Actions

Work Header

Charmer

Chapter Text

Ziva is tired of not being allowed to drive. It makes little difference to her, whether she terrifies the residents; in a case like this, they are, after all, driving to a crime scene. It doesn't matter, in a way, what the neighborhood is used to - not in light of what is happening.

But Gibbs seems to think they should arrive at a crime scene without causing an accident on the way there. Perhaps he is right, but the matter annoys her nonetheless.

By the time Tony parks the van at the appropriate house, Ducky and Palmer are already waiting.

"You're here early," Tony says, as he gets out.

Ducky nods. "It seems Admiral Williams is quite impatient to find out what happened to his wife. He's been out twice to ask why we don't just get on with it."

"We are the United States government. We don't do that sort of thing."

Ziva suspects that was a reference to something, but before she can ask, Ducky says, "Correction, Tony. We do now that the full complement is here. If you would be so good as to lead the way?"

The dead Navy wife is in the master bedroom, curled up on her side as though she had had a stomachache in the last moments. It is hardly the most gruesome thing Ziva has seen, but it does strike her as a bit tragic.

Tony makes a face. "We sure this isn't a suicide?"

"You know as well as I do that it's our job to determine that," Ducky says, staying to one side until Tony and Ziva have documented the scene.

After taking photos, Ziva picks up a glass from the bedside table, and eyes the light blue liquid in its bottom. "What is this?"

"Doesn't look like a drink," Tony says. "Not unless she diluted some Windex. Let me see--" He takes the glass, wafts it under his nose, and makes a face. "Definitely not Windex. Aftershave, maybe, or a really strong perfume."

"Which pleads the question of why she would drink it." That much certainly seems to have been the case; Ziva has never heard of anyone storing their perfume in a glass, particularly not one that they keep by their bed as though it held water.

"Abby's going to have fun with it, I'm sure. We'll have to remember to ask people for some of their perfume, when we're doing interviews."

"That you will," Ducky says, as he and Palmer begin to transfer the body. "I suspect there may be more to this case than meets the eye."

Tony snorts. "This is us, Ducky. When isn't there more than meets the eye?"

Chapter Text

"It should be pretty cut and dry," Abby's saying, when Ziva enters the lab (she would have said 'cut and paste,' herself, but evidently that's not the phrase that applies at the moment). "Now that we have the perfume samples in the mass spec, it'll spit out your readings here in a second, and that should--"

She stops as the machine brings up its results, and frowns at the screen. "That should... not have done that."

"What did it do, Abs?" Gibbs says.

"The sample from the crime scene matches Lieutenant Vickers' aftershave," Abby says, sounding like her own preferred technology has betrayed her. "But Tony checked his alibi yesterday, he's in the clear, he was five miles away from the scene all night."

"Then someone's lying."

"Or something is, and I really don't want to have to recalibrate the mass spec."

Ziva frowns to herself; this is beginning to sound a bit familiar. "Would you mind if I have a look?"

Abby frowns more. "Go ahead, but... I don't know what you're going to see that I don't. Top one's crime scene, middle is Vickers, bottom is Petty Officer Conrad's perfume." She steps aside, and Ziva approaches the screen.

"The two samples do not match exactly, I do not think. What is this spike?" She points toward the right of the top sample.

"That's..." Abby leans in for a closer look, and frowns once again. "I have no idea what that is. I've never seen anything like it before."

"I have. It... has been some time, but I may be able to remove the obstruction, if given time."

Gibbs raises an eyebrow. "Obstruction, Ziva?"

"I think someone has attempted to alter the sample with magic. And whoever it was, they did not think of the chemical autograph it would leave behind."

"I think you mean chemical signature," Abby says.

"Probably. In any case, I think I can remove the spell."

Gibbs nods. "How long do you think that'll take?"

"If all goes well, fifteen minutes. If not--"

"Then see to it that all goes well." Gibbs leaves without another word, and Ziva sighs.

"I hate when he does that. I only hope my memory is not rusty. Do you have the original sample, Abby?"

"...Yeah. You weren't - you weren't kidding about the magic thing, were you?"

"Of course not. It is not the sort of thing I would joke about. Americans are far too casual with the stuff."

Abby's making her best wide-eyed face. "I didn't even know that was out there."

