Gibbs stared at the computer screen. The video was paused on the picture of a dead man. Richie Ryan had died almost fifteen years ago in France but Gibbs knew without a doubt that the person captured in the image on the screen was alive and well and working at NCIS. The similarity in their appearance was more than a coincidence. Since plastic surgery these days was an amazing thing, he wondered why the guy hadn't done more to change his overall look. Maybe he'd thought simply coming across as too young to be Ryan might have been enough to confuse most people. Gibbs was not most people.
"Who else knows about this?" Gibbs asked McGee.
They were sitting in McGee's apartment. The junior agent had called and insisted that what he'd found couldn't wait until the next day.
"Tony mentioned it during happy hour with Abby and Richie." McGee went on to explain the conversation that had dominated the foursome's gathering. "I thought you'd want to know as soon as possible."
Gibbs shook his head; this was not good. "So Blaine knows we're on to him?"
"If Tony told him about our investigation, then yes he is," McGee admitted. "He did seem nervous but then I don't know him that well."
"Well, she was awfully quite and - " he paused.
"And what McGee?" Gibbs demanded.
McGee huffed out a sigh. "She was sad, Boss. I didn't think much of it at the time because I was focused on Richie."
"Damn it, McGee!" Gibbs didn't like the connections he was seeing. Abby knew something. Was Blaine some kind of enemy agent trying to infiltrate NCIS and if so, what did he have on Abby and Ducky that made them willing participants in his agenda?
The junior agent didn't say anything; just had that wounded puppy dog look on his face.
"Find me a connection between Blaine and Ryan," Gibbs snapped before storming out of the apartment with McGee's, "Sure thing, Boss", cut off as the door slammed shut behind him.
Earlier today Gibbs had tried to confront Abby in her lab about her relationship with Blaine. Instead of giving him her full attention, Abby had run away to happy hour at the first opportunity. Gibbs suspected it was because Abby was afraid she'd have to lie to him.
Gibbs thought about the almost nonexistent amount of evidence he'd collected. A fifteen year old video whose discovery made Abby upset. Evasive answers from Ducky about a nephew whose exact familial connection to Dr. Mallard was yet to be determined. Gibbs didn't know many teenagers, well he didn't know any teenagers, but he was sure Richie Blaine didn't act like a nineteen-year-old kid away from home for the first time.
None of it seemed all that incriminating but if that were the case why was his gut in overdrive.
If Blaine was as good as Gibbs suspected it might take awhile to break through the false cover. He had faith that given enough time McGee would get the job done, but he realized he couldn't wait that long.
No more skulking around doing research, hoping the computer would tell him what he wanted to know. Richie knew they'd discovered the video. That, and knowledge of Gibbs' inquiries, would send him packing. The only question was, who did he confront? If a potential terrorist did have something on Abby then talking to her might put her in imminent danger.
Ducky had brought the guy into NCIS and was vouching for his identity. It was time to talk to his old friend. If Blaine was at the Mallard house now, that was just as well. Gibbs' wanted answers and he wanted them now.
"Richie, you don't have to go," Abby said as she watched him gather up his meager possessions and stuff them into a duffle. They'd just returned from the bar and had explained the disastrous happy hour gathering to Ducky.
Abby and Dr. Mallard had insisted that they could manage the situation with Agent Gibbs but Richie saw only one solution. Leave town. He could see no other way to protect his secret and protect his friends from the investigation that was sure to follow once the truth about his alias was uncovered. Richie had headed upstairs to pack, with both his Watchers following, trying their best to dissuade him from leaving.
"Abigail is right," Ducky agreed. "I've known Jethro a long time. Right now, he suspects that something odd is going on and that I am complicit somehow. But if you leave now, it will only confirm his suspicions and we'll be left trying to explain the impossible. Give me a chance to point him in another direction. I'm sure I can get him to drop the whole thing with a few heartfelt conversations and a charming story I know about a similar situation about mistaken identity that happened to me in boarding school."
Chuckling, Richie stopped packing to look at his friends. "Boarding school, Ducky?"
"I assure you it is an applicable comparison."
Richie shook his head. "I know you have mad powers of persuasion but I won't take that chance. Ultimately, you guys are government agents. Gibbs could call your loyalty into question and if my Immortality were revealed - well – I can't risk that he wouldn't just turn me over to a government lab or something."
"Gibbs would never do that!" Abby snapped as she stepped toward Richie. "He would do the right thing."
He moved to clasp Abby's hand. "And what's the right thing? Keeping my secret?" Richie shook his head. "I don't think Gibbs would see it that way. If nothing else, I'm using an alias to work at a government agency. The last time I checked that was a crime."
"True, that is quite illegal," Ducky said. "I doubt the deception over your identity is something Jethro could easily overlook."
"You and Abby would be accomplices in that too," Richie reminded him. "I'm not about to risk your careers and your freedom just so I can finish college and play IT tech."
"Richard," Ducky pleaded.
