Chapter 03


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Big thanks for the beta, Rainy!! 

Chapter III

          “Alright kids, gather ‘round.”  General O’Neill called their little briefing to order.  SGA-1, Daniel, and Mitchell (called down for this meeting just moments ago), took seats around Jack’s study and sat listening expectantly.  Daniel, perched on the edge of Jack’s desk, handed over a file folder from behind himself when Jack held out a hand for it.

          “Okay, so I have my people sticking their noses into every corner of the Pentagon trying to figure out the full story, but so far they’re coming up shorter than I’d like.  Here is what we do know: five days ago, Jenny Sheppard, Director of NCIS, attended the funeral of an old colleague in Los Angeles who recently passed away.  William Decker was a former agent, and they had worked on an op in Europe nine years ago together with a third agent – who I have yet to learn the identity of.”  Jack held up a photo of Decker.  “I also haven’t discovered what the op entailed.  All Davis could find out was that it involved some Russian intelligence agents.

          “Now, it seems that after the funeral, instead of returning to the hotel with her escort of NCIS agents as planned, Dir. Sheppard left to parts unknown alone.  Her agents, though reluctant, followed orders to enjoy their sudden free time in L.A. while the Director was off doing whatever it was she was doing.”  Jack lowered the folder he was reading from.  “We don’t know why she went off alone, what she was doing, or who else was involved.  All we do know is that less than a day passed before Decker’s widow turned up murdered near the Santa Monica Pier.”

          “Wait a second!  You’re not saying Jenny’s suspected of murdering this woman?”  John sat up stiffly, angry protest colouring his every word.  “She’d never…”

          “No, Sheppard.”  Jack snapped back, giving him a hard stare.  “If you’d let me finish, I’d have said it’s been determined that whoever ran those goons in that diner in the shoot-out with Dir. Sheppard was the murderer.”

          John lowered his gaze, chastised and grim.  “Sorry, sir.”

          “As I was saying, her agents had, by that time, become concerned and tracked the GPS on her rental to the Pier, where they came across the crime scene already being processed by the local LEOs.  It appears that at some point the Director had contact with the widow and gave her the rental car.  We don’t know why, yet, either.”  Jack closed the file and handed it back to Daniel.  “All we know after that is Jenny Sheppard ended up in that abandoned diner in the desert north of L.A., where she was engaged in a shoot-out with at least four – possibly five – armed men.  Her agents tracked her cell phone out there, only they were too late to arrive.  When they contacted their usual supervisor, the incident was reported on up the chain-of-command all the way to SecNav.”

          “Davis got wind of it quite by accident but reported it to Jack when he also heard rumours of documents gone missing containing ultra-top-secret material, and after he did a little digging he found out the documents could possibly contain data from the programme.”  Daniel added, taking over where the older man left off.

          Rodney was frowning thoughtfully.  “And we don’t know what, exactly, that data might be.”

          “No.”

          “Well, if it actually is relevant to the Stargate programme,” Mitchell drawled, thinking aloud, “based on the timeline, that would put it around what?  The third year of the programme?”

          Jack and Daniel exchanged looks.  “Sounds about right.”  Jack nodded slowly.

          “I wonder…if there are Russians involved, then it would be data from their own programme – the one they set up with the Giza Gate they recovered from the Pacific after you guys crashed Thor’s ship.”  Daniel mused.

          Jack shuddered.  “Ugh.  Let’s not dwell.”  Those damn bugs still occasionally gave him nightmares.

          “So there is a high probability it is relevant.”  Rodney’s fingers tapped restlessly on the arm of the sofa chair he sat on.  “Which means we really need to find out what happened to those documents – if there ever really were any.”

          “Where do we start looking, though?”  Teyla inquired, glancing from the General, to John, to Rodney, and back to John.  “Can we not ask for all the information this NCIS place has?  Surely they must also want to know why their leader was killed.”

          “Ha!  If only it were that simple.”  Rodney scoffed.

          Jack looked pained.  “McKay is right about that, Ms. Emmagan.  It should be that easy, in an ideal world, but I’m afraid that even in the military there are politics to be dealt with.”  He met the gazes of his officers, and the three shared silent, tacit agreement born of working for the same military branch.  “It’s going to be the Navy and Marine Corps versus the Air Force, boys.  They’re not going to want to lose face with us, nor are they going to look favourably on the AF barging in on their territory.”

          “Yes, sir.”  John and Cam chorused – much to Rodney’s amusement.  He gave them all an eye roll that clearly said ‘military!’ with disdain.

          “If it’s going to be such a problem, then you’ll just have to come up with a suitable, acceptable explanation, won’t you?”  The scientist waved aside their concerns.  “It’s not like you can tell them the truth.”

          “At least not until we find out whether or not those documents really are Gate-related.”  Daniel conceded with a sigh.

          “Your world is a very strange place.”  Teyla observed, shaking her head in that disapproving way she had – usually aimed at Sheppard and McKay.

          “It was the same on Sateda.”  Ronon put in, his voice startling Mitchell because he’d almost forgotten the big warrior was even there.  “Our military units were very competitive, even though we all fought the same enemy.  It helped to motivate us to always improve.”

          “Yeah, that’s mostly true here, as well.”  Mitchell responded.  “Only we also have politicians and bureaucrats involved in our military, so we end up with politics whenever things like this happen.”

