DISCLAIMER: 1: NCIS and its characters belong to DPB, CBS, Paramount, et al. The Kingdom and its characters belong to Relativity Media and Universal Pictures. Medal of Honor 2010 (video game) and its characters belong to Electronic Arts and Danger Close. 2: The actual headquarters of NCIS has moved to a shiny new home. In the interests of maintaining a boundary between fact and fiction (and in employing the dramatic license that goes with the divide), in my stories those headquarters are still located aboard the Washington Navy Yard. 3: While Edgevale Rd, Roland Park actually exists, No.35 is fictional (there are only 4 homes on Edgevale Rd). 4: Barring mention of Meir Dagan, Pierre Laval, Binyamin (Bibi) Netanyahu, Philippe Pétain, and Vladimir Putin all characters and incidents portrayed in this story are fictitious. Any further resemblance to real events and actual individuals, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Names, events, and opinions expressed are either property of Belisarius Productions, CBS-Paramount Television, Universal Pictures, Electronic Arts, and Danger Close, or are products of the writer's imagination; neither is to be construed as real. The views and actions contained herein should not be interpreted as representative of the policies (official or otherwise), activities (official or otherwise), or personnel of any department or agency of any governmental body based in Israel, the US, UK, Bulgaria, France, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, or any other country.
MANY THANKS to: 'Old Soldier' MGySgt LR for conversations that have helped me to portray Gibbs as a "90s vintage" Scout Sniper (and also a real grunt)– Suffer Patiently and Patiently Suffer. The Frogman, who won't be named. The Crazy-ass Doorkicker, who should be both named and blamed, but managed to earn a pass. Patel, Devin, Mahendra, and Gary for sharing their Kyrgyzstan vacation pics and stories. TK for range time with an FN PS90. SPECIAL THANKS to mayIreadtoday, aka the Bestest and Busiest Proofreader in the World. You're awesome, my friend. Last, but never least, DEEPEST THANKS go to my superb Editor La law_nerd, whom I managed to surprise mightily *grin*. My A is the reason this piece reads as well as it does.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: 1. This story will make more sense if you read the preceding Kidon Universe stories first. 2. MoH 2010 fans should note: a) I play fast-and-loose with canon timelines; b) this story completely disregards the Warfighter storyline. Per usual... Con-crit is welcome, and thanks in advance.
DEDICATION: This story is for Hagar: "...I don't have to pretend / She doesn't expect it from me..." —Sarah McLachlan.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
FEEDBACK: To needledinkrsa[at]gmail.com

Yad Rochetzet Yad
By needled_ink1975


No. 35 Edgevale Rd, Roland Park, Baltimore MD, Monday 08:54 EDT

Roddy McMahon lifted his hand and grimaced at the blood on it. He couldn't feel his legs, and the wound just above and to the right of his navel was also somewhat numb. The bullet had hit him at an angle, had probably perforated his liver, and had definitely hit his spine. He knew that he'd never walk again, but that had little to do with his current state and had everything to do with what was bound to come next.

There were three men. One of them was speaking angrily now. His French grammar was good but his accent was terrible: British, possibly Cockney. He was saying something about a house, that he knew exactly where someone lived, but that they couldn't even attempt to go near the place. McMahon hadn't heard that voice before, hadn't seen the face attached to it. The other two faces... As the pain started to increase, his thinking became a little fuzzy.

He worried about his wife, and how his death was going to affect her. At least she was close to her sisters; one of them lived right next door. She'll be okay, McMahon thought, and clung to that certainty. If he didn't, he knew that he'd break and start to cry. That was the last thing he wanted to do.

McMahon couldn't see him but he could feel that man's eyes, the man who'd shot him. He was watching his victim, closely, and McMahon was not going to give the bastard the pleasure of seeing him weep. McMahon had the feeling that the man who was watching him was not the man-in-charge. That was the other Frenchman, the one whose hair was greying at the temples. McMahon tried but couldn't remember his name.

"If you two wanna ask him anything, better make it snappy-like," said the British guy. "He's going, bleeding out."

"Patric, se dépêcher." —hurry up.

McMahon tensed when someone stepped closer. A face appeared eventually. McMahon blinked and focused as much as he could without his glasses. They'd fallen off when he'd hit the floor. He flinched away from a hand near his face, but the hand held his chin, and another put his glasses back on.

"There. Now you can see me, mon ami."

"I'm not your friend," McMahon said through gritted teeth.

"But I will be yours, soon, when the pain is so great that you'll curse even your mother. Then I'll be your friend, and fix it... Where is she?"


"You know who, the one who didn't come today."

McMahon frowned. All he'd been able to think about, when the two FBI agents had been shot, when this bastard—Patric?—had held a gun on him, was the project he'd been working on. Over the last fifteen weeks, the Company had made him sign so many Non-disclosure Agreements attached to that project, that McMahon had lost count. He'd thought that these men had somehow found out about the project, and had just used that old NCIS-FBI joint investigation as a cover to get him here.

But this man had asked about something—no, someone else: Where is she?

McMahon blinked again, and then his lips twitched into a smile.

"You mean Ziva David?"

"Yes, yes," Patric said, smiling.

It was like he was talking to an old friend. Patric's tone made McMahon want to reach up and rip out his windpipe. He wouldn't have to, though. McMahon's smile broadened.

"She had to attend a meeting at the Pentagon."

"I see," Patric said.

"No, I really don't think you do, pal," McMahon muttered. "She's an analyst advisor to the Joint Chiefs. She's also an FBI agent. She's also an Israeli. Not just any Israeli, although any of them... Not smart to go after any Israeli, because their government will take it real personal. But Ziva? Lean close, pal."

Patric didn't move, and his friendly expression had frozen.

"She was meant to be here," McMahon said through a grin that was half-grimace, half-triumph. "You three tried to kill a Mossad officer, and guess what? God can't help you, cos He ain't got a chance against the Mossad."

"Harry, you didn't tell me about this," Patric snarled.

"Jean didn't either," Harry said. "And you didn't ask. You never ask, right, Patric?"

McMahon expected Patric to lose it, and yell. Instead his expression changed and he blinked a couple of times.

"Exactement," he said and shrugged. Quite.

"Just like that?" McMahon said, and he had tunnel-vision now.

"Yes. I didn't ask, because I don't ask. And now, mon ami, I'll fix it, ouis?"

McMahon's last instinct was not to say anything. He sure as hell was not going to beg. He lay still and didn't object when Patric took off his glasses, and rather gently rolled him onto his side, then onto his front.

The pistol muzzle was cold against his ear. McMahon shut his eyes, and was grateful that he'd told his wife that he loved her, just that morning.

No. 35 Edgevale Rd, Roland Park, Baltimore MD, Monday 11:10 EDT

Ziva was stopped at the crime scene tape by a Baltimore PD officer. She showed him her badge and he lifted the tape. She jogged up to the large house and slowed to a walk at the front door. An FBI agent stood there wiping tears off his face. Ziva immediately felt in a pocket and produced a pack of tissues. She tore the plastic and gave him a couple.

"Rick Gunderson, right?" Ziva said.

"Yeah. Sure am glad to see you alive," he said and blew his nose loudly. "If you'd been here... Mills and Greg... Greg Weller. They're dead, and the CIA guy, too– McMahon. Schneider thinks that that's who they were after. Mister McMahon was working on something important."

Ziva nodded, but didn't comment. She walked past Gunderson and found SAC Dennis Schneider in the sun room. Through a door was the kitchen. Ziva could see a table, and the leg and foot of one victim; next to the table a broken coffee cup was lying in large-volume blood spatter; the backdoor was standing wide open.

"Officer David?" Schneider said.

Ziva looked away from the doorway and gave him a nod.

"You're not on any investigative team, and certainly not on this one," Schneider said, but his tone was kind. "You're not authorized to be here."

"I am," Ziva said.

She took a note from her pocket, signed by Director Grace. Schneider read it and nodded.

"That's fine, then. I just like to keep the lists straight. At trial the defense sharks love finding out that we left a name off our Agents Present lists."

"But you should not add my name to any list," Ziva said quietly. "Not right away."

"I'll hold off on it then," Schneider said, and flicked the note with a fingertip. He pocketed it carefully. He kept his voice low when he said, "To be honest, I was hoping to get to talk to you. I'm telling my people that McMahon was probably who these bastards wanted, but... Shit. I dunno. You were specifically asked to be at this meeting?"

Ziva nodded and walked to the kitchen doorway. Her eyes scanned the scene, taking in this and that, before they fixed on Roddy McMahon. There was a little blood in his ear, and a lot more under his head. She frowned when she saw the blood around his waist, and how it had pooled around his hip area, and had soaked the seat of his pants.

"Was he also shot in the abdomen?" Ziva asked.

"Yes. There first, and sometime later through the ear. You're familiar with that MO?"

"I think that law enforcement people halfway around the world are familiar with it. Patric Dufaure is a hit man who prefers that MO to any other. If we do not find him, you and everyone else who works this case will be told to keep the details to yourself."

"Keeping a lid on that MO?"

"Mmm," Ziva said, nodding. "The last thing anyone needs is one or several copycats."

"That'd make it impossible to find the bastard," Schneider said.

Ziva stepped away from the doorway and looked at a picture of McMahon's body on one of two laptops on a low table. She took a knee and used the arrow keys to look at other pictures. This was better than going into that kitchen. She wasn't wearing a sterile anti-static suit and booties, and she really didn't need to be in there, not when close-up and high-magnification photographs were being added to this file via Blue Tooth, in real time.

"Greg and Bryan were shot out-of-hand," Ziva said of Weller and Mills.

"He wasn't interested in them," Schneider said and squatted next to Ziva. "And he must've had help."

"At least one other person... Excuse me," Ziva said and took her vibrating phone from her belt. While looking at a photo she said into the phone, "David."

"It's me," Gibbs said. "The Company asked Jenny for NCIS assistance, seeing as Roddy used to work with us. We're officially hitched to the case."

"Good. Have you had a chance to look at anything yet?"

"Nothing from the crime scene, and I don't think we're gonna work that angle anyhow. We've got some names already, though. There's two investors who own that house. They're French, got dual citizenship. Marc Yvon and Gerard Merle. They rent the house through an agency, and say they don't know anything about what happened this morning."

"The agency?"

"You know anyone called Luc Prevot?" Gibbs asked.

"He's the supposed retired French police officer who wanted to speak to the four of us this morning," Ziva said. "We're already running his name—"

"I think we beat you to the post," Gibbs said. "McGee's got a link between Prevot and the bank account of a French diplomat called Paul La Grange. Y'know what's funny?"

"Makshiva," Ziva said. Listening.

"La Grange is real pally with Homeland Security Secretary Gilliam."

"Call my father," Ziva said and hung up.

She stood and offered her hand to Schneider. He took it and shook it firmly, and seemed about to say something, but stopped.

"Yes?" Ziva said.

"If they were after you, that was never your fault," Schneider stated, looking her in the eye. "You wouldn't blame Roddy, if they were after him, would you? And the only reason you're still breathing, Officer David, is because you had an unplanned meeting to attend."

Ziva looked away, through the door into the kitchen. Someone was carefully picking pieces of broken crockery out of blood. She turned her head and looked up into Schneider's eyes for a moment before leaving the room.

She couldn't tell him what would happen next, but she was sure he could guess.

Glilot, Tel Aviv, Israel, Monday 19:34 IDT

Eli David put down the phone and looked up as Yossi Gershom came into his office. He dumped a bag near the door and lit a cigarette. The IDF had to put up with Israel's no-smoking laws in all their offices, even in the General Staff's Matkal Tower at the Kirya, but strangely, no-one had passed the memo to the Mossad. Eli lit a smoke of his own.

"I hate helicopters, but I suppose a twenty-minute flight is better than a two-hour drive," Yossi said, his Hebrew more gravelly than usual.

"You're sick?" Eli asked.

"How the fuck did I get flu in the desert? That heat is supposed to kill the fucking bugs." Yossi coughed and cleared his throat. "Have we got anything new?"

"We've got a line into the security system in La Grange's apartment building."

"We're keeping that black?"

"Yes. Whatever we get there will not ever need to be used as evidence in court."

"Good," Yossi said and coughed again, and wiped at streaming eyes.

Eli got up from his desk and went to a cabinet across the room. He didn't have to ask. Yossi was an old curmudgeon who definitely hadn't taken anything for that flu. Eli gave him a couple of non-drowsy Acamol Tzinun pills and a glass of water. Yossi took the stuff without argument, and also without thanks. Eli returned to his desk without comment.

"So," he said. "When we've ID'd the marks, who do we send?"

"Who else?" Yossi said.

"But she was their target. I know the policy, but—"

"I suppose you can't really know her, not this way."

"What do you mean?" Eli asked.

"I was going to say that you don't know Ziva. It's not like that, though," Yossi said. "You just don't know this side of her."

"I've seen some of it."

"That thing with Udi Chadad in your apartment? Hmph," Yossi said and shook his head. "No, achi." —brother.

"Well, that tells me a lot," Eli said, getting impatient. "I trust you. If you say she's right for the job, okay, but I still don't—"

"As per usual, you're taking things personally, and that's the difference," Yossi said. "She doesn't. And by now, emotionally, she's a million kilometers from the men who were killed this morning. She might think about their relatives, their friends. I know for fucking sure that she'll think, for a while, that maybe it was her fault. But only for a while... She will be like ice, when she kills them. She's always like that."

"Okay," Eli said.

He wasn't about to pretend that he understood. Right now he was furious, and that had only a little to do with the fact that it was ninety percent certain that his daughter had been targeted. It was also ninety percent certain that HaMossad had been targeted, and targeting the agency charged with protecting Israel from enemies foreign, was as good as targeting every Israeli. If Eli had to kill those men, he would never be cold.

The phone rang. Eli swiveled his chair to the left and picked up the handset. He listened for a while and hung up after saying that he'd make the necessary calls.

"The security people at Le Grange's apartment building registered the arrival of one Luc Prevot, at four-thirty-one yesterday afternoon. But the man who's in the security footage is Jean Arnaud. No doubts now."

"No doubts. Ziva was the target," Yossi said.

"Fuck..." Eli muttered, and there was a cold sweat on the back of his neck. "If she hadn't had that other meeting to go to..."

"Hey, we don't go there," Yossi said firmly. "We just deal with it, as-is, always. She wasn't in that house, and now she's going to hunt those fuckers."

"Yes," Eli said. And more firmly, "Yes. Okay."

"Okay," Yossi said and gave Eli an encouraging nod. "We deal with it. And so, your first call is to Michal, in New York. We'll need her to handle coordination... And you better take some of those cold meds yourself, achi, because I'm sleeping on your couch until this fucking mess is cleaned up."

"I have a guestroom, with a bed, remember?" Eli said, his rough, slightly sarcastic tone only barely hiding the shake in his voice.

"I meant this couch," Yossi said, slapping his hand on a spare seat of the long black leather couch along one wall of the office. "We'll have to take turns sleeping here."

"Fine... Go and ask someone to bring another phone and a computer in here."

"Good idea."

Yossi got up and walked out. Eli didn't have to say thank you to Yossi, just as he wouldn't ever have to say thank you to any of his brothers. He cleared his throat, picked up the phone, and dialed a number. He listened impatiently to a ringing signal.

"Michelle Cohen," said a woman with an American accent.

"It's Eli," he said in English. "You need to get on a plane to D.C."

"If you want a coordinator, I don't have to go anywhere."

"I don't just want you to coordinate," Eli said. "Our Liaison person is probably going to have to travel."

"I see... All right. I'm owed time off. I can tell people here that I've got a family emergency."

"Essentially, you do have a family emergency."

"Shit. That bad?"

"Report to Home Base," Eli said, referring to the Israeli embassy. "All the known details will be waiting for you by the time you get there."

"I'll get a seat on the next flight out," she said and hung up.

Eli dropped the phone on its cradle, and drew in a deep breath. He let it out slowly. We just deal with it. He steepled his fingers while considering the order of the calls he had to make. Ziva next, and the last call would be to the Office of the Prime Minister. Jean Arnaud was already on a wanted list; his death warrant had been signed almost five years ago. That last call to the Prime Minister would be a simple information relay, a mere formality of saying that the signed warrant would, at last, be served.

NCIS HQ, Washington Navy Yard, Monday, 13:09 EDT

Cynthia had just stood up at her desk, and was about to go to lunch, when she noticed Ziva striding through the squad area. Two men were walking a step behind her, and both were wearing bright red visitor's badges.

"Oh, that can't be good..." Cynthia mumbled to herself.

She went quickly to Jen's office door and opened it.

"Director? Ziva's here. With company. They've got DCPD badges, ma'am."

Jen only raised her head then. She took off her glasses and placed them on the desk. DCPD: Diplomatic Close-Protective Detail. Foreign nationals with dispensations granted by the State Department to bear arms anywhere in the US. Jen gave Cynthia a quick smile and nodded to her left. Cynthia skedaddled, and only seconds later, Ziva walked in.

"I was the target," she said at once.

"You've got a name?" Jen asked, ignoring her pounding heart.

"Jean Arnaud, and it is a good guess that his partner was Patric Dufaure."

"I've looked at the scene photos. I concur on that MO."

"You tried to catch Dufaure once, yes?"

"And failed miserably, but at least I wasn't alone," Jen said wryly. She rocked back in her chair. "Are your... friends going to stay here?"

"You get along well with Israelis," Ziva said with a small smile. "They are stationed at the bottom of the stairs. They will not crowd you."

"Okay. So I have a DCPD."

"For now. It is something I threw together for the interim," Ziva and looked down at her feet for a while. She eventually looked up at Jen. "We are not taking chances. There are other people waiting outside... There is an ongoing federal investigation, and there are compensation funds available to NCIS. So given that the budget will not be affected, I need you to sign out my former colleagues, on indefinite paid leave. Everyone, except Gibbs. I might need him to help with coordination here. HaMossad trusts him."

"So that's Tim, Tony, Abby, and Ducky... Palmer?" Jen said, and replaced her glasses on her nose.

Ziva thought for a while about Palmer. He'd been invited to their home for barbecues and dinners, on several occasions, and he'd refused all but two of those invitations.

"If anyone has been watching our place, they would not have seen Palmer, unless they have been watching since June last year, when it was still only your place."

"True. I'll exclude Palmer," Jen said and found the correct forms in a drawer. "They're not going to be happy."

"I will apologize after I have made certain that they will be safe," Ziva said.

Jen's hand faltered for a brief moment, then continued to fill out a form. She didn't hear her go, but when Jen looked up again, Ziva was gone.

Jen stared at the empty doorway for a while before completing one form, and reaching for another. It was likely that Ziva would relax that oh-so-professional attitude later in the day, but just in case it was here to stay until 'business' was concluded, Jen told herself not to take offense if Ziva was distant even when at home.

Control and Coordination Base 1, Paris, France, Monday 19:41 CEST

Moshe Aretz looked over the shoulder of one of his people, at a monitor with multiple splits. They'd hacked into various airports' and train stations' security systems. Next to each of six monitors sat portrait and profile photos of Jean Arnaud. He felt safe here in France. He'd come back. He'd probably taken the first flight out of D.C.

They still had a few hours to wait for him, but that was okay. Moshe and his people were patient, and the waiting game was one that they played on a regular basis. Everything else had been put on hold, and their single focus, now and until he was dead, was the trail of breadcrumbs that would lead emphatically to Arnaud.

Moshe went back to his own monitors and checked his email. There was something from Eli David.

Recommendations for the diplomatic problem?

Moshe rocked back in his seat and considered what he knew about Paul La Grange. He came from a wealthy but not very connected family. He'd served in diplomatic posts all over the world, but in each case his tenures had been rather short, and in some instances he'd left his post under questionable circumstances. He'd had to pull the diplomatic immunity card in Italy, after it was found that one of his associates, a night club owner, had heavy ties with a Frenchman who'd been arrested in Italy for drug possession: two kilos of cocaine. The person who'd finagled it so that that man could get into the country had been Paul La Grange.

The 'diplomatic problem' amounted to a man who was dirty. Moshe had no doubt that proof of La Grange's involvement in that morning's shootings would soon surface. Moshe typed out:

We're still looking at the problem, but from the second angle. Once those questions have been answered, resolution will be the only course for the problem.

Moshe sent the email, and picked up the phone. He dialed a number and someone answered almost at once.

"What's happening?" Moshe asked.

"He's out to dinner and has a long drive home."

"No hurry. Let him set the pace. And don't make a mess."


Moshe hung up. He'd just spoken to an operative with an eye on that second angle: the Interpol officer who'd vouched for Luc Prevot as a 'retired French police officer.' There was no question that the Interpol man would die before morning, because there was no doubt that he knew that Luc Prevot was Jean Arnaud.

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington D.C., Monday 14:27 EDT

FBI Director Robert Grace knocked at Ziva's office door before entering, and he shut that door.

"No-no, open it," Ziva said. "And leave it open."

Grace hesitated. Ziva took a breath and shook her head.

"I am not going to tell you anything, and when there are meetings here between various agencies, you will not be privy to them. What you do not know cannot harm your position. We need you here, Robert, and you will not be involved, not on my watch."

"You sound so much like Jenny right now," Grace said.

"That very formal briskness does not come naturally to any Sabra," Ziva drawled. "I learned it from her, yes."

"One question: who's taking care of the necessary clearances and NDAs?" Grace asked.

"That is the CIA's business."


Grace went to the door and paused there. He eventually turned his head and looked at Ziva.

"You take care. That's an order, Officer David."

"Heard. Understood. Acknowledged," Ziva said quietly.

Grace walked out and left the door open.

Ziva put Grace from her mind, and checked an email log. She accessed a string of short, cryptic messages that had been zipping back and forth between Paris and Tel Aviv. That part of the game was not hers to play. She could only observe. There was a solid list of secondary targets already, and she didn't doubt that by tomorrow morning a few people would be dead. She didn't doubt that when at last she was let loose, there would be only two targets: Jean Arnaud and Patric Dufaure.

Ziva fully expected to operate in France, soon, because she agreed with Moshe that Arnaud would return there. Dufaure was another story. He was on watch lists and wanted lists in nineteen countries, and yet he'd managed to evade capture for nearly sixteen years. He probably had hideouts all over the globe. Ziva fully expected to be sent off to some exotic location, for a value of 'exotic' that included coral atolls and extended to the Arctic Circle.

But there was nowhere that both Arnaud and Dufaure could go where they wouldn't be hunted. They were walking dead. They had but days, or at most weeks to live.

Glilot, Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday 01:40 IDT

Yossi was feeling a little better, probably because Eli had given him another two cold capsules exactly six hours after the first dose. Old woman, he thought, and shook his head. The 'old woman' was passed out asleep on the couch in this large office. Good.

Yossi checked email even though the incoming message alert hadn't sounded. Sometimes, if multiple messages arrived within a few seconds of each other, the alert function got a bit confused and didn't sound at all. Sure enough, there were three messages, all from Moshe Aretz:

Got the chicken.

Putting it in the oven now.

Still cooking.

That 'cooking' process wouldn't take long. When it came to 'chickens,' it never did. If Moshe had said, 'Got the goose' or worse, an 'ostrich,' he would've meant that the person grabbed was not going to be easy to crack.

Yossi checked the time and settled back in Eli's chair, but he kept his eyes on the monitor now. Israeli time was an hour ahead of France, so it was just before one a.m there. That was good for the grab team.

Harel Rozen was heading that team. Harel was as good as Ziva. The 'chicken' would talk fast. Generally, people like Ziva and Harel were never doubted when they said, "Talk or suffer." The fact that operatives like Harel and Ziva avoided the use of physical torture was beside the point. The 'chicken' would have no way of knowing that.

Shepard David Residence, Washington D.C., Monday 20:37 EST

Jen didn't much like the fact that there were three people camped in her yard. They were camouflaged and therefore invisible. She'd probably have to fall over them to find them. There was also a vehicle parked across the street. This house was regularly observed by the Mossad, and Jen had long ago gotten used to that, but twenty-four-hour surveillance was a different kettle of fish. Still, while she didn't like it, she also didn't begrudge it.

The CIA, NSA, FBI, and NCIS had searched quietly, and they hadn't been able to find Arnaud or Dufaure. That did not mean that they were far away. Not knowing where they were, it made good sense to have extra friendly eyes watching this house.

Old instincts developed during her time with Naval Intel kept her away from the windows. A newer instinct, or perhaps an unfounded hunch, was keeping her away from Ziva. She was somewhat encamped in the dining room, with several laptops hooked up to a secure satellite link, and a large pizza. She'd been there when Jen had come home a few minutes ago. Jen had an idea that her lover would be in there for a while; she might not come to bed.

Jen didn't much like that either. And besides, the smell of that pizza was making her mouth water. The worst she can do is shoo me away... Jen thought.

She collected two beers from the fridge and made her way into the dining room.

"Am I allowed in here?"

"Be'tach," Ziva said, surprised. Of course. She mumbled thanks for the beer and pointed at the large box on the table. "The pizza has toppings we both like. I wondered where you were..."

"Being silly," Jen muttered and took a seat. She liberated a slice of pizza from the box. Before taking a bite, she asked, "Am I cleared to know what's happening?"

"Yeah," Ziva said and gestured at one of the monitors. "Moshe's people grabbed the Interpol connection, on his way home. He had been drinking at dinner, drinking quite a lot, so it was easy to get the truth out of him. They put him back in his car, and he had an 'accident.' Very dead."

"And how many marks did he give up?" Jen said. She didn't in the least care about 'very dead.'

"Five, total, but we can only touch four. The fifth untouchable one... Secretary Gilliam."

"And why can't you disappear that bastard, too?" Jen almost growled.

"Lateral involvement," Ziva said and shrugged. "He did not even know what he was doing. La Grange talked to him and Gilliam helped to clear Prevot, aka, Arnaud. So we just make it that Gilliam's teeth are pulled. He will not be the Secretary of Homeland Security for very much longer."

"Okay, fair enough," Jen said. "And La Grange?"

"Well, he is not at home," Ziva said. "We found out that he got on a plane to Hawaii. That will not save him. In fact, it makes our job easier. He has gone there on his own, no security. He will be dead by sometime tomorrow."

"The French gave the go-ahead on that? I mean, he's diplomatic staff."

"Someone was whispered to and that someone whispered to someone else," Ziva said. "Then there was a phone call from the Office of the President in France to the Office of the Prime Minister in Israel. An apology was offered. It was countered with a demand for the apology to be made publicly, in several named international newspapers. The French declined and said that they would not object to, quote, 'the problem going away.' I think they have had enough of La Grange, in general, but having him directly linked to Arnaud..."

"Very embarrassing," Jen said. "And the other three marks?"

"Breadcrumbs," Ziva said, her tone indifferent. "Tools used to help Arnaud get into this country, and possibly also out of it. They do not have long to live. It is possible that we will find several more breadcrumbs. They will all end up dead."

"You guys don't play games," Jen said.

"Games are played by people who can afford to lose," Ziva muttered. "We can never afford even the smallest loss. So no, we do not play games. If any of us is targeted, those responsible are hunted, found, and made to pay, permanently... And another breadcrumb just paid up."

Jen put on her glasses and looked at a monitor.

"'Second chicken roasted,'" she read, and wrinkled her nose. "Did they have to use food analogies?"

"Food analogies and grocery shopping analogies are perfect covers," Ziva said. "If anyone managed to intercept these emails, they would never know what is going on."

"I suppose," Jen said. After a pause: "I expected you to bring Jethro home."

"He is bunking at the Navy Yard. He had an escort to his house, so he could pack. I told him he could come here, but he had organized everything by then... He said I have no choice. When I am deployed, he is going with me."

"Good," Jen said. "But can I ask, is there no chance that someone else will be deployed?"

"There is always a chance, yes," Ziva said and shrugged. "If that is the case, fine by me. Just... You should know that HaMossad has a habit of making points with sharp sticks. In this case, that involves deploying me to kill the men who tried to kill me."

Jen nodded and decided not to say anything else. She settled in and made up her mind to stay up with Ziva, even if that involved getting no sleep at all.

Control and Coordination Base 1, Paris, France, Tuesday 06:19 CEST

Keren paused in the doorway to Moshe's bedroom. She could hear him breathing, and the rhythm told her that he was in deep sleep. He'd only gone to bed two hours ago. Keren really didn't want to wake him, and neither did her two colleagues who were still on shift.

No-one on the team had any clue how he did it. For as long as he'd worked in the Israeli intelligence community, Moshe had been called HaSha'an—the Watchmaker, because of his ability to meticulously plan operations that literally came off like clockwork. They had someone else on the team as tactical director now, but Danny was essentially apprenticed to Moshe, and tonight Moshe had shown him how it was done.

Two men were dead already. Right now a team was angling in on someone in Spain; he'd be dead within two hours or less. Likewise, La Grange would not be safe in Hawaii.

And at this minute, Jean Arnaud was a walking dead man, right here in France.


"Mmm?" he grunted and sat up in bed.

"Arnaud is at Charles De Gaulle Airport."

"Good job, Keren. Have him tracked. Twenty-four-hour surveillance, from now until he's dead."

Keren nodded and left the room. Moshe turned on a lamp and picked up the phone beside his bed. Like every phone in this apartment it was linked to a secure system. He listened to a ringing tone for only a few seconds.

"What's new?" Yossi said as soon as he picked up.

"Mark in sight," Moshe said.

"We'll only send her when the diplomat's been fixed."

"That would've been my recommendation... Have you got a cold?"

"Flu, for fuck's sake," Yossi muttered and coughed.

"Have you taken anything for it?" Moshe drawled. He knew Yossi very well.

"Eli's been shoving cold meds down my throat. Both of you are old women. If Yuval was here, there'd be three old women on my case. It's just flu; I'm not dying."

"Yossi, you said 'I'm not dying' when you had a bullet in your guts, and you were dying."

"That was nearly thirty-five years ago. I'm still here," Yossi stated. "I'll die when I'm good and fucking ready."

Moshe rolled his eyes and hung up.

Shepard David Residence, Washington D.C., 03:56 EST

Ziva stumbled out of bed and shook her head to clear it. The secure line downstairs was ringing. She jogged down the hall and down the stairs. In the study she leaned over the desk and snatched up the handset.


"It's me," Eli said. "Arnaud has just arrived at a house in Troyes. He had keys, there's no-one else there, so we're presuming it's his home."

"We have a safehouse near Troyes, right?" Ziva said and yawned.

"Yes, very convenient for us, when we grab him... Yossi says you should handle the terminations."

"Yes, I should," Ziva said firmly.

"Okay," Eli said and cleared his throat.

"Your personal opinions cannot interfere now," Ziva said, but her tone wasn't at all hard. "This is protocol, Aba, and it has always served us well."

"Okay," Eli said, firmly this time.

"What about La Grange?"

"He got to his house in Kailua about two hours ago. He's still awake. We have people watching him. The TV is on. He's the only one in the house."

"How far away are the neighbors?"

"Close, unfortunately, but we have to use bloodless options, anyway, so it's not likely that the neighbors will be disturbed. Yossi suggested gas knockout, and then using the Number Four lethal gas."

"It will look like a heart attack, and Yossi wrote the book on that, so trust him there. Our people have all that stuff?"

"Yes, they don't have to wait for a drop."

"Then order the termination, as soon as is feasible," Ziva said.

"All right. I'll call again when he's dead."

Eli hung up and Ziva replaced the phone on its base.

She went back upstairs, tiptoeing when she entered the master bedroom. She got into bed carefully and Jen cuddled up, tucking into her side.

"You are wide awake," Ziva noted quietly. "I am s—"

Jen cut that apology off with a kiss, one that might've been brief, but Ziva made sure that it lasted a long while.

"I could kiss you forever," Ziva mumbled into Jen's neck.

"You're going to be busy. You need your sleep," Jen said. "So kissing me forever will have to wait."

"And that sucks," Ziva said. "Fucking criminals... I must forget them for while. Come to me? I just want your weight on me. But I do not trust myself with more than that right now. I am s—"

"Hush," Jen said. She settled between Ziva's legs and took her weight on her elbows. "I know all about that place you're in, and where you'll stay until the job's done. I don't need apologies, ahuvati." —my love.

"Thank you," Ziva mumbled, and hugged Jen tight.

Glilot, Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday 15:13 IDT

Eli was grateful that Yossi was here. The world insisted on turning, even while a reprisals operation was in full swing. Eli had attended four meetings today, and there were another two to attend before six p.m. But Yossi was on hand, and had even had a second desk brought into this office. He'd kept Eli up-to-speed, and he'd kept everything ticking over in various parts of the world. Two people had been eliminated in France last night, and one in Spain.

"Any news from the team in Hawaii?" Eli said and put his briefcase next to his desk.

"A few minutes ago they said they were moving in," Yossi said and blew his nose.

"Amit, did you make Yossi take his medicine?" Eli called out to his secretary.

"Yeah," she said. "And he said something about upsetting the picture, because I'm a woman but I'm not an old one, like you."

"You're such a bad influence on my staff," Eli muttered at Yossi.