"Many people do not. And if this were Europe, you would not be allowed to remember that you had discovered it." Ziva's never liked how freely Americans make use of their magic, but she will grant them that they are sensible in their approach to those without.

"...See, that kind of paranoia is likely as not to come back and bite them in the ass. Anyway, here's the sample. Mind if I watch?"

"Not at all, though I doubt it will be as spectacular as you may be hoping. I have not seen something like this in quite some time."

Abby has the sense not to babble, while Ziva prepares a corner of the lab table as a work space and tries to remember how the incantation for dispelling this sort of charm goes. This would be much faster if she had thought to bring her wand along, but she so rarely needs it in the line of duty that she's not in the habit of carrying it; besides, she knows how to get by without it.

The fifteen minutes stretches into something closer to half an hour; she has to turn to the Internet to check the Hebrew, rather than get it wrong and further interfere with the evidence. But finally, she sits back and says, "There. Run the sample now and see what it matches, if anything."

"Thanks, Ziva. That was... really pretty. And cool. Even if it wasn't very flashy."

"There are other things that... flash more. But thank you."

She stays until Abby has the new results, in the event that her work was not enough; if it wasn't, she's going to have to call in backup, much as she would rather not do so. But her work turns out to have done the trick. The crime scene sample matches the second perfume sample, without the telltale chemical spike from magical tampering.

Abby's grinning, now. "You are good, Ziva. This makes a hell of a lot more sense than the first results. Thanks."

"You are welcome. I should go upstairs and pass this along, I think."

"Of course. But... do you know why Gibbs didn't freak out, when you said something about the spell?"

Ziva shrugs. "Perhaps because he does not freak out about much."

Gibbs is absent, when Ziva gets back upstairs, but she can work with that; he'll find out in good time. The important person is Tony, who is finally finishing McGee's book, from the look of things.

"Your light reading will have to wait, Tony."

Tony sighs. "Come on, Ziva, I'm just getting to the good part."

"It will be there later. For now, we appear to have another problem. The crime scene perfume matches Petty Officer Conrad, but someone tried to disguise it."

"Chemically?"

Ziva shakes her head. "With a charm. The first time Abby tested it, it matched Vickers' aftershave, other than the chemical spike from the charm."

"Oh, goody, it's time for another round of Wonder Twins."

"...What are you talking about?"

Tony opens his mouth, but hesitates before he can start explaining. "No, on second thought, that would make me the one who always turns into something useless. So we need Conrad's school records, then?"

"For a start. And those of anyone who we have tied to the case so far."

"Including Vickers?"

Ziva considers that for a moment. "I do not know why he would implicate himself for no reason, but I think we'd better. It is best to make sure, considering the possibilities."

"Got it. Gibbs know about this one yet?"

"He was there when I saw the incongruity in Abby's results. Whether he knows about the new results yet, I cannot say."

Tony shrugs. "Probably, knowing him. I'll get on it after this page."

Ziva rolls her eyes, but doesn't get a chance to comment on Tony's reading habits. McGee comes in, and Tony starts the commenting himself.

Chapter Text

Ziva puts the matter out of her mind for the rest of the afternoon. She grew up thinking of magic as the last resort, rather than the first (as it is in Europe) or even one of the top ten (as it is in America); she does better when she doesn't have to worry about it constantly. When they have their leads on the case, she'll start thinking about it again.

Tony is at the school records for a few hours, once he's finished scrapping on McGee about the novel. When Gibbs resurfaces, he already knows about Abby's accurate lab results; presumably he stopped by the lab before returning to the cubicles. He seems content with Ziva focusing on the mundane side of the investigation, especially with Tony following the new lead; after all, whatever they may find as a result of Ziva spotting the charm, there's a dead Navy wife in Ducky's autopsy room and an admiral waiting for answers about it.

"Oh, this is gonna be interesting," Tony finally says, toward the end of the afternoon.

Gibbs barely glances in Tony's direction. "Define interesting, DiNozzo."

"Well, I don't think we're all gonna die. But I've got the returns on the school records, and we have two people tied to the case who could have learned how to charm that perfume into something else."

McGee's brow furrows. "Charm? Do what to whom?"

"Do not worry, McGee," Ziva says. "You do not have to try to explain it to your readers. What part is so interesting?"

