As Gibbs approached the door of the Mallard house, he saw Abby and Ducky share a worried look. He'd caught Blaine in the midst of trying to leave town as Gibbs suspected he would. His gut had been right again.
"Jethro, to what do I owe this late night visit," Ducky said, the cheer in his voice sounding false.
Gibbs paused in front of his two co-workers as he sent Ducky a Why do you think I'm here look.
Ducky appeared appropriately chastised. "Yes of course," he sighed and gestured for Gibbs to enter.
The senior agent waited for Richie to enter first, making sure the object of this late night visit didn't take the opportunity to bolt.
Silently, Ducky led them into the parlor. Gibbs sat on the sofa nearest the door, his mood turning blacker as the other three chose to sit in the one across from him; a solid wall of support in the face of his suspicion.
Gibbs didn't get it. He couldn't believe that two trusted members of his team were harboring some kind of criminal. Instead of being relieved that Gibbs had rescued them from what ever illegal plans Blaine had dragged them into, Abby and Ducky instead seemed very distressed that Richie had not gotten away. Abby was uncommonly quiet and Gibbs found this most disturbing of all.
Gibbs glared at his old friend. "Who is he Ducky? Because I know he's not your nephew." The truth was he wasn't sure about the relationship between Richie and Ducky. McGee hadn't been able to find anything wrong with the documents that declared Blaine to be a member of the Mallard clan. Gibbs just figured Tim needed more time. Besides, he'd bluffed the truth out of suspects with less. His mind rebelled at the idea that Ducky and Abby were suspects.
It was Blaine who spoke breaking Gibbs from his inner turmoil.
"Agent Gibbs, I don't know why you think I'm someone I'm not."
Gibbs swung his glare to the younger man. "Do I look stupid to you?" he snarled.
"Jethro, Richard is my nephew."
Reaching into his pocket, Gibbs pulled out the flash drive that McGee had given to him and held it up. "Then explain how someone who supposedly died fifteen years ago in France is sitting on your couch."
Gibbs watched the color drain from the three faces in front of him. It was all the confirmation he needed that he was onto something.
"It's not me," Riche said. The fire had gone out of his protest with the revelation that Gibbs had seen the video.
"I'm betting it is," Gibbs pushed. "Your plastic surgeon was good. He kept you looking young but you still have the face of a dead man."
"It's a coincidence."
"I don't believe in coincidences." Gibbs glared at him and was pleased to see Blaine finally squirming under his scrutiny. Before he could continue his inquisition, another voice captured their attention.
"Donald, are you having a party?" Mrs. Mallard asked. She had wandered into the room in her nightgown and robe, looking as if she'd just woken up.
Ducky was on his feet in an instant. "It nothing, Mother," he said soothingly. "Just some friends from work." He tried to guide her out of the room but she pulled away from him when she spotted Gibbs.
"Oh," she said smiling at him. "You're that nice police officer."
Gibbs returned her smile. "Yes ma'am."
"Have you come to arrest the Irishman?" she asked.
"Mother, that's quite enough. Agent Gibbs isn't here on business." Ducky was flustered and unable to move his mother out of the room.
"Irishman?" Gibbs asked, encouraging the old woman to continue.
She leaned over to look him in the eye and then flicked her gaze at Richie. "He's been stealing liquor from the cabinet. I know he's picked the lock," she whispered in his ear.
"Who? Do you mean Mr. Ryan?" Gibbs asked, pointing at Blaine, hoping Mrs. Mallard would tell him what the three seated across from him would not.
He watched as Richie dropped his head into his hands and shook his head. Abby looked like she was on the verge of tears and Ducky just kept tugging at his mother trying to prod her into leaving.
Mrs. Mallard nodded. "You'll take care of him?" Gibbs assured her that he would. "Good!" She then turned and exited the room having no idea of the chaos she was leaving behind.
Gibbs was right Ryan and Blaine were the same guy. But he felt no sense of triumph as he registered the defeated looks on their faces. "Now you three want to tell me what's really going on?"
"Really Jethro, it's nothing nefarious just a case of mistaken identity," Ducky said as he sat back down between Abby and Richie. "You know how addled mother can be when she's just woken up."
