Chapter 05


 

~*~*~*~*~*~ 

 

 Beta credit goes to Emergency70!  Everyone thank her for helping Kali to get this out.

Chapter V

NCIS Headquarters
1400 hrs. 

          Ziva, Tony, McGee, Abby, and Ducky stood around the plasma screen TV, watching the news report about Jenny Sheppard’s home and the fire that destroyed it.

          “I find this whole mess very distasteful.”  Ducky shook his head, turning away.  He knew it couldn’t be helped, but he still wished such necessities needn’t exist in their world.  He saw Jethro grab the remote from his desk and turn the screen off, the frown on his face not quite hiding the knowledge and guilt from the doctor due to that fire – he who was someone that knew Gibbs for too long and too well to be fooled.  “Jethro…”

          “Leave it be, Duck.”  Gibbs warned, though not without gentleness.  “It’s done, and she’s gone.  Let’s get back to work.”  That was clearly aimed at his team of agents – who scurried away to their desks to try and look busy.

          Abby left them to it, heading back to her lab muttering something about a date with Major Mass-Spec (the name she so colourfully dubbed one of her many high-tech forensic analysis gizmos).  Ducky sighed and decided he wouldn’t pester his old friend until later, perhaps over a bottle of his best scotch that he’d been storing for just such an occasion.

          Gibbs sat at his own desk, reaching for the files left on it that contained potential cases – please God let there be something in one of them for his team – and pretending he didn’t notice the concerned and curiously questioning glances Tony, Ziva, and McGee kept shooting at him.

          He’d only nixed three of the files when Vance’s voice called out from the walkway above the MCRT bullpen, “Agent Gibbs!”

          Gibbs stood, even as he looked up at the new Director.  “Yes, sir?”

          “My office.”  Vance ordered, moving away from the railing outside the door to MTAC and disappearing from view.

          “Boss?”  Tony inquired.

          “Don’t know.”  Gibbs answered, striding past and heading for the stairs.

          Up in Vance’s office, Gibbs closed the doors at the man’s nod and stood in front of his desk attentively.  “Something come up?” He asked.

          “I’m sincerely hoping not, but that’s probably a pipe dream.”  Vance glowered.  “I talked to an Air Force General requesting permission for a Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard and three associates to be allowed onto the premises.  The main gate just informed me of their arrival.  The General said Sheppard is here to speak with the agents involved in his cousin’s case.”

          Gibbs just barely managed to hide his surprise.  He hadn’t expected the man to come asking questions – at least not so soon.  Not after the emotional response the officer had shown at the funeral.  “Really?  Well, if Jenny was family then of course he’d want to know what happened.”

          “Oh sure.  But what’s tripped my alarm bells is that the Air Force has been nosing around the Pentagon asking a lot of questions about this whole situation.  They have no reason to be doing so, and I have to wonder if this Lt. Col. Sheppard is here for himself or for the Air Force.”  Vance eyed Gibbs, very plainly not amused.  “I don’t know exactly what the woman was into, and frankly I don’t think I want to.  But SecNav is beginning to get impatient with all the poking into Naval business.  He wants to know why they care so he can chew out the appropriate parties.”

          “Well with all due respect to SecNav,” Gibbs drawled, “I can’t tell him anything he doesn’t already know.  That mission was top secret.  SecNav would have to be read in on the mission by someone farther up the chain than himself, as he wasn’t SecNav when the mission happened.  One of the Joint Chiefs, perhaps?”

          “Can you at least confirm that the mission was through this agency?”  Vance asked, scowling at Gibbs’ lack of cooperation.

          “Leon, I’ve never worked for any other agency than NCIS and you know it.”  Gibbs scowled right back.  “I know damn well you’ve read my uncensored file by now.”

          Snorting, Vance picked up his phone when it buzzed.  “Yes, Cynthia?”  He spoke to his assistant.

          “Lt. Col. Sheppard and his party are on their way up, sir.”

          “Thank you.”  Vance hung up.  “Bring them up to the conference room, Gibbs.  Let’s find out what’s going on.”

          On that, Gibbs could agree.  “Ten minutes at the most, sir.”  He assured, heading for the door.

~*~*~*~*~

          A bored Tony was surfing the internet when the elevator doors chimed and out came John Sheppard and his entourage – minus the PR guy, Jackson.  Tony clicked off the browser and stood up, moving on an intercept course.  Ziva looked up, about to ask where he was going, when he spoke.

          “Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo.  Can I help you?”  He introduced himself, pouring on the charm with an easy smile as he extended a hand and took in the civilian clothes the group had changed into.

          “Agent.”  Sheppard nodded and gripped the offered hand briefly but didn’t actually shake.  “My friends and I are here to speak to your Director about the death of my cousin.”

          Tony was about to respond, glancing at Ziva (who’d come up beside him), when Gibbs’ voice from on high interrupted.  “Tony, take our guests to the conference room.”  To Sheppard, he continued, “Special Agent Gibbs, Colonel.  Director Vance will be with you momentarily.”

          If Sheppard was surprised that he knew his rank – and thus his name – he gave no sign of it.  Neither did any of the others, though the frowning Dr. McKay did frown a bit more.  Sheppard just inclined his head in acknowledgement and looked back to Tony.

          “On it, boss!  Follow me, Colonel.”  Tony led the way, shooting a quick look up at Gibbs as he passed by the stairs on the way to the other elevator.

