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seeking antebellum

Chapter Text

seeking antebellum

i.

prologue

it begins with a body.


Washington D.C., U.S. · Earth · The Milky Way
February 14, 2006 (Terran time)


A chill wind cradles the industrial pier in a white haze. Gulls are singing far above, and the waters clash against the cement and stone soothingly. This part of the pier is meant to be closed down for repairs and, at this early time of morning, emptied. But there’s activity and voices and moving feet. Two white vans are parked on the nearest available space, off-kilter, and an area stretching a few meters around the edge of the pier is cut off by tape declaring CRIME SCENE: DO NOT CROSS, creating a perimeter.

Within the circle, the agents are hard at work.

The marine – identified as such by the dark inconspicuous cammies worn, the heavily military-issue boots, and the neat haircut – lies face down on the cold cracked asphalt, arms harshly forced back. It is as if he has simply been dropped there, forgotten, uncaringly. The sleeves have been partially pushed up as if by force or struggle, exposing wrists darkened by bruises. The scene is fresh and relatively undisturbed – the call came from a frantic, terrified construction worked, babbling about a body: a human and a Dæmon, lying there, splatters of blood. The local Sheriff, by no means an amateur, concluded that a dead marine at the heart of D.C. is NCIS business; he and the police have cleared off, sighing that they’ll gladly let someone else handle this mess. The paperwork alone is enough to cause headaches.

The man lies there silent but speaking the language of the dead, and they are here to decipher it. The worst part isn’t the human body: he is clean enough, though his hands are bloodied. The body is still in one piece. No, the worst thing is the Dæmon, lying some ten feet away: as if thrown there, a considerable distance. Beyond the natural borders of comfort. The distance alone could, if prolonged by force, cause death. It’s more obvious that that: a bullet has cleaved through the Dæmon’s throat, cleanly. Its once bright eyes are dull, half-closed, and mouth splayed open as if in the middle of a cry.

This was no accident – this was an execution.

The questions remain: by whom? and why? and exactly how?

Senior Special Agent Leroy Jethro Gibbs peers down at the pair of bodies, memorizing the details and the angles. Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo is kneeling, taking a high number of photographs, while Special Agent Caitlin Todd - former Secret Service - is taking notes; she has the statements from the Sheriff and the construction worker already. Not much to go on, but it’s a start. The last and newest addition to their team, Special Agent Timothy McGee – an MIT computer genius – is carefully measuring so that the scene can be recreated later in a lab, everything determined.

The air smells like it’ll rain soon. Got to get the bodies under cover before that.

Gibbs kneels by the human body to get into eye-height with the coroner; his Dæmon following, her Shape a warm-coated Siberian Husky and their Bond usually the quiet type, a whisper of comfort but they don’t use a lot of words explicitly. They savor the silence. When looking at a scene like this though, the splatters of blood, there is always a flare of anger. They’re good at this job, may even like it: finding the murderers and unveiling the plots but that doesn’t mean it’s a pleasant job; finding a marine dead always pisses them off.

“What have you got, Ducky?”

Dr Donald Mallard – preferably called Ducky by friends and colleagues – is the investigating team’s chief medical examiner, and he carefully traces the fallen man’s wrists. There are several lacerations and cuts, not only on the arms but the fists also, indications of a struggle; and there are deep, harsh bruises, an uneven pattern. Further up his arm, above his right elbow, the uniform jacket has been torn – by a knife, perhaps, something with a sharp edge – cut open, and there’s a small wound beneath.

“These bruises appear to be the result of someone grabbing with considerable force and literally pulling his arms out of their sockets. See, here?” He points so that his assistant can see more closely, though right now the man’s clothes are mostly in the way. “I reckons once we’ve had an X-ray there will be signs of a hairline fracture.”

“They came from behind,” remarks McGee, but Gibbs shakes his head.

DiNozzo smirks. “Let’s not draw conclusions here, Probie.”

“Cause of death?”

“I’ll let you know when I know, Jethro, that is a promise,” Dr Mallard says with a chuckle. His Dæmon is an old and wiry thing, much like himself, and there’s a grimly amused glint in its eye; after many years of working side-by-side with Gibbs, Ducky is very used to his impatient mannerisms and cold stares which in interrogation often prove quite useful. “As Agent DiNozzo so sagely put it, let us no draw conclusions just yet.”

“Can you give me at least a time of death?”

The examiner withdraws the thermometer with which he’s checked the victim’s current core temperature as accurately as possible; still just an estimation. “Well, considering the state of the body and the fact rigor isn’t fully set in yet, I’d estimate he died sometime between five and ten hours ago. I can be more specific once he’s one the table.”

