AN: Thank you everybody for your follows, favorites, and reviews! It's been a few days for me to update but I'm pretty please with this chapter. It's Tiva-less- bear with me- but very exciting. Everyone has been pretty pleased with the idea of Vigilante Ziva and that will be fleshed out further in upcoming chapters. Please don't hesitate to send me your ideas and suggestions, I have lots of the story planned out but not everything! Enjoy, read, and review!
Casualty Assistance Calls Officer.
Sitting in a silent car ride, Ziva repeated the title over and over again in her head until the words lost their familiarity. She had an impressive resume of experience with civilian casualties- her time in the IDF, her time at Mossad, even a few during her time in America. She'd had to inform wives, sisters, children, husbands, parents, and partners of all sorts of death before, but it was not her primary position. She didn't wake up in the morning and plan on being the messenger. But these officers hedged their livelihoods on the aftermath of death. Not only did they have the responsibility of informing families and comforting through the second round of immediate consequences that stemmed from the tragedy, they spent the next weeks with paper reminders: filing claims, helping with insurance communications, securing death benefits. Ziva tugged at her star of David. She would take a career in the line of fire over their duties any day.
I've died before, she thought, smiling to herself at how the sentence didn't sound right. Well, essentially. Her team had thought her dead and swollen in the ocean with the sunken Damocles, and her father had thought her dead before she'd even boarded the ship. No Mossad copies of Casualty Assistance Officers necessary. Despite their military involvement, no members of the David family were ever visited by such countrymen. Tali's and her mother's deaths were both too sudden and the need for such formalities was superseded by Eli's high political standings at the time. Ari was killed an ocean away from home, half of his surviving family planted behind the trigger, the other half receiving the news directly from Eli's political allies. As for Eli's death, well, Ziva was placed at the scene for that as well, and the sensitive nature of the assassination struck out the use for such casualty assistance personnel.
She tried to imagine her father getting the news of the Damocles. Obviously he wouldn't have immediately assumed death- the sinking of the ship was their contingency plan if safe passage to the Horn hadn't been possible. But did he wonder? Did the thought that she might be swollen at the bottom of the sea cross his mind? After her capture, she never made contact. At what point during those three long summer months did Eli accept her death? Ziva internally fleshed out the possibilities. Perhaps he received a particularly unforgiving piece of intelligence about Saleem's camp and it hit him upon digestion. Perhaps he was sitting at dinner and his mind wandered to the realization of her universal absence. Perhaps he was at the synagogue, repeating verbal traditions in song, thinking of the daughter who had grown up at his side. What of after her rescue? Surely, her email to him was not the only revelation of her survival. His lifelong friend was the NCIS director, surely someone had sent him her medical report. Though they'd never spoke of it, like most occurrences in the last decade, he must have known before his own death what had happened at the camp. She squirmed in her seat, pursing her lips at the thought of her dad reading a report full of such intimate detail of her body, her scarring, her four months in hell. She'd never seen the report herself. Who else had?
Her thought process what cut short by the sound of McGee switching off the ignition. The two agents had arrived at the home of Petty Officer Destefani, where his widow and two children were waiting. She looked out of the window and looked around for other visitors. "McGee, has the family been informed already...?" She questioned, afraid that their investigative visit had been mistimed with the military personnel's.
"Gibbs said the CAO's left about an hour ago. The wife is probably still shaken up." McGee pulled the keys out of the slot. "She has probably had enough time to tell the kids, and let's be gentle as possible."
Ziva laughed, and smiled at her companion's sensitivity and strategizing. "I am trained as well McGee, yes? But you are right. I'll be as gentle as possible." She reached for her door handle, but he stopped her with a hand on her other shoulder.
"While we have a moment... I haven't really gotten a chance to talk to you on your own since you've been back from.. you know." He gestured at general nothingness. "Are you doing alright?"
Her smile faltered slightly, but Ziva was flattered by his care, and slightly suspicious. "I am fine, McGee. I have had my time." She moved her fingers to unbuckle her forgotten seatbelt. "Did Tony put you up to this?"
"I care too, Ziva." He looked up at her, hurt peeking through his attempt to hide it in his face and his voice. "It might be less... blatant than Tony, but I do."
"I am sorry McGee. I do not doubt that. I did not mean for it to come across that way." She shook her head. She reminded herself that not every dynamic on their team revolved around Tony. "He has just been particularly persistent in the past, and he just will not let the bruise on my face go since he was it this morning, even though I insist it is nothing."
"Oh. Yeah, well, no, he hasn't said much to me after I told him I didn't know anything about it." McGee unbuckled his own seatbelt.