          “Ziva, McGee.”  Gibbs leaned over the rail a bit and motioned for the other two team members to join him.  “With me.”  He waited for them to climb the stairs and led them to stand near the door to MTAC.  “Vance says the Air Force is poking around about the situation.  We don’t know why.  Be aware of that when we’re in there talking to this guy and his friends.”

          “We, boss?”  McGee inquired, curiously.

          “You two and Tony are invited to the party, McGee.  I want the three of you to watch the other three in Sheppard’s party, try to figure out what they have to do with this.”

          “You do not believe that they are with the Colonel for support as his friends?”  Ziva discerned.

          “Not entirely, no.  Something’s off.”  Gibbs admitted.  “Tell Tony.”

          “Yes, boss.”  McGee pulled out his iPhone and sent Tony a quick text message, even as he walked.

          “Come.”  Gibbs led them to the conference room, where Vance and Tony were waiting with Sheppard and company.

~*~*~*~*~

          “Agent Gibbs, Agent McGee, Officer David…this is Lieutenant Colonel John Sheppard, Dr. Rodney McKay, Teyla Emmagan, and Ronon Dex.”  Vance made the introductions as if his people didn’t know already.  “Col. Sheppard, Gibbs is my most senior and trusted agent, and is our Major Case Response Team’s supervisor.  His team, here,” Vance indicated the others, “also includes our Medical Examiner, Dr. Donald Mallard, and our Forensic Lab Technician, Abigail Sciuto.”

          Sheppard nodded at them all in greeting, though he and McKay had both focused on Ziva simultaneously.

          “Officer?”  Rodney repeated.

          “David.”  Sheppard studied her, a spark of interest showing in his otherwise neutral expression.  “As in Mossad Director Eli David?”

          If Ziva hadn’t been as good as she was, her surprise would have shown as startled look.  As it was, she barely reacted, just smiled tightly and gave a small nod.  “My father, yes.”

          Gibbs shared a side-glance with Vance, filing away the info that Sheppard was familiar with foreign intelligence heads.

          “Huh.”  Was all Sheppard said.  Gibbs noticed there was only mild confusion on Teyla and Ronon’s faces.  McKay just looked indifferent, now that the apparent mystery was solved for him.

          Vance cleared his throat and opted to get to the heart of the matter.  “Col. Sheppard, please accept my most sincere condolences on behalf of the agency and SecNav.  Mr. Davenport asked me to convey his apologies for not attending the funeral this morning.”

          John looked at him, face blank, obviously not taking the words for more than face value, however, as he merely nodded and said, “Thank you, sir,” quite coolly.  Vance responded in kind.

          “I was told you wished to speak to us about the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Ms. Sheppard’s death.  I’m not sure what we can tell you, however, that I suspect you don’t already know.”  Vance raised an eyebrow questioningly, taking a seat at the head of the table.  Gibbs sat down on his right, across the table from Sheppard (who was on Vance’s left).

          “I know only what I was told when I was recalled from my assignment.”  Sheppard stated.  “They said my cousin had recently been murdered in a shoot-out north of LA, and that it wasn’t on a mission.  I want to know why Jenny was there, how she ended up in a gun fight, and everything your investigation has revealed.  And then,” Sheppard’s voice grew quieter and dropped from cool to frigid, “I want to know what happened to Jenny’s home.”

          Vance nodded, as if this was totally acceptable and there was no hard-edged threat in the officer’s tone.  “I certainly understand your desire for answers, Col. Sheppard.  And I’ll be quite happy to allow Gibbs and his team to answer as many questions as possible.  However, I must warn you that there are answers we cannot give you due to the top secret status of a past mission Ms. Sheppard was involved in that is connected to her death.  I’m sure you understand.”

          Hazel eyes hardened and stared right at Vance, the green-gold glinting like shards of glass in the bright lights of the conference room.  He opened his mouth to speak, but closed it abruptly when McKay dropped a hand on his forearm and squeezed.

          “We would like to hear what you have to say.”  McKay said, his expression far from pleased but his tone still calm and neutral.  To the tense man beside him, he murmured, “Let’s just hear them out first, John.”  He only removed his hand again when Sheppard gave a sharp nod of assent.

          “Perhaps if you could start from the beginning.”  Teyla’s reasonable, calming voice settled over them all, some of the tension in everyone’s form easing away.  “Why was Jenny in LA to begin with?”

          “She was attending the funeral of a former colleague.”  Gibbs answered.  He glanced down the table at Tony and Ziva.  “Agent DiNozzo and Officer David went with her as her escort and security detail.”

          Tony had to work really hard not to flinch as those hard green eyes flicked to him and then to Ziva.  There was something about this guy that Tony had never encountered before – not even in the hardest of the war-weary soldiers he’d met – and for once it actually scared him a little.  One thing was certain, though, and that was that Sheppard knew death on a level not even most soldiers did – and the guy was only a pilot!  Tony was torn between really wanting to know what his assignment was and where, and not wanting to know at all.

          “We did our duty.”  Ziva spoke up quietly when Tony said nothing and Gibbs looked over at her.  “Tony and I…we don’t know what happened at the funeral, but Jenny was suddenly telling us that we were no longer required as her escort and to enjoy the remainder of the day for ourselves, however we wished.  She took the rental car and left soon after.”