Tony pulls a picture up on the video screen - one they have all seen many times since this case opened. "One of them is our dead Navy wife. She was a Ludlow before she got married - pretty close to a bigwig magical family, by American standards. From Ohio. She went to Salem."

"Well, I doubt she charmed that sample herself," Gibbs says. "Who's the other one?"

"That's... where it gets interesting."

"Tony. Who is it?"

Rather than answer directly, Tony changes the picture on the video screen; the resulting photograph gives Ziva pause, to say the least.

"Well," she finally says. "I suppose that would mean his alibi is out the door."

"Window," McGee corrects. "Is someone going to tell me what's actually going on here?"

But Gibbs has moved on to the action phase of the plan. "Tony, Ziva, bring Vickers in here. Apparently, we need to talk to him again."

Ziva sighs. "We have no grounds at the moment. Our evidence points to Conrad."

"Then check it again, and then bring Vickers in."

Gibbs makes for the stairs, leaving McGee to stare after him. "No, really, what is going on?"

Tony eyes him for a few moments. "Well, I guess we could tell you, Probie."

"However," Ziva says, making sure to bring out her most dangerous smile, "if you try to include it in your next book, we just may have to kill you."

"Yeah, considering if I wanted the whole world to know about it, I would have told them a long time ago. It's a need-to-know basis, and you haven't needed to know until now."

McGee sighs. "All right, all right, I promise I won't try to incorporate... whatever it is. Now, can one of you please get around to the actual explanation?"

"I will explain," Ziva says. "Tony, go check Abby's sample again. I may have missed something the first time."

"Oh, but Ziva, I want to see the look on McGeek's face."

"Then I suggest you move quickly, before Gibbs comes back and smacks you for holding up his investigation."

"Fair enough. And, well, it's not every day we get to check up on a double-bluffing wizard."

Tony pauses long enough to grin like a toon (Ziva's almost positive that's not the exact word for the idiom, but it's likely close enough for the situation at hand) at McGee's fish faces before heading for Abby's lab. Ziva smiles a bit herself, and says, "Do you see why word of this getting out concerns us?"

"You... really don't have to worry about that happening. I haven't set up the kind of suspension of disbelief that would get my audience to take the information seriously."

"Just as well. It may be slightly less obvious that you are drawing your characters from life."

Ziva sets about explaining as best she knows how; she only has to backtrack three times, which she thinks is a new record. McGee seems to take the news fairly well in stride, once the initial fish faces wear off - but then, he has enough imagination to turn his job into a mystery novel, so perhaps that was only to be expected.

Still, it's days like these that make Ziva glad she is not still assigned to Europe.

Chapter Text

"...Okay, wait," McGee says, after Ziva has finished the bulk of her explanation. "There's one little thing here that's not right. You said, when we were out on the first case after you got assigned here, that it reminded you of a Harry Potter novel. So how does this not, when it sounds more like one than anything else?"

"Well. Have you wondered, in the reading that you so surely do not do, why the latest book is so much weaker than the others, in terms of the important plot?"

"I had, actually. Romantic intrigue is all well and good, but when you set up getting rid of someone that nasty as the important thing..."

Ziva smiles. "There are some things that the Ministry of Magic is willing to let out, in the name of entertaining the masses. Apparently, the truth of the matter is no longer one of them. From what I understand, the romantic intrigues are based in fact, but the plot no longer is."

"And you would know this... how?"

"I was working in Scotland in 1996. One of the people who was journalist-ganged--"

McGee's brow furrows. "Press-ganged?"

"Yes, that. He was forcibly recruited by that Dark Lord idiot, in any case, and he decided that enough was enough. He thought that America would be too obvious, the rest of Europe was understandably too worried about attracting the idiot's attention, and the resistance in the UK, such as it was, would not listen to him again, so he came to us. My original assignment was to take his information to the resistance effort."

"And... at what point did you give up on that idea, when the resistance turned out to be people who could barely hold their own in a fight?"

"No, when the head of the resistance told me they were not worried because there was a prophecy, and someone would be taking care of the problem soon." Ziva sighs. "Prophecies about people like that are there so that you can stop the situation from reaching that point, or at least minimize the damage. And... well, you know me decently well by now. Am I the sort of person who will sit idly by and watch an untrained, underinformed teenager save the world from a psychopath that should have been eliminated twenty years before or die trying?"

