Ronnie knew he ought to be with his daughter, celebrating a year of his grandchild's life, and yet somehow he couldn't bring himself to darken her doorstep. Sarah said she understood, and he hoped she did, that he was always going to have to acknowledge that particular anniversary a day or more late. As much as he loved his grandson, he couldn't force himself into celebrations when the memories weighed down on him. He could still hear the offer Matt had made as court got out, one full of support and hope, only to have that all end moments later.
No, he wouldn't be at the party, but he'd give gifts later, make it a special day when he wasn't trying to pretend he wasn't sad. Last thing he wanted was the little boy believing that he was somehow to blame for Ronnie's mood.
He headed up the stairs, needing the exercise and not the quiet time to think that a ride in a lift would have given him. He needed to be doing, had to, and he wasn't going to stop until this day was over. In the morning or perhaps the next, the clouds hanging over everything would pass again, and he'd go see a little girl with smiles and laughter and not feel like greeting her with tears.
Or finding the nearest pub and drowning himself inside it.
He reached the landing and started down the hall, going toward the familiar office. He supposed he could even say he was doing double duty, since he wasn't the only one who lost a friend on this day. He stopped inside the office, knocking on the door.
Alesha looked up from her desk, frowning. “Ronnie. What are you doing here? I would have thought you'd be with your family.”
“Tomorrow,” Ronnie told her, going over to her desk. “Need a bit of help with this.”
She took the file from him with a frown. “You're working alone? Today, of all days?”
“Ah, you know me,” he said. “Not fit company on this day. Better if I work alone. Guv gave the new one a day off, told me to take the same, but I'm a man of action, you see. Need to keep busy.”
She managed a small smile, flipping through the papers inside the file. “I know what you mean. I think I'm about the only one in today.”
Ronnie eyed the other desk, wondering if it even occurred to the newest senior crown prosecutor that today had any sort of significance at all. He doubted it. Thorne hadn't been there that long before the day they lost Matty, and he probably didn't remember the lad's name.
“You shouldn't be working alone, either.”
Alesha nodded. “He was a good friend, Ronnie. Helped us both through some very bad times. It's still strange to think he's gone. I don't want to believe it.”
“Me, either,” Ronnie said. He shook his head, trying not to think about it. Again. “I was wondering if you were familiar with the original case, or if that was before your time. It wasn't one of mine, not one of the guv's, and the detective on it has since died, so I'm hoping your office has more of the details.”
“Well,” she said, rising, “it's not one of mine, but I think I know whose it was. Let me see what I can find out.”
Ronnie waited as she did a search on her computer. He had a feeling they were thinking of the same person, which was both good and bad. “Was it one of James Steel's?”
“Yep,” she answered, pointing to the screen. “He took it to trial about five years ago.”
“Are we about to have another Dillon on our hands?” Ronnie asked, not liking that idea for a moment. That had cost a good man his career, and things had been tense between their office and CPS for some time after, since accusations had stirred up old bitterness and blame continued to fall on them even after it was proved that someone at CPS buried the evidence. Dillon's wrongful conviction had cost the CPS James Steel and George Castle, and some—not Alesha, but some—considered Ronnie and Matt to blame for that.
“Doubt it,” she said. “The case was dismissed due to lack of evidence.”
“This is why no one take holidays,” James said, looking over the mountain of paperwork on his desk and shaking his head with a heavy sigh. He swore he'd cleaned it out before he left, but he had triple what would have been there during his absence piled high enough to make his chair invisible.
His secretary laughed. “No one takes holidays because no one can afford it.”
James frowned. He knew for a fact that was not true. She'd been gone not long before he'd taken his own leave, and one of the senior members of the firm had recently retired. He had high hopes of her doing the same soon as well. “What about the new one? They did hire someone to replace Nelson, didn't they?”
Catherine nodded. “Yes, they did. Nice young man, for an American, I suppose.”
“Human rights are not limited to one country alone,” James reminded her. Though the firm was based in London, its cases and its members impacted several countries across the world. Some had argued for its relocation, wanting it closer to the United Nations, but so far it had held its ground where it was founded, no doubt owing to many of the founders still practicing within its walls.
“Of course not,” she agreed stiffly. James shook his head, trying to decide which part of the pile to tackle first. She went over and picked up a stack of files, handing them to him. “These are from the new one. They want you to go over his work.”
James frowned. “Any particular reason why? If they feel he is unqualified for his office—and he certainly gave me no impression of that during our phone conversations—why did they retain him?”
She shrugged, walking away. James took the files over to his chair, sitting down. He started through the documents, failing to see why any of these would need his oversight. This was a very standardized form, and so far he could see no mistakes in how it had been filled out and filed.
Someone rapped on his door. “Is there a James Steel somewhere in here?”
He rose, leaving the stack on his chair as he came around his desk. “Alesha? Oh, and Ronnie. Well, this is unexpected. I had not thought I'd see either of you today—indeed, if I hadn't come back early, you'd have missed me.”
“Well, then I'm glad you came back early,” Alesha said, coming over to hug him. “It's good to see you, James.”
“Likewise,” Ronnie said, though he didn't make any move to embrace James. “Good to see that none of the rumors were true.”
“There may have been some wallowing in self-pity for a bit, as I tried retirement and it truly did not take,” James admitted. He looked around his office. “I was able to find a branch of law where I have been not only useful but also able to sleep at night, a small miracle, I suppose.”
Alesha smiled. “That's very good. I feared for you in retirement. I truly did.”
James smiled back, though he could not hold it as he turned to Ronnie. “I heard about Devlin. Condolences are not enough.”
“He was a good man,” Ronnie agreed. “Good mate.”
“And I take it this is not a social call,” James said, grimacing as he remembered how their last interactions had gone. “What do you need?”
“Anything that you can tell me that might help with this case,” Ronnie said, passing him a file. “Original detective on the case is dead, and it seems he weren't big on keeping his files on computer or at the precinct. His wife threw out his personal files when he died, leaving me with very little to go on even though it seems like the same man may be at it again.”
“Damn,” James said, shaking his head at the file. “I knew that if he got away with it, he'd do it again—but six years? In all that time, nothing but now he does something exactly like the first? Is it arrogance?”
“Not sure,” Ronnie said. “There's so much missing from the original case that I can't say it was the same man.”
James rubbed his forehead. “Well, I can tell you what I remember, though I'd do better myself with the case file in my hands.”
“It seems to have been misplaced.”
James grimaced. “That seems very convenient.”
Ronnie nodded. “We did have that thought.”
“The crux of it, as I recall, was that my lead witness disappeared,” James said, gesturing them to the open chairs. Ronnie gave the room a glance, amused to see they'd been led not into another office or a conference room but the employee kitchen. “Everything hinged on Glen Cromwell's testimony, and he vanished in the middle of the trial.”
“The story of a great many prosecutions,” Alesha agreed, sitting down across from her former colleague. “He actually saw the murder, then?”
“So he said,” James answered, and Ronnie gave him a look, prompting James to hold up a hand. “I had no reason to doubt him. He sounded very sincere. I was convinced he had witnessed the murder, and likely he died because of it, though to my knowledge no body was ever found. Without Cromwell, though, I couldn't tie Gibson to the scene. There were no forensics on the knife, no way to prove he had ever held it. The case was dismissed.”
Ronnie frowned, almost distracted by another person passing through the room. She went to the vending machine, studying it intently. Her expression and way of tapping her finger against her lip reminded him of his daughter. He shook it off and turned back to James. “But there was a knife found? You had it in evidence?”
“Yes, I believe so. If that has gone missing as well—”
“It has,” Ronnie said, watching as the blonde made her choice and not one but three bags dropped to the bottom for her. “There's not a thing left from the original case.”
James frowned. “If that were true, then he'd have ensured that he would never be prosecuted for it. Why would he jeopardize it by killing again in the same manner?”
“Could be arrogance, like you suggested before,” Alesha said. “He got away with it once, figures with the evidence buried, he could do it again.”
“Yes, but there was still enough to tell you your case connected to this one. He hasn't buried all of it,” James protested. “It's a very clumsy mistake to make.”
“Unless he was counting on the connection.”
James turned around to the other woman as she opened her bag of crisps. “Excuse me?”
“Oh, sorry. Didn't mean to say that out loud. It's just that I heard part of what you were saying—totally unintentional, believe me—and was thinking of one of our recent cases where making the connection was the entire point. See, the bomber wanted the blame placed on a terrorist organization, but they actually were innocent, which is a strange thing to say about a terrorist organization, but it was true in that case,” she said, taking a bite of a crisp after pausing for breath. She winced, chewing quickly and swallowing it down. “Sorry, again. I didn't mean to interrupt.”
Ronnie smiled at her. “It is an interesting theory, Miss...?”
“Bishop. Ellie Bishop,” she answered. “I'm with NCIS.”
“I'm DS Ronnie Brooks, crown prosecutor Alesha Philips and former crown prosecutor James Steel,” Ronnie said, introducing them all to her.
Steel frowned. “I wasn't aware of any ongoing concerns with the American military.”
Bishop shook her head quickly. “Oh, no. I'm not here officially. Well, I am, but I'm not. I'm not here for NCIS. Not here at the firm, I mean. I've been temporarily loaned to a local NCIS office, but that's not why I'm here. Interrupting your discussion. Again.”
Alesha smiled, amused by Bishop's fumbling explanation, as Ronnie was.
“No worries, love,” Ronnie told her. “We seem to have interrupted your lunch.”
“This? Oh, no, this is just thinking food,” she said with a smile, taking another crisp from the bag and looking it over. “Sometimes the law just does not make sense.”
“I agree,” Alesha said, still amused.
Bishop gave them another smile before turning away, going over to the other vending machine, eating her crisps as she contemplated her drink choices. The three of them sat in silence, and Ronnie thought they couldn't be more obvious about waiting for her to leave to continue.
Ronnie thought about getting up, since he could do with a bit of a bite himself. Even without knowing the selection in the machine, he could hear Matt's opinions on all the food inside of it. He wouldn't have liked a thing in there.
Alesha reached over and touched Ronnie's arm, pulling him back to the now. He frowned, wondering how he'd missed the man that had approached Bishop.
The newcomer must have walked up behind her and wrapped his arms around her. His head was on the other side of hers, on her shoulder. “I knew I'd find you in here.”
“Hmm,” she said, smiling and rocking a little in his embrace. “Followed my stomach, did you?”
“It is extremely predictable.”
“I had a thought just now that I can't believe neither of us thought of before,” she said, holding up one of her crisps. “Finger food. I know it's still going to be awkward, but it's got to be better than a liquid diet.”
He stepped back, smiling at her as he shook his head. “We are both idiots.”
Ronnie choked, not believing what he was seeing. He'd heard Matt's voice thinking about food, but that was just memories. He couldn't—it was some kind of trick. Had to be. The voice was wrong, but the face—that was almost exact. Next to him, Alesha gasped, and James rose from his chair.
Ronnie wasn't the only one seeing it, then. He stood, swallowing. “Matty?”
Jake's unintentional resemblance causes trouble for everyone.
Gibbs turned on the lights, walking down the stairs into his basement. He went to the workbench, setting down his phone and keys. He picked up his cup and filled it with a shot from the bottle of the cheap stuff, though he eyed the more expensive bottle for a while, drinking down what was in his glass.
Refilling it with more from Malloy's offering, he reached for his phone, making the call and putting it on speaker as he went over to the boat.
“Gibbs,” Malloy said, an off tone to his voice that Gibbs couldn't quite place—frustration, fatigue, and something else. “I know you keep odd hours, but why aren't you asleep?”
Gibbs set down his cup and lifted the sander. “How many pills have you taken today?”
“Figure you'd rather blame the stupid question on your medication,” Gibbs said, and the other man let out a low groan. “Something bothering you, Malloy?”
“Nothing more than usual.”
Gibbs grunted. Usual was bad enough for a man that had been abducted and tortured, still healing from those wounds and without the use of his hands. None of the team had been in any rush to leave Malloy behind in another country, even if his wife had stayed with him. Ducky had her giving him updates every few hours, and Abby had said she should have hidden a bug inside the pillow she'd given Malloy before leaving. Even DiNozzo and McGee seemed concerned, in their way. Malloy might not realize it, but he'd become family. Shouldn't have taken him almost dying, but then neither Bishop or Malloy had a satisfying answer for why she'd worked with them for almost a year before they met her husband.
Not important. Not now.
“They told you anything about Banks' trial yet?” Knowing that would put the team more at ease, since they'd know when they'd be able to see their missing members in person.
“Not so far,” Malloy answered. “Agent Adams came to see us, but that was partially to negotiate Ellie's position in her office. Ellie seems to think she's here to be my hands, which of course doesn't give her much time for anything at NCIS, even though McGee and Abby assure me I've got the best possible dictation software available, which in theory would allow me to do most of my work on my own.”
Gibbs moved the sander over the wood, needing the focus. None of them felt that Malloy should be back at work yet or that he should be pushing himself like he was. He didn't have the use of his hands. It could have waited, but Malloy had something to prove.
“I count myself fortunate that the rest of you are back in the states.”
Gibbs laughed. Malloy was. He'd have been fussed over to death by now if Ducky and Abby had their way, and even McGee and DiNozzo would be hovering. “You've got family. Worrying's what they do.”
“Maybe in your family, Gibbs. Not mine.”
“Unless you've decided to be an idiot and leave Bishop again, this family is your family.”
Malloy was silent for a moment. Gibbs heard papers shift and then a curse. “Damn it, knocked over a whole file. And no—I'm not planning on leaving Ellie. She might be driving me a bit crazy with the hovering, but in some ways this feels like it did when we first started dating. We were... inseparable, enough to annoy everyone.”
“Then why haven't I heard her voice yet?”
“She was hungry. Why did you call? Was it just to ask about the trial? They should be contacting you and your team about that and—”
“I'm fine. No new infections. No relapses. No torn stitches. Still bruised. It no longer hurts to talk, and I'm learning the amazing list of things I can do with only three fingers.”
Gibbs shook his head. Sometimes he wished he could smack people over the phone. “And?”
Malloy sighed. “And neither Ellie nor I feel like we're being followed. No one has seen any sign of the man that kidnapped me, and no strange agents have come up asking about classified intel. I told you—I think he's dead.”
“You don't know for sure.”
“I want to believe he is. Unless you can prove otherwise, Gibbs, let it go.”
Jake ended the call with Gibbs, knowing the other man wasn't happy with him. He didn't figure anyone was. He'd insisted on staying in London and going back to work before anyone felt he should, and while Ellie insisted on helping him, even she didn't want him doing this. He was fortunate that she had gone off in search of a snack just before the phone rang. He didn't need her hearing that or siding with Gibbs, and he'd had enough lectures already today, even if one of those lectures had been delivered by heavily weighted silence.
He lifted up his hand and wiggled the fingers he could still move. Nothing was healing as fast as he wanted, and his doctors had suggested lowering the amount of pain medication he was taking if he felt he could manage it. He could—had so far today—but the true test would come when it was time to try sleeping. The moments that had come to him in his waking hours were few and far between, but they were brutal enough. He didn't need more.
Sighing, he rose from his desk. After that conversation, the office felt stifling, and he needed a break. He walked down the hall and while he didn't have a destination in mind, he found himself in the breakroom anyway.
Sure enough, there was Ellie, standing at the vending machine. She already had bags of potato chips in her hands, staring at the drink machine. He had always found the way she looked when she was trying to find the perfect brain food adorable.
He walked up behind her, wrapping his arms around her, leaning his head against hers. This was still awkward with his hands the way they were, the cast, but at least he could still do it. “I knew I'd find you in here.”
“Hmm,” she said, sounding pleased as she swayed in his arms. Another minute and she'd try and get him to dance with her right here. “Followed my stomach, did you?”
He almost laughed. “It is extremely predictable.”
“I had a thought just now that I can't believe neither of us thought of before,” she said, showing him a potato chip. “Finger food. I know it's still going to be awkward, but it's got to be better than a liquid diet.”
He wanted to smack himself, stepping back and shaking his head. She was right. He could and still did use the three unbroken fingers he had. He could have been feeding himself that way instead of being stuck with protein shakes, broth, or smoothies. “We are both idiots.”
She shrugged. “I did think of it before, but in the context of the way that we shared fries when we first started dating, but that was like feeding you, which you did not want.”
He nodded. He found it difficult enough having to be helped dress. He didn't want anyone feeding him. He hated the way he felt most of the time, helpless, useless because of his hands.
Someone touched him, and he jerked, bumping Ellie as he did.
Jake swallowed, trying to push the memories away. He'd gone back to that abandoned building with one touch. He felt Ellie watching him, knew she knew, but he faced the man who'd spoken to him instead. “I'm sorry. What?”
“Ronnie,” the other woman said, coming to the man's side. “It's not him. The voice...”
Jake frowned. “What about my voice?”
“You're American,” the second man said, the blond, and his voice was familiar to Jake. They'd talked before, though he didn't recognize the man's face, just his voice. Still, Jake knew him.
“I am,” Jake agreed, “but you know that, Mr. Steel. We've spoken before. I think I was actually quite obnoxious with my questions about that brief. Your expertise was invaluable. I can't thank you enough.”
“You're right. We have spoken before,” Steel said, getting frowns from his companions. “Never face-to-face, though, which I fear is the source of our current confusion. Forgive me and my friends for staring, but you look so much like former colleague of ours it's downright uncanny.”
Jake didn't know what to think about that. He couldn't think about anything at the moment. “I... I'm sorry. I've only been in London for a few weeks, never before in my life. Ellie was here, actually, with a coworker of hers, but not me. I couldn't leave work.”
Ellie put her hand on his arm. “Jake, are you—”
“I'm fine,” he said, almost touching her face before he saw his broken fingers and dropped his hand again, feeling sick.
“Matty,” the first one said, moving toward him again. “What happened? Your hands—”
“I'm sorry,” Jake said, backing away and stepping to the side. “I'm not Matt. I can't say I don't know any Matts, but that's not me. My name is Jake. I—you'll have to excuse me. I need to get back to my office.”
Jake pushed past them, needing to get out of the room. He leaned against the wall, closing his eyes and taking a deep breath. He couldn't think. He swore he could feel his fingers snapping again. He shuddered, unable to stop the memories from overwhelming him.
“Ronnie, don't,” James said, barring him from going after the other man. He couldn't imagine the pain that the detective felt, confronted with a man who looked like a carbon copy of Matt Devlin. He struggled with it himself, and he had not been close with Devlin, not like Ronnie. He'd even spoken to the American before, and it was a complete surprise to see him resemble Devlin so strongly. James would never have believed it if he hadn't seen it himself.
The whole thing was eerie, seeing a man who looked for all intents exactly like Devlin with glasses speaking with an American accent, and not one that sounded the least bit fake, though James was no expert in that respect.
“It wasn't Matt,” James said, shaking his head. Devlin was gone, and so was Malloy at the moment, along with his wife, who'd rushed out after him.
“It was him. He was hurt.”
“No,” Alesha said, sounding pained. “Ronnie, it's not him. It looks like him, but it isn't.”
Ronnie shook his head, unable to accept that. James sighed, not sure how this could be helped. Had he met Jake Malloy in person before this, he could have kept them from meeting, but he had not known of the resemblance or that Ronnie and Alesha would be here today to meet him.
“Let me go,” Ronnie said, trying to push free. “Matt's hurt, and I have to do something. I have to help him. I can't stand back and do nothing. I have help him.”
“Ronnie, Matt is gone,” James insisted, looking the other man in the eyes. “That was not Matt. Devlin is dead. You just met Jake Malloy. They're not the same man. They're two very different men.”
Ronnie lowered his head, not looking at them. James wasn't sure they'd be able to convince him that he hadn't seen his dead partner. The man must have taken Devlin's death hard, though James could not speak to that.
“Why today?” Alesha muttered. “Why'd it have to be today?”
James winced. He hadn't realized it was the actual anniversary of Devlin's death, but it was, wasn't it? Damn. This was worse than he thought. Ronnie shook, and James feared he might be crying. This would not be easy. He touched Alesha's shoulder, and she looked up at him.
“I'll call Chandler,” James told her. “She might be able to help.”
Alesha nodded, biting her lip and looking at Ronnie with concern.
“And I'll see what I can find out,” James promised, getting another nod as he left. He knew that they had to find answers, that Ronnie needed them. An explanation would help, thought it was far from a cure. Still, James knew he had to do something.
He walked down the hall to the office he assumed was Malloy's. It had been empty when he left on holiday, but even from door he could see files on the desk. He stepped inside, knocking on the door. Malloy jerked, spooked.
“Please don't do that.”
It would seem Malloy had a very clear case of post-traumatic stress. “I apologize. I figured it would be better to announce myself.”
Malloy nodded. “Yes, I—it is. I'm afraid I'm still a bit out of sorts, and not just because of what just happened, though that certainly didn't help anything.”
“Where's your wife?”
“I don't need Ellie to protect me, if that's what you're getting at,” Malloy said with a tight smile. He shook his head. “Sorry. That wasn't necessary. I'm just a little on edge.”
“Understandable,” James said. He looked the other man over again. “Are you certain you've never been to England before? Or anywhere in the United Kingdom?”
“Shouldn't you be asking me where my family comes from, not if I've ever traveled here before?” Malloy countered, leaning forward on his desk despite the cast. “I was born and raised in the US. My grandfather was an elitist, entitled bastard, and my mother can trace her lineage back to the founding of the colonies. I went to school in the US, got married there. I worked for the NSA. I'm about as American as it gets.”
James nodded. “Forgive me. It is just startling—I fear it must be worse for Ronnie. He worked with Matt Devlin day in and day out for years. Seeing you is rather like seeing a ghost, and not just for him. Alesha was also a friend to him, and while I doubt he saw me as such given our last interaction, I did know he was dead. It's still a shock.”
“And you'd like an explanation.”
“Yes, if possible.”
Malloy shrugged. “I'm not sure I have one. I've never heard the name before in my life, and as I said, I've never visited here before. Then again...”
“How long ago was it you said Devlin died?” Malloy asked, lifting a hand and looking at his undamaged fingers. “Was it recent? Within the last few weeks?”
“No, but those injuries were. What happened to you?”
“My fingers got broken.”
“That's a very evasive answer.”
“Are you interrogating me?” Malloy asked. “You're good, but Gibbs is better, and I can almost hold my own with him. I have no interest in discussing what happened to my hands. I understand your need to explain the resemblance between me and your former colleague. I suppose perhaps one should consider the theory that we all have doppelgangers out there in the world.”
“Is that actually what you believe?”
James was near at the end of his patience when the wife walked back into the office. She gave James a small smile before going around to her husband's desk. She set two pills on the desk in front of him. He sighed.
“Ellie, if I take these, I'll have to go home. I'll be useless.”
She put a hand on his cheek. “Jake, I love you. Please don't do this to yourself.”
He sighed, leaning back in the chair and looking at her. “You were fine with me being here until they mistook me for someone else. I'm not the one who's having a hard time. That's Mr. Steel's friend. I am no different than I was this morning.”
“You know that isn't true,” she said, and James frowned. They knew something. A lot more than they were saying, both of them.
“Do you believe that DS Devlin's death could have had something to do with what happened to you?” James asked, folding his arms over his chest. “If you think he was mistaken for you or you for him, then this could change everything. Devlin's murderer is supposedly in prison, but they could have the wrong man—”
“They have a man in custody who admitted to being behind what happened to me,” Malloy said. “I don't know anything about Devlin's case—I didn't even know he was murdered until you just said it.”
“That isn't the case you were discussing with your friends, was it?” The wife demanded, frowning. “Not again, Jake. We just got you back.”
“Ellie, you're overreacting. Don't start. We had a good morning. There's no need to assume that there's any connection at all.”
“Except that you look like him.”
Jake's secrets and trauma prevent anyone from getting any real answers.
So I ended up kind of backtracking and showing a scene from a third perspective, which may seem like overkill, but I did really want to include the part in the middle and I think that my attempt at understanding Ellie's food connections turned out pretty good. I hope, at least.
Potato chips were an ideal food for puzzling out things like the law, Ellie thought, eating one as she tried to decide on a soda. They were thin, like her understanding, and greasy, like the way that law itself was, seemingly rigid but sometimes flexible, changing with the application of spices or other flavoring. Plain was the wrong name for the ones without added flavoring, though the law could seem boring at first appearance—she was bored, but Jake found untangling it fascinating.
Jake. She should get something for him, even though he'd said he wasn't hungry—how that was possible she didn't know because he hadn't been able to eat anything substantial since they found him. She wished she had something better to offer than whatever he could get from a straw. Jake was so stubborn. He didn't want anyone feeding him, and she hated watching him suffer through his shakes when she knew he'd happily be eating her junk food if he could.
She heard someone come up behind her, and she tensed, relaxing when she saw the cast and heard her husband's voice. “I knew I'd find you in here.”
“Hmm,” she began, trying to remember when the last time it was he'd held her like this. Too long ago, before they'd stopped talking and almost lost each other. She could do this all day. Maybe he would, too. He could use something good after the last few weeks. “Followed my stomach, did you?”
She heard him fighting laughter as he spoke. “It is extremely predictable.”
She knew it was. He hadn't nicknamed her Ellie Belly for nothing, and all of her coworkers had noticed her eating habits. She was fortunate that she had a metabolism that kept up with it, for the most part, though she made sure to exercise, too. She should probably stop eating junk food, but it was hard to resist when she needed the right connection to think. Like potato chips.
Oh, she was an idiot.
“I had a thought just now that I can't believe neither of us thought of before,” she said, holding out one of her chips to Jake. He could take it. “Finger food. I know it's still going to be awkward, but it's got to be better than a liquid diet.”
He stepped back, and she could see the guilt on his face, even if they'd only been foolish, overlooking something that seemed obvious now but hadn't just been missed by them. “We are both idiots.”
“I did think of it before,” she began, though after seeing his face, she almost regretted saying anything at all, “but in the context of the way that we shared fries when we first started dating, but that was like feeding you, which you did not want.”
He grimaced, and she did regret mentioning that. She did her best to keep him distracted when she did have to help him with the parts of getting dressed he couldn't do on his own—talking too much or making a bigger deal out of her clothes than she ever would have before—but she knew that none of this was right. Her husband had been abducted and tortured, and he wasn't talking to her—to anyone—and because of his hands, he was basically helpless. She hated seeing him like this, but she hated how much she feared he'd want her to leave, that he'd find a way to force that on them both when he shouldn't be alone.
Jake bumped into her, backing away from the man who'd introduced himself to her as Ronnie Brooks. She didn't see how he could have spooked Jake, she'd heard him coming, but he looked terrified. His voice didn't shake, but she could feel him trembling. “I'm sorry. What?”
“Ronnie,” Phillips said, putting her hand on Brooks' arm. “It's not him. The voice...”
“What about my voice?” Jake asked, confused.
“You're American,” Steel said, and Ellie almost laughed. She knew they were in England, but that part was obvious, and there was nothing wrong with Jake's voice, even if the accent wasn't what they expected.
“I am, but you know that, Mr. Steel,” Jake told him, still frowning. “We've spoken before. I think I was actually quite obnoxious with my questions about that brief. Your expertise was invaluable. I can't thank you enough.”
“You're right. We have spoken before,” Steel agreed. Brooks and Phillips looked at him like he'd somehow betrayed them. “Never face-to-face, though, which I fear is the source of our current confusion. Forgive me and my friends for staring, but you look so much like former colleague of ours it's downright uncanny.”
Ellie frowned. McGee had said Jake's picture hadn't been on the news, that he wasn't in the coverage given to the death of Agent Waters or any other part of the case, so they couldn't have recognized him that way, and she didn't see how this could be a test, not from the NSA or anyone else. Still, there was one possibility, one that she knew Jake had to be wondering about as well.
“I... I'm sorry. I've only been in London for a few weeks, never before in my life,” Jake said, starting to stammer a little as he tended to do when he got nervous. “Ellie was here, actually, with a coworker of hers, but not me. I couldn't leave work.”
Ellie reached out to touch him, wanting not only to calm him but to satisfy her own curiosity. “Jake, are you—”
“I'm fine,” he said, going to cup her cheek like he always did when he was trying to reassure her and she always fell for because it was usually sweet. Not this time, not when he stopped because two of his fingers were broken.
“Matty,” Brooks said, reaching for Jake's cast. “What happened? Your hands—”
“I'm sorry,” Jake said, almost backing over her as he tried to get away. “I'm not Matt. I can't say I don't know any Matts, but that's not me. My name is Jake. I—you'll have to excuse me. I need to get back to my office.”
She'd never seen Jake flee a room like that, not even when her brothers were being impossible or his family managed to humiliate him, not when the NSA had a crisis or when he was angry. She hurried after him, not bothering to apologize to anyone she was leaving behind.
She found Jake in the hall outside the room, but when she touched him, he didn't react. He didn't seem to realize she was there at all. She swallowed, looking at him and twisting her lip as she tried to rouse him. “Jake?”
She swallowed, reminding herself to look up more information on post-traumatic stress, find better ways to help him. She had to—she couldn't let him suffer like this. The physical wounds were bad enough—his hands and all those other scars—but this—she had to find a way to reach him.
She touched his face, keeping her hands gentle so she wouldn't spook him. “Hey. It's me. Look at me, macaroon. I... I can't actually think of anything to rhyme that with right now, but I'm here. Come back to me.”
Jake grimaced. “Vinegar?”
That took her a moment. “That was the only flavor of potato chip in the machine. I forgot how much you hate that smell.”
“It's like something died,” he muttered, leaning his head back against the wall. “I don't... That... I don't know what just happened.”
She sighed. She had a feeling he'd just had a flashback, not that he was going to tell her about it. She wanted to force him, but that wouldn't help. She wanted to hold him, but she couldn't. She combed her fingers through his hair as he calmed himself. “You feeling steady enough to walk? We should probably leave.”
“I don't want to go home—to the hotel. Don't try and make me.”
“You don't have to push yourself like this,” she began, but then she shook her head. She didn't want to fight him now. “They're going to come looking for you. We should move.”
He nodded, leaning against her as they walked back to his office. She took him over to the chair and had him sit. He tried to wrap his arms around himself, bumped his cast, and stopped, grumbling to himself.
She didn't know how to help, not with most of it, but she knew that turn of Jake's mouth—that was disgust, like he'd just gagged on something—she saw it enough when he had migraines to know what it meant. “I'm going to go get you some water.”
“I don't think he ever fed me.”
Ellie stopped, turning back with a frown. “What?”
Jake shuddered, “I can't remember him... ever giving me food. Of any kind. I don't... I—I don't know if I'm just being stubborn or if he did force-feed me and that's why it's so—I don't remember.”
Her chips were probably a broken mess, but Jake wouldn't want them around anyway, so that was for the best. She touched his cheek again, moving her fingers into his hair. “No one's going to force-feed you. You can feed yourself, remember? I'll get that water. You just breathe, okay?”
He nodded, looking a bit numb, and she hurried, knowing he'd hate himself all over again if he threw up in his office. She left the office, starting down the other hall for the drinking fountain. She stopped in front of it with a wince, shaking her head at her stupidity. She didn't have a glass on hand, and even if there were extras here, they were in the breakroom with the people she wanted to avoid. She didn't even have one of the silly straws Tony had sent Jake. Those were in Jake's lunchbag.
She supposed she could go get water from somewhere else or just face them, but facing them wasn't something she was ready for—she didn't know who this person was Jake looked like, and that worried her. Especially since she got the feeling that Matt, whoever he was, was dead. And if he was—was that because of Charlie Banks?
She shook her head, digging in her pocket. It wasn't much, but she did have Jake's anti-nausea medication. He hadn't even wanted to get this one, but the painkillers made him nauseous when he didn't get enough food and the shakes were often not enough, so he had little choice. She just found it funny the anti-nausea ones hit harder than the pain pills themselves.
She took two out of the bottle on her way into the room, putting the bottle back into her pocket. She shouldn't have left Jake alone for a second. Steel was in there, interrogating him if that silence was anything to judge by. She forced a polite smile before taking the pills to Jake.
“Ellie, if I take these, I'll have to go home. I'll be useless.”
She wished he didn't see all of this as something he had to prove himself against, that it was some horrible failing. He had every right to feel the way he did. “Jake, I love you. Please don't do this to yourself.”
“You were fine with me being here until they mistook me for someone else,” he reminded her, and she nodded. Things had been good until that interruption in the breakroom. “I'm not the one who's having a hard time. That's Mr. Steel's friend. I am no different than I was this morning.”
“You know that isn't true.” Jake was having a hard time, and they did have to consider the possibility that this man Jake looked like could be a blood relative, one he'd never known he had.
“Do you believe that DS Devlin's death could have had something to do with what happened to you?” Steel asked, reminding her a bit of Gibbs when he did. “If you think he was mistaken for you or you for him, then this could change everything. Devlin's murderer is supposedly in prison, but they could have the wrong man—”
“They have a man in custody who admitted to being behind what happened to me,” Jake said, not mentioning Charlie by name or the other man who'd been involved and was still missing. “I don't know anything about Devlin's case—I didn't even know he was murdered until you just said it.”
“That isn't the case you were discussing with your friends, was it?” Ellie asked, not wanting to believe that. She didn't want to think that someone could still be after her husband, even if she knew that was already possible. “Not again, Jake. We just got you back.”
“Ellie, you're overreacting. Don't start,” he said, using the tone he did when she was obsessing over something. “We had a good morning. There's no need to assume that there's any connection at all.”
“Except that you look like him.”
Jake shook his head, giving her a pointed look. She knew he didn't want to discuss his family's secrets with anyone, but if the resemblance was that strong, then whoever Matt Devlin was, he was related to Jake's biological father, a man he still knew nothing about.