          “If it looks bad, then the Navy could lose funding from the government, or even outside contracts for weapons and technology.”  Jack stood and paced in front of his desk.  “But whatever.  However we go about it, Ms. Emmagan…”

          “Teyla, please.”  She insisted with a smile.

          Jack smiled back, “…Teyla, you are correct.  We do need to get more information out of NCIS.  I have a sneaking suspicion that they aren’t sharing everything they know.  Not even with SecNav.”

          “Well, regardless, we probably can’t do much until after the funeral tomorrow, anyway.”  Daniel hopped off Jack’s desk, grabbing the General’s arm as he passed.  “Quit that!  You’re making me dizzy!”

          “General, I’ll return to Odyssey and contact Col. Davis.”  Mitchell stood at parade rest as he addressed his superior.  “I know a few Marines in the Pentagon myself, so I could make some ultra-discreet inquiries, too, if you like.”

          Jack frowned a moment, then nodded sharply.  “Do it.  Coordinate with Davis for now, and report in tomorrow at 1200, which should be after the funeral with plenty of time for Col. Sheppard to return here.”

          “Yes, sir.”  Mitchell turned to John and held out a hand.  “Sheppard, I’m very sorry, again, for your loss.  Don’t worry.  We’ll catch the bastard behind all this.”

          John, still grim-faced, got up and shook Mitchell’s hand.  “Thanks.”

          Cam waved at the others.  “See you all tomorrow, then.”  He reached for his ear, contacting the ship to be beamed back aboard.  After the bright flash of light, he was gone.

          Jack walked around his desk and pulled up a chair, reaching for his phone.  “You all should go figure out supper while I start figuring out a cover story.”  He glanced at Daniel as he dialled, making a head motion toward his study doors.

          Daniel got the hint and ushered SGA-1 out.  “Let’s go see if Jack’s kitchen is worth raiding, shall we?  If not, we’ll find the take-out menus.”

~*~*~*~*~

          John spent the evening mostly silent, thinking hard on the mission his cousin had been involved in that somehow resulted in her death by a gun fight nine years later.  He wondered if Jenny had known something about the Stargate programme when she went on that mission, and if she did, was that why she’d fought so hard for him after Afghanistan?  Certainly there’d been some familial connection behind her efforts, but maybe she’d known something he hadn’t, and used what she knew to manoeuvre him into milk-runs at McMurdo – where he would, sooner or later, find out just what was going on out in the middle of the Antarctic.

          Then again, maybe not.  The truth was that he’d never find out now.

          There was also the matter of those documents.  How had she come into possession of ultra-top-secret data?  Who were these Russians she’d been dealing with?  And why did they wait nine years to come looking for her?  All the questions he had were becoming increasingly frustrating, and it didn’t help that the General’s man in the Pentagon, Colonel Paul Davis, was being equally frustrated by the stonewalling of the entire Naval department.

          “They’re making the excuse that they can’t officially release details until after the autopsy is done.”  O’Neill had reported at supper when he’d finally gotten off his phone and joined them in the kitchen to eat.  “Which will be sometime late tonight, and even then they may not say anything due to the ‘sensitive nature’ of the mission that she’d been involved in.  In other words, they’re going to try to pull out the national security card to avoid telling anyone outside the very few who already know.”

          John was no less disgusted with the politics now than he had been at supper.  Rodney had made him feel just a little better at his quick, indignant – and yes, disgusted – snort.

          “Ha!  What a crock!  We have more clearance than any one of those idiots do!” he’d exclaimed while viciously ripping the crust off his pizza slice.  “National security is no excuse!”

          John wanted to agree, but he knew better.  As did O’Neill, who promptly reminded Rodney that their clearance, while absolute, was such that it was completely unknown to the Navy and Marine Corps.  To them, O’Neill and his people were just outsiders with no reason to care what went on within Naval affairs.  The politics of the situation would demand reading someone high on the command structure into the programme in order to prove their interest was legitimate and necessary.

          As much as John wanted his answers, he wasn’t willing to put the programme at such risk by telling someone who really didn’t need to know all about the Gate, and the galaxy, and Atlantis…

          The morning had dawned grey and damp.  It wasn’t raining – yet – but there was a heavy mist over everything at 0700 when John (and Ronon) went out for a run.  When they got back an hour and a half later, the General was up and in his study on the phone again.  Teyla was in the kitchen with Daniel, learning all about the many modern conveniences that were appliances as they made breakfast.  Rodney was apparently still asleep.

          John accepted a mug of fresh, hot coffee from Teyla for himself, and a second for their slumbering scientist.  “Thanks, Teyla.  At least I have this as a distraction when I wake him up.”

          Teyla laughed lightly.  “I did think of that, myself.  Go on, John.  Breakfast should be ready…”

          “Very soon.”  Daniel supplied from the stove where he was cracking eggs into a skillet.

          “I might grab a quick shower.”  John said, heading for the door.  “If there’s time.”

          “There is.”  Daniel waved a spatula at him.  “If you’re quick.”

          On his way past the General’s study to the stairs, John was called into Jack’s office.

          “Yes, sir?”  John came into the room warily, feeling a tad uncomfortable being way out of uniform (so to speak) with a mug of coffee in either hand before his Superior Officer.

          “Relax, Sheppard.  It’s too damn early to be so formal.”  Jack huffed, fidgeting with a pen.  “And in my house, damn it!”

          “I’ll try, sir.”  John had to concentrate but he managed to force some of his muscles to release their tension.