"No," McGee says, after a few moments. "No, you're not. Especially not a teenager who knows he's underinformed and pretty much shouts the house down to get that information."

"On the whole, I do not mind being left out of the book. I prefer it when my use of magic surprises people, and someone might have eventually connected the lines - no, not lines. Dots?"

"Yeah, dots."

Ziva nods. "Thank you. Anyway, I was rather upset that the woman writing those things chose to kill the godfather, when she changed that battle. He is a good man."

"So people... do actually talk about it, when it's not Europe?"

"It depends on the country. Tony could tell you more about the history of it here, and as for Israel... any country founded by the survivors of such severe persecution as was the case will not want to hide anything else."

McGee nods. "If... I do end up writing about something like that, it'll be a different series. Or a one-shot."

"I highly recommend you invent your own characters, if you do that. Your current set is barely different enough from us for your disclaimer to hold water. But anyway, I should go see what progress Tony has made. Are you coming?"

"I don't think so. Someone needs to make sure we can still find Lieutenant Vickers, if the evidence does point back to him. And Petty Officer Conrad, if it doesn't."

Ziva smiles. "Fair enough."

She's more annoyed that she has to allow Tony to double-check her work than she cares to admit. But the fact remains that there isn't anyone else to check it, here, and she clearly missed something, if Vickers and a dead woman are the only people who could have tampered with the evidence in this manner.

Chapter Text

Abby is sulking, this time, but Ziva supposes that is only to be expected. She dislikes people calling her science into question under normal circumstances, and this case stopped qualifying as normal several hours ago.

"It's a good thing we actually have a substantial sample of this stuff," she's saying as Ziva enters the lab. "Not that I'm likely to believe any of the results, at this rate. I won't know which is right."

"Sure you will," Tony says, from what looks to be halfway through reappropriating Ziva's work space from earlier. "You believe the one we finally get the right countercharm on."

Abby mutters something about not liking magic so much after all, and turns to work on something else, only to nearly walk into Palmer. "Oh, hey, Jimmy. Ducky find something else to add to the funhouse?"

"Maybe. He said that if the tox screen comes back weird, there might have been--"

"Magic involved?" Ziva says. "We are a step beside you, I think."

"Ahead of," Tony corrects, more absently than his usual. "Okay, guys, I think we're ready to roll here."

He begins his own attempt at a countercharm before Palmer can ask for the rest of the story. Ziva will grant that American spell work looks more impressive than Israeli, but she has never thought it sounded as good; there is no class to it, when people only use the language they speak every day.

When Tony finishes, Abby loads the sample into the mass spectrometer and sets about filling Palmer in. Or possibly up. Ziva's never been quite sure on that one.

"Well, okay," Palmer says, as the mass spectrometer does its work, "but why are you guys--"

"The world works in mysterious ways, Palmer," Tony says.

"I know, but I was just wondering why you--"

"Dammit." Abby glares at the new results; they match those from Ziva's spell, which would be all well and good if the background information pointed to Petty Officer Conrad at all. "Can something in this mess please make some sense?"

"Look, this is kind of important--"

Ziva shrugs. "I agree, Abby. But at least it is consistent."

"Guys. Why are you using a countercharm on a potion?"

Palmer has their attention after that outburst; Ziva suspects it's because he shouts so rarely. He pales a bit, but adds, "I'm just saying. I've seen the original chemical signature before, it's from potions. We'll be better off trying to figure out what counteracts it than messing around with countercharms."

"...No way," Tony says, after a few seconds' staring. "Just... no way. You can't be. You... no."

Ziva grins. "Why can he not, Tony? Do you think all Americans have to brag about their talents? Or is it just that your solution was not right after all?"

Abby sighs. "Whatever it is, we need to figure out what the hell's going on with the evidence, before Gibbs asks what we have." She pours out another small amount of the evidence sample, hands it to Palmer, and adds, "Go to it, Jimmy. And good luck."

"Thanks." Palmer takes the sample and departs, presumably returning to the autopsy lab; Tony leaves not long after, looking like he is still trying to shake off that revelation.

"So," Abby says, "you're not going to say there's no way Jimmy can know what he's talking about, are you?"

"No. In fact, I am rather impressed that I did not guess before now. Subtlety is often lost on Americans, especially when it comes to magic."

