Chapter 14

It was nearly three months after the Atlantis memorial services and Ziva’s learning of John’s professional past. True to her word, she stuck by him and supported him throughout the ordeal and was incredibly pleased when he expressed his gratitude for the impromptu trip to Hawaii she paid for to get him away. She did not care when Tony questioned their return or Gibbs’ looks as they both were quite tanned when they were supposed to have been in chilly Colorado Springs.

As expected, Gibbs pulled Ziva into the elevator to talk about things and she made it clear to him that while they did indeed attend the services, she also took him away to a different climate mid-trip because of the circumstances of the events. She did not give him any other confirmation to what she knew he was really searching for and refused to give more than the absolute necessary of information. It pained her to keep secrets from the closest thing to a father she had, but there were things that even a father did not need to know.

In that time, she developed increased soreness but did not really think much of it. Sitting at her desk while working was uncomfortable and would begin to experience aching in her back. Whenever one of her team members would ask her about it, as she clearly appeared to be in pain at times, she always assumed it was a pulled muscle from dealing with aggressive suspects or training as she had been working with Teyla more. Having Gibbs interrogate her about her relationship was more than Ziva was willing to entertain with these frequent spasms.

John looked at Gibbs’ desk, where his phone was ringing. Tony, as always, was quick to his feet in the absence of Gibbs and picked up the phone. John didn’t like the eager smile that came across Tony’s face as he looked at McGee. “Call Ducky. When Gibbs and Ziva are done in the elevator we have to go to our crime scene.”

Sheppard sighed, as he grabbed his gun out of his drawer. The previous weeks had been hell, with dead naval officers popping up as if they were flowers in spring and they all barely got any sleep. Not to mention, ever since the memorial at the SGC, bad dreams had been frequently keeping him awake and he hadn’t told anyone about it, as he knew they were going to stop one day or another.

He picked up Ziva’s bag, gathered her gun and waited for her and Gibbs to exit the elevator so he could give them to her, or maybe even carry her bag for her. She had been complaining about muscle pain for a couple of weeks now causing him to worry. He tried to help her out with giving her a massage when they were alone but it didn’t help her all that much.

Ziva and Gibbs exchanged their words before they both agreed that it was going nowhere. He flipped the switch and the doors opened back to the bullpen to show the guys waiting there with their things.

“We got the bat signal Boss,” Tony said as he looked between both of his colleagues.

Gibbs nodded and walked out to go get his things before coming back to witness Sheppard passing Ziva her sidearm but continued holding onto her bag. His eyes narrowed for a brief moment before speaking. “What do we have?”

“Body found in Quantico. Apparently the victim is Air Force but was visiting a marine buddy at the time. The Air Force agreed to let us begin the investigation because of Sheppard here but said that they will take over if the need comes.”

~o.O.o~

When they arrived at the crime scene, John could already tell that this was going to be a hell to process. Whoever the body was, he wished that it wasn’t in a stinking alley with a lot of junk and garbage in it, because Tony, McGee and even Ziva would tell him to sift through those and he usually ended up getting covered in such a stench that he had to ride back to the navy yard in the back of the truck.

“Yeah, I’ll get the garbage,” John sighed as he got out of the truck. “I love me some stinky trash in the early morning.”

Taking her camera, Ziva smiled apologetically. “Sorry. We’ve all had to go through it ourselves,” she said before heading over to begin snapping scene photos.

“Oh I know… but I’ve been with you guys for nearly a year now, you’d think that we could like… draw straws for the dirty jobs.” John pulled on his gloves and grabbed the necessary garbage processing tools from his bag.

She chuckled and shook her head. “Well, if I were 100%, I’d certainly help you if I could that way we could stink together.”

John smirked at her. “How many times have I told you to go and see a doctor? Or at least Ducky?”

“What about me?” the man in question asked as he made his way over with his bag and looked down at the body. “My boy, they made you into a pretzel.”

“Yeah, that’s certainly a new way to dump a body.” Tony answered. “You have to admit, they can’t have done it here.”

Gibbs moved over to look on before pushing McGee forward. “I need an ID on the body. TOD Duck?”

The ME looked up at his friend. “How many times do we go through this? Let me at least meet our friend before I invade the body. Give me a moment.”

As Ducky stuck the liver probe into the body, McGee was attempting to get a fingerprint ID. His device sounded and looked up. “Major Sergeant Nathan Stackhouse. Assigned to McMurdo for the last six months,” he reported.

