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Agent Afloat Atlantis

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Summary: Ziva's new assignment certainly isn't what she expected. (NCIS/SGA crossover)

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Stargate > Non-BtVS/AtS Stories > Crossover: NCIS
NCIS > Non-BtVS/AtS Stories > Crossover: Stargate
(Past Donor)MhalachaiFR13848,9601019647,20926 Oct 0826 Oct 08Yes
CoA Winner

Chapter Two

Sheppard grabs her the next day and yanks her into what looks like a broom closet. Ziva pushes off his hand and wonders how this man got to be in charge of the most important military post in two galaxies. "What?" she demands with remarkable restraint.

"You told Teyla about-- about everything!"

"Was I not supposed to?"

"No!"

Ziva frowns. "No, I was not supposed to, or no, I was supposed to?"

"Huh?"

"What do you want?"

Sheppard slumps against the wall. Can the man not stand unsupported? "You told Teyla about everything."

"I know." Ziva leans in and stage-whispers, "I was there."

"And now she wants to know why I didn't tell her about Earth's history before." He kicks at the ground, looking ten years old.

"She is mad at you." Ziva can't hide a smile. Tony does the same thing, only with more bluster. "You are upset because Teyla is angry with you."

"No, I'm upset because Woolsey is driving me insane and taking everyone else on post with me!"

"He is not driving me mad," Ziva says, holding back that she is usually the one to do the mad driving.

"Have you spoken with him?"

Ziva has to concede that no, she has not had that opportunity.

"That's why." Sheppard frowns at her. "Hey, how come he hasn't found you yet?"

Ziva steps close to Sheppard, smiling her most devious smile, the one that always scares Tony. "Because I am very, very good." She moves back to give the man his space. "Now, Colonel, I believe it is time for you to go out of the closet."

Sheppard leaves without a backwards glance.

~~~

In spite of everything, of the pain of missing her dear friends at NCIS and a yearning for land that does not move underfoot, Ziva has to admit that some things on Atlantis are slightly more tolerable than in Washington. Her English will probably never be perfect, but on Atlantis there are so many who speak the same languages as she that it is never an issue, because she can easily switch into French or Spanish or Arabic to get her point across.

She's never been in a place with so many different tongues. Over lunch one day, Dr. Tanaka offers to teach Ziva some Japanese phrases if she will help him with the translation of a French scientific article. Captain Weisz from Berlin speaks to her very formally in German and she replies with similar delicacy, a careful dance around unspoken decades of history. Even most of the American soldiers converse easily in English and Spanish.

It is refreshing to no longer be the only one requiring a little extra translation.

What she misses about Earth, however, is real food. The cooks on Atlantis cannot use spices to save their lives. When she finds out that Major Lorne smuggled in a gallon jug of Habanero Tabasco sauce in the last medical shipment, she hatches an elaborate scheme to gain access. After all, one cannot live on salt alone.

~~~

She finds she cannot keep out of Woolsey's path forever. Lorne is waiting for her outside the women's showers one morning with an apologetic look on his face. "I'm sorry about this, but..." he begins, and ten minutes later, Ziva is sitting in Woolsey's office, her wet hair dripping on her shoulders.

"Ms. David," Woolsey says, mispronouncing her last name and she resists the urge to go for a knife.

"Dah-veed," Ziva interrupts. "It is pronounced Dah-veed."

He just looks at her through his spectacles, and it goes downhill from there.

Sheppard finds her in the gym two hours later, attempting to murder a punching bag. "That bad?"

Ziva delivers a roundhouse kick to the bag that sends it flying. "I do not wish to speak of it."

"But he's still alive, right?" Sheppard leans against an equipment rack. "I'm not going to go up there and find some assassination after-party?"

She stops her assault on the bag and whirls on Sheppard. He at least has the grace to look embarrassed.

"I do not understand why they placed someone like him in charge of a facility like this," Ziva says. She steps away from the punching bag to stretch. "It is a facility of military personnel and of scientists, and he appeals to neither group."