“As it happens, this is the anniversary of Devlin's death. If you'd chosen to give Ronnie a terrible shock, you could not have picked a better day.”
“Well, I didn't,” Jake said, getting defensive. “I don't have a choice in how I look, believe me. Or did you think the lingering bruise on the side of my face is one I wear like badge of pride or that I want to be dependent on glasses?”
“So it was at least a year ago that Devlin died,” Ellie said, nodding. “I... That's good, actually. They're not likely to be connected. I don't know. We'd still have to talk to—”
“No,” Jake said. “We are not asking him that. No matter what the answer is, he'll lie. That's the only card he has left to play, and he is the sorest loser I've ever met. Don't talk to him. At all. Ellie, promise me, and not the kind of promise you make and then go behind my back about.”
She frowned. “I don't—”
“We've been married too long for you to claim that. And you know that I'm right. I'd just have to mention one name as evidence.”
She winced. “Fine. I won't go behind your back, but I want to talk to Abby about the other part of it. I think it's worth knowing.”
“If Abby knows—”
“Just Abby. For now.”
“If you know something, I think it only right you share. I have a friend in that room, one lost in grief and blame—who deserves some measure of closure. You can't deny him that.”
Jake shook his head. “I'm not denying him anything. You were with the prosecutor's office. He's a cop. You can find out plenty without me saying a word, and you're going to look anyway to verify what I said. So do it. I won't stop you, but there are things I won't discuss.”
Ellie grimaced. She'd been wrong about the nausea. “You have a migraine, don't you?”
“I thought it was just the pain medication, but I'm seeing spots,” Jake admitted. “We should go.”
Ellie helped him to his feet. She turned to Steel. “For what it's worth, I'm sorry. I can't imagine what you and your friends are going through—well, I did almost lose Jake not that long ago, but I don't know—I wish there was a way to make it better, but Jake isn't Devlin, and we can't bring him back.”
Abby spun around in her office chair, rushing over to her phone. She should have closed up and gone home hours ago, but she had a few things to wrap up, leaving her bored while she waited for a test to finish. If this was for anyone on Gibbs' team, they'd be down here waiting with her, but since it was for one of the other teams, she was alone.
She tapped her fingers on the counter. Major Mass Spec was being unusually slow. She grimaced. This was taking too long. She would much rather be at home. Or maybe out with a friend. She did not want to be in her lab, much as she loved her lab.
The phone rang, and she rushed to answer it. “Gibbs. You're early, like way early. You don't even have a case. At least... not that I know of.”
Bishop laughed. “Actually, it's me, Abby. I was wondering if you still have access to—”
“I didn't finish,” Bishop said, confused. “You don't even know what I was about to ask.”
“True, but it doesn't matter because I have access to everything. Or almost everything. And since I have been keeping an eye out, digitally speaking, to make sure that our evidence in Jake's case stays safe and looking for the man that tortured him, I'm pretty sure I still have access to whatever you were about to ask me for,” Abby told her, grinning. She was no longer bored, not one bit. “Lay it on me. What do you need?”
“I need to look into a man named Matt Devlin,” Bishop answered. “I don't know much about him other than that he was a cop.”
Abby put the phone on speaker and turned to her computer, waking it up and pulling up a search screen that would get her where she needed to go. She typed Matt Devlin into the field and waited. “Okay, I've got lots of hits here—his name is on several cases as one of the investigating officers and—wait. There's a case on him.”
“That's what we want,” Bishop said. “His case.”
“You sound a little... off,” Abby said as she selected the file. “Is that the time difference or are you feeling sick or something?”
“I'm not sick, though the weather here is a little depressing. It keeps raining.”
Abby smiled, but when she looked at her monitor, that died. She swallowed, feeling sick herself. This couldn't be real. Even if the name wasn't the same, none of this could be real, right? It was a twisted joke somehow. “Bishop, have you looked into this at all? Have you tried to see this file?”
“Don't,” Abby said, wincing as she moved through the pictures. She'd seen her share of bad crime scenes before, but this wasn't a scene, it was a body. A body that looked almost exactly like her friend's husband. “I mean, just don't. Ever. Seeing Jake after we got him back was bad, but this...”
“Devlin looks exactly like Jake, right? I mean, I don't have to ask you that—I've got his picture in front of me. They could be twins. It's like... looking at pictures of Jake... dead. So, no, do not ever, ever open this file. Promise me that, okay? You do not need to see this. I wish I wasn't seeing this,” Abby said, trying to get away from the pictures of a dead Jake, but the file seemed to be full of them—ones from outside the courthouse and others from inside the hospital. “That is so... wrong.”
“I'm sorry,” Bishop said. “I didn't know what that file would have in it, but I should have warned you about the resemblance. Jake and I apparently met some people who used to work with Devlin. It... was pretty bad for everyone.”
“I bet,” Abby said, turning to the phone instead of facing the pictures. “Bishop, this is horrible. Like—I know there are worse ways to die—Devlin's was pretty straight forward—he was shot, twice, but with him looking so much like Jake and after what Jake just went through...”
“I know,” Bishop said. “I was—a part of me is worried Devlin's death somehow connects to Charlie and that if it did, if he died because Charlie wanted to hurt Jake, Jake won't ever forgive himself. And if not, then there could be someone out there who wants to hurt Jake for a completely different reason, and he's already been hurt enough.”
Abby bit her lip. “How is he?”
“I just got him settled in to try and sleep off a migraine.”
“Ouch. How bad?”
“Not day before our wedding bad. I'm still hoping that I won't have to take him into the emergency room,” Bishop said, sighing. “I knew it was probably going to happen, with all the stress he's under, after he was tortured, going back to work too soon, and then this thing with him looking like Devlin—I think he had a panic attack and a flashback earlier, not that he'll talk about that.”
Abby winced. It was bad. She turned back to the computer. “According to this, they found Devlin's killer. He's already been tried and sentenced. I don't think you have to worry about that, though we might need to look into this guy's connections just to be totally, absolutely safe because we are not letting anything happen to Jake again.”
“You're all so protective of him,” Bishop said. “It's so...”
“Strange. I mean, it's not that I don't love him, but I just... the way you've all accepted him, even after he left and what happened—”
“Jake is not to blame for being tortured,” Abby said. She frowned. “I don't know, Ellie. It's not like we had any real reason to think he was a bad guy before. We just didn't know him. And I think that Tony and McGee are a little jealous about how he gets along with Gibbs—the relationship is different. Gibbs isn't Jake's boss. So they don't have that bit of awkward social limbo that comes with being friends with your boss. Like, none of us are all that close to Vance, and him being at a party is kind of awkward even though his kids are adorable. Jake just... bypasses that by not working at NCIS. And we were all kind of... upset with him for leaving, but it's not like he betrayed you. Even if he had, he more than paid for it by getting kidnapped. Oh, and we totally found out that he covered for you with Parsa and that counts for something, too. Besides, you two are adorable, and I'm glad you're working things out. Some people don't, and it's sad. Your marriage isn't too far gone. You're still fighting. It's... beautiful.”
“No problem. Now, I'm going to start on this search for our bad guy's friends—”
“One more thing,” Bishop said, and Abby looked back at the phone, frowning. “I shouldn't ask, but it's going to drive all of us crazy, and really, it's better if it's the simplest solution, even if it will hit Jake pretty hard—I don't know. Maybe I shouldn't—”
“You want me to check Jake's DNA against Devlin's and see if they're related?”
“Yes. No. I don't know.” Bishop sighed. “On the one hand, I want to know, and it's going to drive me crazy if I don't. On the other... Jake's been through a lot lately and finding out he had a brother who died before he knew him...”
Abby needed a caff-pow. “You think Devlin is his brother? Does that mean... Jake was adopted?”
“No, he wasn't,” Bishop answered. “I—I suppose they could be cousins, right? There could be that much resemblance between cousins, especially since Jake doesn't look anything like his mother.”
“They might not be related at all, which would make the resemblance very hinky,” Abby said. Then she folded her arms over her chest. “You said brother. And he's not adopted. You think they gave away his brother? Why would anyone do that? Or are you thinking there was a hospital mix up or—”
“Jake's mom had an affair,” Bishop interrupted. “She never told him anything about his biological father, not in over thirty years, so it's very possible that Jake has a lot of family he knows nothing about. Just... Don't tell anyone about this. Please. Jake really doesn't like to talk about... that.”
Abby nodded. She didn't have to say anything to anyone. It didn't change who Jake was. He was still Ellie's husband, still a good guy, and that was what mattered. “I won't, but I will run the test because I'm curious now, too.”
“Don't tell anyone about Devlin, either.”
“I'm all right now, love, really,” Ronnie said, holding onto his cup and closing his eyes as he hunched over it. Clearly he wasn't, none of them were, though James thought that of any of them he was perhaps the most composed. He didn't want to speculate on what might be going through Alesha's mind, though she was more reserved about her grief than Ronnie was.
“No, you're not,” Alesha muttered, sitting down across from him. “I'm not.”
James sat down in the other chair. “I'm afraid I was unable to learn much. Malloy told me that only that he is American and that his fingers were broken, both facts that we already knew, though he did offer slightly more detail. His mother's family is well-established, and his attacker is apparently behind bars.”
“Is it possible there's some kind of connection between him and what happened to Matt?”
“I can't discount that possibility, though he argued against it,” James said. “It is a remarkable coincidence—”
“Since when do you believe in coincidences, James?” Alesha asked, folding her arms over her chest. “I'm sorry. It's just—today. We meet him today, a man who looks exactly like Matt—”
“With broken fingers, bruises, and a pair of specs Matty'd never admit to needing,” Ronnie added, shaking his head. He still seemed rather lost, even if he had regained a considerable amount of his composure since Malloy left.
“Okay, so not exactly like Matt, but enough to where we all recognized him despite the bruising,” Alesha said. She shook her head. “There has to be some explanation. A resemblance that close—though why would anyone want to fake such a thing?”
“Who said he was faking?” James asked with a frown. He'd gotten no sense that Malloy had in any way attempted to increase his resemblance to Devlin. He knew more than he was saying, not just about his injuries but also about any possible connection to Devlin, but he had not artificially created the resemblance. “I don't see the point. What would it gain a random American to impersonate your friend? He did not know you would be here to see it. The odds against you being in the room when he met his wife are near astronomical.”
“Just feels wrong,” Alesha said. Ronnie didn't look up from his cup, and James told himself that he would call Chandler now. Though Ronnie could investigate himself, he seemed too shell-shocked for that, and someone had to get more information on Malloy for all their sakes.
“Perhaps you should take Ronnie home,” James suggested. “Tomorrow will shed a different light on what happened today.”
“Tell me about your family.”
Jake frowned. “I thought... you wanted... to know about the... Moving Finger. Not... family.”
Laughter made him jerk away, pulling too much against the pipe and spreading pain through his already aching hand and down his arms. He choked down on the nastiness trying to come up his throat. He did not want to be sick. Not now. Not again. Not when his tormenter would enjoy it.
That thought made him sick, and he couldn't stop the gag reflex. He threw up next to the pipe, groaning. Now he was trapped beside that, and he would end up doing that again, even if there wasn't anything in his stomach.
“That was unfortunate.”
Jake didn't bother acknowledging that.
“If you think this has earned you a respite, you are sadly mistaken,” the other man said, pushing Jake's head down toward the mess and holding it there. “We are going to discuss your family.”
Jake shuddered, not wanting to breathe. “Why?”
He felt the knife against his side, cutting through what was left of his shirt, pressing down and drawing blood. “Your mistake, Malloy, is that you think I have to have a reason to do any of this.”
Jake jerked awake, shaking and gagging as he did. He tried to steady himself and put his hand down on the bed only to remember with the pain that his fingers were broken. He heard himself whimper, and he pulled his hand back, cradling it against his chest as he struggled to calm down. He refused to puke. He'd already humiliated himself enough.
Ellie's voice made him jump, and he hit the table next to the bed with his thigh, setting off one of the worst of the cuts, one that had needed stitches.
“Damn it.” He couldn't get his body under control, and everything hurt. He had been afraid of that, of the nightmares that would come when he fell asleep, but he'd been so miserable with the migraine he hadn't even thought about what would happen trying to sleep it off.
She came over to his side, sitting down next to him. She hesitated and then touched his back first, light and gentle. He tensed, but it didn't make anything worse, not this time. She started moving her hand in small circles, and he leaned into her shoulder, closing his eyes.
“I'm here,” she said. “You're free. You're safe.”
He sighed. “I feel sick.”
“Do you want your medication?”
He shook his head. Everything hurt, but he didn't want the pills. If he tried to eat or drink anything now, he'd vomit, and he didn't want to throw up again.
“Is there anything you need?”
“The last month not to have happened?” Jake asked, shaking his head. “I don't even know... He already hated me, so it's not like I brought this all on myself by taking the job here, but a part of me feels like I should never have left the states. There's another part of me that says I had to, but I don't... Could he have killed Devlin because of me? I want to believe that he knew me well enough to know the difference, but he wasn't the one that did this to me. He hired someone to do it, and that man's could still be out there. I've been telling myself he's dead, but if he isn't...”
“You're not alone this time,” Ellie said. “We won't let him take you again.”
“You don't know that you can stop him. We have no idea what his name is. And if it was Charlie, if he had Devlin killed—”
“Devlin's killer has been tried and sentenced,” Ellie told him. “It's not your fault. It isn't. You didn't even know him.”
“But I could have,” Jake said, lifting his head to look at her, even though she was blurry without his glasses. “If my mother had ever told me who my father was...”
The investigation into Jake's connection to Matt Devlin continues.
I find Chandler a hard character to write for. I had a scene in mind for her, but it comes later in the story, and that seems easy, since I've replayed it in my head a few times, but I didn't think this chapter would be that hard to write, either.
“I want everything you can get on a Jake Malloy. American, recently moved to London.”
“Excuse me?” Natalie asked, looking up from her desk. “I don't know if you realize this, but even when you were in CPS, you were not my boss. You don't give me orders, Mr. Steel, and I'm not inclined to take this one.”
Steel grimaced, almost looking apologetic as he sat down across from her. She gave him a look for the cheek—he certainly hadn't asked to sit, and she hadn't forgotten how quick he'd been to accuse her department of mishandling the evidence in the Dillon case.
“I am sorry,” he said. “I think if you'd been there, you would have understood my urgency and my tone. I know this anniversary is difficult enough for you—all of you—but I'm worried about Ronnie. After what happened earlier—”
“Back up,” she said, hoping that she was wrong about what she'd just thought. Ronnie was a good man, but he had his demons. She just hoped that the anniversary of Devlin's death hadn't gotten him in trouble with them. “What happened earlier?”
“It's to do with Malloy,” Steel said. “Man looks exactly like Devlin.”
“Not at all. I saw him, Alesha did, and Ronnie as well. He is a coworker of mine, though we'd never met before today and I did not connect the resemblance. He talks like an American. Not sure where he's from, but I think we are obligated to find out.”
Natalie nodded. “It would be best to put Ronnie's mind at ease, especially if the resemblance is that strong. Ronnie took Matt's death hard.”
“So I'd heard,” Steel agreed. “I wasn't there, of course, but I would expect no less. They were quite a team. I was always glad they were on our side, though I suppose they would argue that wasn't always true.”
“I think you might be safe to say Devlin held a bit of a grudge for the way you took him apart during that stalker case.”
“I had to discredit him. I didn't relish it, but if I hadn't, we'd not only have lost and let that woman's killer go free, but Ronnie would have faced criminal charges for influencing the investigation. I did what I had to.”
Natalie chose not to comment. Steel had been accused of doing whatever it took to win, and he did, more often than not, though he didn't cross the line that Dillon's lawyer claimed he did. “What do you know about Malloy?”
“Not much. He is a lawyer. He worked for the NSA. He's married. No mention of kids. He was also recently injured. One of his hands was in a cast and two fingers on his other hand were broken. Part of his face was bruised, though that was fading. He might even have been suffering from post-traumatic stress.”
Natalie nodded, taking the information in before she decided what she was going to do with it. “And Ronnie?”
“He had come back to himself when I left,” Steel said, and Natalie frowned. “When he first saw Malloy, I think he went back to the day he lost his partner. Malloy's injuries made him think he needed to help Devlin, and he was rather inconsolable, but after I got back from speaking with Malloy, he was much calmer. He insisted he was fine.”
“I very much doubt that,” Natalie said. If they had seen someone who looked like Matt, Ronnie was going to be a mess. He might even be drinking. “Alesha still with him?”
“She said she'd see him home.” Steel shook his head. “I should have done it. She was upset as well, but I felt that we all needed answers. I got the sense that Malloy had some, but he and his wife were both unwilling to share.”
Natalie shook her head. “You said yourself he might have post-traumatic stress, and he's injured. He might not want to discuss either of those things. Doesn't make him guilty of anything—exactly what is it you suspect him of?”
“I'm afraid he may only be guilty of looking like a man we all knew and miss, which is far from a crime, but until we know how and why that is possible, I don't think any of us will be able to rest. We all want answers, and I don't know that we will get any from Malloy.”
“Even if we did, we'd want our own confirmation,” Natalie said. “I'll get on it.”
“You feeling any better?” Ellie asked, not wanting to move and disturb Jake. He hadn't said anything for what felt like an hour, at least, not since he spoke of his mother's silence. She didn't know how to help with this, just like she couldn't help with the torture he'd been through or the memories. She'd be more worried if he did let her help more, if he'd was just lying still in bed, not forcing himself out and to work. Still, he didn't need the stress of this lookalike dragging up more trauma from his past.
“I think the migraine is finally gone,” Jake said. “I'm afraid to move and test that theory, though.”
“You don't have to,” she said, combing her fingers through his hair. “I kind of like having you here in my arms.”
He snorted. “You've been fidgeting for a while now. Either you're hungry, or you have another reason for needing to get up.”
She shook her head. “Not a good one. I... I wanted to call Abby again, see if she found anything.”
Jake swallowed, looking sick. “I know I said it before, and it's not like we don't know that it's a strong possibility. My mother did have an affair. She admitted it. Well, she didn't have much of a choice. I was still young when I found out about it. My grandfather didn't care about my age. He was not shy about telling me just what a mistake I was or that my mother had made.”
“Your mother made a choice,” Ellie said. “Maybe it was a wrong one—we don't know why she chose to have an affair—but whatever her reasons, she ended up with you. And I will never believe that was a mistake because I love you. As much as we have had problems and it's been hard to make everything work, I want you in my life. I'm glad she had you.”
He forced a smile. “I don't deserve you.”
“I think your problem is that your grandfather almost had you convinced that you don't deserve anything,” Ellie said. She sighed. “He was wrong. No matter what choice your mother made, you didn't need to be punished for that.”
“I don't know. Sometimes I think the only reason he didn't disinherit her is because she told him it wasn't a choice.”
Ellie frowned. Jake had never said that before, and she didn't know what to think. “Even if that was true—and don't assume that's why she never spoke of your father—that isn't something to blame yourself for. And it doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the family you may have found. You don't know anything about them.”
Jake nodded. “I... There is this voice in my head telling me to ask my mother about it, but I don't want to. I know Abby is running a test, and I'm fine with that. Not with talking to my own mother. I don't... I feel like such a coward.”
“It's not cowardice,” Ellie said, her fingers going back to his hair. She didn't know if it was as soothing for him as it was for her, but she found it relaxing. “Abby deals in scientific facts—and the occasional wild theory—so anything she says can be verified. Your mother hasn't ever given you a direct answer. What did you say she told you when you asked?”
Jake closed his eyes. “That... people didn't talk about those things. That I didn't need the sordid details. That it wasn't important. That I was still her son. That I had a father who cared about me. I didn't need anyone else.”
“You and Jonathon are close, though. What if you had another brother?”
“She said I had all the family I needed.”
“No,” Ellie disagreed, and he looked at her. “Because if that was true, neither of us would need Gibbs or Tony or McGee or Abby or Ducky. We both gained family when I joined NCIS, and we needed them. We didn't know we did. I love my own family. Mom, Dad, my brothers. And I still do. That hasn't stopped, but I count NCIS as family, too. Don't forget that we are family, too. Day I married you, you became family. You didn't have me growing up.”
He almost took her hand and stopped himself before he could hurt his fingers. “I'm actually glad I didn't. You wouldn't have liked the kid I was.”
“Are you kidding? I bet you were adorable.”
“Try sullen and withdrawn,” Jake said. “On my better days. You don't want to know what my grandfather had to say about the way I was.”
“He was wrong.” Ellie leaned over and kissed Jake's cheek. “About all of it.”
She wanted to wrap her arms around him, but he was still healing so she couldn't. She wanted to show him how she felt, wanted to help him. She missed being close to him the way they had been before things got bad. Even when she was unable to talk to him, he had held her, and it was better. She'd do the same for him, but she couldn't.
“We could call Abby now if you want.”
Jake nodded, starting to get up. “It's not like either of us is going to get anything done until we know, right? One crisis at a time. I keep trying to tell myself that, but it hasn't work so far.”
“Because there is always more than one crisis,” Ellie agreed. She kissed him again before getting up. “The migraine gone enough for food? We haven't tested my theory about finger food yet.”
“Eating is still a bad idea. The medication...”
“Still bothering you?”
Abby tapped her fingers on her desk, biting her lip. She wanted to make this call. She should. It was important. Jake deserved to know what she'd found, and she had tons of questions. Too many. She was almost bursting with them. Ever since Bishop admitted that Jake's mom had an affair, Abby had been curious. She wanted to know all about that—not that she needed all the details, but it was just so fascinating, mostly because they still knew very little about Jake. He talked more when he was doing the sort of double date thing, and Abby still thought he was adorable, but she would never have guessed about him being adopted until she saw the photos of Devlin.
Only he wasn't adopted. He was the product of an affair, which was so much more complicated. Did Jake's mom still talk to his dad? Did his dad know anything about him? Would he want to?
Her phone rang, and she jerked, pushing the button out of reflex. “Still early, Gibbs.”
“And still not Gibbs,” Bishop said, sounding amused. “It's me. I was hoping you had results for us by now.”
“Us?” Abby asked, looking at the speaker button and frowning.
“I'm here, too, Abby,” Jake said, and she tried to smile for him even if he couldn't see it.
“Good to hear from you,” Abby told him because it was. She'd been worried about him after Bishop said he was down with a migraine. “You feeling okay? Not too bad? I keep remembering how you looked in the hospital and then I saw that file and—”
“Okay,” Abby said. She took a deep breath. “Well, I do have some results.”
“And?” Bishop prompted, sounding worried.
“And I feel like I should do this in person. Or on a video chat. You want to start one up? Because I think this would be better if it wasn't done on the phone. It's not something to just blurt out. If you were here, you'd be down in my lab. Maybe I'd have decorated it. Or not.”
“We don't need decorations,” Jake said. “Just answers.”
“Are you sure that you don't want a video—?”
“No, we don't,” Bishop said. “It's not that we don't want to see you again, but Jake finds it easier not to wear a shirt unless we're going out and—”
“Really?” Abby asked, wondering if Jake looked as good as Devlin did without a shirt. He might have been dead, but the guy still had a body. A nice one. She shouldn't notice that because she'd been looking at photos of a dead man and because he'd been shot and because he looked like Bishop's husband, but Abby was human. She might have been curious about Jake first. She grimaced.
“I cannot believe you just told her that, Ellie.”
“I was being honest,” Bishop said. “I'm sorry. I didn't mean to embarrass you. I kind of like it that you don't wear shirts these days.”
“Why?” Jake asked, and Abby had to wonder why he'd need to question that. “It's a sign of failure. Because of my hands, sleeves are an issue and so are buttons. I can't deal with them on my own half the time. And the scars—”
“Do not make me love you any less, Jake.”
Abby bit her lip, not wanting to interrupt that at all. They needed this, especially if Jake thought Ellie didn't like him without clothes anymore. Still, when the silence stretched on, she ended up clearing her throat. “Um, so...”
“Right,” Bishop said, a little flustered. “The results. You did say you had them.”
“I do,” Abby agreed. She took a breath. “I would have done this with a bit more... fanfare or at least with a reveal on the computer—”
“We don't need fanfare,” Jake told her. “Just the results. Please.”
Abby nodded. “I wish there was a better way to say this. I don't know how you'll react to this. On the one hand, it's kind of big and huge and almost worth celebrating, but on the other... it's not. It's sad, actually. Like... tragic sad.”
“Then... we are related,” Jake finished. “Were related.”
“Yes,” Abby said. “Your results are so close you could be twins.”
“You're not actually saying that they were twins, are you?” Bishop asked. “That's not actually possible, is it?”
“My mother kept me. She would not have given away my twin.”
Abby winced, again. “I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said it like that. You are definitely related. No doubt about it. It's not just the resemblance. It's the DNA. You share a father, and his genes must be dominant because you did not have the same mother.”
“That's... that's kind of what I figured those tests would say.”
“Are you okay, Jake?” Abby asked, frowning. “Should I not have told you? I mean, you kind of knew, but I... I can't imagine what it must feel like to find out that you have a brother but you never got to know him because he's dead.”
“I don't—I don't know how I feel. Honestly,” Jake told her. “It's too soon.”
She couldn't blame him for that. She wouldn't know what to think or feel about it, either. Having a brother but losing him without ever meeting him? That was hard. She wished she could be there to hug Jake, but she couldn't. She grabbed Bert and gave the hippo a squeeze for Bishop and Jake. Bishop laughed.
“There is something else,” Abby began. She grimaced, but said it anyway because they deserved to know. “I dug deeper than the test. I know, I know, it sounds bad, but I wanted to be sure that there was no connection between Devlin's death and Charlie Banks.”
“—And I found out that Devlin died before Charlie ever set foot in England. They never crossed paths. There's no indication that he knew anything about your brother. And your brother's killer has already been tried and convicted, so there's not much of a threat of him being after you, but I am still checking his communications with the outside world to be sure.”
“Jake, none of us want what happened to happen again,” Abby said. “We couldn't catch one of them, remember? It is so eating at Gibbs that the guy that tortured you got away even if we got the guy who hired him to do it. And now I find out you not only have a half-brother but that he was murdered? I couldn't just leave it at that. I had to know that his killer wouldn't go after you for any reason.”
“And we appreciate it, Abby. More than you know. Jake's just... trying to come to terms with all of this. We... We'll call you later, okay?”
“Okay. Be safe. Very, very safe.”
“What do you mean, you can't tell me anything? Is this man involved in an investigation or not?” Natalie demanded, getting frustrated. She'd think she was dealing with the foreign agencies she still needed to call, not her own, with the way she was being treated. She had gotten more cooperation out of drug dealers accused of murder than people doing the same bloody job she was.
“All I can tell you is that I can't tell you anything.”
“You can do a hell of a lot better than that,” Natalie snapped, but before she got done saying it, the other inspector had hung up. Shaking her head, she considered throwing something, making a mess of her desk, anything to outlet her anger, but in the end, that didn't solve anything. She pressed the button, hanging up her phone, and then checked for the dial tone before making another call.
“Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Where can I direct your call?”
“I'm looking for an Agent Bishop. Is she available?”
“No, ma'am. Agent Bishop isn't here today.”
Natalie thought about that for a moment. It wasn't likely she'd get any contact information out of the secretary, so she wouldn't bother wasting more time. “Is there another agent available that I could speak to?”
“One moment,” the receptionist said, and Natalie waited. The line clicked and another voice came on a second later.
“Adams. How can I help you?”
“I need information,” Natalie said. “I'm Detective Inspector Natalie Chandler with MIU Bow street. Something has come up in one of our cases that may have ties to your agency.”
“I wasn't aware of anything, but then I've just gotten back from leave myself. What do you need to know?”
“It involves a man named Jake Malloy. It would seem he has a possible connection to a murder victim of ours.”
Adams sighed. “What is this? A test? Turf war? Another set of actors pretending to be something they're not?”
“I can assure you that my credentials are real,” Natalie said, though her mind was on the other woman's words. Actors. Was it possible that was what Malloy and his wife were? Was the resemblance to Devlin artificial? “Though now you've got me more curious than I was before.”
“You'll forgive me if I don't take your word on that. Last time I started looking into false agents, my partner was murdered, and I almost ended up dead myself. I don't think I can help you. Not with this. Not with anything to do with Malloy. Talk to your own people about him. We're—”
“My own people, as you call them, have refused to confirm or deny anything. One of my detectives was shot and killed, and I want to know what the hell Malloy had to do with it. I think you can understand how I feel.”
“If that's true, then yes, I can,” Adams agreed. “That doesn't mean I'm going to help you without a lot of proof. And in the end, you won't be dealing with me. You'll have to face Gibbs. Good luck with that, by the way. He's going to be pissed. Again.”
“Excuse me?” Natalie asked, but the other woman had already ended the call.
Gibbs closed his phone, replaying his conversation with Adams. He didn't like this, but then again, he hadn't liked much since they left Malloy behind in London. The man shouldn't be alone, and Bishop—while on her way to becoming a first rate agent—was not enough. She was too close to the situation, to her husband. She could easily be blinded by sentiment.
Now it looked like Malloy was in trouble again.
Gibbs shook his head, going into Abby's lab. “You still monitoring the situation in London? Keeping tabs on anyone who might be looking for Malloy? Making sure that if his attacker shows himself, we catch him?”
She jerked in her chair, looking back at him. “Gibbs. I—Yes, I am. I have been keeping an eye on everything. I think McGee has, too, though I haven't actually asked him. So far, nada. Not one hit has tripped my wires, and I've been double and triple checking them.”
“Then what the hell is that?” Gibbs demanded, pointing to her computer screen. He'd seen Malloy when they found him and again after surgery. In those photos, though, he looked dead. Two bullets to the chest.
She jumped up, moving the mouse and closing the window before facing him. “Not what you think. I know that looked really, really bad, but that wasn't Jake. It wasn't.”
Gibbs folded his arms over his chest. “It looked too much damn like him for you to try and pawn that one off on me, Abs.”
“It's not Jake, I swear,” she said, giving him that look of hers. She wasn't lying, though after the pictures, that was hard to believe. “And it's not some kind of sick prank, either. That... was Jake's half-brother.”
“What?” Gibbs asked, frowning. He'd seen Malloy's family photos. His brother—hell, the whole damn family—looked nothing like him. “That's not his brother.”
“Yes, it is,” Abby insisted. “I tested their DNA myself. That was Jake's half-brother. Same father, different mothers.”
Gibbs didn't bother to ask her if she was sure. She was. She was good at what she did, and if she'd done the test, it was done right. That man was who she said he was. She pulled the image back up on the computer screen. Now that it was back, Gibbs could see that Malloy's recent scars were missing. Devlin had other ones, ones Malloy didn't share.
“This is Matt Devlin,” Abby told him. “He was a cop, killed in the line of duty.”
She nodded. “It's sad, right? So awful. I'm glad Ellie asked me to look at the file instead of doing it herself. It would have been horrible for her. I thought Jake was dead when I first opened the file and saw the photos.”
“Who killed Devlin?”
“Drug dealer,” Abby answered. “They already tried and convicted him. He's serving life in prison. No death penalty there. I've been looking into his known associates to make sure that he won't go after Jake if he learns about him—”
“If he learns about him?”
Abby winced. “Gibbs, Jake just found out about Devlin. He and Ellie met some people who knew Devlin, thought Jake was him, I think. She said it was bad, and not just for them. She asked me to do the test. If Jake had already known about his brother, he wouldn't have asked. It doesn't sound like anyone knew about Jake just like Jake didn't know about Devlin.”
“Others could have known even if Malloy didn't.”
“Well, from what Bishop and Jake said, his mother might have, but that doesn't mean anyone else did,” Abby said. Then her eyes got wide. “I was not supposed to tell you that.”
Gibbs grunted. She shouldn't have kept this from him, and she knew it.
“Bishop asked me not to,” Abby said. “She said... Jake doesn't like to talk about his mother's affair. Or about Devlin, since we didn't know for sure they were related.”
“You know better than that.”
“I do,” she agreed. She bit her lip and then let it go. “But since you are here and you already know about the file on Devlin...”
“What is it, Abs?”
“I've been looking at it. A lot,” she said. “I've been trying to find anyone connected to Devlin's death and make sure they couldn't go after Jake, but in doing that, I think I found something... hinky. I was going to ask Ducky—well, I wanted to, but I promised Ellie, so I haven't—but something is wrong here. With the file.”
Gibbs looked at her. “What are you saying? They get the wrong guy?”
“No. Well, I don't know.”
Jake decides to learn more about Matt Devlin.
Have to throw in another disclaimer about not really knowing anything about medicine, just in case.
I got to the scene with Chandler I'd had in mind for a while. It did not go as planned, which is typical. Though it was not as hard as Ronnie's scene. *shakes head*
“That all of them?” Natalie asked, leaning over Angie's desk until the video finished. Still nothing. All these cameras, and yet not a one of them had caught the person they were looking for. She didn't understand how that always seemed to happen. She should have a face to go with her burglaries, and she wanted one before there was another death.
“So far,” Angie answered. “I've still got the private security footage to go through.”
“Do it,” Natalie told her. She had faith the young woman would come through for them again. She always seemed to in the past, and this was no different.
“Excuse me,” a man began, his voice out of place in this room with its obvious American inflection. “I'm looking for Ronnie Brooks.”
She turned and stopped still as she faced the man who'd spoken. She didn't believe her eyes, though she wasn't the only one struggling with that at the moment. The whole room had gone silent. No papers shuffling, no fingers hitting computer keys, even a collective holding of breath.
“Good God. They said you looked like him, but that is an understatement,” Natalie said, staring despite herself. Yes, she could see the differences, the injuries that Steel had mentioned, but it was still like looking at Matt Devlin alive and in the flesh.