“Wait, what?” John responded as he accidentally dropped a bag of garbage. He made his way over to the body and felt the color drain from his face. “This…”

Ziva looked up from taking photos of the body’s face – or what was left of it. “John?” she asked concerned. “Do you know him?”

“You remember Stackhouse… he’s the guy who saved my life…” He felt as if he was going to throw up. “Excuse me…”

“Not on the crime scene!” Ducky yelled as John legged it out of the alley.

Stackhouse stepped up in front of the screen. “I’d just like to thank Colonel Sheppard for keeping us safe for all those years, I wouldn’t have been here if it wasn’t for you, Colonel.”

You saved my ass, Stacks.” John said, “I should be thanking you.”

The man nodded, “And you being here with us is all the thanks we need Sir.”

John felt his insides churn and emptied his stomach contents of breakfast and quite possibly some dinner too. Stackhouse looked worse than a pretzel, he looked like a crushed pretzel and it was wrong.

Gibbs watched as he rushed out of the immediate scene. Nodding to Ziva she passed her camera over to him to take over while she went to check on her partner. She soon found him on the other side of their truck, hunched over and dry heaving on the curb. Rubbing her hand over his back, she sat beside him quietly until he was ready to say something.

He found himself running through a smoke filled corridor, being fired at by fuzzy people with revolvers and real bullets, only to find himself tending to Carter’s wounds a second later while the ground shook as if something was exploding.

“I can’t do this…” John said softly. “I can’t…”

“But we must, you must,” she said. “Death will occur no matter where we are. What you can do for him and his family is bring his killer to justice.”

“I can’t…” He looked up to her, holding back his tears. “We’ve lost so much already, so many people died on Atlantis… and he’s not supposed to die, Ziva…”

Ziva took his face in her hands and looked him in the eye. “Yes you can. You are a strong person John Sheppard. I know you have been through a lot, and even more before that. You can do this. I am here. Teyla is here. We both will be here with you and find who did this. Now tell me that you can do this. Tell me John.”

He took a deep breath. “I need to call Landry.”

“Later. Tell me first. I need to hear you say it.”

“I can do this, don’t worry…” he nodded. “I need to stop running.” He grabbed a bottle of water from the truck and rinsed his mouth. “Thanks Ziva.”

“Do not thank me,” she said. “Let’s go back and figure out how your friend died. Give him the solace that he will need to rest.” Together they walked back to the alley where everyone looked up quickly before returning back to their tasks. Well, all but one.

“Great! You’ve pinked up, Probie,” Tony grinned as they walked back onto the crime scene.

John rolled his eyes at him and put another set of gloves on to sift through the garbage again, making sure he didn’t see Stackhouse’s body again.

DiNozzo looked back at Ziva with a confused expression. “What I say?”

“Can you please cut back your jokes on this case?” she asked him quietly as she pulled him out of earshot of her partner. “This is the same man that managed to bring him back alive from his post. Give a little respect.”

Tony sobered up quickly and nodded. “Sorry. Um, should I say something to him?” he asked, feeling truly like an ass now.

Ziva looked back at John for a moment then shook her head. “No. Just let him be for now. I will handle him.”

“Jethro, I’m afraid that this isn’t the place where this poor man died.” Ducky said. “I can’t say for sure, but I think he got hit by a big vehicle, and he was placed here.”

“We can’t say that for sure until we finish processing the crime scene, Duck.”

“Shall Mr. Palmer and I bring him home? I would be able to have a more definitive answer once we open him up.”

“Yeah.”

John watched as Ducky and Jimmy carried the body bag with his old friend’s body in it onto the trolly and into the ME truck, and couldn’t help but feeling angry with the world. It was obvious that the trash wouldn’t tell them anything, but it was protocol to do so. Turning back to his job, he lifted another trash bag and found part of a license plate.

He snapped some pictures of it and bagged and tagged it before looking for anything else out of the ordinary, glad that at Tony stopped with his wisecracks. “What do you think Gibbs?” he asked as he looked at the older man, hoping for some kind of good news and expecting the worst.

“Keep digging,” Gibbs said and turned to McGee and Tony. “You two, canvas the neighborhood, see if anyone has seen something.”

“On it boss,” Tony replied.

John stood there staring at where the body had been in the meanwhile. Ziva was unsure of what else she could say or do there and looked at Gibbs helplessly before she began to pack up their own equipment.

“Sheppard, you think you can keep your head on this case?”