"That had occurred to me."

"While Colonel Carter, she was both!" Ziva punctuates her words by throwing her hands in the air; she's gesturing more than she did at NCIS and she wonders at how quickly some things change. "And before that, there was a very carefully delineated reporting path, between yourself and Dr. Weir."

Sheppard's eyes narrow, but he doesn't ask who told her about Elizabeth. It had been McKay, in one of his long rambling soliloquies on how things used to be better in the old days, but that is not the point and so she does not share.

"And you can be in charge of the military again, but there is no way on dirt that the civilian population will voluntarily report to Dr. McKay."

Sheppard's frown deepens. "Do you mean 'on Earth'?"

"Is that not what I said?"

"You said 'on dirt'."

"Do not dirt and earth have the same meaning?"

"Yes, but--" Sheppard catches himself. "So what are your recommendations?" he asks instead. It takes her a minute to sort out what he means.

"You wish to go over my report now?"

"Sure. Are you done?"

"I am, but apparently I have to fill in related paperwork for Woolsey." She does not mask the distaste in her voice.

Sheppard shrugs expressively. "Screw the paperwork. Go clean up and I'll meet you in Lorne's office."

"Why Lorne's office?" she calls after him.

"Because it's got a lock!"

He does not say if he plans to lock them in or Woolsey out, but she's had plenty of experience in not keeping the boss waiting so she heads to the showers at a run.

She has three reports for Sheppard and, because they are in his office, Major Lorne. There is the Hardware version, where she lists everything wrong physically with Atlantis, what is missing and what is extra and what needs repair. Sheppard's eyes gloss over and she moves to the next file, the McKay report.

Lorne rolls his eyes and Sheppard grins like a proud parent as Ziva summarizes the opinions of Dr. McKay, how they're all going to die if they're not careful and here's how they can survive the next few years thanks to him. Lorne begs out of that one after a few minutes, and Ziva pulls open her last file, the one marked with an innocuous To Do as the file name.

As she reads, Sheppard's grin fast falls away. It has taken Ziva several days to tease out the real problems in Atlantis, but she has finally done so. Woolsey's arrival is only a mask on the real problem, which is really quite simple.

No one knows what is happening.

It is not anybody's fault, not really. Things just happen so fast in Atlantis, and there are many people and sometimes things are just omitted from the reports. After all, everyone knows Sheppard's team saved Teyla, and they know Colonel Samantha Carter was removed by the IOA and replaced by Woolsey. It's just that not everyone knows who Ziva is, or why Dr. Saunders from xenobiology left Atlantis suddenly or why the Marines from Lorne's team aren't talking to the Army Rangers from Nicholson's team. In that vacuum, rumors arise and distort and make the problem even worse.

When Ziva finishes speaking, Lorne's eyes are closed and Sheppard has buried his head in his hands. "Remind me again why I joined this expedition?" Sheppard pleads.

"You sat in the wrong chair," Lorne says without opening his eyes. "I'd thought no one had noticed what happened with my team."

"We are on a floating city in the middle of an ocean," Ziva points out. "Scuttlebutt spreads fast enough when people get to go home at night." She thinks over her words. "Does scuttlebutt spread or does it multiply?"

"It's a massive pain in my ass!" Sheppard lifts his head. "How the hell am I supposed to fix it?"

Ziva has spent two days preparing for that question. "You should find someone for the non-military personnel to report to."

He just stares at her.

"The military personnel report to you... Or at least, Major Lorne," Ziva says, and Lorne nods as he slumps down in his chair. "The research scientists used to have Dr. Weir, and then Colonel Carter. They do not want to talk to Mr. Woolsey and very many of them would rather fling themselves into the sea than voluntarily report to Dr. McKay."

Sheppard lets his head fall back into his hands. "Why did I ask you to do this?"

"Because you were in the middle of an argument and wanted to keep me away from you," Ziva reminds him. "It is not my fault that you cannot put the genius back in the bottle."

