Ziva was back - back from the dead, back from Somalia, back at her desk.
Tony DiNozzo wasn't certain how he felt about that.
Sure, he'd argued for the mission to rescue her. He'd put himself at risk to bring her back - or, if they'd been wrong and Ziva really had been dead, to avenge her. He'd never thought about what would happen afterward. He'd never thought that she'd want to come back to NCIS, let alone that Vance would let her.
Now, at 0730, faced with the prospect of sitting across from her once more, Tony pondered his own wants.
A beep from his cell phone interrupted his thoughts, and he glanced at the display. Surprise rippled through him when he saw a message from Colonel Jack O'Neill.
He'd met the colonel six months before, when the Air Force had needed someone to investigate the death of the AFOSI agent stationed at the Cheyenne Mountain complex. The Major Case Response Team - less Ziva, who wasn't an American citizen, let alone cleared for the kind of projects that went on at Cheyenne Mountain - had gotten the assignment, and Tony and Jack had kept in touch casually after the investigation was completed.
Still, even Jack rarely texted at 0530 his time, and anticipation mixed with dread as Tony tapped the message to read it.
Just a heads up. We need you again.
Tony frowned at the message. Six months was plenty of time for them to have found a new OSI agent, so why would the MCRT be needed?
Only one way to find out. He texted back, ?
A minute later, Jack replied, You'll see.
And that, Tony knew, was that. He wouldn't get any more out of Jack, so he'd have to cool his heels - or, given that Jack was Air Force, maybe that should be cool his jets - until the higher-ups got around to letting the grunts know what was going on.
In the meantime, he pulled a cold case file from the stack on his desk. For the moment, the Navy and Marine Corps were free of cases that required the MCRT, so reviewing cold cases was the order of the day.
Tony had already reviewed a half-dozen cold case files - and really, how could they have gone a full week without a major case? - and closed one of them. Now he was looking at some of the oldest of their cold cases. The one in his hand dated from the time Stan Burley was Gibbs' senior field agent.
Tony privately admitted he'd enjoy closing a case that the semi-sainted Stan Burley couldn't. Not that he had anything against the man personally, but Burley brought out his competitive side almost as much as college football had.
The elevator dinged, and Tony glanced up to see Ziva and McGee approaching the bullpen, chatting. He nodded to them, but turned back to the case file without speaking.
There really wasn't anything to say, he realized. Not now. Maybe not ever again.
Before he could follow that maudlin thought, Gibbs' voice echoed from above him.
"DiNozzo! Director's office. Now."
Tony slapped the file folder down on his desk and strode, unhurried, toward the stairs, ignoring the curious looks from McGee and Ziva as he did.
When he got to Vance's office, neither Vance nor Gibbs looked particularly pleased. Tony stood straight, facing Vance, with Gibbs off to his left, and braced for whatever might be coming.
"You can refuse this, if you want," Vance said. "But -"
"They want me back at Cheyenne Mountain." Tony didn't often catch Vance unaware, and he savored the other man's shocked expression.
Gibbs stepped in to cover Vance's silence. "There've been a couple of thefts on base. They requested an investigator."
"Of course I'm happy to help," Tony said, mostly because it made Vance's left eye tic. "Just me?"
"Just you," Vance agreed.
"I offered to go along," Gibbs said, and by what he didn't say, Tony understood that offer had been refused.
"They have no right to ask you," Vance said, and in that moment he was a director whose control over his own agency was being threatened, "even if the they in question is Deputy Director Morrow."
"They didn't have to ask," Tony countered. "If they need me, I'm there."
His response was genuine, even if a part of him would've accepted the assignment just to watch Vance sputter and Gibbs glower and a larger part wondered just what crisis a couple of thefts was code for.
"What kind of operation are they running out there, that they don't have an investigator of their own?" Vance demanded.
Tony flicked a glance at Gibbs, but both men held their tongues. That they'd investigated the death of Cheyenne Mountain's resident AFOSI agent six months ago was one of the many things Vance wasn't cleared to know.
Even so, it was a good question. Six months was plenty of time to have recruited and read in another agent to replace the late Major Madison Morgan, so why was the director of homeworld security - another thing Vance wasn't cleared to know - asking for their help again?
No, Tony reminded himself with some surprise. Not their help. His help, specifically. Why him alone, and not Gibbs and McGee as well? He gave a mental shrug. He'd find out when he got there.