“Yes sir,” Sheppard replied.

“Good. Call your General when Ducky knows more. If you need to talk…”

“Guy saved my life, served with him for years, there’s nothing much to talk about,” John said as collected as he could. Ziva had been right, the best thing John could do now for Stackhouse was to find the bastard who killed him.

Gibbs looked back at him before giving a single nod. “Open invitation,” was all he said before he turned to head back to his car.

Ziva came up beside John. “That means that his door is open to you if you need a place to hide from everything. He keeps bourbon in his basement for the record,” she smiled. “I’m done here. Ready to go?”

“Yeah.” John sighed and lifted up the few evidence bags he had collected. “I doubt these will help though,” he said, nodding to the bags.

“Abby will tell us if they are helpful or not. Let’s go get some coffee on the way back to the office.” She pulled on his arm to get him moving with her towards the team truck and leaving their car for Tony and McGee to take back with them.

~o.O.o~

He was glad that it had been the end of the day so that he could go home. He had dinner with Teyla, not telling her about Stackhouse, and went to bed early after taking a shower. He couldn’t get to sleep easily, replaying all the memories he had of the man while they were on Atlantis. He was always so full of life and a joker. It was weird that he wasn’t around anymore even if they hadn’t spoken much over the last year and more.

When John did manage to fall asleep, he woke up nearly every other hour from nightmares. One was particularly bad enough for him to wake up Teyla with his screams. He then decided to stay awake until it was time to go back to work.

She prepared breakfast for him as she failed to be able to return to sleep, her thoughts filled with worry. Setting the eggs and bacon in front of John, Teyla looked at him. “Please tell me what is wrong that has brought you with so much unrest,” she pleaded.

“It’s the case…” John sighed. “Stackhouse.”

“Nathan?” she asked, sitting next to him. “He is involved?”

John nodded. “He was visiting a Navy buddy of his.” He poked his bacon with his fork. “They found Stackhouse yesterday morning in an alley.”

Teyla was speechless as she stared back at him. She settled a hand on his arm. “I have faith that you and your team will find who is responsible. If Agent Gibbs requires assistance, please inform him that I am willing to assist in any way that I can. He was my friend too.”

“Thanks Teyla. Yesterday was really hard, but I’m sure today will be a lot easier now that I won’t have to see how he ended up.” He winced and decided to leave the bacon for now.

“Okay,” she said and took the plate that he pushed away. She was happy to see at least he ate the eggs and set aside the strips of bacon. “If you wish to leave early, I will add some hot coffee to your carafe. I am sure you will want it at some point through the morning.”

He only nodded as he got up to get himself together. “Yeah. Um, if I don’t come home tonight don’t worry about me. I’m thinking about seeing if Ziva would be up for some company.”

Teyla didn’t say anything but understood. “Just let me know if I should make enough for supper in time.”

“Will do,” John replied on his way out the door.

John started to check his email as soon as he arrived at work; he was the first one to arrive and he wanted to see if Abby or Ducky had found something on Stacks’ body or with the evidence they had collected and just kept refreshing when there wasn’t anything in his inbox. He knew full well that they probably weren’t at work yet but he couldn’t help himself. Maybe, just maybe he could ask General Landry if the Hammond had picked up on something.

Gibbs stepped off the rear elevator behind the bullpen sipping his coffee. He came to a stop as he noticed Sheppard at his desk before everyone else. Glancing at his watch he frowned slightly as he studied the man. For a military man without formal police training, he did find that this guy seemed to fit well with his people, despite DiNozzo’s unhappiness at losing his partner to him. Swallowing another gulp of coffee, he slowly stepped up to the barrier of the desk area.

Looking, John sighed. “Dr. Mallard didn’t finish the autopsy yet?” he asked quietly as he couldn’t find any notes in the case file.

“He did,” Gibbs answered and continued to look at him.

Raising an eyebrow, he looked up at the older man. “And…?” he prompted, wanting the information on his friend so desperately.

“What is going on between you and Ziva?” Gibbs asked simply.

“Ziva and I are partners,” John answered, looking back suspiciously. He didn’t flinch under the man’s stare – going up against Wraith Queens were much worse than this guy. Eventually Gibbs conceded.

“Ducky sent some trace to Abby. So far it looks as it your friend was hit by a bulldozer or some large truck. She’s still running comparative tests on the paint flecks that were embedded in his clothes.”