“I'm sorry,” he said with a grimace. “I should have called, given you some warning—”
“Wouldn't have been enough, I'm afraid,” she told him. “This is... impossible.”
“It actually isn't,” he disagreed. “Still, I should have called. It was kind of... an impulse. And I'm sorry. Again. My manners are awful. I can't shake your hand, but I'm Jake Malloy. I take it you worked with Matt Devlin.”
“Yes,” Natalie agreed, still struggling to cope with the resemblance. No wonder Ronnie had been a mess and even Steel was shaken. “Yes, I supervised Matt and Ronnie. He was a good detective. One of my best.”
Malloy nodded. “I shouldn't have come, didn't think through the implications of walking into where he must have worked. This was just the only place I knew to ask about Brooks, and I wanted to apologize for upsetting him so much as well as ask him some questions if he was willing and able to talk. It's not—I'm afraid it was more than awkward for all of us. He startled me as much as I did him.”
“I imagine it wasn't easy hearing you looked exactly like a dead man.”
“Not really, no,” Malloy answered, managing a small shrug before turning to the doorway like he was expecting someone. Sure enough, a woman came in, making her way to his side. He seemed to relax some when she reached him.
“Parking was more complicated than I thought,” she told him. “You were right. We should have gone in together, even if I didn't want you walking that far.”
“Ellie, it's not my legs that are the problem,” Malloy said, and she nodded, reaching for his unbroken fingers. “I don't think Brooks is here, but I managed to give the room a show.”
She grimaced. “I suppose you did. We should have called.”
“I changed my mind at the last second. We weren't going to come at all,” Malloy said. He turned back to Natalie. “Sorry. This is my wife, Ellie. Ellie, this was Devlin's supervisor. I'm afraid I didn't get the name.”
“Natalie Chandler,” she said, shaking the other woman's hand.
“We can't tell you how sorry we are,” Ellie said, shaking her head. “We had a scare not that long ago, almost lost Jake, and that still doesn't compare with how you must feel. Coming here was not supposed to make it worse.”
“I'm afraid you did give us all a bit of a shock, even if I had heard from James Steel that he met you both,” Natalie said. “Still can't get over it or explain it. Matt's other siblings don't look half as much like him as you do.”
Malloy swallowed. “He... had other siblings?”
“We didn't even think to ask that,” his wife said, wincing. “Um... is there somewhere we can talk in private?”
“Goodness,” Ducky said, staring at the picture in shock. “This is—”
“Not Jake,” Abigail assured him quickly. “Very, very not Jake. I just talked to him earlier, and the pictures are from a year ago, plus I tested the DNA.”
“And this man has a different mother.”
She frowned, putting her hands on her hips. “Who told you? Someone told you, didn't they?”
“Elanor admitted that particular truth of Jakob's parentage while we were still searching for him. She said it was not one he wished to speak of, but as it was clear that you are aware of that and that Jethro is now, as well, it did not seem that I need keep my silence on the matter any longer,” Ducky told her. “Still, it is quite startling. I would believe I was looking at Jakob himself in these pictures.”
“Yeah,” Abigail agreed. “I thought I was going to be sick or cry or both when I first saw them, and then I had to tell Jake and Ellie that it was his brother. Which is still so sad because he died before Jake ever met him. So wrong.”
“Indeed, it is quite tragic,” Ducky said, shaking his head as he examined the photograph. “Well, at first glance, I agree with the cause of death. Those bullets could well have been fatal.”
“Could have been, Duck?” Jethro asked, coming closer to the computer.
“You know how I refuse to commit to a cause of death until I've completed my examination,” Ducky reminded him. He shook his head, turning to another picture, then a third. He frowned. “Are there no other photographs included with this examination?”
“None,” Abigail answered. “That was one of the reasons it seemed a little off to me. We usually have multiple angles, close ups and stuff. This seems to be the same picture every time. I know he was shot, and they confirmed the rifling on the bullet to the gun, but while I have photographs of the bullet, there's only the three of him. Some of the scene, and I know that it was different with him than it was the constable that was hit in the same gunfire, but when I looked that case up, they took more photos. They've got the abrasions on his hands from where he hit the stone when he fell—there's more photographs, period, and that guy survived being shot. It's hinky. I don't like it.”
“Admittedly, this does seem to be a very obvious case—two bullets, the cause of death right in our faces. However, I would have expected documentation of the care done by the emergency personnel at the very least. One would have thought they'd see fit to distinguish that from the cause of death. Let us see here...”
“Maybe they just misfiled the pictures, right?” Abigail asked, turning to Jethro. “He was one of their own—they wouldn't be sloppy with his autopsy.”
“What do you think?” Jethro asked, directing that question to Ducky.
“I think that I need Jakob's file,” Ducky answered, going to the computer and accessing the medical records with another frown. “Oh, dear.”
“What, Ducky? What is it? Don't tell me I was wrong about telling Jake that this was his brother. DNA said he was. It was so close they could have been twins. Almost. It seems like the father's genes were very dominant in both of them. They have only a couple of differences in the entire sequence owing to their respective mothers.”
“And I am not questioning that,” Ducky said. “I am concerned about the numbers reported as weights for his organs.”
“They are almost too standard. The exact number one would expect when looking up the average size of that organ in a man of Devlin's height and weight. I wanted to see if Jakob's surgical report tallied with that, since I remembered the wound in his side that nearly caused him to bleed out. If that had been a fraction higher or his lungs slightly larger, it would have punctured one and we likely would have lost him.”
“Putting Jake's lungs as slightly smaller than average,” Abigail said. “Right?”
“Yes. One would expect the same of his brother, since they match up in height and weight and even muscle mass according to everything else.”
“What does that mean?”
Ducky shook his head. “I am not certain it means anything at all, though it is admittedly interesting. I believe it all merits further study.”
“Do it on the plane, Duck.”
“After Steel told me about you, I tried to look you up,” Chandler said as she sat down behind her desk. “They weren't very forthcoming.”
Jake nodded as he took one of the chairs, letting Ellie have the other. The thing was far from comfortable, and he felt his ribs more than he had for the past couple days. This was worse than he'd thought it would be, but then he'd figured on going to work until just before they got there. He shouldn't be here, but then the firm had told him he didn't need to be there, either, and knowing about his half-brother was kind of making him insane.
And there were others. Damn it. This was not good.
“I can see why they wouldn't be,” Jake admitted, still trying to find a way to sit that wouldn't irritate his ribs as much. “The jurisdiction is a problem, as would be the different agencies vying for control and the international implications, so many foreign agencies... The thing is a mess.”
Chandler rubbed her forehead. “I almost don't want to ask, but I need to know, and not just for my own peace of mind. What the hell happened to you? Does it have anything to do with Matt's death?”
“As far as we know, it doesn't. Jake was... abducted and tortured, but that was after Devlin was already dead and his killer locked away, plus Jake knew the man behind the attack on him. He's currently awaiting trial,” Ellie explained. “My team wasn't able to find any connections between the two except the resemblance.”
“Another thing which needs an explanation,” Chandler said. “Do you have family here? Steel didn't mention any, but that doesn't mean there isn't. As I understand it, Devlin had some up in Ireland though they weren't as close to him as the ones here.”
Jake swallowed, feeling a little sick and not sure it was only the medication causing it. “I may have family here. That was one of the things that I wanted to ask Brooks about, to see about the connection. I figured with as close as they were, he'd be in a better position to know than some of the others.”
“Indeed, I think Ronnie knew him best of all of us, but it will not be easy for him to see you again,” Chandler said. “I'm still staring, and I was warned in advance.”
“It's strange for us, too,” Ellie said. “If you think that it would be better if we didn't pursue this, we don't have to speak to Brooks—”
“We all need answers,” Chandler said. “I would like to know how this happened, and I know I'm not the only one. Devlin was a good man. He didn't deserve to die like that. We're all still feeling his loss, and along you come, looking like him...”
Jake felt Ellie's hand on his arm, and he sighed. As much as he didn't want to discuss this, he couldn't justify the pain everyone else was in to cover his shame and the words of his grandfather echoing in his head. He nodded, taking a breath before facing Chandler again.
“Devlin was my half-brother. I didn't know he was before I met Brooks and his friends, but Ellie's team includes a forensic expert who did the DNA test,” Jake said, looking down at his hands as he finished.
“My word. You're certain?”
Ellie nodded. “Abby's very good at what she does, and we can let your expert do the same test if you like, but we're certain. Jake's father and Devlin's father were the same man.”
Chandler put her hand to her mouth, some thought warring in her mind as she sat there. Lowering her hand, she nodded. “It's probably best if you can talk to Ronnie or even Alesha before you see Matt's family. I don't know much of the details myself, but Devlin was closer to them. They'll know things I don't.”
Jake didn't like the sound of that. “What did my father—biological father—do that is so horrible? I know seeing me would be a shock for Devlin's siblings, but it's already upset the others, so why force them through it again unless—”
“There's Ronnie. Excuse me a minute.”
Ronnie knew he was late. He had gone to the first meeting he could find after night shifted to morning, since he wasn't sleeping and wanted a drink. He wanted to lose another decade to cheap whiskey, only this wasn't the eighties and he knew better this time around. He knew it wasn't worth it. What he'd done then had almost cost him everything, and he was fortunate that Sarah was willing to talk to him now. She didn't have to forgive him.
One meeting had become two, and even now he felt like he should have gone in for a third, still seeing Matt's bloodied body in front of him, the horrible way he'd gasped for air as blood came out his lips, not able to ask for help. Even if he had, Ronnie hadn't been able to give it.
He stopped against the wall. It was wrong. All wrong. Matty was young. He had decades left to live, hadn't even found the first Mrs. Devlin yet, and he should have had all that. He was gone, though, with not a thing to show for it.
Chandler came out of her office, closing the door behind her. “Ronnie.”
He swallowed. “Sorry, Guv. I know I'm late. It's just a bit of a day, which I know you'd say to take off, but we've got them burglaries plus that stabbing I was trying to run down and—”
“And you don't have to be here for any of that.”
“Don't tell me to go see my family,” Ronnie said. “I couldn't face them like this. Keep me busy, give me no reason to drink, and I'll be fine. I told my daughter already it would be a day or two before I could go see the boy, and she agreed. She'd rather not see me like this anyway. Too many bad memories.”
Chandler nodded. “I understand, Ronnie. I won't make you go home, but it may be difficult for you to remain here. Malloy and his wife are in my office.”
“He's here?” Ronnie asked, heading toward the door. She moved to block him, stepping in front of the door just before he reached it. “Guv, I want to see him.”
“I'm not so sure that's a good idea.”
“I know,” Ronnie agreed. It seemed like a terrible one, but if he could do something, anything for Malloy, it might get these images of Matty out of his head. “I need to know why he looks like Matt. Can't leave until I do.”
She nodded. “I'll let him tell you, then.”
She opened the door, stepping out of the way. Ronnie waited, but she shook her head, not coming back in with him. He shut the door behind him, turning to face her guests. Malloy stood, and Ronnie felt it again, a kick straight to the gut. That was Matty. Had to be. Looked too much like him to be anyone but Matty.
“I already apologized to your superior for our unexpected visit today.”
“Well, if you'd stop the accent and admit you were Matty back from the dead, no one would want an apology at all.”
Malloy shook his head. “I'm afraid I can't. I'm not Matt Devlin. I—I'm sorry.”
Ronnie nodded. He figured that was what the other man would say. He wanted it to be different, but wishing didn't bring Matty back from the dead. It also didn't explain the man in front of him. “You want to explain why you look just like him?”
“I'm his half-brother.”
Ronnie stared at him. “You're... No. I've met Matty's kin. Never you.”
“Jake didn't know he had a half-brother until this morning,” Bishop said, coming around Malloy's side. “Well, no, he has a brother back in the states, but he didn't know about Matt Devlin until yesterday, and we didn't have confirmation that Jake and Devlin were related until this morning. My friend Abby—she's a forensic specialist—was able to test Jake's DNA against Devlin's.”
Ronnie frowned. “How'd you do that? You said you didn't know Matty.”
“I think it's better not to worry so much about how we know that but more to focus on what we do with knowing that,” Bishop said, and Malloy gave her a look. She shrugged. “It would have driven us all crazy, not knowing. Asking Abby was for the best. We needed to know. You needed to know. He was your brother, after all.”
Malloy nodded. “I... Yes. You're right. I'm sorry. I'm just... tired.”
Ronnie studied him. He didn't think Malloy was lying. After as many years as a copper as he had, he had a good sense of who was and who wasn't. Still, it was harder, seeing Matt's face and hearing the wrong voice come from it. “You didn't come here just to tell me that.”
“No,” Malloy admitted. “I... I was actually hoping you could tell me about Matt. I... I never met him, and I know that it is a lot to ask when seeing me must be close to torture, which I have some experience with and would not wish on anyone—no, I take that back, there is someone—I'm rambling. Sorry. I just...”
“Wanting to know about your brother is understandable,” Ronnie agreed. “And I could talk your ear off about Matty. New lad's a good guy and all, but I don't think he much enjoys my stories about Matt. Thinks I think he's not good enough. Not true, but when you have a good mate you miss and stories are all you've got left... Maybe you tell them a little too much.”
“You'd have a fresh audience in us,” Bishop said, smiling warmly. “Just... I need some food. Is there somewhere nearby with... um... well... anything?”
“I take it you're not hard to please.”
“Ellie can eat anything. Her stomach is the stuff of legends,” Malloy teased, and she laughed, leaning against his arm with a smile. Ronnie frowned. He didn't mean to, but it was difficult, seeing a man so like Matt happily settled. He'd always figured eventually Matt would meet the first Mrs. Devlin, but Matty had died before that happened. “Trying to get Ellie to eat healthy is a constant battle. I know I lost the war years ago, but every now and then, I still try.”
“Because you love me,” she said, kissing his cheek before she turned back to Ronnie. “He's just afraid if the job doesn't get me, my eating habits will.”
Ronnie choked, glad he was still leaning against something for support.
“Are you okay?” Bishop asked. “What did I say? I didn't mean to—”
“Oh, love, it wasn't anything wrong. It's just that's what Matty used to do for me. He was always trying to get me to eat healthier or teasing me about how much I ate and how often. I miss it, crazy as it is. Shouldn't, but I do.”
“It's the little things we miss the most,” Bishop said, wrapping her arm around her husband's. “But... if you're still willing to talk...?”
“Right this way, Sunshine,” Ronnie said, opening the door for them.
“So,” Jake began, awkwardly picking up a french fry with two of his unbroken fingers, hoping the medication wouldn't interfere and his migraine wasn't going to come back. “You knew Devlin a long time?”
“Call him Matt. Everyone did. Devlin was more what they called his dad,” Brooks said, happily munching on a sandwich that was about to fall apart. Ellie had one of the same, and Jake was doing his best to ignore both of them. He had come a long way since the stuffy, formal dinners his grandfather had insisted on having when he was a child, but sometimes he still found it difficult to watch Ellie's messier meals. “Oh, now, I recognize that look. Matty'd get it just before he gave me a lecture on how my eating would kill me sooner than being a copper.”
Ellie laughed. “It's a very familiar look. I even started to miss it after I transferred to NCIS.”
Jake frowned. “We still had those moments when you were at home, even if we weren't able to meet for lunch every day. Your eating habits didn't improve with your job change. If anything, they got worse. It's not like Tony or McGee were going to stop you from binge eating Cheetos when you were obsessing over an analysis.”
“Very true. You are the only person who has ever curbed my eating habits.”
“What about your parents, love?” Brooks asked, reaching for his drink.
“Oh, the food thing wasn't half as bad at home as it was when I went off to college. My mom was good at home cooked meals, and my dad was... firm about eating habits. College was this whole other world and my mind just exploded with the possibilities and each food had memories and inspired new things—I was able to do so much, create things I never dreamed of and it was so incredible... I got addicted to the freedom. Coming back down after that was never easy, but then I met Jake. He keeps me balanced.”
“No one balances a force of nature,” Jake said, and she glared at him for a half-a-second before laughing and stealing one of his fries. “See?”
She grinned, and she wasn't the only one, though Jake could see the sadness in Brooks' expression. He wanted to see his friend, not them. Jake focused on his fries, managing to pick up more than one at once and wondering if he dared attempt the chicken strips.
“I have to ask—what happened to your hands?”
Jake winced. “I... I would rather not talk about that.”
Brooks nodded. “That's as may be, but it's not like you can deny what's been done by not talking about it. Someone broke your fingers, yeah? You don't think it had anything to do with Matty's death, do you?”
“No. This was... personal. I knew the man responsible for this,” Jake said, leaving out the mercenary that was still missing. “He's in prison, and Abby looked for connections between him and Devlin after we found out about the murder, but there wasn't any that she could find. She said she would keep digging, though.”
“You that bad in debt, son?”
Jake snorted, and Ellie choked on her drink. She put it down, shaking her head. “Jake and I don't have money problems. Technically, I could be a very well kept woman if I wanted to be. I'd never have to work again.”
“I wouldn't go that far,” Jake said, but she just smirked at him, taking another fry.
“You're not one for the races? No gambling?”
Jake shook his head. “My one vice is sitting across the table from you, Mr. Brooks. No, the attack happened because of where I used to work, at least in part. I was NSA. Someone thought I knew more than I did.”
Ellie picked up a piece of the chicken. He eyed it and shook his head. It wasn't going to work. He'd drop it, and he wasn't in the mood to be humiliated. She broke the piece in half and held it out to him. “Try it.”
“It's not feeding you. It's just making it accessible, and it's not that much different from the ground rules about getting you dressed.” Ellie sighed, setting the piece back in the basket. “Fine. I won't touch the chicken. I wish you'd be less stubborn about having help.”
Jake ignored that, going for another fry. “You wouldn't be any less stubborn if it was your hands that weren't working.”
“Rule twenty-eight. If you need help, ask.”
“Quote Gibbs at me again, and I can book a flight back to Washington for you,” Jake said, pointing a fry at her in warning.
She rolled her eyes, reaching for her drink. “Was his brother this much of a pain in the ass?”
“Oh, love, it's not just the resemblance that makes them related, trust me,” Brooks said, smiling. “That expression right there is just like Matty's, and just now when you were squabbling—that was like him, too.”
“I'm sorry if this is too much for you,” Ellie told him, touching Brooks' arm. “And I don't just mean the resemblance. Jake and I—well, we've got a lot of years but a lot of issues, too. We go from cute to ugly fast some days.”
“I've been married twice,” Brooks said. “I know exactly how that goes.”
“Matt never married, though.”
Brooks shook his head. “No, he wasn't one to settle. Not sure if that was because of his parents or his job or just him. He would have made a good father, for all he said he didn't want kids, couldn't understand why people tried to raise them in this world. He was good with the young ones, but he could charm just about anyone.”
Jake shook his head. “If you needed proof we're not the same person, there you go. I'm lousy with people.”
“He's just saying that. He gets along with them fine once they know him. It's just the first parts that are rocky. Things with my team at work were a bit rough at first, but he plays racquetball with my boss, Abby adores him, Ducky fusses over him, and Tony and McGee treat him like brothers would.”
Jake didn't want to go down that road. “That's the second time someone's hinted at a problem with Matt's parents—Chandler said something about his father—our father. She didn't seem to think I'd want to pursue questions after I mentioned that was the parent we had in common. What exactly did Matt's father do? Was he a criminal?”
“Depends on your definition,” Brooks answered. “He was never arrested, but he had a temper.”
“And he took it out on Matt?”
Jake, Ronnie, and Ellie continue to talk and even theorize a little.
I swear, the middle part with Ronnie gave me fits, forced me to rewrite the same part like fifty times. Okay, I'm exaggerating, but it felt like it.
It's hard to balance the "no, too private, they wouldn't share" with the strange situation and the need to understand and my tendency to tell too much.
Natalie looked up when she heard the knock, giving her guest a smile despite her distraction. She was still waiting for word about the burglaries, still hoping Angie would bring in that bit of film they needed. They had another murderer to find, and Ronnie should be working that, but she'd let him leave with Matt's double. He hadn't returned, and she didn't know what to think of that.
“Hello, Alesha,” Natalie said, setting aside her file on the desk. “I didn't think we had anything for your office yet.”
“I'm not here about a case. Not completely,” Alesha said, correcting herself at the end. “I don't know if Ronnie made any progress with the case he asked me about. I would ask him about that, if he's here. Has he been in today?”
Natalie nodded. “He was here.”
The other woman hesitated. “How was he? I'm—I don't know if you heard—”
“I've seen,” Natalie said, watching Alesha's eyes widen. “He was here, earlier. Gave my staff a proper fright. Damnedest thing I've ever seen. He looks just like Matt. Doesn't sound a thing like him, though.”
“I know. I saw him, too.”
Natalie looked at her. She'd heard rumors about her and Devlin, but then she'd also heard rumors about her and Steel, and she'd never asked for confirmation of either one. That was no business of hers. Still, Alesha was Devlin's friend, and this was difficult for all of them.
“James Steel said you were able to help Ronnie yesterday,” Natalie began. “I'm glad. I knew the anniversary would be hard. Sometimes they seem worse than when it actually happened. Ronnie said he wanted to work, but I had my doubts about letting him do it.”
Alesha sighed. “I'm not sure that we would have met Malloy yesterday if we hadn't gone to James about that case, but then... He's not going away. He has Matt's face, but he's not Matt. He's alive. He's still out there. We would have come across him eventually.”
“You would have,” Natalie said, and she frowned. “From what he said, Malloy's attacker is awaiting trial. You would have seen him. Should have by now, I would think, though perhaps they kept this from you on purpose. I've no idea. I wasn't able to get many details about his case. He told me more than anyone else, and he didn't say much at all.”
“So he told you what happened, then?” Alesha asked. “To his hands?”
Natalie shook her head. “He didn't. His wife answered that one.”
“She said torture.”
Alesha stared. “Torture? The man who looks like Matt was tortured?”
Natalie shrugged. “According to his wife. He didn't disagree with her statement, but he didn't confirm it, either.”
“Did Ronnie see him when he was here today?”
“Yes. He left with Malloy and his wife.”
“He left with them?”
Natalie almost laughed at her tone. “Ronnie's a big boy, Alesha. If he wanted to talk to Matt's half-brother, it wasn't for me to stop him.”
“Half-brother? They're related?” Alesha came forward, sitting down in the chair across from the desk. “He said he didn't know Matt. He lied.”
“Did he? I'm not so sure about that,” Natalie said. While she knew Malloy had not told her everything, what he had said, she believed, including that he was Matt's half-brother. “You might want to talk to him yourself.”
“Oh, believe me,” Alesha told her, “I want to.”
Missing Matty was a strange thing when Ronnie was sitting across from a man that looked like him. If Ronnie didn't look at him, he could tell Malloy apart easily enough, since the accent took care of that for him. Trouble was, he didn't want to look away. He thought he could spend hours watching, comparing every little gesture of Malloy's to one of Matt's, looking for the differences and the similarities, taking note of each one.
He could pretend that Matty had survived if he did, or he could imagine him as he might be had he settled. Malloy and his wife were a pair, and he could like them both separate from Matt. They were a bit of fun, a bit of memories, and a bit of something different. Good people, even when they were having a bit of a squabble.
“I'm sorry if this is too much for you,” Bishop said, putting her hand on Ronnie's arm. “And I don't just mean the resemblance. Jake and I—well, we've got a lot of years but a lot of issues, too. We go from cute to ugly fast some days.”
Amused, Ronnie smiled. “I've been married twice. I know exactly how that goes.”
Malloy seemed uncomfortable with the subject. “Matt never married, though.”
Brooks shook his head. “No, he wasn't one to settle. Not sure if that was because of his parents or his job or just him. He would have made a good father, for all he said he didn't want kids, couldn't understand why people tried to raise them in this world. He was good with the young ones, but he could charm just about anyone.”
“If you needed proof we're not the same person, there you go,” Malloy said, though Ronnie thought he could easily be as charming as his half-brother was, he just didn't see it. “I'm lousy with people.”
Bishop shook her head. “He's just saying that. He gets along with them fine once they know him. It's just the first parts that are rocky. Things with my team at work were a bit rough at first, but he plays racquetball with my boss, Abby adores him, Ducky fusses over him, and Tony and McGee treat him like brothers would.”
Malloy ignored his wife's words. “That's the second time someone's hinted at a problem with Matt's parents—Chandler said something about his father—our father. She didn't seem to think I'd want to pursue questions after I mentioned that was the parent we had in common. What exactly did Matt's father do? Was he a criminal?”
Criminal, Ronnie thought, if only in what he'd done to his children and most likely his wife. Matt had never talked about his father abusing his mother, but Ronnie figured it wasn't much of a stretch. He'd also never said it happened to any of his siblings, but Ronnie didn't doubt it. The man was a bastard, as Matt himself had said.
“Depends on your definition,” Ronnie answered, knowing that if Matt wasn't dead, he wouldn't be saying this. “He was never arrested, but he had a temper.”
Bishop winced. “And he took it out on Matt?”
“I'm sorry. I'm sure that wasn't what you wanted to hear,” Ronnie said. He didn't know much, since Matty wasn't keen on discussing it, not really, but sometimes all it took was the words I've been that kid to say it all, far more than ever needed to be said. “You came looking for family, not a monster.”
“Mr. Brooks, if there weren't skeletons in my family's closet, we wouldn't be having this conversation,” Malloy told him with a smile that was more like a grimace, making Ronnie wonder if maybe his experience growing up wasn't much different from Matty's. Damn.
“Ronnie,” he corrected. He didn't know anyone who called him Mr. Brooks, and Matt's brother could not be the one to start. “Everyone calls me Ronnie.”
“Ellie,” Bishop said, giving him a genuine smile. “And he prefers Jake.”
Ronnie nodded in agreement. “Glad we've got that settled.”
Settled, but awkward, Ronnie thought as the silence stretched on. He went back to his sandwich, choosing to let food smooth over some of the tension, though he didn't think either of his companions had much of an appetite now.
He set down his sandwich, wiping his fingers off on a napkin. “Matt mentioned having family in Ireland once.”
“I... I honestly don't know that I plan on contacting anyone else in Matt's family.”
“It's your family, too,” Ronnie reminded him. “You said he's your brother. You've got the same dad. That makes his family yours, even if you might not want to claim that man as your father. You... Was yours a good one?”
“He was decent.”
Ronnie frowned. “Decent? That's the kind of answer that would have Matty jumping all over you in an investigation.”
“He wasn't a bad man. He was distant, but then he knew he wasn't my father.” Malloy studied his hands. “Like I said, decent. He didn't treat me badly. He just never took to me like he did my brother.”
Ronnie hoped that was true. No sense in both those lads suffering trouble at home. Still, they were caught in another awkward silence, and this could get worse than the first, since he didn't think asking about the man's other brother would be taken well. Ronnie was curious, but curiosity could wait.
“We've taken enough of your time, I think,” Malloy said as he pushed back his chair. “We should let you get back to work.”
“Right. Your case,” Bishop said. “I suppose we kept you from making any progress on it. I was wondering how that turned out. I know my theory was kind of crazy—they always are—but it would have been interesting to see if it applied there.”
“You and cases,” Malloy said, shaking his head, though he smiled as he said it.
She shrugged. “I couldn't help hearing them discuss it. I was thinking about potato chips and I overheard them saying that the first case was lost because the witness disappeared. Now there's a second one, but most of the evidence from the first case is missing. Which had everyone wondering—why murder someone in a way that would tie to back to a murder they already got away with?”
Malloy gave his wife a look, and she shrugged. Ronnie leaned back in his chair. “Your wife doesn't think it was arrogance.”
“Of course not. Ellie thinks that whoever did it wanted the connection made,” Malloy said, and she smiled at him. “I'll go one further and say she suspects the witness in the original case committed the second murder.”
Ronnie blinked. This was the first he'd heard of that. “What?”
She nodded. “Well, if the connection was intentional, it would have to be been made by someone familiar with the crime—”
“—but unaware that the evidence was missing—”
“—someone who was in hiding—”
“—but wanted that to end—”
“And figured that framing the man who wanted him dead was a good way of reclaiming his freedom,” Bishop finished, her eyes still on her husband and her smile wide. “I missed doing that. I know we did it when you were in the hospital, but it's been a while.”
Ronnie watched them, amused. “You know—”
“It's Ellie's theory. I don't share any talent for deduction with Devlin,” Malloy insisted, but Ronnie wasn't sure he believed that.
Ellie looked at the table, trying not to be too obvious about seeing how much Jake had actually been able to eat from his meal. She was afraid of how much would be left, because she didn't think he'd gotten nearly enough to eat. Since he'd had basically nothing yesterday—a few grumbling sips from the shake that passed for breakfast—because of the migraine, she wanted to make sure that he got enough today. She didn't want to see him get sick because he wasn't getting enough to eat.
She knew he hadn't touched the chicken, and more than half the fries were still there. Damn it. She wasn't sure how to get him to eat more without causing an argument that would have him storming off or threatening to get her on a plane.
She might be able to talk him into some sort of dessert. That might work. He wouldn't fall for it if she tried to get him a smoothie, but he might be able to do some sort of bar, popsicle, or even possibly a cone. It would be better than nothing.
She went for a fry, taking it and smiling at him as she did. Maybe this was enough, even if she didn't want any more food right now. Ronnie smiled at her, though she doubted he knew why she was doing it.
And there was something else to consider, too. He was due for a dose of medication, and even without them, he was probably getting tired.
“Ronnie?” They looked up and saw the woman from the day before standing there. “Chandler told me you'd left, and I remembered Matt said you liked to eat here. I thought I'd check.”
“No need to worry, love. I'm in good company,” Ronnie said with a smile. “Jake and Ellie here have just solved our murder.”
The other woman blinked, adjusting her bag on her shoulder. “Oh?”
Ellie shook her head. “It's just a theory.”
“Ellie's theory,” Jake repeated, dismissing his part in again. “All I did was finish saying the thought you were already thinking.”
“You are my favorite sounding board,” she told him, touching his cheek. “The best there is.”
He rolled his eyes, but she saw the hint of a smile and kissed him. He leaned his head against hers for a moment afterward, and she could tell by the way he breathed he was in pain. They should go, but now they had another person standing by their table and looking very uncomfortable.
“Sorry,” she said. “Jake and I... can sometimes get lost in the moment.”
“No worries,” Ronnie said with a smile that the other woman didn't share. “We don't mind, do we Alesha?”
“Of course not.”
“Have a seat,” he offered, rising to pull one out for her. “I think you'll enjoy this when they tell it to you.”
“Well, maybe we shouldn't,” Ellie began with a small grimace, wondering if there was a good way to get Jake out of here without drawing attention to his hands or his need for medication.
“It will be difficult to prove,” Jake agreed. “Without even statistics to back it... No probable cause, no grounds for any kind of warrant, period, and you'd be putting a dead man on trial.”
Ellie smiled. “What Jake means is that our theory—”
“—Our theory is that the witness that disappeared and is believed dead may be your new killer,” Ellie said. She frowned. “This is starting to be a theme with us, isn't it?”
Jake shrugged. “I think we should only worry about the pattern if we're right about this and if there happens to be another which also holds true. Right now, it's just a theory, albeit one that was influenced by past events.”
“I'm telling you, mate. You've the same instinct for detection your brother had.”
Jake shook his head. “I'm just a lawyer.”
“Are you sure you weren't a prosecutor?” Alesha asked, frowning slightly. “Is that how you worked together before? She investigated and you prosecuted?”
“Oh, no,” Jake said, shaking his head as he fought laughter. “The idea of me in a courtroom is like a nightmare. No. I would never do that. I'm not good with people or speeches.”
“Jake and I worked together at the NSA. It's how we met.”
“You don't have to say it like that,” Ellie told her, fighting a wince. Years had passed, but they were still dealing with that bad press. “We weren't spies, either of us. Jake made sure the surveillance the NSA did was legal, and I did analysis and threat assessment based on various intelligence that the agency or other agencies gathered. No spies. Not a one. Right, Jake?”
She frowned when he didn't answer, looking over at him to find his eyes distant, staring past Ronnie, but she didn't know that he was actually seeing anything. He looked like he had before, like he had every time she'd suspected he had a flashback. She swallowed, reaching out to touch his arm.
He jerked, knocking his chair back from the table. He lowered his head, trying to control his breathing and slow the rapid gasps.
“It's okay,” she said quietly, going for her tried and true method of combing through his hair since almost everything else would probably hurt. “I'm here. Just breathe.”
“You all right, son?” Ronnie asked, looking worried.
Jake tried to nod, but he ended up shaking his head. “It... It was like before. I thought it was just her walking up, finding us, and it should have gone away, but it's still there, like before the accident...”
Ignoring the looks from the others, Ellie kept focused on her husband, trying to calm him. “Could it have been a memory?”
“No. I still feel it. Someone's watching us,” he said with a shudder.
The fallout of Jake feeling like he was being watched.
I think I picked a bad spot to end the last chapter. It was hard to continue on from, and it wasn't just work and headaches keeping this from getting done, though they did not help matters.
“You certain about that?” Ronnie asked, frowning. He took a look about, but he didn't see anyone loitering. This was London. Someone always seemed to be around—except, of course, when they needed a witness—and there was no shortage of people coming and going by the cafe, but he didn't see anyone who seemed to be lingering, not even other patrons of the restaurant. They'd been here longer than those occupying the other tables.
“Jake?” Ellie asked, touching her husband's arm in concern. “Did you see anyone?”
Malloy shook his head. “No. You know I'm not good at... that. I don't... I never saw Parsa or the man—men—Charlie hired. I just... I feel like someone's there.”