"Oh." Ziva returned. They sat in the car for another ten seconds in silence. Ziva slid her eyes sideways to look at the young agent. As much as she wanted not to discuss it any further, because there was no truth about the mark she was willing to divulge to anyone on her team, her curiosity got the best of her. "You are not going to ask?"
McGee smiled. "I'll admit, it surprised me this morning. Ninjas usually escape without any marks." His hands drifted over his body- secured his gun, assured the presence of his badge on his hip, checked for the wallet in his pocket. "But Ziva, I know you well. The bruise could very well be nothing, or you could have actually gotten it from the gym, as weak of a story as that is. Another possibility is you're in some sort of abusive relationship..." Tim snorted at the idea. "Which everyone knows would end much, much worse for the guy who tried to put his hands on you." Ziva returned the snort. Right on target, McGee. He chuckled at the expression she made. "Like I said, it could very well be nothing. Or it could be something you're involved in. Big or small, I trust that you know what you're doing, you know how to handle yourself." He turned to face her now. "I trust that you know the whole team, and myself personally, are here if you need anything. Just like I've always been."
His care brought a grin to Ziva's face. She reached across the car to ruffle his hair. Despite the sinking feeling in her stomach, she really did believe him. It wasn't a lack of Tim or the rest of the team being there for her in her times of need that kept her from explanation, it was her need to protect them. She had gotten involved in her 'extracurricular activities' on her own, and they didn't need to be dragged down if her plans unraveled her true persona. "You are right. I know. Now, let us go do our jobs, yes?" She opened the car door and stepped out, slowing to let McGee catch up to her spot on the driveway.
The two had barely made it onto the front walkway when the front door of the house swung open to release two young kids, running past them in matching blue shirts and black athletic shorts, the hard plastic of their cleats knocking on the sidewalk as they made their way to the minivan parked on the driveway. A woman followed in jeans and a button-up blouse, holding a cooler and a forgotten pair of shin guards, strategically closing the door with her foot to prevent the escape of a dog barking from the inside. The woman, flustered and hurried, was not completely composed but definitely did not show any signs of recently becoming a widow. All that betrayed her was a residual red puffiness around her eyes. "Can I help you?"
Ziva and McGee exchanged a look, surprised by the woman's demeanor. Ziva stepped forward. "Yes, are you Elaine Destefani?"
The woman used her free hand to tuck some of her short blonde hair behind her headband and adjusted the cooler on her hip. "Yes, and you are?"
"NCIS. We uh.. Are you aware of the situation with your husband?" McGee said, holding out his credentials. Ziva shifted her weight from left to weight, uncomfortable. Surely they weren't the first ones to visit.
The woman blinked hard and swallowed audibly. She looked at her feet for a moment before returning to McGee's gaze, her brow knotted into a tight line. "Yes. I am aware of the situation. But my kids have a soccer game. It's my turn to bring snack.." Her voice faltered as she weakly gestured to the cooler.
"Have you informed your children?" Ziva remarked, taken aback by her own abruptness. Elaine opened her mouth in protest and narrowed her eyebrows further. "We just have a few questions you." Ziva muttered gently, embarrassed.
"When I inform my children of their.." Elaine inched closer to the two agents. ".. father's death, is my own business, and mine alone. Marshall lived for the Navy, and apparently died for it as well, but they will not tell me how to run my family. Now if you'll excuse me, my children have a soccer game." She was shaking now, moments away from losing her hold on the cooler. She straightened up and turned to look at her kids, now waiting in the backseat of the minivan, paying no attention to the group of adults. "I will be back in about two hours, you can ask me anything you want then."
Ziva was beginning to grow impatient. As admirable as this woman's commitment to her resolve was, they had a job to do, and she didn't quite agree with the blonde's strategy of delaying the inevitable truth to her children. "Mam, we must insist. Foul play is suspected and we are trying to put in every effort to bringing your husband justice."
Ziva thought Elaine's glare would burn holes into her forehead. Before Ziva could insist again, she was cut off. "I do not have the time. My brother in law is inside. He came over as soon as I delivered the news. Him and Marshall are... were very close. He can answer any questions you have." She set the cooler on the pavement before aligning herself with the front doorway. "Dave!"