The sigh that he let out was one of frustration and relief. Frustration that they still didn’t know who killed Stacks, and relief that it didn’t appear to be some alien bad guy – so far. “I have to call General Landry,” he said with some distraction.

“Do that,” Gibbs commented as he slapped the wall before walking off. John watched him disappear around the steps before going up them to likely talk to Vance. Picking up the phone to start dialing, he couldn’t help but glance at the time and notice that Ziva hadn’t gotten in yet. Pressing the button to clear the numbers he started to dial, he pushed the ones for her number.

He was never more relieved when she answered the phone. Once he was sure she was alright, having only overslept because she forgot to set her alarm clock, she was on her way in. After not so subtly asking to bring some decent coffee, she laughed and shared that she already had with her which ended up being a great relief.

John then dialed Landry, and it wasn’t a phone call he liked to make at all. “Walter? Why are you picking up the direct line to the General?” John asked puzzled as the gate tech or actually the General’s left hand answered the phone.

“Even the General has to take a leak, Colonel,” Walter replied dryly. “Are you alright?”

“I am fine… listen, tell the General to call me back as soon as he can, okay?”

“Does it involve aliens, sir?”

“No.”

“Alright, I will tell the General to call you once he returns.”

“Thank you Walter.” John rubbed his eyes as he put the phone back on the receiver. The lack of sleep was already catching up with him. He was out of shape. He needed Ziva’s coffee soon.

McGee and DiNozzo came in, both appearing to be in somewhat down moods. He wasn’t really interested in dealing with anyone’s attitude today and prayed that Gibbs would keep him around the office as he would go after the first throat he believed was responsible considering how crappy he felt.

The ding of the elevator sounded, making John look up and smile. “Salvation!” he grinned as Ziva walked in with a large tray in her hands. She got coffees for everyone it appeared and he didn’t care. He wanted his. She brought his over where he quickly popped the lid and took a long sip before nearly choking.

“What the hell is that?”

“You said you needed fuel – I got you fuel,” Ziva replied.

He stared at her as she went back to her desk. “Did you take it from your car or something?” he asked, trying to get the taste out of his mouth from it. It was like super coffee, it was so strong – and it put Teyla’s old tava bean imitation to shame, if that was even possible.

“It’s high octane,” she answered narrowing her eyes. “If you don’t want it, you can have Gibbs’…”

“No fine… I’ll just get some more sugar and milk from the kitchen.” John made a face. “Thanks Ziva.” As he was getting up, his cell phone rang, it was the General. “Hey General.” John said as he continued his way to the kitchen with his coffee.

Tony looked at Ziva. “Did you just pull a fast one on him?”

She looked up at him and shrugged. “After yesterday, I doubt he would have gotten any sleep, so I picked up the coffee on the way in when he called me. I merely told the guy at the counter, the strongest stuff he had. How was I to know that they had coffee stronger than what even Gibbs gets?”

“Is that even possible?” Tony chuckled as he started to check his email. “Sad though, our victim is basically a hero and he gets run over by a mac truck.”

Ziva didn’t say anything as she looked at him before starting on her messages and sighed. If he only knew how much of one. John too, for that matter. “We will find whoever did this,” she said with a certain determination in her voice.

“Why do I get the feeling that before we do I have to clear you of all deadly weapons and put you in a straight jacket in case you might kill him?”

“It would not be me who will do the killing,” she said smoothly. “Even in his condition after all he went through on his assignment with the Air Force, Colonel Sheppard is more than capable of inflicting severe damage. You should know.”

Tony winced. “I forgot about that. Maybe we should lock the both of you up when we bring the guy in.”

She smiled but said nothing. All she could do was look over at his desk and hope that the conversation he was having with the General wasn’t going to drain him any more than he was already.

John had put a lot of sugar and milk in his coffee and walked back to the bullpen while the General was still chatting away in his ear, something about John wanting to let the General tell Stackhouse’s parents that their son had been killed and how it wasn’t appropriate as it was an NCIS case and not related to the Stargate program and how John had to man up and do it himself. “Yes General… What? Sure, just give Teyla a heads up when you arrive this weekend so she won’t bite my head off for not telling her… Well in case I forget… Yes Sir, writing it down,” John sighed.

Ziva looked at John and narrowed her eyes questioningly at him. Tony watched between them, curious, maybe suspicious even. Once he caught the look on Gibbs’ face who had been back at his desk for a couple minutes, he was sure now that he wasn’t the only one wondering.

