A Friend in Need
01. A Friend in Need
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“A Friend in Need”
Chapter One

Spoilers for Identity Crisis, Recoil and Tribes

For the first time in well over a week, Ziva David was enjoying a deep, restful sleep. It had taken her far longer than she found acceptable to recover from her undercover assignment to catch the serial killer targeting military wives. The struggle at the end of the mission shouldn’t have been so difficult. She was a trained assassin, well versed in a multitude of moves designed to incapacitate her opponents. Yet somehow, in that instance, she had been reduced to crawling away from her target, desperate to get to his gun, since she was, for the first time in a very long time, completely unarmed. To have carried a weapon would have blown her cover as the promiscuous wife of a Marine currently deployed overseas. She had been the bait, and as she had recently so blithely informed Special Agent Courtney Kreiger, bait frequently gets eaten. She had triumphed in the end, her opponent falling dead upon her supine body, and the image of his emotionless face, and blank eyes would not let her rest in peace. Ziva had experienced night terrors after previous assignments, but never for this long. She couldn’t recall another time when she had been as badly shaken by a near death experience. She was prepared to die for her country, to die in battle, but somehow, this time, it had been different.

The situation with Michael Locke had complicated issues further. She didn’t understand how she’d let things get so out of control. It was one thing to seduce a suspected killer, in the hopes of entrapping him, but to sleep with a witness because you were feeling alone and vulnerable, a witness who became a suspect in a copycat killing, no less, was unforgiveable. She had seen the look in Tony’s eyes, when he had correctly guessed what had occurred between her and Michael, his expression radiating worry and disapproval. She was well aware that Tony was concerned about her, and ever since that moment, she could feel him watching her at work, as if waiting for an outward sign of weakness. She had been furious when she realized he was shadowing her, intent on ensuring her safety. She didn’t require his assistance. It was not necessary. Yet as much as she publicly and vocally decried his actions, it was reassuring to know that her partner cared enough to try to protect her. He could not, however, protect her from her own thoughts and memories, and certainly not from her nightmares.

The confrontation with Gibbs down in Autopsy had actually done more to get her back on an even keel than anything. His statements may have seemed harsh to anyone not familiar with the former Marine's penchant for brutal honesty, but he had gotten through to her. He told her point blank that if she couldn't trust her instincts, then she was useless as an agent, and was on her way to getting herself, or her teammates, killed. That had been the turning point for her. She could finally start breathing again. It had still taken several days, but finally, finally, she could go to sleep with no nightmares haunting her. This was going to be her first night of real sleep, and she intended to enjoy every minute of it. When she had returned home from work, she had taken a long, relaxing bath, then a short shower to wash her hair and after completing her normal nightly routine, she had gratefully crawled into bed to find the rest she desperately needed.

Ziva had been asleep for all of six hours, when the ringing of her cell phone began slowly impinging on her subconscious, pushing her toward wakefulness. Pulling the pillow over her head to block the sound, she fought it, trying to ignore the conditioned response to immediately answer the phone. Even asleep she knew her team was not on call, so it couldn't be Gibbs or Tony calling her to a scene. Still, the habit to respond was ingrained by years of working for Mossad, and more recently, her adherence to Gibbs' Rule Number 3: Never be unreachable. Her tired mind tried to pull her back down into a deep sleep, but her conscience and her dedication won the battle, and pulling the pillow off and tossing it irritably to the side, she fought her way back to consciousness.

Her hand landed on the cell phone which she had placed on her night table out of habit. Her voice was roughened by sleep, but she spoke clearly as she answered, "David," not even bothering to look at the display to see who had the audacity to ruin her well deserved rest.

The voice coming through her phone was speaking softly, but the fear and desperation came through clearly. "Ziva, its Courtney. I'm in trouble, and I really need your help. Can you come and get me, please?"

Ziva snapped the rest of way awake in an instant and sat up, reaching over to turn on the lamp on the night table. "Location?" she demanded, as she was already sliding out of bed.

"Braddock Mall, north side, at the Food Court," came the hurried response.

"I will be there in 30. Watch for me. Are you injured?" Ziva asked, having heard just the slightest tinge to Courtney’s voice, suggesting the young woman was in pain.

“Just a little. I’ll be fine. Just hurry, okay?” Courtney pleaded.

Ziva was already out of bed, and grabbing clothes from her drawers when she answered, “I will be there as soon as possible. Stay there,” Ziva said as she pulled on a pair of black cargo pants.

“Thanks,” Courtney breathed, and then disconnected.

Ziva tossed her phone onto the bed, so she could pull a sweater over her head, then reaching into her top dresser drawer, she began to arm herself. One leg of her pants was pushed up, so that she could strap on a knife and the ankle holster that housed her tiny automatic. A belt was threaded through the loops of her pants, and another knife case was secured to it. A gun holster was strapped to the opposite side of the belt and she slid her Sig into its leather holder, clipping extra cartridges next to it. Then, satisfied with her armament, she reached over and snagged the phone, which she tucked into a pocket. After hurriedly pulling on socks and shoes, she grabbed a light jacket and car keys and headed for the door.