          “We went back to the hotel.”  Tony finally put in, not looking at anyone but rather staring at a fixed point on the table in front of Sheppard.  “I got Ziva and I another rental, and convinced her to come out with me.  You know, see the sights of LA and all…  Ziva was reluctant.  She didn’t like that Dir. Sheppard was off somewhere unknown, alone, and felt we should remain at the hotel in case something came up.  I…disagreed.”  And he wasn’t sure he’d ever forgive himself for ignoring his – and Ziva’s – instincts.  “I talked her into it, even though…I, too, had concerns.”

          “They did what they were ordered.”  Gibbs interrupted, shooting both his team members a long look.  “Fact is, they have reason to have been wary of getting involved in Jen’s personal business.  Particularly DiNozzo.  She’d gotten him burned before.  It wasn’t their fault, what happened to her, and the truth is that no matter where they’d been, it wouldn’t have helped Jenny with her situation.  She separated herself to protect them.”

          “From what?”  McKay demanded before Sheppard could.  “What was she involved in?”

          “It was a mission from nine years ago.”  Vance interjected, cutting off whatever Gibbs had been about to say.  “You know NCIS is not only an investigative agency but also deals in intelligence/counter-intelligence, among other things.  It was a mission such as this Ms. Sheppard was involved in, and as such, we cannot divulge anything about it as it remains classified, though we can say that the reason she ended up in that diner was because she was following leads left behind by Agent Decker – the man whose funeral she attended.”

          “Leads.”  Sheppard echoed.

          “Yes.”  Gibbs confirmed, ignoring Vance’s hard stare.  “We’ve since discovered that Decker had collected some sensitive information and documents relating to that old mission, and hid them as what he referred to as his ‘insurance policy.’  The final lead to those documents was supposed to be in that diner.  Decker had purchased the place, intending to renovate it after he retired and go into business.”

          “Agent Gibbs.”  Vance stopped him, his expression growing darker.

          “What?  Come on, Leon.  It doesn’t hurt to tell them that much.  It doesn’t compromise the classified status at all.”  Gibbs stared right back.  Neither man appeared to be about to back down.

          “And these documents or whatever,” Sheppard asked slowly, eyes flicking back and forth between them, “were they recovered?”

          “Yes.  They’re safe.”  Gibbs answered, turning back to Sheppard.  He thought of Mike Franks, by now safely back home in Mexico with the file containing the documents Jenny had died for.  He decided to call Mike when he got home and tell him to burn the damn things and destroy them.

          “I don’t suppose you can tell us what was in them, either.”  McKay made a face, glowering at the room in general.  “Well, fine then.”  He didn’t wait for anyone to confirm his statement.  “What about the house?  There were some glaring inconsistencies that demand explanation.”

          “It was to cover up Dir. Sheppard’s death.”  Vance interjected smoothly.  “We could not let it be known that she was in a shoot-out and had essentially gone rogue.”

          McKay’s eyes narrowed, the blue vivid and shrewd.  He wasn’t buying it.  “And the body?”

          “There was none.  We just fed the press a story of one.”  Vance looked at Sheppard.  “I assure you that she was truly the one you buried today, Colonel.”

          A sharp nod was his acknowledgement, but the man still remained dark and grim.

          “Were there any other questions?”  Vance asked of them.  Teyla and Ronon both looked at McKay – who appeared to be bursting at the seams with questions but was refraining – and McKay looked at Sheppard.  The Colonel shrugged.

          “Plenty of them, sir.  But at this point, I doubt you’d answer them.  There was one, though…”

          “Yes?”

          “Her estate.  Even though there’s obviously very little to deal with now, I’d like to know if there’s someone handling the rest of it or will I need to hire a lawyer?”

          “I’m dealing with it, Colonel.”  Gibbs assured him, his business-like tone softening just a little.  “When she became Director, she gave me copies of all her estate documents, and her will names myself and Dr. Mallard as her Executors.  If you wish, we can make an appointment for you to look it all over for yourself.”

          Sheppard shook his head, suddenly looking weary but oddly relieved.  “No, Agent Gibbs.  If she trusted you with the job, that’s enough for me.  I only wanted to know if anyone had taken care of that or not.”

          “If you’re certain.”  Gibbs shrugged.  “Leave me with your contact information when you leave, in case she left anything for you.  I admit I haven’t had time to look at it all yet, myself.”

          Sheppard nodded, then frowned to himself.  He glanced at McKay.  “Rodney?”

          “Uh…I’m sure General O’Neill or Daniel would make sure you got it.”  McKay replied, frowning back.  “It’d be on the next supply run, I imagine.  Want me to text him – them – and ask?”  He dug out a Blackberry and waggled it.

          “Yeah.”  Sheppard agreed.

          “Now that that’s settled,” Vance leaned forward, lacing his fingers together in front of himself on the tabletop.  “Perhaps you would answer a couple of questions for us, Colonel.”

          The Air Force officer’s gaze sharpened and went decidedly neutral.  “About what, Director Vance?”

          “SecNav is getting rather impatient with the nosiness of the USAF concerning this matter.”  Vance drawled, noting the rapid rise of tension and the way not only Sheppard focused on him but also the other three.  “A lot of questions are being asked, and the concept of classified doesn’t appear to register with your people, Colonel.  Why are they so interested in something that has nothing to do with them?”

          Sheppard smiled, leaning back in his seat with deceptive casualness – and it wasn’t an entirely friendly sort of smile.  It had a distinctly predatory edge to it, and his three companions tensed visibly.  “If they are, it’s way above me, sir.  Rest assured, they must have a good reason for it, if they are making a nuisance of themselves.  And if I was a betting man, I’d guess their reasons are just as ‘classified’ as your own.”