John finally hung up and looked at Gibbs. “The General is giving you full jurisdiction, obviously, as this isn’t an Air Force case. Which means, you’ll have to fill in his next of kin.” Before Gibbs could say anything, John continued, “He also told me to go home and let you handle this on your own but I said he could respectfully go to hell. I’m not going unless you tell me to. I am perfectly capable to do my job.”

Gibbs nodded for an answer. “You call your man’s next of kin.”

“Thought you might say that.” John sighed and took a sip of his coffee, which was tasting a lot better now that he had added milk and sugar, despite hating milk in his coffee.

“Does he have family in DC?” Tony asked.

“No, Kansas, it will probably take them a while to get here.” John took another sip, making a face, and looked at the number of Stacks’ parents. “So much for avoiding this kind of stuff…” he muttered to himself.

“Want me to do it?” McGee offered.

“No,” Gibbs said simply as he took a sip of his coffee.

John looked at the man and winced. “Is that the coffee Ziva got? How can you drink that?”

“You take a sip and swallow.”

“Ugh,” John shuddered and dialed the number of Stackhouse’s parents.

Ziva looked over at Gibbs and frowned before returning to her work. She continued to read the updated reports as she reached into her drawer for some Tylenol. “McGee? Did you see if there were any security cameras in the area of the scene?” she asked as she looked over an aerial map view of the area on her computer.

“No, but Abby’s processing some of the security footage we received from the shops, although she doubts there’s anything on them. Bad quality camera’s and the darkness…”

“No traffic cameras?” she asked eying a main intersection not far from the scene. “What about the light over at Madison and Spencer? There is an entrance that leads to the freeway that would be reasonable way of escape from the area quickly,” she pointed out.

“Ziva, there are traffic cams on the road.” McGee sighed. “Fortunately for whoever drove over our victim, they weren’t working. In fact, every camera in a 5 block radius didn’t work for a couple of hours that night… except for the few security camera’s from shops. Which are now being reconstructed by Abby.”

She looked at him dubiously. “Every camera?” she repeated. “That sounds a bit unusual, doesn’t it?”

“I was planning on going to visit the central thingy where they keep tabs on the camera’s,” Tim replied. “As it’s unusual but I wasn’t done here yet.”

“Thingy?” Gibbs asked looking at the young agent.

“Yeah Boss, you know the thingy that records people driving their thingies store their information in a larger, separate thingy somewhere else,” Tony answered as he balled up a paper to hit McGee with. “Traffic Control Office McIdiot. I have a friend in that department Boss. I’ll see what she can dig up for us.”

Ziva chuckled as she looked at him. “She?”

“Yes, she…” he grinned as he held the phone to his ear and waited for someone to answer.

“Just take McGee and go,” Gibbs said and then looked at John. “Sheppard, you done yet?”

John had just hung up on Stackhouse’s parents, and he felt as if he could vomit again. He had made similar calls before, hell, even went to Ford’s cousin to talk to her, but for some reason this was harder. Even harder than recording that message for Colonel Sumner’s family many years ago. “Yeah. They’ll be on the next flight to DC so that when Ducky releases him they can take their son home.”

John hated that investigations took time, especially digging through video footage and cleaning them up. Apart from DiNozzo and McGee being sent off to investigate Traffic Control, there wasn’t a lot for them to do than wait.

At the end of the day, he was tired and felt drained but really didn’t want to go home to Teyla and Torren. Ziva looked like crap as well, he noticed that as he walked her to her car. Maybe a night of relaxation would do the both of them good; he loved giving her a massage and it eased his mind as well. “Is it okay if I come home with you tonight? I’ll stop by a supermarket and buy groceries and make you a nice meal.”

Ziva smiled as she closed her eyes as she let her feet step one foot in front of the other as if they knew where to go on their own. “I was actually thinking of ordering Chinese if you’re up for that instead. I don’t think you are really up to cooking after today – are you?” she asked as she stopped at her car and looked up at him.

“Probably not, I don’t want to set your house on fire,” John sighed. “Chinese sounds like a better plan.”

Looking around, she sighed as she stretched out her back again. “I’ll ride with you. I just don’t feel up to driving either.”

“That’s fine,” John replied. “Want me to massage your back later?” He asked as they walked towards his car.

“Please,” she replied following him. “I think a nice hot bath for two may also be in the cards.”