Braddock Mall was usually a twenty five minute drive for Ziva, but worry compelled her to hurry. As she whipped around the slower moving cars, honking her horn when necessary, she thought about the young FBI agent. Courtney had managed to worm her way into Ziva’s life so slowly that Ziva hadn’t even been aware it was happening. It had started with a few lessons in hand-to-hand, and then one night, drinks afterwards. Courtney had shared some of her frustrations with being the most junior member of her team, and Ziva had offered awkward sympathy and advice. From there they had progressed to a weekly dinner, and before she knew it, Ziva was viewing Courtney as a surrogate little sister, something she wouldn’t have thought herself capable of, one year ago. As she sped on, she realized she had not heard from Courtney this week, which was unusual, but Ziva had been so wrapped up in what was happening in her world, that she had not noticed. Now, Courtney was injured and in need of her help. That thought spurred her on, as she pressed the accelerator even further to the floorboard, her little Mini jerking as its engine was pushed to its limits.

Seventeen minutes later, Ziva pulled up in front of the mall, parking her car illegally by the entrance that led to the food court. Leaping out, she saw Courtney huddled on a bench beside the entrance. “What are you doing out here?” she demanded, as she hurried over to her young friend.

“The mall was getting ready to close, and the workers in the court were beginning to give me dirty looks,” Courtney explained, as relief washed over her now that Ziva had arrived.

“Let us get into the car, and then you can tell me what this is all about,” Ziva suggested, as she reached out and gave a little pull on Courtney’s left elbow. Courtney hissed in pain when Ziva touched her. “Where are you injured?” Ziva demanded, as she let go of Courtney’s arm.

“My shoulder,” Courtney replied weakly. “It’s just a graze, though,” she assured her friend.

“A bullet graze?” Ziva asked, wondering what in the hell had happened.

“Uh huh,” Courtney managed to answer, as she rode out the wave of pain that had just threatened to overwhelm her.

“We need to get you help. I am calling 911,” Ziva said, as she pulled out her cell phone.

“No!” Courtney cried, before Ziva could dial anything. “No paramedics or cops. This can’t go out over the radio,” she said vehemently.

“Courtney, you are wounded,” Ziva said, trying to be reasonable. “You need medical attention.”

“I’ll be fine. It just needs to be cleaned and dressed. Please Ziva, you don’t understand,” Courtney pleaded.

“Then make me understand,” Ziva demanded, confused by the panic in Courtney’s voice.

“Let’s go to your car, and then I’ll tell you everything,” Courtney promised, as she looked around, making sure no one was too interested in them. She didn’t want to risk anything happening to Ziva, and the events of the day had left her paranoid and jumpy.

It took a little effort, but Ziva finally succeeded in getting Courtney into her car. Starting the engine, she began to drive, with no real destination in mind, as Courtney began to explain what had happened.

“We’ve been working a stake out for the past week and a half. There are five of us, and we’ve been working in twelve hour shifts, with Ed Morgan and Liz Templeton in the night and morning, and Brent Langer and Victor Merit in the afternoon and evening. I work from 11 A.M. to 11 P.M., straddling both shifts, so that all the agents could help train me on surveillance. I got sent out at about one, on a coffee run, and when I got back I found Langer and Merit shot, both just barely alive. After I called 911, I did the best I could to staunch the bleeding until the paramedics got there, and then I called Morgan, who’s my team leader.” She paused there, trying to get herself back under control. Just remembering what had happened had shaken her to her core again, and she could feel tears threatening to spill out. She blinked hard several times, not wanting to appear weak in front of Ziva.

“Go on,” Ziva instructed. “What did Morgan do?”

“He called Fornell, who has been supervising the entire operation, and Fornell ordered Morgan and Templeton to process the scene, and for me to stay there and hold off the local LEO’s from doing anything until they got there. He told the paramedics to take Brent and Vic to Bethesda, saying he’d meet the ambulance there. You can imagine how well that went over with the Metro Police. Morgan and Templeton arrived with Asst. Director Glenn at about the same time a Deputy Commissioner from the DC Police got there.” Courtney stopped again, as she remembered the fight that had ensued between the two men. There had been a great deal of posturing and vying for supremacy, but finally, federal jurisdiction trumped local, and the local LEOs were charged with simply guarding the site until the FBI techs could complete their forensic work. She skipped the details and simply said, “Morgan and Templeton were left to supervise the FBI technicians as they processed the scene.”

“What did Glenn say to you?” Ziva wanted to know.

“After he heard what had happened, he said we needed to go to Bethesda and brief Agent Fornell. He seemed really bothered that someone was brazen enough to attack, and try to kill, two FBI agents.” She once again became quiet, contenting herself with staring out the window, while she chewed on her bottom lip.

“So, what did Fornell do when you got there?” Ziva prompted. Courtney seemed to be having trouble focusing, she noticed, and she became even more concerned.