          “I just got off the phone with Arlington National Cemetery.  It seems that between the efforts of myself and a Special Agent Gibbs at NCIS, SecNav was persuaded to have Ms. Sheppard buried with a standard military service at Arlington, rather than at a civilian cemetery as had been originally planned.”  Jack informed him with a slight smile.  “I have to say I kinda want to meet this Gibbs fellow, as we seem to be of like minds.  Apparently we presented similar cases to SecNav.”

          John’s eyes widened.  “Really, sir?  That’s…amazing.  I don’t know what to say…”  He hadn’t imagined they’d be willing to give her that honour – especially not after this ‘mission’ she’d fouled up.  “How?  I mean, what did you…?”

          Jack’s face softened and he leaned back in his chair.  “We both made our case on the basis of family connections, rather than as a civilian of a federal law enforcement agency.  This Gibbs guy apparently knew her father was an Army officer who is buried there, and in my case, I pointed out that her surviving next of kin is Air Force and a hero in his own right.”  Jack winked and grinned broadly at John’s flush of embarrassment and headshake of denial.  “They had to take my word on that since your file is very classified, but then, my word seems to have some weight in this town with the right people.”

          “I…thank you, General.  She would be so honoured by this.”  John swallowed hard, trying not to let emotion choke him up.  Then he frowned a bit.  “They do know my uncle was being investigated for arms dealing before he died, don’t they?”

          Jack shrugged.  “Probably.  Doesn’t matter, though.  They never charged him then or after, so he was buried clean and free.”

          “Right.”  John blinked and stared down at the coffee.  “Um, was that all, sir?  I should get this upstairs to wake up Rodney before it gets cold.”  He really needed to get in that shower where he could be alone for a time to contemplate and prepare for the day.  And to get his emotions under control.

          “Yep.  Go on, Sheppard.  Heaven forbid we deprive one of our geeks of their morning caffeine fix.”  Jack shuddered visibly – and entirely jokingly.  John wondered if it was due to experience with not one but two ‘geeks’ on his team (Daniel and Sam Carter), but didn’t ask.  He just nodded his agreement fervently (Rodney sans caffeine was on par with a Wraith Queen in terms of scary) and made a quick exit.

~*~*~*~*~

          The ride to Arlington was short and smooth, with little traffic impeding their journey.  They were in an SUV issued by General O’Neill from the USAF fleet out of Boling (because it was closer than Andrews) – a nice, non-government-looking Jeep Liberty in, appropriately, USAF blue.  Daniel was driving, and was attending the funeral on behalf of the programme – and as a sympathetic friend.  The General opted to remain at home, in case more information came through, though he said he’d have been honoured to accompany John and stand by him, otherwise.

          John was only half glad he hadn’t come along.  Part of him wanted O’Neill to be there so everyone – including Jenny, wherever she was – could see he’d finally merited some credit with worthy men, that he was worth the effort.

          Of course there were a few people John was very glad weren’t going to be there.  Like his brother.  Their relationship hadn’t been repaired enough for John to have the strength to have to deal with David Sheppard at the moment, so he was relieved Dave had emailed him back that morning sending regards but unable to get away from his own life for the funeral.  The other person John was even more grateful not to have to see was his ex, Nancy.  She, thankfully, was somewhere in Europe.  In her case, there were far too many reasons for John not to want her there – number one being Rodney McKay.  Because even if he and Rodney were no more than friends, however close, he had no wish to rub his ex in the man’s face.  Or to rub Teyla in his ex’s face.  Even if there was nothing of the kind between them, a beautiful woman like Teyla in John’s general vicinity would drive Nancy crazy.  It was a drama he did not need (and that went double for Rodney…because it would hurt more).

          Teyla sat up front with Daniel, listening intently to his explanation about wearing black to funerals and why.  It was a peculiarity of their world she’d noticed and had wondered at, but never found someone to ask about it.  The scholar was wearing his anthropologist cap as he explained about the tradition and symbolism, and about dyes and fabrics and how expensive colour was in the past. John listened, too, with half an ear because he didn’t know about any of what Daniel was saying, either – not that he’d ever really thought about it.  At the end, Teyla shook her head, saying she understood the explanation but found the lack of celebration of life rather sad and even more depressing than it already was.

          “My people are surrounded with death every moment of our lives,” she added, more thoughtfully than anything else, “and so when one of us dies a natural death – which is nearly any way outside of a Wraith to us – we celebrate and have a great ceremony filled with colour and song to honour the departed one.”  She looked very sad for a moment, and John realized she was likely thinking of the old woman who’d raised her, Charin, who died just before they’d left the planet Atlantis had slumbered on for 10,000 years under the threat of the Asuran beam weapon.

          “That does influence the customs of a people.”  Daniel agreed.  “Someday you’ll have to tell me about it in more detail.”

          “Certainly.”  Teyla smiled, obviously enjoying speaking to someone so interested in learning her customs and traditions.  Both John and Rodney glanced at each other guiltily at that, both feeling that they – as Teyla’s friends and team – should probably have shown more interest themselves.

          Neither dared glance back at Ronon, sitting behind them, for the same reason, as they hadn’t really asked after Sateda, either.