“You really should see a doctor, Ziva,” John said, fumbling his keys out of his pocket. “And I know you’re fine, but you’re in pain, and I don’t like to see you in pain…”

“It’s just sore muscles that haven’t had time to rest and heal with all the work and beating on bad guys we had been doing the last month. When things slow down again, I’ll look into taking some personal time. Would that make you feel better?”

“A little.” He unlocked his car and opened the door on the passenger side. “Milady, your chariot awaits.”

“Why thank you,” she grinned as she settled into the car seat. She waited for him to get in and turn the car on before immediately reaching over to turn on the heated seats to try to substitute for a heating pad of sorts for her back and let out a low moan as she felt it warming up.

“Ah, that’s why you wanted me to drive.” John drove off the Navy Yard and then turned on the radio to keep him awake, in case Ziva would fall asleep herself. “We could swap cars if you like,” he chuckled as he glanced over to his lover. Had it been possible, she would have been sprawled out over the chair while hugging it, she looked as if she was in heaven. “Although maybe you would still need someone to drive you as you’d be madly in love with a chair.”

“I finally understand Tony’s obsession with his massaging chair. Never before did I before this last month. I am tempted to invest in one myself now but I have something much better that he does not,” she smiled dreamily.

“Oh yeah? What’s that?”

Ziva looked at him with a warm smile, “You.”

“Me and my hands and the rest of my body, belongs to you Ziva.” John chuckled. “I’m glad Tony doesn’t have me… ew.”

She chuckled as she reached over to rest her hand on his thigh before letting her head fall back to the chair head. “If you go ahead two blocks past my street and turn left, the Chinese restaurant I usually order from is on the corner about a quarter mile up.”

“Yes, milady,” John grinned and fumbled his phone out of his pocket before handing it to Ziva. “Could you call Teyla for me? That she doesn’t have to expect me home tonight?”

“Sure,” she laughed as she took the phone and flipped down the phone book to his house number. Dialing, she spoke with Teyla for a few moments, they were outside the restaurant. Covering the mouthpiece, she looked back at John. “I’ll pay you back later but could you get me some beef lo mein and egg drop soup?”

“Don’t worry, it’s on me.” John turned off the engine and got rid of his seat-belt before kissing Ziva. “I’ll be right back.” He got out and quickly jogged inside the restaurant, leaving her behind on the phone.

She watched him as he went in before going back to talking with Teyla.

John was glad when they finally reached Ziva’s home. He had kicked off his shoes at the front door and had gone to the kitchen to get them something to drink before joining Ziva in the living room to eat their dinner. He smiled at her as he sat down on the floor as Ziva had laid down on the couch on her side and was eating her food. He placed the remote control in front of her and started to eat his own food. “Don’t fall asleep on me… I want that hot bath.”

Ziva smiled wickedly. “And I want your hands on me,” she purred as she took another bite of her food. When John turned around to kiss her, she hit him on the head with her chopsticks. “Eat your food.”

~o.O.o~

The next morning, after dropping Ziva off at work, he went to visit that marine buddy of Stackhouse, just to have a chat and to keep himself busy. He knew that nobody had talked to him yet, apart from maybe Metro PD, and maybe, just maybe, this guy could tell him what happened that night.

John was still tired and had resorted to red bull to keep him awake. He just didn’t want to wake up in cold sweat when he was at Ziva’s as she needed the rest herself. He had slept for an hour, maybe two, before he took a shower and spent the rest of the night watching TV, doing push ups and quietly managed to clean a little around the apartment without disturbing most of Ziva’s belongings, knowing how she wanted to have everything in its own spot.

He had looked up Nathan’s buddy, Lt. Jonas Cobb. He knew that Cobb was a special forces kind of guy, so when he had asked for his file, a lot of things were redacted from it. It was slightly frustrating because even though John had the clearance for everything Air Force and Stargate related issues, he didn’t have it for the other top secret projects the government were conducting.

John parked his car in front of Cobb’s house and looked at it for a while. It was small, but well taken care of and it looked like Cobb was mowing his lawn. Sighing, John got out of his car and approached the house. “Lt. Cobb?”

“Yes sir, can I help you?” the man answered. He looked like a kid, John hadn’t expected that. Usually special forces men were big and had more muscles.

“My name is Colonel John Sheppard, US Air Force,” John replied. “Nathan Stackhouse was my friend.”

“I’m sorry for your loss, Sir,” Cobb replied and shut off the mower. “He was a great friend.”

“I’m sorry for your loss too, Lieutenant,” John nodded. “I know Stackhouse was visiting you and I was wondering what happened the night he died, I’m trying to retrace his steps but I can’t find anything.”