          Gibbs fought not to smile.  He liked this guy.  He played at politics much the way Gibbs himself did.  It was a bonus that it was pissing off Vance, too.

          At that moment, a young woman opened the door and poked her head into the room.  “Excuse me, Director…SecNav is on the line for you, sir.”

          “On my way.  Thank you, Cynthia.”  Vance got up and frowned at them all.  “We’re not done yet, so stay here.”  He ordered before striding out, not waiting to receive agreement.

          Sheppard scowled and pinned Gibbs with a displeased frown.  “He does know he can’t give us orders, right?”

          “Probably.  However, he’s used to being obeyed.”  Gibbs smirked.  “Don’t worry.  He’ll soon be disabused of that.”

          McKay snorted.  “Whatever.  We should go, John.  We’re obviously not going to get answers here.  We’ll just have to go over their heads.”

          “If you could do so, you would have done it already.”  Tony pointed out, playing with a pen.

          McKay glared at him.  “Actually, we haven’t yet because we were trying to be nice about it.  John is Jenny’s next of kin and they were quite close.  No doubt if their positions were reversed she would be the one demanding answers of us.”

          “Rodney.”  Sheppard spoke his name quietly, but firmly, and the scientist turned toward him, ready to launch into a debate.  “No, McKay.  It’s fine.”  He met Gibbs gaze solidly.  “You knew Jenny well?”

          “Yes.”  Gibbs answered, curious to know where this was going.  He elaborated.  “When we were both still active intelligence agents, we worked together often over the years.  She was my partner.  She had guts, and was very intelligent – and ambitious.  I respected her.  More, I liked her.”

          Sheppard nodded.  “Then I’ll do you the courtesy of warning you that we’re not going to go away until we get the answers we need.  Whether or not she knew it, she was involved in something much, much bigger than a little espionage.  Honestly, I doubt either Jenny or this Agent Decker guy really had a clue.”

          Gibbs frowned thoughtfully, mulling that over.  He nodded once.

          “Tony, Ziva, McGee.”

          “Yeah, boss?”

          “Gibbs.”

          “Yes, boss?”

          “I think we should all have a private wake for Jenny tonight.  Potluck.  My place.  Go tell Ducky and Abby.”  Gibbs’ gaze never left Sheppard’s, not even when his team got up from their seats and filed out of the conference room quickly.  When they were gone, Gibbs reached into his wallet and pulled a business card out.  He flipped it over, wrote down his home address, and slid it across to Sheppard.  “You and your friends are welcome to join us, Colonel.  I think we have a lot to talk about.”

          “John.”  Sheppard palmed the card and tucked it into his jacket pocket.  “Please.”

          Gibbs nodded.  “Let me deal with Vance and SecNav, John.  I suspect there’s more politics than anything else going on with them, and that bullshit tends to get in the way of getting anything important done.”

          This time his smile was genuine and amused.  “Gibbs, you have no idea.”

          “I’m beginning to see that.”

          “Can we go now?”  Ronon wondered, eyeing Gibbs with interest.  Anyone who got on John’s good side was worth keeping an eye on in his books.

          “Yeah.”  Gibbs pushed himself up out of his chair and shook Sheppard’s hand.  “Vance would attempt to keep you here and badger you mercilessly for answers, but we know it wouldn’t go anywhere and we have no valid reason to detain you.”

          “Nope.  You couldn’t keep us anyway.”  John grinned and something about it made Gibbs certain he wasn’t even joking.  “Thanks, Gibbs.  Oh, what time tonight?”

          “Hmm…around 1800?”

          “Sounds good.  See you then.”  John ushered his team toward the door.  “Let’s go, people.  We’ll see ourselves out.”

          Gibbs followed, stopping at the railing and watching them from above as they disappeared into the elevator.  Once gone, he made his way to Vance’s office to deal with the fallout of letting the Colonel go against orders.  Thankfully, Cynthia was more than happy to let him through, her expression somewhat pinched as she waved him by.  Gibbs wondered just what Vance had done or said to aggravate the assistant so obviously.  That was usually his fault.

          The new Director had just hung up his phone as Gibbs walked in.  “Gibbs!  What are you…” Vance stopped himself, narrowed his gaze, and growled, “You let them go, didn’t you?”

          “Yes, I did.  In case you hadn’t noticed, Leon, we were getting exactly nowhere with them.  Attempting to hold them was absolutely pointless and you know it.  Playing hardball wasn’t going to work, so I’m doing it the other way.”

          “And what way would that be?”

          “Sympathy and a conversation held in confidence in a completely informal setting.  I’ll find out what he’s after, Director.”  Gibbs assured, stressing Vance’s title but also coloured with his own displeasure with Vance’s tactics.  “I’ll let you know.”

          With that, he turned on his heel and marched out before Vance could say anything.

          He stopped at Cynthia’s desk on the way by.  “Hey, Cynthia.”

          “Agent Gibbs.”  She returned the greeting with a small, sad, and tired smile.  He guessed she’d been running herself ragged trying to keep on top of the change-over.  “Can I help you?”

          “You doing alright?”  He asked quietly.  Now that he thought of it, had she even been given a chance to say goodbye to Jenny?  He knew they’d gotten quite close in the short time Jenny had been Director.

