She knew, Tony, before she ever set foot in that house. She knew enough to understand my game plan. She knew enough to understand the risk. She went ahead with it anyway. And as for everything else,” she continued, while Tony still struggled with a too-tight throat, “that’s why she’s with you, and that’s why she’s better off that way.” She shrugged, deliberately. “I am what I am; I’m no less angry than anyone else. But alive on the other side of the world, that’s still alive. I no longer ask for more.”
“Why should I believe you?” he asked.
Very plainly, she replied: “I don’t know.”
Gibbs was with Dana - again - and Tim sat on the bed that theoretically was Ziva’s and tried hard to not fidget.
Then Ziva untangled herself and stood up. Tony, of course, grabbed.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
Tim sat a little straighter at the edge of panic in Tony’s voice.
“Standing,” Ziva snapped. “It’s nearly eight o’clock.”
Eight - “The siren,” Tim blurted, standing up himself.
Ziva was already walking towards the aisle, where - Tim could see - everyone who could stand on their feet were gathering, forming a solid line of sight with each other throughout the entire ER.
“Damn,” Tony muttered, carefully pushing himself up. “Tim -”
Tim helped Tony up, supporting part of his weight, before Tony could say the words help me. Together they walked to Ziva’s side. She glanced at them once, but that was all. She even ignored Tony’s hand.
The room was tense; Tim could feel it. Maybe the tension had been there all along, slowly building up since the morning, but Tim had been too preoccupied with worry for his team to notice. The stillness of waiting rattled him enough that he wished for the siren to come.
Until it did.
He didn’t expect Anat to wait for them at the hotel lobby but there she was, the only person in a lobby as deserted as the streets outside. Gibbs gave her a piercing look and Tim a bewildered one, both of which she purposefully ignored as she hefted her Disney-printed carrier bag and caught up with them.
No one said a word through the elevator ride, the walk down the hall and as they filed in. Anat unloaded her bag while Tony carefully lowered himself onto the couch. The large juice bottles and noodle cups Tony understood; the saran wrap, too, once he gave it a second thought. This was not his first injury. Then she produced a stack of white t-shirts and a few rectangular stickers with red flowers over a blue-to-white gradient.
“What’re these?” he asked.
“For tomorrow,” she said, even as she extracted a folding plastic stool from her bag. “I didn’t know if you had any.” She sounded oddly apologetic.
Ziva raised her eyes from the shirts and stickers to meet Anat’s. Anat nodded at her.
“If I thanked you right now,” Tim asked Anat, “you’ll tell me I’m an idiot, right?”
“I like that about you,” she said, and - to Tim’s surprise too, by the looks of it - rose on tiptoe to hug him.
“Hey,” Tony said automatically, “don’t I get a hug?”
He didn’t expect her to come over, when she’d let go of Tim, bend down and hug him, too.
When she straightened up again she looked at Ziva and gestured with her hand. Ziva looked down at her shirt, pulled at it, and then looked back up at Anat and nodded.
Of course, Tony realized, watching the two women turn to the bathroom and even as he himself pretended that Gibbs did not just say Let me just get Tony’s things. His own injuries were the result of his own stubbornness and panic, but Ziva’s joints still carried mementos of Somalia. Ziva was young and fit, and a year and a half later these injuries only made themselves known on bad days, but being hogtied for six hours more than counted as such. Ziva may need help getting in and out of her shirts for a while.
“Tony.” Gibbs touched his shoulder, shaking him out of his guilty reverie. He held the saran wrap in one hand and Tony’s oversized toiletry bag in the other. “Come on. You’ll feel better after.”
“I’d really -” Tony began.
Gibbs shook his head and then tilted it towards the other bathroom, where the stool was already situated in the bathtub. “That what that’s for, Tony,” he said.
“Oh,” Tony said, a little blankly.
Gibbs transferred the bag to the same hand that held the saran wrap, and then did something entirely too careful to be called hefting Tony to his feet. “Come on,” he repeated.