Cobb sighed and ran a hand through his hair – too long compared to Navy standards, leaving John to wonder if he really was – as he walked to his porch and sat down on the steps. “I wouldn’t know, Sir.” Cobb then answered. “All I know is that he had borrowed my car to drive down to Kansas and visit his family. Did you find my car?”

“He was found downtown in an alley, no car.”

“That doesn’t sound right, sir.”

“No, it doesn’t.”

“If there’s anything else, Sir, please call me,” Cobb said as he got up and headed inside his house. “I am really sorry for what happened to Nathan, please send my condolences to his parents.”

“I will, thank you.” John walked back to his car and looked at the house for a while after he had gotten in. Something wasn’t right about this Cobb guy, and he wondered if he really had been a friend of Stackhouse.

On his way back to the Navy Yard, he bought coffee for everyone and as soon as he walked in the bullpen he filled Gibbs in on what he learned.

“Great,” Gibbs said wryly. “Next time, don’t go by yourself, you have a partner for a reason.”

Ziva eyed John from her desk where she was on the phone trying to track down each vehicle from the little footage they were able to obtain. The look she gave was not one reminiscent of their night together. “No ma’am, we’re just conducting an investigation – no you are not a suspect. We just need to verify – no, there is no need for a lawyer…Ma’am the make of your car does not match what our forensics shows…I am just trying to verify that your location at the time…”

“Gibbs, Gibbs! Gibbs!” Abby ran into the bullpen and switched on the TV while she pushed McGee away from his desk to access her own computer. “Look!” There was a picture of Stackhouse’s shirt on the screen with what it looked like sand on it and then the results. “I found sand!”

“And?” Gibbs looked at Abby, sand wasn’t unusual to find.

“It doesn’t match the kind of sand we have in the streets!” she said excitedly.

Finally hanging up with the irritating woman, Ziva looked up. “So? We’re not far from the beaches and there is too much of the shore to search,” she pointed out.

“It’s not the beach either.” Abby beamed. “Oh come on, take another guess.”

“Abby,” she said simply, tired and in no mood to play games.

“There was fertilizer in the sand, and airplane fuel.” Abby sighed. “And not just any fuel, some special kind of fuel they use at the airport in Orange County, Virginia.”

“Virginia is a big place,” John pointed out.

“Grab a shovel and start looking.” Abby shrugged.

Ziva looked over at Gibbs. “What do you want us to do?”

“McGee, what car does Lt. Jonas Cobb drive?” Gibbs asked.

“Uhm… a 1975 Ford Mustang, boss…”

“Try finding it on traffic cams.” He then looked at Ziva and John. “You two, go check it out, when we know more, we will call.”

She nodded as she stood to get the address from McGee before collecting her things and her sidearm from her desk. Following John to the elevator she was quiet, breathing tensely through her nose. “I hope this won’t be a fools errand,” she sighed as the doors closed on them.

“I hope not,” John replied. “Besides, fertilizer? Stackhouse would stick to the main roads while driving to Kansas.”

“Virginia,” she corrected as she looked at the paper in her hand. “In the heart of…somewhere…McGee’s handwriting is nearly as bad as Tony’s.”

“He was on his way to Kansas, Ziva.” He took the paper from Ziva’s hand and squinted at it. “Up to 25 miles north of the Orange County airport, Culpeper, maybe?” He shook his head. “Does he have any idea how many farms are in 25 miles? And how wide we need to look?”

Ziva snatched the paper back and glared at him. “McGee will pay dearly for this,” she promised. “I am in no mood to be mucking through horse crap today.”

“Then I will.” John exited the elevator and headed to the parking lot. “You need to poke me occasionally so I won’t fall asleep while driving.”

“No you aren’t. Not alone at least. Like Gibbs said, it’s what partners are for,” she said and sighed. “Give me the keys. I can get us there quicker without the risk of you sleeping at the wheel.”

“Nope, you’re still not feeling well.”

“I am also not at risk of narcolepsy,” she added. “You close your eyes for awhile. I’ll drive.”

“I don’t want to sleep, Ziva.” John said as he unlocked the car. “Get in.”

“Not until you give me the keys,” Ziva insisted. “Last thing we need is an accident on the way to there. Gibbs will bring us back from the dead just to kill us over again.”

“I shouldn’t have said anything,” John muttered and handed Ziva the keys before walking around his car and got into the passenger side.