“Hyper-vigilance is a symptom of post-traumatic stress,” Alesha began. “What you feel is very common and—”
“Don't,” Malloy said. “You don't know me or what happened to me, and I don't care if something did happen to Matt. That's not me, so don't make assumptions based on him. We are two very different people.”
He rose, bumping his hand on the back of his chair and muttering a curse under his breath. His wife stood, stopping him and whispering in his ear, and he trembled again, but he didn't look at any of them again, walking away so fast he was almost running.
“I'm sorry,” Ellie said, grimacing, and then she rushed after her husband.
Alesha looked down at her hands. Ronnie winced, knowing she hadn't deserved that, but he didn't even think that Malloy meant it.
“I know you were trying to help, love, and he doesn't know that you know more about this than you want to,” Ronnie told her. He shook his head. “He's hurting, and we men say stupid things when we're in pain.”
She nodded. “I just... I know he's not Matt, but to have him say that... Matt was there, you know. He helped when... when I needed him.”
“That he did. He was a good mate,” Ronnie agreed. Matty had never let him down, even when he'd been upset about his partner's dogged pursuit of Valentine. He'd proven that Ronnie did have friends, good friends.
Alesha shook her head. “I think I... I wanted him to be back. I thought I wanted to confront him about what Chandler said about them being brothers and him lying about knowing Matt, but I think... I think I just wanted Matt back.”
“We all do,” Ronnie said. He leaned back in his chair. “I don't think he was lying about knowing Matt. I have a sense for it after all these years.”
“Half-brothers. How is that even possible?”
“According to Malloy, his mother had an affair. He's always known he wasn't her husband's kid, but he never knew about Matt—or the rest of Matt's family—until this morning.”
“And we believe that?”
Ronnie shrugged. “I know Matt never spoke of any half-brothers. He had family in Ireland that he never saw, and he didn't much care for his father, not that I blame him.”
Alesha was quiet. Ronnie didn't know how much Matt had told her about any of that, and he wasn't going to push. Maybe he'd shared some of it when he was helping her get past her own attack, but maybe he hadn't. Hard to know.
“You want to see if she was right?”
“Her theory about our killer,” Ronnie said. “Have to admit, I'm pretty curious myself.”
“Even if she is, how are you going to find him? He's been hiding, presumed dead, for years now. He's not just going to show himself in an instant.”
“Maybe not, but I think a bit of a challenge might do us both good after what just happened.”
“You feeling any better?” Ellie asked as she sat down on the bed beside him.
“You mean—am I still overly paranoid and wanting to curl up in a ball and cry?” Jake muttered, grimacing when he saw the expression on Ellie's face. He hadn't meant to get snide, hadn't wanted to hurt her. He was still smarting from the embarrassment earlier. He didn't know how not to feel humiliated by what had happened. He knew it wasn't like he could stop the flashbacks. He couldn't make the fear go away. That was the worst part, in some ways.
He hated feeling like this, trapped, scared, and helpless.
“Jake, no one expects you to be over this in an instant. You shouldn't expect it, either.”
He studied his hands. “This... isn't like me. Even after Parsa broke into our apartment, I wasn't like this. I didn't jump at everything. I guess I had this idea that once the NSA knew about it, we were fine again. I was fooling myself. I know that now. It's just... I wanted it to be over.”
She sat down next to him. “Parsa was a bad time for us. We didn't even know how bad it was, I don't think.”
He nodded. “We didn't talk about what happened with Parsa.”
“No, we didn't. I didn't even know he'd contacted you,” she said, reaching over to touch his cheek. “I wish you'd told me.”
“I thought I had good reasons not to,” Jake said. He snorted. “At least, I thought I did, did everything I could to justify it to myself. I knew that they were reassigning you from Parsa, that they'd threatened legal action—I knew what I'd do if they did pursued the charges. I didn't... I didn't add my anger to it, my lectures. I... I told myself I knew you well enough to know what that would do. It would push you right past the edge. You'd actually agreed to stop, but if I'd said all the things I wanted to, you wouldn't stop. You'd have to prove that I was wrong, that it was necessary. You'd keep hunting him. And I'd lose you. He'd kill you or you'd... I'd lose you.”
She sighed. “I want... to hold you, like somehow if I squeezed hard enough, held tight enough, I could make up for making you feel that way. Especially since... I know you were right. I would have gone too far. I almost did. I... I wanted to. I wanted to hunt Parsa to the end.”
She put her hands on his face. “No, I didn't. You didn't have to say anything to stop me. That look on your face after you found out... I never wanted to see that again.”
“I did,” she said, leaning her head against his. “After I took the job at NCIS and things changed between us, I saw it. I even saw it before that. I'm sorry. I didn't set out to hurt you, but I know I did.”
“There were two of us in this marriage,” Jake said. “It wasn't just you. I'm not innocent. I made mistakes, too. It's not just about the things I couldn't tell you about because of national security and your clearance. If that was all it was, there was a simple solution all along, and I never took it. I never changed jobs. I didn't even try.”
“You did now.”
“And look at me,” Jake muttered, lifting his good hand. “What did I do? It... This... It doesn't seem real, half the time, but then I try to use my fingers. It is. It's real, and I brought it on myself.”
“No.” Ellie sat back, looking at him. “Whatever Charlie chose to do was his decision, and it wasn't your fault. You... You feel guilty for surviving. For your injuries, for what you might have said, the things you remember and the ones you don't... You don't have to punish yourself, Jake.”
He didn't want to admit that he sometimes felt like that was the only thing that made sense lately. As much as he'd wanted to fix things between them, he didn't know why Ellie had stayed or how they were actually going to make it work. Then he had a job he wasn't just physically incapable of doing—this part of law was not what he knew, leading him to ask questions that made him feel like an idiot. And now he had a dead half-brother and his biological father was abusive.
“I expected you to say you weren't,” Ellie said, and he grimaced. He should have. Under normal circumstances, he would have, but he wasn't sure what normal was anymore.
“I don't know what I'm doing. I've tried to... to keep going. To go forward,” Jake said. He'd tried. He got up, got dressed, ate, and went to work. He'd actually made it for more than one day, in spite of the pain and the flashbacks. He didn't know if he was being paranoid, if he always had been but the drugs had kept it back until earlier, but now he was feeling anxious even inside the hotel room. Charlie had come after him here, but it wasn't like that had been an issue before. “Then something happens, and it all falls apart.”
“You're not going to get over this in a day,” she reminded him. “It's going to stay for a long time. I know... I still see him sometimes. Parsa. Or the man I killed in Kabul. It's not over for me, and it's been over a year since Parsa.”
Jake sighed. “I wasn't much help there. And now... I'm... I'm being a jerk. I don't mean to, but I get so angry and scared and I just... lash out because it's too much. I hurt you. I know I have over the past few weeks—and we won't even talk about me leaving because that's different—and then I said that to her and I must have—”
“She knows you're suffering from PTSD. I don't think she's angry or that she blames you,” Ellie said. “And I know that it isn't you. I know how much you're hurting. I'd do anything to make it stop, but I can't.”
He leaned against her. “I am glad you're here. I know I haven't been acting like it, but I am. I couldn't do this without you. I hate that, but at the same time... I need you. And I had thought I'd lost you before all this happened. I... I don't know that I would have... if you weren't...”
“I know,” she said, holding him as tight as she dared. “I was afraid I lost you, too.”
“You want me to go through all this CCTV looking for a dead man?” Angie asked, disbelief all over her features. She turned from Ronnie and Alesha to Natalie, looking for advice. Natalie wasn't sure what to make of this herself. She hadn't known what to expect when Ronnie returned from his meal. Him going back to work on his case wasn't that unusual, but this bit about a dead man was.
“Technically, no one knows for sure that Cromwell is dead,” Alesha said. “He disappeared during the trial, and while everyone suspected he'd died—that he'd been killed to silence him—no body was ever found. He could be alive.”
“And we didn't know to be looking for him on the first pass,” Ronnie said. “We were looking for people with a connection to our victim or someone behaving oddly. Someone like Cromwell might have gone completely unnoticed. It's not like you knew him, love. We couldn't have thought you'd see him, and if he has been hiding, he'd be trying to avoid the cameras. This is just the first step toward eliminating the possibility.”
“Just where did you get this possibility?” Natalie asked, a tad suspicious.
“From my charming dinner companions,” Ronnie answered with a grin. “Bishop has a mind, she does, but so does he. Was almost like watching Matt's go, though he denied having any part in this theory.”
“He is familiar with the law,” Alesha said. “It's not too far a stretch.”
“I know, and I believe he was at least thinking the same thing as his wife was about the case as soon as she explained it to him, but he's a bit sensitive to comparisons to Matt,” Ronnie said. “Can't say as I blame him—those are some big shoes to fill. Big head, too, though he's not around to hear me tease him about it.”
“We all wish he was,” Natalie said. She looked at Angie. “You've already put in a long day. You could go home, get a fresh start in the morning.”
Angie shook her head. “If the man who looked like Devlin brought this to us, I want to have a look now.”
Natalie considered giving a lecture to all of them on how this was not Matt, but then they all knew that already. Malloy was a different man, even if he was Matt's half-brother. “All right, but remember—this isn't likely to prove anything, so don't blame yourself if you don't find Cromwell on that footage.”
Angie nodded, going to work. Ronnie gave her a smile, and Natalie knew that Matt would have kissed her cheek. He should be here, damn it, not some imposter with his face.
“Looking for Chandler.”
“I'm DI Chandler,” Natalie said, turning around to face the speaker. “What can I do for you?”
“I want to know why you're looking into Jake Malloy,” the man answered, and Natalie wondered if this was the Gibbs she'd been warned about. “Now.”
Hours on a plane left Gibbs in a foul mood, and he could have gone up with Abby and Ducky to Bishop's room to take it out on her and Malloy, but they'd both managed to talk him out of it. Gibbs supposed that was too easy, but then Abby had a point—Malloy hadn't known about his half-brother when he took this job in London, couldn't have known that his brother had been murdered, and he didn't know that he was making himself a target all over again. Ducky had insisted on checking on Malloy's physical and emotional health before Gibbs interrogated him, as the discovery of another brother—one who had been killed—was almost certainly as traumatic as the torture.
That left Gibbs with a lot of anger and no direction for it until he remembered the call from Adams. She'd said there was another possible imposter, this time a cop, not an agent, and Gibbs wanted to make sure that they weren't about to have the whole damn mess start again.
He stepped into the room they'd directed him to, taking in the people by the computer and frowning. “Looking for Chandler.”
“I'm DI Chandler,” the older, dark haired woman said as she turned toward him. “What can I do for you?”
“I want to know why you're looking into Jake Malloy. Now.”
She folded her arms over her chest. “Now why would I tell you anything about that? If Malloy is involved in one of my on-going investigations, I have reason to keep what I know of him to myself and my detectives. And I have no reason to trust you with anything.”
Gibbs gave her a look. He could almost appreciate that. “Bishop is one of mine. That makes her husband one of mine. I protect what's mine.”
Chandler smiled, seeming amused. “You must be Gibbs. Your colleague warned me I wouldn't like dealing with you.”
“She wasn't wrong,” Gibbs told her. “What do you want with Malloy?”
“Perhaps you might verify a thing or two for us first,” the man who had been behind the computer said, coming around the desk. “See, Malloy just happens to resemble a very good friend of ours, and that might just make him a bit of ours to look out for, if you take my meaning.”
“You worked with Devlin.”
The other man nodded. “DS Brooks. Matty was my partner. So you can see why I might not want anything happening to Malloy. Or Bishop.”
“You'd be wasting your time trying to ask for personal details to confirm the connection,” Gibbs told him. “They don't discuss that sort of thing. Neither do I.”
“True, I got the sense he didn't much like discussing that, like Matty didn't,” Brooks said. “Still, I had a nice chat with them this afternoon. We had chips. Shouldn't surprise you to know she ate more than either of us did.”
Gibbs grunted. “Bishop stress eats, and Malloy's too damn stubborn to let anyone feed him.”
Brooks nodded. “Sounds about right.”
Gibbs turned back to Chandler. “You have any other reason to look into Malloy besides the resemblance?”
“Not as such,” she answered, choosing her words carefully, “but it did concern us all that he'd been injured like that. We still haven't gotten much of an answer on how that happened. Malloy didn't tell Steel yesterday, but having him turn up on the anniversary of Matt's death, looking as much like him as he does and injured—we all had questions. We haven't gotten much in the way of answers. My colleagues weren't willing to disclose their investigation to me, and Adams wouldn't talk, either. If he hadn't come in today on his own, we'd still know nothing.”
Gibbs frowned. “He told you what happened?”
“No.” Chandler shook her head. “He didn't. His wife supplied the barest of details, both denied that the two attacks were connected, but they did explain the resemblance.”
The woman with the curly hair gave a small noise, and Gibbs looked over to see her companion comforting her. So that hadn't gotten around. The rumor mill at NCIS would have made sure it did by now. Everyone in the office would have known about Bishop's husband—just like they had when he left for England.
“Yes,” Chandler agreed. “Though as I told him, Matt's other siblings don't look as much like him as Malloy does.”
Gibbs made a note to find those siblings and make sure none of them were a threat. “The man who killed Devlin. You're sure you have the right one?”
“Yes.” That came from the black woman, who stood up and faced him with more bravado than anything else. “There was a full investigation and we prosecuted him—he was convicted. It doesn't bring Matt back, but we made sure we got his killer.”
Ducky and Abby had their doubts about that, but Gibbs didn't say anything about that yet.
“And Malloy said the man who hurt him was behind bars awaiting trial as well.”
Gibbs snorted. Figured Malloy would edit the truth on that. “One of them is.”
“Only one?” The woman came toward Brooks, taking hold of his arm. “Ronnie, you don't think that he—I think we both thought that was just a symptom of his PTSD—”
“What was?” Gibbs demanded. “What the hell happened?”
“He said he felt like someone was watching him,” she explained. “None of the rest of us saw anyone or felt it, so we assumed—”
“Alesha, love, it's not your fault, and it's not the same,” Brooks told her. “We all thought it was a part of his symptoms. It wasn't any less real for him, but that doesn't mean we were accusing him—or anyone—of crying wolf.”
Chandler looked at Gibbs. “You think that this person who hurt Malloy is still out there? That he was there today?”
“Could have been,” Gibbs said. It could have been paranoia as well, but Gibbs wasn't ruling it out. “He felt like he was being watched before he was abducted.”
“And one of them is still out there?” Alesha demanded. “I thought you said you protected your own. What kind of protection is that?”
“That is Malloy is a stubborn pain in the ass,” Gibbs said. “He insisted on staying even though he knew that we hadn't caught the mercenary, just the man who paid him. He had it in his head the one killed the other, wouldn't listen to it being any other way. Would have put him on the damned plane anyway if it was up to me.”
Chandler smiled. “Sounds familiar.”
Brooks nodded. “Matty was just as stubborn. Don't suppose you'd tell us who we're looking for, then? Got a picture? Angie there is very good at finding people in CCTV.”
“No name. We have DNA to nail him with if he's ever found, but we couldn't find him with facial recognition,” Gibbs said. “My team is still looking.”
“You have our full cooperation,” Chandler told him. “There's not a person here who could take losing Matt again, and even if it's just in looks—”
“It's not, Guv,” Brooks interrupted. “He's got a lot in common with Matty.”
“—we can't let anything happen to Malloy.”
“Good,” Gibbs told her. “Gonna need everything you've got on Matt Devlin's murder.”
Jake and Ellie get guests, and the others prepare to reopen a painful case.
So this story got a little neglected, sad to say. I was bombarded by another nagging AU idea, which became Strange Connections and wants to be a sequel, too, which I resisted in part and then decided to clear up Connections and Finding Futures (for now, it needs a sequel, too,) but this story hasn't been abandoned. I just didn't have enough time for everything.
Normally updates should now resume.
“Bishop,” Abby cried as soon as the door opened, stepping in to wrap her arms around her friend. She was so glad to see her, but she knew that there was one more thing she had to do before she'd even start toward relaxing. “Where is he?”
Bishop gestured to the other room. “His medication kicked in, so he's lying down. Don't wake him if you don't have to.”
“I do not believe that is necessary, but I do think that Abigail and I would like to see for ourselves that he is all right. It is one thing to hear his voice, but after view that file...” Ducky shook his head. “The similarities are very unsettling.”
Bishop nodded. “So we keep hearing. I haven't seen any pictures of Devlin myself, but from all accounts, Jake could pass for him. If he had a different accent, we'd have a hard time convincing anyone that they weren't the same person.”
“Jake with a British accent would be kind of hot,” Abby said, and Ellie frowned. Abby held up a hand. “I know that he is off-limits. I'm just saying... I think I'd totally hit on his brother if he was single. And... you know, alive.”
Bishop grimaced. “How terrible is it that I forget my husband is an attractive man? Not that I ever stopped wanting Jake, but I just never really think about how other women might be attracted to him. Which obviously they would be, but I never really think about it.”
“Perhaps it is not a matter that occurs to you because you are secure in your knowledge of Jakob's affection for you,” Ducky suggested. “It does not matter if other women notice him—he notices only you.”
“Exactly,” Abby agreed. She still thought the two of them were adorable, and Jake was always looking at Ellie, even if she wasn't looking at him. “So, we'll do a quick peek, make sure that Jake is alive, and then we can talk.”
“We were talking,” Bishop protested. “Though... why are you here? I know that Jake's half-brother is interesting, but that didn't mean you had to come here.”
Ducky nodded. “On it's own, perhaps not, but I don't think any of us was that pleased by the idea of leaving you and Jakob here on your own. The man who tortured him remained at large, and while Banks is in custody, that is not a guarantee of Jakob's safety. We returned because we could not justify remaining when weighed against our many other responsibilities, but we need only the smallest of excuses to tip the balance of the scales in the other direction.”
“And Jake's dead half-brother so does that,” Abby said. “Not only is that sad and tragic but also somewhat creepy, there's some inconsistencies, and we—”
“Small things, really, though not ones I feel I can ignore under the circumstances,” Ducky said. “If there is even a fraction of a chance that they arrested the wrong man in Devlin's death, Jakob could be in danger from the real killer. And if not, I should like to have enough answers to put his mind at ease, since I know that this cannot be easy for him.”
“It hasn't been,” Bishop agreed. “It would have been hard enough to find out about Devlin without it coming right on the heels of Jake's abduction. He is still such a mess because of it, and he tries so hard to pretend he's fine, but he isn't.”
“Nor will he be for some time, even after all of the physical wounds have healed,” Ducky agreed. “The rest of the trauma I am certain will take longer to pass.”
Abby nodded, having seen it before in too many agents she knew. She hoped that Jake would be okay, though, since he had them and Bishop, and they weren't going to let him do it on his own, even if he was trying to shut them out.
Ducky's phone rang, and he excused himself to take it in the hall, leaving Abby and Ellie alone.
“I meant to call you,” Abby told her. “If we'd had more time, I would have. I bet you could use a few things from your place. Not that you don't look great in that outfit—I totally knew you would—but we only bought a few things when we went shopping, so... you are probably sick of them by now.”
Ellie looked down at her shirt. “This one is very comfortable, and I think I wear it more than the others, but you're right. I'm tempted to try for another shopping trip. I guess... I think I was hoping that once Jake was back at work, he'd settle some, not feel like he had to prove anything, but now that we've found out about his brother, I'm a little worried he really won't want to come home.”
Abby grimaced. “Well, he has to. We all miss you. And Gibbs needs his BFF back.”
Bishop shook her head. “Jake isn't going to give up on the job that easily. It took a lot to convince him to leave the NSA.”
“So we find him a better one,” Abby said. “One back in the states.”
“We just told you—Matt's killer was tried and convicted. We got him,” Alesha protested. “You don't need anything on his murder. It's not related to a half-brother he died not knowing he had.”
Natalie watched Gibbs, waiting for his response. She was curious herself, wanting to know what Gibbs wanted Matt's case for, and she was worried as well. Matt's half-brother could have been the intended target all along, even if Matt knew nothing about the other man. Malloy was being stalked, and his attacker was still free. If he had gone after Matt before he was able to get to Malloy, then they had a very big mess on their hands.
“Could be nothing,” Gibbs told her. “I want my people to look at everything you've got.”
“So you're accusing us of incompetence?” Alesha pressed, arms folded over her chest. Natalie gave her a look. These were her people under accusation, not the prosecutor's. Her experts were suspect and her detectives bad at their jobs—if that was what Gibbs was implying.
“Didn't say that.” Gibbs looked at Natalie. “Devlin dies. His half-brother shows up in London and gets attacked. It's worth looking into.”
“Just because he looks like Matt doesn't mean there's a connection,” Alesha said, folding her arms over her chest. “Malloy isn't that like Matt. We all want him to be because we miss Matt, but it's not him. He's gone.”
“Alesha, whether he looked like Matt or not there'd be a connection,” Natalie told her. “He's Matt's half-brother. He shares blood.”
“And a bastard of a father,” Ronnie muttered, getting a sharp look from Gibbs when he said it. “Not that Matt's father had anything to do with his death.”
“A mercenary was hired to go after Malloy,” Gibbs said. “That happened here. Implies local talent.”
“We could get you a list,” Ronnie said. “Though you would have already checked them.”
“Did. Want to see if there's another level to it, though.”
Ronnie frowned. “You think this guy worked Malloy over because of Matt?”
“You only saw what he did to Malloy's hands,” Gibbs said. “Torture's personal no matter how you look at it, but someone who's capable of that should have a trail a mile long. Instead, he's a damn ghost.”
Natalie wanted to be sick. Few things turned her stomach after this long on the job, but this just might, if only because it was about one of her own, like losing Matt all over again. “You think this man went to extremes because he knew Matt and Malloy looks like him.”
“It's possible,” Gibbs said. “I want to rule out the possibility.”
“We had a list we looked into when Matty died,” Ronnie said, frowning. “Could have been one of them, but none of them would qualify as a ghost. We've got files on most of them.”
Alesha frowned. “Malloy admitted he was NSA. Doesn't that make him a target on his own?”
“NSA?” Natalie asked, frowning. No wonder he'd said that multiple foreign agencies were involved.
“Lawyer,” Gibbs muttered. “Not a spy.”
“Either way, it still gives us plenty of reasons to look into Matt's death again,” Natalie said. “I don't care who we put away for it or how long is left on that sentence. If someone else with a grudge against Matt went after his half-brother, I want to know.”
“You think what he did to you isn't on public record.”
Jake frowned, not sure if he'd passed out or just zoned out before hearing his captor's voice again. He grimaced, trying not to puke again. “He... who?”
“You know who I mean, Malloy.”
“No, I don't,” Jake answered, since he couldn't remember the conversation. Public record—he worked for the NSA. Almost nothing he did for them was public record. He sometimes wondered if his employment there even was. Or would they deny it if they were asked?
“Should we start with the broken fingers? Or would you rather discuss other broken bones? Other dark skeletons in that closet?”
“None... of... the... above,” Jake said, since he still had three working fingers and wanted to keep it that way. He thought maybe a rib or two might be broken, but he didn't want to be sure or push for more of those. Right now, if he could get free, he might be able to walk, so nothing that would keep him from doing that.
“Does he still scare you?”
Jake frowned. “What? Don't... know... who... you... mean.”
A sharp pain stabbed through his side, and Jake cried out, unable to keep himself from the reaction. That was what this guy wanted. He wanted a scream, pain, fear. Jake didn't think it was even about the answers he kept demanding.
“Don't lie to me.”
“I'm not. I don't... I don't know what... you're talking about. Again.”
“Yes. You. Do.”
Each word was enforced with another stab of pain, and Jake heard himself make some kind of noise that didn't sound human.
“Tell me the truth about the man who hurt you.”
The knife tore into his skin again, and Jake screamed.
Jake jerked awake, hitting the headboard before he was able to recognize the room and where he was. This wasn't some abandoned building. This was his hotel room. It was clean, and he was safe. He was fine.
He shuddered, knowing he wasn't.
He waited for his body to stop shaking, not wanting to try and stand until he was calmer. He looked around the room, not sure why Ellie hadn't found him yet, like she always seemed to do when he woke up from one of those. Part of him was glad. He didn't want to be seen like this. Part of him wasn't. He didn't want to be alone right now.
He wanted to stop feeling like this. He'd go for a shower, stay under the water until it was all washed away or it got too cold—that usually happened first—but he couldn't do that on his own and all thought of being clean was gone when he had to stop and have his hand wrapped up in a plastic bag to keep the cast dry.
He left the bedroom since whatever he did, he needed Ellie for it, and he'd only barely stepped out of it when he was attacked all over again.
“Jake!” Abby said, hugging him. “It is so good to see you. After those pictures of your half-brother, I was worried all over again.”
“Abby,” Jake said, struggling a bit to breathe. “I... Ribs...”
“Oh, I'm so sorry,” she said, backing off with a wince. “Are you okay? I had forgotten he broke your ribs.”
“Cracked,” Jake corrected, but the difference didn't seem to mean much when pressure got applied to them.
“Goodness, Jakob. You look dreadful.”
“My fault, Ducky. I just hugged him,” Abby said, still looking guilty. “I was just so excited to see him and in one piece and not dead after the whole pictures of the dead brother thing, and I got carried away.”
Ducky gave her a stern yet somehow gentle look before turning back to Jake. “I think it might be best if I take a look at you.”
“I'm fine,” Jake said, trying not to panic at the idea of being examined, though he really did want to run. “Just winded.”
“I doubt that.”
“I'm fine, Ducky,” Jake said. “Tired, sore, and confused, but fine. Why are you two here? I know they haven't set a trial date. They would have told me if they had.”
“They came because of Devlin,” Ellie answered, carrying a water glass over to him. He looked at the straw, shaking his head again at Tony's choice. “How bad is the pain right now?”
“Tolerable. And it's too soon for more pills anyway. I know I didn't sleep that long,” Jake said, since the sun was still up and he'd had a dose right before his last nap. “I'm fine.”
“I still think you should have my opinion on that,” Ducky told him, and Jake winced. He knew he owed his life to the man, but he didn't want to be poked and prodded, especially not after that nightmare. Memory. Whatever it was.
“And I'm still not sure what my half-brother has to do with this,” Jake said. Then he frowned. “Wait—you don't think they convicted the wrong man, do you?”
“I'm not sure I can look at this again,” Alesha said, and Ronnie gave her a pat on the back. He wasn't sure he could do it, either, since seeing Malloy had put him back there on that day, watching his partner die in front of him.
“You don't have to,” Gibbs told them. He looked over at the door. “'Bout time, Duck.”
“You'll forgive me for not rushing to your summons, Jethro,” the new arrival said in an accent that was familiar to everyone else in the room. “Not only am I a bit slower than I used to be, but I had a patient to look over first.”
“Jake's fine, just very cranky,” a woman answered for him, coming in to the room in what Ronnie would have thought was a costume. Dark hair, black dress, skulls everywhere, she had quite a few people staring at her.
“I concur,” the doctor said. “His wounds seem to be healing as expected. His mental state concerns me, but my examination made him, as Abigail says, rather irritable. You'll be able to see for yourself in a minute.”
Gibbs frowned. “You brought them with you?”
“Well...” the goth began, grimacing. “See, we didn't feel right leaving Jake behind, even though I told them both it was a very, very bad idea to look at pictures of Devlin's death. Still, if you'd seen him earlier, you'd understand why we couldn't just go—”
“Abby, for the last time, a hug is not going to kill me,” Malloy said as he came into the room. He looked over at Gibbs. “She was a little overenthusiastic earlier. My ribs did not appreciate it, and everyone has been freaking out since, but I am fine.”
“You know, as many times as you do that, it's still going to seem like someone else is walking through that door,” Ronnie observed to Malloy, who grimaced. “Good to see you again, though.”
“After the way I left earlier, I doubt that,” Malloy said, leaning against the wall and closing his eyes. “Why are you doing this, Gibbs? Devlin's killer was caught. Banks is in jail. And he probably killed his accomplice before coming after me. No loose ends. Charlie wouldn't have left any. I was the last one.”
“You don't know that.”
“We're just trying to be sure that no one with a reason to hurt Matty chose to go after you,” Ronnie told him, and his eyes opened with a start. His wife went to his side, touching his arm.
“What is it, Malloy?” Gibbs demanded, and the other man swallowed, shaking his head. “Out with it. Now.”
“There was... I don't even know if it was real,” Malloy said. “He... asked me about the man who hurt me. I made him mad by asking if that was him. It was just a fragment. I don't—Don't look at me like that, Gibbs.”
“You say Banks was lying. That make this man who hurt you someone else? Someone connected to Devlin?”
Malloy shrugged. “Brooks as much as said that Devlin's father—my father—was abusive toward him, but I don't know. I wasn't there to see it. I've never met the man. What I remembered was very vague. We're talking one sentence, with words that could mean almost anything. It could even have been a fishing attempt. Man who hurt me. We're talking anything with that. Could be child abuse. Could be name calling. It's meaningless.”
“Told you,” Abby said to Gibbs. “Cranky.”
“I'm going back to the hotel,” Malloy muttered, starting to leave, but his wife blocked him, whispering something into his ear. At first he still looked angry, but then Ronnie saw the expression change to one he knew from Matt, one where he was most definitely fighting a smile.
“Why don't you have a seat, lad?” Ronnie offered, thinking it might help if Malloy wasn't on his feet. “And then you can introduce us all to your friends.”
“Ellie's friends,” Malloy corrected. “Her boss, Gibbs, who I think you already know. Dr. Mallard, better known as Ducky, who is the medical examiner at NCIS. Abby Sciuto, the—what it is it again? Tony called you something the other day—”
“Forensic goddess?” Ellie suggested, getting a smile out of the goth. “And it fits. Abby is an expert when it comes to that sort of thing and very good with computers, too.”
Ronnie nodded. She was the one who'd run the test. He smiled, extending his hand to the closest newcomer. “I'm Ronnie Brooks. I worked with Matt. He was my partner. This is Alesha Phillips, crown prosecutor. The guv, Natalie Chandler. And we can't forget Angie over here. Angie helped us out more times than I can remember.”
“Weren't nothing,” Angie said, embarrassed by the attention.
“Now, now, take credit where credit's due,” Ronnie said. “Seems to me you even got a bit of a kiss from Matty once.”
She shrugged. “He was a sweetheart. He really was. So strange to see you and not hear him.”
Malloy nodded. “I'm sure. And I'm sorry. I don't mean to make things difficult for any of you.”
“Nonsense,” Ronnie said. Last thing he wanted was for Malloy to leave. Yes, it was hard to see him and not think of Matt, but he also didn't want to lose their last link to him. “We're happy to help. Matt was family. That makes you family.”
“I—Excuse me,” Malloy said, leaning over the nearest trash bin and vomiting. His wife went to his side, putting her hand on his back and rubbing it until he stopped.
Mallard moved toward him. “Jakob, is this the medication or one of your migraines?”
“Um...” Malloy began, frowning as his wife wiped off his face with a handkerchief Abby had given her. “Okay, spots. Apparently a migraine. That one came on... fast.”
Bishop winced. “Ducky, I know they said he couldn't mix the painkillers with what he was on for the migraines, but is there any alternative? Something else for either option?”
“I'll look into it, my dear,” Ducky told her, frowning. He wasn't the only one. Ronnie didn't think there was a person in the room who wasn't concerned right now. “Perhaps we should take you both home—”
“I'll do it,” Ronnie offered. “Truth be told, I wasn't much looking forward to seeing Matt's file again, and I think I can be of more use elsewhere.”
“No,” Malloy said, shaking his head and leaning over the bin again. After a minute calming his breathing, he stood back up, not vomiting again.
Gibbs watched him carefully. “Malloy?”
“I'm not going out there,” the other man said, “not again. This is—it's like before. History repeating itself. I felt like someone was watching me, I had migraine, I left NCIS... with Waters and Adams and... No. Not again. It can't happen again.”
The reinvestigation of Matt's death continues its rocky progress while Jake continues to have problems with his recovery.
I got halfway through the first scene of this chapter and wanted just to skip to the end because that was the bit that was really going to move the story forward, and I kept wishing I'd done it last chapter.
I guess I know better now, but this part should drive the plot forward. I think.
“It's not going to happen again,” Bishop said, taking her husband's arm. “This is different, and you are not alone this time. I know it probably feels—”
“No, don't,” Malloy interrupted. “Don't tell me how it feels. Don't console me like this is fine or normal. It isn't. This is—it's humiliating. I can't—I know what I'm feeling is crazy, but I can't make it stop, can't keep the panic away. I hate it. There is no reason to think it's anything but in my head, and when I think about that, it only makes it worse. I can't... I need...”
“Why don't you use my office?” Natalie offered, crossing over to them. “It's nothing fancy, but a few minutes alone might help.”
Bishop gave her a grateful smile, tugging her husband toward the door. Natalie followed after them, opening the door for them and turning the light back on.
“You know where to find us if you need anything,” Natalie said. “And of course, it goes without saying that—”
“No touching anything in here,” Bishop said. “Don't worry. That's really not an issue.”
She helped her husband to the chair, getting him to sit. He shook, and she started talking to him in a low voice, whispering in his ear. Natalie backed out, closing the door behind them. She returned to the other room, looking at the group still assembled.
“Does any of us actually believe that it's only in his head?”
“Indeed not,” Doctor Mallard said. “While it is true that Jakob exhibits several classic signs of post-traumatic stress disorder, and he may well be overreacting to the similar circumstances his leaving just now would have created, the fact remains that the man hired to harm him was not apprehended.”
“He left Jake to die, and if we hadn't found him when we did, Jake would be dead,” the goth added. “Can't really ignore that. This guy has to want Jake dead.”