"Not buying it, Ducky," Gibbs said, his voice ice cold.
"You aren't gonna like it, Gibbs," Abby assured him.
"I already don't like it," he snapped.
"This has nothing to do with Ducky and Abby. They don't know anything about the alias," Richie lied.
"Richie don't say that. Ducky and I know exactly what we did and why," Abby said.
"Quiet Abby. Don't say anything," Richie pleaded with her. He turned back to Gibbs. "I shouldn't have taken the job. I'll leave town tonight and you'll never see me again. I swear I'm not a spy or anything like that. Don't make Ducky and Abby pay for my mistake."
Gibbs snorted his disbelief at the kid's lame attempt to evade the entire situation. Richie's confession about the alias was all he needed to haul the guy in on suspicion of espionage but he wanted the rest of the story. He needed to know how Abby and Ducky fit in. "Not going to happen, Blaine. Or do you prefer Ryan?"
Richie sighed. "Ryan, actually."
"So before I arrest you for a laundry list of infractions that begin with using a false identity to gain access to a government facility, why don't you convince me why I shouldn't shoot you right now and save the taxpayers a lot of money?"
Richie started laughing. Gibbs was getting angrier by the minute. He didn't think he'd said anything funny. It was infuriating that the kid rarely responded like he expected him too.
"You know, shooting me may be the best solution."
"Don't say that Richie." Abby glared at Gibbs. "You are not gonna shoot him!"
Gibbs shrugged off Abby's concern and returned to his questioning of Ryan. "Who do you work for?"
"I don't work for anyone," he said. "I'm a simple IT tech who needed a job to support my college education."
"You're lying." Gibbs snapped.
"No, I'm not," Richie said quietly. "So shoot me or arrest me but I'm not confessing to anything but making a stupid error in judgment."
"Richard, it was my decision to get you the job at NCIS," Ducky said. "This is all my fault."
Gibbs stared at his friend in shock; Ducky had willingly brought this imposter into their midst. "Why, Duck?"
"He needed a job and a place to live. When an old friend asked me to look after the boy, I was happy to say yes."
Now Gibbs was confused. "Let me get this straight. Ryan is not your nephew." When Ducky nodded his confirmation, he continued. "You knew the Blaine identity was an alias." Ducky nodded again. Gibbs sighed. "Ducky, I don't think I can protect you from the fallout."
"I don't expect you to, Jethro."
The situation was making no sense and Gibbs hoped he wasn't going to have to put his oldest friend in federal lock-up before the night was over. "You knowingly brought someone into a government agency that could be considered a threat to national security?"
"He's not a threat to anyone," Abby interjected. "He just needed a job."
Gibbs didn't want to think about Abby's role in all of this. She had a history of falling for psychos. He held out hope that Ryan was simply another in her long list of bad relationship choices. He didn't think he could bear the thought that both she and Ducky had betrayed his trust. "You knew all this too. Why didn't you tell me?"
Abby cast her eyes downward unwilling to meet he gaze as she answered. "You wouldn't have understood."
"Damn right I don't understand." He'd had enough. Gibbs anger was like a tightly coiled snake ready to strike. He'd been patient enough. He stood and yanked Ryan to his feet. "I'm arresting you. You've admitted to gaining access to a government facility using a false identity. We can finish this at NCIS."
Gibbs turned the man around and began applying handcuffs to Richie's wrists. The kid didn't fight him but Abby and Ducky jumped to their feet protesting Gibbs' actions.
"Don't do this Gibbs!" Abby pleaded.
"Jethro, you must let the boy go," Ducky begged at the same time.
The senior agent ignored them and shoved the now manacled Ryan toward the door. He pointed a finger at his two coworkers as he moved past them indicating they should come too.
"Stop!" Ducky yelled. Gibbs turned to face him but didn't let go of Richie. "Uncuff him Jethro. I will tell you everything."
"Ducky, I can handle this." Richie protested as he shifted his eyes to Gibbs. "Just take me in. I'm guilty. Don't listen to them."
"Guilty of what?" Gibbs asked, wondering if the kid was finally going to confess.
Richie hung his head. "What ever you think I did, I did it."