          Arriving at Arlington, Daniel drove slowly through the massive cemetery following the directions Jack had given him.  They passed by other services taking place (there were typically several occurring daily here), and by the fields of white headstones marking the resting places of thousands and thousands of Americans who’d served and died for their nation.  John stared out the window at them, swallowing hard, and wondered if – someday – he would end up here.  Truthfully, he hoped not. He’d rather be cremated and have his ashes ejected into space in Pegasus – or wherever Atlantis was when he died.  Because that was home, now.

          When they found the place where Jenny’s funeral was, they were directed by helpful Arlington staff where to park, and to please speak to the priest who was waiting for the hearse to arrive, with six Marine and Naval honour guards that would act as pall-bearers.  Daniel parked, and though John would rather just go and get it over with without talking to anyone, he pulled on his military training and did his best to be calm and polite as they walked en masse to the priest.

          “Col. Sheppard, welcome.”  The young man, who was a smartly dressed priest, offered a hand, which John shook after putting on his hat and sunglasses (despite the dreary, damp day).  “Father Larry Clannon.  I’m very glad you were able to attend, Colonel.  I understand the Director was your cousin, and until I was told you were coming I was saddened that she would be laid to rest without family to see her off.”

          John shook his head.  “She wouldn’t have been.  NCIS was her family more than our own blood ever was.”  He stated softly, but indifferently.  He was, after all, all too used to his relatives’ disdain.

          The priest hesitated, seeming to wonder if he’d said the wrong thing, but changed the subject smoothly.  “As her attending next of kin, you will be presented the flag during the service, but was there anything else you would wish to request?  Any words you would like to say yourself or perhaps a particular prayer?”

          John hid a shudder, feeling what blood was in his head drain right down to his toes.  “No, sir.  But thanks anyway.  Jenny and I have never been particularly religious.”

          “That’s fine, Colonel.  I apologize for asking, it’s just that the arrangements were made on such short notice and I was only informed of your arrival this morning.”

          “Whatever was already arranged will be…more than she ever would have expected, so no problem.”  John’s voice caught, but Father Clannon studiously ignored it, nodding and shaking his hand again.

          “Then that’s how it will be, Colonel.”  He glanced over as one of the staff waved at him and pointed out the on-coming procession.  “Ah, here comes the hearse and the NCIS personnel, now.  Colonel Sheppard, on behalf of the Naval Department, we are very sorry for your loss, and we are honoured to be allowed to send Jenny Sheppard off to God’s care.”  The priest said.  Behind him, the three Marines and three Sailors snapped to attention and saluted John smartly.

          Stifling a sigh, John returned the salute and managed, “Thank you,” then walked stiffly past toward the small crowd of attendees at the graveside.  The group stood on the opposite side of the grave, where they could watch the procession when the hearse arrived.  His team arranged themselves around him, surrounding him, which he was grateful for because it blocked the curious stares and strange looks from the other mourners.  It was also oddly grounding and comforting, even though John knew they always had his six.  Teyla was on his right, with Daniel next to her and slightly behind, and Rodney was on his left.  Ronon’s big, imposing, solid presence was right behind John, and the officer wished he could find the amusement in the picture they probably presented, mismatched as they all were.

          Wishing they were anywhere but here, John watched the procession of cars pull up.

~*~*~*~*~

Earlier…

          Gibbs was up at 0700, promptly, without the use of an alarm clock.  After so many years of being on a schedule (from being a Marine to NCIS), his internal clock was permanently set and worked just as well as any Swiss timepiece.  On the other hand, age seemed to be catching up with him more and more each year, as he found it harder and harder to just wake up and be immediately alert.  Especially on mornings like this after a very, very late night – usually due to a case he was working – where he got only a few hours of restful sleep.

          Still, he got himself out of bed, used the washroom, and headed for the kitchen and his first cup of coffee of the day.

          On the way, he paused to check on Tony (still zonked right out), deciding to let the poor kid (okay, 39 going on 40 wasn’t a ‘kid’ anymore, but it still felt like it!) get what precious sleep he could.  After adjusting the blanket over Tony again, Gibbs got his coffee and took it and his cell phone downstairs to the basement where he could talk about disturbing Tony.

          His first call was to his new boss, the newly minted Director Leon Vance.  As he’d suspected, the man was already at NCIS setting up shop and taking stock of the agency’s state of affairs as Jenny had left them.  Even though Gibbs knew Vance, had worked with him a couple of times before long ago in the past, their conversation was short, to the point, and vaguely stand-offish – on both men’s sides; Vance, because he and everyone else (including SecNav) knew that if Gibbs ever wanted out of the field but to still remain at NCIS, he would most certainly be the one occupying the Director’s office and position in the blink of an eye.  The only things keeping Gibbs out of that office was the fact that a) he hated paperwork and was no bureaucrat, b) didn’t like playing politics even if he did have the forked silver tongue to do it, and c) he loved the job he already had as a field investigator.  Then, too, Vance was wary of anything Gibbs might have been up to at the behest of Jenny Sheppard, who had died after making a habit of using her position for personal issues and motives.  He didn’t know the extent of Gibbs’ (or any of his team, for that matter) involvement.

          Gibbs, on the other side of things, was still a tad pissed off that Vance had immediately stuck his nose in when notified of Jenny’s death (not to mention hadn’t allowed DiNozzo or Ziva to call Gibbs and tell him Vance was there), and how he had been suspicious and even condescending of both Jenny and Gibbs.  And the way he’d just mowed right over Gibbs’ authority and assumed a level of authority for himself that wasn’t officially his yet didn’t help.  Still, Gibbs understood what Leon had been brought in by SecNav to do, and why, and he was working on getting over it.  Of course, if he ever thought Vance was wrong or making a mistake, he wouldn’t hesitate to say so – to the man’s face.