"If anything, I'm a good influence," Yossi said. "And at least Amit is from good strong Iraqi stock, otherwise you would have influenced her into wearing fucking suits and ties and shiny shoes."

"And he shaves every day," Amit said, laughing.

"I didn't shave this morning," Eli said.

"Only because you knew I'd get on your case about it all day," Yossi said.

"No respect..." Eli muttered, shaking his head, but he was smiling.

He could have asked Amit to get him a cup of coffee, but he got it himself, as he always did if he had the time. He glanced at her on the way back into his office and shook his head. Today her hairstyle resembled a pagoda atop her head. Her eyes were accentuated by kohl and green eyeshadow, her lipstick was a dark red, and her ears were adorned with large gold hoop earrings. She was wearing a green T-shirt that matched her eyeshadow, and white Capri pants. When it came to what she wore and did with her hair, Amit was a law unto herself, as were most Israelis outside of the military.

"As if I could influence her," Eli said to Yossi.

"I heard that, and you'd better not even try," Amit said.

"See?" Eli chortled.

"Yeah, she'll kick you into next week," Yossi said with a grin that vanished when one of the laptops in front of him beeped. He opened an email and read it. "He's dead. Call Ziva."

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington D.C., Tuesday 08:27 EDT

Todd pushed open the door to a small conference room, and offered an apologetic smile to several people.

"Ziva, Eli's on the line," he said.

"Excuse me."

Ziva got up from her seat and made eye-contact with Gibbs. He stood and followed her out. That left Todd to play diplomat.

"Coffee?" he offered.

"I'd rather know what that call is about," said Quentin Holsten, Homeland Security. "I didn't come here to wait around until the Mossad wonder-girl and her daddy have finished chatting."

"Is he for real?" mumbled Andy Perth, Diplomatic Security Service.

"Yeah, a real asshole," said Sandy Hillman, NCIS. "Holsten, you're dissing a former colleague of mine, who took a bullet in the line of duty. Match that or shut the fuck up."

"Watch your mouth," Holsten muttered. "Where the hell do you get off—"

"Listen, shit-for-brains," Sandy said and leaned an elbow on the table. "We've got three people dead because your boss doesn't know his ass from his elbow. I'd just love some face-time with him. Right now, the only DHS rep in this room is you, and I'm in a really bad mood."

"Don't push her, Holsten," Fornell warned. "You're a nobody here."

Todd was pretending that he was invisible, and so far it was working. The people around the table, even Holsten, had forgotten about him. Todd kept his eyes focused in Holsten's general direction, but he knew better than to look directly at the man: most people can 'feel' a stare. Todd could see enough. Holsten's face was red and his right hand, on the table, was bunched into a fist.

What Fornell had said was true. That Homeland Security Secretary Gilliam had sent Holsten as the DHS representative was quite insulting. Holsten was a paper-pusher. He held the title of Senior Legal Attache, DHS's top legal representative. The only shots that had ever come Holsten's way had involved hypodermic needles. Beyond the facts, he had no understanding whatsoever of the current situation; he could not possibly grasp how nine of the eleven people in this room felt. Like Holsten, Todd had a limited understanding, but at least he was compassionate. It was patently clear that Holsten just didn't give a damn. Gilliam had personally sent him on a legal damage control mission, and that damage control was all Holsten cared about.

"Can I just ask why Navy cops are involved in all of this?" Holsten said.

"One of the victims was a Company man," Perth said.

"I still don't see the connection," Holsten said.

"We can't investigate diddly-squat," said Michael Jager, CIA. "But Roddy McMahon used to work for NCIS, years ago, so we asked Director Shepard if her agency might represent us. She said that we'd asked before she could offer."

"I suppose that makes sense," Holsten muttered.

Before he could say anything else, the door opened and Gibbs walked in ahead of Ziva. She shut the door and returned to her seat.

"La Grange is dead," Ziva said.

"Nice'n'quiet," Jager said.

"Yeah," Perth said. "My phone hasn't rung yet."

"You're talking about a French diplomat," Holsten said. "You're almost joking about a potential international incident."

"Keep your panties on," muttered Gavin Thomassi, NCIS. "You go that high up, and someone French gave the nod."

"Their president," Gibbs confirmed.

"Oh my God..." Holsten said, shaking his head.

"Holsten, I'd suggest that you just shut up," Gibbs said.

"Or what?" Holsten snapped.

"If you breathe a word about what is discussed in this room," Ziva said. "You will be paying a visit to Gitmo as a two-year guest."

"You can't—"

"Oh, she sure can," Sandy drawled through a mean smile.

"Yeah," Thomassi said. "Do us all a favor and put her to the test."

"You can be on a bus to Andrews in an hour flat," Gibbs said and shrugged. "Up to you."

Holsten glanced around the table, looking for an ally, but every expression he saw was hard, implacable. He didn't look Todd's way. If he had he would've found a different expression: when Todd was worried, he could never hide it.

"So La Grange's death appeared natural?" Jager asked.

"My people did not even question him," Ziva said. "The gas used will not show up on any screen. Even Ducky would rule it a heart attack, and he is fucking good."

"Real clean," Jager said.

Todd glanced Holsten's way and nearly bust out laughing. The effort to keep from saying anything about Jager's comment was causing Holsten's eyes to bug. Todd bit the inside of his cheek. He'd been working with Ziva long enough and wasn't a bit shocked by any of this. Worry chewed at his gut again, though, and his expression sobered.

"We still got three, maybe four other targets," Gibbs said, getting them back on track. "And we're aiming to arrest only two of 'em. One, maybe two, will get hit."

"We will be taking care of that," Ziva said. "It is less complicated that way."

"The 'less complicated' thing is bullshit," said Gill Martin, FBI.

"Gill, trust me, revenge don't fix a goddamn thing," Gibbs said, looking him in the eye.

"And anyhow," Thomassi said. "You'd never pass the psych eval for team inclusion."

"Yeah, I know," Martin said. "Doesn't mean I have to like it."

"Except for Holsten, we've all been there," Fornell said. He cleared his throat and asked, "So what angles are we working here?"

"We need enough to arrest Yvon and Merle," Ziva said. "I am almost certain that they knew what was going to happen in that house. Arnaud, and possibly Dufaure, will be able to... provide assistance in that regard."

"Inadmissible 'assistance,'" Holsten said.

"Mister Holsten," Ziva said, eyes locked to his. "When I ask someone to tell me who to ask for very admissible evidence, I usually am told the names of people who would sell their children or their grandmothers to the lowest bidder. Within four days we will have enough evidence to put away Merle and Yvon for the rest of their lives."

"That, or we'll have enough to wave the death penalty at 'em," Perth said.

"That option being preferable," Martin growled.

"You are forgetting that they are French nationals with dual citizenship," Ziva said.

"But they live here," Martin said.

"Make yourself useful, Holsten, and explain it," Fornell said.

"They can be tried, convicted, and imprisoned here," Holsten said. "But the minute we talk about the death penalty, the French will contest the cases from the roots up, essentially stalling the trial process. At the same time they'll make an offer: convict and sentence the defendants to life, then ship them to serve that sentence in absentia in France."

"We do not want that to happen," Ziva said. "When you transfer custody to another country, sentence durations are open to appeal."

"And in France Yvon and Merle are likely to win their appeals for revision," Holsten said. "If they end up spending twenty behind bars, that'll be a lot. My bet is fifteen."

"So if we keep them here," Ziva said. "We can make life-without-parole stick."

"I never said anything about the death penalty," Perth said innocently.

"Me neither," Martin muttered.

"So you're getting on a plane," Sandy said to Ziva. "What're we doing meantime?"

"You have a list of seventeen names. I want eyes-on surveillance on all those people. I also want teams of three assigned to each of those names. Background checks: dig up anything and everything."

"Got it," Sandy said, scribbling on a notepad. "What else?"

"That's it for now," Gibbs said, getting to his feet. To Ziva: "We gotta hustle."

"We?" Holsten said. "I thought she said the Mossad is... taking care of things?"

"No, I meant us, him and me," Ziva said. "Gavin, you are the lead investigator."

"Not Fornell?" Thomassi asked.

"I'm too close to this case," Fornell said, shaking his head. "You two come back safe."

"We will try," Ziva said.

Gibbs didn't respond, and again he went through the door ahead of Ziva. She hadn't said for Todd to follow. He wanted to but knew better. They were on their way straight out the building and wouldn't be pausing even to greet Director Grace. Especially him.

"Notice how Gibbs went through that door first?" Thomassi said.

"He's on point already," Fornell said, nodding.

"Helluva team," Perth said. "Their marks are as good as dead."

"You think Dufaure's got it coming?" Martin asked.

"I do, because that MO is so goddamn unique," Jager said. "And I got a C-note that says Arnaud gives him up."

"Only an idiot would take that bet," Sandy said.

Shepard David Residence, Washington D.C., Tuesday 09:54 EDT

Not even the Israeli Embassy was as safe as Jen's house right now, partly because several members of the embassy security team were encamped in her yard, in the house itself, and across the street in a van. From three her protective detail had increase to eighteen. While Jen was up here spending a short time with Ziva before she left, someone was downstairs organizing those people into shifts.

"This is not fun," Jen stated.

"This is necessary," Ziva said.

"Why can't I have a local detail?"

"Because they might ask questions before shooting."

"You think it could come to that?" Jen asked quietly.

"By now your mother is being charmed silly by Oren," Ziva said. "She will probably spoil him and his eleven teammates. These are Eli's orders. We are not taking any chances. You know who the original target was."

"Yes," Jen said, and swallowed hard.

"And we know where Arnaud is, but not Dufaure."

"Okay," Jen said. "I agree to the necessity of people who'll shoot first and ask questions after."

"Good." Ziva turned her head in the direction of the bedroom door. "Gibbs is here... Him and me: the last people Arnaud and Dufaure will expect."

"Some might argue that it's personal for you two," Jen said.

"Self-defense is always personal," Ziva said. "But Gibbs and I can manage even that in a detached fashion."

She zipped her bag shut and as she straightened up, she reached under her braided hair and found the clasp of her necklace. Ziva refastened it around Jen's neck, and brushed a fingertip over the Star of David where it rested in the open vee of Jen's blouse.

"I am the last person they will expect," Ziva repeated softly. "It will scare the hell out of them. Given that we cannot be sure of all the details, given that we must be sure that we take out everyone involved, that advantage is one we cannot set aside. If we could, the team here would number one less, and you would not be sleeping alone tonight."

"I know."

Jen slipped her arms around Ziva's neck, and she was hugged tight and close in return, and kissed deeply but gently. Letting go had to come next, and Jen made that easy: she let go first. Ziva picked up her jump bag and walked out.

Jen watched the door close and sat on the end of the bed. Her fingers found the pendant around her neck and fidgeted with it, her mind mostly blank save for the bit that was saying, Don't cry, dammit.

A soft knock at the door startled her. Jen frowned and went to answer it. She found someone called Michal standing in the hall.

"Shalom, Jenny."

"They sent you?" Jen mumbled.

"HaMemuneh was really particular," Michal said, referring to Eli David. She followed Jen into the bedroom and took a seat on the divan below a window. "I guess he said something to Ziva, because she didn't look surprised to see me."

"She's just more used to you. To me, everything about you is a surprise. When last I spoke to you, you were Michelle Jeffry and you had an English accent. Now you sound like you were born in NYC."

"Well, they called me 'Michelle Cohen' this time so New York fits, and at least this time I get to be Jewish... Business now. I won't be coming into this room again unless there's a situation. My people won't be up on this floor unless there's a situation. I'll be asleep when you're asleep, awake when you're awake. I've been cleared into most of your meetings this week. The only places I'm not going to follow you are this room, bathroom stalls, MTAC, and closed meetings at the Pentagon. If you get a call that's a wrong number, on any phone, I have to know about it. If someone who isn't on your schedule pitches up at NCIS, they'll be taken to the nearest interview room for a little chat, so call people and tell them not to drop by without saying so first, all right?"

"So noted. Anything else?" Jen said.

"That... submissiveness is out-of-character."

"Michali, keep your analysis," Jen snapped. "I don't need those head games right now."

"That's more like it," Michal said.

"I'm in a really bad mood," Jen said apologetically.

"I'd be in a worse mood," Michal said. She smiled and said, "When I was told about you and Ziva, I wasn't surprised. That job in Riga. I saw the writing on the wall all those years ago."

"She was such a brat back then."

"She's less of a shovava now?" Michal asked.

"In some ways, yes. In others, no, she's worse," Jen chuckled.

It didn't take long for her smile to thin and her expression became worried.

"Your brat will be back," Michal said.

"Hopefully soon," Jen muttered.

Somewhere over the Atlantic, Tuesday 17:50 GMT

Their 'table' was an equipment crate aboard a C-130H Hercules, bound for RAF Mildenhall, ostensibly on a resupply mission to the 352nd Special Operations Group, USAF. Gibbs and Ziva were unexpected passengers, but that was nothing new for this plane's crew. They'd asked no questions and the flight engineer had provided them with a secure closed channel. They needed those headphones and mics. This Herc was a bare-bones, uninsulated machine, both noisy and cold. Ziva and Gibbs were wearing USAF parkas, and occasionally warmed their icy hands in wool-lined pockets.

"Let's play it out," Gibbs said, looking at photos and scene sketches.

They'd considered the scene individually, but it was time to do that together, and compare notes.

"Okay..." Ziva shut her eyes a moment and forced her brain to switch gear. "We start with access."

"That's our dead diplomat, La Grange. He got Arnaud cleared through DHS."

"But not Dufaure."

"No, Dufaure was already in the country. He skipped over from Mexico, I bet."

"Not Canada?"

"Might have a friend or two in Quebec," Gibbs conceded. "But he's got definite history in Mexico."

"So we call it Mexico. We do not know how long he was here..." Ziva muttered.

"Sure would be nice if we did. Maybe Yvon and Merle know. Might be that Dufaure was just a pick-up."

"I can see that, yes. Arnaud calls his contacts and one of them says that Dufaure is already in the States."

"Probably with faked papers. Green Card. Residency. Extended business permit. Whatever."

"I think we are getting close to it here," Ziva said. "So he is a pick-up man, and if he has papers..."

"He's above suspicion," Gibbs said. "Definitely wasn't going by the name Dufaure."

"Until he left his calling card," Ziva said, tapping a photograph. "Bullet to McMahon's stomach, rolled him onto his belly, shot him through the ear."

"Roddy wouldn't have told that bastard anything."

"Yes, I know. I am still alive," Ziva said wryly. Then, certain: "McMahon was their mistake."

"Damn straight," Gibbs agreed. "They took out the younger guys clean, and thought the 'old guy' was weak enough to crack."

Ziva nodded and looked closely at a photograph of one of those 'younger guys.' FBI Special Agent Bryan Mills was stretched out on his back, almost as if someone had arranged his body that way. His service pistol was lying next to his left foot, and again it seemed like it had been placed there. Ziva knew better. He'd been shot in the head, almost precisely between the eyes, and massive damage to his brain's motor center had caused some of the muscles in his legs and back to spasm. His pistol had dropped out of his left hand, straight down, before he'd fallen over backwards, stiff as the proverbial board.

"Whoever shot Mills was damn fast."

"Bastard had his gun in-hand already," Gibbs said. "Maybe just walked in, gun-up. Mills drew his weapon but didn't get to fire it."

"But Weller did," Ziva said.

She matched a ballistics report to a photo of a bullet mashed into a hardwood door frame. Gibbs picked up and reordered several other photos around a sketch of the room's floor plan.

"This is Greg Weller's blood, and the spray goes towards the door where his bullet lodged. He shot at the guy who shot Mills."

"And the second shooter put one in the back of Weller's head," Ziva said.

"Yeah, and that first shooter faced all three at once, Roddy, Mills, and Weller."

"Alone?" Ziva said. "I doubt that."

"Who do we know was there?" Gibbs said.

"Besides Mills, Weller, and Roddy McMahon, the only person we can name with absolute certainty is Jean Arnaud. I am ninety-five percent sure that Dufaure was there, too."

"Unless he's got a copycat, yeah, Dufaure was there. And I think we're right about him being a pick-up man. What about another one?"

"There were only three guns fired," Ziva said. "Weller's service pistol fired one round. There is the bullet in the door frame. Then two other guns: a forty-five caliber pistol and a thirty-eight revolver. Weller was killed with the thirty-eight. Mills and McMahon were killed with the forty-five."

"So maybe the other pick-up guy just pulled cover?" Gibbs said. "I can't see this going down just with Dufaure and Arnaud. A third man is a strong possibility."

"Mmm. Someone with a shotgun is always a good idea... You know, the more I think about this, the more I am inclined towards putting Arnaud and Dufaure in the same frame, but there are several pictures in that frame: I think they have worked together before. Yes, Dufaure was a pick-up man, as in, Arnaud was not expecting to work with him, but they know each other. Look at this whole scene. Arnaud was supposed to be the one running it, and yet Dufaure killed both Mills and McMahon. What do we know of Arnaud?"

"From what I've heard over the last few hours, he's no backseat man. Likes being the boss."

"Right, and yet? This," Ziva said, gesturing at the photos.

"And this isn't gonna tell us any more than it has," Gibbs said.

"No," Ziva agreed.

She and Gibbs packed away everything on their makeshift table into several files that Gibbs locked into a briefcase. The case would be handed to a courier and sent home, probably as soon as they landed.

Ahead of the cargo pallets was a single pax module bearing four rows of passenger seats, with an overhead comms rail for their headset jacks. Ziva didn't plug hers into that rail immediately, and Gibbs left that alone, for which she was grateful.

Not thirty-six hours ago she'd gotten a call to say that the meeting she hadn't been able to attend had been a setup. Three men were dead, but none had originally worn a target on their backs.

Arnaud's involvement meant that the target had been Ziva. There was no doubt about that. As soon as Eli David had been informed, he'd scrambled a US-based security team to collect everyone that Ziva was close to. As Jen had suggested, McGee, Tony, Abby, and Ducky were probably not too happy, even though they'd been spirited off as a group to someplace that was possibly nice. Actually, it was probably beyond 'nice.' Ziva suppressed a snort when she thought that Tony, especially, wouldn't begrudge her for long.

Not so the families of McMahon, Weller, and Mills.

Ziva jabbed her headset jack into a socket and turned a dial to the correct channel.

"They died because of me," Ziva muttered, and damn what Schneider had said yesterday.

"You keep thinking like that and I'll send you back to the States soon as we land," Gibbs stated, no-nonsense. "So stow that line of thought, cos you know it's bullshit. Those three men died because two assholes pulled triggers. And they woulda killed those guys even if you'd been at that meeting, so don't even look at that angle either."

"I am trying not to," Ziva said.

"Gotta get in the right headspace for this job."

"I am there already, really. Cold and calm. But I am human, Gibbs, not a machine."

"I know that... So level with me: what's the whole deal with Arnaud?" Gibbs asked.

"He used to be a straight arrow," Ziva said. "I do not know why he turned, but he did, only, he made it look legit."

"Turned freelancer?"

"Yes, but we threw some evidence around that he does not care who pays him. The French called it all circumstantial for more than a year, and our relationship with French intel became rather strained because of that. And then we got hard evidence, the hard way: clear security camera footage of Arnaud literally stabbing a Mossad asset in the back. You could see his face over the woman's shoulder. The French launched a quiet manhunt. We did, too. We found out that Arnaud was very friendly with Irene Bailey—"

"The IRA used to call her 'Faces,' right?"

"Yes. So good at disguise that perhaps not even her mother would have remembered what she really looked like. Anyway, it took me and a team of thirty-four a year to find her, and when we did, Arnaud was with her. I killed her and would have killed Arnaud, too, but the French wanted him alive, so they took custody of him. He escaped in transit."

"Why'd the Mossad cave in to what the French wanted?" Gibbs asked.

"Politicians fuck up everything?" Ziva drawled.


"So Arnaud finally got around to trying to kill me," Ziva said. "He is one of several people with that aim in life. He pushed to the front of the queue."

"But the reason for that meeting was legit, meaning he had to have an inside line at Interpol. Not to mention, someone totally legit in Interpol vouched for Arnaud as a, quote, 'retired police officer.'"

"Yes, one-hundred percent correct. All of that has already been followed up," Ziva said.

Gibbs was about to take a sip from a bottle of water. He lowered the bottle and took a careful look at Ziva's profile. She turned her head and raised her eyebrows enquiringly.

"How many bad guys have died in the last thirty-six hours?" he asked.

"The last I heard, five. Besides the two we are after, there are three more on the list. Ten in total. The collateral count will only come in after those nine have been tallied up."

"Heavies choose who they work with," Gibbs said flatly.

"Yeah, and I have yet to meet one who put up his hands and said, 'Okay. You can kill my boss,'" Ziva said.

Gibbs grunted agreement and pushed his seat back as far as it would go. Not very far. These seats were the same as those found in econo class on most commercial airliners.

"I liked it better when you could rig hammocks in these ducks."

"That was twenty years ago, when I was fourteen."

"Shuddup," Gibbs chortled. After a pause he said, "Haven't asked yet. At Jen's place, who was that woman with the tan?"

"Michal. Depending on her assignment, she is either a consummate diplomat, or a killing machine."

"What's in between?"

"A world-class musician with a degree in psychology, who speaks seven languages, who hates to cook but likes to eat, and who believes there are only two kinds of people: those who she should care for, and those who should die."

"She's not a friend," Gibbs said.

"No," Ziva said, her smile wry. "She is practically Israeli intel royalty, and I really am not, no matter who my father is. But that is a very long story. So let's say that we might be friends, if we were given enough time to know each other properly. HaMossad is careful about who is teamed up for long periods. I know her well enough, and she knows me. If either of us is taken down, the other will operate from a place of duty, paired with the correct amount of detachment—"

"Not too much of that."

"Right. Just enough concern to be detached in a disciplined way... Like now. If you and me had known those three men any better, we would not be on this plane."

Gibbs's answer to that was a nod. Roddy McMahon used to work for NCIS but had been working as a counterterrorism analyst with the CIA for the last eight years. Gibbs and Ziva knew him in passing. Bryan Mills and Greg Weller were both active FBI agents who'd occasionally bumped professional elbows with Ziva and Gibbs. Both men had started out under Fornell's wing, however, which was why he wasn't heading up the investigation at home.

"I'm gonna get some shut-eye before we land," Gibbs said.

He muted the mic on his headset, and Ziva did the same. Discipline and a lot of practice helped her find the mental space for sleep, mostly because that would make time speed by.

AFSOC, RAF Mildenhall, UK, Tuesday 22:32 GMT

US Air Force Special Operations Command personnel didn't ask any questions. Ziva and Gibbs were winched to the top of a high-drop tower, a long, long way up. They were strapped into tandem parachute harnesses, and linked together. Later, a tandem drop was going to ensure that they both landed in the same place at the same time. Gibbs had never made a tandem jump, so Ziva was the 'pilot,' and this after dark practice drop was being made to prep him for the landing process.

"Have I got ears?" the jump instructor asked.

Ziva and Gibbs replied that their headsets were working.

"Okay. Gunny, when she says so, you need to get your legs up and straight out, at ninety degrees from your body. Just sit in that harness seat and lift your legs."

"And grip the underside of your thighs, just below your butt," Ziva added.

"Got it," Gibbs said.

"Prepare to jump," the instructor said.

"Good to go," Ziva said.

But it wasn't a jump at all. The retainer on the canopy bell above them was released, and they started to fall. The T-10 chute luffed a little before filling out properly, and as was usual with round chutes the trip to the ground was fast.

"Legs up!" Ziva barked.

Gibbs raised his legs and gripped his thighs as instructed. The ground rushed up and the next thing he knew he was meeting the turf but was pretty much sitting in Ziva's lap.

"Easy as that?"

"Yeah, but prep is essential. You must remember to lift your legs, because if you do not, I might end up with one or both of mine broken."

"Now you tell me..." Gibbs muttered.

"Now is the best time to tell you," Ziva said. "You will do it automatically when we jump for real."

"Right," Gibbs said, shaking his head.

They were helped out of their harnesses and got into an HM-V that drove them directly onto an apron where a plane was waiting. They were strapped into harnesses again, but would only be hooked together when they were about to exit that plane. This time their chute was a steerable MT-1XCCT, similar to a regular rectangular skydiving parachute, but capable of carrying three-hundred-and-sixty pounds.

"I packed that chute myself, ma'am," a sergeant told Ziva. He clipped a pair of NVGs to her helmet and turned them on. "Test on contrast?"

While the sergeant tucked the NVGs' battery pack into a pocket on the back of her helmet, Ziva looked toward a dark area of the airfield. The contrast was good; she could see clearly. She turned the night vision goggles off herself and flipped them up.

"All good."

"Can you hear her, Gunny?"

"Yeah," Gibbs said.

"Nice and clear," Ziva said, but poked a finger inside her helmet to adjust the left earphone cup. "Cleared for take-off, Sergeant?"

"Yeah. Mind you steer clear of trees and high-tension wires," he said. "I want my chute back."

"It will be sent back," Ziva said with a grin.

"Good jump and don't break nothin'," the sergeant said and walked off.

In the small plane, Ziva and Gibbs strapped themselves into seats opposite the wide jump door. Takeoff was smooth, but the plane began to bank north.

"Aren't we supposed to be heading east?" Gibbs asked.

"We will, but first we fly up in a big spiral," Ziva said. "We have to make altitude before we cross the Channel."

"We going above regular radar?" Gibbs asked.

"No, but as soon as we jump, the pilot is going to have a 'recall' incident. He will announce to French air traffic controllers that he has to scrap his flight plan because of an emergency call from home, which is supposedly in Ireland."

"So it'll look weird if we're still climbing when we enter French airspace."


Gibbs didn't have all the finer details yet. He hadn't bothered to ask until now, because the Mossad was organizing most of this op, and Ziva wouldn't be this relaxed if there were any difficulties or complications in France.

"I take it the French are pulling a blind-eye routine?"

"Not entirely," Ziva said. "They know that within the next few days someone will be operating on French soil, and they are turning a blind eye to that, but we have an ops parameter. If we use overtly violent means to kill, we must clean up after ourselves, or French intel will let the local police investigate."

"We got a team?"

"Moshe Aretz and his people."

"Means we can use a hatchet in a room with white walls, and the next person to walk in that room won't know a damn thing," Gibbs said.

"Pretty much," Ziva agreed. She frowned and added: "Typical French, letting other people do their dirty work..."

"You saying they wouldn't go after Arnaud even if they knew where he was?"

"We know exactly where he is. We told the French, and they said we can do as we wish. What does that say?"

"I don't get that. It makes 'em look real bad."

"Not in general, only in particular."


"This is a clandestine op," Ziva said. "General public opinion is nothing here, because the public knows nothing. We cannot take this thing public, so we do the dirty work while the French sit back and ignore what we say about them."

"I bet a few of 'em aren't ignoring it," Gibbs said.

"Yes, but their hands are tied and they are effectively gagged. This is not World War Two, where those who objected to the French surrender formed resistance groups."

"If they hadn't surrendered..."

"Their goddamn politicians, like Petain and Laval, called for surrender far too quickly, and like those members of the French Resistance, I will not hear anything different," Ziva said. "There would not have been a resistance movement at all if all of France had agreed that it was time to throw up their hands. And not much has changed. If another country were to invade France now, the politicians would throw up their hands and claim again that they are victims with no choice but to welcome the enemy, like the old Vichy 'government' did."

"Can't argue with that," Gibbs said. "Mostly cos I can't see it happening any other way. Nous n'avons pas d'autre choix. That's what they said then, and they'll say it again."

"Hmph. The French have no fucking clue what 'We have no choice' really means. Ein brerah means that you fight until you die, because your enemies will wipe you out if you do not."

"I hear that," Gibbs said. "But I was a grunt whose fire team got surrounded. I'm not a suit'n'tie politician."

"The world would be better off without politicians," Ziva muttered.

"As a soldier who once went off to fight a war five-thousand miles away, because politicians said so, I hear that, too. But I know you, so that's all I'm saying."

"What does that mean?"

"If I agree any more about politicians, you'll still be ranting when we jump outa this plane."

Ziva thumped Gibbs's shoulder and he thumped hers right back. If they hadn't been strapped into their seats they might've ended up pushing and shoving like ten-year-olds. The straps reminded them of the reason they were in the plane in the first place.

"I reserve the right to pick up this argument when we do not have people to kill."

"Noted," Gibbs said, amused.

Less than half an hour later the copilot came through to tell them to prepare to jump. He opened the door and clipped Gibbs's jump harness to Ziva's. Gibbs shuffled awkwardly toward the door, with his knees bent.

"Fold your arms over your chest," Ziva said, and gripped the rail above the door. "When he says 'Jump!' just step out."

"Gotcha," Gibbs said.

"Approaching jump zone," the copilot said. "Ten seconds... Five... We're in the zone. Jump!"

Ziva let go of the rail and she and Gibbs stepped out into the rushing cold air.

"Clear free-fall," Ziva announced.

"Safe landing," the pilot said. "You're on your own. Comms out."

Now Gibbs assumed the role of copilot and watched their position on a GPS unit strapped to his left forearm. If this was a solo HALO jump he'd be arrowing, or falling headfirst. Instead he and Ziva were belly-down, and her arms and legs were stretched out, with the 'wings' on her suit slowing their fall considerably.

"We're being pushed east," Gibbs said. "Angle us over to the left."

"Copy," Ziva said, raising her right arm and leg, and dropping her left. "How is that?"

"Better, but hold that angle. Think there's a top-wind?"

"Feels like it," she said.

Not much later Gibbs was telling her to level out, and less than a minute after that Ziva pulled the chute release.

"Legs up!"

Gibbs raised his legs and again found himself in Ziva's lap, safely down in a grassy field. Ziva released their harness links and gave him a shove. She hit her harness release catch and took her helmet off even before she stood up. Gibbs was gathering in the chute. Ziva got a cell phone out of a pocket and pressed a speed dial key.

"We're already here," Moshe Aretz said and hung up.

There was enough light: Ziva saw two people walking toward their position. Beyond them a car waited on a lonely road. Ziva unzipped her suit and got out of it. She shoved it into the bag that by now contained their chute, helmets and harnesses, and Gibbs's jumpsuit.


"Shalom, Moshe," she said, smiling. "I missed you at Chanukah."

"I let other people go home instead. You know me."

"Yeah. Introductions in the car. If we can, I want to get Arnaud before first light."

"I'll call the team," Moshe said. "They can just bring him to us."

"Halves our workload," Gibbs said.

"Do it," Ziva said.

Moshe made the call.

Mossad Safehouse F11, West of Troyes, France, Wednesday 03:19 CEST

Ziva regarded their hooded prisoner with minor interest. She had a few questions to ask of the grab team and went upstairs without saying a word.

She opened the basement door and walked into the kitchen, where most of the members of that team were engaged either in food prep or cooking. One of them was dicing cucumbers, and another was dicing tomatoes. Ziva rolled her eyes. One could take the Israeli out of Israel, but there was no taking Israel out of the Israeli, and breakfast, even at three-something a.m, had to include a tomato-and-cucumber salad. Ziva was eagerly awaiting the day that her Mediterranean cucumber vines began to bear; she wasn't any good at growing tomatoes, but thankfully a grocer close to their home imported Israeli tomatoes. The tomatoes and cucumbers currently being diced didn't look like the right type, but they'd have to do.

"So who died?" Ziva asked.

"Af echad," one of the men said. Nobody.

"He was alone," Moshe said. "Arrogant bastard. He probably knows that his government has no interest in dealing with him, so he feels safe here."

"Doubt he feels safe right now," Gibbs said.

Most of the other men in the room muttered or grunted agreement. One remained silent. He was leaning against a wall, almost in a corner, with his arms folded. As with the other men, Ziva knew his face, but beyond that he was new to her.

"Ma ha'baiya shel FNG?" Ziva asked Moshe. What's the FNG's problem?

"Ma zeh 'FNG'?" one of the guys asked.

"Fucking New Guy," another answered and jerked a thumb at the man in the corner.

"That's Danny, our new tac director," Moshe said. "He planned this one beautifully, but he thinks we're here to fix an American problem."

"He was not briefed?" Ziva asked, confused.

"He got the usual briefing," said Harel, the grab team leader. "He doesn't ask the right questions."

"Oh. Well, no matter how good he is, he must learn the right way, or go do something else," Ziva said and shrugged.

"You lot talk like I'm not even here," Danny grumbled, and his accent was British.

"Why have we got an oleh on this team?" Ziva said.

"He's been an Israeli citizen since he was sixteen, nearly eight years," Moshe said and spread his hands. "You know how some of them are."

"Unfortunately. Listen, FNG. If you want us to talk to you, stop standing in the corner like a little boy in a time-out. Nu, if these guys did not want you on the team, you would be pushing paper somewhere."

"Yeah, in a really small office," Harel said.

"With no windows."

"And three-minute coffee breaks, but the coffee's six floors up—"

"Stairs, no elevator."

"You'd get really fit—"

"But you'd never get any coffee, achi."