          “Yes, sir.  Just…have to get through the day.”

          Gibbs nodded.  Yeah, he got that.  “If you need anything…”

          “Thank you, sir.  I’ll be fine.”  Cynthia smiled a bit more then sighed.  “Sir.  I suppose I ought to give you this.”  She pushed away from her desk, bent, and lifted a file box from the floor.  Letting it rest on the edge of her desk, she looked up at Gibbs.  “I cleared out Jenny’s personal belongings before…before Vance came.  I didn’t think she would want anyone else touching her things.”

          Swallowing hard, Gibbs took the box.  “Thank you, Cynthia.  I appreciate that you had the foresight to do it.  I’ll take care of this.”

          Cynthia just nodded, looking very much like she wanted to cry.  She watched Gibbs leave, box in hand, before returning to her work.

~*~*~*~*~

          “Well that was a perfectly useless waste of time.”  McKay huffed, settling into his seat next to John as the Colonel pulled out of the NCIS parking lot.  “We got nothing new or useful out of that.”

          “Yes we did.”  John contradicted him.  He rolled his shoulder, feeling the tension bleed away now that he wasn’t trying to keep up his facade of the emotionless soldier.

          “What?  What did we learn?”  Rodney stared at him, thinking over the whole confrontation rapidly.  “Oh!  They confirmed there are documents!”

          “Exactly.  Hopefully tonight we can get more out of Gibbs.”  John wasn’t going to hold his breath, though.  One look at the man and John saw ‘Marine’ practically stamped on his forehead.  Not only that, but he was a thoroughly trained federal agent and investigator.  Just call Gibbs Fort Knox because the guy could probably keep secrets as well as the famous treasury building could keep gold secure.

          “I don’t trust that Vance guy.”  Ronon rumbled from behind Sheppard.

          “Me neither.”  All three of the others responded simultaneously.  It made John grin a little.  Sometimes they were all so in sync it was scary.

          “We were being evaluated.”  Teyla added her own impressions of the meeting, a frown marring her otherwise serene features.  “The younger agents…they were paying more attention to Rodney, myself, and Ronon than you, John, or to the conversation.”

          John shrugged and nodded.  “It’s not like we weren’t doing the same.”

          Teyla inclined her head.  “That is true.”

          John kept driving, navigating the D.C. streets to get back to O’Neill’s.  “It was fairly obvious they’ve looked us up.  And I think we’re safe in assuming they know far more than they’re telling, as well as that they know we know more than we’re telling.”

          “So this impromptu wake is a set up.”  Rodney stated flatly.  “Great.”

          “To an extent, yes.  But since we know that, we can use it to our own ends, Rodney.”  John pointed out.

          When they arrived back at the General’s home, Rodney went upstairs to get his laptop from their room while Teyla and Ronon accompanied John to inform O’Neill of the results of their trip to NCIS.

          John had just finished telling him about the wake when Rodney bustled back in with his laptop.

          “I was thinking that since they looked us up, it’s only fair that we look them up in return.”  Rodney booted the computer and glanced back and forth between John and Jack.  “Unless you’ve already done that.”

          Jack shook his head.  “Didn’t really think it was necessary until now.”

          “Do it, Rodney.  I want to know all about the NCIS team before we go there tonight.”  John stated decisively.  He didn’t like flying blind into situations.

          “Give me half an hour, General, to get it all.”

          “Would you mind terribly if I invited myself and Daniel along, Sheppard, or would we cramp your style?”  Jack asked, raising an eyebrow at the younger officer.  John frowned at him.

          “Now how would I refuse you, sir, if I was going to?  I can’t say no to a General, particularly when he’s my CO.”

           Jack laughed.  “Yeah, I’ve been there a few times.  But seriously, John.  I’d like to meet this Gibbs guy myself.  And both Daniel and I are good at getting information out of people before they realize they’ve said anything.  Not that I don’t believe any of you aren’t capable, mind you, just that…”

          “You’re bored, aren’t you Jack?”  Daniel rolled his eyes from his seat on the sofa, his own laptop open and resting in his lap.  “You’re tired of sitting at a desk, you’ve lost patience with the official ‘un-official’ inquiries, and you want action.”

          Jack huffed, slouching in his desk chair.  “Thank you, Dr. Jackson, for maligning my character as a high-powered General.”

          “Whatever.  You even used me as an accomplice – without asking me, by the way.”  Daniel promptly ignored him and the near pout.

          John blinked, a bit startled at the linguist’s complete disregard for the General’s status, even borderline disrespect.  He’d known, in that abstract sort of way, that they were the two who started it all, that they’d been through things together as teammates that even John couldn’t imagine (with his own experiences in Pegasus, now), but still…

          “Uh…I don’t mind if you come along, sir.”  John agreed, doing his best to pretend he was oblivious.  Then he had a small epiphany and realized it was much the same between himself and Rodney.  Shaking his head, he wondered if it was a military-scientist thing.

          “What about us?”  Ronon asked, gesturing at Teyla and himself.

          “We shall go to support John, of course.”  Teyla stated, folding her arms and giving him her most stubborn look.