"Fine," Vance said when it became clear that neither man was going to answer his question. "They'll be waiting for you at Anacostia-Bolling, just like last time."
"Yes, sir." Tony nodded acknowledgment and turned to leave.
"DiNozzo." Gibbs' voice made him turn back. "Update when you can."
Tony grinned. "I'll say hi to the colonel for you, too."
SG1 ~ NCIS ~ SG1
At Anacostia-Bolling, the same colonel - Kennedy, Tony reminded himself with a glance at the man's nametag - who'd briefed him, Gibbs, and McGee before that first trip to Cheyenne Mountain briefed him again.
Not that it was much of a briefing.
"Even I don't know what you're heading into this time," Kennedy said. "Consider this a reminder that you only discuss black projects with black personnel in black parts of the complex."
"Something happen to their new OSI agent?" Tony asked, hoping for a hint of a clue why he was needed.
"O'Neill will fill you in when you get there," Kennedy said. "Your ride's waiting outside."
Tony's ride turned out to be a Jeep with Military Police insignia, and an airman to drive him not quite half an hour to Joint Base Andrews. Tony was only somewhat surprised when the gate guard waved the Jeep through after only a cursory check at their ID - no doubt someone had phoned ahead.
Tony was not surprised at all when the airman directed the Jeep out toward the runways, even onto the tarmac itself.
Tony admitted to being floored when the Jeep pulled up beside a sleek, deadly-looking fighter aircraft.
"What the hell is that?" He surveyed the jet from its stubby nose cone past the tandem-seat cockpit and the wings from which dangled Sidewinder and Sparrow missiles to the flared tail fins.
"An F/A-18F Super Hornet, sir," the airman replied. Tony reflected that this particular hornet's sting was very deadly indeed. But there was one other question he had.
"And we're parked beside it because…?"
"That's your ride to Peterson."
"My - ride?" Tony repeated, unable to look away from the plane.
"Yes, sir. The pilot's waiting for you."
Tony forced himself to climb out of the Jeep and approach the man in the flight suit who stood beside the jet - and who, Tony was embarrassed to admit even to himself, he hadn't even noticed until the airman pointed him out.
Still, a quick glance at the man's shoulder and chest meant he could say, "Captain Ditend, I'm Tony DiNozzo, NCIS."
"Agent DiNozzo," the captain acknowledged. "If you'll climb into the cockpit, we'll be on our way."
As much as he itched to obey, he had to say, "I've never flown in one of these before."
"Don't worry." Captain Ditend grinned. "I won't pull any combat maneuvers that'll have you losing your breakfast. Just a hop to Peterson."
"Hop?" Tony blinked. "How long's the flight time?"
"About an hour and a half at Mach 1.5. If you will, sir? My orders are to get you to Peterson ASAP."
"Sure," Tony said. "What do I need to do?"
Ditend gave him quick instruction for how to strap himself in and settle the flight helmet over his head, and within minutes, Tony sat more or less comfortably in the second seat of the Super Hornet.
Then Ditend settled in the pilot's seat and, while Tony couldn't see exactly what he was doing, he knew Ditend was beginning the pre-flight check.
"Comm check." Ditend's voice whispered through the speakers in Tony's helmet. "Alpha, bravo, gamma, delta…."
"Comm check confirmed," Tony replied. Then, because he could, "Knox in box. Fox in socks."
"O'Neill warned me you're a character," Ditend said, and Tony heard the amusement in his voice. Then he sobered, and his next words made Tony wish, just for a moment, that Gibbs were here instead of him.
"We'll be pushing this aircraft to its limits," Ditend said. "Not gonna do anything stupid, but as good as the Super Hornet is, she's not designed for long flights at speed, and that's what we're doing now."
"But you said it was a hop," Tony said, suddenly nervous.
"A fifteen-hundred-mile hop."
Tony swallowed, hard. "At Mach 1.5."
"Okay, then," Tony muttered. Then, louder, "What's it like? Exceeding the speed of sound?"
"You'll know in a few minutes."
Tony settled back to watch and listen as Captain Ditend concluded the pre-flight check and started the engines.
He could be forgiven if Kenny Loggins' Danger Zone echoed in his mind. If this wasn't a Top Gun moment, he didn't know what would be.