"I think these guys could arrange all of that," Gibbs chortled. "You better bend, FNG, or you're gonna get broken."

"I should've gone to the army," Danny said. "This would all be easier."

"Yes," Harel agreed. "That's why I prefer the guys who come up through regular service. All the special cases think they're special."

"Hey, I resent that generalization," Ziva said.

"You're so special that regular service would've been a fucking waste," Harel drawled.

"Shut up, Rozen, or I will kick your ass again."

"And you'll prove my point," Harel said with a grin.

"You are still impossible... Broken matches on the table. So who got ha'chelek ha'ari?" Ziva asked. —the lion's share?

"Me," Harel said, and picked up the only whole match out of six. "It's not like you to use that old Etzel slang."

"And it is not like you to forget how I work," Ziva said.

Harel looked her in the eye for a moment, and snapped the matchstick.

"Did the Etzel people really call an execution 'the lion's share'?" Danny asked.

"Yes. Proof that most of them were fucked in the head," Ziva said curtly. "No better than the terrorists that threaten our country today."

"Don't repeat that," Moshe told Danny. "She's earned the right to say such things and get away with it. You haven't."

"I say it because it is true, and to hell with 'getting away with it,'" Ziva stated. "If you use a small explosive device designed to blow off only one man's head, that is not terrorism. Put three-hundred-and-fifty kilograms of explosives in a semi-public space, like the King David Hotel, and you kill ninety-one people, some of whom are simple laborers and passersby? That is terrorism."

"Fuck," Danny mumbled. "I doubt even Bibi would argue with you, not while you're wearing that expression."

"Hmph. They keep me away from him because certain people know that he is not nearly smart enough to run away," Ziva said, deadly serious.

"Ziva..." Moshe groaned.

"Ma?" What?

"The last time you said something like that, you were grilled for nearly five hours by Shabak."

"You mean that I spent nearly five hours making those Shabaknikim look like idiots. It was fun, but sadly, there will not be a repeat: they know better now."

"She's a very bad example," Moshe told Danny, but he was laughing.

"He taught me to be a 'bad example,' so do not listen to him now, or you will be confused later." Ziva looked at her watch. She picked up a suppressed pistol off of a table, and stole a drag of someone's smoke before saying, "Time to go and talk to Arnaud."

"I wish we could all be in there to see his face," one of the guys said.

"Okay, why is this not an American problem?" Danny finally asked.

"Harel was there, the last time we met with Arnaud. He can tell you the story," Ziva said and opened the basement door.

Harel didn't say a word, and neither did anyone else, until Moshe and Gibbs had followed Ziva through that door and closed it.

Downstairs Gibbs and Moshe stood out of the way. They were the first two people that Jean Arnaud saw when Ziva took off his hood. They just stared at their blinking, middle-aged captive, and said nothing. Ziva stayed behind him, patiently waiting out the minute or so needed for his eyes to adjust to the light.

It was time to put on an act.

Ziva slapped the back of Arnaud's head, hard. He gasped and spat blood: his chin had made contact with his chest, and he'd bitten the tip of his tongue. Across the small room, Gibbs was unable to hide his surprise, and that was exactly what Ziva needed. Even Gibbs had to believe this act. She knew Arnaud. If they dealt civilly with him, they'd get nothing out of him. He had to be made to believe that Ziva was furious with him, killing-mad, and that she was prepared to go to violent lengths to get him to talk.

She hit him again, and he cowered as much as possible. Not much– he was bound to a straight-back chair with duct tape.

"Ben elef zonot," she growled. Son of a thousand whores. "If you say even one word in French, I will start breaking your fingers. Understand?"

"Who are you?" Arnaud asked.

"Now who might be this angry with you?" she said and hit him yet again.

Arnaud tried to turn his head, and was backhanded eyes-front. Ziva stalked around his chair and stood in front of him. He eventually raised his head. He recognized Ziva, and his throat worked audibly. Sweat that had been only beading on his forehead began to run into his eyes.

Ziva held out her hand, and Moshe handed her the pistol she'd given to him minutes ago. She dropped the magazine and checked the loads: full. She bumped the mag back into the well, drew back the slide, and let it go. A cartridge chambered smoothly.

"There are eleven rounds in this weapon. Small caliber rounds. I can easily shoot you ten times, without causing enough trauma to make you lose consciousness, without killing you. We will see if you die slow, or quick."

"Just kill me. Get it over with. You win, okay?"

"Not so fast," Ziva said, and lifted Arnaud's chin with the crown of the pistol's suppressor. "You acted out of revenge, two days ago?"

"I saw the opportunity," Arnaud muttered, flinching away from cold metal. "I made a nice friend at Interpol—"

"He is dead, your Interpol friend. Who helped you and your other friend, Patric Dufaure?"

"How did you know that Patric—"

"Because you made a mistake," Ziva said with a cold smile. "You let him kill Roddy McMahon. That MO? As good as signing his name to the body."

"Shit..." Arnaud muttered.

"Answer my question. Who helped you and Patric?"

"Someone Patric knows. A skinny Englishman. Patric called him Harry, but I don't think that's his name."

"Sometimes he would not answer to it?"

"And then suddenly he would, like he remembered."

"Besides him being a bit careless, tell me about Harry."

"He's missing the little finger on his left hand, which is all scarred and ugly, and the scars run up to his elbow. When I first saw that I thought he couldn't use that hand, but he can."

"A more general description?"

"Skinny, like I said, and not so tall, maybe his height, the one with the glasses," Arnaud said, nodding his head at Moshe. "He has dark blond hair, brown eyes."

"Did you ever see him before he'd shaved?"

"Twice. He has a wide scar through the stubble, along the right jaw."

"But you cannot see it if he shaves, correct?"

"Yes. It was a surprise, when I saw it first," Arnaud said. "Like I said, it's wide– about two centimeters, and it's long, from his ear almost to his chin. But the skin is smooth, so when he shaves..."

"The marvels of modern medicine, huh? Enough about that guy. Tell me about Merle and Yvon."

"It was just their house. They own it. An agency rents it out to whoever wants it."

"Jean, I know that," Ziva said, her tone low and threatening. "What is it that I do not know?"

Arnaud licked his lips, and said nothing, clearly more afraid of someone else than he was of Ziva.

"You are going to die within the next few minutes. They cannot do anything worse to you. But I can."

"Yes," Arnaud mumbled. He cleared his throat and said, "They knew what we were going to do."

"Let's say we want to press charges. What will make them stick?"

"Did you bring my phone?"

"It's upstairs," Moshe said.

"What is on your phone?" Ziva asked.

"A voice recording. Me, Patric, and Yvon and Merle talking about the house, which was perfect, because you can't see any part of it from the street. We had to talk to them first, because of who they know."

"What else did you talk about?"

"You can listen to—"

"I want to hear it from you first," Ziva growled, and drew back her fist.

"Okay, okay," Arnaud said, flinching away. "We talked about what would happen afterwards, how the house would become a crime scene. Naturally, we paid them a lot more because of that."

"Naturally," Ziva drawled. "So explain why are you scared of those two. Who is it that they know?"

"Some scary people. Organized crime bosses, people like that."

"Okay. Dufaure. Where is he?" Ziva asked.

"I don't know. Really, I don't know. But if you go after him, do it quietly or you'll never catch him."

"How did you find him?"

"My late Interpol friend told Patric where to find me," Dufaure said, smirking. "You killed Mister Interpol too quickly."

"It was not me who killed him."

Ziva raised the pistol and Arnaud didn't get a chance to react. The .22 caliber round hit him above the left eyebrow and he slumped against the tape binding him to the chair.

"Shit. Good thing I hit him with my left hand. I need to get ice on this..." Ziva said, looking at the 'spider webs' of broken blood vessels under the skin of her palm. She gestured with the pistol at Arnaud's body. "That is why I did not allow Harel to come down here."

"You could've told him what you wanted," Moshe said.

"But then Gibbs would not have reacted as he did."

"Probably not," Gibbs said. "You shocked the hell outa me."

"And Arnaud was known as someone who could read people very well," Ziva said. "I could not rely only on my acting skills."

"So Gibbs became a believable 'extra.' Good decision," Moshe said. He took the pistol from Ziva. "Upstairs."

"So we're back to square one," Gibbs said, following Ziva up the stairs.

"We will see," Ziva said cryptically.

Washington D.C., Wednesday 02:43 EDT

Not ten minutes ago Jen had been asleep. Now she was wearing body armor, and her primary accessory was a Glock in the holster attached to the front of that vest. She handed a packed bag to a Mossad officer, and followed him and Michal into the garage and into an SUV. On the road two other vehicles, exactly the same, eventually joined theirs, as did three outrider vehicles. The outriders each paired with an SUV, and the three pairs split up at an intersection.

"So where are we going?" Jen said.

"Andrews," Michal said, her eyes glued to the back window. "We're taking you to Israel."

"Who is this guy?"

"Norman Moore. He used to work for us. Freelance assignments. And then he turned on us. He assumed that one of our teams had sold him out, and Ziva was the lead operative of that team. Dufaure probably heard Moore mention Ziva, and it's likely he used her name to get Moore to help him and Arnaud. Dollars to doughnuts, he's damn disappointed that Ziva didn't pitch up at that meeting. He'll come after you now."

"Yigal, turn the vehicle around," Jen said.

"S'licha?" Yigal said. Excuse me?

"L'altar," Jen said firmly. Immediately.

Michal said nothing, but she was smiling. Her orders had come direct from Eli David, not Yossi Gershom or Moshe Aretz or Ziva.

"Michal?" Yigal said.

"You heard her."

The vehicle slowed and Yigal made a three-point turn on the quiet suburban street.

"Thank you," Jen said. "Michali, if we go anywhere, he'll follow."

"Yes," Michal said, nodding. "I tried to tell HaMemuneh—"

"Ordinarily, Eli's orders would make sense," Jen said. "But the last thing we want is Moore travelling out of this country, or even prepping for travel. We don't want him to think we're onto him, because that'll make everything twice as difficult. Where is he exactly?"

"Bethesda," Michal drawled. "At least he hasn't been living there long, only twenty-seven days. But let's not even talk about the breakdown in communication that allowed that man to live so close to Ziva. We'll blame the fact that, ordinarily, we can't touch anyone here. That, and compartmentalization and a whole string of need-to-know orders."

"Again, ordinarily those make sense."

"Yes. Anyway, he's not stupid enough to watch your house. I think he's been driving out in the mornings and evenings, watching the Navy Yard, to see you arrive at work and go home."

"Well, we won't disappoint him," Jen said.

Mossad Safehouse F11, West of Troyes, France, Wednesday 08:52 CEST

Ziva sat bolt upright in bed, sweating, her heart hammering. Something had woken her in the middle of a nightmare. Someone knocked at the door again.

"Bo," she said. Come.

Danny came in and left the door ajar. Ziva crossed her legs under the duvet and made room for him to sit on the bed. He did so and opened his laptop. He was about to just launch into a briefing, but he looked at her first, and frowned.

"You all right?"

"Fine. I am rather fond of my nightmares. They mean that, at heart, I am a good person, even though I shoot tied-up people in the head."

"Is that why they call you one of the best?" Danny asked.

"Part of it," Ziva said. "The rest is scary stuff. I will kill you, or Harel, or Moshe, or Eli'ezer, even, if ever it is proved to me that any of you must die. That is why the other guys are scared of me. Did you notice?"

"Yeah, but Harel isn't scared of you. Why's that?"

"We were trained by the same man, who betrayed our country. So Harel knows that for me to kill one of my own, the reasons must match up."

"That... makes sense," Danny said frowning. "Why don't the others get it?"

"They do on a certain level," Ziva said with a half-shrug. "If you were tactically trained, you might understand better. It is like... Like having to shoot your own dog, because he killed someone. It must be done, but you still love him. Most people would take the dog to a vet. But not me."

"I couldn't even be there when my parents' dog was put to sleep," Danny mumbled. "He was old and had cancer. I knew that, but I couldn't be there."

"I am a big softy, too, really," Ziva said, smiling. "I cried buckets and buckets when my uncle called to say one of our old horses had to be shot. And I cried buckets after I killed that man who betrayed Israel. I had nothing against him personally, you see. So afterwards... Crying about it was not a bad thing."

"Leaving him alive would've been bad."

"Irresponsible," Ziva said, nodding.

"You don't talk to the others like this," Danny said. "Why not?"

"We get you to ask the right questions, and now you are asking them all," Ziva said and laughed.

"Too personal?" Danny asked, looking worried.

"No, I am just amused. They do not ask to me to talk like this. Think about it. Should I go and tell them to sit down and explain everything to them?"

"No, and I get it now," Danny said. "They're in the canoe I was paddling before last night: they don't ask the right questions."

"Nachon," Ziva said. Correct. "So what have you got for me?"

"Your guess was spot-on: 'Harry' is none other than Norman Moore. We know exactly where he is. An eyes-on detail is at his position right now, but our sleepers have been woken up, so Ro'i and his team won't have to compromise their cover."

"Does the sleeper team have a grab element?"

"All multipurpose personnel."

"Good. So where is he?"

"Right on your doorstep. He's been there for a few weeks, actually. Ro'i and his people admit that they've lost him a handful of times in the last twenty-odd days."

"Ro'i is always honest, and very good," Ziva said.

"If I was you I'd be angry with him," Danny said.

"Danny, compartmentalization is what makes it so that we have a low enough profile to kill someone in the States, and get away with it, but only if we have to. In other words I know the rules, and in this case, the rules are good."

"I'm still wet behind the ears, clearly," Danny mumbled.

"Experience comes with time, lots of it... Has Michal been informed?"


"Good. Is a plane waiting for us?" Ziva asked.

"A Gulfstream Four will be fueled and ready to go in..." Danny checked his laptop. "Call it twenty-three minutes from now."

Glilot, Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday 10:34 IDT

Eli walked into his office and flopped into the seat behind his desk. The humidity was off the charts, and despite many green spaces in this city, the sun seemed determined to prove that Israel was very much a desert country.

"Someone could put pots and pans on the blacktop in the car park and cook a three course meal," Eli muttered to Yossi. "So when is Jen getting here?"

"She's not," Yossi said from behind his newspaper.


Yossi folded the newspaper and tossed it onto a nearby coffee table. He got up and closed the door. Amit was cleared, in some instances, even higher than the Prime Minister, but she wasn't cleared to hear Yossi correct Eli.

"Jen's not coming, because she knows better," Yossi said and sat down again. "Why didn't you consult with me before telling Michal to get Jen onto a plane?"

"It's standard policy," Eli said, pointing at a thick manual on his desk.

"Achi, it's standard policy that always has to be dictated to by circumstances. The circumstances are these: if Jen's suddenly whisked away, Norman Moore will spook. He'll run because he'll figure out that we've ID'd him as a local threat. And then we can't find him again for how many years? And look, I'm not saying that you did it all wrong. You didn't, but you need to take that big step sideways from this thing. Walk next to it, and don't let it get personal."

Eli stared at Yossi for a few seconds before rubbing a hand over his face.

"I think you've just committed the sin of letting me off the hook."

"Maybe a little bit," Yossi said. He sneezed and blew his nose before saying, "You erred on the side of caution, after all. That's never a bad mistake to make. You might have complicated things a bit, but you would've made sure that she's safe."

"On the protective side of things, that's our first priority," Eli said.

"Absolutely. Thing is, she is safe. If Norman goes anywhere near Jen, Michal will turn his head into a fucking colander before he can say a word. But it's not Jen that he wants. He knows by now that she's got a protective detail. He couldn't give a fuck. He wants Ziva's head on a plate, and he's going to wait his chance."

"Is she on her way back to the States yet?" Eli asked.

"In the air," Yossi said, nodding. "Norman's as good as dead."

"It's about time for that sonuvabitch," Eli muttered.

Andrews AFB, Wednesday 12:15 EDT

Ziva and Gibbs stepped down from their small jet and hurried over to an HM-V that was waiting on the apron. They were driven to the base gates where they transferred to an SUV. The driver of that vehicle was Michael Jager, and riding shotgun was his boss CIA Director James Marden.

"The game just changed?" Ziva guessed. "Talk to me, Jimmy."

"You folks weren't the only ones that Moore burned, but you are quite conveniently first in line. There's the Mossad, there's us, and MI6, MI5, Italian intel, Spanish intel, and even the goddamn Australians have a price on Moore's head."

"Jesus," Gibbs mumbled. "What the hell did he do?"

"He made a lot of money by selling secrets," Jager said. "But he's not averse to offing people, if the price is right. The sticky news is that lately he's been doing stuff for the Russians, in former Soviet countries."

"They might not be happy with us taking him out," Marden said.

"Fuck them," Ziva said angrily. "I am so sick of them meddling in everything, like saints who are so much better than everyone else. Putin should leave other countries alone until he has fixed the corruption in his."

"Well said," Marden said. "But the point remains—"

"No, it does not," Ziva insisted. "They might have a point to make if I have to go after Moore in Russia, but that is not the case. He will not live to see the sun set on today."

"We might want to keep him alive for a little longer," Jager said, and glanced at Ziva in the rear view mirror. "He might have some juicy stuff to offer us."

"Okay, make up your minds," Ziva said. She sat back and folded her arms. "Am I going after him, or do you want to milk him?"

"If he takes one look at Ziva he'll know he's not gonna live for very long," Gibbs said. "I don't know this piece of shit, but my bet is, he won't tell you jack."

"He will tell me about Dufaure, though," Ziva said. "I know Moore. He believes in revenge like some people believe in God. That is why we have never stopped trying to find him. But Gibbs is right: if I am involved, all Norman will say is where Dufaure is. So if you want to get more out of Moore, I cannot be involved."

"He's Stateside. We can't move on him, not legally," Marden said.

"We have some MI6 people available," Jager said.

"Then just take me home," Ziva said and shrugged. "One less to kill is fine by me. The Brits lock up people like Norman for life, with no chance of parole, so let MI6 handle it. Just make sure to ask about Dufaure."

"We'll ask them to do that," Jager said, but he didn't sound happy.

Ziva scooted forward on the backseat and leaned her elbows on the front seats.

"Jimmy, what is going on?"

"The Brits dare not even dream about asking for extradition if any US Feds grab Moore," Marden said. "They've made it clear, however, that if MI6 is granted leave to grab him, they're going to ship him out to the UK."

"If we allow that, there's no guarantee we'll get anything about Dufaure," Jager added. "We haven't told them anything, but they're wise to the fact that we've given the Mossad carte blanche where Dufaure is concerned. You know how prickly the Brits get around even the idea of targeted killing, executions, and the death penalty... You have explicit orders to kill Moore, Ziva?"

"This is the first time in six years that we have managed to get a long-term position on Norman. Kill-when-able orders have stood for the last nearly seven years. He is number nineteen on our most wanted list. So far, he has caused the deaths of six Mossad operatives, and we suspect his involvement in the deaths of three others. If he had killed or assisted in the killing of nine CIA operatives?"

"We wouldn't have played as nice as you have," Marden said flatly.

"Played nice?" Jager repeated, confused.

"Moore's been careful to stay in countries where the Mossad treads lightly, or not at all," Marden said. "Those orders are actually 'Kill-when-able in any country except this list.'"

"He is not alone," Ziva said. "I can name eleven or twelve people who are as careful as Norman has been. At least four of them are here right now."

"We can't throw the door all the way open," Jager said.

"I am aware," Ziva said. "I have lived in this country for over three years, and so far Kort is the only person I have killed here. He is also the only person to have been killed here by any Mossad operative in the last eight years. Before Kort, we took out Hiram Katz, also on your say-so, and there was someone in Texas in Nineteen-eighty-two."

"Feodorov. Dmitri Feodorov," Marden said. "We signed off on that one, too. In fact, it was a favor. We couldn't move on him... Now I'm thinking about Feodorov, and the eleven years that he lived here knowing we couldn't touch him... He hadn't done as much damage as Moore has... I'm making an executive decision. MI6 is not getting Moore."

"Do I get to tell them that?" Jager said.

"Yes, but tell them after Ziva's iced the bastard," Marden said.

Mossad Safehouse A3, Bethesda MD, Wednesday 13:40 EDT

"Moore is hiking," said Avram. "Rock Creek Park's almost deserted on weekdays, but we've got people there, watching him."

Avram had no last name. If he'd given one to Gibbs, it would've been fake. It was possible that even his first name was fake. About the only thing Gibbs trusted here was Avram's clear dislike of Ziva.

"We could've just cleaned this up as soon as you found out," Avram added.

"Let you 'clean up'? Hayita met," Ziva said flatly. You wish. "Not after the last mess you made. Avram, that is why you were sent here: very little opportunity for you to make even small messes."

Gibbs kept his mouth shut and pretended great interest in his fingernails.

"When will this fucking end?" Avram muttered.

"Today, if you like. I can arrange for a transfer to someplace where we do not care about messes, like Siberia. I hear it is lovely this time of year."

"You're such a bitch," Avram muttered.

"Yes, but I am my own bitch, whereas you are mine, Mister Fuck-up Artist," Ziva said, glaring at him. "Al t'atzben oti ha'yom." Don't piss me off today.

"Is he still fucking you around?" someone asked from another room. "He's fine when you're not here."

"He does not like female authority figures. Maybe I should get Michal assigned to this house for a week."

"Ha! Avram will get disappeared, in two hours flat."

"Two is fiction. Make it three and that is fact," Ziva said.

"Wanna bet?"

"Gabi, stop being an asshole and get out here," Ziva chuckled.

A tall skinny guy with a shock of curly hair strolled through a door and threw a grin Ziva's way. He nodded at Gibbs.

"I know you from somewhere," Gibbs said.

"Can't confirm it, even if you guess right. You know how it is."


"Mostly's good enough," Gabi said. "So Ziva. What're we doing?"

"Paint the picture for me," she said.

"We don't wanna grab him at his place," Gabi said. "He's been there like three weeks, and Ro'i and his team have seen a lotta handyman efforts going on. I'm telling you, Moore's made it so we'll get fucked up if we go in there."

"Tripwires and laser beams, and maybe the whole fucking house will go 'BOOM!'" Avram said.

"Makes sense," Ziva agreed. "Can you call my office? Tell Todd that we need an EOD team on standby."

"Our people would be better," Avram said, shaking his head.

"Idyot!" Ziva snapped. "Our people cannot evacuate the whole fucking neighborhood."

"Okay, so the Fucking Bureau of Investigation bomb squad defuses everything, and then?" Avram said. "Their people go in that house and get fingerprints and DNA. What if they find the body? They track it to us and we're fucked."

"Avram, do you really think we are running a Mickey Mouse operation?"

"Disneyland's in Florida, kid," Gibbs said angrily. "I been doing this stuff since before you were born. Our people will be going in that house, and the plants will start at spit on plates and end at shit-specks in the toilet."

"Lech titkasher leTodd," Ziva repeated. Go and call Todd.

"You're not supposed to speak Hebrew," Avram muttered. "None of us are."

"Avram, lech tizdayen," Gibbs growled. —go fuck yourself.

Avram certainly wasn't expecting Hebrew from Gibbs, and especially not that Hebrew. Neither was Gabi: he sprayed a sip of water everywhere.

"No accent..." Avram mumbled.

"Yeah, like he's from Ashdod," Gabi said.

"Oh, the pride..." Ziva giggled. "I might burst from it."

"Fuckin' A for 'Awesome,'" Avram mumbled.

"Is he smoking something?" Gibbs asked.

"No-no, he is really impressed," Ziva said, laughing. "Avram, go call Todd about the fucking EOD team already."

"Yeah, I'm going."

"How many times have you said 'fuck' since you walked in this house?" Gibbs said.

"How the fuck should I know?" Ziva said and laughed.

"Yeah, counting swears is for the fucking Censorship Board," Gabi said with a grin.

"And are we really gonna go out and kill someone in a few?" Gibbs drawled.

"Al tidag, achi. Yiyeh be'seder," Gabi chuckled. Don't worry, brother. It'll be okay. "The smiles always go away for the serious shit. But before that? Life's too short, and it's mostly fucked up. Laugh while you can."

"We should make that into a big sign and put it up at Ben Gurion Airport," Ziva said.

"I know some really bored Shabaknikim—" Gabi began.

"Lo amarti shum davar al zeh," Ziva giggled. I didn't say anything about that.

"Chicken! C'mon, Zee. That's a brilliant—"

"You two can argue later," Avram said from another room. "You got that bomb squad, and a sleeper team is in place. Leo's just called to say that Moore's going back to his car."

"ETA at his car?" Ziva said.

"More than an hour, almost ninety minutes: plenty time. Just follow Leo's signal," Avram said. "Gabi?"

"On screen," he said, and showed Ziva a satellite tracking unit. He pointed out a pulsing red dot. "That's Leo. Whoever Leo is."

"Is that good or bad?" Gibbs asked.

"Good," Ziva said while following Gabi to the door. She paused there and tossed over her shoulder: "Avram, if anybody comes here, and it is not us, or Ro'i and his team, or Michal's people, make a big fucking mess, okay?"

"Seven rounds of twelve gauge mess," Avram agreed.

"Fucking blood-thirsty Kipa Sruga kitzoni meshugah," Gabi muttered and locked the door.

"That's new," Gibbs said.

"A simple translation is 'religious right-wing nationalist nut-job,'" Gabi said. "Ziva, if you send him to Siberia, he'd somehow start a war."

"I am not sending him anywhere. The poor baby is stuck with you," Ziva said with a sweet smile. "Just think, he might go home and play video games and shoot up targets on the Shabat."

"You are a bitch," Gabi chortled. "I like it."

"You Israelis are fucking crazy..." Gibbs said, shaking his head.

"Oh no, no, we are not," Ziva said seriously.

She got into the front passenger seat of an SUV that was idling, with a Mossad driver at the wheel. She waited until Gibbs and Gabi had gotten in, too.

"We sanely and deliberately chip away at guys like Avram, because as-is, people like him really do start wars. First trip home, he will make a choice, and I do not think he will choose to stay with us."

"Calls his dad every day, from a payphone," Gabi said. He looked over his shoulder to check that a second SUV was following them. "Those calls must cost the guy a fucking fortune... Avram's gonna leave service."

"That's a waste of some pretty expensive training," Gibbs noted.

"We give guys like him a chance," Gabi said. "Most of the time they don't make it through the first three months, let alone four years."

"We sent him here to make or break him," Ziva said quietly, looking out her window. "Others like him... They get their heads lined up right. They accept every aspect of the job, including being stationed thousands of kilometers from home. They adjust their religious practices to fit with their careers... They are our best, the very best we have. The most moral, the most accountable: good examples, every single one."

"Michal's one of them," their driver said, looking at Gibbs's reflection in the rear view mirror. "You'd never guess, though."

"I only met her briefly, literally a second or two of eye-contact, but no, I wouldn't have guessed."

In the front passenger seat, Ziva put her head back and closed her eyes. Gibbs could see her profile, as well as a pulse-point in her throat. He watched it closely and shook his head when that flicker visibly slowed. She'll lift her head in a moment, he thought, and sure enough she did. Her eyes opened, and a slight movement of her head to the left told him that she was well-aware of his gaze. Beyond that she paid him no attention, eyes focused on traffic beyond the windshield.

"Leo and his people know that we gotta get Norman alive?" Gibbs asked Gabi.

"I presume. Sleepers always get their orders from whoever's in charge of Metzada, and Yossi woulda said we need him alive... They'll be positioned to cut him off if he runs."

"He will run," Ziva said, certain.

Rock Creek Park MD, Wednesday 15:06 EDT

A soft rain was falling, and mist was beginning to form around the treetops. Ziva jogged quietly between trees and shrubs, occasionally looking to her left and right: Gibbs and Gabi were both about fifty yards away from her, keeping to her pace.

"He still doesn't suspect," Leo's voice arrived in Ziva's ear.

"We just passed that bridge you told me about," she huffed quietly. "We are running downhill... I can see the parking lot."

"How many cars?"

"One. Silver sedan."

"That's his," Leo said. "I'm in the trees. What's the mist doing?"

"Moving southwest. There is a breeze. It will not settle."

"Good... Don't worry about the car. It's got a flat."


As they reached the parking lot, Ziva signaled to Gabi to stay put. He ducked behind a neatly trimmed hedge. Gibbs checked his pace when Ziva slowed to a walk. He obeyed her hand signal and strolled over to her. They walked along in silence, arms brushing occasionally, eyes darting here and there, looking for Moore.

"Ziva," Leo said. "If you need someone to take a laming shot to slow him up, Sarah's your girl. She's got a long gun trained on him right now."

"I would rather tackle him, but if we need that shot, I will let her know."

"Okay... He's coming along the road towards you."

"We do not see him yet," Ziva said.

"Just keep going."

"Okay," Ziva said. She took a quick look around at sheets of rain that had gotten heavier. "Fuck this rain. He sees us walking in it..."

"We can't help that," Leo said. "And you're gonna see each other any second now... Couple more steps."

"Yeah, we see him," Ziva said.

"Ziva, me, Sarah, and Joe have got thermal optics. If he runs into the woods, we can track him, so listen out for me, okay?"

"WILCO," Ziva said.

Ahead of them on the winding paved road, Moore had slowed his brisk pace to a stroll.

"Only an idiot wouldn't know what he's thinking," Gibbs said. "Who the hell goes for a walk in rain like this?"

"Like Leo said, we cannot—Running!" Ziva snapped and bolted after Moore.

"I got eyes on him," Leo said. "Watch your pace. Remember that he won't, Ziva; he's just running. Chase, don't race."

Ziva didn't answer, but she slowed her pace a little, and that was enough to allow Gibbs to draw level. He vectored off to her right to go around the base of a knoll. Ziva went straight over it, her line angling towards Moore's. Ziva kept an eye on him, but focused as well on dodging trees and leaping over fallen logs, rocks, and the occasional low shrub. After one of those leaps she lost sight of Moore.

"Where is he, Leo?"

"Still running, but Sarah says that he's slowing," Leo said, and he was huffing, obviously moving. "He's running straight past her position. He's gonna hit the creek soon."

"The rocky part, or the place with steep banks?" Ziva huffed.

"The steep bit."

"Tell Gibbs to get in the stream bed."

"Copy," Leo said.

Gibbs got that message. He switched direction and headed straight for the nearest bank of Rock Creek. He had to scramble around, looking for a place to drop down safely. As soon as he was down, gun drawn and ready, he jogged carefully along the edge of the creek bed, keeping out of the water as much as possible.

Ziva spotted Moore for the first time in almost a minute. When she noticed that his pace was considerably slower, she put on some speed, and lanced in to tackle him in flank. As she closed the distance, he tried to kick up some more speed, but too late. Ziva leapt and her shoulder sank in just above his hip. Her arms went around him, and she successfully tackled him to the ground. They rolled quite a way downhill, and Ziva's grip on him slipped. Moore wriggled free and kicked at her, but Ziva was already on her feet. She blocked the kick, and aimed one of her own. He evaded it, rolling to come up into a crouch.

Ziva saw Gibbs climb out of the creek bed, but he was some distance away. She couldn't think about Gibbs now, and didn't have to: he'd position himself to help her.

Moore launched himself at Ziva, and she saw the dull flash of a blade just in time.

Instinct and years of training kicked in. Eyes on that long knife, she parried his thrust by slamming the heel of her hand against his forearm. That threw his arm back, but he used that position to swing the blade at her. She danced back out of the way, then did what he didn't expect: she took a step in. He swung the blade again, slashing at her, thinking to lay open her belly. But his wrist was caught, his forearm locked between that grip and the crook of Ziva's free elbow. Her free hand snaked over and joined the hand on his wrist, and a slight twist resulted in Moore's elbow locking. She wrenched up violently and his elbow snapped. The knife fell to the ground.

Before Moore could scream, Gibbs hooked an arm around his throat from behind, choking him. Ziva slapped Moore's face, and that shifted his focus away from both his broken elbow and the arm around his throat.

"Just hold him up, Gibbs," Ziva said, panting.

"Yeah," he answered, loosening his choke-hold a little.

Ziva bent and picked up the knife, a Ka-Bar, a simple no-questions-asked purchase from any surplus store. She flipped the knife a few times, eventually catching it by the grip. She wagged the blade at Moore.

"You brought a knife to a fight with me?"

"If I'd known you were coming today, I'd have brought a rifle, with a scope," Moore said and winced. "The knife was all I had. I feel bloody stupid, lemme tell you."

"Time for you to feel more stupid," Ziva said. "It was not me who sold you out to the Romanian mafia. It was not me who made it so that you got all those scars."

"Who then?"

"HaMossad had him killed about two years ago. Your so-called friend, Cezar Costel," Ziva said and leaned in close to Moore's face. "I am not lying, Norman."

"Fucking bastard," Moore muttered.

"He is a dead bastard," Ziva said and shrugged. "Patric Dufaure is not dead. I must make him dead, yes?"

"Him and Arnaud, unless he's dead already."

"He is. He told us about Dufaure's friend 'Harry,' who is you."

"Patric skipped out on me," Moore snarled.