Sheppard rolls his head to give Ziva the evil eye. "I think she means genie, sir," Lorne contributes absently as he scrolls through Ziva's report. "Just..."

"What?" Sheppard says when Lorne doesn't continue.

"I've got an idea. Give me a couple of days?" That is all he will say, and soon Sheppard and Ziva are in the hallway while Lorne tries something.

"Now what are you going to do?" Sheppard asks, and she manages to avoid hitting him. "Report's done, after all."

"I do not know," Ziva says. She finds his whole leadership style annoying, but that is because compared with Gibbs, John Sheppard seems to be making things up as he goes along.

Sheppard angles towards the control room as they walk. "How would you feel about going through the Gate with Captain Chen's team tomorrow?"

Ziva stops and stares at him.

"Oh-nine-hundred tomorrow morning," Sheppard says over his shoulder. "Simple recon mission. Don't forget to pack all your sharp objects."

She finally finds her voice before he turns a corner. "What will I be doing?"

"Auxiliary military support!" Sheppard tells her before he vanishes into the control room.

Ziva allows herself a spin of happiness on the way to her quarters.

~~~

The next time the Stargate opens from Earth, there is mail from home. To Ziva's surprise, she receives five emails with NCIS addresses and she hoards the knowledge close to her with a warm heart until she is alone. She takes her computer out to the north pier and sits in her usual place, her bare feet swinging over the sea as she begins to read.

McGee writes that he's glad she's going okay, and that he's in the middle of another novel that should be done by July. He expects to be fired for it, but under his words, Ziva can tell he doesn't care. Her heart aches for him, this young idealistic man who will one day be the best of them, and she reads the annoyed stories of his new job with a smile on her face. Timothy McGee will succeed in life, and Ziva wishes him all the best.

Ducky has sent her a thirteen-page email detailing their recent cases and devolving into related anecdotes much as he does in person. It is so much like being back at NCIS that Ziva wants to cry. Jimmy Palmer sends a note as well, nothing long or important, just that he wishes her well and that he passed his exams with flying colors, in case she's interested, and Ziva regrets not writing to him in the first place. She will rectify that.

There are three emails from Abby. The first is short and very angry. The next is a long apology without really saying anything at all. The third is somewhere in the middle, and there is more truth in that letter than in any conversation Abby and Ziva ever had at NCIS. It starts with Kate died without saying goodbye and I guess I'm bad at losing my friends and ends with Ducky gave me your necklace and usually I'm not big on blue, but this is really cool. I know it was for Director Shepard and that there was, you know, stuff between you two, and I hope you don't mind because I really like it and man, this sentence is never going to end so I'll stop now. Ziva takes a moment to imagine how the sapphire will look against Abby's pale skin, and closes the email with a smile.

Gibbs send a one-paragraph reply, about how he's heard rumors about the project she's on and how it's very important, and how he thinks she's probably the best suited for the job. That's it. He doesn't say anything else. She's not sure she could bear it if he did.

There is no word from Tony.

~~~

Ziva opens her eyes to darkness and she cannot remember where she is.

It is not until she tries to sit up that she realizes she cannot move. Her hands, legs, hips, all trapped beneath something immovably heavy. Even this does not scare her, surrounded as she is by the darkness.

Something warm brushes over her forehead. "Shh," soothed a familiar voice. "Do not fight it."

"Wha..." The breath necessary for the word slices pain through Ziva's chest and she lets the word slide into a moan.

"Quiet, you are with me." Hot breath on her cheek, then a kiss on her skin. "I am with you, little sister."

Ziva closes her useless eyes and turns her head away. Something about the situation is wrong, and she cannot think of what that might be. "Ari?" she breathes.

"I am here." There's a skittering in the darkness and more warmth down her side. Ziva tries to move away, but the warmth follows her.

Ari. It is something she needs to remember about her brother Ari. Ziva pushes her mind back, back, beyond Tony and Gibbs and back to Ari.

Ari in Gibbs' basement.

Ari lying in a pool of blood.