Gibbs didn't understand it. The kid was still trying to protect Abby and Ducky from whatever secret he was hiding. That was definitely not the behavior he expected of a blackmailing criminal mastermind.
"Richard, don't be ridiculous. You can not simply confess to generic guilt to keep us out of this," Ducky said, glaring at his ward. "You might end up in federal prison or worse if we don't tell the whole truth." The medical examiner shifted his gaze to the senior agent. "I trust that Jethro will do the right thing."
Gibbs stared down at the shorter man. "Won't let him go, if that's what you're thinking."
Ducky smiled sagely and settled himself back on the couch. "I believe that you will."
He hesitated before removing the handcuffs and pushing Richie back to the sofa. Gibbs smiled to himself, Ducky had cracked sooner than he'd expected and was a bit relieved he wasn't going to have to drag his friend to NCIS in chains.
The kid was glaring at Ducky, unhappy that he'd decided to share. Ducky patted the younger man's knee. The look that passed between them indicated that the older man would not be denied. Richie sighed and slumped down, defeat written all over his face.
Gibbs met Ryan's eyes, expecting to see a haughty, angry criminal brought low. Instead he saw a person who was deeply sorry that it had come to this. While the dichotomy was a surprise, Gibbs reminded himself that Ryan couldn't be trusted.
Settling onto the opposite sofa, Gibbs spread his hands wide waiting for Ducky to share his story.
"When I was a young man I had a great interest in history," Ducky began. "I found several opportunities to share my enthusiasm with other like minded individuals. It was in the course of my interaction with several members of one group that I first –"
Gibbs held up a hand to stop the older man's recitation. He recognized that Ducky was settling in for the long version of the tale and he really didn't have the patience for all the details. "Can we skip ahead to when you met Ryan and why you lied for him?"
Ducky scowled at him. "I assure you this information is relevant to how I came in contact with Richard."
"Don't have all night. So speed it up," Gibbs growled. He didn't like being so curt with Ducky but sometimes the man had to be dragged to the point.
"Richie's Immortal," Abby blurted out.
Three sets of eyes turned to stare at her.
She shrugged. "What? It's not like that wasn't going to be the big reveal at the end of the story," she insisted as she glared back at each of them in turn.
"You can't be serious, Abs?" Gibbs asked. "Immortal? That's just –" He found himself unable to finish the thought as he registered the sincerity in Abby's face. She believed this ridiculous explanation.
"Crazy?" She chuckled. "Not when you've seen Richie heal from a wound that should have killed him."
Gibbs looked at Ryan who shrugged and sent him an apologetic smile. "It's the truth," Richie confirmed. "Now that you know, there's no going back."
Gibbs glared at the younger man. "If I shoot you in the heart - what – you're just going shrug it off and keep going?"
"Well not exactly," he replied. "It'll hurt and I will die. I'll just come back."
Gibbs was angry. He was being played and he didn't like it. Ryan had obviously conned Ducky and Abby into believing this cockamamie story but he wasn't so easily fooled. If the kid thought he wouldn't call his bluff he was mistaken.
"Let's just see how this works then." Gibbs stood, drew his gun and pointed it at Ryan's chest. The kid didn't even flinch; in fact he nodded, giving Gibbs tacit permission to fire.
"Don't!" Abby shouted. She tried to get to Gibbs but Ducky put a hand on her, keeping her in her seat.
"It's the only way," he said to her. Ducky turned to Gibbs. "Go ahead, Jethro. Mind you, I'm going to ask that you have the sofa cleaned after."
Richie chuckled. "How about you step back agent Gibbs? I'll stand up and we'll make less of a mess that way."
Gibbs did step back, not because he cared if he ruined Ducky's couch but because he couldn't believe they were encouraging him do this. Richie stood, squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his fists. "I'm ready. And could you put it through the heart. It's not as painful if death is instantaneous."
Gibbs held his weapon ready. "You seriously want me to shoot you."
Richie cracked one eye open. "Yeah and could you hurry up. It always hurts like a son of a bitch and I'm kind of losing my nerve here."
"It's okay, Gibbs" Abby said. It seemed she'd made peace with the idea of shooting Ryan. "They're right. It's the only way you'll believe the rest of the story."