“The man who hired him never tried to trade information on him? No attempts to make a deal?” Alesha asked, frowning.
“He's looking at terrorism, conspiracy, murder, attempted murder—he's not going to get much of a reduction in any kind of sentence,” the other woman disagreed, “and if he was lying about the guy he hired killing his accomplices and Agent Waters, he'd only push himself closer to the death penalty.”
“There is no death penalty here,” Mallard told her, and she shrugged.
“It's not like they weren't wanting to extradite him,” she said. “I think a lot of them would rather see him get the death penalty for something like Agent Waters' death rather than just prison for blowing up a building and killing seven people.”
“True,” Mallard agreed. He looked back at Natalie. “Banks claims he did all of this to get justice for his son, and Abigail is quite correct in saying that he would not risk anything that might cause him to face death—to his mind, he was justified in his actions for his child. If he dies, he can't do anything for him. It is how he was caught—he surrendered when Jakob reminded him that if he died, no one would care for the child. An erroneous assumption, of course, since I do believe Jakob would do quite a lot for his namesake, and not just him alone, but it worked in our favor.”
“If you count dragging Malloy through a trial a favor,” Gibbs muttered, shaking his head. “Abs, what do you need to go through all this again?”
“My lab and a lot of caffeine.”
“Perhaps we should find an alternative to that lab. Assuming that we are permitted to remove the evidence, the facility at the NCIS office did suffice before,” Mallard said, getting a nod from her. “Then it remains a question of whether or not we can be permitted access.”
“Is there something wrong with our lab here?” Ronnie asked, frowning.
“Oh, I did not mean to imply anything about your facility,” Mallard assured him. “I just thought perhaps it would cause less friction if Abigail did not repeat the work others have already done here. That might cause undue distress.”
“You might try talking to the lads down there,” Ronnie suggested. “Pretty girl like you should have no trouble getting all the help you want from them.”
She smiled at him, and he smiled back at her. Natalie shook her head, regretting giving away her office.
“Tony, I am not betting with you,” Tim said, shaking his head. He knew that the other agent was just bored—he'd already seen the in flight movie and hadn't liked it, leaving him with nothing to do but make snide comments or annoy Tim as he futilely to nap or read.
“Come on, McGee,” Tony said, nudging him with his elbow. “Gibbs has us all back on flights to London. That means something's up. Now if Jake had gone missing again, we'd know. If Banks got out, we'd know. If they caught the guy who tortured him, we'd know. So why are we on a plane?”
“You did look at the email Abby sent us, right?” Tim asked, shaking his head. How could Tony have not looked? Tony was always curious, and something from Abby was going to get opened right away. That was just how it went.
“What did you think we were betting on?” Tony asked, his tone suggesting that Tim was being an idiot. “Of course I read the file. We're on a flight to England. Again. That movie isn't even worth making fun of.”
Tim nodded. “You already said that. In detail.”
Tony grinned, picking up on Tim's annoyance. “So I did. Well, Timmy, let me tell you why I think we're really gong to London.”
“We know why we're going to London. Someone is interested in Jake, and he has a dead half-brother who looks just like him,” Tim said, trying not to shudder even as his writer brain wanted to use the idea in a novel. Two men that looked the same—the possibilities there were almost endless.
“Yeah, but Abby said she and Ducky went with Gibbs right away because they found something hinky in the guy's death,” Tony said. “And I know what it is.”
Tim knew he didn't want to hear this. He really didn't. Still, it wasn't like he could run. He was blocked in by the window. He'd never thought getting the window seat would be a bad thing, but now he was stuck. “Tony—”
“Think about it,” Tony began, and Tim knew that he didn't want to, but Tony would do it anyway. “Jake's half-brother looks just like him, and the autopsy is hinky.”
“I know that.”
“Which means that Jake's half-brother is not dead.”
Tim blinked. Even for Tony, that was a crazy idea. “How did you jump to that one? You know they were probably just thinking that maybe someone else was involved in Devlin's death. That doesn't make him somehow alive. He's dead.”
“That's what they want us to think. Have you forgotten who Jake works for? Come on, McGoober. He's NSA.”
“And a lawyer. Not a spy.”
“That's what they want us to think,” Tony repeated, and McGee groaned. “No, think about it. They've got a perfect cover. A good one. Fake a death, use a relative—”
“You're insane. They did not fake Jake's brother's death.”
“You keep telling yourself that,” Tony said, sitting back with smirk.
“Jake?” Ellie asked, reaching up to touch his hair, trying to reach him again. His silence was worrying her, though she'd tried to leave him as alone as she could after he'd calmed down again, knowing he needed the quiet and some space to get past the migraine. She hoped that Ducky could help them find a way to get him back on his medication. She hated watching him suffer through the migraines, and he didn't need that on top of his PTSD.
“I think if I move, I'll throw up, but if I don't move...”
“You'll throw up,” she finished for him, kneeling next to him and taking his good fingers in hers. “We need to get you some rest so you can get past this.”
“What rest?” Jake asked. “I have nightmares every time I close my eyes.”
Ellie swallowed, trying not to overreact. “You didn't tell me that.”
He shrugged. “I was hoping they'd stop. That it was just one or two, but as soon as they lowered the painkillers—now that I'm not passing out to sleep, I'm reliving it. And I know it's not going to stop, but I think I'm even twisting it worse than it was. Like earlier when I almost connected something that man did to me to Devlin—I don't remember everything. And I don't want to, but without remembering everything...”
“You can fill in the pieces with things that are worse than what did happen.”
He nodded. “I... I think I can try and go back to the hotel now. Just... not like before. I don't want to be in the same configuration—Waters, Adams, me—I can't do that again.”
“What if it's just Gibbs?”
“Are you actually expecting me to live through that?” Jake asked, frowning. “Gibbs driving on British roads... That's like suicide, and I am not actually at that point as bad as this is.”
She winced, not wanting to think about him ever being there. She put her hands on his face, careful of the remaining bruises. “I think there's no one we trust more with either of our safety than Gibbs. So if you have to face going out there where someone may be lying in wait, you can't do worse than going with him. His gut should know if there is someone there.”
Jake nodded. “Okay. We can try going with Gibbs.”
“I was actually thinking of staying here.”
She forced a smile. “I know that you have been relying on me a lot, and I don't want that to stop, but I think I might be able to put together some... big picture stuff if I could look at your brother's case, and if I do—”
“You'll be able to picture me dead.”
She flinched. “Jake—”
“No, fine, do it,” he said, pushing himself up out of the chair. “I'll go sleep this off, and you can analyze all you want.”
She sighed, shaking her head as she tried to block him from the door. “Don't do this. You don't have to—I can go back with you. I was just hoping to find a way to help, a way to end this, and analysis is what I do best.”
“I haven't forgotten that,” Jake said, opening the door and going out into the hall.
“You're taking this all wrong. It's not that I don't want to be with you. I am trying to find a way to make it so that you don't have anything extra to worry about. As long as we're worried about Matt's death being connected to what happened to you, there is a whole other layer of stress that you don't need, and you know that stress makes the migraines worse—”
“Right now, you are making the migraine worse,” Jake muttered, using his fingers to support himself on the wall as he walked away from her.
She grimaced, wanting to run after him but afraid that would only make things worse.
“Something wrong, Bishop?”
She gestured to where Jake was almost out of the front doors. “I told him that I thought I could help more if I worked on the case—”
“Not your best idea.”
She sighed. “I know. I just thought—it's so hard to balance being there for him with knowing that he feels smothered. And I feel useless. I thought if I could help with the case, maybe that would be the break I think he needs and the purpose I know I need.”
Gibbs shook his head, but he started after Jake, and she figured maybe it was better if he was the one to talk to him this time. She'd only made things worse again.
“Thought you said you felt like you were being watched,” Gibbs said, coming up behind Malloy in front of the police station. The other man hadn't gone far, but that didn't make it much better. He was still in danger, still wounded and sick. “The hell are you doing outside?”
Malloy grimaced, not looking at him. “Needed air. Space. Somewhere where I wasn't about to... embarrass myself or lash out at Ellie again.”
Gibbs looked at him. “That happening a lot?”
“The embarrassment? I think it's almost constant.”
Gibbs grunted. “The fights with your wife, Malloy. Thought this was about getting her back. That's part of why you left, wasn't it?”
“Apparently, I left so I could get abducted and tortured and find out I had another half-brother who'd been murdered,” Malloy said, snorting.
“You wouldn't even know the last part if you weren't so damned stubborn about staying.”
“You say that like I'm better off not knowing. I'm not so sure about that. I mean, it's not like I can do anything about Devlin's death, but strangely, despite what I did when I met them, I think I may have helped his friends. And while I haven't decided if I'm going to find more of Devlin's family or not, I can still meet some of my biological relatives, and that is important.” Malloy took in a breath and let it out. “I—You've been shot before. You've been in lots of dangerous situations. Did it ever... do this to you? Leave you so... broken?”
“That what you think you are?”
“I don't know what I am besides a giant mess. I was doing better before they reduced the pain pills, but I can't use them to avoid what's wrong even if I would much rather not have nightmares, if I would like to just... forget.”
Gibbs couldn't forget how it felt to lose Shannon or Kelly. He tried to bury it, but it never went away. He didn't figure it would be much different for Malloy if he actually did lose his wife. He just didn't know it yet. “Can't make it go away.”
Malloy nodded. “Ellie said I should let you take me back to the hotel, but I don't think that getting in a car with you is a good idea.”
Gibbs almost smiled. “You puke in my car, you won't like the consequences.”
“And here I thought it would be fun,” Malloy muttered. He shook his head, stopping with a wince. “You have that famous Gibbs gut, right? The instinct that tells you that danger is out there and we're in trouble? Or just that something's wrong?”
“You feeling like you're being watched again?” Gibbs asked. “I've got nothing.”
“It wasn't the reason you came all the way over here from the states?”
Gibbs grunted. “It was. Don't feel anything now. Migraine has to be throwing off your senses. Let's go.”
Malloy let Gibbs take him toward the parking lot without a protest, which probably meant that migraine of his was getting worse. Gibbs would get him back to the hotel, let him sleep it off. He'd also bug Ducky about the pills, since they couldn't afford to have Malloy more incapacitated than he already was. Man was a mess, as he'd said.
They were almost to the car when Gibbs did feel it. That sense that something was off. He looked at Malloy, wondering if that feeling was just a warning that the other man was sicker than anyone realized. He stopped, pulling Malloy back with him.
“What? Did you forget something?”
Gibbs shook his head, motioning for the other man to be quiet. He looked around the lot, frowning. Still nothing in sight, but that feeling wasn't going away, either. He started moving, headed for the rental, aware of Malloy lagging behind him.
He knelt down, looking at the undercarriage, checking for anything out of place. From here, he couldn't see enough, so he crawled underneath, ignoring the protests from his knee. Banks was the only bomber they knew of involved in this mess, but he wasn't about to take any chances. He hadn't felt like something was off until they were closer to the cars, which meant that something was here. Without anyone in sight, he'd go with tampering, though he still couldn't see anything obvious.
Then again, he just got here, and he wasn't the target.
“Which one is Bishop's?” Gibbs asked, hearing some kind of scuffle at the back of the car. “Malloy?”
Gibbs forced himself out from underneath, looking around. The hell. Malloy didn't move that fast on the racquetball court.
He turned just in time to see the wrench coming down at his head.
Ellie finds out that Jake and Gibbs didn't make it to the hotel, and a search ensues.
I know this seems complicated. I had reasons for that.
And I couldn't resist the car thing even though I should have. I just think those ones are so beautiful... I am a bit of a sucker for old cars myself.
“Hey, Bish. Where you at?”
Ellie shifted the phone on her shoulder, looking over at Ronnie with an apologetic smile. She knew she was keeping him here and dragging up bad memories in the process, but he had allowed her his desk to work. She'd ended up on the floor anyway, since it was easier for her to think when she reverted to old patterns.
“In London, Tony, but you knew that,” Ellie said. “Should I ask where you are?”
“At your hotel where you are not,” Tony answered. “So... do I have to ask again?”
Ellie frowned. Not only should Tony still be in the states, but he shouldn't have to ask where she was if he was at the hotel. She didn't understand. If he was there, then he should know. He could have asked Jake, and even if Jake was sleeping off his migraine like he should be, Gibbs should still be there. Or maybe that was too much to expect.
Maybe Gibbs didn't have it in him to look after someone who was sick and traumatized. He'd probably put Jake to bed and left.
“Jake should be there. Gibbs took him back to the hotel over an hour ago.”
“Well, as much as it disappoints McGee, I was able to persuade the hotel to let us in, and there is no Jake and no Gibbs,” Tony told her, and Ellie almost dropped her phone.
No. She wasn't doing this again. She couldn't go through this again. Jake was not missing. Jake was fine. He'd left with Gibbs, and Gibbs was the best agent—he would have protected Jake. Her husband was safe.
“Did you call Gibbs?” Ellie asked, not sure she wanted an answer to that.
“Yeah. First thing after we landed. Figured he would want us to check in and he'd be pissed if he didn't hear from us,” Tony told her. Then he got quiet. “Um, you know, I'm sure it's just one of those things. Gibbs got pissed at the traffic here and threw his phone out the window or something. It happens. More often than you'd think.”
Ellie grimaced. She knew that was true, but she wasn't sure she believed that was why no one could get hold of Gibbs. “I'm going to hang up and try Jake.”
“If you already tried to call him and he didn't answer, something is very wrong. I don't care if he had a migraine or not. He would pick up. He promised.”
“Maybe he is asleep and Gibbs refused to pick up his phone.”
“Do you really believe that?”
Tony muttered something under his breath. “All right. We're coming to you. McGee is already working on some sort of trace as we speak, but it would be faster if—”
“We're at the Bow Street Station. It's where Jake's brother used to work.”
“On our way.”
She hung up, biting her lip, and then she felt a hand on her arm. She looked over at Ronnie, his kind, concerned face, and she just about lost it.
“What happened, love?”
“That was Tony. A member of my team. He said Jake and Gibbs never made it to the hotel,” Ellie said, feeling sick. “I don't—I thought he'd be safe with Gibbs. He should have been fine. I don't know how this happened. Why is it happening again? Why would anyone want to hurt Jake like this? He's not perfect, but he never hurt anyone—”
“Easy now,” Ronnie said. “We don't know that he's been hurt again, not yet. Let's just us take us a little walk now—”
“I have to find Jake.”
Ronnie nodded. “And we are going to do that. Last time you saw them, they went outside, yeah? And they would have left here in a vehicle, which would have been in the lot. So we start there, where they would have been going.”
She nodded. “I'm sorry. I just—I think everything is worse because I've already been through this nightmare once. Last time we were lucky. Abby and McGee narrowed the search just enough to make it so that we found Jake before he bled out and Ducky was there to help him, but—”
“Tell you what,” Ronnie said. “Angie here is going to stop what she's doing and pull up the cameras outside our lot, looking for any and all cars that left in the last two hours, and we're going to get your Doctor Mallard up to the lot with us. Sound good?”
Ellie nodded, still fighting against nausea and panic. “Okay. Let's do that and search the lot.”
“Are you sure you're all right?” Alesha asked. “You might want to stay here and—”
Ellie shook her head. “I know I'm a bit of a mess right now, but this is what I do, and I will never forgive myself if I don't do it. I need to, and I've already stood here talking for too long. I'm not waiting for Ducky. He can meet us there.”
She was already running before she finished speaking.
“All right, love,” Ronnie said after he'd caught up with Ellie in the parking lot. “Which one of these is yours?”
She pointed to a rather fancy one, the likes of which Ronnie had only seen in pictures and museums. Two tone, blue and white, that was the sort of car that belonged on some country estate to be driven by a lord that had a whole barn full of rare cars and the money to maintain them. He looked over at her, and she shrugged.
“Jake has a thing for convertibles.”
“That's not just any convertible, love. That's an Austin-Healey, and they only made those for a few years,” Ronnie said, though he knew he couldn't afford to get distracted by the motor, no matter how unique it was. “That's not a car you hire for a short stay in another country.”
She grimaced. “No, it's not.”
Ronnie looked at her. “This could change everything, you know. Someone driving around in this—well, folks would assume he's got a lot of money, maybe even a title or two, and that's could be a whole new reason to get him in trouble.”
She walked toward the Austin-Healey, stopping at the front. “If it was about the car, it wouldn't be here. And it's not really a secret that Jake's family has money, though he doesn't usually go around flaunting it, either. Though the Mercedes...”
“There's a Mercedes, too?”
“Not here. In the states. I think Jake put it in storage when he left, but then we... I don't know, actually,” she said, and then she shook her head. “I have the keys. Jake didn't bother carrying them because he can't drive. They would have been at Gibbs' car, which would be something far more...”
“Cheap,” she said, looking around the lot. She took out her phone and made a call. “Hey, McGee. You have records on what car Gibbs was driving? Vauxhall Insignia? You're sure? No, Tim. I don't doubt you and no, you're right. Gibbs wouldn't be caught dead in a mini. Wait, is that what Tony rented?”
She hung up, looking back at Ronnie. “We're looking for a silver Vauxhall Insignia. McGee is texting me the plates and—there it is.”
Ronnie started over to the car she'd pointed out, running the rest of the way when he saw something on the ground next to it. He rounded the back, coming to the side and wincing. Kneeling down, he turned the man over, relieved to see his chest going up and down.
“Gibbs,” she said, joining Ronnie next to her supervisor. “That is a lot of blood, but head wounds bleed a lot, and he's been here for a while. He is still breathing, and Tony wouldn't be the only one to say he has a hard head. I think Director Vance did, too.”
Ronnie nodded, but he didn't like this. He'd suggested the parking lot because it was a place to start, not because he'd thought anyone would still be here. This was too bold. To take someone from a lot at a police station—whoever did this must think that they were untouchable, that they could get away with anything.
“Over here, Ducky,” she called back, and Ronnie backed away to allow the doctor access.
“Goodness, Jethro,” Mallard said as he examined the wound. “It bled a lot, but it's superficial. Shouldn't be any major damage—baring the potential for a cumulative effect from other similar incidents in the past.”
“So he should be fine?” Ellie asked, biting her lip. “Really fine?”
“Yes,” Ducky said, putting a hand on her arm. “You know that he has come through much worse. This is going to make him irritable, but besides that should have little lingering impact.”
“His wallet there?” Ronnie asked, and they both looked up at him. He held up his hands. “Eliminating any other possibilities, making sure this wasn't about the car or money.”
“Wallet's here. So are his keys.” She grimaced at the sound of another car in the lot. “We need to close this off as a crime scene.”
“I'll take care of that,” Ronnie told her. “You stay with him.”
“I am afraid to ask, but—Jakob?”
She shook her head. “We haven't searched the entire lot yet, but so far... nothing. He's not here. Though if he got hit like this, he'd be out, too, and he wouldn't have heard us, so he wouldn't have called out to us and...”
“I'm certain that we will find him,” Mallard told her. “First I had better see to my patient.”
“Yes, of course,” she said, backing away to let him work. “I suppose we should go from one end to the other and check between all of the cars, go through in order and make sure we don't miss anything along the way...”
“Stay calm, love. There's a lot of space to search yet, and I'm going to get us some help.”
“Already done,” another man's voice said, and Ronnie rose, frowning as he looked across the boot at the new arrivals. The taller one smiled at him, standing up and trying to get a glimpse of the others as he spoke. “Bishop, the cavalry is here.”
“Tony,” she said, rushing around to embrace him. He stiffened, frowning down at her. “They got Gibbs and Jake is missing again...”
“Damn,” her friend said, patting her on the back awkwardly. “McGee, get us into the security feed. We need to see what happened here.”
“I think we may have another way of getting that answer,” Mallard said. “Welcome back, Jethro. Please refrain from scaring us like that again.”
Tony pulled Bishop along with him as he went to check on Gibbs. He'd never known the woman to hug like that—with one exception, her husband—and for her to cling to him like this, she had to be near her breaking point. Not that Tony could blame her—it was rare anyone got the drop on Gibbs, and if Jake was missing again, they were all in trouble. Gibbs was going to be pissed, Bishop would be a wreck, Abby would be upset, and Tony knew none of them had really recovered from the first time.
“Hey, Boss. How's the head?”
“I'm looking at you, DiNozzo. How do you think?” Gibbs snapped, trying to force Ducky's hands away from his head.
“You need stitches, Jethro. Do not fight me on this,” Ducky told him, holding up a hand as he continued his examination. “Now follow my finger—Good. Well, I do believe you have a concussion again, but that should be no surprise to you. I'd prefer to have you looked at in a hospital—”
“No time for that,” Gibbs said, trying to get to his feet. “Where's Malloy?”
“We don't know,” Bishop answered. “I thought you'd taken him back to the hotel until Tony called and said you weren't there. I just thought... I thought he was sleeping it off.”
Gibbs grunted. McGee touched her arm. “There's nothing wrong with thinking that, Bishop. We all thought Jake was safe. This is a police station. Nothing should have happened here.”
“Something did, though,” she said, and now the guy in the trench coat was trying to comfort her as well. “I should have seen it. I was looking at the case, but I didn't—”
“You were looking at Matty's case, love, not your husband's,” the other man told her, and she tried to agree but didn't fool anyone. Bishop blamed herself, and she was close to the edge again. Damn. Tony did not want to do this twice.
“Where's your car?” Gibbs asked, and everyone looked at him with a frown. The hell did the car matter when Jake was missing? “Bishop, where is your car?”
“I know yours is technically a part of the crime scene,” Bishop began, “but you're not in a state to go anywhere. We haven't even checked the whole lot yet, and it's possible that Jake—”
“Malloy felt like... he was being watched when he was outside,” Gibbs said, shaking his head and looking like he regretted it, not that he'd ever admit it. “Didn't see anything. Didn't sense anything... until we were here. Still didn't see anything. Went to check the car.”
“And that's when Jake disappeared and you got that nasty bump on your head,” Tony finished. “Okay, so they waited for you to be distracted. And you wouldn't have seen them coming when you were under the car.”
“Check their car, DiNozzo.”
“Boss, if the goal was to take Jake, they got him,” McGee said, looking up from his tablet. Tony hoped he had the surveillance by now. They needed answers, and Gibbs didn't have the ones they'd been hoping for—which would piss him off more than his head wound. “There's no need to mess with the car, too.”
“Just do it,” Gibbs ordered, still grumbling at Ducky. The ME glared back at him, and normally Tony would find that battle of wills hilarious, but not this time.
Tony looked at Bishop. “Which one of these is yours?”
The man in the trench coat pointed them to the sports car, and Tony frowned, not sure he believed what he was seeing. No way. He turned back to Bishop, and she nodded in confirmation.
“You've been holding out on us, Bishop. I knew Malloy came from money, but damn,” Tony said, whistling. This car was just beautiful. Austin-Healey 3000. They didn't make them like this anymore. “I told you, Magoo—he's so James Bond.”
“He is not a spy, Tony,” McGee said, sounding tired and frustrated. “I don't see why you're so hung up on that, but you're wrong. He's just a lawyer.”
Tony snorted, kneeling down next to the car. McGee didn't want to believe it, but Tony knew that eventually he'd be proved right. This wasn't just about some psycho's grudge. The NSA was a spy organization. Everyone knew that.
“Um, Boss,” Tony began, his eyes stopping on something that did not belong on a classic car like this—ever. This was just wrong. “Looks like you were right. I'm thinking that thing has some kind of ignition trigger.”
“You have to be joking,” McGee said. “That makes no sense. Why set up a bomb to kill Jake if they were going to abduct him?”
“We don't know that they abducted him.”
“Or they set up the bomb to conceal that they abducted him, but I don't understand why they would take him since we know that it's in both Banks and his accomplice's best interest to kill Jake,” Bishop looked sick after she finished. “I can't believe I just said that.”
“Doesn't make it any less true,” Gibbs said, pulling away from Ducky. He turned to trench coat. “Your people on their way?”
“They were on their way to search and start forensicating everything, but we'll need a different set now that there's a bomb,” the other man answered. “Oh, Angie, love. I didn't expect you to come down here.”
“Not sure I would've done if I'd known about a bomb,” the woman said, hesitating. Her eyes stayed on Gibbs even as the Brit went up to her. “Um... I went through the cars that left the lot, and the guv called to confirm that all of the ones belonging to us were taken out by our people. That left these ones as visitors. I haven't had a chance to look for them on other cameras yet. I'm sorry, Ronnie. I was hoping...”
“We were all hoping nothing had happened,” Ronnie told her, putting a hand on her arm. “Thank you, Angie. That's good work.”
“McGee,” Tony said, “Go with her. Get the plates and the footage. Find us some bad guys.”
“Tony, you know you're not—”
“Go, McGee,” Gibbs ordered, and Tony gave McGee a smirk. McGee gave him a glare back, but he managed to give Angie a smile as she led him inside.
“I've been trying to find a camera that covers that section of the parking lot, but I wasn't able to get anything,” McGee said as he walked away. “Is there one or is that a blind spot? How many people would know about it if it is?”
“Good question,” Ronnie said, looking back at the Austin-Healey and shaking his head. “No. I don't want to believe it.”
Tony eyed him. “But it could have been one of yours that was involved in this, couldn't it?”
Ronnie winced. “Well, Matty... he wasn't afraid to go after other cops that were bent. He had a strong sense of right and wrong, he did. Still, wasn't like Matt's death was any kind of secret. Can't see why one of ours would want to hurt Malloy since they should all know that he was already dead.”
Gibbs grunted. “Doesn't mean they couldn't have been hired.”
“Great,” Tony muttered. “Gibbs got hit in the head, Jake's missing, someone put a bomb on his car, and it could have been a cop. This just gets better and better.”
The investigation continues with a couple leads and a lot of confusion.
I do not know why I watched today's episode. I knew that they were going for that angle, but I still didn't want to see it.
I like denial. I don't want to write an alternate season fourteen.
Sorry. Minor rant over. Now fic. I forget what else I might have intended to say before the episode.
Jake was missing.
Ellie was used to basing her analysis on facts and statistics, but she didn't want to think about statistics right now. If she did, she would have to acknowledge that Jake wasn't likely to survive a second abduction and that the abduction itself made no sense.
Charlie Banks would still be convicted without Jake's testimony, since they had forensics and a confession, but he still wanted revenge. He would want Jake dead. That she couldn't deny.
Jake was the only one who knew what all his kidnapper had done to him, and since that man was a ghost, someone who had somehow stayed off the radar of law enforcement around the world, he had even more reason to want Jake dead.
Still... They had forensics there, too. Abby said that he'd left lots of trace evidence on Jake's shirt. That didn't fit with the ghost aspect, but then he'd had to leave in a hurry—they couldn't have missed him by much or Jake would have been dead.
Someone touched her arm, and she forced herself back to the present.
“I don't know that we should assume that any policemen were involved until we know more,” Ellie said, giving Ronnie a sympathetic look. She didn't want to believe that it was one of his colleagues any more than he did. She was afraid that Jake would be in more trouble if there was a cop involved, so she wanted to believe they weren't. “Not saying we're ruling it out without checking it, but we might miss something if we say it was a cop.”
“A pro is going to take note of all cameras and find a way to avoid them,” Tony agreed. “And the guy has to be pretty cocky to pull a stunt like this at a police station.”
Ellie tried not to wince. That sounded more like the person behind this was a cop, and that wasn't something any of them wanted.
“Let's let the experts take care of that bomb,” Ronnie said, pulling her away from the lot. She wanted to argue, but she knew staying there with the bomb was crazy. They couldn't be sure that it was meant to go off with the ignition.
“Right. Would hate to have another Ari on our hands,” Tony said, and she looked at him, but he waved her off, telling her to ignore it. She wasn't sure she could, not when he'd said the word Ari which was almost like naming the bogeyman—he was always being linked only to his half-brother Sergei, but also to Parsa—and he always got everyone on the team worked up. “Abby should be able to tell us more once the bomb's been disabled.”
Ellie nodded. She knew that if there was anything to find, Abby would find it. They would find Jake again. She had to believe that, even if she was terrified that they wouldn't this time.
“Gonna need to talk to Charlie Banks,” Gibbs said, dodging Ducky as he tried to lead him away from the lot.
“You need a hospital, Jethro,” Ducky disagreed. “I'm afraid I will insist upon it. You were unconscious for more than an hour. That is no small matter.”
“Don't have time for that. Need to find Malloy.”
“Gibbs, as much as I want Jake back and as much as I'm sure he's worried right now if he's awake at all, neither of us want you risking your own life or health for him,” Ellie said. “Go to the hospital. Tony can talk to Charlie—and I'm not sure that's even going to help. Jake really didn't think it would.”
“Your husband wants to believe that,” Gibbs said. “Doesn't make it true.”
“I'd be curious to know what this man had to say myself,” Ronnie said. “All of us want to know if anything from Matty's case connects to Malloy's and vice versa. Would have gone to see this man already if I'd had the name.”
“Banks hasn't really cooperated,” Tony warned him. “But let's go have a chat anyway. Not like we can do anything here.”
Ellie looked back at the parking lot, hating that he was right about that.
“How's prison treating you, Charlie?”
Banks looked up from the table. Tony wasn't sure what game he was playing, but he didn't think he'd ask for his lawyer, even if he should. “Am I supposed to know you?”
Tony snorted. Was the guy kidding? He'd arrested this jerk. He would have figured that would have stuck in the guys' head, but then again, Banks was the sort of criminal that was so self-absorbed that he wouldn't have paid any attention to that or anything else that wasn't part of his little bubble.
“I'm part of the reason you're here,” Tony said, sitting down across from the other man. Brooks took up a post against the back wall. “Though I figure you only remember my friend Jake.”
“Malloy isn't anyone's friend.”
Tony almost laughed. “Actually, he's the best friend of a scary former marine, and you are lucky that man isn't the one sitting across from you. He'd be pissed. More than pissed because someone hit him in the head recently. Tends to make him very grumpy. So do threats to his people.”
Banks shrugged. “If you think repeating Gibbs' threats will scare me, you're wrong. I did what I did for my son.”
“Same son that you tried to have killed before it was even born?” Tony asked, shaking his head. “You're not fooling anyone, you know.”
Banks leaned back in his chair, folding his arms over his chest. “I don't care if you believe me. You don't matter.”
“Out of curiosity,” Brooks began, “does Malloy matter?”
Banks stiffened. “This is all his fault. Or didn't they tell you that?”
“No, they did not,” Brooks said. He looked at Banks. “I suppose you'd like to tell me.”
Banks smiled. “No, I think I'd rather know what brought you here. Whatever it is, I assume it's about Malloy. You wouldn't have come to me if it wasn't. What do you think I've done now? Hurt him? Look at where I am. You know what my alibi is. I'm innocent.”
“Like you wouldn't have hired someone to harm Jake. You did it before.”
“No, I hired someone to get information from Jake,” Banks corrected. “Three someones, I suppose I should say. Those actors were terrible, weren't they? Pity about that. If they had been as convincing as you are, Jake might have told them everything like he would have told you.”
Tony snorted. “Actually, Malloy isn't the type that gives away a lot of classified information. Not even his wife got that out of him. Though Gibbs was able to talk him into sharing. Maybe it's just because you're not Gibbs.”
Banks laughed. “I wouldn't want to be Gibbs.”
“Agreed, few people would,” Tony said. “Let's talk about the man you hired before.”
“Oh, I don't know anything about him. Never spoke to him, never called or texted. You know, I don't know that I ever paid him. So I guess you can't say that I hired him.”
Tony rolled his eyes. “You're lying. We were able to trace your payment to an off-shore account. That one didn't connect to your hacker or the NSA agent you had in your pocket. It also wasn't the payment for the actors. You did pay him.”
“And you want to find him?” Banks smiled. “Tell me, how bad are Jake's nightmares? Does he wake up every night screaming?”
“What kind of a question is that?” Brooks asked, frowning.
“You want us to feed you details of Jake's suffering,” Tony said, leaning forward across the table. “You get off on it, don't you? I suppose this fills your quota for the next year since you're not likely to get conjugal visits any time soon, if ever.”
Banks smiled. “Revenge isn't revenge without some suffering.”
Tony looked at him. “You don't think paying a man to torture him is enough?”
Banks didn't seem the least bothered by any of this. “It's not my fault the man was so stubborn about giving it that he had to be persuaded. Of course, I suppose you would argue that I knew he was that stubborn and knew what I was doing when I hired that man.”
Brooks watched Banks carefully. “Did you?”
That got him a wide grin, and Tony was very glad Gibbs and Bishop were not here for this. He'd known what the answer would be, but it was still sickening. Banks was gloating, and yes, he had known that Jake would resist the torture. He'd wanted that when he hired that mercenary.
“And did you hire someone to go after him again?” Brooks asked, and Tony almost wanted to tell him not to bother. He didn't figure that Banks would tell them the truth about that at all.
“I didn't have to,” Banks said, smirking. “He offered to do it for free.”
“A bomb. In all my years doing this job, I've never had a bomb in my station,” Natalie said, shaking her head. She didn't want to believe this, but she only had to look at the NCIS agent to know that it was very real. Someone had gotten him good, and his friend the doctor kept fussing at him.
“Well... technically, it was on our car,” Bishop said, grimacing. “Um... Jake's car.”
“Are we back to thinking that it was something to do with his connection to Matt?” Alesha asked. “This is where he used to work, and if someone were to think that Malloy was Matt, they could have tried to harm him for that alone.”
“Maybe,” the one Angie had called McGee said, “but chances of them planting the bomb on Jake's car because of his connection to Devlin are slim. Um... the difference in income brackets alone and the price tag on that car—”
“Hold on,” Natalie interrupted. “What exactly are we talking about here? A luxury rental?”