"Yes, I thought so. You know where he is?"

"I was gonna go bump him off after doing you," Moore said. A glint came into his eyes, and he said, "Your girlfriend's pretty. Very pretty."

"Yes, she is," Ziva said, smiling, relaxed. "But Norman, that is like bringing this knife to fight me. You remind me that Jen is beautiful, and that I love her, and she loves me... and I just cannot hurt you the way you want me to."

"Gave it a try," Moore said.

"Was worth a try," Ziva said. "Where is Dufaure?"

"There's a phone in my right jacket pocket. SD card's got all the details."

Ziva nodded to Gabi, who'd joined them by now. He fished in Moore's pocket and got the phone. He removed the Micro SD card and hot-swapped it with the one in his HTC Advantage X7510. He took off the cover, which was also the keyboard. Gabi snapped it into position, and the Advantage went from looking like a black block to something resembling an open laptop.

"What the bleedin' hell is that thing?" Moore asked. "Looks awesome..."

"It's a thousand bucks of awesome," Gabi said. "Pity you're gonna get dead soon. We could've had fanboy moments. Password?"

Moore gave it up without hesitation, which didn't surprise Gabi in the least. Like Ziva, he knew all about Moore's lust for revenge. Moore wanted Dufaure dead and helping Ziva and her friends was going to make that happen. Gabi punched in the password and soon had access to the contents of the SD card.

"Folder or file name?" Gabi asked.

"Folder called 'Next,'" Moore said. "Lots of goodies on that card, lad. A gaggle of intel agencies will love it if you share."

"I'll check it all out. 'Next'... 'Dufaure, Patric'... Wow. Eight addresses?"

"All hard-locks," Moore said. "He owns those properties. Can't say which one he went to."

"We'll find him," Gabi said.

Ziva gestured for Gabi to step back, and he did so.

"You're gonna gimme that knife back, aren't you?" Moore said.

"No, that is too slow. But anyway, the order is that you are to be shot. You know me."

"The orders help you keep your distance," Moore said.

"Yes... Sarah?"

"I have the shot. Move away to your right," Sarah said in Ziva's ear.


Ziva nodded at Gibbs and he let go of Moore, stepping away as Ziva was doing. Moore frowned and looked around, but he could never have seen Sarah and her rifle, almost a hundred yards away.

"Eh, what's—" Moore began.

There was a soft Splat! sound, and a small red dot appeared above Moore's eyebrow. He dropped in a heap on the ground. Ziva walked forward and checked his pulse: faint and failing.

"Clean shot, Sarah," Ziva said.

"Copy that."

"What do we do with the trash?" Gabi asked, nodding at the body.

"You three can just go home," Leo said, still somewhere out of sight. "We'll take care of the trash. Then we'll go back to sleep, like good lil sleepers. My wife thinks I've driven out to fix someone's tractor."

"Bet you're muddy enough to look like you were on that job," Gibbs said.

"Saves finding mud to crawl around in... We done here?"

"Thanks, Leo," Ziva said. "Comms out?"

"Freq' change. Comms all out," Leo said.

Ziva's earpiece beeped twice. She left it in. It was so damn small that if she accidentally dropped it in the leaf litter at her feet she'd never find it. She gave Moore's body one last look and walked away.

Gibbs fell into step with her, as did Gabi, and the three of them walked in silence for a while.

"Should I even ask about Leo and the others?" Gibbs said eventually.

"I dunno who they are," Gabi said and shrugged.

"Me neither," Ziva said. "It is possible that this is their first ever call-out. It may be their last, too."

"D'you know who trains them?" Gabi asked.

"Our people, but which division? Lo yoda'at," Ziva said. Don't know. "Even though Yossi gave them their orders, I know for sure they are not trained with Metzada operatives."

"Well, they know their shit," Gibbs said. "Both the trainers and the sleepers. That's all I care about."

"Me, too," Ziva said. "Gabi, call Todd and tell him to send that EOD team to Moore's house."

Sometime later, Todd relayed a report that mostly consisted of a list of explosive devices and traps. Later still the seven o'clock news ran the story, with an FBI spokesman saying that the person who'd rented the house had disappeared. There was also a police sketch of that man. The sketch looked nothing like the late Norman Moore.

Glilot, Tel Aviv, Israel, Wednesday 23:58 IDT

Eli startled awake from a doze and looked at his monitor. It, too, had gone to sleep. He nudged the mouse and the black screen was replaced with eight small satellite images. Each image was live, but none bore a red ACTIVITY tag. Eli checked them all himself. Double-clicking on an individual image caused it to fill the screen. He gave each one a few minutes: nothing out of the ordinary. There were people at each address, but no-one seemed to be preparing for Dufaure's arrival. If I was him, I wouldn't tell anyone I was coming, Eli thought.

He rubbed at his eyes and lit a cigarette. He glared through the smoke at one of those eight images. Dufaure just had to have a home there. Earlier, Yossi had read that address and had looked worried for the first time since this whole thing began, but he'd said that he didn't dare suggest to Ziva that another operative could take her place. If Yossi wasn't brave enough to tread that path, Eli wasn't going to go anywhere near the subject.

It had been eight years ago, but whenever he thought about those interminable two months, it felt like they'd finally come to an end only yesterday. Eli had thought that Ziva would quit, but she took two weeks of medical leave, during which time he'd hardly seen her unless he'd gone to the farm. And when she'd come back from leave, one had to know the details, or it appeared that she wasn't even a little changed.

Those who knew the details were aware of the change in her. Ziva had always possessed a fairly high level of maturity, but she'd come back with an even older head. There was a new edge to her, as well, as if she hadn't always had enough edges. This one was different, and it stood out to everyone, even those who didn't know all the details. It was a thin line, but sharp. Ziva, who'd never claimed to be entitled to anything in her entire life, had come back from those two weeks of medical leave with the knowledge that she was entitled, within the Israeli intel community, to a fairly high level of respect.

After all, she'd earned it.

Yossi coughed in his sleep, and startled Eli out of his train of thought. He checked the thermometer on his desk: just under eighteen degrees Celsius. He fetched a light cotton blanket from a cabinet and carefully draped it over Yossi.

"Old woman..." Yossi muttered.

"I'll take that one as 'Thank you,'" Eli said and sat down again.

"Mmph," said Yossi. He sat up and gathered the blanket around his shoulders. He yawned before saying, "Is Norman dead yet?"

"He's cold already. He was killed more than an hour ago... Try to get some more sleep?"

"I have to take a piss."

"Shoes," Eli said, pointing at Yossi's sandals. "The tiles are cold."

"Yeah," Yossi said and coughed. He put on his sandals and shuffled to the door, blanket and all. "Call one of our docs about an antibiotic. Fucking flu..."

Eli made the call while trying really hard not to be an old woman. The last time Yossi had taken anything like antibiotics had been after he'd gotten shot in the Yom Kippur War. The doctor mentioned that same fact, in an amazed tone, and promised to be there shortly. He was on shift and still in the building; he arrived just as Yossi returned from the bathroom.

Eli stood by, with his arms folded, while Yossi submitted to saying "Aah," submitted to the doctor's stethoscope on his chest and back, submitted to his blood pressure being taken, and submitted to sucking on a thermometer. Eli really didn't like all that wordless submission. The doctor took out the thermometer and looked at the reading. His eyebrows shot up.

"Damn summer flu– always bad. I'll go to Ichilov and get your script filled out," the doctor said, referring to a hospital not far away. "I don't have anything strong enough here. You should be at home, in bed."

"You tell that to the international op we're monitoring," Yossi muttered.

"I see. Okay. I'll be back," the doctor said. On his way out he said, "Eli, have you got any spare socks here?"


"I hate socks..." Yossi grumbled.

"Socks," Eli and the doctor insisted in chorus.

"Oh fine, fuck it," Yossi said and sniffed loudly. To Eli: "Can I have that hot lemon thing?"

"I'll make you one. Put those on."

Eli tossed a balled pair of athletic socks into Yossi's lap. He rolled his eyes at grumbles about socks and went to put the kettle on. He dropped a dollop of honey into a mug, squeezed the juice of half a lemon on top of it, and filled the mug with boiling water. Eli left the spoon in the mug. Yossi could stir it himself. Back in his office, Yossi thanked him for the drink with a grunt.

The phone rang. Eli sat on the edge of his desk and picked up the handset.


"Me," Ziva said in English.

"What d'you mean who?" Eli said.

"Very punny," Ziva said and laughed. "When Gibbs said he wanted to learn some Hebrew, that punny thing was the first lesson he got."

"Mi is who, and hu is he, and hi is she," Eli said.

"That one, yeah. Nu? Do you have a fix on Dufaure yet?"

"Not yet. It's a process of elimination," Eli said. "We're using satellites. The usual: watch, wait, watch, wait. There are people living at all eight addresses—"

"What, like caretaker staff?"

"Yes, it looks that way... We've called in several favors. Tomorrow we'll split the watching duties between us and the Company. Other favors... We have either local assets or loaned personnel available to get physical eyes-on watches on those places, but only if satellite imagery reveals high levels of activity. No matter where he goes, he'll take extra people with him."

"I agree," Ziva said. "He is nothing like incautious. He is expecting trouble, so he will have extra guns to help him get out of it."

"Well, he can try," Eli said.

"All he wants. He will get terminated anyway," Ziva stated.

Yossi coughed and that was immediately followed by a sneeze.

"Who is that?" Ziva said.

"Yossi. Right now we're waiting for the doctor to come back with antibiotics that Yossi asked for."

"Fuck. He is that bad?"


"Hmph," Ziva snorted. "I really do not know how he has survived this long. When it comes to his health... Yoter mazal mi'sechel." More luck than sense.

"Telling me," Eli agreed. "He keeps calling me an 'old woman'—"

"I won't anymore, okay?" Yossi grumbled in English. "That's Ziva?"


"Tell her, about Norman, fucking good job."

"I heard," said Ziva.

"She heard," Eli relayed. To Ziva: "One of us will call you as soon we find Dufaure."

"Be'seder," Ziva said. Okay. "I am at my office, but I am going home in a few minutes... I hope you are getting enough sleep."

"Now who's the 'old woman'?" Eli chortled.

"Tsk! Yallah-bye," Ziva said.

"Bye," Eli said and hung up. Switching to Hebrew, he said to Yossi, "She didn't say anything about my screw-up with Jen."

"Because I told Jen and Michal that I'd talk to you. One of them told Ziva about it by now. Your daughter doesn't believe in beating dead donkeys."

"Lucky for me, I suppose."

"Yeah. Getting a lecture from Ziva is no fun at all," Yossi said ruefully.

"Not fun, no," Eli said. "But last year in June she gave me a lecture that served to make me better at this job. It also helped to fix our relationship a bit."

"Started to fix it, you mean," Yossi said and slurped the last of the honey-lemon drink. He put down the mug. "You both still have a lot of work to do, but you both want to do that work. It'll come right."

"You're much better at the parenting thing than I've ever been... You and Nili should've had kids."

"Huh. Where's Nili, Eli'ezer?" Yossi muttered. "You think when she walked out she wouldn't have taken those kids?"

"I'm sorry."

"For what, achi?" Yossi said. "You never say 'sorry' for keeping me in one piece, those years ago."

"I meant that I'm sorry I brought it up."

"Don't be," Yossi said and huddled in the blanket. "I've got kids. Ziva, and all your brothers' kids are mine, too."

"And considering their bad behavior on certain occasions, it shows," Eli drawled.

"Yes. I'm an excellent influence," Yossi said with a grin.

Shepard David Residence, Washington D.C., Wednesday 19:23 EDT

Gibbs sat at the breakfast nook table with a beer, playing observer. Reading Michal was really difficult. If he'd met her elsewhere, if she hadn't been connected to Ziva, he'd never have guessed at her profession. Her pantsuit and tailored blouse helped her to look like a lawyer, but Gibbs guessed that she'd exude that air of professionalism even while wearing holey jeans and a T-shirt. And the longer he sat here, the longer he kept Michal in his line of sight without looking directly at her, the more the tells dropped into place.

To others her lean face, neck, and hands might only have indicated that she was exceptionally fit. Gibbs paired that level of fitness with a slight tension in her body. A quick glance might've resulted in someone thinking that Michal was relaxed and comfortable, but the line of her shoulders didn't fit with 'relaxed,' and the extreme stillness of her body—she only moved if she had to—did not match with 'comfortable.'

But to listen to her talking up a storm with Ziva and Jen... Gibbs had years of the kind of experience that most others just did not have, and while Michal talked easily, her body betrayed a certain level of discomfort.

"They pulled you off something," Gibbs said, interrupting their conversation.

Michal looked at him a moment. She looked away and sipped from a glass of water.

"Something big," Gibbs said.

"I can go back to it," Michal said.

"You're lying."

"Jethro," Jen said.

Ziva put a hand on Jen's arm and shook her head.

"I'm half-lying," Michal said to Gibbs. "I'm almost certain that I can talk my superiors into returning me to that assignment. After all, I'm only supposed to be taking a break. The people I've worked with for the last fifteen months might become suspicious if I don't go back."

"Good leverage," Gibbs said. "But you might need to add more torque to the arm you wanna twist."

"The mark is high priority, and I am—was this close—" Michal held her finger and thumb a half-inch apart. "It'll take someone else another fifteen months to get as close."

"Longer maybe."

"Longer, definitely," Michal said, and anger flashed briefly in her eyes.

"You don't like your replacement, or trust them, and you think they can't find their way out of a paper bag," Gibbs stated.

"Now I know why you like him," Michal said to Ziva.

"Not much slips past Gibbs," Ziva said, nodding. "When should you be back on that job?"

"Another week, ten days at a stretch."

"Even if we have not found Dufaure by then, I will tell Eli'ezer to send you back. Rachel could have handled this job."

"I agree, but HaMemuneh felt that I was better, because Jenny knows me."

"But I trust Rachel. Ziva trusts her, therefore I do," Jen said.

"Men are dense sometimes," Gibbs spoke up.

"My father more often than most," Ziva drawled. "He seems to have trouble separating 'professional' from 'personal.' The thing with getting Jen on a plane– not really a mistake. But Michali, he assigned you just because you know Jen? My God. Somebody is in need of a lecture."

"I'm so glad that's not me," Michal chuckled.

"She's lectured you before?" Gibbs asked.

"When she was still a trainee officer," Michal said. "Even though I'm six years older, and at the time my rank far exceeded hers, she literally reduced me to tears."

"You deserved it," Ziva said and checked on a roasting chicken.

"I did," Michal agreed. She watched the water swirling in her glass, and said, "I stopped being a tzfonit bitch that day. Never looked back."

"Tzfonit?" Gibbs said. "The feminine of tzfoni?"

"Yes, but male snobs are usually never as bad as female ones," Michal said.

"And she was bad," Ziva said.

"Ziva made me grow up in one day flat. I was twenty-six but I acted like a spoiled eighteen-year-old. Before that day I didn't think that I'd stay with HaMossad. I mean, I was just doing what almost everyone in my family had done. Service in the Mossad is a tradition with us. But Ziva made me think about that in terms of what my service could mean for the country."

"So that lecture wasn't delivered from a personal perspective?" Jen asked.

"Oh, it was!" Michal said and laughed. "She basically said, 'This is who I am' and she added a list. And then she told me what I was. It was all very uncomplimentary, all of it brutally true, and intensely personal. A case of 'If the truth hurts.' I fixed it. Still hurts sometimes."

"Those bits that still hurt cannot be fixed," Ziva said. "We cannot choose our parents. We cannot go back and change the way we were raised. And Michali, in case you have not worked it out, I had a far-from-idyllic childhood."

"I guessed at some of that. I mean, Eli David is your father," Michal drawled.

"Compared to my mother, Eli'ezer is an angel," Ziva said. "And someone can change the subject, because this line of conversation has gone as far as I will allow."

Jen effected that change of subject, and Gibbs returned to observing. Ziva had said that she and Michal might be friends, if they were given enough time to know each other. Gibbs was pretty sure, now, that there was no chance of them ever becoming close friends. There was a gap between them that, for some reason, Ziva felt should be kept. Gibbs couldn't put a finger on why, but that worried him, and he made up his mind to ask about it as soon as he could.

That was after dinner, when Michal had gone up to her room, and Jen was in the study dealing with paperwork. Until he and Ziva went after Dufaure, Gibbs would be staying in this house. He didn't mind. He regularly showed up over weekends to relax in 'his' recliner and watch a game on TV. Sometimes the talk over dinner would stretch on past midnight, and in that case he usually ended up in a guestroom instead of going home.

He and Ziva sat in the kitchen now, with a scotch each.

"What's with that barrier between you and Michal?"


Ziva had been staring into space, and that question was the last she'd expected.

"You shut down the conversation," Gibbs said. "And that had nothing to do with mention of your childhood."

"Ha'yom lo Yom Kippur," Ziva said. Today's not the Day of Atonement. "She will not let go of certain things. That is not my problem, and something she has never learned—clearly—is that I should not have to feel bad about that. Commiseration is one thing. 'Make me feel better' is very different... I just do not have the energy for that right now."

"So that's what was worrying me," Gibbs said. "I thought it had to do with you and Michal."

Ziva shook her head and she was silent for a long while. Gibbs patiently sipped at his scotch.

"I do not know who Sarah is, and yet I let her take that shot today..." Ziva muttered eventually.

"There was a weird kinda familiarity between you and Moore," Gibbs said. "Like you knew him real well."

"I did, and he knew me," Ziva said, and her expression was angry. "I hate it when bad guys are likeable. They should all be despicable, unprincipled monsters, but the truth is, some of them are not and that is why the good guys end up working with them on occasion. It is why Norman worked with us and for us. He was... useful. And it was terrible, when we realized that he had turned, that he was killing our people. It took us nearly two years to work out why, and we took out Costel, because he was the root of our problem with Norman... He was so fucking likeable that several people will be sad to hear that he is dead, and never mind that he was on our most wanted list."

"That's... complicated," Gibbs said. "Glad I'm not one of those people."

"I cannot decide if I am one of them, or if I feel that it is good to be rid of him," Ziva said and rubbed at her forehead.

"Y'know, people suck," Gibbs said. He smiled when Ziva laughed. He added, "That you're feeling that way proves how much he sucked, how good at manipulation he was."

"That is a better perspective," Ziva said.

"In your place, it's the perspective I'd force myself to take, and hang on to like crazy."

"I am doing that, already." Ziva reached across the table and patted Gibbs's hand. "Thanks."

"What friends are for," Gibbs said.

"That, and following me halfway round the world, and jumping out of planes in the middle of the night."

"Excuse me?" Jen said as she came in.

"Tandem jump," Ziva said.

"Pretty cool– you should try it, though I admit I kinda felt like baggage," Gibbs said.

"I'll pass, thanks. I'm enough of an old bag," Jen said.

"Elek..." Ziva said and rolled her eyes. As if... "Is the paperwork all done?"

"No, but the rest can wait," Jen said.

She poured herself a scotch and topped the other two glasses on the table. She sat next to Ziva.

"I hope your people find Dufaure soon," Jen said.

"Two days at most," Ziva said. "Then maybe another two to get him, but maybe more."

"I can survive a crowded house for another few days."

"I can go home," Gibbs said.

"Can you take all the Mossad people with you?" Jen drawled. "Anyway, you hardly qualify as a 'crowd.' In case you missed the clue, I like having you here."

"I got the clue, but I was thinking along the lines of one less."

"I would rather you stay here," Ziva said. "I doubt Dufaure cares about any of us, but Norman was involved, which means that Dufaure knows all of our addresses. Even though they are elsewhere, we have people watching McGee, Tony, Abby, and Ducky's homes."

"Where exactly is 'elsewhere'?" Jen asked.

"We will find out when they come back."

"You really don't know?" Gibbs asked.

"I would not want access to that information," Ziva said. "There exists a threat against those people, and I have been in contact with the threat. What if Arnaud or Norman had gotten the better of me? What if Dufaure manages that? I am trained to resist interrogation, but it is by far better not to know where my friends are, than to try to avoid revealing their location."

"I really shoulda thought along those lines," Gibbs muttered.

"You're tired," Jen said.

"Scotch isn't helping," Gibbs said and took a sip anyway. "I'm taking the rest of this up to bed. G'night, ladies."

"Sleep well," Ziva said.

"See you in the morning," Jen said.

Gibbs walked away, with his free hand rubbing at his lower back.

"He's getting old," Jen whispered to Ziva.

"I sprinted. He tried to keep up."

"Old and a little dense upstairs," Jen said. "He's not built for that kind of running, and he should know that by now... Where do you think Dufaure is?"

"Not far enough," Ziva said quietly. "No matter where he is, we will get him."

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington D.C., Thursday 09:15 EDT

There'd been a transfer at a gas station. Gibbs and Ziva had gotten out of a car bearing two armed Mossad officers, and into a larger SUV bearing four armed FBI agents. Those four men didn't let their charges out of their sight until Ziva and Gibbs entered a conference room. They should've been the last to arrive but they had to wait for Quentin Holsten. He eventually walked through the door looking like someone who'd been to a funeral.

"What's up?" Jager asked.

"Gilliam is packing up his office," Holsten said, referring to the Secretary of Homeland Security. "I take it someone here has something to do with that."

"Somewhere in the Bible it says that the guilty run though no-one chases them," Gibbs said.

"Proverbs Twenty-eight, verse one," Sandy supplied.

"But the next verse says that the righteous are bold as lions," Fornell said. "Jager's boss gave Gilliam an option: resign or get run out."

"He cleared Arnaud personally," Jager said. "You really think that that can be let slide?"

"If Gilliam had not fucked up," Ziva said. "He would have taken his chances and stayed put. Argue with that."

Holsten said nothing and poured himself a glass of water. Ziva ignored him and switched her focus to Thomassi.

"So how many rats to trap, Gavin?"

"Of the seventeen people we've been looking at... Four direct ties, another seven indirect but we can work those angles. The rest we might as well write off, unless they know Dufaure."

"Write 'em off," Gibbs said. "They don't know him. We only got those names because of their connection either to La Grange or to Merle and Yvon."

"Yeah, I go with that," Andy Perth said. "DIPSEC investigators turned up half of those names because of their connection to La Grange."

"Until this mess, I didn't even know Diplomatic Security has procedural investigators," Thomassi said.

"We deliberately keep them low-profile," Perth said.

"No-one here's gonna spread it around," Sandy said. "Right, Holsten?"

He glared at her but didn't say anything. Ziva guessed that the last three days had not been fun for Mr. Holsten. Sandy Hillman could've been described as the deep end of the Takes-no-shit pool. Even Ziva tended to cat-foot it around Sandy, but that had more to do with respect than anything else. Sandy had been in law enforcement for twenty-five years, and at least fifteen of those years had been an uphill battle against sexism and misogyny. Like other long-service women Sandy had, essentially, helped to make conditions better for younger female law enforcement officers, just by being there and never backing down. But Holsten probably didn't give a damn about that. He wasn't a law enforcement officer; he was just attached to an agency that, so far, had a reputation for not playing nicely with other agencies.

Ziva didn't know what DHS's problem was, and right now she didn't care.

"Just in case Dufaure has eyes on certain people," she said. "We will not be moving against anyone until Dufaure has been taken down."

"Any luck locating him?" Fornell asked.

"He's got eight properties," Gibbs said. "So far they're all just being looked after by small staff complements."

"A hit man makes that much money?"

"Doesn't seem right..."

"He's into other things," Fornell said. "Mostly blackmail, which also feeds info sales."

"He twists arms, and people cough up secrets," Jager said. "That big Mexican IT takeover that didn't go down last year? We strongly suspect that Dufaure had his fingers in that pie, that he supplied enough information for the other companies to gang up and sink the buy-out group."

"For something like that..." Gibbs said. "That's a seven-figure payoff, easy."

"If not more," Jager said. "Those companies could've rustled up ten mill, even fifteen: eight figures."

"My God..." Holsten mumbled. "And what about other deals like that, ones we've never heard of?"

"Yeah, they don't even need to be that big," Thomassi said.

"If he's filling two, three smaller info-based jobs a month he could pull six figures each month, so call it eight figures per year," Fornell said. "Add in the four or five hits that we know about, every goddamn year, and he's got enough to buy and maintain Buckingham Palace."

"Why haven't you gone after this guy before?" Holsten asked.

"Not enough evidence," Fornell muttered. "We know his MO, we know a shitload of other stuff, but making it stick... This time, though, he stepped even further over the line and killed federal agents, and he conveniently threatened the life of a Mossad officer. Now not even I care how we get him. Fuck due process."

"The bit of me that isn't a lawyer agrees with you," Holsten said. "The lawyer part hopes that all this business is as rare as I think it is."

"Like hen's teeth," Jager said.

"Even in Mossad circles it is rare, believe it or not," Ziva said. "We take out traitors and terrorists, because locking them up only serves to gain them more support. Other kinds of criminals... The idea is that it is always preferable to lock someone up for life: the rest of their life should then become an example to other people that this is what happens when you break the law. But when it comes to hit men, I personally feel that the process of law is wasted on people who kill for pay."

"Bullets fix 'em just fine," Sandy said. "It's either kill the bastard, or wait for him to kill other cops. History reads real plain here: they either never kill cops, or they need to kill a couple to get 'em started."

"As far as we know," Thomassi said. "Dufaure never killed anyone in law enforcement until Monday morning."

"Bet he got a real kick out of it," Gibbs said. "He'll wanna feel like that again."

"History reads plain, like I said," Sandy agreed. "But let's get back to business. That recording from Arnaud's phone puts Merle and Yvon in the slammer for life, done deal."

"We don't have to dig any further there, is what she means," Thomassi said. "All we need is to officially voice print 'em, but seeing as Arnaud was smart enough to call each of 'em by name..."

"We'll get those voice print warrants in five minutes flat," Fornell said. "Once we officially move on Merle and Yvon, we'll have a fear factor helping us out with other people."

"Their lawyers will greet our prosecutors like this: 'What's the best deal you can offer my client?'" Thomassi said.

"Huh. Yeah, and they'll say that without even hearing the charges first," Sandy said, certain.

"I think so, too," Ziva said. "But just in case we have some runners, we need to make sure that warrants are all prepared and finalized before we move. Remember that when someone is at an airport, you cannot detain them merely on suspicion. They must either be in possession of something illegal, or you must bear a warrant for their arrest."

"Yeah, and while we could easily get the TSA to detain them for a while," Jager said. "They need a solid reason to cause someone to actually miss their plane."

"We don't wanna owe the damn TSA any favors," Gibbs said. "Gavin, tell whoever our legal eagle is that we might wanna limit charges to whatever we can make stick."

"That's sound advice," Holsten said. "Long strings of charges are only impressive until opposing counsel successfully motions to have some of them struck."

"I'll call FitzSimmons as soon as we're done here," Thomassi said, making a note.

"Can I ask a sticky question?" Holsten said.

"Ask," Ziva said.

"What're you all going to say when Yvon and Merle name Arnaud, Dufaure, and that Moore guy?"

"Well, it's real convenient that Merle and Yvon don't know those three names," Sandy said. "They'll give us names, all right, but they're all fake, and anyway, by that time, those three fake names will belong to people who really don't exist."

"We ID'd Dufaure by his MO," Fornell said. "We ID'd Arnaud off of security camera footage at La Grange's apartment. We know that someone called Luc Prevot rented Yvon and Merle's house through that agency. That same afternoon he deposited a half-million dollars in La Grange's Swiss account. Luc Prevot was also the name Arnaud used to get access to three of our people who are now dead. So La Grange didn't know Arnaud's real name, but even if he did, he's dead."

"And that phone recording of Merle and Yvon was sent to us," Jager said, shrugging dramatically. "No return address, and the recording is on a micro SD card. No way to trace the phone it was in..."

"But we know that it was sent to the CIA from France. Paris, in fact," Ziva said innocently. "Check my passport. The last time I left and returned to this country was December last year, and I did not go to France."

"Well, that's... tidy," Holsten said.

"Yeah, real tidy," Thomassi said. "Ziva, what next?"

"We wait," Ziva said, drumming her fingers on the table. "We just wait."

NCIS HQ, Washington Navy Yard, Thursday 16:21 EDT

Several Mossad and CIA analysts and techs probably had square eyes by now, Ziva was sure. Three of Dufaure's homes were being watched by the Mossad, three by people at Langley, and Ziva and her small team were watching two. She looked away from a monitor and closed her tired eyes a moment. Looking at the big screen wasn't any better. Ziva really didn't think that Dufaure was at the small mansion on the screen. It was in Portugal, which was just a hop across the Atlantic. Not far enough, she thought.

A hand bearing a coffee cup appeared over her shoulder.

"Todah," she said. Thanks.


Gibbs took a seat and sipped from his cup. He poked at a keyboard and the wall-size screen at the front of the room switched to display a satellite image of a different house, one half-hidden by trees.

"Glad you took me up on this idea."

"There is nothing like MTAC at the Hoover Building," Ziva said and blew on steaming coffee. "You, me, four techs, and one OPTAC suite. Centralize access, minimize access."

"Yup. Except, there's us, the guys at Langley, and your people in Tel Aviv. Hardly 'centralized.'"

"Really? You want to think about that for a while?" Ziva said, her tone playful.

Gibbs didn't need long to think.

"MTAC, Langley, and Glilot are all three as secure as any place on this Earth can be."

"Mmm. They may as well all be one and the same place." Ziva checked her watch and stood up. "I am going up to see Jen and Michal for a while."

"A break'll do you good," Gibbs said.

Ziva patted Gibbs's shoulder and left the suite. She took her time, using the walk up from the basement levels to stretch her legs, and she took the stairs up to Jen's office two-at-once.

Michal was on the couch, doing a crossword, and gave Ziva a half-wave. Jen glanced up from her paperwork and gave Ziva a quick smile.

"Is that all I get?" Ziva said.

"I'm behind on budget stuff, ahuvati," Jen said. —my love.

"Ugh. How badly behind?"

"I won't have to take it home... unless you distract me."

"Then I had better go elsewhere," Ziva said. "You constantly complain that I drive you to distraction."

"That's not a complaint. It's a compliment," Jen drawled while stacking a sheaf of forms. She set them aside and added, "No-one else has ever managed it as well or as often as you do."

Ziva smirked and sipped the last of her coffee. Michal looked up from her crossword and shook her head.

"You look like the cat who caught the fucking canary," Michal said and laughed.

"And your New York accent just went to Herzliya," Ziva said, highly amused.

"Only for a short vacation," Michal said, sounding NYC born-and-bred yet again.

"I know where that entire conversation is going," Jen said, without looking up from yet another pile of forms. She jabbed buttons on a calculator while saying, "When last were you home, who did you see... Take the chat for a walk, girls, or I'll never get done here."

"We will save it for later," Ziva said. "Michali is not supposed to let you out of her sight... And I should get back to my work. Dammit."

"Take a walk down to the river first," Jen said, and it wasn't a suggestion. "I know the line of your shoulders, when you're almost ready to snap with impatience."

"Yeah, okay," Ziva agreed easily. "Michal, who are my minders?"

"Take Yigal and Arik."

Ziva nodded and left the room. That gave Michal a gap to give in to her surprise and stare at Jen.

"I don't even have to look up," Jen said wryly. But she looked up anyway: Michal's expression was priceless. Jen laughed briefly and got back to work. "Honey, you really don't know her. She has her pride, sure, but you won't see a bit of it if you or anyone else speaks from a place of well-founded concern."

"That 'well-founded' isn't lost on me," Michal said.

"Smart, and wise," Jen said. "She's very tuned-in to the difference between concern and fussing. You fuss, you're in trouble."

Jen checked back and forth between figures on documentation from Accounting, and the forms she'd just filled in, and stacked that pile.

"Done. I should not have to do this... The woes of heading a tiny agency include being the wearer of too many hats."

Jen took the paperwork out to Cynthia. She closed the door on the way back, and returned to her chair. Jen rocked back and took a careful look at Michal's expression: unguarded, for once.

"You want to tell me something, but I already know. I saw that address in Kyrgyzstan, on the list of houses under surveillance. You really think she wouldn't have told me about that?"

"As you said, I don't know her well," Michal said. She paused before asking, "So she told you, and you weren't informed when it was all happening?"

"I was told about it a few months after she got back, maybe a year before the Riga op," Jen said. "Ziva told me a little during that op; she's told me more since then, but not much... If Dufaure is there—"

"She shouldn't go," Michal said quietly.

"Michali, that's sympathy talking, not professionalism. I really don't want her to go there either, but if she has to, she'll handle it."

Michal nodded, but her expression was reluctant, and also confused.

"It's okay to care," Jen said.

"But not too much," Michal muttered. "HaMossad doesn't like that... So I pretend to care less, but I pray more. God's not about to blow my cover."

"I won't either."

Michal nodded and picked up her crossword again: hint enough that the conversation was over.