Ari, who is dead and can not be breathing on her cheek in the darkness.

When she tries to point out the impossibility of it all, Ari laughs softly. "How do you know I am dead, little sister?"

Ziva draws in breath around the warm wet darkness in her mouth. The air tastes of copper on her tongue. "Because."

"Because?"

The pain in her chest grows with every breath. "Because I shot you," she says, no matter how much it hurts.

He tsks at her in the dark, drawing his fingers over her cheek and throat and collarbone, and she jerks to get away but cannot move from the pain. "Why would you shoot me, dear sister?"

She's crying now and she can taste the salt and copper in her mouth. "I had no choice."

"We all have choices." Ari's voice is soft in her ear. "We all make choices, Ziva, and you made yours." He kisses her cheek and this time, she doesn't pull away. "I can give you that choice back, little sister."

She turns toward the voice, trying in vain to see Ari in the dark. "You are dead."

"We were dead from the moment of our births, sister. Our father saw to that. We were born to die at his hands." There's the sound of movement around her, the groaning shifting of rock and metal in the black. "He made us what we are."

"Ari." His name fills her mouth. "Stop."

She feels him kissing away her tears. "I do not blame you," he whispers. "I forgive you."

Her hands clench and she can feel the rocks now, hard and gritty and painful under her back and hands.

"Come with me."

When she shifts her weight this time, she can feel the rubble pressing against her legs and hips, can register the dust in the air. Her chest hurts and her head hurts and the details all come together and it is blood in her mouth, debris holding her down in the dark and she cannot see.

"I am not dead," Ziva says as loud as she can, ignoring the pain. She manages to lift her hand to her ear and touch her earpiece. It crackles and hums and she has no idea if there is anyone left to hear her. "I'm not dead, Ari, and you are."

"We can be together," he says, his voice turning into a hiss. "Come with me."

"You are right," Ziva says, pulling away from Ari's suddenly scratchy fingers. "I made my choice."

There's other noise around her, high above and muffled, but all Ziva is aware of is that Ari is no longer with her in the dark. She's alone and held down and she cannot see her way out of the darkness.

"I made my choice," she says again, and there's a sudden shaft of light in her eyes and even as she stares, the light fades away and takes the sound and pain with it.

When she comes back to the world, everything is white and fuzzy and soft. The ceiling looms over her and she tries in vain to remember.

"Welcome back." It is the young doctor, adjusting the IV by Ziva's bed. "You gave us a scare."

Ziva licks her lips and thinks she can taste the salt of the sea. "What happened?"

"There was a cave-in," Dr. Keller says. She sits beside Ziva's bed. "You and Stackhouse were caught in the rubble and it took the engineers a while to get in from the gate."

"How is he?" Ziva asks. Details are filtering back to her now. The cracking rocks under their feet. Falling. Darkness.

She cannot remember how it felt to land.

"He's fine," Dr. Keller reassures. "You're lucky, Ronon says there's an indigenous scavenger on that planet with a bite that can make its prey disoriented and confused, inciting auditory hallucinations. We got a sample from you and there's evidence of chemicals in your bloodstream." The woman sounds too happy about all of this. "But it's washing out of your system. You shouldn't hear anything else."

Ziva blinks at the ceiling. "What about the other senses? Would they be affected?"

"Um, no," the doctor says slowly. "The chemicals only affect the auditory nerves. But you're going to be fine, nothing broken or torn." She lays a hand on Ziva's shoulder. "You'll be out of here in a few days."

The woman leaves and Ziva turns her head. Stackhouse is laid out on a bed ten feet away. He's crying in his sleep, and Ziva wonders what choices he's made, who he has lost.

