I should have started posting this ages ago. I already have 18K+ words written and the rest mapped out, and yet I have rewritten the first chapter no less than 5 times. I'm still not thrilled with it, but it's holding up the rest of the significantly better-written story, so here we go.
Set September/October 2010 (beginning of Season 8) and is canon to that point.
Disclaimer: as always, grammatical liberties and run-ons are mine, characters are not.
How had she arrived at this point? Clutching a sobbing figure to her chest? Soft and long-since abandoned words of comfort flowed haltingly from a native tongue. After all, whom in her past would she have comforted? Whom had she ever loved enough?
"But then, Arnie grabs the horse and -"
"Honestly Tony?" Ziva sighed, cutting him off as the elevator doors opened. "Are you going to drag us through that chase scene every SINGLE time we have a case near Georgetown Park? It's worse than your fugitive speech!"
"Damn straight!" Tony grinned, throwing his bag behind his desk. "God I love that movie. And Jamie Lee in a sexy striptease..."
He broke off as a hand cuffed him swiftly across the back of the head.
"Contacting our deceased Staff Sergeant's CO, boss," Tony deadpanned, picking up the phone as the other two smirked at him. Gibbs had been in a foul mood since he went head-to-head with Metro Police at their crime scene. Of course, Detective Poletti was no match for one LeRoy Jethro Gibbs, and after an entertaining pissing match that had put Tony in his gleeful mood in the first place, the MCRT walked away with the evidence and the case.
"Ziva, take that down to whatever lab rat is filling in for Abby." She nodded, grabbing the two large buckets of evidence. "And make sure he knows what the hell he is doing before you leave him alone!"
"Boss, Abby personally chose this guy to cover for her while she's at the forensics conference. I am sure he is qualified to…" McGee's voice trailed off as Gibbs leveled a glare at him, Tony shaking his head warningly from his own desk.
McGee cleared his throat instead and tapped quickly at his keyboard, a picture of a handsome young man appearing on the plasma. "Staff Sergeant Tomas Zupan, age twenty-seven. On leave, following an eighteen month stint in Kosovo working as a translator. He was attached to the Army on a joint mission out of Camp Bonsteel."
"What's the mission?" Gibbs prompted after McGee paused for a few seconds too long, his brow furrowing at the repeated beeps emanating from the computer.
"Boss, I can't seem to access…"
"Because his mission was classified," Tony chimed in, dropping his phone dramatically into its cradle. "CO wouldn't even talk to me. His secretary said Zupan's mission was 'need to know' and apparently we don't."
Gibbs took a sip of his coffee. "McGee, declassify it."
Tim grimaced but nodded, already madly typing. "It's going to take me a while, especially without Abby's help..." He trailed off as he sensed rather than saw another glare land on him. He began stammering in an attempt to be useful. "Right, working on it boss, but perhaps someone at Army CID would have more detail? Or maybe a good time to use one of Ziva's connections in Eastern Europe?"
Gibbs just stared at him for another second and then looked back to Tony.
"Uhhh," the grin fell from Tony's face as he grabbed the plasma remote from McGee's desk and began clicking through their crime scene photos. "Victim was stabbed around 0100 in an alley near Georgetown Park. Wounds to the chest and abdomen. Multiple blood samples and prints recovered at the scene but no murder weapon…"
Gibbs interrupted him. "What in the hell was Detective Poletti screeching about? There was a witness that's MIA?"
Tony nodded, taking the impatience in stride even though he had been three seconds away from sharing that very information. "One witness, female, ran from the scene and somehow ended up at Metro's Station. They weren't very clear how that happened, but she is en route to NCIS."
"No," came a tentative and gently accented voice behind them. "I am here."
Gibbs and Tony turned to the newcomer and fell silent. The only indication of Gibbs' surprise was a slight narrowing of the eyes as he studied the young woman before them. Tony was less subtle, outright gaping as he smacked McGee several times in the arm. Tim yelped, glaring up, but his retort died on dry lips as he too saw their witness.
She was young - not more than twenty-three - and seemed petite and fragile. And yet, she was strikingly familiar: the same wavy hair, but a few shades lighter and distinctly disheveled at the moment. The wide and frightened eyes too were recognizable in their graceful shape, but the irises under thick dark lashes were hazel instead of their familiar brown.
Gibbs was the first to speak, even as the other two men tried to make sense of this apparition. After all, a man was dead, and they needed their answers. "I'm Special Agent Gibbs," he said quietly, nodding to the NCIS escort and holding a hand out to the girl. "You're our witness?"
She nodded, moving cautiously towards them and accepted the handshake. "Natalia Argandoña. Metro Police brought me here and told me to ask for you," she whispered, her voice wavering and tears springing to the too-familiar eyes as her gaze flicked to the plasma. Tony broke from his reverie, fumbling with the clicker so that the graphic pictures of a dead Zupan disappeared from view.
"Please, sit," Gibbs said, pulling his chair around beside McGee's desk. Natalia sank into it, still staring up at the now-blank screen where the disturbing image had been.
"He was so brave…" She whispered, wiping quickly at her eyes.
"DiNozzo, get us some water," Gibbs said quietly, but she shook her head and took a deep breath.
"No...no I have wasted enough time already while Tomas' killers go free. I'm fine." Her stubbornness, too, was eerily familiar.
Gibbs nodded. "Okay. Why don't you start with you relationship with Staff Sergeant Zupan."
Natalia swallowed hard, her bottom lip wavering but her eyes resolute. "He's my friend, my good friend. I met him about five years ago when I began my studies at Cambridge. I hadn't seen him in so long...I was just finishing up a summer program at NYU and Tomas emailed to say he was in DC. I took the train down last night, and we had dinner."