Glilot, Tel Aviv, Israel, Saturday 13:35 IDT

Yossi's lunch today was a very good fatush, a green salad made crunchy by the addition of toasted pita bread, and turned piquant with the help of sun-dried tomatoes, green olives, finely sliced pickled hot peppers, and feta cheese cubes that had been rolled in coarse-ground black pepper. Ordinarily he preferred fatush for breakfast, in which case he left out the feta cheese because it tended to make the dish a little too heavy. But today the flu seemed to be on its way back to hell, and Yossi was hungry.

Amit walked into the office and placed several documents in Eli's inbox. She'd been in and out all morning. Yossi considered the date– he'd lost a day somehow.

"It's the Shabat. Why are you even here?"

"Putting in overtime," Amit said. "There'll be someone else sitting at my desk from Thursday until the end of the month. My cousin's getting married... Haven't they found him yet?"

"No," Yossi muttered around a mouthful. He swallowed it and said, "The sonuvabitch hasn't been caught for sixteen years. I think he's bouncing around all over the fucking place."

"He can bounce. He'll get caught this time," Amit said. "He'll go to one of those places some time."

"I just hope it's soon," Yossi said and picked up his empty plate.

"I'll take it. I'm going down to the dining room anyway. Was it fatush?"

"Yeah, and damn nice. Ask Manor to make you one just like mine."

"Okay. Is Eli down there?"

"Yes. He chose a hot meal, but if he'd brought it up here it would've gotten cold."

Amit nodded and carried the plate out. A few minutes later Eli strolled in and sat at his desk.


"Nothing," Yossi said. "I hate waiting for shit. I tell you, I'm almost ready to pray."

"Please don't," Eli drawled. "You haven't prayed in so long that God would get such a shock, He'd fall out of the heavens."

"That would really upset the Messianic types," Yossi chortled. "I can hear them complaining, 'But Mashi'ach isn't supposed to arrive like this.'"

"Irreverent old bastard..." Eli said, but he laughed anyway. But not for long: he pointed at his monitor and said, "Vehicles at Number Five."

Yossi leaned forward and grabbed the mouse on his desk. He double-clicked the satellite image in question, and it filled the screen. Several men were exiting those vehicles now, and that could mean only one thing. Yossi looked at the information attached to the image in a small panel in the lower right corner.


Eli didn't make a sound. Yossi looked his way and found his old friend looking out of a window.

"I sent her there the last time," Eli said without turning around. "Well, it was my analysis that sent her there. My decision to move forward with an observation and collection op."

"Which was as good as sending her," Yossi said. "I'll make the call this time. I should, you know. She's one of my Metzada people."

Eli turned around and sat down.

"I won't say no. At the same time, I don't want you to have to make the call either."

"The CIA are looking at that place," Yossi said.

"And they'll call us any second," Eli said. "If Ziva was here right now... God, can you imagine? She'd verbally skin us alive."

"Yeah..." Yossi said and gulped.

"We'll wait for that call from Langley, dammit."

Yossi nodded. He'd hoped against hope, even while knowing that the house in Kyrgyzstan was probably the one that Dufaure would go to: it was the one furthest from the scene of the crime.

Yossi didn't like to think about those dark days eight years ago. He'd hoped against hope then, too. Everything had worked out in the end, and that's what he liked to focus on. Now he was forced to think about the whole damn mess.

He'd been there when Eli had told the family that Ziva had officially been declared MIA, but Yossi had also been there that day, thirty days before, when Eli had first been told that she was missing. 'Missing' in the intel world, more often than not, was as good as 'dead.' Don't mourn her yet, Yossi had said while holding tight to Eli, who'd been weeping uncontrollably. It had been like Tali, all over again, but there'd been no body, no way of knowing for certain. For two endless goddamn months Yossi had hoped against hope, and all the while he'd tried to stay positive, for Eli more than for his own benefit.

Yossi rubbed at his face and lit a cigarette while glaring at the phone and daring it to ring. He finished the smoke before it did. He snatched it up.

"Gershom," he said and made notes while he listened to a report, and details regarding the deployment of a surveillance team. "Thank you."

Yossi hung up and lit another smoke before picking that handset up again. Eli had gone back to looking out the window. Yossi cleared his throat and dialed the number he knew by heart.

Shepard David Residence, Washington D.C., Saturday 06:50 EDT

Jen grunted and tried to hold onto Ziva, who seemed to be trying to get out of bed. Jen had a dim awareness that it was Saturday. It was way too early to get up, surely.

"The secure line is ringing," Ziva said, wriggling away.

"I s'pose it can be for only one reason," Jen muttered.

"Only one. At long fucking last..."

Jen huffed and rolled over while Ziva jogged out of the room. She'd just dozed off when Ziva came back. Jen had expected her to start dressing. Instead Ziva got back into bed.

"Where is he?" Jen asked.

"Where we did not want him to be," Ziva muttered.

"Aah fuck..." said Jen, who rarely swore.

"My sentiments exactly," Ziva muttered. "I cannot tell you not to worry."

Jen was aware that almost every large city in Kyrgyzstan was a hotbed of corruption. There were also a few political groups who were unhappy with each other, as well as several known separatist factions in the region. All of that could blow up, and it was the sort of bomb that ticked but didn't display a countdown. There was no knowing when it would blow.

Those issues aside, Jen's chief concerns revolved around Ziva and how she was going to handle going back there. She dared not let on about that now, though. She focused on the operation at hand instead.

"Can you get him with a long shot?" Jen asked.

"That will be the first question we answer. A four-man DEVGRU element might be able to help us take him down. We are still waiting for permission regarding that level of assistance."

"If they're over there and I don't know about it... Any idea who they're seconded to?"

"No," Ziva said. "Probably something the JSOC cooked up and decided to handle internally."

Jen decided not to say that, according to the book, the Joint Special Operations Command was obligated to inform the Office of Naval Intelligence of the deployments of any Navy personnel. That memo was then supposed to be passed to Jen and MTAC. Knowing that they might be needed to provide assistance was MTAC's baseline. No further information was necessary. The JSOC's habit of regularly ignoring that book was one day going to bite them in the butt. All Jen could hope was that it didn't cost lives in the process. For the present, she put that thought firmly from her mind.

"Can those SEALs at least help out with recon?" Jen asked.

"Yeah, they are on the move right now, and will mount eyes-on surveillance for us," Ziva said.

"What time is it there now?"

"Ten hours ahead..."

"So around five p.m?"

"Yeah," Ziva said. She hugged Jen's shoulders and kissed her forehead. "They have some distance to travel, some of it on foot. From first light tomorrow, they will try to get photos, personnel counts, the usual drill. And yes, they will look for any possibility of a long shot. But my immediate opinion on that... So far satellite imagery is not showing me the topography suitable for long-range work."

"Stereoscopic imagery provided by a UAV might find the spot that even guys on foot would miss."

"True, but we cannot use a UAV without it being detected, so we need a reason. That will require lying to people, and it will also be a big clue when it is reported that someone killed Dufaure."

Jen felt like swearing again, but didn't.

"You are trying not to swear," Ziva said, and there was a smile in her voice.

"You always know. How?" Jen asked.

"You have an I-am-not-going-to-swear expression. That expression used to amuse the hell out of me, when I would see you wearing it at work."

"You are such a brat, Ziva David!" Jen giggled, poking a few ticklish spots.

Ziva squirmed and kept her laughter quiet. Jen let up eventually and kissed Ziva's chin.

"You've relaxed. Good."

"I can never stay tense when I am with you," Ziva said.

"Sap," Jen teased gently.

"For you? Always."

"It's Saturday, and I'm not going in to the office. Try to go back to sleep?" Jen suggested.

"I am almost there," Ziva said and yawned.

She slipped back into sleep within a few minutes. Jen lay awake listening to Ziva's even breathing and a steady heartbeat, and she guessed that tomorrow night she'd be alone in this bed.

She wasn't foolish enough to hope that the activity alert at the Kyrgyzstan position was a false alarm. She hoped instead that Dufaure was there, that the SEALs would be able to catch photographic evidence of his presence. As much as she didn't want Ziva to go back to that country, Jen knew that it would be best just to get this business finished as soon as possible. If that involved Ziva's return to Kyrgyzstan, so be it. She didn't have to ask to know that Ziva felt exactly the same way.

More than that, Jen didn't know, and now and during the two days previous was not and had not been the time to ask. Jen likened her current situation to that of a good many years ago, when she'd dated a boxer in college. She would no more ask Ziva now if she was worried about how she'd handle the trip to Kyrgyzstan, than she would've asked that young man then if he'd been worried about getting hurt during an upcoming match.

Game-plans are only as strong as the mindset behind them. No matter how worried Jen was personally, she wasn't about to risk weakening Ziva's mindset by introducing even the smallest amount of doubt.

Glilot, Tel Aviv, Israel, Sunday 16:21 IDT

Yossi unfolded an aluminum-frame military cot and set it down out of the way. He laid a blanket and pillow on it neatly and returned to his desk. Eli eyed him for a while and returned his attention to his computer monitor.

"I should've thought of that," he said, mostly to the monitor.

"Like Chaiya says, you're the most undomesticated man she's ever known. You would never have thought of that."

"And what took you so long?"

"I was sick," Yossi said innocently.

"You two bicker like an old married couple."

"Hey..." Eli said, smiling.

He got up to greet Yuval Daron. Yossi stayed put at his desk and considered the fact that Yuval was retired, hated this building, hated Tel Aviv traffic even more, and that other fact of the operation currently on the go.

"Yuval, not that it's not nice to see you, chaver," Yossi said. —friend. "But seriously, you hate this place."

Eli considered Yossi's point and threw a suspicious look Yuval's way.

"Don't look at me like that," Yuval said, glaring first at Eli then at Yossi. "I could've guessed just by looking at this room. Since when does Metzada get run from the Director-General's office?"

Yossi gulped; Eli studied the floor. Yuval didn't look like much. He was twelve years older than Yossi and Eli, the hair remaining on his head was snow-white, and his stature was best described as small. But he'd kept Metzada in line for more years than everyone else combined. Ziva's Kidon colleagues, past and present, had all minded Yuval, or else. Getting glared at by him was no fun at all.

"I could've guessed, but a little birdie called Moshe sent me an email," Yuval went on. "I don't work here anymore, but I'm still cleared. Why didn't you two call me?"

Yossi kept his mouth shut. Eli took a breath and also took the bull by the horns.

"Yuval, you're retired, and you have a heart problem that only Moshe and the two of us know about. Tell me, why didn't we call you?"

"Okay, fine," Yuval muttered and sat in a visitor's chair. "Moshe told me about all this, because he knew that if I found out after-the-fact, I might've been angry enough to give my damn heart even more problems. Please also think like that, in future."

"He's got a point," Yossi said to Eli.


"Hmph. What's to drink around here?" Yuval asked.

"Fruit juice?" Eli offered. "Or tea?"

Yuval asked for a cup of tea. Moshe had given him only the basics, and Yuval asked for all the details. It didn't take long to bring him up to speed. Mostly. Yuval had a reputation a mile long as an excellent interrogator. Trying to keep things from him was generally considered to be stupid, but these two... Yuval leaned forward and put his empty mug on the coffee table.

"What are you two not telling me?"

"Fucking Kyrgyzstan," Yossi said and angrily exhaled smoke.

"She has to go there? It's not so bad," Yuval said.

"Have you forgotten—" Eli began.

"Never," Yuval said. "Of course not. But Eli, we know how she avoids even saying the name of that place. That's not good. Now she has to go there? It's not so bad. See?"

"You can be a hard bastard..." Yossi muttered.

"Yes, and for twenty-six years this hard bastard trained people to stay alive," Yuval stated. "She's one of the ones who used all that training, and came back. She came back from the dead, practically. You put your faith in someone like that, not your doubts. So she's going to a personal hell, and she'll face the devil, and she'll come back again, even stronger... You both love her, and so do I, but I also know her much better than either of you. You really think she'll let that place beat her?"

Getting glared at by Yuval was no fun; getting lectured by him felt almost like a physical thrashing. Eli and Yossi both shifted uncomfortably in their seats.

"That's that. Finished," Yuval said and cleared his throat, as he always did when it was time to take off the hat of Disciplinarian and replace it with Good Friend. "Yossi, you said when I came in that you were sick?"

"Flu. It's mostly dead, though."

"He asked for medicine," Eli drawled.

"No..." Yuval mumbled.

"I was tired of feeling like shit," Yossi said and shrugged. "Maybe I'm getting soft in my old age..."

"Old age?" Yuval said and laughed. "You're only fifty-six– in your prime, gever." —man.

"That flu made me feel ninety-six," Yossi admitted. He looked at the clock on the wall, and reached for the mouse on his desk. He muttered, "Fuck it. I was supposed to check in ten minutes ago..."

"Check in where?" Yuval asked.

"Langley," Eli said. "The men in Kyrgyzstan had to return to their base in Bishkek before they could send some photos to Langley. The analysts got them about an hour ago. They're hoping to ID Dufaure in some of them."

"Not some. Only one," Yossi said, gesturing at his monitor. "Those DEVGRU guys only got one shot of the fucker, and it's definitely him. The report says here: 'Recommend immediate deployment of selected operatives.'"

"Call her," Yuval said to Yossi. "Operationally speaking, she's your hawk to fly, not Eli's."

"That's what I told him yesterday," Yossi said, and picked up the phone.

Shepard David Residence, Washington D.C., Sunday 09:58 EDT

Yesterday had been interminably long, and this morning had dragged by, too. Jen had been almost relieved when the secure line in the study finally rang fifteen minutes ago. Hurry up and wait, Jen thought. It was always the same: a high level of tension paired with nothing to do but wait. Anyone who liked waiting was in need of a shrink, Jen was sure.

She looked at her watch and guessed that Ziva was done in the shower. She went upstairs and arrived at their bedroom door just as the hairdryer started up. In the room she took the dryer from Ziva and got on with a task that she'd come to enjoy. As Jen had told Michal, Ziva did not like being fussed over. Drying Ziva's hair for her was fussing disguised as helpfulness.

Jen eventually put the hairdryer away and fetched a brush and a hair elastic. She got onto the bed and sat behind Ziva where she brushed and braided her hair in silence. When she was done she set the brush aside on the bed, and flipped the braid over Ziva's shoulder, and hugged her tightly.

"Is there time for coffee?"

"No," Ziva said, shaking her head. "They are prepping a plane at Andrews already. From there we go to Ramstein. Or maybe, with a couple of a midair refuels, directly to Bezmer."

"How the hell are you going to manage anything from Bezmer?" Jen said.

"Like they say, if you want to get lost-on-purpose, go to Bulgaria. Some CIA assets will be waiting for us somewhere, and then we go to an airport with fake passports that will make Gibbs and me look like backpackers."

"Umpteen border stamps?"

"Mmm, and so we say that we are taking a plane now because we do not want to miss a U2 concert."

"The Company thinks of everything. I think U2 is the only 'modern' band that Gibbs likes."

"That is probably a coincidence. I mean, who does not like U2?" Ziva chuckled.

Jen couldn't think of anyone she knew, and shrugged in answer. When Ziva shifted, Jen let her go. In the bathroom Ziva brushed her teeth but didn't bother with any makeup. She was about to sit next to Jen when there was a knock at their door.

"Gotta go," Gibbs said.

"I will be there," Ziva said.

They heard him walk away. Jen got up and returned the brush to the bathroom.

"It'll be easier to let you go at the door."

Ziva nodded and took her hand. On the way out of the room she picked up a prepacked jump bag. Over the last few days that bag and the pendant around Jen's neck had been reminders that Ziva would be leaving again. Getting to sleep at night had not been easy, and Jen knew that that wouldn't change until Ziva came home.

Downstairs Gibbs was waiting in the entrance hall, and the door was open. Jen gave him a hug. He wasn't expecting it and his expression said so.

"I get to care about you, you old grouch," Jen said by way of explanation. "Take care in that place."

"We will, and should I remind you that you're older than me?" Gibbs said wryly. "I'll be in the car, Ziva."

She nodded even while pulling Jen into a hug. Their kiss was brief, and Ziva whispered her love before walking away quickly. Jen only closed the door when she couldn't hear the car anymore. She rested her forehead against cool wood and thumped it lightly with her fist.

"Goddamn criminals..." she muttered.

"Amen," Michal said. "Damn them every one... He went there on purpose."

"No shit," Jen said, not the least bit ashamed of the angry tears she was wiping away. "Good thing it's not me coming for him: he'd suffer."

"Only if you could reach him in the next few minutes," Michal said and smiled. "If not, he'd just get shot."

"By someone else," Jen said wryly. "I flunked Killing One-oh-one."

"She's dead, by-the-way," Michal stage-whispered. "Svetlana Chernitskaya. Very, very dead."

"Which Israeli did she threaten and/or harm?" Jen mumbled.

"An honorary one: you," Michal said with a small smile. "When you worked in Israel yours was a public post, which made it easy for her to find you. But she made the mistake of telling someone that she intended to kill you. We heard about that and took care of her, permanently."

"Can't say I'm sorry. The woman took up killing to please her wacko boyfriend, and decided that she liked it."

"Now that I didn't know," Michal said.

"Would it have made a difference?" Jen asked.

"Not much of one," Michal said and shrugged. "My firm belief is that genuine intent is as good as the intended action. If Chernitskaya had had the slightest opportunity, she would've killed you: good enough for me."

"I thank you for preemptively saving my life, not for killing her," Jen said sincerely.

"That's the only kind of thanks I'd accept."

"And there you and Ziva are like peas in a pod."

"I know," Michal said.

She followed Jen to the kitchen, where she gestured to another Mossad officer to leave the room. He took his coffee elsewhere. Michal took the seat he'd vacated and thanked Jen for a cup of coffee.

"I almost wish that I had a mountain of paperwork to attend to," Jen muttered and sipped from her steaming mug.

"Now's usually when people begin to regret their choice in partners," Michal said plainly. She sized up the glare Jen was giving her, and said, "But not you."

"Because I've always known what I was getting into," Jen said. "I don't resent the fact that she just left. I resent the reasons for it."

"Life would be a shitload easier for some of us if most people thought that way," Michal muttered.

"Dare I ask how many times someone walked away from you for good?"

"A nice even six," Michal said. "I know I started this, but can we talk about something else?"

"Sure," Jen said. "Anything but lovers walking away sounds like a good topic to me right now."

Bezmer Airbase, Bulgaria, Monday 06:25 EEST

"Got everything you need here?" said their USAF host.

"Yes, sir," Gibbs said.

Ziva grunted agreement and checked her watch before spreading honey on toast. They'd gotten lucky. While waiting for their Hercules at Andrews, someone had mentioned that a USAF C-17 Globemaster troop carrier was being ferried to Ramstein without passengers or cargo, to replace a plane that had to be serviced. A couple of calls had resulted in their ride being switched. Ziva and Gibbs had gained back a little over four hours in flight time on the Andrews-Ramstein leg, and it had only taken four hours to get to Bezmer in a C27-J Spartan.

"We've got a taxi coming, Cap'n," Gibbs said. "What happens at the gate? They gonna check our names?"

"Nope, no way, Gunny. They check names coming in, not going out. All they'll do is check your bags. Just tell your driver to say that all bags are in the trunk... You got no hardware, right?"

"No guns, no blades," Ziva said.

"I mean, not even a pocketknife or a screwdriver."

"We know the drill, Cap'n. Everything we've got can pass the TSA in a bad mood," Gibbs said.

"Then you're set. They won't even look in the back of the cab. It's a courtesy thing. If you come back here by car... Now, that's a different story. I wouldn't recommend it."

"Third degree?" Gibbs asked.

"Full credentials check."

"We will not be coming back," Ziva said. "And that is a pity. Great bread, beautiful honey."

"That's pretty common fare in this country," the captain said.

"We're not gonna be in this country much past nine a.m," Gibbs said. "Catching the first available flight out from Plovdiv."

The captain looked at the two passports on the mess table and decided not to ask anything else. This wasn't the first time he'd dealt with US intel operatives, but the last time they'd been tamer than these two. He didn't need to be told that somewhere someone was living on borrowed time.

Moscow International Airport, Russia, Monday 13:18 MSK

"At least this is the last damn plane for a while," Ziva muttered to Gibbs as they boarded said plane, their second commercial flight in almost five hours. "If you are wondering why some of these people are staring at you, it is because in their countries people only get grey hair when they are very old."

"I'll be wearing a cap soon as I can buy one," Gibbs said.

"No-no. You will be dying your hair or taking it all off on a Number One clip," Ziva chortled.

"I'll take the buzz-cut, thanks. At least it's summer," Gibbs said and rolled his eyes. "How long's this flight?"

"Almost four hours, plus taxi and debark times. Call it closer to four-hours-forty-five."

"And what's the bet we manage to sleep yet again?"

"We probably will. Flying has become far too goddamn boring," Ziva muttered.

Gibbs grunted agreement and checked their boarding passes against seat numbers.

"This is us," he said and edged in towards the window seat. When Ziva had sat down he said, "I'm starting to think they coulda found people closer to this damn place."

"There are other people, but the guys we are going to meet cannot be repurposed specifically for our little job. They can assist, but they cannot act without us. And anyway, if they send representatives other than you and me, that would involve increasing the, uhh, knowledge pool, which is already pretty crowded, yes?"

Gibbs added numbers in his head and his eyebrows arched of their own accord. If two other operatives had been sent here, as many as thirty more people would've been let into need-to-know information. As it was, given Gibbs and Ziva's hops to several countries, as well as the people from various agencies needed to support them both at home and abroad, the 'knowledge pool' was crowded to the tune of at least a hundred people. That was seventy more than the number considered 'secure,' but Gibbs knew that if even so few as three people knew a secret, the chances that it could be revealed were trebled.

"Damn that asshole, running halfway round the world," Gibbs muttered.

"Mmm," Ziva agreed. "When people like us have to travel, you need a much bigger support team."

Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Monday 17:42 KGT

Gibbs hooked a finger over the tourist guide Ziva was reading and pulled it down. He grinned broadly when her mouth dropped open. The stubble on Gibbs's face was longer than the hair on his scalp.

"No hair makes you look so different," Ziva mumbled.

"Just as well. Every man jack in that barbershop stared at me like I was someone in a freak show. When all the grey stuff came off I got lotsa congrats on looking younger. My Kyrgyz sucks, but most of 'em spoke Russian... You been contacted yet?"

"By Jimmy himself," Ziva said and stood up. "He is now directing everything personally. We have just under an hour to wait, and it is a ten-minute walk to the restaurant. Fifteen-minute stroll?"

"Anything is better than sitting in a goddamn plane," Gibbs said.

"If we need to ride horses, I will remind you that you said that," Ziva giggled.

"Jenny's right. You're a total brat," Gibbs muttered. "Hope those horses aren't necessary. Been something like sixteen years since I last rode a horse."

"Was that here?"

"Next door, in Kazakhstan. Like this country, there's places there that you just cannot take a vehicle, and we needed to move faster than we could afoot. Rode a horse most of the time. Also got to ride a yak, and it's real uncomfortable when those animals trot. Feels like riding a jackhammer, and no-one can post that fast, so ya just stand in the stirrups."

"They can go much further in a day than horses, I am told, but I will stick to horses, thanks," Ziva said.

"You'n'me both," Gibbs said. "But I still wish I got a picture of me on that damn yak."

"That is always the worst about jobs like this: we go to interesting places and we cannot take pictures, unless they are photos of dead marks."

Gibbs nodded for answer and made like a typical tourist, taking in their downtown surroundings. Only someone trained to pick up on it would've noticed that he was taking note of landmarks, the amount of vehicular and foot traffic, the tourist-to-local ratio: all of the things that would help him and Ziva to disappear if need be.

"There are too few tourists for my liking," Ziva said before Gibbs could make the comment.

"Yeah. Gotta go real careful in this town... That guy over there, dark blue windcheater, is one from the barbershop. I told those guys that I was getting a haircut so I didn't end up showing disrespect to genuine old people. They seemed to like that."

"It was probably an honest response, but we might have trouble from that guy, and then..."

"Long sleep, no wake-up," Gibbs said without hesitation. After looking around some more, he said, "This place remind you of anywhere?"

"Except for those snowy mountains in the background, it looks like the business district in Petach Tikva, or any of the smaller cities in the Center and North of Israel. Must be the Russian influence..."

"Must be, cos I was thinking that it looks like parts of Moscow."

"Now we sound like well-travelled tourists," Ziva chuckled.

"Gotta work on looking like it. At least we didn't march to that restaurant... Let's stop here. Gimme that guidebook."

It wasn't a thick book, and Ziva had rolled it to fit in a side pocket of her three-day pack. She put the bag down at her feet and handed the book to Gibbs.

"Problem?" Ziva asked.

"Trynta look like we're lost. Wanna see if that gets attention. If it doesn't, then yeah, we're being followed."

"Guy from the barbershop?"

"Yup," Gibbs said.

He caught Ziva's eye and looked up at a large round mirror on a lamppost, one meant to help those coming out of a side street to see traffic. Like Gibbs, Ziva moved only her eyes, and not her head. The man in the blue windcheater was not budging from his spot a hundred or so feet away.

"Kyrgyz people can be shy," Ziva said. "There is a fold-out map in the back of the book. Open it, then turn around and look for landmarks. He might come to us then. If he does not, try to get his attention. If he just walks away—"

"We may as well call it in that we've been made," Gibbs said.

"He could also just be looking for an opportunity to steal our packs, or my phone," Ziva said.

"I'm gonna turn around," Gibbs said, folding out the map. "Take out that phone if I say so."

He turned and looked around, and occasionally back at the map. He looked up in the direction of their possible problem, and the man gave him a smile and a nod.

"Phone," Gibbs said and began walking towards the man.

Ziva took the phone from a pocket, but the man paid her no attention at all: he wasn't interested in the phone. Ziva watched for the tells, and when the line of Gibbs's shoulders relaxed a little, she was careful not to breathe a sigh of relief. She watched the two men discuss directions, and probably not to their actual destination. Gibbs eventually dug in a pocket and took out scrunched up notes. He pressed one into the man's hand, then shook it, note and all. Ziva guessed that it was a twenty: always better than a ten-dollar bill, but not extravagant.

"He thought we might get lost," Gibbs said when he came back. "You'd have to force that guy to eat if he was starving."

"They are shy, and proud," Ziva said. "But this is one of the world's most corrupt countries, and we will forget that to our cost."

"I hear ya. But if we ever wanna get to the Royal Home guest house, I got the best directions, complete with shortcuts. Also got advice about never taking a cab cos the drivers here are all Uzbek robbers."

"He is right: all the cab drivers in this damn city are Uzbek robbers," Ziva said wryly.

"You been here before?" Gibbs said, surprised.

"You should have guessed by now, based on my comments. You might also have guessed before we left the States. There is a reason Jen dislikes this country so much."

"How bad?" Gibbs asked.

"I will tell you later," Ziva said, nodding at a multilingual sign above a doorway.

She walked into the restaurant ahead of Gibbs, but hung back and let him approach the man at the front desk.

"Is our friend here?" Gibbs asked.

The man smiled briefly and showed them to a table.

"He said, you wait, but sorry, no Ulak Tartysh game tomorrow."

"That's okay," Gibbs said. "We wanna see those trained eagles."

"Eagles, yes. O-kay," the man said. "If your friend comes late?"

"We'll catch the train without him," Gibbs said.

"Train that goes home," he said, looking Gibbs in the eye.

"Another train," Ziva said. "With, or without him."

"You will not see eagles," the man warned, and walked away.

Gibbs raised a menu almost in front of his face.

"Local asset," he said. "And he's shit-scared. He really doesn't think 'our friend' will pitch."

"Friend or no friend, we will see those 'eagles,'" Ziva said.

"Y'know," Gibbs said and put down the menu. "I've never been so curious about you that I couldn't wait to get the details. Until now."

"You will have to wait."

"Maybe not for long..." Gibbs said, looking at the front desk. "Yup. Here comes that friend... And no wonder our other pal is scared."

To hell with the way it usually worked. Ziva turned her head and got an eyeful of their friend. He wasn't especially tall, but he walked like someone who owned the Earth, and above a full beard his face was badly scarred. Ziva smiled. The last time she'd seen him he'd been clean-shaven. He didn't bother to hide a grin.

"I'll be damned. Zee, you're the last person I expected," he said, his accent broad Boston.

"Long time, my friend. This guy I trust like my shadow, okay?"

"Good enough for me. Names later, but not much. Got a car, and our dinner's to-go, almost done– kebabs."

"I think you mean shashlik," Ziva said.

"Meat on a stick," he said with a grin. "Anyway, they're the best goat kebabs-shashlik-whatever this side of the Hindu Kush, I swear."

"I have only ever heard you say things like that about your own cooking," Ziva said.

"Better than mine, better than my mother's. I'd live in that fuckin' kitchen if I could... Thanks, man." He accepted a large plastic carrier bag from the man at the desk, and paid him. "C'mon, you two. Y'wanna eat these things while they're hot..."

Outside Gibbs fell into step with their friend.

"Your guy in there is damn scared."

"Place looks peaceful. It's not. Won't be long before the separatists in this city start causing shit. If it's not the separatists, it'll be everyone and their fuckin' cousin from whichever goddamn country. Given the level of corruption, this place is perfect for the worst of the worst to come hang out."

"Singing to the choir," Ziva muttered. "The last time I was here, I had to run into those mountains."

"Yeah, I heard you ended up eating rats and whatever else you could catch for a couple months till they got you out... Here's the car."

"You gonna tell me the story anytime soon?" Gibbs asked Ziva.

"Later, and you have to sit up front," she said.

"Listen to her: up front. It's not smart to deliberately mess with the customs here." He got into the Range Rover and offered his hand to Gibbs. "Voodoo. You are?"

"Gibbs," he said and shook hands. "Just Voodoo?"

"My mom calls me Sonny, but that ain't my given name either." He started the car and checked for traffic before pulling away from the curb. "Ziva, you heard that Rabbit bought it in A-stan?"

"Yes, I am sorry. How many of that element are left?"

"All of us except Rabbit. Me, Seagull, and Mother, and that other four-man element you met. After the first op we worked with you, Seagull got hitched and we bullied him out to a US-based training and ops readiness team, made him see sense. No callsign. He's just Cegal now. Callsign Preacher replaced him."

"I know Preacher. Good guy."

"It true he got borrowed by the Company for like three years?"

"Two years. Why does it matter?" Ziva said.

"You know how it is in the crew," Voodoo said. "We don't ask each other shit, but I can ask you, so I'm askin'... We got Preacher here, but no-one else from the elements you worked with."

"Standard member-loss swap-out?" Ziva asked.

"Longer than standard, only just joined up again with Preacher, and we'll only see Mother again in a couple months. Gotta say, it helped. You see the rest of the boys, and it's just a constant fuckin' reminder that someone's missing. Same time, y'ain't dealing with it, y'know?"

"You focus on the ones who are still here, instead of thinking about the loss. Our brains can be idiots about shit like that."

"Yeah... This is it." He opened his window and swiped a card, which resulted in a tall wooden gate in high walls rolling open. "Wood over ballistic steel and compressed aluminum armor, steel-reinforced concrete walls. Former diplomatic quarters. You need tanks or a fuckin' Howitzer battery to take this place out. And don't ask why we're here. Half the time we don't know shit, don't even know where the rest of the platoon is at. Better that way... Ziva, until like ten minutes ago I didn't know you were here. Those boys inside are sure as hell not expecting you."

"I can fix that," Ziva said lightly and got out of the car.

"This, my friend, is gonna be fun," Voodoo told Gibbs. "You and me go in first."

Gibbs took one look at Ziva's face and hoped like hell that none of the men inside would be invalided home tonight. He dared not say anything to her, though. By now he knew better, and he also knew that this was possibly something she could manage without bloodshed, or only a little. He hoped.

They followed Voodoo through an entrance foyer that was a series of three rooms. Blast-proof doors automatically locked after them. Ziva didn't like it that Voodoo's card was their only way out of here, but it was unlikely that the tanks and howitzers would arrive tonight, and even more unlikely that she'd be threatened by the guys she was going to meet.

Voodoo led the way straight to the kitchen where Nineties rock was playing but was occasionally bossed by male conversation.

"Kebabs," Voodoo announced.

"Fuckin' A!"

"You got a lot, right?"

"Enough for leftovers. This here's Gibbs. Other one can handle intros."

"Hey, man. Hope you're hungry."

"Who's the other one?"

Ziva stepped out from behind Gibbs and Voodoo.


Two men stared at her, while one literally bit his lip and snuck backwards, the better to observe the fun. Preacher knew Ziva better than Voodoo did.

"You brought a girl in this house?"

"A broad, a skirt... A girl?"

Ziva looked around the kitchen, and over her shoulder.

"What girl?" she said. "I do not see a girl. If you are referring to me, then I am that person who crossed those goddamn mountains out there and was alone for sixty-seven days, before gentlemen like you arrived to take me home. Those men never once called me a 'girl.'"

"And she can kill you faster'n you can say 'fuck,'" Voodoo added.