There was no way he was going to risk killing the guy. Ryan was obviously playing some weird suicide game to protect his employers; goading Gibbs into killing his only lead. He had no intention of being that stupid. Instead he would simply wound the guy. There'd be paper work about shooting an unarmed suspect but he could deal with that fallout later. Proving the guy to be a liar should show Ducky and Abby that this whole thing was a hoax and ensure their cooperation for the rest of the investigation.
He took aim and began to squeeze the trigger. Gibbs still expected one of them to call a halt to his action ending this bizarre game of chicken but no one did. Abby and Ducky were silently encouraging him to do it and Ryan had closed his eyes again in anticipation of the pain.
Gibbs silently sighed. It seemed he was either going to have to follow through or back down and he wasn't about to back down. His anger at the betrayal by his friends got the best of him. Aiming at the kid's leg, he pulled the trigger. A small sense of panic hit him as Richie collapsed back onto the coach grabbing his wounded thigh. The enormity of shooting an unarmed man slammed into him.
"What the hell? In the heart! Not the leg, damn it." Richie shouted through clenched teeth.
Abby stood and smacked Gibbs on the arm. "How could you do that?"
"You told me too, Abs." Gibbs replied. He'd called the kid's bluff but he didn't feel good about it. There should have been a better way to prove that Ryan was lying. The myriad of paperwork this would entail was not going to be pleasant. Still, he'd aimed carefully and it was just a flesh wound which shouldn't require too many stitches. "I thought you said he couldn't get hurt."
"He's Immortal, not bullet proof!" She snapped as she dropped next to Richie to help stop the bleeding. "We said in the heart! That hurts way less than what you just did."
Ducky said nothing just moved to kneel in front of Richie, offering words of comfort.
Gibbs shook his head wondering why they'd let him shoot Ryan and why seeing that the guy was bleeding, they still insisted on believing him. "I'll call an ambulance. You shouldn't have called my bluff, kid." Gibbs admonished as he reached for his phone.
"That won't be necessary," Ducky said looking up at him. "Richie will be fine."
Gibbs waited for the joke to be over but Ducky just tilted his head to indicate that Gibbs should watch Richie, who still appeared to be in a lot of pain.
Abby reached down and with Ducky's help she ripped open Richie's pant leg to reveal the wound. Gibbs watched in fascination as blue sparks covered the damaged area and appeared to be repairing the bullet hole. A few silence-filled minutes later, the wound was fully healed. If it hadn't been for the bloody tear in Richie's jeans, he wouldn't have believed he'd actually hit the kid with his shot.
Speechless Gibbs flopped back on the couch. The kid could heal and if he could heal than the rest must be true too. Richie Ryan was Immortal. The anger that had been raging all night flowed away, replaced by the confusion of what the belief in that simple statement could mean.
He looked up to three sets of eyes waiting for his reaction. Gibbs swallowed hard before breaking the silence. "So - Immortal?" Gibbs waited.
The three nodded in unison, but no one spoke allowing Gibbs to come to grips with what he'd seen.
"You too, Abby?" he asked wondering if that was why she'd protected the man.
She laughed. "No Gibbs. I'm just his Watcher and so is Ducky."
Confusion crossed his face, encouraging Abby to continue.
Before she could, Richie interrupted. "If it's okay with you Agent Gibbs, I'm going to get cleaned up and changed. I've heard the Immortal 101 speech enough times and I think Ducky and Abby can handle the explanations without me." He stood and waited for Gibbs to protest.
His head was still spinning as he waved Richie away. He wasn't worried about the kid taking off any more. The secret had been revealed and it was in Ryan's best interest to ride out the storm.
"I'll check on Mrs. Mallard too," Richie said "Make sure the shot didn't scare her."
"Thank you, my boy," Ducky replied.
Once Richie had reclaimed his duffle and exited the room, Gibbs turned to his co-workers. He looked at Ducky, sending him a crooked smile. "You were a young man with an interest in history –" Gibbs prompted.
Ducky returned the smile and picked up the story as if he hadn't been interrupted.
Gibbs settled in for the unabridged version. He wasn't sure what he was going to do with Ryan but for now he was content to listen to the story and hope his course of action became clear.