          Which is one of many reasons Gibbs didn’t do politics unless absolutely necessary.  He is just too blunt and honest about everything.

          The call consisted of letting Vance know the funeral arrangements were made and the when and where of the service, as well as being informed (in return) that Vance wouldn’t be able to go because he was being briefed all morning in MTAC by various people concerning various operations that he, as Director, would now be involved in.  Also, Vance passed along condolences from SecNav – who wouldn’t be attending either, because he could not condone Jenny’s actions in any way, and attending her funeral was tantamount to showing approval of her decision to go cowgirl and die in a shoot-out.

          Politics, again.  Oh, how Gibbs loathed it.

          At least he and his team didn’t have to come in until it was time to escort Jenny’s body to Arlington for the service at 1130 hours.

          That gave him time to make another call, this time to Ziva David, a Mossad Officer whom Jenny assigned to Gibbs’ team as a liaison after the mess with her half-brother, Ari Aswari, and how he’d turned traitor and also killed Kaitlin Todd, one of Gibbs’ team members.  Once Gibbs had proven to Ziva (Ari’s Mossad handler) that Ari was a murdering bastard as well as a traitor, it had been Ziva who’d shot and killed her own brother right there in Gibbs’ basement on the day of Kate’s funeral.  For that, Ziva had decided not to return home to Israel in case of reprisals from her father, Eli David – the Director of Mossad – and Jenny (who was a friend of sorts to Ziva) arranged for the liaison position to allow her to remain in the relative safety of the USA and the care of NCIS, specifically.  Though her beginnings with the team had been somewhat rocky, she’d fit herself in quite well, and while she wouldn’t – couldn’t – replace Kate, she had etched out her own place among them.  Ziva had become as much theirs, as much family, as Kate had been.

          This was another reason Gibbs was concerned for Ziva.  She’d become so much a part of the team, and now with Jenny gone, there was no guarantee she would be allowed to remain – by either Eli David’s decree or Leon Vance’s.  Gibbs wasn’t sure if Tony, McGee, Ducky, or Abby realized that yet, but he was positive it would have occurred to Ziva by now.  So he called her and told her to get her butt to his basement ASAP when she answered her phone sounding exhausted and…hollow.

          While he waited for Ziva to show up, Gibbs refilled his coffee and made another pot, contemplating the situation and Ziva herself.  All his agents were and are like his very own children.  Tony was the prodigal oldest son, doing his best to learn everything he could in order to someday take over the ‘family business,’ so to speak – even if he did it with his very own DiNozzo flair.  Kate had been like the grown-up, oldest daughter, a strong young woman fully capable of dealing with life on her own and not putting up with any sort of patriarchal protectiveness Gibbs tended to display toward his agents.  She still respected him, but she stood up to him when required and didn’t let him get away with treating her as less than an equal adult.  She and Tony, on the other hand, had squabbled like teenaged siblings on a regular basis – and worked together to torment Timothy McGee, the newest ‘Probie’ of the team and ‘youngest son,’ like older siblings tend to do to their younger ones.

          Well, brothers, anyway, because they all adored and protected Abigail Sciuto, NCIS’ lab tech, and whom Gibbs considered his youngest daughter and always had.  Abby was their little sister and no one messed with her, even if – with her Goth appearance and quirky personality – she was a capable young woman in strength of character and knowledge.  And with Dr. Donald Mallard, affectionately known as “Ducky,” rounding out their odd little family as the eccentric and wise older uncle, always willing to listen, and always ready with sage advice for any occasion, it was little wonder that they worked so well with each other, nor that it had been difficult for Ziva to carve out a space for herself among them.

          She did, however.  And now, she was very much like another daughter to Gibbs.  Unlike Kate, though, or Abby, Ziva was…broken.  Lost.  While Kate had been street smart and pure, and where Abby was worldly yet innocent (and even a little naïve), Ziva was a black-sheep of sorts – rough, hard, and beaten down by the world. She’d been raised with death, war, and fanaticism all around her.  Her own father raised not a daughter but a tool – a weapon – efficient, swift, and soulless.  And although Gibbs would have preferred to believe Ziva had killed Ari to save Gibbs and end Ari’s murder and terror spree out of some true sense of right and wrong, he somehow knew it had been done on Eli David’s order: kill her brother (another of his tools that had gone rogue and betrayed him) to earn Gibbs’ trust (and thus NCIS’ trust) and to eliminate the threat to Mossad that Ari had become.  Still, whatever the reason, Ziva still became a very important person to Gibbs.

          Also unlike Kate, Ziva’s relationships with the rest of the team were less sibling rivalry – sibling anything, really – and more like the cousin one only sees a couple times a year.  Well, in Abby and McGee’s case, at least.  Abby had taken the longest to warm to Ziva’s presence, but now she welcomed the Mossad officer and was fiercely protective of her.  McGee had a great deal of awe and respect for her, and he got along very well with Ziva.  Probably because she didn’t engage in teasing him or pulling pranks on him like DiNozzo (and Kate) regularly did (and still do, even if Tony now considered the Probie to be his partner as Kate had been).  Rather than helping DiNozzo torture McGee, Ziva was more of a Mother-cum-diplomat, sticking up for their young tech-wizard and turning things around on Tony instead, which usually effectively ended any of the man’s antics neatly.