"Before you boys can get surprised enough to say 'fuck,'" Preacher said, amused. He gave Ziva a bamboo skewer laden with roasted meat. "Us guys are off the scale in our world. She's off the scale in the intel world. End the meet'n'greet already. Our dinner's getting cold."

"Guess we better chow down..." one of the men mumbled.

Ziva took a bite of her kebab and the meat practically melted in her mouth.

"Now this is food," she said.

"Well, now she's okay in my book."

"Mine, too. I'm Buck. That's Doc."

"Does the, uhh... tough chick have a name?" Doc asked.

"Ziva, or chop it to Zee," Voodoo said and took another bite.

"The accent is Israeli," Gibbs said.

"And her girlfriend is that top drawer lady who makes sure that MTAC works hard for us," Preacher said.

"Oh yeah?" Voodoo said around a mouthful. Ziva nodded, and Voodoo said, "God's female and you hitched up with God. Impressive."

"You are so full of shit," Ziva chortled.

"Nah, I'm being serious," Voodoo said. "Shepard knows her stuff. She ever had any experience on the line?"

"You want the list?" Gibbs drawled. "Naval Intel, before the Cold War ended—"

"Fluent Russian, and she's stayed current on their sub and surface naval tech. What does that tell ya?" Preacher said pointedly.

"That she'll be real handy in a few years when the Ruskies start getting uppity again," Doc said.

"In a few years?" Ziva said and snorted.

"To clarify," Gibbs said. "I'll just say that Jenny's a regular visitor at a certain table in a certain room at the Pentagon."

"Guess I better brush up on my Russian..." Buck mumbled.

"Me, too," Voodoo muttered. "And what about her career after the Cold War?"

"FBI, CIA, DEA, DIPSEC, several embassy missions, and now NCIS," Ziva said.

"And that's not anything like tame," Gibbs said. "She signs pieces of paper agreeing to take the heat for whatever goes wrong."

"I don't mind liking people better," Doc said.

"Whole lot to like where Shepard's concerned, but it comes in this surprisingly small package," Preacher said, indicating a level an inch or two below his chin. "What, she's like five-foot-five?"

"Exactly five-five," Ziva said, nodding.

"Funny," Buck said. "She never sounds that small when she's bossing fighter jet and gunship pilots to support your ass."

"And overriding the authority of whichever cluster-fuck-in-command," Voodoo said. "She did that twice last year. How much shit did she get into for it?"

"None," Ziva said. "The results of her interference spoke for themselves."

"I don't mean to be rude," Doc said. "But are you cleared to know about that stuff?"

"SCI stands for?" Ziva said.

"Sensitive Compartmented Information. I don't get to own one of those clearances all the time."

"Consider yourself lucky," Ziva drawled. "You do not have to go and make sense of raw intel for the Joint Chiefs on a regular basis."

"So this is vacation time?" Voodoo said with a grin.

"Going back to office hours is going to suck," Ziva muttered.

US Diplomatic Installation, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Monday 20:20 KGT

Ziva looked over the photos Voodoo and his friends had taken yesterday. There were also sketches showing the basic layout of a large house surrounded by a wall and high double gates. Ziva arranged the photos on a small table while Gibbs copied the layout sketch on a whiteboard. They used short strips of masking tape to stick photos of various structures around the sketch. A few they stuck inside the walls drawn on the board.

"Whadya make of that architecture?" Voodoo asked Ziva.

"I have seen wooden houses like this in travel articles about eastern Russia, but this roof is wrong."

"Yeah, the roof is more local," Voodoo said. "Like whoever had this place built could get the walls up easy, but couldn't find anyone to build the steep kinda roof that fits with the rest of the house. First thing I noticed. Made me wonder who the hell first lived in that place."

"It's not new either..." Gibbs said, and he had his glasses on by now. "Look at the windows– wood shutters and cottage panes. People who've got money to build a home in a remote place usually have stuff lifted in by helo, like aluminum shutters and double-glazed panes."

"This is the road in, all ruts and loose rock," Voodoo said, pointing to a satellite image. "Those little cottage panes coulda been trucked in without breaking. Big panes? They'd all crack. So if the mark renovates this place, yeah, he'd use a helo."

"He will not be getting that chance," Ziva said.

Behind them a printer beeped, and Voodoo went over to fetch what had arrived in the tray.

"This the mark?" Voodoo asked.

"Yeah," Gibbs said. "Patric Dufaure."

Voodoo handed Ziva a portrait photo. She stuck it on the board while Voodoo waited for the printer to deliver a picture of Dufaure in profile. He bent over the tray and looked closely at it.

"That's the ticket shot. I saw him yesterday."

He picked up the print and flapped it before handing it to Ziva.

"You do not need to dry prints anymore," Ziva said and stuck it up.

"Habit," Voodoo said. He picked up a stack of photos and shuffled through them. "There he is. And you see this balcony? Only place I saw him. He never came outa the house, even when his boys were barbecuing yesterday afternoon."

"How many guys with him?" Gibbs asked.

"There were seven round that barbecue. Another six patrolling. One on the gate. We got fourteen, minimum, plus the mark."

"How many locals?" Ziva asked.

"Doc's our people man," Voodoo said and spread photos on the table. "You see a red wax X drawn on a picture, means the guy's not local. Now count the locals."

"Only three... Strange," Ziva said, frowning.

"Nah. He travels with his pack. So let's say that's six guys..."

Voodoo took away six pictures marked with an X. He arranged the three pictures of local men above photos of another five marked with an X.

"The mark owns this place, right?"

"Yeah," Gibbs said.

"So these three local guys stay put when he's not here."

"Makes sense," Ziva said. "He leaves people at all his properties."

"But he'll want someone he trusts to boss those three." Voodoo moved one photo up alongside the three local men. "The mark pays this one guy, and he passes on cash to those three. What's left? Four new boys, cos your mark wants to make sure he's got the numbers to defend himself. He thinks you'll send the local police after him."

"What would those local cops do?" Gibbs asked.

"Find him, but after one look at his boys, they'd ask him for cash. He pays up and they go tell your people that they couldn't find him."

"Thought so," Gibbs said.

"Me, too," Ziva said. "So his crew is there mostly to impress."

"But they don't come over like mooks," Voodoo said. "They got good equipment, and they're comfortable with all of it. You'd expect the three locals to be carrying AKs. What's that?"

Voodoo tapped a photo and Ziva picked it up.

"SIG 516," she said.

"All three local guys carry those battle rifles, and they ain't cheap. Two other guys have got 'em, too. Then you got MP5s, G36Cs, M4s. Not a single Kalashnikov in sight. MP5s spit nine mil rounds, rest of those weapons spit Five-five-six NATO. What's the bet all their sidearms are nine millies?"

"No bet. Dufaure's evaded law enforcement for about sixteen years," Gibbs said.

"So he is smart," Ziva said. "Smart enough to restrict weapon usage to just two calibers, which minimizes supply issues... But the crew is still there to impress. The fact that they are not mooks backs me up."

"Yeah, fair enough."

"What is the chance of a long shot?" Ziva asked.

"Bad odds," Voodoo said, shaking his head. "I got that picture of the mark on the balcony and he was out there for like thirty seconds, max. We had eyeballs on that place from just after sunrise till sunset yesterday. Only saw him that once... He's a cagey fuck. Look where he ran to."

"So we are going in," Ziva said.

"No other way," Gibbs agreed. "How far away is this place from anything else?"

"Like six clicks, in any direction, and the nearest dwelling to this one is a shepherd's hut. The shepherd wasn't home, but his goats were."

"Kyrgyz shepherds would rather die than leave their stock alone, so he is dead," Ziva said with certainty.

"Yeah, I think so, too," Voodoo said. "Makes me worry about after. I mean, we go in and do maybe a couple, maybe three guards and the mark, then leave. When the rest of those assholes find the bodies? If anyone in that place is loyal or just in a bad fuckin' mood, the nearest locals are as good as dead, and it won't be quick."

"Like Serbia," Ziva muttered. "We should have just done them all."

"I agree, but that bastard calling the shots was the kind to throw the fuckin' book at us," Voodoo said bitterly. "We never told no-one you went in that place with us, cos we woulda ended up eating brig cuisine for the rest of our deployments. But this time, you're calling all the shots, literally. So whadya wanna do?"

"We keep the kills quiet. About thirty minutes after entry, everyone is dead."

"Works for me," Voodoo said. "We just walk away, or do we clean up?"

"Walk away," Ziva said. "That dead shepherd is also a warning, and by now the people living around Dufaure's place know not to go near it."

"Yeah, I hear that," Voodoo said. "No-one goes close for months, and by that time those assholes are all bones'n'rags. We just secure the weapons and ammo, right?"

Ziva nodded, and Gibbs returned his attention to the whiteboard. When Gibbs started marking possible entry points, Voodoo went and fetched everyone else. Less than a half-hour later, there were no more questions and everything was as planned as it could be.

"So we're wrapped," Voodoo said. "Oh-six-hundred is breakfast and general muster. Oh-seven-hundred hours is buster. Go check your gear and get some sleep."

Preacher and the other two men got up and filed out of the room. Voodoo led Ziva and Gibbs down to a locked room in the basement. It didn't take them long to pick out suppressed weapons and find body armor that fit. The latter surprised Ziva, who wasn't expecting to find female-fit ballistics.

"Those vests were left over from the diplomatic mission," Voodoo said. "Guess they had a few women aboard, and expected others as guests."

"Okay," Ziva said. She checked over her equipment and picked it up. "We have firearms. Do you have a spare blade I can borrow?"

"Only a few," Voodoo said with a grin.

Ziva ended up with a modified M7 bayonet, for which Voodoo ragged her gleefully. Gibbs didn't get it.

"Kidon means 'bayonet,'" Voodoo said.

"Didn't know the translation," Gibbs said. "I guessed about Kidon involvement, but it's never been confirmed until now."

"Lo chashuv," Ziva said and shrugged. Not important. "But what is most important about this blade is that it is narrow and has a sharp point."

"I got the muscle for a broader blade," Gibbs said. "Ka-Bar's always good for this grunt. They issuing them like this now?"

"With serrations? Nah, but lotsa guys replace their standard issue with the half-serrated blade. You want a straight edge, go ask Preacher for a spare. I always carry something serrated. Never know when you gotta cut rope."

"Jag-edges are best for that," Gibbs agreed on his way out.

"I probably will not need this thing..." Ziva said of the knife.

"Never can tell," Voodoo said.

"Always better to have a blade than not," Ziva agreed.

Voodoo put away various knives and tossed Ziva a honing stone. He hadn't used that knife in a while and the edges were dull. Like many bayonets the M7 had one full edge and a false half-edge, but this one's half-edge had been ground sharp. The original guard with a muzzle ring had been removed and replaced with a straight brass bar. The standard flat grip scales and lug-release mechanism had been replaced with a cylindrical rubber grip that swelled in the middle.

"Fits the palm nicely," Ziva said of the grip.

"With that rough texture on the grip, you can handle that thing dripping wet and it don't slip. The guy who modded it molded that grip straight onto the tang: solid."

"You have his name and number maybe?"

"Gotta hook up here..."

Voodoo tapped keys on a laptop and linked up to another computer elsewhere. He scribbled the name and number on a piece of paper and gave it to Ziva.

"Tell him Vic from Boston gave you his number."

"I prefer Voodoo to Vic," Ziva said.

"Me, too. Who calls their kid Victor? My asshole dad. That's why Mom calls me Sonny... I like your pal, by the way. Like the grip on that knife, he's solid. Been round the block, huh?"

"Gibbs enlisted with the Marines when he was eighteen and spent twenty years with them before signing on with NCIS. But as a Marine he also worked with Naval Intel. 'Been around the block' is a good description. The op we will pull tomorrow night will be nothing new to him."

"Yeah, he's real comfortable with planning and making suggestions," Voodoo said. "That takes the confidence of experience, 'specially when the room's full of Team guys."

"He is not easy to intimidate," Ziva said. "I have managed it a few times, and not on purpose, but those days are past."

"Might be nice to get to know you that well. The word 'intimidating' is one I'd still use for you."

Ziva shrugged. She had no comment to offer, and certainly no apology. Guys like Voodoo and even McGee were by far stronger and bigger. They could dominate her physically but that would never be necessary, nor would it ordinarily be necessary to try to win a battle of wills with her. The fact that men sometimes allowed themselves to think, and sometimes act along lines where the word 'intimidating' described Ziva, was not her problem. But at least men like Voodoo didn't equate 'intimidating' with 'threat'; at least they knew that 'intimidating' was a perception whose root lay in insecurity that had nothing at all to do with Ziva. A lot of men found her intimidating, but few had the self-confidence to admit it.

Ziva finished with the honing stone and wiped the blade on her pants before sheathing it.

"Thanks for the loan," Ziva said of the knife. "I am going to shower and go to bed. See you in the morning."

"Before sparrow-fart," Voodoo said.

"Spotted: you have spent time with SAS guys," Ziva giggled.

"And they taught me a whole new kinda English," Voodoo said with a grin.

Ziva said goodnight and as she walked away her smile faded. In the shower she turned the water as hot as she could bear it. Hot showers generally helped her to sleep, and she really needed to sleep, despite the fact that she and Gibbs had clocked umpteen hours of snooze-time on four planes.

When she got back to the room they were sharing, Gibbs was already asleep. She got into her sleeping bag on a narrow military cot. Fuck my life, she thought as she tried to get comfortable. Cots like this one were not made for anyone with hips. Ziva gave up trying to lie on her side and settled on her back.

There were no drapes at a nearby window, but it was high, and beyond it lay a walled yard. No-one could get in here without first committing to a small war, and yet she was jumpy. Through the window she could see a black sky liberally dotted with bright stars. She tried to focus on that simple beauty, but it didn't help.

Of all the countries in all the world, why in hell had Dufaure come here? Ziva pushed away paranoid notions spinning around the idea that he perhaps knew her history here. After all, he'd been a hired gun, and the job he'd been paid for had been a bust. He knew exactly who he'd killed. He'd come here because it was conveniently remote, simple as that.

But there was nothing simple about returning to the country that Ziva had sworn never to set foot in again.

North of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Tuesday 09:38 KGT

Ziva sat in the back of a Range Rover watching the scenery zip by. When last she'd seen this steppe it had terrified her. Miles of open grassland dotted with occasional ripples of low hills. Nowhere to hide, so she hadn't tried to. Luckily it still wasn't unusual to see a lone horse and rider out here, but that had involved a risk of its own: if a lone Kyrgyz rider saw another, it was customary for the two to change their courses so that they met.

"I stole a horse," she told Gibbs. The rest of the guys were probably listening, too. She didn't mind. "Forget that I was a woman alone, and the risk connected with that in a majority Muslim country. They brand horses here, and the brand designs are sometimes more than a hundred years old."

"Chance someone coulda recognized it... How'd you end up on the run?"

"A badly trained partner," Ziva muttered. "We had spent more than a month in Karakol, and nothing had gone wrong, but then we went to Bishkek. We only had to be there for two weeks... My partner went to meet with someone, and he was supposed to be back within ten minutes. Before half an hour was up, I was already out of the house we rented, and watching it... They took him back there. They had made him tell them where to go. They were expecting to find me, I am sure, but I ran into those dense woods northwest of Bishkek, and I kept running. I ran right out of the cellular coverage zone, so my phone was useless. I knew better than to try to go back. When it was dark I stole the horse– walk for five minutes, trot for ten; walk five, trot ten. I kept him going like that, and in the morning... All of that."

Ziva gestured at the steppe, which had taken her nearly three full days to cross, because she'd had to travel west-by-northwest before going north. Directly north of Bishkek lay almost impassable mountains, but by travelling west she'd hoped to find a pass through to Kazakhstan. As soon as she'd made the wooded foothills of the mountains she'd let the horse go free, because there wouldn't have been enough grazing for him.

"Up and over. So easy to say that," she said and laughed without humor. "Those mountains are like shark's teeth: row and row and row. You go up and over one, and you have to go up and over another... After fifty-six days I got into Kazakhstan, and that was not the end. I kept walking and dodging people, and eventually after sixty-three days total, the signal bars on my phone filled up. I had a spare charged battery. I kept it in my bra, because if the damn thing had gotten too cold, it would have discharged... Sent a text with a code saying for someone to use GPS and locate that phone. Four days, they said. That was the first time I cried, and those were four of the longest fucking days in my life."

"Who came to get you?" Preacher asked.

"Guys attached to the CIA's Special Activities Division."

"Fuck. You got the royal treatment," Doc said.

"Yad rochetzet yad—one hand washes the other," Ziva said, her tone wry. The phrase was apt, but was sometimes used similarly to 'honor amongst thieves.' "We would have extracted one of their people. We have done so twice since then, but nobody is keeping score."

"So you were radio-silent for sixty-three days," Voodoo said. "What about that?"

"Officially MIA for the first month."

"What's the line on that in Israel?" asked Buck, who was driving.

"Line?" Ziva queried.

"The deadline, when they tell your family," Preacher said.

"Fourteen days, but my father knew at once. He could not break protocol and only informed my mother and the rest of the family after fourteen days."

"Glad I wasn't him," Gibbs muttered.

"And then at the thirty-day mark he had to declare me KIA-BNR—body not recovered," Ziva said, looking at her hands. "But he refused. He actually resigned. Meir Dagan did not accept his resignation, and he also did not declare me KIA... Just as well. It would have been very awkward to visit my own grave on Mount Herzl."

"Wasn't there that guy in Delta had that happen to him in Mogadishu?" Buck said.

"Nah, not Delta, he was a Team guy like us," Voodoo said. "And it wasn't Mogadishu it was Kuwait. What was he called– some bird name, right?"

"Finch?" Preacher said.

"Yeah, I remember him," Doc said. "He was a sub guy originally."

"Jeez..." Buck said and laughed. "No wonder I got him wrong. How often d'you see former bubbleheads in the Teams?"

"Used to be we could say they were as rare as tits on tin cans—No offense!" Doc said.

"None taken," Ziva chortled. "Did you mean the destroyer kind of tin can?"

"Yeah. You speak Navy?"

"She worked at NCIS for three years," Gibbs said with a grin. "Learning to speak Navy was a form of self-defense."

"Bi'dyuk—exactly," Ziva said. "So what about this Finch guy?"

"The building he was in at the time got hit by a SCUD," Doc said. "No survivors and the few remains they found were all tiny scraps, so they declared him KIA. Meanwhile he'd been coming out of that building, and he got tossed by the explosion. Got blast-stripped: only items left on his body were his watch and boots, not even his dog tags survived that blast. This Belgian missionary found him and smuggled him into a monastery—"

"Not a monastery. The only goddamn monastery in the whole country," Buck tossed in. "That much I remember right, but how bad was he hurt?"

"Pretty bad," Doc said. "His leg and one arm were fucked, and he had memory loss for like seven, eight months, then eventually remembered who he was. When he finally got back Stateside, he had a grave, his wife was seeing someone else, and his sister was driving his car. None of that was their fault, but man, I can't even imagine what that must've been like."

"On either side," Voodoo said. "Theirs and his."

"Now you know what was going through my mind after day thirty," Ziva said. "I understood then, and I understand the reasoning now: people like us have the kind of training and experience that usually means we avoid capture, or else we died trying to evade capture—"

"Sometimes that's deliberate," Preacher said.

"Oh yes," Ziva agreed. "Most of the time it is much better to get killed than to get caught. No contact for thirty days? The possibility that someone like me was still alive was very remote. So fine, they were going to declare me KIA, but knowing that was so fucking demoralizing..."

"What kept you going?" Voodoo asked.

"The mental image of a plate, with a steak and roast potatoes. I am dead serious."

"Should I ask what you ended up eating?" Doc chortled.

"For the first four days, nothing. I had a backpack with essentials in it, but the food in that pack had to be saved. I got a cold once, and that is when I ate energy bars, for example. There is plenty of water around here, even on the steppe, so that was not a problem. My first meal was raw bird's eggs, five of them, each about half the size of a regular egg. That kept me going for a couple of days. After that... There are a lot of edible plants here, and for protein there were more eggs, marmots, pikas. Once I threw a stick and hit a duck, and so on. I could make fires at dawn and dusk—"

"Ya hear that?" Voodoo said. "First thing I do when I meet FNGs, my sea daddy tip for 'em is, 'Do not listen to that crap about needing to find dry wood.'"

"Seriously?" Preacher said.

"The smell of smoke can give you away, sure, but it's people seeing smoke that you gotta worry about most."

"It is difficult to see both flame and smoke at dawn and dusk," Ziva said. "Dawn is much better than dusk, because you can start your fire when you first see the sky is grey, not black."

"And you'll have like an hour to cook something, or warm up and dry your clothes," Voodoo said. "Longer if you're in the woods."

"Also longer if the sky is overcast," Ziva said. "But anyway, I did not have to resort to eating bugs and I was never once close to starving, but none of the things I ate was real food, so I kept thinking about the steak and potatoes."

"I'm hungry," Doc said.

"You're always hungry," Preacher said.

Voodoo beaned Doc in the head with a packet of trail mix, and other packets were tossed or passed around.

Gibbs munched on his snack in silence, while Ziva occasionally joined in the banter with the other guys. That was good. Gibbs knew all too well that it was one thing to talk to a shrink, and another entirely to talk to people with similar experiences. These guys might never have been stuck in the middle of nowhere for two months, but they knew what it took to survive with little or nothing. That their experiences had probably taken place in a reasonably controlled environment meant not a damn thing. How they'd handled themselves under those conditions had been the benchmark reason for them being in this country in the first place.

It had been more years than he cared to count, but Gibbs had been there, too. Those two weeks in the back of beyond, living on what he could catch or scratch out of the dirt, had been the furthest thing from fun that he'd ever voluntarily experienced. He compared that with combat, with injury in the line of duty, and a list of other things, and those two weeks still came out worst of the lot. But they had come to a neatly scheduled end.

Gibbs leaned a little and looked past Ziva at the looming mountains and their heavily wooded foothills. No-one had come for her until she'd made contact. Some people might've called that abandonment; they wouldn't have been far wrong. If he asked her about it she'd say that that was what she'd signed up for: deniable assets who go missing are always on their own.

Everyone in this vehicle was currently a deniable asset, but Gibbs was pretty sure that only Ziva knew what that really meant. She'd been there, and she'd come back.

That explained a lot, not least why Ziva was even more outspoken than the average Israeli; not least why she was so openly critical of some that others might've regarded as heroes, like the Etzel, aka, the Irgun. She'd been there, and she'd come back. That's what Moshe had meant when he'd told Danny that Ziva had earned the right to be critical. She'd also managed to earn even more of Gibbs's respect, but he hadn't thought that possible until a few minutes ago, and he dared not say as much or she was liable to get all uppity, as she always did when embarrassed.

Being her friend sometimes isn't easy, Gibbs thought wryly.

Northeast of Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Wednesday 01:50 KGT

After a five-hour drive had come a three-hour hike over a wooded ridge and into a valley. There they'd taken turns to doze until full dark. Trees had masked their approach to the compound, but they hadn't attempted to get close until around one a.m. That had involved about an hour of moving at what was best described as a creep. By now each of the team was just a hundred or so yards from the walls, and they had the place 'surrounded,' as much as six people could 'surround' a property half the size of a regulation soccer field. They would pair up eventually, because that was the only way to get over the walls.

Ziva got within view of those walls and settled in the deep shadow of a bush, flat on her belly, to wait.

"SITREP," Ziva said into her headset mic.

Her five teammates all reported that they were where they had to be; no-one reported anything unusual. Ziva ordered everyone to turn off their NVGs to save battery power. They wouldn't be moving until three a.m: more than an hour to wait. It might've been better if everyone had been just a little less fit, because they'd have less time to wait now.

"Place is real quiet," Preacher said. "But if we got that watch-change wrong..."

"Yeah, we have to wait," Ziva said. "They are running either six- or eight-hour watches."

"Small crew, so my bet's on eight," Voodoo said. "Oh-six-hundred to two p.m, two to ten, ten to six. Less than that, and they're not getting enough rest."

"We need to hit 'em around three," Doc said. "Cos then even if they're on six-hour watches, chances are we'll still nail 'em in the middle of a watch."

The others muttered agreement. Timing was crucial because it relied on those men asleep staying that way. Too close to the start or end of a watch, and the men asleep would be more easily woken. This team was outnumbered more than two-to-one and could not afford to engage in a fire fight.

"Hope the guys asleep aren't all crowded in a big room," Gibbs said. "Six of us, seven of them, means we've got a birdie who'll wake up and chirp."

"If that is the case, we go in and remove their weapons first," Ziva said. "Then the birdie can wake up, but he will take time to grab for a gun."

"I sure would," Buck said.

"Doc's real fast," Voodoo said.

"I can hit one, then shift for a second," Doc said, his tone confident and relaxed. "If their racks are in rows, just gimme two guys next to each other, last guy in the corner. Pop the first, irons up to the second target in the next rack. He'll get two rounds, to make sure."

"Okay," Ziva said. "But I think they are spread in that house."

"Probably," Buck agreed. "Unless they're all bunking in the fuckin' living room."

"Unlikely," Preacher said.

"Yeah," Voodoo said. "Still, now we've got a game plan if they are."

"Nothing wrong with that," Gibbs said.

Ziva grunted agreement and checked her watch. The glowing hands hadn't moved much. She muttered mental cusses and settled in properly, careful to make sure that she wasn't too comfortable. She needed to maintain a small amount of tension in her body. That would make it easier to get up and move later.

While the guys chatted about this and that, Ziva held her peace. She wanted this job over and done, and she wanted to get out of this damn country. It represented her only failed operation, her only black mark, and there was nothing she could do to fix that.

It had turned out that the people she'd been after the first time were actually based in Pakistan, and after their run-in with her late partner, those people had packed up and gotten out of Kyrgyzstan. They'd even moved out of Pakistan, and no-one knew where to find them now. Shadow groups like that one worried Ziva more than any other kind. So little was known about them, except that they had no good intentions whatsoever. Finding out more about the group had been the Mossad's only intention, but Ziva's partner had blown it, though she had no idea how. She'd never stop trying to figure it out, even though she knew that the only way to find real answers would be to find the people who'd dragged him into the house they'd been sharing.

What she hadn't told the guys this morning was that she'd heard those people. The house had been wired for sound and she'd been wearing an earpiece. While running, she'd heard them asking questions in broken English, heard them beating him, heard the pop of a gunshot probably muffled through a pillow or scatter cushion; she'd heard them say in Arabic that they had to clean up and get rid of 'the American's' body. At least her partner had managed to keep up that part of his operational profile. At least he hadn't given it away that he was an Israeli.

Ziva had buried her earpiece and the receiver unit just before she'd stolen the horse, but by that time she'd been long out of reception range of the transmitter at the house. Even as she'd mounted the horse for the first time, she'd wondered if she should go back. She had their vehicle's registration plate memorized, and she'd thought that perhaps she could use that. She was to find out later that the men had used that same car to disguise the death of her partner. They'd driven his body to a remote place where they'd shoved the burning car into a gorge.

This country was a what-if pain in the ass for Ziva. She checked her watch again and was pleased to see that the hands had moved a lot more: she had the perfect excuse not to think about the past, at least for a while.

"NVGs on. Let's go, guys."

While getting up she listened to their acknowledgment. Night vision showed her a clear path to the walls. Ziva moved out, walking carefully, and it wasn't long before she spotted Gibbs. At the wall, Ziva linked her hands into a stirrup and Gibbs stepped up. He checked the top of the wall for an electric wire or broken glass: clear. He took his weight on his hands and looked towards the gate: one man there as expected. Two men were standing talking near the gate. Two men were strolling along the far wall. The other two were probably round back of the house, out of Gibbs's line-of-sight.

"Buck, Doc, you got two guys below your entry point," Gibbs whispered.

"Copy," Doc said.

Gibbs climbed properly on top of the wall and leaned down. Ziva jumped and gripped his hand, and was hauled up. They dropped down silently and squatted in the shadows, watching the two men across from them.

"We clear yet?" Buck asked.

"Good to go," Ziva said.

She tapped Gibbs's shoulder and started moving along the wall. The two men who'd been standing near the gate had started to walk their beat, towards Gibbs and Ziva.

Across the yard, Doc and Buck took care of their two marks who crumpled into silently dying heaps on the ground. Doc took careful aim at the man at the gate and he soon dropped dead. Seconds later Preacher joined Buck and Doc.

Ziva and Gibbs had been waiting in the shadows. As their two marks stepped into range, they were dropped with suppressed pistol shots. Gibbs and Ziva moved on immediately, round the back of the house. They found Voodoo waiting for them. He pointed out two dead men.

"Too easy. Also easy: door's open."

Ziva shook her head. In situations like this one, things like unlocked doors never failed to amaze her. She followed Gibbs into the house and they started clearing rooms on the ground floor. Voodoo had to let the other three men in because the front door was locked, and that was enough to cause Ziva to want to laugh. How ridiculous– locking one door but leaving the other open, just because it was at the back of the house. But she had to wonder if that was something that Dufaure had okayed, or if it was a shortcut taken by his men because the boss was asleep.

They went up the stairs one at a time, with Gibbs as point man. He checked on closed doors and looked through open ones before coming back to the team.

"Two in the first room," he breathed. "Two in the next on the right. Three in the last room left. One door's locked."

"The mark's room," Ziva whispered.

"Must be," Voodoo agreed. "Me and Doc have got that last room with three."

Ziva teamed up with Gibbs to take the first room, and Buck and Preacher moved off to the second. The three pairs waited at doorways and on Ziva's signal they entered rooms quietly.

Ziva hated to kill sleeping marks. She hated it but it was sometimes necessary and tonight was one of those times. She took aim and didn't hesitate in pulling the trigger. Her snoring mark fell abruptly silent.

Elsewhere other snores were cut short. Ziva and Gibbs slipped into the hall and listened to one man snoring, the last man left and the one essentially responsible for the recent deaths of fourteen others. A soft glow came from the crack under the door, indicating that a lamp was on. That might've been a habit, or he'd just fallen asleep with the light on. Either way, it would make their job easier, but the locked door posed a serious risk.

"We bust in that door and he might get a fuckin' weapon in-hand before we can do him," Voodoo whispered in Ziva's ear. "This op is a secondary: we're just helpin' out here. We did not come here to get shot."

She nodded and walked away. Voodoo followed her, as did Gibbs.

"Where they goin'?" Buck asked Preacher.

"Probably to see if they can climb up into his room," Preacher whispered.

"I got good shoulders for that," Buck said and slipped away.

He found Gibbs, Voodoo, and Ziva at the back of the house, looking up at the balcony outside Dufaure's room.

"Human ladder time," Buck said. "Voodoo, gimme a hug, bro."

"I didn't know ya liked me that much."

Buck grinned and put his arm around Voodoo's waist. Voodoo gripped Buck's belt at the small of his back, and the two men put their backs to the wall. They linked their free hands and Gibbs was the first to step up. He turned carefully and put his back to the wall, with his feet on Voodoo and Buck's shoulders. That put his shoulders just four feet lower than the bottom right of the balcony. The two anchor men helped Ziva up, and a boost from Gibbs's linked hands was enough for her to get a grip on the balcony railing. She hauled herself up and over and snuck up to the double doors, behind which drapes were drawn. She tried the handle and went back to the railing.

"Open," she whispered.

"Turn around, dude," Buck said to Gibbs.

Gibbs turned to face the wall and the two men below gripped his boots to boost him up. Ziva helped to get him over the railing. They both took a knee and kept dead-still, listening: Dufaure wasn't snoring anymore.

Gibbs held up his hand and bunched it into a fist: wait. Ziva nodded and checked her watch. She held up two fingers: two minutes. Gibbs nodded agreement. Ziva focused on the flick of her watch's second hand. Watched pots might not boil, but she knew that short periods of time seemed not to pass as slowly when they were being actively monitored. Before the one-minute-thirty mark, Dufaure started snoring again.

Ziva nudged Gibbs and he went to the doors. He opened one and crept backwards, flipping up his NVGs as he went. Ziva had hers up by now, and was looking into the lit room, allowing her eyes to adjust. Soon enough she stood and drew her pistol, and nodded to Gibbs.

Dufaure slept on, even when they were close to his bed. He didn't notice Gibbs's silent removal of the pistol from the bedside table. Gibbs walked around to the other side of the bed. Ziva stepped up close to Dufaure.

She'd come halfway round the world to kill this man, but as usual that didn't factor. He was just a mark and was simply going to die. However, she wanted him to be awake. No-one had suffered tonight, and Dufaure wouldn't suffer either, but Ziva felt that he should know that he was going to die.

Ziva poked him in the chest with the pistol's suppressor. Dufaure jerked awake and immediately reached for the gun that Gibbs had taken away. Ziva swatted at his wrist.

"It is not there," she muttered.

"Qui tes-vous?" Dufaure said. Who are you?

"Take a good look at her, you sonuvabitch," Gibbs said. "And don't bother yelling. Your men are all dead."

Dufaure glanced at Gibbs and looked back at Ziva. Greasepaint was smudged on her face, but nothing obscured her eyes. He remembered, and he swallowed loudly.