Ziva closes her eyes on the memory of Ari's touch and a brother's forgiveness kissing her skin.

~~~

When the alarms go off, Ziva has been in Atlantis for three and a half weeks. The bruises from her fall are vivid on her skin, but at least she's once again able to run for five miles without stopping.

She is in the briefing room with the other department heads, listening to Woolsey's lecture and McKay's not-quiet counterarguments, when the unfamiliar noise sounds. She may not know the origins, but McKay's running before the first peal stops and Sheppard's on his heels and then the whole room empties and Ziva is the last out, right behind Teyla and the baby in her arms.

"This is bad," McKay announces to no one in general.

"How bad?" Sheppard crashes into McKay and doesn't step away once he regains his balance.

"We're got an internal intruder breech!" McKay shouts at Sheppard, ignoring everyone else. "That means--"

"I know what it means!" Sheppard yells back. He points at the monitors. "How many and where?"

"And how?" Woolsey puts in.

McKay ignores everyone, making the computers do things Ziva cannot understand. "At least ten, in the north wing-- No, eleven!" More and more life forms are appearing on the screen. "They're reading as Wraith!"

Lorne's yelling into his earpiece and Ronon's already got his gun free of its holster. "Let me go," he growls at Sheppard.

"Just wait!" Sheppard stares intently at the monitor. "'K, Ronon, with me, we cut them off at this juncture," he jabs at the screen, "And Lorne's team will set up a block here." He waves his hand at a critical entry point to the main body of the city. "Don't let them pass. Sound general quarters and get everyone guarding every entrance and double the Gateroom guard--"

"I can go with Ronon," Ziva hears herself saying. She's barely healed and she's never seen a Wraith in her life but this is why she's here and she'll only be in the way, otherwise.

"As will I," Teyla says. She shoves her son into Rodney's arms and she's almost sheet white.

"No, you will--" Sheppard stops when Teyla gets in his face.

"I will do what I do best!" she spits out, all five feet of her ready for a fight.

Ronon settles the matter by grabbing Sheppard by the arm. "We're wasting time."

Sheppard lets out a strangled noise, but he's accepting a P90 from a nearby Marine instead of arguing. "We're going to recon and slow them down if we can and we are not going to endanger ourselves!"

"Agreed," Teyla says. "Watch my son, Rodney."

"Uh, okay?" McKay squeaks, holding the child awkwardly, but never stopping his one-armed work.

Sheppard waves his hand and the four of them set off at a run to the nearest transport closet. It's a bit of a squish and they tumble out again near the point of incursion.

"Teyla..." Sheppard tries as a plea, but she's having none of it.

"This is what my people have been doing for as long as there have been Wraith," she hisses quietly. "Or are you like Woolsey, to not allow the best person into combat based on irrelevant reasoning?"

"Well, when you put it like that," Sheppard says. He switches his attention to Ziva. "David, you sure you're up for this?"

"It has been a while since I have killed anyone," she concedes. Her sidearm has a full clip and there are more bullets in her pocket, a long knife at her waist and years of experience in her hands. "But you have told me the best way to kill a Wraith. I believe I am ready."

Ronon makes an inquiring sound, and Sheppard says, "She's well-trained."

"I thought she was a paper-shoveler."

"Paper-pusher," Sheppard corrects automatically. His P90 is up and he's ready for action. "You thought she was a paper-pusher."

"Are all paper-pushers from your planet like this?" Ronon asks.

"Only the ones from Mossad," Ziva tells him, and then there's movement ahead and they quiet and split up and wait.

The wait is over quickly. Ronon gets the first one with a blow from his ray gun, then Teyla takes out another with her P90 and there's a sudden rush and Ziva runs for the two heading to the left. She takes out one with three shots from her gun and the second is too close to shoot. They go down in a heap and Ziva barely avoids an incapacitating head blow, driving her long knife up into the creature's skull and into its brain. With a twist of her hand, the Wraith goes limp and she dumps the body to the side, withdraws her knife and grabs her gun and gives chase and there is no time for thought, only action and desperate defense.