          “Yes, but what will we do?  We don’t know anything about much of anything, and this is some sort of…social gathering?”  The big guy looked faintly confused and very uncomfortable.  “You know I’m not good at this stuff.  Besides, it’s not like there’s gonna be something for me to shoot at.”  He’d lived with joining John on Earth for his father’s funeral, but there had been food.  Lots of food.  He’d also been curious about John’s planet.  And then there was action when the Replicator made its appearance.  Not that he was hoping for any such reoccurrence, of course…

          John opened his mouth to tell him he could stay here when Rodney tossed out, “No, but there will be food.  And beverages.”  John snapped his mouth shut again when Ronon brightened and nodded eagerly.

          “Right.  I’ll go.”

          Jack grinned.  “Great!  So…I guess we’d better find our own contributions to the food part of this shindig, huh?”  He rubbed his hands together.  “How many are we feeding?”

          “Twelve.”  Rodney answered absently, keys clicking rapidly as he worked.

          “Daniel!  Let’s go grocery shopping.”  Jack stood up.

          “We could just order a whole lot of Chinese food.”  Daniel suggested, reluctantly putting aside his laptop.

          “One, that’s just sacrilege.  It’s a wake, Daniel.”  Jack huffed.  “And two, come on!  Put a little more effort into it, yeah?”

          Daniel just sighed.  “Anyone else want to come along?”  Ronon shrugged and followed them out.  He was curious about a store where 90% of what it sold was food.

          “John?  Do you require my assistance?”  Teyla inquired, also rising from her seat.

          “Not right now, no.  If you want to go with them, Teyla, go ahead.”  John smiled and waved her away.  “I’ll stay with Rodney.  You go keep Ronon from buying everything in sight.”

          She grinned, flashing him a grateful look, and hurried to catch up to the others.

          “Guess it’s just you and me, buddy.”  John drawled, sighing almost with relief as he flopped down on the sofa next to the busy scientist.  He sprawled out and closed his eyes for a moment, allowing himself to relax – well, at least as much as he was able to.

          “You alright?”  Rodney glanced him over, hiding the bulk of his concern.  “It’s been a long, rough day.  No one would blame you if you wanted to take a nap before we go play in NCIS’ sandbox tonight.”

          “I’m fine.”

          Rodney huffed and, being careful of the computer, slid off the couch to the floor.  “Just lay down already.”

          Under any other circumstances, John would have told him where to shove it.  However, he obeyed in this instance – and rather gracefully, Rodney thought, which was an indicator of how drained the man was mentally and physically.  After a few moments of getting comfortable, John gave his friend a pat on the shoulder.

          “Thanks, Rodney.”  He murmured.  Then, “While you’re hacking any number of Federal databases…”

          “What?  Want me to find out who really killed JFK?”

          “No.  Though it’d be interesting.  But no.”

          Rodney pulled up another window, prepared to search.  “What then?”

          “Get me the autopsy file on Jenny.”

          Rodney yanked his fingers from the keyboard as if burned.  “John…really, that’s just torturing yourself!”  He craned himself around to stare at the man in shock.  “Why?  We already know…”

          “Please.”  John almost whispered it, staring right back without blinking.  Rodney swallowed, hard, and nodded jerkily, quickly typing in the necessary parameters for the search.

          “Okay.  So, um…why?”

          “I want to know…exactly what happened.  The M.E.’s report is kind of like a baseball game, in that when you just have the numbers you can recreate the whole game without having to actually see it.”  John replied, explaining as best he could.  His voice hardened.  “Besides  that, I don’t trust that Vance guy.  I want to know just how much of this he’s covering up.”

          “Right.”  Rodney watched the progress on his screen, face grim.  “Though, if he’s covering anything up in the report, we won’t really know unless the cause of death isn’t listed as…gunshot wound to…wherever.”  He flinched a bit at having to say that to John.

          “Maybe.  Maybe not.  We could ask Dr. Lam’s opinion on the findings.”  If John’s voice trembled a bit, Rodney pretended not to notice.

          “Yeah.”

          There was silence for a while, only John’s gentle, slow breathing from behind Rodney and the scientist’s clicking keyboard breaking it up.  Eventually, as he started collecting the data he was looking for, Rodney had to get up and hook up to O’Neill’s little-used printer to make hard copies of everything.  John stayed where he was, allowing the repetitive sounds of the printer and shuffling of papers to lull him into a doze.

          He woke up with Rodney prodding his shoulder carefully, saying, “They’re back, John.  Sorry.” apologetically because he hated to interrupt his rest.  Rubbing his eyes free of grit tiredly, he sat up and ran his fingers through his hair.

          “How long?”  He asked, glancing at his watch.

          “Not long.  A couple of hours.”  Rodney murmured back.  He placed a hand on his friend’s shoulder and squeezed.  “You needed it.”

          “Hey, guys!  We’re back!”  Daniel walked in, Teyla and Ronon behind him.  “Jack’s just putting away the stuff that needs to be in the fridge.”

          “What’d ya get?”  Rodney asked, curiously.

          “A couple of veggie trays and a meat and cheese tray, couple loaves of French bread…” Daniel listed off.

          “And a big piece of an animal you call a ‘pig.’”  Ronon finished, a definite gleam in his eye.

          Rodney rolled his eyes.  “Geeze.  Okay, well, I hope you put that in the oven right away because it’ll take time to cook.”

          “Plenty of time, McKay.”  Jack walked in, clapping his hands once and rubbing them together.  “So!  What’s up, kids?  Were you productive while we were out?”