"Arnaud is dead, and Norman, too," Ziva said quietly. "Now it is your turn."

"I know things you might find useful," Dufaure said quickly.

"No, you do not. It is foolish to try that old trick on someone like me."

"But I am serious, mademoiselle," Dufaure insisted. "It's my business to know very much, and profit by it. Your government, and his government, would like to know what I know. I assure you of this."

"Proof?" Ziva said evenly.

"I will need some time and access to computers, and an agreement, of course, that I receive immuni—"

Ziva raised the pistol and pulled the trigger. Dufaure died with a very surprised expression on his face.

"I woulda done it if you hadn't," Gibbs said.

"His eyes went to that laptop, twice," Ziva said and holstered her pistol.

"I noticed," Gibbs said, picking it up. "The Company computer geeks will have fun cracking this damn thing. Look around, secure any other weapons."


Gibbs unlocked the door and left the room. He'd noticed a couple of dirt bikes outside and sent two of the guys to fetch the Range Rover. He and the other two men hunted up weapons and ammunition. Ziva ended up finding an SMG and several full mags in Dufaure's room, but nothing else.

Outside she approached the men standing around a weapons pile just beyond the open gates. She put the SMG on the pile and dropped the magazines in an old ammo can.

"You have people who will take care of this stuff?" Ziva asked.

"Company people," Voodoo said, nodding. "I just made a call. We'll keep the ammo and what mags we can use, but they'll strip the guns to pieces'n'parts, put 'em in a hole, and pour a shit-ton of cement on top."

"Good enough," Ziva said and lit a smoke. She cocked an ear towards the sound of a motor running. "One of you go find that generator and turn it off."

"I know where it is," Preacher said and jogged away.

"When you two flying out?" Voodoo asked.

"First flight we can get to Moscow," Ziva said. "From there to Saarbrücken. From there by car to Ramstein."

"Can't happen soon enough for you, huh?" Voodoo said.

"Do not take it personally. I just want out of this fucking country," Ziva said while walking away.

Voodoo watched her go. He would've suggested to Gibbs to follow her, but he'd turned his back on the direction Ziva had taken: that was statement enough.

"Guess she needs her space," Voodoo said.

"I'd follow her into hell," Gibbs said quietly. "But I'd never follow her there."

"She's different to the rest of us," Voodoo said. "Not that she's a woman and we're not. Not that. She's got a whole different reason for doing this."

"She was made for it, but it's just something that fits us," Gibbs said. "I was thinking that in the car on the way here... I never expected that I'd give the Corps a full twenty; never expected for it to fit the way it did. But Ziva's been scope-locked on her line of service since she was a kid."

"I always wanted to be a firefighter," Voodoo said wryly. "But so did lotsa guys and I didn't wanna sit on that waiting list. So I took my Harbor sea legs to the Navy. Had no intention of doing this stuff, but it turned out I'm good at it."

"I just couldn't find a job," Gibbs said. "Walking into that recruitment office was a lot easier than the four months of job hunting I'd done."

"Uh-huh..." Voodoo mumbled, looking past Gibbs.

"Disappeared?" Gibbs guessed.

"Yeah, can't see her. Wouldn't think she'd wanna be alone out here."

"Fighting her demons."

"Okay... If she ain't back when the car gets here, we'll just hang around," Voodoo said.

"I woulda said so if you hadn't," Gibbs said.

She was running again, but she was running south, further into this country instead of trying to escape it. While smoking she'd started to cry, and all she'd meant to do was duck into the woods for some privacy. That had turned into a run, spurred by anger when she'd put a name to the tightness in her chest. No way was she going to have a panic attack, no matter how mild. No way was this goddamn place going to beat her that way. Running in these dark woods was the easiest way to firmly switch her focus and so negate the anxiety. But she was running uphill, weighed down by Kevlar and weapons. She could only go so far before she slowed to a jog, to a walk, and finally dropped to her knees.

Ziva slammed the heel of her fist into the pine mast and fought to catch her breath. She shifted and flopped onto her back, panting, and looked up through the shadowed black of pine needles at scraps of dark grey dawn sky. The memories came racing back, as if they'd chased her up the hill, and she let them in. They'd been in a box kept locked by her distance from this country, but now she had to face them.

She'd woken up to dawns just like this one, in similar places, after long nights of light, fitful sleep. Bears, wild boar, wolves, leopard, badgers, and lynx: she'd been a lone human in their world. She hadn't been able to sleep near a fire for safety; her only weapons were a stick, her bare hands, and a pitiful little pocketknife. The nights had always been the worst, not least because weariness had caused her to drop her mental guard, and she'd thought of home, of family, and the fact that she had been 'written off' as policy dictated.

Doubt had been her chief enemy, more fearsome than any wild animal. Doubt had sought to break her, by making her think that it wasn't worth the effort of trying to get into Kazakhstan. Whenever she'd been at her weariest, when at one point she'd turned her ankle, and at another had taken a fall, when she'd gotten a cold with a mild fever, doubt had crept in: Why bother going on? And she'd had to stop thinking about her family. Everyday, she had deliberately set them aside and focused on the single constant, that hunt for the next meal.

Nothing she'd eaten had been good enough, even if, after a couple of days of nothing at all, it had tasted like the best thing in the world. It was not steak and roast potatoes, and her whole world became that single meal. It was the imagined reward for everything, the prize at the end of the line, wherever and whenever she managed to cross that line, and she had remained determined to do exactly that.

Eventually the day came when she could send that message. The wait for a reply was mere minutes, but it had felt like hours. She had at first been overjoyed to hear the message alert tone. There was a list of landmarks to follow, with orders to report the sighting of each one. That had been fine, but the last sentence had just about broken her: Extract ETA 4 days. She would learn later that the landmark list had been something suggested by an experienced psychologist, who'd known that she would need something to focus on. If she hadn't spent sixty-three days alone and on the run, that shrink wouldn't have bothered. Ziva could have just stayed right where she was and waited for her extract.

Ziva sat up and rested her elbows on her knees. Remembering those last four days was enough to get her to cry again. She'd mostly managed to blank them out but she couldn't afford that now.

During those four interminably long days, she'd constantly been within sight of human settlement, and that had proved harder on her than she'd ever guessed possible. The loneliness had really hit her in the last four days, more so whenever she'd remembered that Kazakh people were nearly always welcoming and friendly. She'd longed simply to look into the eyes of another human being. On the second-last day, she'd found herself trying to remember faces, just what other faces looked like, and she'd failed. She'd needed to look into a puddle next to a stream, at her own reflection, and that had at once seemed both foreign and horrifying. She hadn't recognized the gaunt face looking back at her.

Ziva rubbed tears off her cheeks and sniffed loudly, and she managed a half-laugh when she remembered how she'd foolishly become self-conscious after that point. On the night before she was meant to meet with the extract team, she'd bathed in a frigid meltwater stream and had spent at least an hour trying unsuccessfully to finger-comb the tangles out of her hair.

"Idyotit," she muttered. Idiot.

The tears rolled again when she considered what it had taken to bring her to the point where nearly all her common sense had been replaced by a ridiculous, and dangerous, loss of focus. She'd been close to her psychological breaking-point that night. She'd been about two, at most three days away from cracking in a way that would have seen her discharged from the Mossad.

This country had nearly done that to her, but this was the first time she'd admitted it to herself, which was just as well. If she'd admitted it any sooner she might not have been able to muster the correct levels of mental and emotional preparedness for this op.

Ziva looked up again at those scraps of sky: brighter now. She got to her feet and started to walk downhill. She wanted to go home, but in that childish way common to many a traveler who wishes that a hellish-long journey could be reduced to a five-minute cab ride. The trip was going to take a lot longer than that. If she and Gibbs were lucky there'd be a jet waiting for them at Ramstein; if not, they'd be rumbling along relatively slowly in a turboprop plane. Al ha'kefak, Ziva thought sarcastically: just great. But never mind that particular trip. No matter how much she wanted to get out of Kyrgyzstan, it would be better if that exit was not a rushed affair. 'First available flight out' was a bad idea. Just as she'd checked the compass on her watch strap earlier and had deliberately run south, instead of north, Ziva had to beat that urge to just get the hell out.

This was just a place, and she had to stop blaming the place for how she felt. Her emotions and thoughts were hers to control. Until now she hadn't even tried. She was aware that although she was something of an expert on Central Asia, various Mossad people sought her opinion on every country in this region, except for Kyrgyzstan. Until now that hadn't been something that had worried or upset her. Now it made her feel weak and foolish; that in turn made her angry.

Ziva wasn't yet ready for company. She leaned against a tree and reached down to her left thigh, into the outer pocket of the drop-bag meant to hold empty magazines. Even though she hadn't expected to need it for its intended purpose, a D-bag was the best place to store smokes and/or hard candy. Ziva chose the latter: a crazy-strong mint stole her breath for a second and she ignored the complaints of her tongue. She'd been crying and her nose was stuffy, but it cleared in less than a minute, as did her head.

Being mad at herself wouldn't fix anything. It would only get in the way of dealing with this issue, and allowing that would be a bigger error in judgment than all the others that had resulted in her current predicament. She had a whole new list of things to talk about with Ingrid Heller. No doubt Ziva would get a lecture for the fact that not once in almost four years had she mentioned Kyrgyzstan to Heller. Ziva smiled wryly, and thought that she didn't have to get mad at herself, not when she had a shrink who firmly believed that lecturing patients was part of her job.

She'd have to talk to Jen, too. Jen knew the basics. Ziva had told her, in brief, about Kyrgyzstan, and she also had access to Ziva's operational history, but the latter amounted mostly to 'Went there, did that.' More often than not, that was enough. Usually Jen was only interested in the details if Ziva needed to talk about something, and she always understood if Ziva chose to use her shrink as something of a buffer.

It wasn't that Ziva felt a need to protect Jen. Sometimes she wanted to talk, but didn't know where to start, and sometimes when she finally had that jump-off point it turned out that she needed Heller's help to deal with various issues first. Ziva had tried the friends first, shrink second approach just once, in her early twenties. That single train-wreck of a conversation regarding a really tough personal issue had convinced her that whenever she was in that sort of bind, it was always best to consult a psychologist first. It wasn't fair to take the risk that Jen might end up feeling inadequate to the task; it wasn't fair to take to Jen an issue or issues that might result in Dr. Heller saying emphatically, Azoy darf min gehn in kolledj—Exactly for this I went to college. And this time Heller definitely would say that.

Ziva glanced up through the trees and muttered a cuss. She started walking again. For the present she had to put away her personal problems and gather together at least a semblance of a professional attitude. Doc and Buck had probably arrived with the Range Rover by now, and it would be better to leave the area before full light.

She broke into a jog and needed a full eight minutes to reach the bottom of the hill. When the trees thinned she slowed to a walk, and slung her suppressed FN P90 so it sat in front of her vest. The strange-looking not-an-SMG, not-a-rifle was not a favorite of Ziva's, and she was grateful that she hadn't had to use the damn thing. As was usual on this kind of op, she and Gibbs had been 'beggars' without much choice in available equipment. She'd given exactly this sort of scenario as a reason to McGee not so long ago, when he'd asked her why she'd insisted on 'playing' with a Heckler&Koch pistol if she hated all their pistols so much. Good thing she'd 'played' with that particular model, because there was one currently strapped to her thigh. She'd be quite pleased to give it back.

"Gun snob..." she muttered to herself.

And she smirked, because yes, she was a gun snob and in her line of work it was generally smart to be a gun snob.

"What's funny?" Gibbs called from a few yards away.

"Laughing at myself," she answered.

Ziva gave Gibbs a half-wink, to let him know she was okay, and he answered with a tiny nod.

"Did Doc and Buck stop somewhere to admire the view?" Ziva asked dryly.

"Waiting for our Company pals. Should be rolling up any minute," Voodoo said.

"Where have they come from?" Ziva asked.

"No clue," Preacher said and shrugged. "But clearly not far."

"They said something about being 'recently repurposed,'" Voodoo said.

"Director Marden probably has something to do with that," Gibbs said.

"They do not call him the Fox for nothing," Ziva drawled. She added tetchily, "But if they were close, why did we come all the way from the States?"

"Possible they were nothing like close until a few hours ago," Preacher said.

"Also possible that they ain't wet-work assets," Voodoo said plainly.

"I prefer Preacher's theory," Gibbs said. "Having a team anywhere in this region without at least one wet-work guy on board, is not how the Company plays the game."

"Yeah, true," Voodoo agreed. He was about to say something else, but heard the sounds of vehicles approaching. "No chances– cover positions."

The four of them split up and melted into the shrubs and saplings lining either side of the road. They weren't expecting trouble, but it didn't pay to be careless. Doc and Buck weren't being careless either: the Range Rover was following their guests' vehicle instead of leading it. When those guests stepped out of their vehicle, the two of them made sure to keep their hands in plain sight.

"They're okay," Buck announced.

Ziva was the last to come out from cover. The two Company men looked at her as if she'd just crawled out of cheese.

"What the fuck's a chick doing out here?" one of the men asked.

"She started a fashion," Doc said flatly. "There's three bad guys wearing big holes in the backs of their heads. You wanna try it on for size?"

Ziva's only comment was a bored expression. These two men didn't know her and she really didn't give a damn what they thought of her.

"So y'all made a big mess, huh?" said the other guy. "Who's gonna clean it up?"

"They're bug food, wise-ass. Welcome to the big leagues," Voodoo said.

"Cleanup's way too fuckin' PC for us," Buck said.

The two CIA men glanced at each other briefly, and walked over to the weapons pile without another word said. Preacher was the first to strip off his body armor, and his companions followed suit. Once their armor and weapons were hidden in the vehicle, they piled in. No goodbyes needed to be said.

Buck tossed a large pack of baby wipes into the back passenger area.

"Time to clean your faces, kiddies."

"Yes, Mom," came the chorused response.

"I wish they'd make greasepaint easier to get off," Preacher muttered.

Ziva decided not to say that women tended to have the same complaint about makeup, because she'd end up hearing mutters that military greasepaint was not makeup. She wasn't in the mood to argue that it definitely was a kind of makeup. She used a clean baby wipe to make sure that she'd removed the last of the greasepaint from her face, and settled in to listen to whichever conversation. She didn't feel like talking, but she'd probably be drawn into a discussion or two at some stage, and that would be good.

Ziva knew herself pretty well, but she'd only felt this urge to switch right off once before: during her last extraction from this region. She couldn't make that same mistake again.

US Diplomatic Installation, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Wednesday 14:29 KGT

"Kebabs," Voodoo announced. "And we got some of that local nan bread."

"And beer," Buck added. "The German style stuff."

"Just on time," Ziva said. "The veggies are done."

Gibbs had expected that he'd have to talk Ziva out of leaving as soon as possible. He'd been surprised when she'd suggested that they all sit down to a big lunch, but he wasn't about to complain. He took the large tray of grilled vegetables from the oven. Plates were already waiting, and before long everyone was seated at a table. The serious business of eating was conducted in silence for a while.

Voodoo eventually broke that silence.

"Thought you'd call the airline soon as we got back," he said to Ziva.

Gibbs might've tried to change the subject, but he decided to see how Ziva handled the question. She took her time with a mouthful of food and a sip of beer.

"Running away is sometimes wise," she said. "But not now, not for me."

"Woulda been a fuckin' dumb-ass thing to do, yeah," Voodoo said plainly. "I'd have tried to get you to hang around for a bit, even if it made you mad."

"Zee, I don't know you from Sam Adams," Buck said. "But I'd have ganged up with Voodoo."

"Thanks," Ziva said with a small smile.

"We're all heading up to ten years on this job," Preacher said while loading his fork. "For whatever reason, we've all been in that spot you're in."

"Yeah," Buck said. "And if we'd had no support from our buddies—"

"None of us would be at this fuckin' table," Doc stated flatly.

"You said it, brother," Voodoo said. Then, to Gibbs: "You're real quiet."

"Because I'd have ganged up with you, too," Gibbs said. "Or else I'd have asked you guys to gimme a hand. She knows that."

"I know it very well," Ziva drawled. "If I need a lecture, he gives it to me."

"Nothing wrong with being a sea daddy," Buck said.

"While I am aware that the term means 'mentor,'" Ziva said. "I really... really do not like it applied to his relationship with me."

"Uhh, sorry," Buck mumbled.

"Is that how she sounds when you get a lecture?" Doc asked Gibbs.

"Nope," Gibbs said. "That's her 'I am only gonna say this once' tone."

"Definitely won't have to say it again," Buck said with a sheepish grin.

"Can I ask what the problem is with 'sea daddy'?" Preacher said.

"Gibbs is older than me, and too many people automatically categorize him as a father-figure," Ziva said. "It pisses me off, because it belittles our professionalism. We are very good friends, yes, but you guys tell me about the professional stuff."

"You're cohesive, you read each other well," Preacher said. "And you both know what you're doing."

"Good skills, a ton of experience, confidence to go with that," Buck said. "I got an idea you two can be like a freight train: un-fuckin'-stoppable."

"I sure as shit would not wanna get on the wrong side of you two," Voodoo said.

"That about says it all," Doc agreed.

Ziva nodded, but also shrugged and changed the subject. Gibbs finished his meal and sat back, listening as the conversation zipped back and forth between topics. Ziva had relaxed a good deal since this morning, and even while he watched and listened, Gibbs noticed a little more tension ease from her expression. He wouldn't bother to ask; he didn't have to: she was still fighting those demons, but now she was starting to win. Current company had something to do with that. For whatever reason, we've all been in that spot you're in, Preacher had said. True– Gibbs had been there, too, and he still fought those demons from time to time.

Gibbs had confidence in Ziva's psychologist, mostly because she'd said that Heller was damn good. He had more confidence in Jen, because no-one knew Ziva better than she did. But he had the most confidence in himself. Ziva would need him to just arrive and silently remind her, I know all about those demons. He knew the enemy, and its chief tactic was to whisper, 'You're all alone.' Backup was what anyone in Ziva's position needed most.

Too bad for those demons. When it came to Ziva, 'Backup' was Gibbs's job description.

Manas International Airport, Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, Wednesday 20:07 KGT

On their way to the airport they'd stopped at a DHL Express office and Ziva had paid the direct courier service fee for the hard drive from Dufaure's laptop. The address she'd given was Henry's Antiques in Baltimore. Henry really did sell and trade in antiques, but he was also a semi-retired CIA analyst.

"That damn hard drive's gonna get home before we do," Gibbs muttered.

"Sure looks that way," Preacher said and gestured at a departure board. "There's delays all over..."

Ziva looked up at the board and muttered several Arabic cusses. Their flight was delayed by an hour. She took her bag from Voodoo and put it on a chair.

"You guys should go. You need to sleep."

"Won't argue," Voodoo said and yawned. "Fuck of a long day... Gibbs, good to know you, man."

Gibbs gave him a nod and shook his hand. Preacher shook Gibbs's hand and whacked his shoulder, and turned to Ziva. He smiled at her and knuckled her chin before walking away, not a word said.

"No g'bye?" Voodoo muttered. "Shit. Where's his manners?"

"He knows me," Ziva said. "Remember? I do not say 'goodbye.'"

"Yeah, now you remind me," Voodoo said. "Okay. No g'bye. Shalom?"

"Works for me," Ziva said, smiling. "Shalom."

"Don't do nothin' I wouldn't do," Voodoo said, walking backwards. "That oughta keep you busy a while."

Ziva laughed and flapped a hand at him. Voodoo grinned and waved, before turning around and jogging through a door.

"I will miss him. Same story all over again," Ziva said and sat next to Gibbs.

"You won't miss Preacher?" he asked.

"We have known each other for almost six years, and we send email occasionally. So I would miss him if the email stopped. One day I might get email from Voodoo. He knows now that Preacher knows me, and so the door is open."

"Coulda given him your address."

"Would you have given him yours?"

"Not unless he asked for it. Yeah, I get it..." Gibbs said. "How many times total have you two worked together?"

"This was number three," Ziva said. "Serbia was the first time. I was sent with new intel to help them grab someone. You cannot transmit blueprints of a house through a radio link, so I got dropped in and went for a hike, and I found these half-drowned Frogmen. They had had an argument with a river in flood. One of them was really sick and got extracted that day. The next morning one of the other guys got bitten by a horn-nosed viper, but there was no immediate evac available, so the medic had to stay with him. So now the two elements are down to five guys. They had two choices: abandon the op or let me help them."

"Give those guys any other option besides quitting..."

"Right. It was not really a choice. We got into the place, grabbed the guy, and made it to the extract with literally minutes left on the clock."

"And the bad guys left behind took it out on the locals?"

"Because the asshole bureaucrat in charge denied our request to send our gunship escort to wipe that place out with Hydra-70s," Ziva muttered. "We thought that we were dealing with Serb separatists, but when we were in there we heard men speaking Macedonian."

"Jesus..." Gibbs said and shook his head. "Which idiot doesn't know what happens when Macedonians clash with Serbs?"

"Clearly, a certain politician with his head up his ass. I swear, if I ever meet that bastard I will smash his face into the nearest fucking wall," Ziva growled. "Anyway, the guy we grabbed gave enough intel to make it so a major uprising was put down before it started. Possibly thousands of lives were saved. I always have to look at it like that, because otherwise I want to just sit and cry. The rest of the world heard and read about atrocities committed in that village. People like me must look at photographic evidence of what a power drill can do to little kids and old people."

"What is it with these crazies and goddamn power tools anyway?" Gibbs said angrily. "If they're not using blunt machetes, it's electric drills. Sick bastards..."

"In that respect, the cordless drill is the worst invention ever," Ziva said and sighed heavily.

"We need a subject switch," Gibbs said. "The next time you worked with Voodoo, did it end better?"

"Much better," Ziva said. "I cannot say very much about that op. Multinational participation, multiple goals. It had the potential to get messed up, fast, but everyone worked hard, did what they were supposed to, and thanks to really good planning—it was one of Moshe's ops, the whole thing was like a precision machine. Thirteen days, start to finish. Me and Voodoo were teamed up for five of those days. After the op, Voodoo, Seagull, Mother, and Rabbit had something like shore leave in Israel– just a couple of days, so we mostly hung out on the beach at Tel Aviv."

"Much better ending, I agree," Gibbs said. He glanced up at the departures board, and cracked a grin. "They fixed something. Our flight's been moved up."

"Good," Ziva said. After a pause: "I want to go home, but at least it is not... almost desperate, like this morning. And I am also thinking now, Was that only this morning?"

"Like Voodoo said, long day," Gibbs said and covered a yawn with his hand. He thought first before saying, "You might wanna come back here voluntarily, one day."

"I was thinking about that," Ziva said, nodding. "I could easily talk some of the people at the climbing gym into coming here for a week. There are so many good climbs in this country—I passed by several awesome faces when I was running to Kazakhstan."

"There ya go," Gibbs said. "They got a ready-made guide. But you might wanna mention to some Pentagon people that you have that knowledge. I don't doubt they'll wanna send various Mountain Division people out here for recon purposes disguised as training. You can tag along expenses-paid, and it won't eat into your leave time."

"Ooh," said Ziva, her expression mischievous. "Yeah, I like that idea better."

"You're welcome," Gibbs said with an equally mischievous grin.

Glilot, Tel Aviv, Israel, Thursday 12:56 IDT

Yossi came back from lunch and shut the door to Eli's office. Eli looked at him quizzically.

"Amit's temp replacement," Yossi grunted and sat down. "Every time that woman sees me she gives me that look down her nose. She's wearing a suit and her shoes are shiny. All that's missing is the fucking tie."

"I didn't put on a tie today," Eli said. "And I didn't shave. I just trimmed."

"Hope for you yet," Yossi said and kicked his sandals off under his desk. "But I don't know what that woman's problem is. Clean shirt, clean jeans. It's not like I came from the dairy wearing cow shit."

"People have ideas that this country has to change—"

"In all the wrong fucking ways," Yossi said angrily. "We've got to fix things, yes, a lot of things, but that bit of us that has no airs and graces... It's a good thing. We're not America. This is Israel, unique, one-of-a-kind. Here what you can do is more important than what you wear. We don't stop someone who's brilliant from getting a job just because they can't afford to go out and buy a stupid suit."

"The small things like that," Eli said. "That's where our hope lies."

"No, achi. It lies with the people who value little things like that," Yossi stated. "The rest of the world can keep their stupid fucking clothes-make-the-man bullshit. People that shallow make my skin crawl... Like her, out there. Where the hell did you find her?"

"Now he blames me," Eli said and threw up his hands. "Go blame Personnel. I don't know where they shuffled her from."

"I saw her in the dining room a few times last week. She was sitting with Efrat from Personnel and Finances, so maybe that's where she's from."

"Efrat is still crazy about you," Eli said with a grin.

"Go play matchmaker with yourself, in the traffic," Yossi muttered.

Eli chortled unrepentantly and got back to the report he'd been writing. He wanted to finish it before going to get some lunch. Within twenty minutes he was checking his spelling, and five minutes later he'd pushed the document through to Amit's replacement's computer. Eli stood up and stretched.

"You going to lunch?" Yossi asked.


"If there's any of those little fruit yoghurt cups left, bring one back for me, any flavor."


Eli went to the door and opened it. He was about to close it again when the distinctive tone of his desk phone sounded. Amit's replacement reached for the handset on her desk.

"No, I'll get it," Eli said, ducking back into the office and closing the door. He plucked the handset off its base. "David."

"We're at Ramstein," Ziva said in Hebrew. "Mark terminated."

"Yossi, she got him," Eli said and sat down.

"Of course she got him," Yossi said with a short nod. "Good job!"

"I heard him," Ziva said.

"She heard you," Eli said to Yossi. To Ziva he said, "You and your team, all okay?"

"Not a scratch," Ziva said. "Smooth and simple. And we've got a nice direct flight now on a Gulfstream. Eight hour flight, due to take off in about fifteen minutes. Call Michal and tell her?"

"Okay... And now I'll just ask," Eli said. "Are you okay?"

"Better than I thought I'd be," Ziva said. "It was rough, right after the job was done... I've got a lot to unload on my shrink."

"I can't begin to imagine."

"You care. It's good to know that," Ziva said quietly.

"I want to apologize for the times you thought I didn't care," Eli said. "But you'll probably give me a verbal smack."

"Yeah," Ziva said and laughed briefly. "Hey."


"I knew you cared," Ziva said and hung up.

Eli blinked for a few seconds, and abruptly pressed a button to select another line. He made the call to Michal, and was grateful that she didn't ask any questions. Eli dropped the phone on its cradle and covered his face with his hands. All he could think was, Thank God it's finished. He started to cry and wasn't the least ashamed. He wasn't aware of Yossi getting up until a hand gripped his shoulder, then rubbed at the back of his neck.

"You and me are going to get drunk tonight," Eli muttered.

"Sounds like a good idea," Yossi said and sniffed.

Eli got up and gripped Yossi in a bear-hug.

"If she was here now..." Yossi said.

"She'd be part of this hug," Eli said, certain. He patted the back of Yossi's head and grinned at him. "You know what? Fuck it, let's knock off early."

"That's an even better idea than getting drunk, achi," Yossi said. "I'm going to tell Missus Shiny Shoes out there..."

Eli rolled his eyes and lifted his suit jacket off the back of his chair, an automatic end-of-day reaction. He looked at the jacket for a moment, and tossed it back over the chair, any old how.

Shepard David Residence, Washington D.C., Thursday 06:34 EDT

There was a knock at Jen's bedroom door.

"Just a minute."

She hastily buttoned her blouse and stepped into formal trousers before going to the door. Michal straightened up from a lean against a wall, and offered Jen a smile.

"They're at Ramstein, about to board a Gulfstream jet. They'll be home in about eight hours."

"'Relief' is too small a word," Jen muttered. "And when are my other people coming back from... wherever they are?"

"They're on a boat, and they'll be on a plane in a few hours. They were on Fernando de Noronha island, off the coast of Brazil."

"That... Umm. The nature preserve island that limits visitors to four-hundred per day?" Jen mumbled.

"HaMossad has a friend who owns property there," Michal said lightly.

"Of course you do," Jen drawled. She added: "Thank you."

"By rights, you should've been there, too, right from the start."

"That Norman guy would've bolted if I'd disappeared," Jen said while stepping into shoes. "Besides that, I'm not the type to leave my post until and unless a direct threat is leveled at me. Even then, I'd prefer this sort of setup: continuing with my job under increased-security conditions."

"You'd really prefer a repeat of the crowd in your house?"

"I'd put up with it a helluva lot more gracefully than being packed off to a safehouse somewhere, even if that somewhere is incredibly pretty. You never, ever want to be around me when I'm in that kind of bad mood... And when is 'the crowd' departing, may I ask?"

"As soon as Ziva gets back," Michal said. "Dismissing a protective detail... In Mossad circles that's a face-to-face thing. If Ziva wasn't involved, someone stationed at the embassy would dismiss us. Failing that, someone would be flown out from Israel. Someone from the embassy is flying out to LA to dismiss the detail responsible for your mom; we're waiting for Ziva. A phone call is never good enough. That protocol is carved in stone."

"And probably for good reason," Jen said.

"Yes. A single incident," Michal said. "Like snakes, traitors turn up in unexpected places."

Her tone had been almost light, but it was belied by the expression in her eyes. The uninitiated might've called that expression 'hateful,' but Jen knew better. People like Michal and Ziva, and several others Jen had known, didn't bother with hate. It was a waste of both their time and their energy, both of which were sometimes needed to fix things, permanently, lethally. In their view, traitors were just problems, and as long as the press could be kept out of the business, they were simple problems with equally simple solutions attached. People like Ziva and Michal didn't hate traitors. They reserved hate—just a little hate for the problems that they were unable to fix.

Jen gestured at her body armor.

"I guess I still have to wear this thing."

"Yes, because I like my job," Michal said. "If Ziva arrives and finds you at work without that vest, by this time tomorrow I won't have a job."

"She can be awfully sticky about the rules sometimes," Jen said while snugging straps and smoothing down Velcro. She opened a closet and took out a blazer. "I've made a mental note to expand my wardrobe: more jackets and blazers that'll fit over ballistics."

"This isn't said flippantly," Michal said. "Get a couple more jackets, just for variety. The need for that vest is not gonna be a regular thing. In fact, I doubt you'll ever need a Mossad-specific protective detail again."

Jen checked the blazer's fit in a mirror attached to the inside of a closet door. She closed the door, and looked Michal in the eyes for a long while.

"You're going to leak what she did."

Michal held up her hand and closed the bedroom door. When she turned her expression had changed to what Jen had come to call her 'game face': all business, not the least bit friendly.

"We must leak it. Why did Arnaud attempt to kill Ziva?" Michal gestured broadly at the bedroom. "This house. And you. And her job at the Bureau. And more than three years of living this country. He thought she'd gotten soft... So we'll manage a tactical hemorrhage, one that won't ever reach the press. We'll leak it, under ground, that she dealt personally with the reprisals. We'll leak it that she had a certain level of approval and assistance from this government. We'll leak it that she's far from soft, and that she's got large-caliber friends in very high places. In no time at all, it'll become known that she's considered a valuable asset, by not one but two governments. And who's gonna risk touching her?"

"I see that side, but I also see a large target being painted on her back," Jen said.

"That target's been there since her first op. Every op since has just made it bigger. And that target might be big, Jenny, but they'll only have one shot, and they'll have to hit the X-ring. No matter how big the target is, that's a tiny area-of-effect."

"Arnaud, Dufaure, and Norman Moore missed their shot, and paid for it," Jen said, nodding.

"And none of them was a fool, or incompetent," Michal said. She checked her watch and replaced her hand in her pants pocket. "Five minutes still. You have a busy day ahead, so if there's anything else you want to know..."

"What don't I know?" Jen asked.

"On our side, there's nothing more," Michal said. "On your side... She's smart. If she feels that her skill-set is being abused, she'll remove herself from whatever situation. That might result in her returning to Israel."

"And I'll be going with her," Jen stated.

"You said just now that you're not the type to leave your post," Michal said.

"Resigning for moral cause is not a dereliction duty," Jen said. "If anyone here attempts to abuse Ziva's skill-set... That's not a team I want to play for. We both know which facets of that skill-set they'll attempt to abuse. Nu, tzadakti?" —Am I right?

"Tzodeket," Michal agreed. You're right. She smiled abruptly, and said, "But you know that people here can't give her direct orders?"

"Mmm," Jen said with a smirk. "They have to ask nicely, and she always has the option of saying no, either immediately or after consultation with various Mossad high-ups."

"Mostly, she consults," Michal said with a small surprised laugh. "I never expected that."

"I confess that sometimes even I'm surprised at how by-the-book she can be... Time?"

Michal checked her watch and went to the door. Jen followed, and in the hall her eyes didn't miss the edge and strap of a bag peeking out from Michal's bedroom door: packed and ready to go. Downstairs computerized surveillance modules in hard cases were still in evidence when Jen walked past the dining room, but there were only three on the table, instead of the usual crowd of eight. Everyone seemed prepared to do a little last minute packing before making tracks. Jen got nods and smiles from several men and women that had that distinct 'goodbye' air to them. When she came back here this evening, her house would be empty.