“An Austin-Healey 3000,” Mallard answered. “Beautiful piece of British engineering. Quite lovely, in a two tone of blue and silver. I admit to considerable jealousy myself.”
Natalie blinked. “Do I even want to know how much one of those would cost?”
“I don't actually know,” Bishop answered. She tugged on the sleeve of her shirt, fidgeting. “Is there food here? I need... something.”
“Bishop, be careful with the stress eating, okay?” McGee said, frowning at her in concern. “We're going to get Jake back.”
“Statistics are against that happening twice,” Bishop whispered. “I can't do this.”
“Bishop,” Gibbs said, hand on his head. “The car?”
She shook her head. “I don't think it's significant. It... I suppose it shows how much money his family has, since I think the car was his mother's.”
“It was?” McGee asked. “I know it's pricey, but I thought it was some kind of rental.”
“No. Jake's family does business in England,” Bishop answered. “It was part of why he chose to relocate here.”
“Do they own any property here?”
“I guess so,” Bishop said. “Look, Jake's relationship with his family is... complicated. And... not that it really has any bearing on this, but his grandfather cut him off back when he was in law school. He hasn't used a cent of his family's money since. The Austin-Healey was partially because he wasn't sure he was saying and partially because he is the biggest sucker for convertibles. One time when we were going on a trip—”
“Bishop.” Gibbs turned to his other agent. “Where does Malloy's family have property?”
“You think the person who abducted Jake took him to one of his family's holdings?” Bishop asked. “I suppose if they did any sort of research, they'd know that no one is there most of the time, and we were almost sure he was being stalked again, but that still doesn't explain the bomb.”
“We can let Abby look at that,” McGee said. “And it doesn't hurt to search the buildings that belong to Jake's family. Though... that will delay me getting through the camera footage and Tony's not back yet—”
“I think we can help with that,” Natalie said. “I've got your manpower. You got the right authorization for the search?”
Gibbs looked at Bishop. “She's his wife.”
“Yes, but I did just tell you Jake has nothing to do with his family's businesses. He wouldn't have any more right than I do,” Bishop said. “I'll call Jake's mother, though. I doubt she'll object.”
“Who offered to do it for free?” Ronnie demanded. “This man you hired before?”
Banks just smiled, sitting back and enjoying himself. Ronnie had dealt with too many like him over the years, though the smugness was that much worse coming from a man who had done harm to Matty's brother. The only thing worse would have been being in the same room with Matty's killer again. If Ronnie was with him again—he didn't know that he could have controlled himself.
He might be there soon, though.
“You know, interestingly enough, someone suggested to us that you might have gotten rid of that man,” the NCIS agent said. “You blame Agent Waters' death on him, plus two other murders, but maybe you were behind all of them. That true, Banks?”
“Jake told you that, didn't he?” Banks asked, still grinning. “He never had that good of a sense of humor when we were in law school together, but then I suppose he did have a chip on his shoulder back then. All of his issues with inadequacy...”
“I think those are yours, Chalrie boy,” Tony said. “I mean, you did have to go committing terrorism and murder to prove you were a good father—which is pretty damned warped, if you ask me. You think if your kid comes out of his coma he'll be proud of you?”
Banks glared at him. “He will understand.”
“I doubt it.”
Banks just looked away, trying to keep up his superior act. “Jake ever tell you about his grandfather? If you were looking for someone who wanted to harm him, I would have said that old man. Of course, then I would be sending you after a ghost, wouldn't I?”
“His grandfather is dead. Has been for years. Oh, but he did hate Jake. We're not just taking disinheritance like you got, DiNozzo. That old man made Jake's life miserable,” Banks went on, still sounding smug. “I don't suppose you had that doctor of yours look at the old breaks on his x-rays, did you? Do those broken fingers give him the same nightmares he used to have?”
Ronnie frowned. Just how sick was this man, that he could delight in this kind of talk? And was that true? Both Matt and his unknown half-brother had grown up in abusive homes? This could not be right. None of it.
“You are pathetic,” DiNozzo said, rising. “I'll be sure that your son knows just how sick you are if he ever wakes up. Come on, Brooks.”
“In a tic,” Ronnie said. He turned to Banks. “How much do you know about Malloy's brother?”
Banks rolled his eyes. “Jonathon is a complete waste of air, which you would know if you'd ever spoken to him.”
“I have,” DiNozzo said. “Not sure I agree, but then you've been wrong about a lot of things. Hasn't he, Brooks?”
“Yeah,” Ronnie agreed, following the other man to the door. “He has.”
“Do I have to be?” Jake asked, putting his hand to his head and wincing when his broken fingers touched his cheek. That hurt, but then so did everything else. He was also very sure that he was going to puke. The air still smelled funny.
“Actually, I think you do.”
Jake frowned and then he did puke. He tried to scoot back away from it and hit the wall. He stayed where he was, not daring to try to move again. What was it with him always getting kidnapped when he had migraines? He might never be able to set foot outside again.
He closed his eyes. He remembered going around the car to find out what Gibbs was looking at and then there was something white, a big white blur. And a sickening smell.
Chloroform. Wasn't that only in movies?
That had not been used the first time. Did that mean he hadn't been taken by the same person? Why would someone different kidnap him?
And why wasn't he dead?
Jake tries to understand his predicament while the others continue their search.
I am sorry this took so long. I knew part of what I wanted to do with it, but I made the mistake of starting Redeeming the Past, and it got to where I had to finish it for the sake of my sanity. Now that I have done that, I want to wrap this one up, too. It is way past time I set things right here.
Jake looked around the room a second time, blinking and deciding that no, it was not a trick or because he'd only just woken up. He was in complete darkness. He couldn't see even the smallest bit of light, which was unsettling in more than one way. Being alone in the dark might have been bad enough, but there was someone else here, and he still didn't know where here was.
He didn't really want to move toward the other person in the room, and he didn't want to go back to where he'd puked, which left him with few options.
He turned to the left, trying to see how far that went, if the wall continued for more than what he could feel here. Crawling was awkward, but he didn't know that he wanted to stand and find out that the ceiling was as low as it felt like it was. He didn't need a concussion on top of everything else.
Something jerked him back, and he tried again, confirming that there was some kind of cuff on his ankle. Great.
“You know you're not going anywhere.”
Jake nodded. “Aware of that now, thank you.”
“You don't have to be like that about it.”
“I have no idea who you are, and I also don't know what you're planning on doing to me, but the last time I was in this position, I almost died. I think I'm being reasonable, all things considered,” Jake muttered, not sure when panic would set in and he'd start screaming or lose himself to some flashback.
“So you've been kidnapped and locked in a dark room before?”
“Kidnapped, yes. Dark room, no,” Jake said, still not sure how to deal with it. He thought that the other voice was coming from the right side of the room, which mean staying away from the puke also kept him away from the voice. Good. Maybe. “You?”
“I guess you could say the opposite,” the voice answered. “You're American, aren't you?”
“Yes,” Jake agreed because there wasn't much point in denying it. His companion seemed to be British, though he knew that was an oversimplification, since it wasn't like people from America didn't have different accents, and he knew his own wasn't that easy to pin down, not as obvious as a southern one, and it had always seemed rather plain to him until he spent an extended time with Ellie's family. “Not sure why that matters, though.”
“After a few days in the dark, alone, you start getting a little desperate. Maybe you're a hallucination—”
“Or you are.”
“—Or maybe switching accents would throw him off when he comes back in. The door shuts. It gets dark again. So if he thought you were where I am and I'm over there...” Bitter laughter followed that. “What the hell good does that do? It won't get either of us free.”
“Damn. I knew Jake's family had money, but... damn,” Tim said, aware that he probably sounded a lot like Tony at the moment. He had only started pulling up the locations of the various holdings the Malloy family had, but there was a lot there. The list itself was long, most of it in the US, but they had property in the UK and other parts of Europe and even South America.
“You're kidding,” the crown prosecutor said, giving Tim a look. “All of that belongs to his family?”
Tim nodded, looking to Bishop for confirmation. She shrugged.
“Your husband's family has this much money, but you never looked into their properties?”
Bishop met the other woman's look, folding her arms over her chest. “It was never about money with me and Jake. He didn't act like he came from money—with the exception of his clothes, he always has dressed nice—never bragged about it or flaunted it or took anything he had for granted. We're comfortable in our finances, since we both worked and had few expenses, and Jake did splurge and buy a Mercedes convertible, but that was after we couldn't agree on a house to buy.”
“Wouldn't seem like you'd need to buy anything,” Chandler observed, setting down her phone. She looked up at the list again. “How long has it been since he was taken? We should be able to take a few more addresses off that list by distance.”
Tim nodded. “I can calculate the maximum distance they'd be able to travel in the time since they took Jake and eliminate anything outside of it. They wouldn't want to raise suspicion when they were driving, so they'd be obeying speed limits and... There. That cuts the number down to... Ten.”
“Ten is a lot easier than twenty,” Chandler agreed. “Pity we can't eliminate them further.”
“Well, on the one hand, it would seem like taking him to any of the family's businesses would be too big of a risk if someone saw them, but then it might be easier to hide someone in a commercial facility, especially if the kidnapper is familiar with the building,” Tim said. “I think that we have to check there as well, though we are... possibly on a wild goose chase anyway.”
“Feels a lot better than doing nothing,” Bishop said, biting her lip. She shook her head. “I feel like I'm missing something again. Like last time, where there was one piece out of reach and if I knew what that was, I'd have it, be able to make sense of things again... I had the whole theory to work on when they took him. Now...”
“Elanor, perhaps it would be best if you—”
“Ducky, don't tell me to leave. I can't go sit in a hotel room while Jake is missing again. When someone planted a bomb and took him and—”
“I wasn't suggesting that,” Ducky told her. “I thought perhaps it might be best if you had something to eat. Would you mind accompanying me, my dear?”
Bishop gave him a smile, allowing him to distract her. Tim was relieved. It was hard enough trying to do this for someone they all knew without having their spouse in the room. If they found something bad, Bishop didn't necessarily need to know, not yet. It could be a false alarm.
It had better be a false alarm. Tim couldn't believe they were doing this again. Jake had just been found. He shouldn't be missing again.
Chandler turned, going over to another of her detectives. He said something to her, and she nodded, picking up the phone. She listened to the person on the other end, thanking him before hanging up again.
“Well?” Gibbs demanded, arms over his chest. Tim was a bit surprised that he was still here, but then Gibbs didn't have anything specific to go after yet. They hadn't given him a suspect or a place to search, and while he'd been the one to suggest searching the Malloy family properties, he hadn't gone for any of them himself.
“Ange, I think we can start concentrating our efforts on one vehicle,” Chandler said, coming back over to her. “They tracked down the owners of all but the Renault.”
“It hasn't been reported stolen,” Tim said, doing a quick check. “Anything suspect about the address used for registration?”
Chandler shook her head. “Not so far as we could see. The other cars were stopped and searched. No sign of this one so far.”
Gibbs grunted. “Better send someone to check on the owners.”
Chandler frowned. “You think someone killed them just to steal their car?”
“And so the theft wouldn't be noticed for hours until long after they were found,” Tim said, getting a look from Gibbs he thought was agreement. “You think this is our ghost, Boss?”
“Looks like it.”
Jake reached his good hand down to the cuff on his ankle, running his working fingers on it. His companion had fallen into silence after his idea about the accents, and Jake hadn't tried to renew the conversation. He didn't know that he believed the voice was real, and he didn't know that he wanted to find out, either. He couldn't be sure that the voice wasn't some kind of trick or manipulation even if he wasn't going crazy down here—wherever here was because he could only assume he was underground and couldn't actually be sure.
He found the lock and nodded, though what he'd do about it, he didn't know. He did see the value of Gibbs' rule nine, but even if he'd had a knife, Jake had three working fingers and no way to get at the one on his key ring, which he was almost certain he no longer had.
“You're asking me?”
“You are the one that said he'd been kidnapped before,” the voice reminded him. “How did you survive the last time?”
Jake couldn't be sure why he was being asked this, but he supposed it didn't really hurt to tell him the truth. “I was rescued. Didn't free myself. Just... somehow managed to stay alive long enough for others to find me.”
Shrugging, Jake leaned back against the wall. “They did find me once. It could happen again. Ellie would know the statistics on that, but I don't. And that assumes you're not the one who abducted me in the first place.”
“Why would someone who abducted you ask you how you got away last time?”
“Because he was a coward who stabbed me and ran?” Jake suggested, wondering if he would piss the voice off by that. The silence was a bit of a surprise, but then if this was a hallucination or someone trying to convince him that they weren't involved, they'd be careful at this point.
And when had Jake gotten this paranoid? Or this analytical?
“Somehow, I don't think that's happening this time,” the other man said. “What about your hands? They bound or is it just your feet?”
Jake tensed, not sure he wanted to answer that at all. “Why should I trust you?”
The voice stopped when light came into the room, and Jake backed into the wall again, trying not to panic. He didn't know if this was a test, or if he was about to be tortured again, but either way, he couldn't stop himself. He yanked on the chain, desperate. He shuddered, refusing to break down and cry. He had to stay calm, but it was hard to breathe again.
“I see we are awake,” a second voice said, but that one Jake recognized. He wanted to be dreaming or hallucinating. A flashback would be welcome. Anything to make that not real, for him not to be here. “Very good. We can resume our conversation.”
“You don't talk,” Jake said, feeling sick. “And they caught Charlie. You can't be doing this for him. Not now. Why would you? His assets are frozen. He can't pay you.”
That got him laughter. “You I don't mind hurting for free.”
“Ah, good, Boss. You're still here,” DiNozzo said as he walked back into the room. “Because we may have a problem.”
Gibbs' head throbbed, and he wanted to hurt something—or someone. That was not what he needed to hear. He wanted answers. He wanted to find Malloy now. He wanted to make whoever the hell hit him pay. He did not want a problem. They already had too many problems. Malloy missing. A bomb in his car. The things about his half-brother's autopsy that didn't add up.
“Weren't you able to talk to Banks?” McGee asked. “I know Jake said he wouldn't help, but you should still have been able to get in and see him?”
“Oh, we saw him,” DiNozzo said. He grimaced. “I think I need a shower after that, actually.”
“Me, too, mate,” Brooks said, going over to his desk. “I've done this job for a long time now, and I've dealt with my share of criminals. This one... he was more than a little bent. Twisted everything about and laughed about it, too.”
Gibbs looked at DiNozzo. The other agent flinched. “Uh... well... He kept asking us if Jake had nightmares, gloating, like he got off on the idea of Jake suffering. He wasn't even the one who did it, but he jerked us around anyway, pretending to be helpful and then not really giving us anything. He even said Jake's grandfather did it because he supposedly abused him when he was a kid. Banks was just screwing with us. He has no intention of telling anyone who he hired or why.”
“We knew he wouldn't,” Gibbs said, though he'd wanted to confront the man himself. He hadn't figured it would change anything, not after the way he'd been when he was arrested, but that didn't mean that Gibbs didn't want to see it for himself. “What is the problem?”
“Jamaal Clarkson is dead,” Brooks said, making the Brits all stop and look at him. He nodded. “So none of us knew. Bit strange that. Might not be so bad if I'd been the only one who wasn't told, but if none of us did...”
“Something very not right about that,” DiNozzo said.
McGee frowned. “Wait—who is Clarkson? That name wasn't one of the drivers who was in the garage or one of the victims in the bombing or—”
“He's the one that killed Devlin,” Gibbs said, and McGee flinched. He should have known that. “How long has he been dead?”
“Almost a year,” DiNozzo answered, and Gibbs looked at Chandler. She shook her head, as though this was still the first she'd heard of it. “Seems that Clarkson died not long after he went to prison. Another inmate up and killed him.”
“That's not possible. We should have been told,” the prosecutor said. “Matt was our friend, but this was our case. We would have been informed. There has to be some sort of mistake.”
“Clerical error?” DiNozzo scoffed. He shook his head, but then he ended up smiling. “You owe me twenty, McGee.”
“I do not,” McGee protested. “You haven't proved anything. That doesn't make your theory true, even if you twist it to fit the insanity—and it is insanity. Stop making wild theories and help us find Jake before it's too late.”
Chandler frowned. “You were concerned with Matt's death. You thought there was a connection, perhaps that we had the wrong man. Now Clarkson is dead. You think that's proof?”
“Possibly,” Gibbs said. “Would have Ducky look over the autopsy and finish going through the files on Devlin.”
“Who else would have done it?” McGee asked, holding up a hand. “And don't start, Tony. You are wrong about that. Are we thinking that our 'ghost' who tortured Jake is actually the same guy who murdered his half-brother?”
Gibbs grunted. It was going to be difficult to prove one way or another. They'd had enough evidence to convict Clarkson, which meant that if their ghost had somehow manipulated this, he had hid his tracks. “Was one of the things we wanted to know even before Malloy disappeared.”
“How would we prove it?” McGee asked. “Physical evidence must have connected back to Clarkson or they never would have gotten a conviction—which is why Ducky and Abby were reviewing the case. You wanted to be sure that there wasn't someone else there.”
“Wait a minute,” DiNozzo said. “If he's capable of that, of getting someone else blamed for a murder he committed and making sure that 'murderer' died in jail... why did he leave DNA all over Jake? Abby's had it since we found him, but we've never matched it to anyone. Why would our ghost get that sloppy?”
“Unless he wasn't sloppy,” McGee said. “What if he knew his DNA couldn't be matched to anyone? If he really was a ghost?”
“You're not about to say that your ghost is Matt, because if you do—”
“I think Malloy would remember being tortured by a man who looked like him,” Gibbs said. “No, pull up the victims of that bomb Banks planted. Let's see who else decided it was a good time to play dead.”
“You still there?”
Jake gagged, shuddering. He wanted that voice to shut up, even if it wasn't the one that had hurt him. It was worse, actually, when he couldn't see it happening, and he hadn't thought anything could make it worse, but he was wrong.
“Leave me alone.”
“It's not like I did that,” the voice said. “I am not the enemy here.”
Jake shook his head. “I don't know that I believe that. He had help before. He killed them, but there were three when it started. I don't... I can't trust you.”
“You have to,” the voice told him. “We're both going to have to trust each other if we're going to get out of here.”
“That assumes a lot. Like how that would even be possible, that you're not involved in this and that I think getting out is even remotely possible.”
“You said you were found last time. You're not giving up already.”
“If that bastard has me again, then I think I just might,” Jake muttered. “I almost died last time. They were almost too late. And even after they found me, they didn't know who he was. Hell, they have his DNA and couldn't find him. Then there's this voice that is very likely a hallucination, a sign that I succumbed to the PTSD, and since I'm crazy on top of being kidnapped, I think giving up sounds great.”
“All right. I know what it's like after he's had a turn, and I understand why you're upset—”
“—but I think we have to try. We have to trust each other and work together to get through this.”
“And we would do that... why? I have no reason to trust you. You have no reason to trust me.”
“I can offer you one—I'm a cop.”
Jake laughed, curling up against himself. “Right. And I can so see your badge here and it's not like I didn't recently have fake NCIS agents come after me leading to the first time I was kidnapped. I think you're going to have to do something a lot better than that.”
“I could ask you to do the same thing. What if you're involved with him?”
“I can't prove anything either,” Jake said. “Too dark, not sure I have my wallet anymore, and even if I did, I can't pick it up since my hand is broken. So I guess we're both in the same position. Neither of us willing to trust, unable to be sure if the other is working with that bastard. Though we're not at the same time—”
“We can keep going in circles, or we can face facts. Fact—we're locked in a room in the dark. Fact—there's a sadist keeping us in here. Fact—neither of us is getting out of here on our own. Fact—neither of us is sure the other is real. Fact—you're about to pass out again from what he did on his last visit and neither of us know how many more of those we can take. I look at those facts and I figure—trusting you might be the only thing I can do, even if it is a mistake.”
Jake leaned against the wall, closing his eyes. “He wouldn't even give me a name.”
The other man laughed. “Well, that was right stupid of us, wasn't it? We could have cut through a lot of this distrust if we'd started there, yeah?”
Jake almost laughed with him. He did have a point. A name might have changed things. “Jake. My name is Jake Malloy.”
Jake questions his sanity, and the others continue to create theories.
This was very difficult to get written. I'm not sure why. It just... was.
And I finally did something I've been meaning to and pulled Steel back into the story, where he needed to be.
“Now I know I'm hallucinating,” Jake muttered, leaning his head against the wall. He wouldn't say he hadn't wanted a chance to know what his half-brother had been like, but he didn't see why he'd conjure him up as someone in the dark to share this nightmare with. Well, other than he was on Jake's mind, obviously. “You're dead.”
“I may have wished I was a few times, mate, but I'm not.”
“No, you are. I mean, I didn't see the file, but Abby did,” Jake said. He grimaced. “Ronnie Brooks, Alesha Phillips, James Steel, and Natalie Chandler all say you're dead. So now we've established that I can't trust you as you are obviously a delusion. Please leave me alone. I'm thinking I'd like to get some sleep.”
“You're the one that's delusional. I'm sitting over here telling you I'm very much alive, and I've never heard of you before, so who the hell are you to tell me my friends think I'm dead?” Devlin demanded. “No. You're the one that can't be trusted.”
Jake put his good fingers to his nose. He was going to get a migraine next, which would be wonderful, and his last dose of painkillers had already worn off. “Someone shot you. Twice.”
“I remember that.”
“And you died,” Jake said, still not sure why he was arguing the point with a hallucination. “I suppose that part you don't remember—”
“Because I'm not dead. Why should I believe you when you say that? Why would you even know if I don't know who you are? I've arrested a few Malloys before, and I've known a few others, even might be related to some back in Ireland, but I know I'm not dead. Damn it. How long has it been since I was shot?”
“A little over a year,” Jake answered. “A few days ago was the anniversary, but I'm not sure how long I've been here so I can't say for sure.”
“Damn it. If that's true... Well, I guess I know why no one's found me yet. They're not even looking.”
Jake knew it was stupid to do when he was talking to a voice that was probably in his head, but he said it anyway. “I'm sorry.”
“This guy looks kind of like the one Adams said she saw,” Tony said, turning his head to study it. “If I really squint and hold my head at an angle, I almost see it.”
McGee snorted, and Tony shrugged. The bombing only had seven fatalities, and only one of them looked anything like the man they'd been hunting for weeks. They had the sketch based on what Adams saw, the less than awesome pictures from the CCTV that caught the wreck, and Jake's description of the man, but that hadn't given them enough to find him. They still hadn't gotten anyone to test DNA against. Facial recognition had yet to find this guy, and that made Gibbs' theory about him being presumed dead a good one—except he couldn't be one of the ones that died in the bombing, because no one looked enough like him to where he could have faked his death.
Not then, anyway.
“He could still be a man who is supposedly dead,” Tony said, looking over at Gibbs. “Not one who died in the bombing, but still someone the world thinks is dead. Hey, McPhotoshop, if this guy faked his death early enough, would facial recognition still find him?”
McGee frowned. “I guess it would depend on his basic features and how long ago it was that he faked his death. If he did it in his late teens, maybe, or if he had enough damage that his facial features had to be reconstructed...”
“Is there any way that we can—”
“Gibbs, Gibbs, Gibbs,” Abby interrupted, coming into the room. Everyone looked at her, and she suddenly got aware of them, looking nervous. “Wow. Lots of people who are not Gibbs. Um...”
“What have you got, Abs?”
“Well...” She grimaced. “Now that I'm here, I realize it doesn't help as much as I thought it did, but I have been going over the bomb that was found on the car—I had help, which normally I don't like help, but this help is cute so it's forgiven—and I found something. Specifically, a very, very small bit of blood on one of the wires where it had been cut. I tested it for DNA—”
“It matches the ghost,” Gibbs finished, and Abby gave him a look for stealing her thunder.
“Yes,” she agreed, though with less enthusiasm than if she'd gotten the big reveal herself. “The guy who tortured Jake definitely made that bomb. And judging from the components of said bomb—he's also the one who made the bomb Charlie Banks used to kill seven people and frame the Moving Finger.”
“That doesn't help us if we can't find him,” Tony said, and Abby looked at him. “Sorry. I just had the thought that we'd have to go back to Banks again to ask about the bomb, and he will probably just yank our chains again. I hate that guy.”
“I'm not sure we appreciate the enemies we have that end up dead as much as we ought to,” McGee said. “If Ari or Sergei or Parsa was still alive...”
“Yeah, best not to think about it,” Tony said. Having them alive to continue causing problems wouldn't be pretty. Ari would not have left them alone about Kate, about Ziva, and even Sergei would do the same, adding in Diane Sterling as well. Then Parsa would gloat about Bishop and Delilah. No, it was a good thing they were dead.
Almost a shame Charlie Banks wasn't.
“How does a man who leaves his DNA on crime scenes manage not to be on record somewhere?” Chandler asked, frowning. “He didn't start with his attack on Malloy, did he?”
“Doubt it,” Gibbs said. “The staged crash was executed like a military operation, and he's no amateur when it comes to torture. Malloy wouldn't have survived if he was.”
“So we have someone who is former military with experience in interrogation who somehow managed not to have his face or name connected to anything over the years and was confident enough not to care about leaving DNA behind,” Tony said. “This guy figures he can't get caught and won't be prosecuted if he is.”
“No,” Phillips said, her voice firm. “He'll be prosecuted. We find him, and he will go to trial.”
“Assuming he's not dead,” McGee muttered under his breath.
“Still—anyone thinking what I'm thinking?” Tony asked. “Can anyone say spy?”
“Say I believe you. Say everyone has believed I was dead for the past year,” Devlin began, and Jake cringed, not sure why his mind wouldn't let this one go. Devlin was dead. Jake was not actually talking to him. “How is that even possible?”
“I think Ducky would say that it must have been a paralytic or that stopped the heart, and after everyone thought you were dead, your body was switched with someone else's before it was buried or cremated. I guess they did think something was wrong with the autopsy because they came here,” Jake said, taking a breath and letting it out. “That sounds ridiculous when I say it out loud, though.”
“It is complete bollocks,” Devlin agreed. “How do you know about any of this?”
“Oh, that's the best part,” Jake said, laughing in spite of everything. “We're half-brothers. We look enough alike to where people thought I was you, even though I'd never heard of you until a few days ago. Still, according to the DNA... we share a father. According to Brooks, he was abusive. Not sure what my mother would have seen in him, but then she's never had much to say on the subject of my biological father.”
There. Silence. Jake closed his eyes, enjoying it. He'd finally gotten the voice to leave him alone. That had to be worth it, didn't it? If he could make that quit, then maybe he would be able to salvage his sanity after all, which wasn't much, but he'd been close enough to the edge before he got kidnapped again.
“Are you having a laugh? Is that it?” Devlin asked. “I'm tempted to tell you to get stuffed.”
Jake shrugged. “It's not funny, though why either of us keeps arguing about this when it seems like we're both convinced the other is lying or a hallucination or both... What is that saying again? The definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result? Maybe we should just stop talking to each other.”
James checked his phone again, frowning. Still no word from Chandler, Brooks, even Alesha. He would have expected to have gotten at least one of his calls returned, even if Chandler had refused to do anything for him. He knew that she had her own reasons to get answers, and he assumed that she would have. Ronnie needed to know the truth of Malloy, as did Chandler herself and the rest of her department. She might not have felt that she had to share, but it had been over a day. James should know something by now.
Even if she hadn't told James, she would have told Ronnie, but Ronnie wasn't answering his phone, which left James with little option but to go in person again.
He walked into a familiar room and found it full of unfamiliar faces. He looked around the room with a frown, not sure what to think of the newcomers. Perhaps they were just additional officers, since some of them had that air about them, but he hadn't heard that their budget had been increased in such a manner or that so large a force was required for any of their cases.
“James,” Alesha said, crossing the room to him. He watched her with concern, not sure what to think of her behavior.
“Jake Malloy was abducted.”
He stared at her for a moment, trying to understand all the implications of that. “How? When? I haven't heard anything since I spoke to Chandler about getting more information on him, but he's missing?”
Alesha nodded, drawing James out into the hall. She looked back at the room before speaking. “Malloy is Matt's half-brother.”
“He had a DNA test done to prove it,” she said. “He came here earlier to speak to Ronnie, and then when he was leaving with that NCIS agent in there, they were attacked. Malloy was taken, and Gibbs was left behind.”
“Malloy was definitely the target, then. Do we know why?”
She shook her head. “We're not sure. There's a good chance it was the same man who broke his hand, but no one knows who he is, and they've raised a lot of questions about Matt's death.”
“What do you mean?”
“Jamaal Clarkson, the man who shot Matt? He was killed in prison almost immediately after Matt's death,” Alesha told him. “And none of us knew.”
“You weren't informed?”
She shook her head. “Not me, not Ronnie, not Chandler.”
That could not be right. They should have been notified. James still got word when people he had convicted were up for release, had heard when others died. This was a man who'd killed a cop. How could his death have been overlooked?
“It could mean nothing, though I admit, I don't like it.”
“None of us do,” Alesha agreed. “It wasn't like finding Matt's killer was... enough. It didn't bring him back, didn't stop the pain. Matt had justice, but we didn't have Matt.”
James nodded. That was the reaction of almost every victim's family he'd ever represented, that the trial was not enough, that no conviction ever made up for the loss of the one they loved. “Any thoughts on why you weren't notified?”
“Besides the conspiracy theories?”
“What if neither of us is barmy?”
“What?” Jake asked, not sure if that was what Devlin actually said or if he'd somehow misheard him. Was that even a word?
“What if we're not crazy?” Devlin asked, and Jake frowned again. “I'm not dead, you're not lying, and neither of us is hallucinating the other. Both of us are real and telling the truth.”
“I'm not necessarily inclined to go that far without any kind of proof, but... you are using words that I don't recognize and have no idea how I can account for the British slang when I have been here for a month at the most. If you're a hallucination, I must have a more vivid imagination than I thought, since I'm creating some interesting words,” Jake said, swallowing down another wave of nausea.
“I'd say the words are real, but that doesn't help since I'm still the supposed hallucination. As are you. I still don't—you have to be lying about us being related. I don't know why, but I know who my family is. And they happen to be—”
“Very Catholic?” Jake asked. “That doesn't mean my mother never had an affair or that it wasn't with your father.”
“True,” Devlin agreed. “So... we're brothers. And we've been taken by the same person, one you seem to have a history with—”
“Possibly only because of you because you've supposedly been dead for a year, and I've only been in London for a month. He held me for less than a week. He had you for over a year. You know him. Or you should.”
Devlin swore. “I have no idea who he is.”
“Deep fried Twinkies.”
Ellie winced, aware of all the eyes on her now. She shouldn't have rushed into the room and let that be the first thing out of her mouth. She knew that most of the people here were not at all familiar with her food associations, and they had no idea why she would say that when they were supposed to be looking for her husband. She forced a smile.
“Sorry. It was just...” Ellie took a breath, trying to gather her thoughts into something more coherent for an explanation. Everything was clear to her, but she tended to make it convoluted when she tried to tell others what she was thinking. “Ducky and I were eating, and I remembered what Jake always said about my choice in food—that one of these days it was going to end up killing me because I didn't eat like I wanted to live—which I argued against because it tasted good even if it wasn't nutritional—”
“Is there a point to this?” Chandler asked, frowning.
“There's method to Bishop's madness,” McGee assured her. “Go ahead, Ellie.”
“Sorry. I... My brain doesn't work like other people's and Jake can sometimes get me to focus better when I'm at this point—never mind. I just kept going back to why Jake was taken. It didn't make sense. It still doesn't. It's not like I want to say it, but this guy shouldn't have any reason to leave Jake alive.”
She shuddered, and Ducky touched her shoulder, offering her comfort. She gave him a grateful smile before forcing herself to go on.
“Jake is the only witness against this guy. He's the main witness against Charlie Banks. Either one of them is in a better position if he never testifies,” Ellie said, ignoring the sick feeling in her stomach those words brought her. “Still, instead of killing Jake in the parking lot when he could have—easily—he took him instead.”
Tony frowned. “Are you saying it wasn't the ghost?”
She shook her head. “No, I think it was. I just don't think he wants Jake dead.”
“There was a bomb under Jake's car,” McGee reminded her. “If he didn't want Jake dead, why plant that bomb? Just to toy with us and make us doubt that Banks was behind the other bombing?”
Ellie frowned herself, deciding that there must have been DNA on the bomb to connect it to Jake's abductor and not Charlie. “No, I think he wanted us to think Jake was dead. The idea was to create a situation where Jake's body would be unrecoverable, something we'd be sure had killed him, so that we would never look for him.”
Ronnie frowned. “That's quite an accusation to make, love. What makes you think that?”
“And why didn't they blow up the car if that was the plan?” Phillips asked. “They didn't set off the bomb.”
“Because Gibbs being there screwed up the plan,” Ellie answered. “If I'd been with Jake like our ghost was expecting, I'd have made the bomb more convincing because I'd be in the car. Not Gibbs.”
“Boss does not usually let others drive,” Tony agreed.
“And if we spotted the blood next to Gibbs' rental, we'd never believe that either of them got in the Austin-Healey willingly,” McGee said. “Not that we would anyway because... Gibbs in that car...”
“McGee,” Gibbs said in warning. He turned back to her. “What else, Bishop?”
She swallowed. “I also started thinking that if the idea was to make everyone think that Jake was dead, allowing him to keep him for as long as he wanted, maybe even... forever...”
Tony grimaced. “This guy wants to keep torturing Jake for the rest of his life? Sick. Are we sure he didn't take him for the whole Moving Finger connection or something from the NSA?”
“I doubt it,” Ellie said. “I think he took Matt first.”
Ronnie swallowed. “Love, are you saying what I think you're saying?”