          Rodney handed him two file folders he’d poached from O’Neill’s desk, thick with paper.  “Knowing your dislike of modern, twenty-first century technology, General, I made myself at home in your desk and put together hard copies for you.”  Jack blinked, looking mildly disconcerted about having someone other than himself (or Daniel) in his personal desk, but nodded and said only, “Thanks, McKay.  Though I assure you I’m quite capable of using a computer.”  The last he said with a scowl.

          “Yes, yes.  And by the way, you’re the only person I know over the age of, say, eight who as a yo-yo, a slinky, and one of those little bouncy-ball toys you can get in a dollar store.”  Rodney smirked at Daniel’s burst of laughter, and Jack’s totally unrepentant shrug.

          “They’re classics, McKay.  Fun is fun.  If you had my job, you’d take fun where you could find it, too.”

          “No doubt.”  Rodney agreed easily.  He wouldn’t want the General’s job for all the tea in China.

          “So what did you find, McKay?”  Ronon asked, settling down in an armchair that was almost too small for him.

          “I’ll start with the Medical Examiner, Dr. Donald Mallard.  He’s well educated, with both a medical degree and a forensic pathology degree.  He recently added a Masters in forensic psychology to that.  He was born in Scotland, emigrated with his mother after Vietnam to the States.  He’s worked for NCIS for many years now, as their Chief Medical Examiner and Forensics Expert here in D.C.”  Rodney summarized his findings.  “From what I can see, he’s meticulous, careful, and has high moral and ethical standards.  If he participated in a cover-up at all, he’d have done it with extreme reluctance, and probably only after Vance or Gibbs gave him a good enough reason for it.”

          “Huh.  Eton.  And a stint in the British military as a doctor, I see.”  Jack added, skimming through papers as Rodney spoke.

          “Eton?”  Teyla asked.

          “It’s a prestigious college in Great Britain.  That’s where generations of their nobility and royalty have gone for further education.”  Daniel explained, leaning over Jack’s shoulder to read, too.

          “Carson…was from Scotland, too.”  Rodney added softly.  Teyla smiled sadly, nodding her understanding.

          “Next?”  John pushed along, not wanting to dwell too much on their missed friend and doctor.

          “Abigail Sciuto.  NCIS forensic and evidence specialist.  Basically, she’s their lab tech.”  Rodney continued.  His tone turned vaguely, grudgingly impressed.  “And she’s another highly educated person – though not as smart as me.  She’s still young, so…”

          John bumped his shoulder with his own.  “Aww…that’s high praise coming from you, Rodney.”

          “Yes, well…” Rodney flushed, shooting his friend a glare.  “She majored in three subjects from Louisiana State University, earned a Masters in both criminology and forensic science from Georgia State University, and is listed here as fluent in sign language.  Both her parents are legally deaf.”

          “What about the young guy on the team?  McGee?  He’s the one who was with Abby and Dr. Mallard at the funeral when the y came over to offer condolences.”  Daniel wondered.

          “Actually, it seems like NCIS has been competing with us for recruitment of highly educated people.”  Rodney commented dryly.  “Timothy McGee is their Junior Agent, mostly as their computer and tech specialist.  He’s got a biomedical engineering degree from Johns Hopkins University, and his Masters in computer forensics from MIT.”

          Jack barked out a laugh.  “Geez, and if his life isn’t exciting enough, he’s a well-known crime novelist.  Damn, I’ve read his books!”

          “Thom E. Gemcity.”  Rodney rolled his eyes, nodding.  “How…original.”

          “He’s good, McKay  Very entertaining.  Don’t knock him ‘till you’ve tried it.”

          “Next!”  Rodney ignored O’Neill’s huffy glare.  “Anthony DiNozzo, Senior Agent.  What he lacks in the other’s education he makes up for in field experience as an investigator.  He’s a graduate of Ohio State University, and he’s been a cop with several different forces in the several major cities all over the country, serving mostly with the homicide departments.  He’s also fluent in Spanish.

          “Then we have Ziva David, Mossad Liaison Officer – a position created for her by Jenny Sheppard.”  Rodney snuck a glance at John.  The slight smile made Rodney wonder if she’d done something similar for him.  “You can all appreciate the effort and difficulty I went through to get this information, by the way, since I got not only the NCIS files but the Mossad ones, too.”

          “You hacked Mossad?  McKay!”  Jack growled.

          “What?  It’s not like they’ll ever know I was there, and should some miracle occur and they do find a breach, I guarantee they’d never trace it to me.”

          “It’s done, Jack.  Can’t do anything about it now anyway.”  Daniel soothed.  “Keep going, Rodney.”

          Warily, Rodney flipped the page and continued.  “Ms. David truly is Mossad Director Eli David’s own daughter, as she said.  She did a stint in the Israeli army before joining Mossad.  As you can imagine, her life’s been pretty violent and intense.  She’s…a scary, scary woman.  A female Ronon.”  Rodney quipped, grinning at the big guy, who blinked at him curiously.

          “She looked pretty tiny, to me.”  Ronon said disbelievingly, but shrugged, since really, most women were much smaller in size than himself but even more ferocious.

          “Why such a violent life, Rodney?”  Teyla asked.

          “Israel is in a part of our world that’s been fought over by various peoples for all kinds of reasons…pretty much forever.”  John explained softly.  “Pride, greed, revenge, power, resources…but the usual excuses are made on religious grounds.”

          Ronon raised an eyebrow, and Teyla’s eyes widened.  “What is so special about this country that so many would fight and die over it?”