"Good. He doesn't usually comment unless he thinks it's useful, so... I just hope somebody can get useful information out of this damn evidence. This is a lot less fun when science can't give me a straight answer."

Chapter Text

It's nearly an hour before Palmer emerges upstairs, and even then, Ziva catches him examining the cubicles before he makes his presence known.

"Tony went to get dinner," she says, "if that is what you were checking for."

"Oh. Well, I guess he needs to know this too, but... after earlier, I really didn't want to hear him scoffing all the way through this. Pass it on when he comes back?"

"Of course. Gibbs will be asking what we know by then, if he does not come by while you are explaining it."

Palmer nods, and hands Ziva a few printouts. "I can see where you thought there was a charm on Vickers' aftershave, at first. This guy is really damn creative, not to mention serious about his potions. With the right extra ingredient, he could have turned some of it into one of... I think dozens of things. Not an easy thing to do in the best of situations."

"I would think not, no. What does this mean, that he carries his aftershave everywhere he goes?"

"It might. But it could mean something else, considering what else I found. I had to run this three times to make sure I was seeing it right, but what Vickers made in this particular case was actually an antidote. And once I had that worked out, Ducky had the preliminary tox screen to look at, and he said there were some trace amounts of it in the victim's system."

Ziva raises an eyebrow. "In that case, how did Vickers know to give it to her?"

"According to the tox screen, there's a lot more than trace amounts of the poison this stuff counteracts in her. I would guess she called Vickers due to the emergency, and he didn't have the time or the precision to get a lot of the antidote into her." Palmer sighs. "We won't know until you talk to him again, I guess. And if he is that good, I want to know how the hell he does it. I've never been able to keep a base potion like that in usable form for more than about a day."

"True. I was impressed, by the way. I never would have pinned you as a wizard. Not compared to most Americans."

"I think you mean pegged? And, well. I've always kind of sucked at wand work. Too many variables that you can't control. Potions might have more complicated instructions, but at least you have more of a say in how they interact. They're not really interesting enough for most people, though, so I don't make a big deal about it."

Ziva nods. "I can see that. But I am glad you said something, on this occasion. We might not have figured it out, without your insight."

"I'm just glad I could help. In any case, I think this is enough that you can bring Vickers back in. Even if he was trying to help, there's stuff he didn't mention the first time."

"Such as how his alibi checks out, and yet he is still tied to the scene." Ziva suspects he probably teleported over, at some point; it's not a method of travel she has ever been fond of, but it does have its uses in emergencies. "Thank you for your help."

Palmer grins. "No problem."

After he leaves, Ziva eyes the printouts again, and sighs. She does agree with Abby's assessment that a few straightforward answers would be nice, but at the same time, they have had some very knotty cases with no traces of magic whatsoever. Perhaps they were due for a mess like this.

Chapter Text

They lack the time, once all is said and done, to go after Lieutenant Vickers that evening - which is not to say that Gibbs does not try to send Tony and Ziva out anyway. Ziva suspects they are lucky Gibbs didn't try to take away their dinner, this time.

Tony is halfway through pointing out that there would be little use in starting such an involved interrogation process at this time of night when McGee comes over, with Lieutenant Vickers in tug. "He decided to come back to us, boss," he says. "Found out when I went to trace his cell phone and the signal led me to our parking lot."

Gibbs nods. "Good. Tony, Ziva, take him downstairs."

Ziva opts not to ask what to do about dinner; if she lets the matter be for now, the meal will hopefully still be there when she is finished. Instead, she nods to Tony and starts toward the interrogation rooms.

"So," she says, once all three of them are settled - and Gibbs, as well as whoever else has decided to listen in, have had time to take up their posts on the other side of the two-way mirror. "Why did you hold out on us?"

Lieutenant Vickers sighs. "I don't know. It got stupider and stupider, the more I thought about it. I think because you were looking for the perpetrator, and I thought the evidence would lead you there. That and - well, what government agency in its right mind is going to pursue a death through magical means?"

"Department of Magic springs to mind," Tony says. "And we could nail you for obstruction of justice, for not mentioning this sooner, but since you came back on your own we probably won't. So. What actually happened?"

"I was, as you've probably double-checked by now, at home all night. Except for the five minutes after Elizabeth called me. She didn't keep in touch with many wizards, after she got married, so as soon as she thought she'd been poisoned, she called. I did the best I could for her, on the fly like that."