She nodded. “I think Matt is alive.”
The team has a possible name for their "ghost," while Jake and Matt try and cope with their situation
Well... I think I will just say that trying to write for a certain character was harder than I thought it would be when I first thought of doing this story.
“That's not possible,” Alesha said, shaking her head. “Why would you say that? You're only hurting everyone by saying something like that? You're raising hopes that can only end in disappointment and pain.”
“That's not what I'm doing,” Bishop protested, and Ronnie nodded, agreeing with her. James eyed them both, concerned.
It was not that he was at all surprised to see Ronnie want the hope that she was holding out to him—he must want that desperately, as Matt was much more than a colleague to him—he was a partner, a friend, and a son. Bishop was giving him back all those things, things that Malloy's presence had already dangled out as some very attractive yet equally painful bait.
“Matt's cause was prosecuted,” Alesha said. “We had evidence—he was dead.”
“Actually, there were inconsistencies that both Abigail and I noted in reviewing the case,” Doctor Mallard said. “She, of course, had it first, since she did the test on the DNA. She and Jethro asked me to examine it, and while I cannot give you conclusive proof that Matthew is alive, I know that his autopsy is not all it appears to be.”
“It's way hinky,” the goth said. “There are no pictures of Devlin's actual autopsy. The ones that are there are the same shot cropped three different ways. All the rest of it is from the scene, not the hospital. It's way possible that no autopsy took place.”
“The forms were complete and in order,” Chandler said. “It was all in order, as difficult as that was for all of us.”
“It is that difficulty that may well have been exploited,” Mallard said. “None of you would be expected to examine the images, nor would you want to peer closely at the details of his remains. When I did, though, I found them to be very consistent with the standard average weights and measures for a man of his age and physical type—so consistent, in fact, that I would say they are the standard weight. Now, that is not necessarily impossible, but as Jakob had recently been injured, I knew that he would be dead had his lungs been just a slight bit larger. He would have suffered a collapse and died before we reached him. Now, this is not proof—I cannot say for certain that his half-brother's lungs would have shared the same development as Jakob's, but it did intrigue me.”
James folded his arms over his chest, considering this. He supposed that all three of them were correct—the possibility was there. The autopsy was far from complete, allowing some chance that Devlin's death could have been faked.
“Even if Devlin is alive, we are still no closer to finding him or Jake,” the agent next to Angie said. “We're going to need more if we're actually going to be able to use that information.”
“True,” Bishop said, shaking her head. “I'm sorry. It is just a theory, and I wasn't able to take it to its completion—”
“Except we know that if someone was going to fake Devlin's death, they'd need access. Someone had to make him seem dead at the hospital and then cover up the lack of autopsy,” the other agent said with a frown. “Question—do we have a conspiracy or just one man? Is it even possible for one man to do both jobs?”
Alesha stared at him. “I... It might be. We were all at the trial that day. That's when Matt got shot. They'd just given the verdict.”
“And one of the other witnesses who was present was the medical examiner?” James asked, having not been at the trial himself. “He was there when Devlin was shot?”
Alesha nodded. “He treated Matt. I remember him... coming to us later and apologizing for not being able to save him.”
“A medical examiner would have had access to delete or change his own DNA in the system, making it so we didn't get a match when we compared what we had of his to the man who tortured Jake,” the other agent said.
“Ah ha, I knew it, McHesitant. Now you agree with me, don't you?” the other agent asked. “I told you—you owe me twenty.”
“Tony, we haven't proved that Devlin is alive. We're just... taking your theory to its logical next step. If Devlin is alive, we need to know who faked his death. The medical examiner is a good candidate, since he was on scene when Devlin was shot and had access to the body later,” McGee said. “We still haven't proven that he was involved at all, and you're ignoring the fact that it would have been very unlikely for him to just be carrying the exact drug he needed to fake a death when he couldn't know that Devlin would be shot.”
“Unless he did.”
“He's never said or done anything to make you think that he knew you?”
Matt shook his head, looking up at where his hand was still caught. He knew that he couldn't get free. He'd never managed to get even the smallest bit looser in all the time he'd been here, but he couldn't stop trying.
Maybe that was why his brain had created this... supposed half-brother of his. He'd known Malloys, he'd said as much, and there might even be some connections back in Ireland where his family was from years back, but here and now? He didn't know that he could believe it. His father had been a bastard, and he'd done plenty enough damage, but Matt hadn't ever known him to be unfaithful to his mother.
Then again, who knew what he was actually capable of on a bender?
“I am going to hope that silence means you're thinking about it,” Malloy said. “Which I'd have t do. Go over every little bit of it and see... Not that I could. They kept trying to get me to do it afterward, but all I wanted to do was say Charlie killed him and that was the end of it.”
Matt frowned. “Who is this... Charlie?”
“A self-righteous sociopath I went to law school with.”
Matt didn't remember if his companion had said that before or not. “You're a lawyer?”
“Why is it everyone finds that so hard to believe?” Malloy demanded, and Matt had to wonder how many times he did get asked to sound the way he did. “I am not a spy. I work with the law. I like the law. The law has boundaries. It has rules. Sometimes they need to be flexed and interpreted, but they're good things. Law is dynamic. It changes. Flows. I don't understand why Ellie would think it's like a potato chip, but then I don't usually get her food associations. I just find them...”
That got Matt laughter, though a lot less bitter than the last time.
“No. They're not annoying. Ellie has this mind that is... sometimes I don't think it had any limit at all. She's... she can pull things from the strangest places and make sense of them in ways that never occur to anyone else. Maybe because we don't see food the same way,” Malloy said, sounding amused. “I told her once... if she had the right snack, she'd take over the world. She said that was why she had me, to make sure she used her powers for good and not evil... Even when I know she's eating something she shouldn't, I still find it... adorable.”
Matt remembered Pete talking about Mel like that, especially in their early days, before the boys but still after, too. He'd been smitten. Sometimes he still couldn't believe Pete had been able to leave her behind, and the boys, too. “You really love her, don't you?”
“I... Why are we talking about this? You're avoiding the question, aren't you?”
Matt almost threw that accusation back at Malloy, but he knew that wouldn't get them out of here. “I don't remember anything. I've had a lot of time to think about it. I don't know who he is.”
“Gibbs would say you're lying,” Malloy said. “Seems like... you have to be. If you are a hallucination, wouldn't you have to know? Or no, you wouldn't... because I don't... I don't know. I can't have a hallucination give me the answer I don't already know. Or I can. Depends on my imagination, which I've never thought I had much of one... very boring. That's me. Ellie actually said that I was like mashed potatoes. Not sure why.”
Matt rubbed his head, not wanting to ask about that. “You're kind of babbling now.”
“Does it really matter if I make a fool of myself talking to a hallucination?”
Matt had to laugh at that. No, it didn't. The whole idea was pretty ridiculous, actually. None of it mattered because none of it was real. Not that Matt wanted to believe that. He wasn't interested in another brother, but he did want to get free. Malloy's presence could make that possible. Matt wanted him to be real so they could both get out of here.
He had to figure he was a bit desperate.
He didn't care.
“We need to find a way to use our advantage against him.”
“Did you figure out who he is or are we having delusions of grandeur as well as of each other?” Malloy asked. “Star Wars. Hmm. DiNozzo would have something to say about that...”
“There are two of us,” Matt reminded him. “We can find a way to use that.”
Malloy snorted. “I can't use anything, so that's not going to happen. Is it cold in here? When did it get cold? It's a dark basement, but that doesn't make it cold... does it?”
Matt bit back a few choice words. He knew that Malloy had the fresher injuries, and he couldn't be sure all of what they were. He'd heard too much and not enough. “Malloy, you're starting to sound a bit... Did he cut you? Are you bleeding?”
“I think saying that it's a flesh wound is your job. You have the right accent.”
Matt would have shaken the other man if he was close enough and not shackled to a damned wall. “That's not funny.”
“Of course it isn't. Nothing here is.”
“What do we know about this man?” Gibbs demanded, arms folded over his chest. His agent was working on his keyboard, moving about almost faster than Angie did, much more comfortable with the thing than Ronnie would ever be. “I'll take a name to start with.”
“Zak,” Ronnie said. He shook his head. “Never got a last name. He always told us to call him Zak. Even the ones he wasn't keen on called him Zak.”
Alesha grimaced. “Just because Zak was at the trial and tried to save Matt does not mean that he faked his death or that he kidnapped him. He... I didn't know him very well, but he was nice.”
“He seemed like a nice man,” Ronnie agreed, “but nice people can still do terrible things. I've seen it too many times myself.”
She sighed. “I know, but we don't have any reason to suspect him other than his being at the trial. That isn't a crime. And he did try and save Matt.”
“He may have saved Matt's life,” Chandler said. “He might also have done it just to hurt him later. We need to look at the possibility.”
Steel touched Alesha's back, and she looked over at him, frowning. “As much as none of us wanted Devlin to be dead, you had no reason to think that his death was anything but real. Had you or anyone else insisted that it had not happened, you would have been told you were grieving, no more. No less. None of us had reason to doubt what we were told until the moment that Malloy entered our lives, and even after he did, we did not question Devlin's death, only Malloy's connection to him.”
“I do not think you had much reason to do so—Jakob is a different man,” Mallard said, “and though both of us came to the conclusion that something was amiss with the autopsy, we admittedly offer you very little proof that.”
“We're not going after an innocent man,” DiNozzo added. “We need to be sure it wasn't him. He had access, he had opportunity—we've got no idea what his motive is—but he could have, and that's what we have to prove. Or not prove. So... tell us about our suspect, McGee.”
“His name is Zakariya Terzic,” McGee began. “Terzic joined the army, using a bursary scheme to obtain his medical degree. He finished his service and went into the reserves, taking a position at a local hospital. He worked there for less than a year before changing his focus to become a medical examiner.”
“I can't remember him having any rows with Matty. No arguments, not even about cases. Matty wasn't very keen on being with dead bodies, but that's not a reason for Zak to have done anything to him,” Ronnie said with a frown. “He was as much a mess when Matty died as we were.”
“He might have been. Or he could be a sociopath who had everyone fooled,” DiNozzo said. “Saw that once. Was a kid. Was creepy as hell.”
McGee grimaced. “I don't think we need to get into that right now.”
“No, what we need right now is a location for Terzic,” Gibbs said. “Where the hell is he?”
“He went on medical leave last month,” McGee answered with a grimace.
Alesha sighed. “Then we did get our hopes up for nothing.”
“You are way too practical,” DiNozzo told her. “Think about it—medical leave is a great excuse. No one's looking for this guy or thinking he's capable of doing this, but it would have given him the freedom to spend all day torturing Jake when he was taken the first time. It's very convenient.”
“And if he had a real medical reason for his leave?”
“Then he's not a suspect,” DiNozzo answered with a grin. “Why am I explaining this to you? You do do this for a living, right?”
“I think that we may hesitate some to join in on what might well be wild, unfounded theories,” Steel told him. “You're investigating this without any sort of fact—you have some minor circumstantial evidence there, but it's not anything I could secure a conviction with. You have no valid reason to pursue this man other than him being in a place he had every reason to be.”
“That and Gibbs' gut,” DiNozzo said with a grin, getting a glare from his boss. “We're still doing an investigation. We may prove we're right. We may prove we're wrong, but we're still going to prove it.”
“At least it feels like something,” Ellie whispered, shaking her head. “It's still a step toward finding Jake even if it's the wrong one.”
“And we haven't stopped pursuing the other angles. We have people checking property owned by the Malloys and we're—”
The phone rang, and the guv picked it up. “Chandler.”
She listened for a moment before nodding and lowering it back down. She looked over at Gibbs before turning to Ronnie. “They found the owners of the Renault.”
“Very,” she said. “Best go to the scene, see if we can find anything there. Maybe forensics or someone saw something, didn't realize it. That's you, Ronnie. I think NCIS has the other angle covered.”
Ronnie nodded. He thought about asking for a bit of company, but he didn't think he wanted to expose Bishop to that with her husband still missing, and Gibbs was in no state to go anywhere.
“If I may be so bold as to offer my assistance, I would like to see these bodies for myself,” Mallard said. “Strictly as an observer, of course.”
“Of course,” Ronnie agreed, leading the other man out of the room.
Matt shifted against the wall, trying to make himself as comfortable as he could. Trapped like this, there was little to be had, but he had to try. He'd found hundreds of little things like that, things he did to make this situation more tolerable.
He knew it wasn't, but he hadn't given up, and he wouldn't. He hadn't survived getting shot and all this time—damn, a whole year—to stop now. He had to figure he was closer to getting free now than he ever had been before. Malloy laughed, but Matt knew that having two of them would change things. Their captor would have his hands full, and that could be the opportunity that they needed.
Matt had to be ready for it.
The door opened, and Matt was definitely not ready for it. He could only listen as the steps crossed the room. Again, they didn't go toward him, and while Matt wanted to be relieved, he wasn't, not when he heard the other man cry out.
“No. Get off of me. Get off,” Malloy said, his voice getting more frantic as something metal scraped along the wall. Matt pulled on his own bonds.
“Leave him alone.”
“What is that I hear, Devlin? You volunteering to take his place? Is that you being noble? Did he tell you you're related and bring out the big brother in you? You had to take the beating for them, didn't you? So now you'll take it for him?”
Matt tensed, not answering. He hated the way this bastard did that, twisting the past. Yes, Matt had gotten between his father and the others, but he wasn't doing this because of what Malloy said about being his half-brother. No one deserved to be hurt like this. Matt had endured it, and he could do it again, but he wouldn't wish it on anyone. Not even Nugent, and Matt still hated that man.
“All I said was leave him alone.”
“Oh, you needn't worry. You'll have your turn. It will come before you know it. First, though, I have some business with your brother.”
Matt heard more scuffling, and he frowned, sure that he was now hearing Malloy being dragged across the room. Only Malloy wasn't protesting, wasn't saying anything. Damn it. Was he just unconscious, or had that bastard killed him?
“Let him go.”
The other man just laughed, leaving Matt alone in the dark. Again.
NCIS looks into their conspiracy theory, while Matt tries to keep himself alive.
I wasn't going to use this particular connection, but in thinking over who might have had a grudge this strong against Matt, I drew a blank for the most part. The show didn't create a lot of lasting enemies for them, and so I could either create one out of the blue or go with the one most likely to get this level of twisted. This is what happened when I did.
The idea was almost better when it was Tony's spy concept.
Death, Ducky thought, was almost always a waste, and this, he feared, was no different. Two lives lost for the sake of a vehicle. This was so unnecessary, especially since the killer himself very likely owned transportation of his own. Two lives, and for what? A car? Or was it more for the sake of obscuring another criminal act?
He shook his head, looking over the bodies. Death did appear to have been quick, which was some small mercy, but not much of one. This was still a brutal crime done by a killer with no conscience, quite possibly a sociopath.
“She died first,” the medical examiner told the detective. “He took his time with the husband.”
Ducky agreed. While the wife had only the one cut, the wound that had caused her death, the male victim had several marks on his body, cuts that seemed rather familiar, though he supposed that should not be uncommon, given as many years as he had dealing with the dead.
“Excuse me. I'd like to get a closer look if I may,” Ducky said, and the other medical examiner looked at him. He gave her an encouraging smile. He was not trying to step on her toes by any means, but he had already seen something he would like to examine further. He needed to be sure about that wound.
“It's fine, love,” the detective told her. “Doctor Mallard's here to help.”
“Oh, please, call me Ducky,” he said, bending down to see the wound. He could use some magnification, wanted to be certain of what he was seeing which he could not be unless he had a better view.
“Ronnie,” the detective said. “What have you got?”
“I do not wish to make an assumption, and I cannot prove anything just yet, but from what I have observed so far—these wounds are extremely similar to the ones inflicted upon Jakob during his time in captivity,” Ducky said. “This one here is in almost the exact place where Jakob's was, the one that almost killed him.”
“You think this was the same man?”
“It could well have been,” Ducky said. “I would have to do more analysis, though I suspect that these wounds will prove to have been made by the same type of knife as the one Jakob described his attacker favoring.”
Ronnie nodded. “I can't say as I'm surprised. We already thought this was his work.”
“Indeed,” Ducky agreed. “It is possible there is forensic evidence here that will point to a location for him, though I have my doubts. His work with the knife was very likely an unconscious act. He did not realize he was repeating the actions he made on a previous victim or perhaps he assumed that we could not connect it—Jakob is missing, of course, and there is no body for us to compare the wounds—”
“Only he knows us, knows how we work. He'd know we have photographs of the wounds from the assault.”
“And we do,” Ducky agreed. “Still, that may not be enough.”
The light blinded him, making his eyes burn. Matt hadn't seen it in so long that it actually hurt to have it back. He blinked, closing his eyes in a wince as he tried to cope with the brightness flooding in. Next to him, his captor laughed, making him shudder. He elbowed the man in the gut and had his head bashed in retaliation. He fell, hitting the ground hard.
His hands went over the floor. It felt like wood, though he already knew he was back above ground. He figured they were in the main part of the house or whatever building this was, not that he could be sure.
Opening his eyes was still a problem. He tried, for a minute, and had to close them again before he got a real sense of the room. He had seen two walls with beige paint, which told him nothing of use. He needed more than that if he was going to get out of here, wherever it was.
“Something wrong, Devlin?”
Matt snorted. Like something wasn't wrong with all of this. “You enjoying yourself?”
“Seeing you fumbling about like a fool? Of course I am,” the other man said, and Matt thought he was in front of him now, gloating.
“Did you kill Malloy?”
The other man laughed, yanking Matt back up to his feet. “It is a shame you're still having trouble with the light. I think you'd want to see this. After all, the resemblance is striking.”
Matt knew that. Malloy had said so, but he hadn't believed it. He did still want to see for himself, but until his eyes could handle this much light, he knew that wouldn't happen.
“That why you brought him here?”
“You still have no idea, do you?”
Matt didn't. The voice had never been more than a little familiar, something that tugged on his memory but never managed to connect it. He'd tried, but whatever it was stayed out of reach. He'd gone through his cases, not coming up with anyone he had angered enough to do this. He'd arrested plenty of men, and he knew that some of them had threatened revenge, but he thought most of them were still in prison. He knew of a few that had gotten away, a few that might have had someone else who would hurt him for revenge, but he couldn't be sure.
He should know.
“You never noticed. Some detective you are.”
Matt shook his head. “I can tell you've altered your accent. It's different when you talk to Malloy. Or it was. You let him hear the real one. With me, you keep it covered, try and make it sound like you've lived in London all your life, but that's not true, is it?”
The laughter came in Matt's ear again, and he grimaced. If he had the real sound of the man's voice, this might be easier, but he didn't. He also hadn't seen him, not since he'd woken up. He couldn't smell much of anything over the scent of the pit he was kept in. All he had was a voice that he knew was altered, but he wasn't trained in linguistics like that, couldn't pick out underlying accents by ear.
“You're still no good at this. Must have been Brooks who actually had the brain.”
“No, I know you're not directly connected to me. You're not family, not a case I investigated. You're doing this for someone. That distance gives them protection. You anonymity. You've gloated about it all along.”
“Keep going, Devlin. Maybe there is some hope for you yet.”
Matt rolled his eyes. This wasn't anything new. He'd been told he was an idiot almost his entire life, and there weren't that many that thought he was any good as a copper. He didn't always mind being underestimated. This was different. This man had never expected Matt to know who he was. He'd never dangled hints, never spoken like he expected Matt to know, not until he brought Malloy here.
“Why are you doing this? If you had some sort of problem with me, why take a half-brother I didn't even know I had?”
“I enjoy hurting you. Why not someone who looks exactly like you?”
“You know that you probably don't want to do this.”
Ellie gave Tony a look. He had to be kidding. She hadn't allowed herself to be pushed out of the last investigation, and she wouldn't now. Finding Jake like she had was difficult, but she was still glad she'd been there with him. She could have lost him, but she hadn't. If he'd died, she would have been able to say goodbye.
“Just saying—the odds are against this, right?” Tony asked, grimacing. “I mean, we don't know that we're going to find Jake alive twice. And his half-brother could still be dead. Since he was cremated, it's not like they can dig him back up and check. Maybe if the ashes hadn't been scattered, but they were... so we can't even test them.”
“I know,” she agreed. If Devlin's DNA hadn't been on file, they might still be wondering what connection he and Jake had. “And I also know that most of the time I would be sitting where McGee is trying to make connections and Gibbs would be busting down the door with you.”
“Only Gibbs has one hell of a concussion and might fall down before he knocked down any door whether he admits it or not,” Tony said. “If he didn't, he'd be here now.”
“I need to be doing something to help find Jake, and we don't actually know that we're going to walk into a crime scene. Right now, we're just here to see if Terzic is and if he has any answers for us.”
“And if he's not, then we can take a look around his place and see if he has any ties to Jake, Banks, or Devlin.”
Ellie nodded. She reached over and knocked on the door. She waited, but no answer came. She tried again.
“I'm thinking he's not here.”
“Tony, if he isn't—and remember, we're in a foreign country and you're about to break in—”
“If anyone asks, we heard something inside. Maybe he has a cat,” Tony said, and Ellie frowned. She didn't think that was true, and no one was going believe that if he picked the lock, but she also wasn't going to stop him. She was more than willing to bend the rules and even break laws if it got Jake back alive. She didn't care about prosecuting this guy. She cared about keeping her husband—and maybe his half-brother—alive.
Tony opened the door and stepped inside. He started across the room, going toward the bedroom first. Ellie had forgotten about that—another reason they shouldn't be doing this—this was only an apartment. It wasn't big enough for Terzic to be holding anyone here. This was only a step toward finding him. It might be nothing.
“We're not going to find anything here. Jake is very obviously not in this apartment. It's bare. Clean. Too clean, even.”
“Exactly, Bishop,” Tony said. “Look around you. This place hasn't been lived in for a long time. We're not talking the last month. We are talking about something more like a year.”
She frowned. “How can you tell that? I just said it was clean. We don't have a build up of dust or mail, no food or trash or bugs...”
“Or any personal items or anything that would suggest that anyone ever spent any real time here,” Tony said. “No pictures. No decorations. Five books on each of those shelves. Even slow readers would get sick of only a few books, and on top of that, they're brand new. Never been read. And, for the confirmation you really need, come poke your head in here and take a look at that closet.”
Ellie twisted her lip as she crossed over, still having her doubts. She stopped, staring. “It's empty. Well, almost. That's what, two shirts?”
“Yeah.” Tony shook his head. “No one takes that much stuff with them on medical leave. No. He never lived here. He just used it as a front. What do you want to bet this place was rented right before Devlin was shot?”
Ellie shook her head. She wasn't going to put money on it. “This still doesn't tell us where he is—or if he actually took Jake.”
Matt swallowed, bracing himself for another attempt to open his eyes. He knew it was going to be difficult, but he wasn't getting anywhere until he could see. He wasn't sure if this guy was leading him on, letting him think that Malloy was real when he wasn't. That could all have been a hallucination, a product of apparent months down in the darkness.
Though... Matt was almost certain he hadn't gone down there until he'd recovered from being shot. He knew that he had been drugged for at least part of it. He remembered waking up to a hospital bed and monitors and then being so tired he had to fall asleep all over again a moment later.
Matt turned away from the walls, finding them still too bright. He looked at the floor, seeing the hardwood and then the legs of a table.
“I see that you're starting to adjust. That is both good and bad for you, I think.”
“What, you weren't hoping to make me permanently blind?” Matt asked, and then he stopped, staring at the tabletop. He was either really hallucinating, somehow picturing himself in two places—and looking very dead in one of them—or he was seeing the half-brother who looked exactly like him.
“More that I wanted you to be able to witness this, and you would not be able to do that if you could not see,” the other man said, but before Matt could turn to look at him, the man's arm was around his neck, holding him in place. “It is almost a pity. I've had much less time with him than I have with you, but it was still enjoyable. He was... a lot more resilient than I had expected. As were you. Must be something in your genes.”
Matt yanked on the arm around his neck. This was not happening. He wouldn't let this man kill his brother. He had to stop it. Not that he thought he could when Malloy already looked dead.
“Leave... us... alone.”
“That's just it, isn't it? You were left alone. He never hurt you. Never touched you.”
Matt had to figure this guy was starkers. He was just crazy, nothing else explained it. He was doing this because Malloy never hurt Matt? That made no sense, and even if Matt didn't know the other man well, he didn't think his half-brother was a violent man.
“He never touched you,” the man repeated, losing the false accent. “He touched all of us, but not you. Not once.”
Matt frowned. This couldn't be right. He couldn't be hearing what he thought he was. “Nugent? This... about... what Nugent did?”
All that got him was more pain.
“Terzic was definitely not living here,” Tony concluded, voice fuzzy on the speaker of the phone. “We got anything else on this guy, McGee?”
Tim grimaced, giving a look toward the police all around him. He knew that they were used to doing their investigations their way, but they did sometimes bend or break rules that they shouldn't, and he was doing that in front of law enforcement in another country. This was not like doing it back home where they could usually find a way not to use anything that might have been from a dubious source.
“I've dug up a few things, but not what I think you want.”
“McGee,” Gibbs said, and Tim flinched. “Did you find Terzic or not?”
“Terzic doesn't own or lease any other property in the UK,” Tim reported. He knew that wasn't the way they were going to find him. “Angie tracked the Renault as far as she could—it disappeared off traffic cameras near a parking lot. We believe that whoever stole the Renault and took Jake changed vehicles there, but there's not a very good angle for looking at the ones coming and going from there. Chandler sent officers to check the lot for the Renault, but no word on that yet.”
“What about Terzic's cellphone?” Bishop asked. “Were you able to track that?”
“His phone records for the past month show only incoming calls, not outgoing, and its location pinged off a cell tower not far from the apartment you were at before it apparently ran out of batteries,” Tim said. He shook his head. “Chances are, he has a burner phone he's been using since he went on medical leave. If he was the one who tortured Jake for Banks, then he would want an untraceable line.”
“I know, but he wasn't always being looked at for a kidnapping,” Bishop reminded him. “Everyone thought Matt Devlin was dead. Terzic didn't have to cover his tracks then because no one was looking. He could easily have brought his cellphone into contact with a tower near where he's actually holding them. If he is actually holding them.”
Tim nodded. He glanced toward the police officers again, doing the search as he spoke. “Looks like... Terzic's phone has been going in and out of the city on a regular basis. He was actually commuting in from there up until he took his medical leave.”
“So he has some place in the country where he's got them stashed,” Tony said. “Any way to narrow it down from the cell tower?”
“Well...” Tim began. “Not really.”
“Wait. We thought that there was a possibility that one of the Malloy family's holdings was being used before, right?” Tony asked, not giving Tim or anyone else a chance to answer. “Anyone who knew Devlin would have recognized Jake as a relative as soon as he saw him. When Terzic took the job from Banks—if he took it—he knew that Malloy and Devlin were related.”
“That doesn't mean—”
“Jake's family has a multimillion dollar international company,” Bishop said. “They have been photographed before. Jake stopped attending most of their events years ago, and his grandfather cut him off in law school, but that doesn't mean there aren't pictures of him with them. If this person was obsessed enough with Matt to fake his death and abduct him, then he could have recognized Jake from any of those pictures. Using one of the Malloy family holdings might have seemed fitting, and since they're rarely in country—”
“He could still have been using one of them for the past year without anyone knowing,” Tim agreed. “It's a long shot, but there are a couple within the cell tower's service area. I'm sending you the addresses now.”
“You take one,” Gibbs said. “We've got the other.”
Tim winced, but seeing that look on Gibbs' face, he wasn't about to argue.
Matt found himself chained again, this time held to a chair with an unfortunate vantage point. He shifted, trying to ease the sting in his side. That had pushed him over the edge before, and he'd succumbed to the hold the other man had on his neck. Now he was trapped by more than lack of sight and being disoriented. If he'd acted before, maybe he might have overcome the man holding them. He knew he'd still been bound, but not chained to anything stationary. He might have had a chance.
Now he was stuck, set in place for whatever this man planned to do to his half-brother, unable to look away or stop it.
“Malloy didn't have anything to do with Nugent,” Matt said, still not sure if that was what this was about or if it mattered because Malloy could already be dead. Even from this angle, Matt couldn't be sure he was breathing.
“No, he didn't even know him. He was spared.”
Matt shook his head. “Nugent's in prison now. Why come after me? Or Malloy?”
“I heard you testify. You got up there and said how horrible he was, but he never touched you, did he?”
Matt swallowed, trying not to gag. He'd admitted to Ronnie that he didn't always remember it clear, that sometimes he doubted what was real, but he wasn't telling this guy that. No. “You think that Nugent doesn't deserve to be in prison?”
“He should be dead.”
“Well, there we agree,” Matt said. His throat hurt, and he shouldn't be talking, but he had the man distracted from hurting anyone. “Why do this, then? You weren't born here, right? So... so you wouldn't... have known him.”
The other man snorted. “You know nothing.”
Matt sighed. “I don't understand. That... is true. If you... hate Nugent, why? Why come after me? Why... hurt... someone who doesn't... even know about him?”
“You were spared,” the other man said, leaning into Matt's face. Matt got his first good look at him, and he almost didn't believe what he was seeing. He had to be hallucinating the whole thing. “He had access to you, but he never touched you. I saw the way they'd look at you. The women. Some of the men. They liked the way you looked. And they talked about the Devlin charm. You could have had any of them. You did have plenty of them, didn't you?”
Matt didn't answer that. His personal life was just that—personal.
“Why didn't he do it to you? He could have. Should have.”
Matt shuddered in spite of himself. He knew he was fortunate. Nugent hadn't come after him. Then again, his father had been beating the hell out of him, so he'd always wondered if that was why Nugent didn't want him, because he was already marked and broken.
“You were an immigrant, though,” Matt said. “You weren't part of Nugent's congregation. He had no reason to go after you.”
“Refugees are easy targets,” the other man said. “And it was so 'Christian' of him to help us.”
“Nugent twisted faith to get what he wanted. He wasn't a Christian. He lied. He used it as a way to hurt kids, and he shouldn't have gotten away with it for as long as he did, but he was stopped. He's in prison. You don't have to do this. You could even have joined the law suit and—”
“You think I could tell them what he did to me? My family would have killed me out of the shame. I couldn't say what he'd done. You... could say, only he never touched you. You and your half-brother. Both of you safe, unharmed, when you should have been just what he wanted.”
“Nugent wouldn't even have known about Malloy,” Matt said, pulling on the bonds. “And don't you go saying I was never harmed. You're the one who doesn't know anything. No, you said I'd take the beating for Malloy. You did know. You bastard. You're sicker than Nugent is. You're just twisting it all around so you can hurt whoever you want. It isn't actually about what Nugent did. It's that you enjoy hurting people. You've made up some charming story for yourself, but it's all a lie. You get off on the pain, don't you?”
The fist hit Matt's jaw, and he was almost knocked out of the chair, even bound as he was. The room darkened for a minute, and he heard himself wheezing.
“Fine,” Matt said. “Go ahead and kill me. Get this revenge you think you need.”
“I will,” the other man promised. “Though first you have to see the end of it. You do so well when others are suffering, don't you? Your friends were hurt by Nugent, but you weren't. You will watch. Your brother will die. Then so will you.”
The team tries to find Jake and Matt in time.
I have hit that point again where it feels like I lost track of the story and everything new I do for it is terrible. It's the same with the other story I felt I had to do... None of it's right or how it should be, and I wanted to do a short piece to clear my head some, but I couldn't find anything to work on... couldn't focus or pick or inspire myself enough once I got close. I wanted to continue existing things but in a short sense or just accomplish something, but no.
So I came back, pushed at this, and I guess I have something. I don't trust myself to judge its quality.
“You did well for yourself, Bishop,” Tony said, and she rolled her eyes. He had to figure she didn't even know how much this stuff was worth, which was a lot. When they said Jake's family had money, they weren't kidding. Tony's family had money when he was younger, but he wasn't sure it was on this scale. This said the family was old. Established.
The furnishings almost seemed original, and that made them a couple hundred years old and worth a pretty penny on top of the art and the rugs. Damn, even the rugs were pricey.
“Is that an actual Monet? They have an original Monet in a house they don't even live in?” Tony asked, looking at her.
She shrugged. “I doubt they're here once a year, but yes... that may be an original Monet. Jake's mom is an art collector, among other things.”
“And in her younger years, she ran off, did the rich girl slumming while hanging out with starving artists in Europe thing?” Tony asked, pushing open the door to the study. He had a feeling almost every book on that shelf was a first edition. “That how Jake ended up with this half-brother that's probably going to get him killed?”
“It's possible,” Bishop said, passing by him and shaking her head. “This doesn't fit, Tony. As much as it would be convenient for us if Terzic or anyone else had chosen one of the family properties to use, it doesn't make sense. He couldn't have held Matt in one for over a year. Even if Jake's family is never here, someone would have noticed him here. They have people who maintain all of the properties, and there's no way they'd leave that kind of art unprotected.”
“So this is a dead end,” Tony agreed. “Damn it, I know Gibbs has a concussion, but his gut isn't usually wrong. He seemed to like this idea.”
“Maybe because it was the only one we had,” Bishop said, grimacing. “Without a way to tie Terzic to any properties, we have nowhere to look for Jake. The properties his family own was a nice distraction, but that's all they are.”
Tony dug out his phone. “Let's see what Abby has.”
“We don't know that Abby has anything.”
Tony shrugged. They didn't know that she didn't, either. She had a whole new crime scene plus a new suspect to test. She could be digging up all sorts of stuff right now, and she had never let them down before. He hit the button and waited.