          In Tony’s case (and here Gibbs stuck his head around the corner to check on DiNozzo when he heard a car door slam outside), where he and Kate had the adolescent bickering thing going on and Tony often made comments and teased the conservatively Catholic Kate about anything involving sex, Gibbs had never believed the two would ever really end up in that kind of relationship.  But Tony and Ziva…  Gibbs sighed to himself as the woman in question walked in without knocking (probably believing he was in the basement, and Gibbs never locked his door anyway), and raised a finger to his lips when she spotted him to warn her to keep quiet.  Motioning her to follow him, he turned and went to pour them both fresh mugs of coffee.  He handed one to her and led her downstairs.

          “I did not realize Tony was here.”  Was the first thing she said.  “Is he well?”

          Gibbs shrugged.  “He will be.  Eventually.  I straightened him out on a few things.”  He watched Ziva carefully as she walked to his work tables and restlessly picked up tools to study them and play with them, unable to really look at Gibbs directly for any length of time.  It was uncharacteristic of her, and Gibbs wondered when he’d been made the one who was supposed to ‘fix’ everyone.  So far, the only one in his team he hadn’t had to ‘fix’ yet was McGee.

          Ziva, still not looking at Gibbs, nodded in a vaguely relieved way.  “Good.  That is good.  He would not listen to me when I insisted it was not his fault.”

          “Yeah, well, DiNozzo is a thick-headed son of a bitch sometimes.  Especially when he’s feeling guilty over something.”  Gibbs raised an eyebrow at her, even if she didn’t see it.  “He’s not the only one.”

          “He should not blame himself for Jenny’s death.  He had every reason to be cautious about getting involved in her personal business again.”  Ziva said strangely, as if she hadn’t heard Gibbs.  “I must make it up to him for being less than…understanding of that at the time.”

          “Ziva.”  Gibbs set down his cup and reached out, turning her to face him and settling his hands on her shoulders.  “You know he doesn’t blame you, either.  None of us do.”  He tipped her chin up gently with a finger, staring into her dark, haunted eyes solidly, but kindly.  “Tony isn’t the only one blaming himself, and if what you’ve tried to tell him is true, then it’s true for you as well.”

          She shook her head, mouth thinning tightly in denial.  “No.  I knew immediately something was wrong at the funeral.  I should not have let her go off alone like that.  It was my duty to protect her, she was my responsibility and I…”

          “You followed her orders, exactly as you should have.  When you discovered there really was a problem, you did everything you could to find her and get there to assist her.”  Gibbs tightened his grip and gave her a small shake.  “You are not to blame for the decisions another person makes.  Do you hear me?”

          Ziva’s eyes were wide, and watering up, and her face just crumpled under Gibbs’ stern, yet compassionate, stare.  “She was my friend, Gibbs!  The first true friend I have ever had.  And I let her walk into a firefight alone and unprepared!”

          Gibbs nodded as he pulled her into his arms.  “Don’t bury it, Ziva.  Let it go.”  He would repeat himself after she’d cried herself free of her grief, when she’d be more willing to listen to him.  Ziva clung to him after a moment where she stood so tensely in his arms she vibrated with it, and she cried, deeply and for a long while.  Gibbs imagined she had a great deal of grief piled up inside her heart, not all of it because of Jenny Sheppard.  She even pounded on his chest a few times with her fist in anger, but Gibbs took it (figuring he’d have bruises later but not caring much) and simply held her and let her cry.

          When the sobs had subsided into quiet weeping, Gibbs finally raised his gaze to look up at the door of the basement, giving Tony a nod of acknowledgement.  The younger agent nodded back and waved a little, pausing and looking down at Ziva for a moment, then leaving.  Gibbs smiled to himself before turning his attention back to Ziva.

          Yes.  Tony and Ziva definitely had the potential to be a whole lot more than colleagues or friends.  Gibbs just hoped they figured it out sooner rather than later, despite the complications he knew (from personal experience) came with a relationship between two people who worked together.  Love was love, after all, and as a man with three ex-wives – all of whom he’d married because he was trying to replace his first, beloved wife, Shannon – he figured he should know.

          Ziva finally stirred, the tears having run out and her emotions having run their course, and Gibbs let her pull away to rub at her exhausted eyes and wipe away the dampness of her face.  There were two distinctly red spots on her cheeks (the only spots of colour on her otherwise pale face) from embarrassment, and she laughed self-consciously at herself.

          “Well.  I feel very stupid, now.”  She said.  “I, uh…sorry for getting your shirt all…” she waved in the general direction of his chest.

          “Feel any better?”  He asked, ignoring the apology.  “I really think you needed that.”

          Ziva shrugged, a jerky, tentative movement that spoke of just how raw she was right now.  How vulnerable.  Gibbs sighed.  He hadn’t really expected it to be all better after just that.  But it was a start.

          “And do I have to repeat myself, or is what I said finally penetrating?”

          Her eyes slid up to meet his, before looking away again.  “I heard.  I get it, Gibbs.  I do, it’s just…I need time.”

          “Ah, Ziva.”  Gibbs brushed some of her hair from her face.  “I’m not saying don’t grieve.  Just the opposite, in fact.  I’m only telling you to stop blaming yourself.”  He raised an eyebrow at her.  “Don’t make me smack you.”

          That got a small smile, and with it, Gibbs knew she’d be fine.  Eventually.