          “Religion does strange things to people on occasion.”  Jack rocked back in his chair, staring up at the ceiling in contemplation.  “I’ve seen enough of it in my lifetime – not just here, on Earth, but across the galaxy.  Hell, the Ori and their followers are a perfect example.”

          Daniel sighed.  “It’s a long and complicated history, Teyla, the gist of which is that several of our major world religions believe that the area composing Israel is Holy for whatever reason, and because of this each believes they should be the ones in control of it because it is obviously theirs by sacred right – as their religion is the only ‘true’ and ‘correct’ one, not any other.  These days, however, it’s not really the general population who advocate this but the fanatics and militant governments who continue to use it as an excuse to gain power and dominion over not just that little piece of land but over all the members of their religion, too, everywhere in the world.”

          John looked over at the beautiful alien woman who’d become one of his closest friends.  “Those of us on Atlantis, Teyla, are the best of our world in most cases…”

          “Except certain people who shall remain nameless or known as Kavanagh.”  Rodney muttered darkly.

          “…But here, back on Earth, we’re not nearly as united or civilized.  It’s unfortunate, but true.”  John continued.

          Teyla shook her head, and Ronon shrugged.  “No one’s perfect, Sheppard.”  The Satedan stated.  “It isn’t like everyone in Pegasus is united, either.  Everyone’s got their own problems.”

          “Yeah.”

          “So why was the position created for her, Rodney?  Or didn’t it say?”  Daniel inquired, drawing them all back onto track.

          “No.  At least, not the whole story, I’m sure.  The notes in the file only gives ‘to further cooperative efforts in the Middle East between the United States of America and Israel against current and future terrorist activities’ as an excuse.”  Rodney quoted for them.  “Other than this, there wasn’t much else to know…oh!  She does speak several languages fluently, which isn’t much of a surprise, really.”

          “Last but not least…”  Jack flipped open the other file folder, pulling out Agent Gibb’s information.

          “Leroy Jethro Gibbs.  Special Agent-in-Charge and Major Case Response Team Supervisor.  He was a Marine scout sniper as a Gunnery Sergeant, retired honourably when his time was up with the Corps shortly after the…” Rodney paused, swallowing hard, “…untimely deaths of his wife and daughter.”

          “Jesus.”  Jack flinched and handed the papers to Daniel.  “Murdered.  While he was deployed overseas.”  Daniel paled and dropped a hand on the older man’s shoulder, squeezing in support, knowing Jack was thinking of Charlie.

          “That’s horrible!”  Teyla’s eyes went very wide.  “Did they find the one who did this?”

          “I don’t think so.  There was an investigation, but the case went cold.”  Rodney cleared his throat.  “Um, needless to say, he retired and went to work for NIS – now NCIS – and spent some time as an active intelligence agent before taking on the investigator side of it.  He’s been remarried three times, and subsequently divorced three times.”

          “His investigation record is pretty darned perfect.”  Daniel added, handing it all back to Jack.  “The whole team’s is.  I think we’re going to have to be extra careful of what we say around them, if we want to keep them from getting too curious about the programme and us.”

          “Ya think?”  Jack drawled sarcastically.

~*~*~*~*~

          Gibbs looked around his kitchen, shaking his head at himself and wondering why on Earth he’d volunteered his place for a social event like a wake – even if it was just an excuse.  The kitchen counter and the small table were piled with trays and dishes of food, as well as the stacks of plates, napkins, utensils, and plastic glasses.  Frowning, he dug out a large green garbage bag and got it ready for garbage disposal later, for clean-up.

          He could hear his people’s conversation from the living room where they’d all gathered.  Tony, Ziva, McGee, Abby, and Ducky had arrived almost all at the same time, and had filed into his small house with an easy familiarity that spoke of their comfort level with each other and Gibbs’ welcome.

          Glancing at his watch, Gibbs noted the time.  Their guests would be here any minute now, give or take, depending on how hard they found navigating the city.  Gibbs cracked open a couple more beer bottles and took the four bottles out to his team.  He handed one each to Tony, McGee, and Ziva – keeping the fourth for himself.  Ducky had a tumbler of scotch, and Abby wasn’t drinking alcohol, but did have a glass of cola.

          “Thanks, boss.”  Tony said, taking a swig.  “So what’s the plan here?”

          “We weren’t going to get anywhere at the office with them.”  Gibbs dropped down on the sofa next to Abby.  “Especially not with Vance being so antagonistic, DiNozzo.  Even if the Air Force is nosing around in Naval affairs, no crime has been committed and our new Director seems to have forgotten that.  I’m just curious to know what they’re looking for.”

          “So are Leon Vance and SecNav, I presume.”  Ducky surmised, swirling the amber liquid in his tumbler around absently.

          “Yeah, Duck.”

          “Why are they so hot to know?”  Abby asked.

          “That I don’t know, Abs.”  Gibbs shrugged, taking a gulp of his beer.  “I’m hoping to find out an answer that will satisfy everyone tonight from Sheppard.  You all leave him to me.  Otherwise, this is a farewell to Jen.”

          “Ten four, boss.”  Tony agreed, saluting with his beer bottle.  The others all nodded.

          “Gibbs, they are here.”  Ziva informed him from her seat at the window.  “And there are two others with them.”

          He raised an eyebrow and went to open the door.

~*~*~*~*~

Next Chapter:  https://kalichaos.wordpress.com/stargate/veritas/chapter-06/

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