Finally, the Wraith stop coming.

Sheppard's team and Ziva caught all the ones trying to make side-trips into smaller areas of the city. The main force was stopped by the contingent of Marines. No Wraith survived, and Atlantis only lost two soldiers in the attack.

Ziva will not know this for a few hours. All she knows is the rush of adrenalin in her head, the hyperawareness of attack, and the empty aching paranoia of not having anyone left to kill.

Ronon's the first to speak. "You gotta tell me more about Mossad," he says, and Ziva just looks at him. It's almost as if he thought this was fun.

Sheppard's limping a little from being thrown into a door, but he's talking over his headset and Teyla surveys the bodies with quiet contentment and that's just the way it is.

"Come on, kids," Sheppard calls. "Back inside. McKay's got some answers for us."

They make it past their reinforcements and the huddle of Marines, to the control room and Woolsey is so far out of his element Ziva almost feels sorry for him. Almost. She left most of her sympathy for the day back on the killing floor.

"Oh, thank god," McKay says when he sees them. He meets them midway with the fussing baby held in outstretched hands. "You're all right."

"McKay, didn't know you cared," Ronon rumbles and Sheppard lets out a cough.

It seems as if the Wraith got into the city with a cloaked jumper And gee, I wonder where they got that from? Shut up, McKay, and the jumper got away and there are no more Wraith in the city and yes, I'm sure.

Orders are given and words exchanged and Woolsey stands back to let things happen as they must. Ziva sits on the stairs to clean her knife on her ruined shirt. She does not think she will have to fill out paperwork for shots fired, not on this day. Her brain will not slow down enough to let her think.

"...I got ten, and Teyla got six," she overhears Ronon telling McKay after a while.

"Seven," Teyla corrects as she hums a lullaby to her son.

"And David got five." Ziva can hear the grin in Ronon's voice. "Four with her knife alone."

"All right, Ronon, stop it. You'll give the Marines nightmares," Sheppard orders as he limps off. Ziva salutes him with the flat of her blade.

For days, McKay jumps whenever he sees Ziva. Ronon appears at Ziva's door in the morning and demands to learn her fighting style, all of it. Teyla locks Woolsey in his office for two hours and when she emerges, her head is held high and Woolsey seems to be thinking very hard for the rest of the week.

Sheppard steals Ziva's apple the next day at lunch and pretends to cower when she grabs it back. "Your month's up," he says without preamble. "You wanna stay?"

She looks out the windows, at the calm sea. Around them are many languages, so many different people. She's seen how things change quickly around here, and what they're fighting for, and what they're fighting against.

At night, and when she's alone, and most of the rest of the time, she aches to go home to NCIS and be with Gibbs' team again. However, she is not stupid or blind and she knows she will never have that again. Could she return to Washington and not be part of NCIS? Can she go back to Israel and Mossad now, after so long away?

More importantly, can she walk away from a place where she is needed? Where she may just serve a useful purpose in protecting Earth and her people, and all the people in the Pegasus galaxy?

One of the earliest lessons Ziva learned at her mother's knee was that people change and grow, and life moves on, and that everyone ends up where they need to be, that is the mystery of God's hand in the lives of his people.

Ziva hands Sheppard her apple with a smile and a "Yes" and that's that.

On her way back to her quarters, she borrows a screwdriver from Dr. Zelenka and places her mezuzah on the wall outside her door. The prayer of blessing falls easily from her lips.