“What else?”

“Judging by the distance of the Dæmon to the victim, it is possible that Agent McGee is not wholly incorrect in his assumptions. This man may have been held back by one attacker while his Dæmon was taken out. Poor fellow.” Mallard shakes his head. “What a miserable way to die.”

“Look at his hands,” says Todd. She’s a woman with dark hair pulled back strictly and she moves with certainty, having been on this job for a while now. Not as unsure and awkward as during her first days with NCIS, her first case. 

Asking permission from Ducky and receiving a nod, she lightly grasps one of the dead man’s tortured hands with a gloved one of her own. The outermost layer of the skin of each fingertip has been removed, by something sharp like a scalpel. A lot of trouble. The obvious conclusions to draw is that someone is trying to hide this man’s identity. It’s worth noting, and DiNozzo snaps another couple of pictures, this time zoomed in on the ruined hands. Getting prints is going to be impossible.

“Got what you need?” Gibbs asks.

“Yeah, Boss, enough for an art gallery,” DiNozzo smirks.

“Oh, I’d no idea you even knew such things existed, Tony,” remarks Todd, sending her fellow agent a glance. “I thought you didn’t know about any kind of culture beyond your TV.”

The smirk widens. “Oh, there’s a lot you don’t know about me, Kate.”

Gibbs, in no mood for his team’s antics, merely gives them both a sharp look. The corer and his assistant take position to move the man’s body; “Let’s turn him over and have a look at his face.” They grab hold of his side and shoulders, and –

McGee steps back, shocked, and even Gibbs has to admit this is particularly gruesome.

“Well, that’s not something you see every day,” Ducky says, almost causally, slightly concerned: another mystery.

The marine’s face is gone. Reminiscent of a previous case, last year – a meat puzzle, they’d called it; part of this appears, at first glance, to have been executed partly similarly. As if someone took a knife to it and peeled it away, layers of skin and the top muscles too, gauging out the eyes, and it’s a horrible scene. Something incredibly stark and brutal, yet frighteningly controlled. Not just anyone would have the guts to do something like this. But the blood pooled on the ground beneath is a very small amount, too small for this to have occurred here. No trace of the face or eyes either: there is another crime scene needs to be found.

Maybe they could recreate the face in a lab, let the resident forensic do her magic. Give them a lead on who this really is.

McGee is clearly trying his best to not find the nearest bush or stone to retch behind. “Suddenly I’m glad I missed breakfast this morning.”

Gibbs hands out orders and the two medical examiners get the man entirely flat on his back. DiNozzo manages to move to continue taking pictures from this new angle. The man’s neck is exposed and shockingly clean, the collar roughly forced open. And the place on his uniform which would display his name and rank is also clean, the patch has been ripped off. Traces of another patch on his shoulder, but that too is gone.

Kneeling, Todd searches with a gloved hand, but shakes her head: “No dog tags. Someone didn’t want us to find out this guy’s identity.”

That’s usually the case. But this is taking it to the extreme.

The agents continue their search, upturning pockets on his uniform: there are stains, dark dried blood. And from one pocket McGee pulls out a cellphone. It’s a pretty fancy model, a smartphone of the latest tech, and could have been brand new apart from the crushed, dented screen, cracked in several places. It remains unresponsive, but maybe they can breathe some life into it in a lab. Like all other evidence it is bagged and tagged. Other than that, there isn’t much: a half-empty packet of chewing gum; a wallet, containing a crumpled up dollar bill and an even more crumpled up Starbucks receipt. No sign of an ID card of any sort.

He’s still wearing his watch. This wasn’t a robbery.

“Espresso Macchiato, huh,” says DiNozzo, snapping a picture before the receipt ends up in a plastic bag and clearly marked. “Well, he’s got decent taste.”

Todd snorts. “He had.”

“That help us figure out his name?” Gibbs says, impatiently.

“Uh, no, Boss.”

Lastly, the two bodies, human and Dæmon, are maneuvered into a shared body bag. Wearing gloves, they take care never to touch the Dæmon directly. Even in death, such a thing is utterly forbidden: and not everybody can make themselves to it even then, with gloves and clothes in-between. The bodies are cold and still.

It could be like any other murder; a thirst for revenge, a deal gone wrong, missing money, a relationship gone south …

But whoever did this literally carved off the man’s face. This was so careful, deliberate: yet they didn’t dump the bodies in the water, not too far off. As if … they wanted the bodies to be found. Yes, this is what his gut feeling is telling him: and Agent Gibbs usually trusts his instincts. This might be a marine, it might not. But the bodies were dumped pretty much on the doorstep of NCIS Headquarters.

A message?

but for whom? and from whom?