“There’ll be delicious gourmet dinner ready when you’re done,” Tim said wryly, indicated the noodle cups and the hotel electric kettle.
And maybe the world was tilting back into shape already, because Tony actually smiled as he said, mock-threateningly, “I’ll hold you to it, McChef.”
They’d talked about it. Tony was sure of that as he sat up - minding the stitches on his one hand - and then gingerly tested his feet on the floor. They’d talked about this morning, as evident by his alarm clock being set. They were going and he knew that, too, even before he looked up and saw the white shirt laid on top of his jeans; he was yet to understand how that was the Memorial Day dress code. Whoever had arranged his clothes - Gibbs, more than likely - had also dug through his bag for short socks that would not be a problem with his tennis-ball ankles. Tony put on his shoes, placed the sticker over the left breast of his shirt, and hobbled out of the room.
Tim was sitting on the couch, thumbing through the news on his smartphone with one hand and absentmindedly sipping from the coffee he had in the other. The paper cup, like the bags on the table, were Aroma. That explained the scent of breakfast, and Tim’s green shirt answered another question that Tony would rather not ask.
The room was flooded with light, the drapes to the balcony having been thrown wide open. Gibbs and Ziva were out by the railing with their coffees. Ziva, too, wore a white T and blue jeans, but Gibbs was in NCIS grey.
Tony wasn’t sure how he felt about that.
“Good morning,” Tim said.
Tony tore his gaze back to him. “Morning,” he said.
“Opted to sleep in, I see,” Tim continued.
“Your cab will be here any minute,” Tim told him. “Go brush your hair; price of sleeping in is breakfast on the go.”
“Don’t begrudge a man his beauty sleep,” Tony said, automatically, and then asked: “Is he still being Nice Gibbs?”
Tim half-shook his head. “Back to normal with me,” he said, “still careful with Ziva. But frankly, I’d be more worried if he wasn’t. Go the bathroom, Tony, seriously.”
The protest was automatic, too: “It’s just quarter past nine. The siren’s not until eleven.”
“Memorial Day traffic, Tony,” Tim sighed, picking up his smartphone again. “Memorial Day traffic.”
The driver was content enough to hold a conversation with himself. That was good as neither of them was too talkative, Ziva staring out the window and Tony as well, except for when he was sneaking glances at her.
It was sunny and bright, but the temperatures were still in the low 70s, practically cold for Memorial Day, according to the driver. Tony had no objections; he remembered his sunglasses, barely, but he had no hat. Another reason why Israelis defaulted to white rather than black, he figured. It just made more sense when 60F was as cold as it got during daytime.
He’d seen the traffic, on the road, but he still didn’t quite realize there would be so many cars when they got to the town’s cemetery. The small parking lot was full to capacity - including one bus - and wherever Tony looked he could not see pavement under the parked cars. They arrived at quarter-to and, eyeing the rising slope to the cemetery, Tony thought that they would need that time. At least they weren’t quite the last ones, even if they were the last vehicle: people were still coming in by foot.
He didn’t quite expect Ziva to insert herself under his arm as he got out of the car, shouldering part his weight.
“Ziva,” he protested. He’d seen her move: her shoulders and hips still had enough trouble with her own weight.
She gave him an unreadable look, but said nothing.
Some people gave them no more notice than anyone else, as they climbed up the path, but yet others gave them a second look and a third, eyes going first to Ziva and then to him. Ziva put on her best oblivious act but Tony returned a small, polite smile to each.
Some smiled back; some even augmented the gesture with a nod.
The tension had been building for a while, nearly imperceptible to him on Thursday and quite palpable by Saturday night. He could only remember snapshots of the day before, but this - he’d been to funerals and he’d been to memorials, and this -
More than anything, it reminded him of his team in the week before the anniversary of Kate’s death, and of Ari’s: flinching as if waiting for some hammer of ill news to fall and knowing, simultaneously, that the worst had already happened and all that was left to fear was going on.