~~~

Days zip by and it's like any other assignment Ziva has had. Some days are dead boring and some are deadly exciting and there's no telling which it will be when the sun rises.

Ziva does what she can to help out. Everyone has given up trying to figure out what she is supposed to be doing and slowly, the requests start coming in. Dr. Parrish from biology stops her one day to ask if she'd mind passing on a departmental request for supplies. One of Dr. Keller's nurses sits with Ziva at lunch and they talk about Paris and the man leaves at the end of the meal looking much calmer. The Marines know she was once with NCIS, and they keep her informed of Atlantean scuttlebutt 'just in case'.

Little by little, Ziva is pulled into the web of Atlantis and she finds the ache of missing NCIS fading a touch.

And then things get a little more complicated.

The first part of Lorne's solution to the communications mishap is a bastardized Pegasus Galaxy version of Facebook that he calls PegasusBook because they are far enough away from Earth to not bother with copyright infringement. Privately, Ziva thinks it nothing more than electronic gossip, because on an enclosed floating alien city, who needs an electronic invitation to movie night? But since everyone on Atlantis has the same level of clearance, it's not as if state secrets will be spilled. McKay can be heard complaining about the system for weeks, but only because he didn't think of it first, and Sheppard is usually at his side, listening to McKay's rants with half an ear. It is almost cute.

The second part of Lorne's insidious little plan makes itself clear only gradually. More and more of the scientists start accosting Ziva in the hallways, letting her know how things are going, that they need a little more help, that they could really use more supplies, or even that things are fine and dandy. Totally unsure as to what has brought this on, Ziva makes notes of it all on her computer and sends them on their way.

After the sixth such encounter, Ziva finds her wits enough to ask Dr. Addams why he's speaking with her. "Because Major Lorne told us to," the man says in a distracted tone. "Now, if I can just show you the problems with power requirements..."

Ziva finds Lorne lying on his back in a Puddlejumper, working on the crystals with Dr. Zelenka. "What are you doing?" Ziva demands, already halfway into the argument in her head.

Lorne moves his head enough to squint at her with one eye. "Working on the Jumper."

Ziva glares at him.

Lorne lets out a sigh. "Hey, Doc, are we done here?"

Zelenka looks between Lorne and Ziva, his nod reluctant. "I believe we have completed the main portion of the repairs, yes."

Pulling himself into a sitting position, Lorne says, "Good. I think I'll take her up for a test run. Want to come with me, David?"

It's not a request nor is it an order, but in answer Ziva drops into the front passenger seat. Zelenka clears out while Lorne closes up various panels, then the Major slips into the pilot seat and lifts the Jumper into the air.

"Jumper Seven to Control. I'm taking her out on a test run, should be back in about half an hour," Lorne tells the tower.

There's a pause, then some static and Sheppard's voice comes over the speakers. "Jumper Seven, this is Sheppard. Who's your co-pilot on the test run?"

"David's here with me, sir." As Lorne speaks, the Jumper bay doors open and the craft flies out into a beautiful clear day. "I figured she'd want to test the new power thrusters."

"It's your funer--" A cough cuts off Sheppard. "I mean, good choice, Major," Sheppard concludes with alacrity.

"Back in a bit." Lorne engages the engines and the Jumper swoops around the city and off to the horizon.

Ziva rests her feet up on the edge of the consol as Lorne puts the Jumper through its paces. They dip lower, barely skimming the water, and Ziva imagines what it might be like to ride these waves in a boat, one as small as in Gibbs' basement. She will never see it finished now.

"What did you want to discuss away from the city?" Ziva finally asks. The continent is a shadowy smudge on the horizon, the distant mountain range nudging the sky.

"A few things," Lorne says, eyes on the controls. "You want to take her up into orbit?"

"Me?" Ziva asks, startled, but when Lorne cocks an eyebrow at her she removes her feet from the consol and take the controls. The ship is, as always, curiously alive under her hands. Remembering what Sheppard has shown her about flying, she eases the ship into a perfect ascent angle. They fly through clear sky, the blue around them fading to brilliant stars in the black of space.

Lorne guides her through putting the Jumper into a geosynchronous orbit. He's grinning almost as widely as she is. "It's not like anything else, is it?" he asks.

Beneath her calm exterior, Ziva's heart is pounding in excitement. She has just flown a spaceship into outer space all by herself. They are above a world very different from Earth, and yet very much the same, so blue and green and real. Ziva wonders again about the infiniteness of the universe and God's nature. She briefly touches the Star of David on her golden necklace and wishes, without a trace of irony, that Ari could have seen this sight.

"The first time I went through the Stargate back on Earth, I couldn't believe it." Lorne gazes out the view screen at the planet before them. "Same thing when I saw Earth from orbit in the Daedelus. It's just... you see it in books or on TV and it looks small, but this..." He shakes his head. "It's just been a while since I got to come up here and look."