“Thank you,” she cheered, snatching the keys from his hand and made her way around the car. Settling into the driver’s seat and making the necessary adjustments, she looked over at him and frowned. “Hey, look at me.”

He looked at her as he pulled the lever to push the chair back so he could stretch his legs. “It’s fine, just drive.”

Ziva reached over and rested her hand on his face before smiling. “We take care of each other. Got that?”

“I know… and I’m sorry.” John sighed. “It’s just that whenever I fall asleep these days, I get nightmares and they’re not even that, it’s as if I’m watching ‘it’ with guns, and my whole life is blown to smithereens again.”

“Your whole life is not there anymore. Stackhouse was a part of an old life. You need to realize that you have built up a new one from the pieces of the old. New pieces, people, holding the old together,” she sighed, unsure how she was feeling from his comment. Somewhat hurt was a certainty.

“No, not that life,” John smiled, somewhat. “Instead of seeing the faces of my old friends on Atlantis, I see you, Gibbs… Ducky… and everyone else. You’re my life now, Ziva. Not them, but you, and I… I don’t understand why everything is melting together in my sleep but I need to get this over with. Sleep or no sleep.”

She smiled warmly, feeling relieved at his words. “Ducky says that the dreams you experience is your mind trying to process information that you are unable to when awake. Perhaps a part of you is having a hard time separating the life you live now to the one you had there.”

“Maybe,” John shrugged. “I’ll sleep once we catch whoever ran over Stackhouse with a truck.”

“Maybe,” Ziva responded with a smile and drove off the Navy Yard. Before they left Washington, John was asleep and for that she was relieved.

It was almost two hours later that she was driving along the dirt roads of the ass end of Virginia before he woke again. She had begun to follow the directions from the GPS coordinates that McGee recommended to start with. “Morning sleepygoose,” she smiled.

“Morning… I was dreaming I was sitting on a horse that had a rotten way of moving… but I see that was just the road.” He groaned as he tried to stretch out his legs.

“We should be in the general area that McGee estimated shortly,” Ziva replied as they bumped along on the road with the speed she was going.

“Ziva, my car is not a company car,” John warned, rubbing his head as he looked outside the window. “Stop, I think that’s Cobb’s car.” He braced himself when she stopped the car and drove towards the old Mustang to park behind it. The sun was being a particular ass at the moment so he had to find his cap in the glove compartment before leaving the car for extra shade.

Ziva was shaking her phone as they got out of the car. “You know, it’s odd. We’re not exactly in the middle of nowhere but I don’t have cell reception.”

“Shaking it won’t help,” he chuckled as he took his own phone out of his pocket and squinted to see if he had bars on his phone. “Ah, I don’t have reception either.”

Ziva immediately drew her gun. “Go check out the car, I’ll keep an eye out,” she said as she looked around, eying the shamble of a house.

John popped the trunk and saw that it was filled with a bag, a tire iron and a spare tire. He opened the bag and sighed, “Men’s clothes.” He then opened the driver’s side door and looked for anything out of the ordinary. “What do you think? Should I dust for prints? I’m not sure if it’ll help us much.”

She was busy staring off towards the side of the house that led up into the wooded area behind the stables. Making sure her gun was loaded, she pulled back on the device and started to walk off quietly towards a shadow her eyes had been tracking. It was an unusual one, the way it moved and was certainly not a wild animal, that she was certain of.

As she moved around the far side of the house in her ninja like way, her ears picked up, although a fraction too late, the sound of a small twig snapping right behind her. From there – she remembered nothing but blackness as a gloved hand with a clothe covered her nose and mouth.

“Ziva?” John crawled out of the car and looked around. Where the hell was she? He looked into the direction of the buildings and sighed. Of course she walked off on her own. He got rid of the gloves and drew his gun, although he didn’t know if he could properly shoot with this kind of light. He removed the safety of his gun and started to walk towards the house, following Ziva’s foot prints.

When her foot prints turned into drag marks with another set big enough to be the foot prints of a man or a tall woman, alarm bells went off in his head. The compound was huge, and he knew he could follow the drag marks and foot prints but what could he expect? You’ve turned into a wuss, Sheppard, he told himself as he continued to follow the tracks, while trying to keep an eye on his surroundings but even his shades and cap couldn’t stop his eyes from seeing blurry when looking at the buildings.

He did not see his attacker coming, and when he felt a heavy object connect with his head he knew it was too late.

~o.O.o~

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