"Where and what time?" Gibbs prompted gently.
"Clydes. At...at about nine. We left around eleven I think and went to a few bars. He was walking me back to my hotel when two men approached us as we were cutting through an alley. They...they had knives. I thought they were just robbers, but it seemed like they knew Tomas. I couldn't understand though, they were all talking in another language I didn't recognize."
"Any guesses?" Tony prodded from his spot leaning against McGee's desk.
She shook her head. "I mean, Tomas spoke over a dozen languages...I guess it sounded a bit like Russian but not quite so...guttural?"
Tony nodded for her to continue.
"Tomas sounded like he was pleading for something, he kept repeating the same phrases over and over. But the men just laughed and sneered and then looked at me." She took a deep shuddering breath, staring down at her hands in her lap before continuing.
"Tomas lunged at them suddenly and yelled at me to run. He tried; he tried so hard to give me time to escape. I...I made it to the end of the alley and risked a glance over my shoulder. He was...on the ground and the men were running after me."
Her lip trembled constantly now as she struggled to finish the story. "I was yelling for help but there were hardly any people on the streets and the men were so fast. I somehow made it down to the Metro and squeezed on a train just as it was leaving. When I was sure the men weren't following me, I called the police. They sent two officers to meet me at the next stop and took me to the station. I started to give them my statement, but then someone said that the case wasn't in their jurisdiction, I guess? It took a few hours to sort out what was going on, and then they brought me here…"
"Miss Argandoña, do you remember their faces well enough to help us come up with a couple sketches?" Gibbs asked quietly.
She gave a shaky nod. "I...I think so? I can try….for Tomas…"
Gibbs smiled reassuringly. "Why don't you take a few minutes to splash some water on your face and then we'll take you down to our lab. McGee will escort you…"
"Thank you Agent Gibbs."
Tony watched them walk toward the restrooms and waited until they were out of earshot before turning to Gibbs.
"Wow...I mean, wow! Am I right?"
"Something on your mind, DiNozzo," Gibbs said gruffly, sitting at his computer and smacking the screen awake.
Tony sat down on the corner of the Gibbs' desk and gave him an incredulous look. "Oh c'mon boss! You can't tell me that you didn't see the similarities! It's eerie! I wonder if she's a distant cousin twice removed or something I'll have to ask…" His voice trailed off as he took in Gibbs' expression. "Of course, not now. Now I am going to arrange a safe house and protection for Miss Argandoña…"
"Ya think, Tony? And call down to the lab and see what the hell happened to Ziva…"
"No need, I am here," Ziva interrupted, returning to the bullpen with a sigh. "Stephen is only half as incompetent as you expect him to be Gibbs. He is certainly no Abby. But he has been warned under loss of limb not to make any mistakes...What do you need me to do?"
"Files on our Staff Sergeant are classified. Make some inquiries and see if you come across any information on a joint Army/Navy mission out of Camp Bonsteel."
Ziva smirked and nodded, "I will brush up on my Albanian, then."
She had yet to sit at her desk when a quiet gasp caught their collective attention.
Ziva froze at the sound of her name, turning to stare at the end of the bullpen. McGee had returned with Natalia, who took a hard step back into Tim, a hand flying up to cover her mouth.
"Ziva," she choked out with a sob. Tony felt the urge to yell at McGee to hold onto the petite girl - she looked ready to pass out.
Ziva was shaking her head slowly, a hand reaching out to the desk as if to steady her. "Who sent you here?" She whispered accusingly.
Natalia took a step away from McGee towards Ziva, fresh tears already spilling from red eyes. "Zizi, it's me," she said slowly, moving towards the wary agent.
Ziva took a hard step back as if she had been burned just from this young woman's words. "No," she whispered, horror and anger in her voice. "No, this is some sick joke..."
"It is no joke. It's me, it's Tali…"
"My sister died seven years ago in Israel!" Ziva spat at the stranger, her hands balling into fists.
Natalia gave another strangled sob. "No…No, I thought you were dead."
Ziva's expression was quickly turning wild now with disbelief and anguish. She shook her head slowly, not absorbing anything this stranger said. The three men stood rooted and silent, still trying to process the impossible scene playing out before them.
"When I was little," Natalia said softly, desperately, through her tears, "You would sing me to sleep every night. The song about the ponies. But I always fell asleep before you finished, so I would make you sing it again in the morning so I could hear it all."
Ziva's eyes widened and somehow grew even angrier. "Who told you these things!" She demanded loudly, taking an aggressive step forward.
Natalia paused for a moment, her brow crinkling in focus and frustration. When she took another step towards Ziva, she was speaking so softly that the others had to lean in to make out her words. "When Ima died, you found me in her closet, crying into her favorite blue cashmere sweater. You held me until we heard Abba coming and you told me to be brave now for him."
A sob bubbled up Ziva's throat of its own volition. "Oh my God," she whispered through the hand that flew to her mouth. "How...?" Ziva took a hesitant step around her desk and the younger girl ran the last few steps and threw herself into Ziva's arms. Natalia was sobbing in earnest now as Ziva stroked her hair and rocked her gently back and forth, tears trickling down her own cheeks from confused and crazed eyes.
"It is okay now, metuka sheli. All will be okay..."
Ok, before you roll your eyes at the soap opera-esque, back from the dead drama, I ask that you give me one more chapter. I have - what I consider to be - a pretty legit backstory that will feel very in character with the canon we all know and love.
Now that's said for the doubters. I for one love drama, and there will be a lot more coming...with a nice case-fic woven in as well! So please leave a note and check back soon. Thanks much!