"No, Ducky," he interrupted. "Fifteen years ago I made a stupid mistake. But it was my mistake and only I should have to live with the consequences. Tell Gibbs I was a bad guy; that I blackmailed you into helping me. I don't care. Say what ever you have to say to protect your careers once I'm gone."
"But – "Abby started and bit her lip. "I don't think I could do that. You're not a bad guy and I won't sacrifice you to save myself."
"You have to Abs. It's the only way to convince Gibbs that you guys did nothing wrong."
"But we didn't do anything wrong!"
"Exactly. So it won't actually be lying, will it?"
Confusion crossed Abby's face.
"I think, my dear," Ducky interjected. "Richard has effectively cut off any protests we may have had with his circuitous logic."
"Thanks, I think," Richie said with a halfhearted smile. "Now I think it's time to say goodbye."
Abby was fidgeting with energy. He could tell she wanted to say something else to stop him. Finally, she hung her head, giving in to the inevitable and said, "I'll miss you," before embracing him in a hug,
"Me too, Abs," he replied as he hung onto his friend. "Leaving is the right thing to do." He really didn't want to go. He was just starting to make a life away from Duncan and Seacouver. Richie wasn't looking forward to crawling back. It was like admitting he couldn't make it without Mac to help him. Unfortunately in this instance, he saw no other alternative. He needed to go back and regroup.
Abby nodded furiously against his shoulder before pulling out of the hug. The tears were pooling in her eyes. "Feel like I failed you. Some Watcher I am."
Richie smiled as he reached to wipe an escaped tear from her cheek. "You are a great Watcher, Abby. Joe told me your reports are among the most entertaining he's read in a long time. Which is amazing because I figure my life is pretty boring."
"Not the way I see it," she insisted. Abby sniffled loudly as she fought to get her emotions under control.
"Well I appreciated it. In the meantime, I still have you at my back." She sent a questioning look at him. "Tattoo, remember?" he explained.
This elicited a beaming smile from the Goth and another hug. "Oh Richie, I'm just so sorry it had to be like this. I wish we could just tell Gibbs and then he'd understand and everything could go back the way it was."
Richie extricated himself from her embrace. "It's a nice dream, Abs, but this is just the way my life tends to go." He smiled ruefully and turned to Ducky. "Uncle, it's been a pleasure," and held out his hand.
Ignoring the outstretched hand, Ducky pulled the younger man into a fierce embrace. "Be sure to take care of your self and if you are ever back in DC – "
Richie nodded as he stepped back from the shorter man. "First place I stop."
"Ow," Richie laughed as he felt Abby punch him. "Okay, second place I stop."
Abby pointed a finger at him. "And don't you forget it."
Richie tossed the last few items into his duffle, zipped the bag and followed his Watchers down the steps.
In the foyer, he knelt down to say goodbye to his favorite furry member of the Mallard household. "Goodbye Countessa," he said as he gave her a final scratch under the chin. The corgi whined as if she understood that Richie was leaving for good. "Be a good girl."
Richie stood and sighed. "I guess this is it."
Abby threw herself at him for one more hug. "Take care of yourself," she said as she stepped back.
He nodded silently and, with a final smile for Ducky, he headed out the door. Richie could feel their eyes on him as he walked to his motorcycle. This wasn't the first time his Immortality had forced him to leave town in a hurry but it was the first time that he regretted moving on this much.
He placed the duffel on the bike and began tying it down.
"Going somewhere, Blaine?"
A voice cut through the darkness, causing Richie to jump and sending his half-secured bag tumbling to the ground. "Agent Gibbs!" Richie exclaimed as he found the source of the voice. "I was just – uhm well –" he stuttered, searching for an explanation.
Gibbs stepped calmly out of the shadows and approached Richie. Without a word he bent down and retrieved the fallen duffel, handing it to the startled Immortal.
Richie took the bag and set it back on the bike. "Thanks. I'm going for a ride. I mean - that is – I was –" Crap thought Richie. He hadn't expected to ever see the man again and hadn't prepared a cover story. Words failed him as Gibbs' famous glare had its desired effect.
Hands on his hips, Richie shifted uncomfortably under that gaze. He looked past Gibbs to see Abby and Ducky still standing in the doorway of the Mallard home; the light from the foyer casting them in shadows, their faces unreadable.
Richie continued to stumble toward a reason for his late night departure. "There's a perfectly logical explanation, Agent Gibbs."
Gibbs' mouth was set in a tight line as he held up a hand to stop Richie's rambling. "Save it, Blaine." The older man turned and headed toward the house. When Richie didn't move, Gibbs called over his shoulder. "Inside, now!"
Richie thought briefly about making a break for it on his bike but he couldn't leave Abby and Ducky to face Gibbs. His gait heavy with apprehension, Richie moved to follow the senior agent. He'd prefer a firing squad at this point to facing an inquisition from Special Agent Gibbs. At least he knew he'd recover from a bullet wound.