It was one thing to be one of four people in a room of forty flinching that way and another to stand in a crowd of over a hundred and imagine a state the size of New Jersey drawn to a halt, similarly waiting.
The siren came sudden and predictable like grief itself, cutting through the air more ferociously than he’d heard it the night before, shielded by the hospital walls. Some people straightened their backs, others looked down; Tony knew that all of those people had to have served, though only the honour guard were uniformed, but to his eyes they remained a mismatched bunch of civilians.
Ziva, who had unloaded him from her shoulder when they reached the military section and mingled with the crowd, put her hand in his.
When the siren came it had been harsh, but expected somehow; it felt jarring for it to ebb away. There was a strange kind of comfort in the deafening noise, in the safe space it granted for those memories that were brighter and sharper than waking life.
Ziva’s hand remained in his through the recitative rhythm of one prayer, and the heart-stopping cry of another. Her grip tightened when a man stepped forward from the crowd to make a speech, and Tony supposed that had to be someone she knew.
Only when the crowd stirred at the end of the service did it occur to Tony that they had forgotten the pebbles. No; Ziva’s right hand was closed over something. She must have picked them up before he got out of the car.
Ziva pulled them forward, weaving through the crowd with ease. She stopped abruptly at a few feet from the grave. The pebbles Yael and Tony had placed four days before were still there. Watching Ziva’s body language, Tony wondered if it was anything like visiting a grave at which you were long overdue, and discovering that someone else had recently left flowers.
She looked up at him, eyes soft with sorrow, for once, instead of frozen with it.
She let go of his hand to kneel by the grave.
Two plots down, a couple rose from having having bent down to the gravestone. That grave belonged to a classmates of Ziva’s and Yael’s, and the couple seemed about the right age to be of the same school year. They’d stood across from Tony and Ziva during the service; it was unlikely they hadn’t noticed Ziva. Tony tried to keep his expression neutral as the couple approached them.
The woman touched Ziva’s shoulder and said her name. Ziva rose, turned.
“Sivan?” she said. Her gaze flicked behind the woman - Sivan - to her husband. “Yishai.”
To Tony’s surprise - and by the looks of it, Ziva’s - both kissed her hello, once on each cheek.
Tony took half a step forward, but it was unnecessary: Ziva had already turned towards him as well. Sivan rose on tiptoe to hug him briefly hello, upon Ziva’s introduction - just “Tony,” no explanations - but Yishai thankfully limited himself to a handshake.
They were the only ones there from Ziva’s year, Tony thought. At least, they were the only ones there who allowed themselves that familiarity with Ziva, with the exception of the bereaved parents, both the couple who approached her and the two that she had approached. The bereaved parents, it seemed to him, hugged and kissed on the cheek all the younger people who approached them or who they approached, Tony himself included.
Tony had wondered how, by that day’s night, those people would watch the fireworks of Independence Day. Watching them, exchanging “hello”s and “I’m with Ziva”s and - oddly - the most “Toda”s he had ever heard, Tony thought he understood.
The drive to Ben Gurion was a blur; Tony’s mind was elsewhere. One moment they were driving down the hill, and the next airport security was at the cab’s open window, and he and Ziva had to account for their sidearms.
To Tony’s relief, their ride to the tarmac was already waiting for them at the gate of the international terminal. He’d stood in direct sunlight enough for one day. Really, after nearly five days in Israeli sunlight, he was more than ready to return to the May rains in DC.
Gibbs was waiting for them at the plane’s ramp. Inside, Tony could see the shadows of McGee and Lt. Weissman already strapped in for takeoff, as well as all their luggage.
“How are we doing?” Gibbs asked. The tone of his voice was the one reserved for Ziva, halfway between the one for Marines who were in trouble,and the one for Abby.
Standing at Tony’s shoulder, Ziva expelled a very long breath, and said: “Ready to go home.”
“Then let’s go,” Gibbs replied.