Her yell sent shivers down Ziva's spine. David is a very popular name, she reminded herself. She rolled her shoulders in attempt to maintain her composure. "Dave!" The second yell coincided with the front door opening to reveal a well built man, grief much more apparent on him than his composed sister in law. Ziva took in his attire- he was dressed in old jeans, with a gray undershirt peeking out of the unbuttoned collar of a green flannel, appropriate for someone who had rushed over at bad limbs were sturdy, strong from years of service, and seemed to be disjointed from his torso, swinging at his joints as he made his way to Elaine. Ziva's eyes wandered to the top of him. His short military haircut revealed veins around his ears, the soft fuzz on his hairline doing nothing to hide new lines of age carved into his forehead. Her gaze made the length of his face. His furrowed brow and prominent nose matched his glinting green eyes, but contrasted against the lower half of his face. She recognized the look, she had met many men like him before. Men who always have a smile on their face, on their mouth, but it was never completely reflected in their eyes. Men like this had eyes who only pushed an edge of warning and unease upon anyone willing to look into them.
Ziva closed her eyes momentarily, afraid of what was to come, before she continued her downward pattern of scanning the man. When she opened them, her eyes locked at the base of his throat. The flaps of his flannel collar shifted with his forward movement to taunt her with an angry, red X, unforgiving. The skin around the mark revealed it to be no natural or normal scar. The once white flesh had bubbled around, small air pockets tracing the edges of the X. If the presence of the abnormal scar had not completely affirmed Ziva's fear, the unique overlapping chemical burn erased all doubt. As his strides brought him to the group of three, she remembered to breathe.
The man initially paid no attention to the two agents, but pulled the woman into a tight side-hug and kissed her temple, resting his nose in the place where her headband met her scalp. He looped his arm around Elaine's body to grip her elbow. Ziva watched the woman as her eyes shifted to the ground, no longer possessing the confidence and emotion she expressed two minutes ago. The man finally brought his eyes up to McGee. "NCIS? How can I be of assistance?" Ziva observed in what felt like slow motion as the man nodded at Tim, then freezing when his eyes landed on Ziva.
She wasn't quite sure of which reaction he was going to commit to. She watched as all of the possibilities danced across his face- anger, fear, embarrassment, shock. She heard McGee say something, but couldn't bring herself to break they eye contact. He instinctively reached to trace his fingers over the base of his throat.
"You..." He forcibly removed his other arm from Elaine's elbow to stick it towards Ziva, an accusatory finger pointed outwards. He tilted his head in her direction, taking a threatening step forward. She could barely hear McGee's words over her heartbeat that had crawled out of her chest, but understood their general meaning when he put a protective arm in front of her. She secured her footing as the man came towards her, but she couldn't figure out how to coordinate her body in defense. She could only watch as he reached his hand out towards her neck and-
An electrifying crack penetrated their ears from behind her, overwhelming the entire group. She heard the children and Elaine erupt in screams as she watched David buckled, his had still extended and inches from Ziva's chest, and twisted down to the concrete. She pivoted in the direction of the shot, and witnessed a black sedan at the end of the driveway. The windows were tinted, revealing nothing of the interior except for the driver with his window open. "Gun!" she yelled, tackling Elaine to the ground as McGee rushed to secure the kids. The tires squealed and she leapt off the woman, pinned to the ground in her own shock. She chased after the vehicle, making a few hundred feet of progress before it rounded a corner. She made her way back to the house to evaluate, her mind forcing her into her Mossad habit. She needed to take inventory. The yard gave an unobstructed path to where David was standing, the perfect opportunity for the shooter.
"McGee, I am calling an ambulance. Secure the kids and get Gibbs on the line." She removed her phone from her pocket, making the appropriate call. She hung up as the dispatchers had their location and she found Elaine, who was still lying on the pavement, all of two feet from the crumpled body. She pulled her up and away. "It's all right. It's all right." She stroked Elaine's hair. As the shock faded from her face, Elaine expressed a small smile. Ziva furrowed her brow, shocked at the unexpected reaction. "Your kids need you. Are you alright?"
Elaine's smile only grew as McGee let the children out of the minivan and then attached themselves at their mothers side, crying. "Sam, Josie, everything is going to be... fine." Ziva could not stand to watch this any more. She rushed the three into the house, confused and frustrated at the woman's display. McGee returned to his phone call with Gibbs, and she found herself alone on the driveway, accompanied only by the body. She crouched down to examine him. The anger from his face was now gone, leaving blank expression in his cheeks, mouth, and his brow. A pool of blood had formed behind his head and stained the light concrete. His eyes had not changed. She pushed the gray undershirt aside to expose the base of his throat. She looked over her shoulder to ensure McGee was still absorbed in his conversation, and when her privacy was confirmed, she ran her thumb over the familiar and furious red scar.