"It is a very busy job, being the XO," Ziva agrees. Is that what this is about? She hopes so. While she does like the Major, Gibbs' Rule Number Twelve is probably even more practical on an enclosed base. "Is that why you told the civilians to talk to me when they need things?"

Lorne swivels his chair around to face Ziva. "Off the record?"

At this, Ziva raises her eyebrows. "Are you trying to incite a mutiny?"

"God, no." Lorne slumps down a little in his chair. "You know what the XO's job is in the military?"

Ziva has heard many of the jokes, some of them from Tony, but does not want to annoy Lorne. After all, he needs to get them back down to the planet. "To support the CO?" she guesses.

"Yeah. And make sure everything's running well. And make sure everything the CO orders gets done. And, on Atlantis, dealing with Mr. Woolsey and a parcel of civilians, and making sure no one kills anyone else." Lorne looks Ziva square in the eye. "As I'm sure you've noticed, I'm kinda busy."

Ziva lets out an impatient sigh. "Why did you not just ask me?"

Lorne's still looking at her. It is unnerving. "Do you have any idea what you've done since you came?"

The conversation is like playing an evidence guessing game with Abby -- Ziva has no idea how to push Lorne to answer her question. So she stays quiet.

"You took an impossible job from Sheppard and you made it work. Hell, you saved us both one bucket load of trouble. And I'm not just talking about the McKay thing. It's almost impossible to get anyone on Atlantis to talk straight to us."

"You think your own people lie to you?" Ziva cannot believe that.

"No, not lie. We've all been around too long, that's all," Lorne clarifies. "When most of the scientists have a problem with... a certain someone--"

"Rodney McKay," Ziva supplies for him.

"Well, yeah. They didn't really go to Colonel Carter because they knew she and Sheppard are both Air Force and she'd go to Sheppard, and Sheppard and McKay are on the same team. They won't go to McKay directly, and so things weren't getting said or done."

"Then why did they talk to me?" Ziva asks.

"Because you were new here. Sheppard gave you his blessing, but no one knew what you were up to. So they let things slip."

Ziva feels as if she is missing some vital information. "Is that not a good thing?"

"Yes, it was. Is." Lorne smiles ruefully. "You know the other reason the civilians talk to you? Not only do you speak a dozen languages--"

"Ten," Ziva feels obligated to note.

"Whatever. You actually talk to them in words they understand, and you're not an academic and therefore not a threat to them."

Ziva is not sure if she should be affronted. "I can be threatening if I wish."

"Not like that. You're not going to belittle their science. You're also not going to tell them how wrong they are or demand they shape up." A beeping from the consol distracts Lorne for a moment, then he's off again. "They've already seen the results of your first report, too, and if there's one thing people appreciate after being part of the military machine for so long, it's responsiveness."

Ziva has no idea what to say, so she falls back on her old standby. "At Mossad, if you are not able to adapt to the situation, you are usually dead," she says. "I was only completing an assignment."

"By yourself, by any means necessary, and you saved me a few months of twenty-hour days." Lorne swings his chair back around to face the horizon. In the distance, the moons are peeking over the edge of the planet. "Sheppard showed me your file. I know why you ended up here, about NCIS Director Shepard and your father pulling strings to get you here."

Ziva watches his profile, the faint hint of stubble on his chin, the worn collar of his jacket rising and falling with every breath, and she wonders how she ever saw hints of Tony in him.

"What I want to know is, are you going to ditch us the first chance you get, or are you in it for the long haul?"

Ziva stares at the moons and feels the readiness of the Jumper beneath her fingers, and she does not know how to answer.

"Think about it," Lorne says as he prepares the Jumper for the descent from orbit. "Let me know what you decide."

When they land, it takes all of five minutes for one of the engineers to step into her path with a request for more power for shield tests and Ziva suspects that her answer for Lorne is being made without actual input from her.
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