Ziva raises an eyebrow. "And it seems your best was quite good, on a technical level. But why did you leave her on her own?"

"She sent me away. And she'd recovered enough that I took her word for it. She said not to leave her with any extra antidote - her husband's always been a little dubious about magic, and she didn't want him thinking anything was wrong."

"Well, I'd say that backfired beautifully." Tony makes a show of brushing some lint off his sleeve - lint that is likely not really there, knowing him.

"I know, I know." Vickers sighs again. "If I'd realised how bad she actually was, I would have stayed. As it was, I did what I could for her, and tried to find a way to trace back to the person responsible."

"And how'd you do that?"

"It's a tricky formula, but there's a way to get that potion to lead back to the person who made its use necessary, if you use the right countercharms on it."

Ziva frowns, and looks from Vickers to Tony. "So we were on the right trail the whole time, after a fashion."

Tony glances at the mirror. "So I guess the question now is, how did Petty Officer Conrad get her hands on a magical poison if she couldn't make it herself?"

"Supply chain, probably," Vickers says. "There's almost always someone around who can whip up something, and there are more people than there should be who won't ask why you want something done. Do you need anything else from me, or is that all?"

"I... think that might be it."

"Unless," Ziva says, "you think Petty Officer Conrad will have taken the opportunity to go somewhere else."

Vickers considers that for a few moments. "I don't think so, no," he finally says. "If she were that worried, I think she would have skipped town the next day. You're sure it was her?"

"Two different countercharms did what you said it should do. That was before someone pointed out we were dealing with a potion. We are sure enough to question her again, at least."

"When you do talk to her... ask her why? Elizabeth never mentioned anything that would suggest all of this."

Tony nods. "Standard operating procedure, lieutenant. Can't guarantee we'll be able to get back to you, but... if you'll excuse me for a moment?"

He steps out into the hallway, and Ziva eyes Lieutenant Vickers for a moment. "You and Mrs. Williams were not... intimate, were you?"

"No, not at all. We bonded over the magic in college, but there was never any spark for anything else."

Tony sticks his head back in the door, and says, "Gibbs says he's good to go, Ziva. Let's get him on his way and have some dinner."

"Do you really think he will let us eat rather than go after Petty Officer Conrad?"

"Even he's hungry, and there's not much point in chasing after someone on an empty stomach."

Ziva smiles. "True, I suppose. We will escort you to the door, Lieutenant?"

Chapter Text

The remainder of the case is almost wholly unremarkable, in its way.

They bring Petty Officer Conrad in for further questioning the next morning, and she does not even ask them how the evidence led them back to her. Ziva is almost disappointed, in a way; she would have liked to see the look on the woman's face when they told her even magic is not untraceable.

Her motive is a bizarre mixture of the jealous lover and the betrayed friend - the betrayal seems to have been that the Navy wife wasn't interested in Petty Officer Conrad's advances. She is reluctant to tell them where she got the poison, until Tony points out that doing so might win her a lighter sentence; it seems Lieutenant Vickers was not far off the mark, when he speculated that she turned to the supply chain.

"What part of the supply chain would have that kind of thing?" Ziva says, after the interrogation is over.

Tony shrugs. "Like Vickers said. Someone who doesn't care about how legal it is, or why you're after what you're after. Or, hell, this is the same government that's considered making gay bombs for military use. Maybe it's part of the supply chain."

"It should not be, if it is. Something like that is an entirely unresponsible use of magic."

"Irresponsible."

Ziva rolls her eyes. "I should think they mean the same thing. I did like Vickers' trick, though. That cannot be an easy thing to make, if it does so much."

"It'd be beyond me no matter how hard I tried. Always did suck at potions. I just can't believe it took us so long to figure out we weren't necessarily solving anything with the countercharms."

"I could've told you that, DiNozzo," Gibbs says, as he passes through on his way to the stairs.

Ziva sits upright, and frowns. "You could have - then why did you not?"

"You didn't ask."

Tony makes a few fish faces to rival McGee's from yesterday, then pounds his fist on his desk. "That's how you get those damn boats out of your basement, isn't it? I should have guessed!"

Gibbs goes on up the stairs without offering a response, and Ziva can't help but laugh.