          “Okay.  Go home, eat something, get ready, and I’ll see you back at NCIS, alright?”  Gibbs stepped away from her and tilted his head toward the stairs.

          “Yes, Gibbs.”  Ziva automatically replied, willingly obeying the command in his tone almost unconsciously.  She paused at the top of the stairs and looked back down at him over the railing.  “Gibbs?”

          “Yeah?”

          She looked at him for a long moment, then shook her head and waved.  “Never mind.  I will see you later.”  She finally said, leaving him alone and only slightly perplexed.

          Shrugging, Gibbs heaved a relieved sigh and headed upstairs himself to get ready for what was likely to be a long day.

~*~*~*~*~

          Ducky was already waiting with the hearse outside the NCIS building, leaning against the side of his vintage Morgan he’d restored himself.  Abby, in all her funeral-Goth glory, stood next to him with her equally vintage Victorian, black lace parasol resting on one shoulder as she waited for her NCIS family to arrive.

          Gibbs, after leaving his own car in the parking lot and signing out one of the agency cars, pulled up behind Ducky’s Morgan and got out to join them.

          “Jethro.”  Ducky greeted him solemnly.  “I would offer you a ‘good morning,’ but it somehow seems…the wrong occasion.”

          “Ah, Duck, that’s definitely the wrong attitude for the occasion.”  Gibbs returned, clasping his old friend on the shoulder.  “Jenny would demand we have a good morning, because we’re all here to enjoy it.”  Their eyes met briefly, knowledge passing silently between them about Jenny Sheppard that only they had known.  “Besides, knowing Jen, she’d come back and haunt us if she thought we were all maudlin or something over her.”

          Ducky chuckled lightly.  “Quite right, Jethro.  Well in that case, good morning!”

          “Good morning, Ducky.”

          Abby slipped right up next to Gibbs and cuddled into his side when he obligingly curled an arm around her in a half-hug.  “Good morning, Abs.”  He greeted her softly, noting the sorrow in her expression.  She was taking this hard, not unexpectedly after she’d bonded with Jenny to the extent she had.

          “Good morning, Gibbs.”  She replied sadly, but still gamely after what he’d just said to Ducky.  She rested her head on his shoulder and sniffed.  “I really don’t like this, Gibbs.  There’s been too many funerals lately.”

          He sighed and turned his head to plant a kiss on her head where it wasn’t covered by her hat.  “I know, Abs.”  There wasn’t much else he could say or do, so he just let her lean on him for a while.

          “Here comes Timothy, now.”  Ducky announced suddenly, straightening himself and nodding.  “Ah, and there are Ziva and Tony, also.”

          Gibbs dropped his arm from around Abby after a final squeeze of comfort and turned to face his team.  He studied them as they hurried toward their boss, noting that both Ziva and Tony looked much better than they had a few hours ago (if a little pale and in need of about a week of sleep, straight), so Gibbs let that worry fall away readily.  McGee looked tired, too, but then they all were so it was only to be expected.  Still he was probably the only one of them who was truly alert enough for work – which would inevitably be waiting for them after the service.

          “Listen up.”  He barked, taking charge.  “Abby can ride with Ducky, and you three are with me.”  Nods all around.  Gibbs motioned to the driver of the hearse (a young man in a suit who was on staff at Arlington and who came with the hearse as provided by the cemetery in Jenny’s funeral arrangements).  “You, follow Dr. Mallard’s car and we’ll be on your six.  Understood?”  The military term was unconscious, but luckily the kid understood – a good thing for someone working at a facility dealing with the military.  He nodded and said, “Yes, sir, Agent Gibbs!” before returning to the hearse.

          After that, the procession across the Potomac River from the Naval Yard to Arlington was a silent, easy one with – thankfully- little traffic congestion to block them.  Of course it helped that most people in D.C. were used to funeral processions and were respectful enough to yield the right of way and let them by.

          When they got there, they were directed to the appropriate place, where Gibbs could see a small crowd of mourners already gathered near the open grave, waiting.  The procession pulled to a stop near the priest and honour guard, and the NCIS team piled out of the cars.  Gibbs met the priest briefly, thanking him and the six men and women of the honour guard for taking the time to do this for their deceased Director.  Gibbs had asked the man personally to perform the service.  While Gibbs wasn’t much of a church-goer, he believed there was a higher power somewhere out there.  And though he didn’t know the man well, he’d respected his devotion to his chosen career after working a case that the priest (who was in fact a Catholic priest) was associated with.  Actually, it had been Kate who had gotten to know the man, but he was pleased Gibbs had asked him to be the one to give the service for Jenny – just as he had for Kate only a few years ago.  At the time, Jenny was new to the Director’s office, having only been on the job for a few weeks before Kate was killed.  The young priest wasn’t actually enlisted or an officer, but his parish was a Naval/Marine base, so he was quite familiar with military funerals.

          Ducky fell into step beside him as they walked to the grave, DiNozzo and Ziva behind them, and McGee and Abby bringing up the rear.  From their place at the graveside, they all watched the honour guard remove Jenny’s casket and slowly march it to the grave as a bagpiper played Amazing Grace.