"Can you come to dinner tonight?" Jen asked Michal.

"Probably, but forgive me if I'm on a plane?"

"Of course..." Jen paused at the front door and turned. She raised her voice and said, "Todah le'kulam." Thanks, everyone.

Several people answered that Jen was welcome.

"They like you," Michal said and closed the front door.

"Even though I was a grouch on several occasions?"

"Being grouchy is a national hobby in Israel, and you were grouchy in fluent Hebrew. You're one of us, practically. What's not to like?"

Jen smiled and got into an SUV. During the drive to work she got the distinct feeling that she might end up thinking, for a while, that her house felt too empty.

Andrews AFB, Thursday 15:19 EDT

Todd watched someone carry away two blaze orange biohazard bags bearing everything that Ziva and Gibbs had brought back with them, including their fake passports, footwear, and travel bags. Everything was going to be incinerated, and that process would essentially be the seal on their operation. It would wipe out every bit of evidence that they'd ever left the US, and every trace of their 'visit' to Kyrgyzstan.

He'd brought them prepacked bags that someone from the CIA had termed 'arrival packages.' They'd included everything that Gibbs and Ziva would carry on a normal workday, and for Ziva, a travel hairdryer and toiletry bag that included makeup products. Todd could vaguely hear that hairdryer now, while he sat on a bench facing the two doors leading to men's and women's locker rooms.

Gibbs was the first to emerge, wearing a sports coat that Todd had seen on several occasions. But his hands were empty. The plastic bags that had contained the clothes he was wearing, the items in his pockets, and the pistol and badge on his belt, had been included in one of those biohazard bags. Except for that new super-short haircut, Gibbs looked like he usually did when he'd just come from work.

"Hairdryer just got killed," Todd said, nodding towards a door.

"Still gotta brush that hair and do the makeup thing," Gibbs said and sat next to Todd.

"Bet she'll be out way faster than my girlfriend would get out of there."

"Your girlfriend's never had to do quick changes in public restrooms in the middle of a surveillance op."

"This is true," Todd said. "And I'm kinda glad about that. Couldn't help worrying about you two. When Dianne asked what was eating me, I couldn't tell her anything. And I didn't tell her that there were people keeping an eye on our apartment building... Was it really necessary to drag your NCIS colleagues off to a safehouse?"

"The Mossad thought so," Gibbs said. "You and Dianne would've been dragged off, too, if they'd felt that was necessary. But you two live in an apartment building crowded with Navy personnel, and you have biometric access and security cameras—"

"We're already living in a safehouse, yeah," Todd said wryly. "And I work in the Hoover Building and she works at the Pentagon. Woulda made it tough for anyone to grab us."

"Right... When are we due in that meeting?"

"Whenever you get there," Todd said.

"And has Dufaure's hard drive gotten here yet?"

"Couple hours ago. Techs say it'll take a while to get into it. All the files are password-protected and encrypted. What are you hoping is on that thing?"

"Links to other assholes," Gibbs said. "Got a feeling Dufaure might've kept useful info on that laptop, about people like Merle and Yvon."

"More evidence for our case against them... Sounds good to me," Todd said.

The door opposite them opened and Ziva exited the locker room bearing her everyday briefcase.

"Back to suits," she muttered. "And a fucking desk job..."

"As much as I like working with you, you have gotta get out of that office," Todd said. He frowned and added: "You look... different."

"Oh. I will fix it," Ziva said and fell into step with Gibbs and Todd. "By the time we get to work, I will not look like I am about to kill someone."

"Maybe you should hold on to that expression for a while, just long enough to make Holsten go all pale."

"Has he been a pain?" Ziva asked.

"No more than usual," Todd said. "But I get a kick out of seeing him squirm."

"And for once that is not my influence," Ziva drawled.

"Hell no," Todd said. "He keeps wrecking it. He'll say something useful or ask an intelligent question, then next minute he's saying something antagonistic. I guess it's just his nature to stir shit. It'll be really nice to see the back of that guy."

"And I am going to make sure that we never have to work with him again." Ziva said.

Todd knew all about that tone of voice. It was the same one Ziva used when all mediation efforts had failed, and someone was about to find themselves transferred, demoted, or dismissed. Todd doubted that she'd get Holsten fired, because his superiors were to blame for involving him in this business in the first place; they were also responsible for Holsten's continued involvement, even after they'd been informed that he was not the right person for the job. For that, Holsten's superiors were going to be torn new ones.

Todd knew that Dir. Grace was itching to face off with the new Secretary of Homeland Security. Grace was only waiting for this current investigation to be wrapped. He'd invite Ziva into his office soon after that, and Todd wouldn't be the least surprised if CIA Dir. Marden, Jen Shepard, and DIPSEC Dir. Ashley were included in that same meeting. The Homeland Security high-ups all seemed to have an idea that they were above various rules and accepted ways of doing things. Todd wished he could be a fly on the wall when those people were firmly disabused of that idea.

J. Edgar Hoover Building, Washington D.C., Thursday 16:34 EDT

Ziva listened to a list of eleven arrests that had taken place between eight and ten a.m that morning. Gavin Thomassi finished reading and gave Ziva a smile.

"They've all been arraigned, too. All held without bail."

"That is good work on your parts," Ziva said. "Thank you."

"But just remember that the individual cases have gotta be tied up tight," Gibbs said. "You got all the necessary warrants, right?"

"Yep," Fornell said. "We've got agents and cops turning homes upside-down, here and in several European countries. If there's any more useful evidence out there, we'll get it."

"Make sure that absolutely everything is by-the-book," Ziva said.

"That's rich, coming from you," Holsten said.

"You think there are no rules that I must follow?" Ziva said evenly.

"You might have a few rules, but those rules are attached to illegal activities," Holsten said.

"I have never said that what I sometimes have to do is legal, or even good," Ziva said. "But it is necessary. The law in this country and others often bows to what people feel is right and supposedly fair, but an excellent knowledge of both those laws and the sentiments of 'right' and 'fair' is precisely what enables people like Patric Dufaure to kill and kill again, and yet evade arrest and incarceration. Given that, you will forgive me if I fail to feel the gravity of your moral argument."

"I'm not surprised. People like you can't tell morality from a pile of dirt," Holsten spat.

"If that was true, you would now be lying in a pool of your own blood," Ziva said quietly.

"Did... Did you just threaten me?" Holsten said.

"Not at all," Ziva said, looking him in the eye. "I made the point that I do, in fact, know morality from a pile of dirt."

"Lucky for you, Holsten," Michael Jager muttered.

"And speaking of piles of dirt," Sandy Hillman said. "When can we ditch dear old Quentin?"

"His part is done," Fornell said and shrugged. "Got no need for him in the individual investigations."

"You just got your marching orders," Gibbs said. "Get lost, Holsten."

"Do you all call this 'professional behavior'?" Holsten said and stood.

"Listen, you sonuvabitch," Andy Perth growled. "You've done nothing but deliberately piss us off since you first walked in that door."

Perth flipped the chain from around his neck and slapped his flat badge on the table. There was a black band across the middle of that badge. Gibbs was the next to place his badge on the table, and everyone else followed suit, Fornell last. Black bands crossed every shield.

"Professional behavior?" Perth said. "I'd like to see you work through the murder of one friend, let alone three."

"Do you even remember their names?" Ziva said.

Holsten looked at her, but not for long. He picked up his briefcase and went to the door. He paused there and turned.

"McMahon. Mills. Weller," Holsten said.

He walked out, and closed the door quietly.

"He should never have been assigned to this case," Ziva said.

"I agree," Jager said. "But he didn't have to be an asshole about it... So this is a break-up party? Andy and I are mostly done here."

"Yeah," Fornell said. "It'll be best if we only involve the Bureau and NCIS, going forward. Andy's DIPSEC investigators need to be kept low-profile, and we don't want the usual press frenzy when the CIA gets formally involved in anything. Bad enough that during the trial process the vultures are gonna be all over Roddy McMahon's family, because he was CIA."

"That information hasn't been released yet?" Gibbs asked.

"Nope," Fornell said and smiled briefly. "We've found all kinds of workarounds on that score."

"We've kept the public info to a need-to-know minimum," Sandy said. "And just saying that Roddy used to work for NCIS has been enough."

"I like working with smart people," Ziva said. "And if we are finished here, I have a protective detail to dismiss."

"And ya got a certain redhead to see," Thomassi said out the side of his mouth.

Ziva smirked, and that was confirmation enough. She grinned at a little ragging and walked out with Gibbs.

NCIS HQ, Washington Navy Yard, Thursday 17:47 EDT

Ziva left Gibbs in the squad area and went upstairs. Cynthia, Jen's PA, had gone home by now, and for that reason the office door stood ajar. Ziva pushed it open. Michal was sitting on the couch with a laptop on her knees; Ziva gave her a nod. Jen's head was bent over paperwork.

"You are not taking any of that home," Ziva stated.

Jen looked up, and put down her pen. She closed the file without looking at it.

"No paperwork tonight," Jen agreed, smiling. "But we're taking Michali home for dinner."

"And I just told Gibbs that he is coming home with us," Ziva said. To Michal she said, "Mesimah hushlemah, ve'todah lach." —Assignment completed, and thank you.

"Bevahkasha," Michal said. You're welcome.

She placed her laptop in a bag and left the room to tell the rest of the detail that they were free to return to the embassy.

Ziva walked around the desk and kissed Jen briefly.

"Ohevet otach," she said softly. Love you.

"I love you, too," Jen said and smiled. "Okay?"

"Mostly," Ziva said and sat on the edge of the desk. She ran the back of a finger over Jen's cheek. "Being with you again helps... and that blush makes everything just about perfect."

Jen, of course, promptly blushed a deeper red.

"Such a brat..."

"Rak tamid," Ziva said with a grin. Only always.

The End


Character Notes and Trivia

Character Notes

In order of appearance...

Ziva's on autopilot – And it was a helluva challenge to write her that way for most of 48K words. I'd forgotten how difficult Z-on-A can be. If anyone's got the idea that authors are in complete control of characters and the story in general... Nope. Whenever Ziva was on the page it was a case of the character ruling the scene, and the challenge was to remember that it should be that way. That's the key to maintaining internal consistency: listen to your characters.

Eli's a suit'n'tie-wearing Israeli. And he shaves every day! – This is deliberate on my part. I decided before I started writing Kidon that my take on Eli David would one day see him ragged mercilessly about his suits and ties and shiny shoes. But seriously, in Israel it's generally only politicians who wear suits (like Netanyahu, who's evil). A lot of Israeli guys get married in jeans and T-shirts and sandals. CEOs of major Israeli corporations—both genders—consider a polo shirt or an open-necked button-down to be 'dressing up.' Israel is no place for a damn suit'n'tie. Even in winter: suit jackets aren't as warm as sweaters. This is called logic.

Yossi is old school – He is, in fact, a big ball of Israelis-I-Once-Knew: truck drivers, farmers, teachers, professional soldiers, artists, engineers, gardeners, cooks, and also a computer geek or three. Yossi's old school, but he's never going to be left behind when it comes to tech that can make his job easier. He'll happily be left behind if ever his job requires him to wear suits, though.

Jen's something of an extra this time round – Sorry. I wanted to give Jen more to do in this story, but it didn't work out that way. She was limited to saying the right things, thinking along the right lines, and generally helping to paint a better picture of Ziva.

Moshe: calm, quiet, and heavily outnumbered – He's quiet and very reserved, for an Israeli. As I've said elsewhere, in Israel loudness is in the water or something. Thing is, when I wrote Kidon I asked myself, What kind of Israeli would be needed to supervise the French Section? Someone boisterous and loud like Yossi wouldn't have worked. Moshe's perfect for France; he's someone who, by his appearance and nature, would be dismissed as harmless by his neighbors and strangers. His Israeli colleagues are probably highly amused by that. Moshe, 'harmless'?! Yeah, right. As regards his professional life, HaSha'an is the coldest, most merciless recurring character in this series.

Todd has grown up – He doesn't have much of a role to play in upcoming pieces, so I wanted to give him that sense of settling and added maturity in this story. At this point he's been working with Ziva for a bit over 9 months. He was tossed in the deep end, and he's handled it well. He dropped the naïvety, because—as Ziva once said—he's smarter than that.

Gibbs is on point, doubling as backup as needed – Scout Sniper reporting for duty. I don't have to say any more about him. But please note: Gibbs is a retired Marine, so says canon. One can only retire from the Marines for one of two reasons: 1) disability; 2) EOS—End of Service, and that = 20 years. If he'd left before that, he couldn't call himself 'retired'; he'd be a discharged Marine separated from the Corps.

Sandy Hillman is awesome – Trust me, she gets even more awesome in TTA (although, according to McGee, he works with crazy people, and she's one of them).

Michal, oy vey – She's one of those characters who's no longer satisfied with existing on the sidelines. It might be easier for this writer if Michal chose a less-complicated personality and general existence. But no, ohhh no, she just had to be chozeret be't'shuvah—a secular Jew who's returned to religion. And honestly, unless you're familiar with Israeli chozrot be't'shuvah (fem. pl.: being particular cos the women are way different to the guys), and can add to that 'Mossad officer who's an occasional killing machine,' then you really have no idea how complicated Michali is to write. And yeah I used the diminutive cos I'm fond of her, damn me.

Danny has a lot to learn – Yes, and he wants to learn, so he'll last. That's why he's on Moshe's team; that's why Ziva took the time to explain things to him.

Avram doesn't like girls – Correction: he loves women, as long as they dress modestly, cook what he likes, have a desire to bear him many children, and they never tell him what to do. So he balks at female authority figures, not that it does him much good...

Gabi's a Nachlawi brat – He served with the Nachal Brigade. Beyond that, explaining 'Nachlawi' is complicated. But talking a few Shin Bet officers into helping him put up that sign in Arrivals in Terminal 3 at Ben Gurion Airport? That's EXACTLY the kind of thing Nachal guys and gals would get up to.

Yuval is a total dad – You should've guessed as much in Kidon and Complexity. But I'll grant you, his being a dad to Ziva is a little different to being a dad to two guys who are only 12 years younger than him. Thing is, Eli, Moshe, and Yossi were childhood pals who met Yuval when they were teenagers and he was an experienced soldier– a hero. He'd taken care of Yossi and Moshe when they were serving in Yuval's combat unit, and he was the person who'd made sure that Eli, who was a jobnik (had a desk job) in Military Intelligence, was kept informed about his friends. In this sense Yuval was a model Israeli officer of his era: the people in his unit were his family, and by extension their family and their friends were his, too. Moving forward in time, it's likely that he lost contact with several people from his unit. The ones left are his closest friends, who occasionally force him to be a dad yet again.

Voodoo loves his mom – You bet. She's probably his best friend and his biggest supporter. It's not a bit hard for me to see a very young Voodoo standing up to that asshole dad of his, and telling him to get lost. And who do you think came out the winner there, hmm? I never, ever take characters at face value. If they are to be three-dimensional, characters must have backstories, histories that make sense and fill in gaps. Of course Voodoo wanted to be a fireman, but no damn way would he hang around waiting for that to happen. He couldn't make it happen so he went to the Navy instead. That worked out pretty fuckin' ninja, all right.

Preacher the Mystery Man – His history with Ziva is as classified as his two years with the CIA's SAD. It's need-to-know, and you don't need to know. Yet.

Buck's got your six – Ably demonstrated when he told Ziva that he'd have ganged up with Voodoo, and before that, when he said, "I've got good shoulders for that." Buck's the man who'd die rather than let anyone sneak up on you. In this story he's got the role of machine gunner (aka, Pig-humper [mind outa the gutter! A Pig is an M60E3 machine gun]), the role that Voodoo had in Medal of Honor (2010). In this story Voodoo's team lead, and can't also focus on support, so I had to bring in an original character to do that.

Doc: fastest gun in Kyrgyzstan – Specialist marksman. Essentially he has Rabbit's role in this story. He's also useful in many other ways. Voodoo calls him their 'people man,' meaning that Doc is an expert on the region, its peoples and customs, and probably speaks several Central Asian languages. He's also the man to rely on when details need to be remembered. That fits. SEAL snipers learn to take note of every detail of their surroundings, in order to remember the precise position of their target(s). In other words, they actively develop and increase memory, and that spreads to other areas, from always knowing where they put their keys, to being able to recall details from a story they heard ten years ago.




Acamol Tzinun – This is like Sinutab/Sudafed but cheaper (the Israeli name for non-generic Sinutab/Sudafed is Sinufed and it ain't cheap). If you're planning on going to Israel, write down that name. Just remember that you want Acamol Tzinun Day. Acamol Tzinun Night is okay, but only if you wanna go sleepy-byes for eight hours.

Games are played by people who can afford to lose – "Israel cannot afford to lose a single war" is the first premise of the IDF's doctrine and, consequently, of the entire country's security doctrine. It's an incontrovertible fact, for two major reasons.

~ Political: Israel's enemies are many and they are vocal in their intention to kill every Israeli Jew.

~ Strategic: the country is tiny; there's no room to retreat without allowing the enemy to overrun the country.

That a single loss is unaffordable is also the premise that drives preemptive strikes, such as targeted killings, as deterrent measures. And it generally works. Proof of that lies in the fact that no country has been foolish enough to declare all-out war against Israel since 1973 (Yom Kippur War), and we all know how that ended: Egypt, Syria, and Iraq got their asses handed to them. And no, don't say, "But Lebanon—" The First Lebanon War: Israel, allied with the South Lebanon Army, against the PLO, allied with several other terrorist factions and Syria. The Second Lebanon War: Israel against Hezbollah. In both instances Lebanon-the-country never declared war on Israel, although during Second Lebanon, the Lebanese government supported Hezbollah's actions.

Israeli intel royalty – If there can be 'royalty' anywhere in Israel, then it's in their intel community. As Ziva said, "But that's a very long story." To shorten it: those 'royal' types come from a long family background in the Israeli intel community. Sometimes it's a background that even other Israelis consider questionable (descendants of Irgun members); others come from the families of war heroes; and nearly all of them are Ashkenazim. Eli is Mizrachi; Ziva is Mizrachi-Ashkenazi. They got to where they are purely on the merits of hard work, and they had to work much, much harder than a large number of their colleagues. The story's a lot longer than that, and it gets a lot more complicated. I might write it one day... but what would I call it? I already titled one story 'Complexity.'

Ziva doesn't like French politicians very much – Because, reasons. The French used to be staunch Israeli allies. The French used to sell useful things like Dassault Mirage fighter jets to Israel. Then the French forgot all about La Resistance, and the reasons for it (they didn't wanna have their culture wiped out by the Nazis). They criticized the Six Day War and promptly stopped selling Israel very useful things, like ammo. In the middle of a war. Since then, the French have flip-flopped an awful lot when it comes to Middle Eastern politics and policies. This French president says nice things about Israel while that other French president says nice things about the PLO and Hamas. Israelis smile when nice things are said about Israel, they shake their heads about the rest, and they don't trust the average French politician as far they can throw them.

Ein brerah – No choice. Mostly related to war: Israel usually feels that it has no choice but to commit to war in certain circumstances. It's argued that their most recent conflict, Operation PILLAR OF CLOUD, was ha'milchemet brerah—a war of choice, and while I agree, see above, re: Games are played by people who can afford to lose. PILLAR OF CLOUD, as a whole, still has the Pentagon reeling. It's the single most precise aerial operation of that scale committed to by any country in history. The message was and is clear: Israel is only a midair refuel away from some of its enemies, and the others lie much, much closer to Israel's borders. Those enemies are now the ones with no choice: they know that they dare not attack Israel. Preemptive deterrence is better than a war, or several, of no choice.

Etzel, aka, the Irgun – Yes, they really did blow up the King David Hotel, and the majority of the 91 victims were innocent civilians. Congrats, Irgun: you still own the record for highest number of people killed in a single terrorist attack in Israel. As for 'ha'chelek ha'ari'—'the lion's share,' I got that one firsthand from a woman who put me in a cold sweat, because she was right there when the gun was fired, and didn't see anything wrong with using that term to describe an execution. 'nuff said.

Like he's from Ashdod – Ashdod is home to Israel's largest port and home to some of the hardest-working folks in the country. These days it's also within rocket-range of Gaza. The way one Givati corporal told it to me, "You learn to swear very young in Ashdod, and it becomes an art form." Since he could swear for 5 solid minutes without repeating a word, and could even make swear-rhymes, I'd say 'art form' was not an exaggeration.

Al tidag– yiyeh be'seder! – This is the Hebrew equivalent of 'Don't worry, be happy!' Just remember to say the 'be'seder' kind of like 'Relaaaax.' Thus: Be'sederrrr! –really drag out that last syllable. There. Now you're at least 10% Israeli.

Kipa Sruga kitzoni meshugah – a Kipa Sruga is a kipa that's embroidered with words and/or patterns in concentric rings called aterot from the outer edges inwards. They're quite commonly worn by religiously observant Settlers. The terms Kipa Sruga and Kipot Srugot (plural) have become slang for Settlers and their right-wing politics. And kitzoni refers to an extreme Zionist nationalist ...meshugah you should know by now.

But Mashi'ach isn't supposed to arrive like this – Oh yes, those various believers*** of various messianic prophecies and teachings really would argue that point. They'd make Mashi'ach wait while they checked Talmudic references. Then they'd argue amongst themselves over the interpretation of the references. Then they'd call on a higher scholar to settle the dispute... and by this time Mashi'ach has likely done two things: 1) he's decided that there's no greater truth than 'Shnei Yehudim, shalosh de'ot'—'Two Jews, three opinions'; 2) he's figured out how to get back up to the heavens.

*** (Excluding Messianic Jews—Go ask Google, not me! You are forbidden from giving me a headache!)



DCPD—Diplomatic Close-Protective Detail – They exist, but don't worry: the State Dept. is very selective when it comes to handing out weapons permits to foreign nationals, especially in D.C. Permits are granted only to those individuals who pass a written and oral exam, which indicates that they understand the laws surrounding the use of firearms under whichever conditions. The slightest indiscretion, either by the diplomat in need of close-protection, or by a single member of the protective detail, usually results in immediate revocation of all weapons permits. Generally, permits have to be reissued every sixty days; initial issue and reissue is solely at the discretion of the Attorney General, and is not guaranteed. In other words, there are too many Israelis-with-guns in this story. That's why it's called 'fiction.'

Diplomatic Security Service – DIPSEC has a relatively high public profile in certain areas, like the protective role its agents play in regard to US embassies, and US and foreign diplomats and their families. The agency also openly investigates visa and passport fraud. A less obvious role is that of protecting lesser foreign dignitaries who refuse security details: they get them anyway, but playing Spot-the-DIPSEC-people is a game that most folks would lose. DSS procedural investigators are, however, kept low-profile and more often than not they operate undercover. Criminal cases investigated by DSS agents are often turned over to a law enforcement agency better suited to taking the investigation further. The FBI lands many cases that start out as DSS dockets.

DEVGRU – Naval Special Warfare DEVelopment GRoUp, aka, SEAL Team 6/ST6. Rumor has it that the DoD renamed DEVGRU, but that's possibly a case of the Pentagon blowing smoke, as it did when it first leaked a bit of info about Team 6. At the time there were only 3 Teams, and this new Team 6 got the Russians in a tizz– "There's three Teams we didn't know about?!" Teams 4 and 5 were eventually formed over a span of several years after the Ruskies found out about Team 6.

The name 'SEAL Team 6' is still used even in military circles, but it's actually obsolete: Team 6 was disbanded in 1987. The old name was brought back into heavy focus after Operation NEPTUNE SPEAR (bin Laden take-down), when some pencil-necked press officer at the White House decided that they didn't like the way DEVGRU sounded (yes, really).

That's a tiny bit of the Team's history.

What follows is a wrap of SEAL-associated and Navy terminology included in the story:

~ The Teams: what Team Guys call the SEALs.

~ Team guy: what SEALs call each other; it's what those who think they have the right call SEALs (if you're not a SEAL, don't call a SEAL a 'Team guy').***

~ Platoon: 16 operators (note: ordinarily a platoon consists of 26 to 50 personnel).

~ Element: 4 operators.

~ Crew: short for a single boat crew/element.

~ Bubblehead: anyone who crews on a submarine.

~ Tin can: a destroyer. 'Tin can' because armor is sacrificed for speed.

~ Sea daddy: an experienced sailor who takes a less-experienced sailor under his wing. Also under her wing. This is one of those Navy terms that disregards gender.

~ Rack: any kind of bed, even if it's a hammock or a king size four-poster (the latter would be a 'big-ass rack').

*** (There's currently a trend among know-nothing civvies to call SFOD-A/B/C/D personnel 'Team guys,' but Operational Detachment guys are Army, specifically Green Berets, and SFOD-D is Delta Force/ACE. They don't refer to themselves or each other as 'Team guys' because none of them would want to get confused with Navy personnel, not even SEALs, who've been calling each other 'Team guys' since 1943 [Google UDT].)

Chow is SRS BZNZ – SOF guys don't have a deployment schedule; when informed of a deployment, they often have no more prep time than what it takes to grab a bug-out bag. While on deployment, MREs and energy bars are (more often than not) all they have to eat until the job's done. But if they can get chow other than Meals Ready to Eject (specifically fruits, vegetables, and fresh/prepared meat), they don't say no. Outside of deployment SOF guys are often good cooks, or at the very least connoisseurs of good food. Nothing fancy. What's raw or grilled or stewed is always good. They still eat the 'bad stuff' ("Because life's short," says the Doorkicker). While they'll never say no to a doughnut, if there's also a mango or a banana or an especially yummy-looking apple available, they'll probably choose the fruit. And there are other benefits to maintaining a balanced diet. Direct Frogman quote: "We eat right so we can drink more beer."

CIA Special Activities Division – The best, period. Active-duty men (those who are still serving in the US military) are drawn solely from DEVGRU and Delta, usually on a non-permanent basis. Overuse is abuse: SAD commanders take care not to over-deploy active-duty people, and cycle them back to their unit of origin as soon as they can. Preacher being 'borrowed' for two years was probably as a result of SAD being short a few people on permanent assignment in Afghanistan.



A few political points:

~ I deliberately avoided mention of Manas Air Base. It's not a venue that the CIA and JSOC (Joint Special Operations Command) like very much at all. By agreement with the Kyrgyz government, every person who passes through the gates at Manas AB must have their passport stamped by Kyrgyz Border Control officials. So I didn't mention Manas AB at all, because it's not a transit point that the CIA would even consider using.

~ It should be noted that this story is set in 2009, one year before a major political upheaval in Kyrgyzstan. If anything, the current political situation in the country is worse than it was then. That can be traced to the high level of corruption in municipal and state government, which is just as bad now as it was in 2009.

~ Although the Kyrgyz government has active bans in place against several terrorist organizations, first and foremost Hizb ut-Tahrir, those organizations and smaller informal groups continue to pose a risk to internal stability. If you look them up, Wikipedia will tell you that Hizb ut-Tahrir are "an international pan-Islamic political organization." Yeah, right. Their chief goal is Islamist world domination (yes, really), by any means, including force via "the united armies of Islam." According to their constitution, every male Hizb ut-Tahrir member must undergo "military training in readiness for jihad." Political organization, my ass.

~ I have four pals who went to Kyrgyzstan on vacation and had a great time, and came back certain of the following: it's one of the most beautiful places on Earth. However, all four are male and ex-law enforcement, know how to spot trouble, and they spotted—and avoided—plenty of it. According to them, the best way to avoid trouble there is to stay away from cities and stick to small towns. Kyrgyzstan is no place to go alone, and no place for groups of women to travel without male company. And in the big cities, the taxi drivers really are all Uzbek robbers.

Gibbs ain't ancient, but his hair is – In many Central and East Asian countries, grey hair is a sign of old age, in some places extreme old age. Then there's also the idea that grey hair arriving at a young age is the result of a curse. Gibbs ended up not interacting with many locals, but Ziva's suggestion to dye or buzz off his hair was one stemming from her knowledge that he'd be stared at and remembered. The barbershop scenario was a perfect cover for this. As they say, sometimes the best disguise is no disguise at all: Gibbs joshing with locals would have resulted in him being remembered as 'that friendly tourist guy.'

Ulak Tartysh – Also known as Buzkashi or Kokpar. This is a crazy GLORIOUS game played by two teams of undefined numbers on horseback, and a headless goat carcass. Someone tosses the goat in a circle on the ground. The two teams race for it en masse. Someone grabs it. Wrestling happens! There are no team uniforms worn, so arguments about "Whose team are you on?" also happen. Insults are hurled! More wrestling happens! Fifty or so mounted guys mill round and round. WRESTLING! More yelling. More milling. There's blood– but it's probably from the dead goat... at first. This goes on for as long as an hour, before... Someone manages to steal the goat! He gets chased. Maybe he's caught. If so, MOAR wrestling, arguing, swearing, milling, WRESTLING... And someone else grabs the goat, and breaks away, racing for a goal circle! He leans, he tosses... he SCORES! ...and arbitrarily decides which team he's on. Then they start all over again... and again.

They can play for days, up to a whole week. It's a game that tests the endurance of both man and horse– after three days, the games get more exciting as numbers are reduced, and only the strongest players and horses are left. This is when the goat gets outright stolen and the guy holding it can race away with it. The game usually ends when there are no more players left to get hurt. Literally.

And then there's the boring version, with rules boringness and limited team numbers more boringness. That's often televised.

(Yes, I am a huge fan. Shut up.)

Trained Eagles

Austringry is a branch of falconry that employs eagles instead of falcons, hawks, and owls. The Kyrgyz tradition of training eagles to hunt, either from horseback or dismounted, is more than a thousand years old and is passed from generation to generation. The birds are primarily flown at fur-bearers—foxes, jackal, wolves, and (rarely) lynx***—but will also fly at other game like pikas, gazelle, deer, and young Argali sheep. Kyrgyz austringers consider their birds to be their children; they are members of their family and live in their homes. Golden, Eastern Imperial, and Russian Steppe eagles have 6 ft/2 m wingspans, and talons and beaks that are lethal weapons, and yet their trainers happily allow toddlers to pet them. The birds are so respectfully handled that they never show aggression to humans. They can be handled by any stranger, and tourists go all the way to Kyrgyzstan with the specific intention of spending as little as a single day with eagles. Ask Google for more information, but please note: the annual Kyrgyz Salburun hunting festival involves wolf-baiting with eagles and dogs, and Western animal rights activists focus heavily on the event; a Google image search will produce upsetting results.

*** (Rarely, because lynx can and do leap up, claw the eagle, bring it down, and disembowel it with a few kicks.)

Dangerous Kyrgyz Wildlife – The list Ziva worried about is accurate. Snow leopards can be surprisingly bold in Kyrgyzstan, and will stalk hikers. Bears, wolves, and lynx are numerous and aggressive towards lone humans. Badgers are rare but highly territorial– most attacks on people happen when the unfortunate person simply walks past a badger's den. But the most dangerous animal on that list is the Kyrgyz wild boar. Lone males weigh up to 175 lb/70 kg, and sport tusks as long as 4 in/10 cm. They almost always charge at anything that gets in their way, for a value of 'getting in their way' that includes being within their hearing range, or somewhere upwind. Sows usually congregate in groups. If young piglets are present when the sows sense danger, two or three sows will break from the group, and charge. Boar hunting in Kyrgyzstan is almost exclusively undertaken by trophy-seeking foreigners, who are labeled 'Crazy!' by the locals.



The Romanian Mafia – These guys make the worst of the Russian Bratva look like amateurs, and the Bratva try to stay far away from the Romanian crime clans. The Sicilians do their best to keep clear of the Romanians as well. The Russians are well-organized, the Sicilians are better organized than the Russians; both groups are more successful than the Romanians. Why do they fear the Romanians? When it comes to violence the Romanians are more creative than the Sicilians and the Russians combined, and they have a firm belief in breaking people but leaving them alive to think about what they did. There are fates much worse than death.

Uppity Russians – They've never stopped being uppity. The Cold War officially ended in 1991, and while US-Russo diplomacy is less fraught these days, it's not nearly 'friendly.' It's generally accepted in NATO intelligence communities, military and civilian, that Russia 'needs watching.' Take a look at Russia-in-the-news over the last few years. Consider how often they've meddled/are meddling/might meddle again in the politics of certain Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. The reasons for that meddling are clear: Russia has allied/is allying/might further ally itself with countries whose political agendas NATO finds somewhat worrisome (to put it mildly). Bet your favorite footwear that Russia is very actively being 'watched.'

Cordless Drill Torture – Dear Lefties of Every Nation, this is not an 'urban legend.' The UN Commission on Human Rights has listed this method as fact, officially recorded first in Pakistan in the mid 1990s ("electric drills" not 'cordless'). It's Al Quaeda's favorite method of torture, more common even than blunt force. Yes, you did read that right: they prefer to use drills rather than just smacking people around. Also, don't look this stuff up. Google will not be kind. You have been warned.

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