“That’s the problem,” Courtney began. “We never got there. We’d only gone a couple of blocks, when a black Hummer pulled out in front of us, cutting off the way. The driver had to slam on his brakes, and before I knew it, the back of the Hummer had opened, and people were shooting at the car. Director Glenn pushed me down and covered me with his own body, but the shots kept coming until I could hear sirens approaching. By the time I could sit up, the Hummer was racing away, the driver was dead and Glenn was seriously wounded.” She lapsed into silence again, although by now she was shivering slightly, as she remembered pushing Glenn’s inert body off of her, and the blood that seemed to cover her head to toe.

“Courtney. Courtney, can you hear me?” Ziva was saying, when Courtney finally came back to the present.

“Yeah, I hear you. I’m sorry Ziva,” she said.

“You have no reason to be sorry,” Ziva assured her. “Tell me what happened next,” she ordered, wanting to keep Courtney on task and stop her from sinking back into silence.

“The cops got there, and called for an ambulance and back up. One of the responding officers recognized us, and called in to his Deputy Commissioner. When he arrived on scene, he demanded that I cooperate with the DC police, since this was the second shooting I’d been found at in the same day. Of course I refused, and told him it was a federal crime and had to be handled accordingly, especially since an Assistant Director of the FBI was wounded, and his driver killed. I called Fornell to tell him what had happened, and he ordered me to hold fast and guard the scene until another set of forensics people could get there to process the scene. The local LEO were furious, and tried to badger me into cooperating, but I refused. Finally, another Assistant Director, Christopher Webb, arrived with more FBI agents, and took me into protective custody. A forensics team was left there to process the car and the body.”

Courtney had stopped talking yet again, and Ziva could hear her teeth clattering together. Looking around, she saw a small park to her left, and pulling a fast u-turn, she headed for its parking lot. Once she got the car stopped, she pulled off her seat belt, and turned to Courtney. “Let me look at your shoulder, Courtney,” she said gently to the woman beside her. Courtney didn’t bother answering, but she did turn to face Ziva, which served to reassure the NCIS agent a little. When she pulled back the blue sweater Courtney was wearing, she saw that Courtney had improvised a makeshift bandage of sorts out of toilet paper and paper towels, from the bathroom at the mall most likely, which were being held together with scotch tape. Ziva was relieved to see that although some blood had seeped through the dressing, there didn’t appear to be a great deal of fresh blood. ‘How had this happened?’ Ziva wondered. Surely if Courtney had been hit in the car, the FBI would have gotten her proper treatment when they took her into custody. Why was Courtney on the run? And why hadn’t she called someone from her own agency. “Courtney, I need you to tell me the rest of the story,” Ziva said softly. “What happened after you left with Director Webb?”

Courtney stared over at Ziva. “I just wanted something warm to drink and to take a shower and wash off the blood,” she said, causing Ziva to look at her quizzically, as she tried to follow Courtney’s train of thought. “At the Hoover building,” she clarified. “That’s where they took me so I could tell them the whole story. Finally, they let me get cleaned up and into some fresh clothes, then they transferred me to a safe house. I managed to drink some vegetable soup and green tea, and then lay down for a nap. I had only been asleep a few hours when loud noises woke me up and I realized the safe house was under attack. I grabbed my back-up gun, which, I thankfully still had on me, since my regular issue SIG had been confiscated by the forensics people, and started toward the door to help the other agents. That’s when I got hit by a stray bullet. Then suddenly it got deadly quiet, and I realized the attackers were searching for me. I managed to climb out a window in the bedroom and got away, but since I was now in a residential neighborhood, in the suburbs of Virginia, I didn’t really know what to do.”

She took a deep breath, before she continued, her lip quivering dangerously. “God, every time I called for help today, something worse happened than what had already happened. I knew that the agents assigned to guard me were most probably dead, and I only had a single weapon and my purse with me. I immediately turned off my cell phone and removed the battery, so I couldn’t be tracked with the GPS chip inside it, and just started walking. Finally I came to the mall. Fortunately I was wearing a dark jacket, so the blood didn’t show too much. I went straight to the bathroom and used some toilet paper and paper towels to cover up the wound, and fortunately I had a small office supply kit in my purse so I was able to secure them in place with some scotch tape. Then, I stopped at the first store I came to and bought this sweater, so I could toss the bloody jacket. I used the last of my cash to purchase a pre-paid cell phone, but I didn’t know who to call. I didn’t want to contact anyone at the FBI, since it's going to be more than a little hard to explain how everywhere I go, people keep ending up dead. I ruled out calling the local LEOs, because I didn’t know how to get their help without revealing anything about the on-going investigation, or worse yet, endangering them, since the 'bad guys' seem to have eyes and ears everywhere I turn, and that’s when I thought of you. I knew you’d know what to do,” she stuttered.

Ziva looked at Courtney, a little humbled by the sheer faith the younger woman seemed to have in her. “I do not know what to do,” she admitted. “But I know who will.” Refastening her seatbelt and turning on the car, Ziva said to Courtney. “We are going to see Gibbs. If anyone can figure out what it going on, it is Gibbs,” she stated with complete confidence. She backed the car out of the parking spot and headed towards Gibbs’ house.