          The flag covering the casket wasn’t a surprise, but after the formal folding of it, the surprise came when it was presented to a man – a Lieutenant Colonel, Gibbs saw – in USAF dress uniform whom Gibbs had not seen before.  A slight nudge from DiNozzo drew his attention away, and when Tony mouthed, “Know him?” Gibbs shrugged minutely and shook his head in the negative.  The senior agent had to firmly hold back a smile when he caught both McGee and Ziva taking surreptitious pictures with their cell phones of the USAF officer and the people who were standing closest to him.  Yes, his team were investigators to the marrow of their bones.

          In fact, there were three of the four who were standing very closely to the Lt. Colonel.  Gibbs watched covertly, seeing how obviously upset the officer was, and how, when the priest began to speak, the three surrounding him moved in almost protectively.  The woman reached for his hand and gripped it tightly, while the man with the receding hairline raised a hand of his own to rest it on the officer’s shoulder, leaving it there in support.  The big man behind them dropped an equally large hand of his own on the officer’s other shoulder and proceeded to glare at anyone who looked at the group, as if daring them to say anything about the officer’s grief.  It was odd – touching, but odd – and almost amusing.

          The forth man, in glasses and an expensive suit, the one hovering on the other side of the woman, didn’t get as close as the others but remained in close enough proximity that he was obviously one of their number.  They were all an oddly mismatched group, and Gibbs felt a rare streak of curiosity and interest in them beyond the surface questions of identity and how the officer was related to Jenny.  He must be, to be given the flag from her casket.  Gibbs stared hard at the man, trying to discern any familial likeness, because Jenny had never mentioned any other family members than her father to Gibbs.

          If the man noticed the agent’s stare, he didn’t react – though the dark look from the man beside him was blatantly unfriendly.

          At the end of the service, after the casket had been lowered into the grave, the mourners moved forward to pay their last respects, one by one.  Gibbs and his people stood off to the side, away from the grave to await their turn at the end.  As they watched, taking note of who seemed to be genuinely grieving and who was only there as more of a political courtesy than any sense of loss or even respect for Jenny, DiNozzo stood next to him and asked, “What do we do, boss?  Try and find out who the flyboy and his entourage are?”

          Ducky, on Gibbs other side, frowned and leaned around Gibbs to look at Tony.  “Why would you ever wish to do that, Tony?  He hasn’t committed a crime by being here.”  The M.E. glanced over at where the officer was, looking visibly shaken and saying something emphatically to his friends.  “He is obviously a relative who seems to have been quite close to Jenny, judging by the emotional reactions he has exhibited – despite all his training as an officer of the military.  He is genuinely distraught, Jethro.”  Ducky said to Gibbs pointedly.

          “Well if you want to know, why don’t you just go over there, offer your condolences, and ask him?”  Abby rolled her eyes, preparing to do just that.  “Honestly!  You’re all supposed to be agents, aren’t you?”

          “I’ll do it, boss.”  McGee volunteered, stepping out from around Ziva and Abby to do so, but stopped when Tony suddenly said, “Uh, boss?  He’s leaving.”

          Gibbs watched the Lt. Colonel and three of his people moving very quickly away from the gravesite, the big man and the woman acting more like bodyguards than anything else, while the unfriendly one followed along behind.  They all piled into an SUV with darkened windows, but didn’t drive off.  Gibbs looked back over to see the last of their group – the one in the expensive suit and glasses – standing next to the priest and speaking with the mourners who stopped to offer condolences (and no doubt ask who the officer was).

          “A spokesperson for the next of kin?”  Ziva speculated quietly.

          “Geez, the guy’s even got a PR guy?  The Air Force must really like this flyboy to spring for that.”  Tony scoffed.  He was, however, correct in his own DiNozzo way.  Gibbs’ gut was saying the same sort of thing; that whoever this Lt. Colonel was, he was important and into something that warranted a great deal of special treatment.  Except for one thing, he agreed with Tony’s off-the-wall assessment.

          “If that guy was a spokesperson for the USAF, DiNozzo, he’d be in a uniform.  He’s a civilian.”

          “Oh.  Good point.”

          Gibbs straightened and glanced at his people, coming to a decision.  “Out of curiosity, we’re going to check this out.  Abby, Ducky, if you would,” he added, mostly toward Ducky who was looking a tad disapproving.  “Go over and offer our own condolences, and try to find out as much as you can from the PR guy.”  As an after-thought, Gibbs added, “McGee, stay with them and go back to HQ with them, then start running those people to see what comes up.”

          “On it, boss!”  McGee nodded.

          “Ziva and DiNozzo are with me.  We’ll tail them a bit, see where they go.”

          “Jethro,” Ducky sighed, “Why are you investigating this?  Really, it’s no business of yours – ours – who the young man is or what he does.”  Ducky was studying Gibbs searchingly, and when the light bulb went off, he sighed again.  “Ah.  I see.  Your gut is telling you there’s something more?”

          “Yeah, Duck.  Jen never mentioned having any other family: certainly none she was close to, not and to be as upset as that guy is.  And there’s just something not right going on here.”  Gibbs said in a low voice.  The crowd of mourners was dwindling, and Gibbs turned to Ducky.  “Please, Ducky.  This once, humour me?”

          “Very well.  Come along, Abigail, Timothy.  We shall endeavour to complete our mission.”  Ducky ushered the two away.

          “Boss?”  Tony asked.

          “Let’s go, DiNozzo, David.  Get to the car before they leave.”  Gibbs fished the keys out of the pocket of his overcoat and casually made his way to the NCIS sedan.

~*~*~*~*~

On to Chapter 04: https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/stargate/veritas/chapter-04/

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