“Now I know you are not Gibbs, but then Gibbs is probably still driving. Well, hopefully he's not because of the concussion, but he's still on his way whereas you and Bishop—”
“Have already concluded that Jake and his brother aren't here,” Tony finished. “So, what have you got for me, oh goddess of all things forensic?”
“You flatter me,” Abby said. “And I like it. As it happens, I even have something for you. I went back over the bomb components, looking for anything rare and traceable. Unfortunately, this was one of those cases where some very ordinary things turned into some very dangerous ones.”
“That doesn't actually help,” Tony said, looking over at Bishop. She was going to wear a hole into her in-laws' expensive rug if they didn't get something soon.
“No, but the idea was never for the bomb to be traceable, Tony. This guy meant it to hide the fact that he was taking Jake, that he meant to keep him like he kept Jake's half-brother,” Abby reminded him, and Tony grimaced. That could not be for anything good, though Jake hadn't said the guy was that kind of sicko before. “I also don't think that this guy meant for us to figure out he stole that car to use or that he killed those people, but Ducky knew right away that he'd done it. He cut Jake just like them.”
“Creature of habit,” Tony said, and Bishop's head jerked up. He figured she was one Cheeto away from an epiphany.
“So they're hauling in the car and bringing back lots and lots of trace evidence for us, but it hasn't actually gotten here yet.”
“I thought you said that you had something for me.”
“And I do,” Abby said. “Angie and I were able to enhance the video from the parking lot to show the driver of the Renault. I sent the picture to everyone, but according to the people here, that is definitely Terzic. No one knows why he did this, but our crazy theory is theory no more.”
“Hey, we always have proof,” Tony said. “Remind me one of these days to get Gibbs to investigate the Kennedy assassination. Maybe we could prove the magic bullet.”
“Or disprove it.”
Tony shrugged. Oliver Stone's film was a classic. What was science to ruin it? “You want to do a little watching when this is all over? You can tell me where they're wrong.”
“Hmm. Kevin Costner. Conspiracies...”
“Don't forget the best part. Sharing it with one Anthony DiNozzo.”
She laughed. “That's true. Movies are better with DiNozzo. Sometimes, anyway. Ooh, they got my evidence. I'll call you back as soon as I know something.”
She hung up, and Tony turned to Bishop. He was about to tell her what Abby had told him when she spoke.
“I have an idea,” Bishop said. “Let's go.”
Jake heard voices first, arguing. He tried to open his eyes, but it was too bright, and he didn't get past a crack before closing them again. No darkness. That was a change. He wasn't sure how much of what he'd known before was a hallucination, and he didn't know that he trusted any of it. He could be anywhere, and he still doubted his half-brother was alive.
He'd say it was a nice dream while it lasted, but it hadn't been. He'd still been tortured during it, and he knew he was fortunate that the three fingers that worked before still did. He stopped himself, checking again. Yes, they did.
He didn't know what good that did him. He'd had two good hands before he was taken, and that hadn't saved him the first time. Then again, he'd cooperated because the men had automatic weapons, hadn't even tried to fight.
Now he couldn't.
“You think that Nugent doesn't deserve to be in prison?” Devlin asked, and Jake wasn't sure if he was relieved or in the middle of some other hallucination. On the one hand, his half-brother did seem to be alive, but on the other, this might not be real. Again.
“He should be dead.”
“Well, there we agree,” Devlin said. Jake frowned, trying to remember if he knew that name. Nugent—was that some kind of food filling? No, that was nougat, though Ellie would laugh at him if she heard it, pathetic as that was. “Why do this, then? You weren't born here, right? So... so you wouldn't... have known him.”
The other man snorted, and Jake did wonder how that mattered. He hadn't recognized that accent, but then he wasn't that good with them. “You know nothing.”
“I don't understand. That... is true,” Devlin protested. Jake didn't either. Had he made that name up because it was similar to food? He would never tell anyone about this. “If you... hate Nugent, why? Why come after me? Why... hurt... someone who doesn't... even know about him?”
“You were spared,” the other man said, and Jake braced for the attack that didn't come. He swallowed, trying to open his eyes again. The light was still bright and blurry. “He had access to you, but he never touched you. I saw the way they'd look at you. The women. Some of the men. They liked the way you looked. And they talked about the Devlin charm. You could have had any of them. You did have plenty of them, didn't you?”
That was definitely not for Jake. Not only did he not have any kind of charm, Devlin or otherwise, he had never been that attractive to anyone. Well, Ellie, maybe.
He had to get up, but he knew he'd puke if he did, between the drugs and the light. Another attempt to open his eyes showed him a room his mother would have hated—she was all for dramatic colors and refused to let anything be beige. This much of that color still seemed unnatural. He forced himself not to gag.
“Why didn't he do it to you?” their captor asked, and Jake grimaced. They were being punished for something someone hadn't done again. First not telling Charlie about his son. Now this, whatever it was. “He could have. Should have.”
“You were an immigrant, though,” Devlin said. “You weren't part of Nugent's congregation. He had no reason to go after you.”
Jake stopped moving. He didn't want that to be what he thought it was. It wasn't.
“Refugees are easy targets,” the other man said. “And it was so 'Christian' of him to help us.”
Jake shuddered, having heard that argument from his grandfather, who'd felt he was being 'Christian' raising his daughter's child after her affair, even if he'd made Jake miserable the entire time.
“Nugent twisted faith to get what he wanted. He wasn't a Christian,” Devlin said, and Jake agreed with him. “He lied. He used it as a way to hurt kids, and he shouldn't have gotten away with it for as long as he did, but he was stopped. He's in prison. You don't have to do this. You could even have joined the lawsuit and—”
“You think I could tell them what he did to me? My family would have killed me out of the shame. I couldn't say what he'd done. You... could say, only he never touched you. You and your half-brother. Both of you safe, unharmed, when you should have been just what he wanted.”
Jake almost snorted himself, turning over only to have to lie back, needing to keep the nausea at bay. He could not afford to puke now.
“Nugent wouldn't even have known about Malloy,” Devlin told him, and Jake knew that was true. Whatever that man had done—not done—to Devlin, he probably didn't know Jake existed, like Jake hadn't known Matt did. “And don't you go saying I was never harmed. You're the one who doesn't know anything. No, you said I'd take the beating for Malloy. You did know. You bastard. You're sicker than Nugent is. You're just twisting it all around so you can hurt whoever you want. It isn't actually about what Nugent did. It's that you enjoy hurting people. You've made up some charming story for yourself, but it's all a lie. You get off on the pain, don't you?”
Jake heard a fist connecting with flesh, a sound he'd tried to forget. The scuffle made wood scrape against wood, and he could hear someone wheezing. Devlin was hurt.
“Fine. Go ahead... kill me. Get this... revenge you think you need.”
“I will.” The other man was sure of that, wasn't he? “Though first you have to see the end of it. You do so well when others are suffering, don't you? Your friends were hurt by Nugent, but you weren't. You will watch. Your brother will die. Then so will you.”
Jake forced himself to stay still. He knew that he only had one chance at this, if that, and he couldn't waste it. He listened as the steps got closer, but he still couldn't tell where the other man was. He didn't know the room. He thought he might be on top of something, but that was about all he knew.
He waited, not sure that he was fooling anyone, but then Devlin yelled, and the knife touched his stomach. Jake moved, throwing himself toward the other man and knocking him back from the table. The knife stabbed into him as they fell on the floor. Jake heard himself cry out, and the other man shoved him off, raising the knife again, but Jake blocked it with his cast.
He may have screamed after that.
He backed away, knowing that he couldn't fight like this. No hands, the wound in his stomach making him dizzy, he was going to pass out in a minute.
He bumped into something, hearing a grunt. He stumbled back again, hitting something he thought was a wall. He stopped, covering the wound and trying to think of some other way to get out of this. He didn't know that there was one. His older injuries throbbed, and the new cut was bleeding past his fingers at a speed that frightened him.
“Always so stubborn. That will not save you.”
Gibbs looked across the car at McGee, who winced. Everyone made jokes about driving in Britain, though it wasn't as hard as it was made out to be, not for some people. McGee seemed to have some difficulty with the concept, as that near miss with the truck just proved.
“Should have kept the damn keys,” Gibbs muttered, shaking his head. No one wanted him driving, not after the blow to the head, but he couldn't be worse than McGee right now.
“We're almost there,” McGee said, looking over at the GPS, which might have been the problem in the first place. Gibbs grunted, turning to the window. He watched as they passed by a cottage that was falling apart. They needed to be there already. It was a damned long shot as it was, finding Malloy or his brother in one of his family's buildings, but Gibbs still felt there was a connection there. This guy had gone after both brothers, and it wasn't just because of Banks. It was more than that.
His phone buzzed, and he looked down to see a text from Abby. They'd confirmed that Terzic was driving the stolen Renault. That was something, but not enough. They needed a way to find the bastard. They already knew he was behind it, even without a name. That DNA had been useless without someone to match it to, and it still was. Terzic had managed to keep them from identifying him for over a month. Now they had a name.
It didn't mean a damn thing without a location.
McGee's phone rang, and he picked it up. Gibbs gave him a look, not wanting to crash the car because the other man was distracted. “McGee. What? No, we're almost there, but we—well, we kind of figured that, I think, but—”
“Turn around,” Gibbs ordered, and McGee almost dropped the phone. “Do it, McGee.”
“Boss, the house we were going to check is still—”
“Bishop just told you not to bother with any house owned by Malloy's family,” Gibbs said, and McGee frowned. Gibbs shook his head. He wasn't explaining. “Now turn around.”
“You will watch. Your brother will die. Then so will you.”
Matt pulled on the bonds keeping him on the chair. He couldn't let that bastard kill Malloy. Not for this, not for anything. Nugent's crimes were horrific, and Matt hated that he'd gotten away with them as long as he had, that it had taken Pete's death to force them into the open and make Nugent pay for what he'd done. Even then, it was too late—Pete was dead, Mel and the kids devastated, and another friend had been destroyed by trying to testify.
No more deaths would happen because of Nugent.
Matt saw Terzic moving toward his half-brother, but he still wasn't free, couldn't stop him as he leaned over Malloy with a knife. He twisted, needing to loosen the hold on him, but he got nowhere.
“No,” Matt said, still unable to move or do anything to stop Terzic from cutting his brother. Then Malloy shocked the hell out of him by throwing himself at Terzic. He hit him hard enough to knock them both to the floor, but he screamed when he went down. Not good.
Terzic forced Malloy off of him, attacking again with the bloody knife. Malloy blocked the blade with his cast. He cried out, not that Matt blamed him—that had to hurt. Matt tried again to free himself. Malloy was bleeding badly, and Terzic was going to win that fight. He would have even before he managed to stab Malloy.
Two broken hands. Damn. Malloy was braver than Matt would have thought, but then again, both of them were pretty desperate. Neither of them wanted to die here, but Terzic would kill them if they didn't fight him now.
Malloy bumped Matt's chair as he backed away from Terzic, and Matt groaned, his own injuries protesting as he strained against the ropes. Malloy hit the wall, putting a hand over the cut.
“Always so stubborn,” Terzic said as he got to his feet, coming around the table as he went for Malloy again. “That will not save you.”
Terzic took another step toward him, but Matt threw his own weight with the chair, forcing it forward and into Terzic. He heard the knife hit the floor, and Terzic groaned, pinned against the table. Matt knew he couldn't keep him there. He couldn't balance how his chair had fallen, and it would be all too easy for Terzic to push him off.
He shoved Matt back, sending the chair sideways, and Matt fell with a grunt. He saw the knife in front of him, but he couldn't get to it. Terzic grabbed it, using the table to help himself up again. He came over to the chair and shook his head.
“It's not time for you yet.” Terzic kicked Matt in the stomach, and he groaned. That was something he did not need. “We have to deal with you first.”
“I think... you did,” Malloy said. “Just... leave me... alone.”
“No. You have to—”
“Drop it, Terzic. Now.”
The start of a rescue.
Well, I went back and forth over who did the actual shooting. This was how it turned out. Not sure why, but it works, so I'm not going to change it.
I am still doing that whole "know nothing about medicine" thing, and I've had a debate with myself about one of the nicknames Tony uses for McGee, and I'm just going to go with Tony not knowing its origin as I didn't myself for many years.
“I'm really not kidding,” Tony said, taking another step toward Terzic. “You don't want to be holding that knife. Not only do you look ridiculous—I've seen B horror films with better casting and effects—but you are also threatening the man Bishop over here loves, and she will shoot you if I don't. And I'm not sure Gibbs would even have warned you. He's kind of pissed about that whole wrench to the head thing.”
“He didn't die. Pity.”
“You really don't want to say that,” Tony informed the other man, well aware that Gibbs wasn't far behind them. He knew as soon as he heard Gibbs telling McGee to turn around that the other man was onto the same thing Bishop was, and it shouldn't take them that long to get here. There weren't that many abandoned properties in the area, and this one fit with everything else—cell tower service, close to a Malloy property, and just the sort of vacant building that Terzic had exploited before.
“Drop the knife,” Bishop said, though her eyes darted uneasily toward her husband. Jake did look rather bloody, and that was good for no one.
“This isn't over,” Terzic said, setting the knife down on the table. Tony frowned. He actually hadn't figured that Terzic would do that. It didn't fit. He'd put effort into being a ghost. He might even have killed before and gotten away with it, so how was it that he was just surrendering now? Banks had been trapped by his confession and almost got himself killed but then he'd given up as some warped way of proving the lie he'd done everything for his son.
This didn't feel right. At all.
“Okay, I have these handcuffs that I'm going to put on you,” Tony began, starting to lower his gun. Terzic watched him, and Tony's sense of unease grew, still not able to pin down what this freak was doing. Did he have a partner again? One that he hadn't killed and was expecting to come to his rescue any second?
Tony didn't like giving up the gun, but he knew that Terzic wasn't going to make a move unless he did, that much he was sure of, and he was betting on Terzic thinking Bishop couldn't pull the trigger if she had to. He was underestimating her, and Tony would use that. He holstered his weapon and took out the cuffs, going toward Terzic.
“You don't have jurisdiction here.”
“To arrest you for what you did to Devlin, maybe not, but then you killed an NCIS agent, too, and that I can and will get you for,” Tony said, reaching for the man's arm.
Terzic moved away from him, pulling out a gun of his own as he did, his finger on the trigger before it was aimed. Two loud bangs came from behind Tony, and the bullets impacted Terzic's chest, knocking him against the table and then down to the floor. Tony waited, but he didn't stir. Looked like Bishop had done her job, though it was far from the best shooting he'd ever seen.
“Is he... I just...” Bishop shook her head, not finishing either thought. She looked like she was going to toss the gun for a second before she moved over to her husband. Tony bent to check on his new friend, not sure which was worse—letting this sicko live or having Bishop take on the guilt of killing him.
Damn. Terzic was dead. He'd let Bishop in on that detail later, when they'd saved her husband.
“Easy, Jake. I'm here.”
“I tried,” Malloy told her. “I'm sorry... tried... not... good...”
“Shh,” she said, using the first bit of cloth she came across to press down against the wound and hold off the bleeding. Tony wouldn't have been surprised if she'd done the movie thing and torn off a piece of her own shirt to use as a bandage. “It's okay. I'm here. The ambulance is coming. You just hold on again a little longer. Please.”
Tony winced, turning away from the couple to look at the other man, the one tied to a chair and currently eying him with suspicion. “Relax. I'm one of the good guys. I know I'm not one of yours, but they were a little stuck on the procedure and not breaking the rules with the crazy theory. Might be a British thing. What do you think, Bishop?”
“I think we didn't have any proof and we were on the wrong track for at least part of it,” she answered, though her voice was choking up by the end. She was going to cry over there, not that Tony could blame her. Malloy was way too close to bleeding out.
“Let me get you out of that thing,” Tony said, taking out his own knife. The other man tried to push the chair back, and Tony sighed. “Jake, you think you could help us out here a little?”
“With... what... Tony? I... helped myself... into being... stabbed again.”
Tony grimaced. Still, that might be enough. “See? Malloy knows both of us. That over there is the love of his life, and I'm a friend. I just want to get you out of the chair so we can get a better look at how hurt you are.”
Devlin stilled. “Has it actually been a year?”
“'Fraid so,” Tony said, putting the blade to the rope and starting to work on it. He didn't even want to bother with that knot. “Sorry about that. Maybe we should have pushed Bishop to fight with her husband a bit sooner. Could have spared you some of this if he'd left her earlier.”
“Tony,” Bishop protested, and he thought he heard a weak echo of it from Malloy.
Devlin frowned, and Tony shook his head, working on another section of the rope. “It's a long story. Very, very long.”
“You mean... no one would have known... I was alive,” Devlin said, watching the knife. “No one would have thought... to look for me... if he didn't exist.”
“Pretty much,” Tony agreed. “Hey, the long lost brother saved your life. Don't knock it. It's a good thing.”
Devlin just groaned.
“Back here, boss,” Gibbs heard DiNozzo call, and he followed the voice into another room, the only one so far with furniture. Just a table and a chair, not much of anything, but then this place wasn't about being a home. Maybe Terzic had used this room to eat in, maybe not. He didn't look like he'd be doing much of anything.
“Any word on that ambulance?” DiNozzo asked, looking back at Bishop. Gibbs grimaced. Malloy looked about as bad as he had the first time they'd found him. Maybe worse. Her hands and the cloth were already red, and if he kept bleeding like that, he'd be gone before anyone else got here.
“En route,” Gibbs said. He went over to Malloy's side, kneeling down next to him. “You get any crazy stupid ideas about leaving, I will hunt you down and drag you back.”
“He means it, too,” DiNozzo said. “It's not the first time he's ordered one of us not to die. I think he would have done it with Kate, too, if she hadn't been dead before she hit the ground. Damn... Why did I even go there?”
Gibbs didn't answer that. He gave Malloy's shoulder a squeeze. “Stay where you are.”
“Ducky did say he was on his way,” McGee told Bishop. “He might be here before the ambulance. He and Brooks finished at the scene, and I think they were headed this way instead of back to the station.”
Bishop tried and failed to smile at that, not really reassured. Malloy closed his eyes, and she trembled, barely holding herself together over him.
Gibbs walked over to Terzic. Man was fortunate he was already dead.
“Easy. I know Gibbs looks scary—and the glare, well, that's terrifying—but he's on our side,” DiNozzo said, and Gibbs watched as that didn't get anywhere with Malloy's half-brother. Devlin didn't believe them, and Gibbs could see it.
Must have been one hell of a shock, seeing Malloy when they thought Devlin was dead. The men shared a lot of unconscious mannerisms, like that look Devlin had no idea he was giving them.
“You know who he is?” Gibbs asked, nodding to Terzic.
“Why should... I tell you... anything?” Devlin asked, and DiNozzo frowned.
“Gratitude, maybe? We did just save your life, and how many times we have to tell you, we're the good guys? Bishop is your sister-in-law, actually, so you know... a little trust might go a long way.”
Devlin shook his head, arm over his chest. He was hurting, though someone who hadn't played racquetball with his brother might not know it. “Don't know... that you're real.”
“Oh, that's fun,” DiNozzo muttered. “We should have dragged someone along from his side of things. He's not going to listen until he sees one of them, maybe not even then. Thought about asking Brooks, but he was working. I don't think that woman prosecutor or her friend would have gone anywhere with us.”
“It's you, Tony. Only a crazy person gets in a car with you,” McGee said, and DiNozzo glared back at him. “Besides, we didn't have proof. We still don't. We had a hunch that paid off—that Terzic stuck to his previous MO and used an abandoned building. We'll probably have a lot more later—Abby or Angie will match the car Gibbs saw to one leaving the parking lot where the stolen Renault was abandoned. We'll have fibers and other trace evidence to place Jake in that Renault. Dirt from this place may have been tracked into the apartment the owners of the Renault lived in or to the Renault. Those tests will back us up, but all we had before was Bishop's theory and Gibbs' gut.”
“My theory, too, McWelcher,” Tony said. “Or have you forgotten that I was the first one to say that Devlin was alive?”
“You thought he was a spy.”
“Doesn't matter how he was alive—I'm still right that he was alive.”
Gibbs shook his head. He eyed Devlin again. “How bad are you hurt?”
“Does it matter? I'm supposed... be dead.”
“You're not dead yet,” Gibbs told him. Currently, he seemed to be doing better than his half-brother, but that was debatable. Devlin had been held for over a year. Malloy was a mess after only a couple days. Of course Devlin didn't trust anyone. Why the hell should he?
“Is he actually dead?” Devlin asked, not looking at Terzic.
“That's something, then.”
“Really, Jakob. I think I have to insist that you stop scaring us like this,” Ducky said as he knelt down next to the younger man and his wife. Bishop winced as he removed the cloth, and he quickly set to work cleaning the wound, needing a better look at it. “I do believe you will need surgery again.”
Jakob groaned. “So... stupid.”
“Could have been worse,” another man said, and Ducky looked over to see a man who was almost Jakob's double, albeit with a much different accent. “He was... about to kill... you. Knocking him... off table... saved your life...”
“Got... stabbed,” Jakob muttered, and Ducky forced himself back to the wound. As fascinating as Matthew's presence was, Jakob needed immediate medical attention or he would not last for the paramedics when they arrived.
“Wait, so you actually fought him?” Anthony asked, coming closer to Jakob. “You fought the psycho sadist kidnapper torturer without your hands?”
“Used the cast... to block him,” Matthew said, but all Jakob did was groan.
“I'm impressed, Jake. Excellent work,” Anthony told him. “We should make you an honorary agent or something. What do you think, Gibbs?”
“I think you talk too much.”
“Anthony,” Ducky said, wanting to prevent an altercation, “would you please go outside and retrieve the package from the front seat of the car? I do believe it is needed.”
Anthony frowned, but he shrugged, moving off to do as Ducky requested. He did think that Ronald might need some convincing—the man was not likely to handle losing Matthew well, but the young man was not lost at all. The older man might have trouble accepting that at first, but he should be here. All of them should be, those who comprised Matthew's family and friends, but they had been understandably skeptical. They would have to deal with their own guilt for that and this past year later.
“Lie still now,” Ducky advised, his focus back on Jakob. “This will still need further care, and if you move, you will likely start it bleeding again. You used your cast to block an attack—let's see that now. I just want to make sure it didn't do more damage.”
Ducky examined the cast, seeing blood wedged in where the knife had impacted the plaster. That would have been devastating had the cast not prevented it from reaching its intended target. “Well, I imagine that hurts, but the plaster is intact. We'll need another x-ray to check for any damage to the bones. Let's test these bruises and then I had better attend to your brother.”
“I want to be sure we're not dealing with internal bleeding,” Ducky said, applying light pressure to the outer edge of the worst of the newer bruises. He couldn't feel anything, but that did not mean that there wasn't more damage inside. Unfortunately, he had done all that he could here. “Well, I do not like what I'm seeing, and I can't rule it out, but I don't think you're bleeding internally.”
“Thank you, Ducky,” Elanor said, and Ducky gave her a reassuring smile before rising. Jethro helped him back up, and he grimaced himself, not liking the weakness. Ducky moved over to the other man, kneeling once again.
“I see bruises all over you as well,” Ducky told him. “Are you going to allow me to look further?”
Matthew watched him. “You're a doctor?”
“Generally speaking my expertise is mostly given to the dead these days, but I am very much a doctor,” Ducky said. He pushed back the torn garment, and Matthew tensed. “I think your ribs are at least cracked. And goodness—never send a pathologist to do a surgeon's job. I'm afraid Terzic made a mess of those bullet wounds. The scars are some of the worst I've ever seen.”
“He's alive, Duck,” Jethro said. “That's what matters.”
“I thought Ducky meant medical supplies.”
“Looks like he thought that someone might need some coaxing getting out of the car,” DiNozzo said, and Ronnie looked over at him. He'd been aware of the others approaching, but he hadn't been able to make himself move since he got here. He hadn't wanted a drink this badly in years, and he wasn't sure he wouldn't give into that urge before the night was over. He didn't want to—he still needed to see his daughter and make up for missing the party, but he couldn't do this again.
“I can hear you,” Ronnie said, and the older agent nudged the other, shaking his head in disgust.
“We did find them,” DiNozzo said. “Both of them. Alive, even.”
Ronnie's throat went dry. “You... you're sure?”
DiNozzo nodded. “Pretty sure. Unless they have another brother that looks just like them that we don't know about. That's actually not that impossible since they apparently only share the one parent, but it's still very unlikely.”
“Very,” the other agent added. “Ducky was treating Jake when we left, and Devlin actually seemed to be in better shape.”
Ronnie frowned, not sure how that could be possible when Matt had been dead—missing—for a full year now. He forced himself up out of the car, letting the other men lead him into the house. This place had seen much better days, and Ronnie doubted anyone had lived in it for decades. Not a bad place for hiding someone. Remote, abandoned, Terzic might have been able to keep holding Matt here for years without anyone knowing.
He followed the others into the second room off the hall. Bishop looked up when he came in, and Ronnie winced. Malloy looked bad again, enough to where Ronnie wasn't sure he'd make it, not with that much blood all over him.
He couldn't even smile to reassure her, but she turned back to her husband before he had to try. He looked over across the room, not sure he hadn't been drinking. This had to be some kind of dream or delusion. They'd talked about it, sure, but it still didn't seem possible, even if he'd been hoping for it and had wanted to believe that Malloy was Matt.
The younger man looked up from behind Gibbs and Mallard, swallowing and shaking his head. “Ronnie?”
“It's me,” Ronnie said, going toward him. “Matty, I thought... we all thought... we all thought we'd lost you. That you were gone.”
Matt nodded. “He said that... that I was dead... that it had been a year...”
Ronnie wouldn't lie to him. “It has been. Sarah's little boy... he's a year old now. Missed his birthday. Couldn't go when I...”
“Ronnie, you didn't—”
“No. Wanted to, plenty of times, but I didn't,” Ronnie assured him. He'd come close to going back to the bottle, but he hadn't. He had his new partner to thank for that, in part, and also his grandson and daughter, as well as Matt's memory. How could he give up on something that had meant so much to his dead partner? “Matt...”
“He's not likely to go anywhere on you for a long while,” Mallard told him. “I'd feel better after getting both of them to the hospital—”
“They're going to be all right, yeah?” Ronnie asked, looking back at Malloy and Bishop. Matty did look much better, and he was glad that his friend was alive, but not if it meant that his brother died. “Both of them?”
“Baring internal injuries, yes, I believe so,” Mallard told him. “Though be careful—young Jakob is not the only one with cracked ribs.”
Ronnie nodded, going to Matt's side. “I'm sorry. Maybe I'd have a better excuse if I had been in the bottle for the last year. I didn't want to believe it, but I did.”
Matt closed his eyes, shaking his head.
Everyone gathers at the hospital.
It is so hard to figure out how anyone deals with the emotional aspect of all this. Every character is different, they cope differently, and not only is it difficult to know for sure what they'd do, it's hard to balance things, too.
I tried. I'm a bit scared of trying to handle all of this fallout properly, though.
“Hey, Bishop. How—”
“Jake's in surgery. Again,” Bishop said, not looking up from her hands. “So is his brother.”
Abby sat down next to her, wishing she had her hippo with her. Bert was good for many, many things, and this was one of them. Hospitals sucked, and she hated them. She didn't want to be here, but she was here for Jake and Ellie. She wanted to help, and she knew it would still be hours before any of the test results came in.
That, and she knew what had happened at that house. She knew what Bishop had done to save her husband. Abby could shoot. She'd done it thousands of times. She'd never had to kill anyone, though. Gibbs had. Tony had. McGee had. Bishop had.
She'd had to do it today. A few hours ago. That had to be hard, but Bishop probably wasn't even thinking about it. She was thinking about her husband up in surgery. Abby wanted to believe it was over, but even she knew that there was still a chance that Jake might not survive his operation.
She wouldn't allow herself to believe that. Jake was going to be okay.
“They're both alive, though,” Abby said. “That is something. More than something. It's against all sorts of odds and really amazing, when you think about it. The odds are against half-siblings finding each other in the first place, and we're talking different continents and across oceans, plus then we have this psycho who wants to hurt them, who tried to kill both of them—”
“I know,” Bishop said. “I... I had lots of statistics in my head this entire time. All of them arguing against me ever seeing Jake alive again. Two abductions, the same man, one who had all the reasons in the world to want him dead...”
Abby put a hand on her shoulder. “Jake is alive. He's going to stay that way. The guy who wanted to hurt him is gone. Well, one of them is, and the other one is still in prison. Jake is safe. And he found more family. That's a good thing, right?”
Bishop shook her head. “I don't know. I mean—not about Jake being safe. I'm glad he is. I don't know that I could take him being abducted again. He hated my hovering before, and he will probably hate it even more after this. It's... I thought I was doing the right thing, letting him go with Gibbs. I thought we needed some space, that I could help more if I looked at Matt's case, but I was wrong. I was so wrong.”
Abby leaned over and gave her a hug. She held her close. “Ellie, you saved him. You were there when you needed to be. You don't have to feel guilty. Not about letting him go with Gibbs and not for shooting Terzic.”
“I killed that man. I shot him, and I don't... I didn't... I just...”
“He was going for a gun. Tony said he was. And he'd already stabbed Jake,” Abby reminded her. She shook her head, wishing she could do more. She knew Bishop needed help, so she was going to stay right here until they heard from Jake's doctors.
He would be fine, though. They wouldn't accept anything else.
“So... is Matt as cute as Jake?”
Bishop lifted her head, frowning at her. “Abby, how can you—”
“It did distract you,” Abby said, grinning at her. Bishop shook her head, but she looked a little better. She even managed to smile some. That was good. It helped. It wasn't the best thing ever, but it was definitely better than Bishop almost falling apart while sitting here.
“I didn't really get a chance to meet Matt. Terzic was threatening them, and then Jake was bleeding out again, and I just... I didn't actually say anything to him, I don't think. I kind of wish I had, but then I also don't know what I would have said.”
Abby nodded. “It is kind of awkward. Especially if Jake is the reason that Matt got taken.”
“I thought it was the other way around.”
Abby shrugged. “It might be, because obviously Matt's death was faked well before Jake was ever in the country, but then again... we don't know what made Terzic decide to fake Matt's death and then go after Jake. Though... since the DNA did match, he must have known about the resemblance and that he was tormenting Matt's brother when he had Jake.”
“You're going to give yourself a headache,” Bishop warned, and Abby almost laughed.
“Wow,” Tony said, stopping in the doorway to the hospital room. “That is... uncanny.”
“If you didn't know they were related before, you would just by looking at them,” Tim agreed, coming in through the small space Tony left free. It was strange not to have work to do, but they were in a foreign country and most of the evidence was out of their hands, leaving them with nothing to do but find Jake and Bishop at the hospital. “It would be impossible to tell them apart if Jake didn't have the cast. Otherwise... mirror images.”
“No kidding,” Tony said. “I'm still waiting for the Twilight Zone music to start.”
“Figures you'd make some kind of reference,” Bishop said from where she sat at her husband's bedside. She reached over and brushed back some of Jake's hair, looking worse than the last time she'd sat in that position.
Then again, she had killed someone today. That was going to haunt her for a while. Tim knew the first time he'd fired his gun was hard, and it was worse when someone actually died. Bishop had killed before, in Kabul, but this was different. She wasn't defending herself. She'd fired to save someone else. Sometimes that didn't make it any easier.
Especially since none of them really felt like Jake should have been in that position to begin with. They shouldn't have left, not before they'd found Terzic. He should never have been able to get his hands on Jake. They'd failed at their job, failed to protect him, and that wasn't okay. None of them were okay.
Tim didn't even want to know what was going through the heads of Devlin's friends. They'd all believed he was dead. They hadn't even looked for him, and he'd been in that psycho's hands for a year. He shouldn't even be alive, not when Tim had seen what that guy did to Jake.
“They say what was wrong with Devlin?” Tony asked. “He seemed better than Jake did back at the house.”
Bishop looked over at the other bed, biting her lip. “They didn't understand which of them I was married to.”
“So they talked to you like next of kin,” Tim said. “What did they tell you?”
“Internal bleeding,” she answered, taking her husband's unbroken fingers in her hand. “He could have bled out inside just like Jake was bleeding out when I got there...”
“Relax, Bishop,” Tony said, touching her shoulder. “We found him. You stopped the bad guy. There's no chance he'll come after either of them again, and we don't even have to deal with a trial this time. I think it's better that way. Especially after hearing Banks in prison. He's... creepy.”
“Jake and I never saw it,” Bishop said. “They weren't close, but we never thought—”
“Quit trying to blame yourself,” Gibbs ordered. Tim was glad to see the bandage on his head—someone at the hospital must have looked at him while they were waiting for word on Jake. Good. Now at least they wouldn't lose Gibbs to the concussion because he was too stubborn to get examined beyond what Ducky'd done. “Where the hell is everyone?”
“Abby went with Ducky to get food for everyone,” Bishop said. “I'm not sure where Matt's family is. Or his friends.”
“I think we might find Brooks in the nearest bar,” Tony said, shaking his head as he spoke. “He looked like he was due to fall off the wagon.”
“They got Devlin back.”
“After a year of not looking for him,” Bishop said. She closed her eyes. “Leaving Jake alone for a few minutes almost meant me never seeing him again. That is killing me. I didn't—It was only a few hours. I'd thought Jake was safe because he was with Gibbs. I took that for granted, and it... Jake should have been fine. He wasn't. He almost died again. Gibbs could have died. And I thought nothing was wrong. That...”
“It's not your fault, Bishop,” Gibbs told her, and Tim wondered just how much guilt Gibbs was carrying about getting attacked and losing Jake in that parking lot.
“I don't know that I'll ever believe that,” she admitted, looking up at him. “Do you think it was yours?”
Gibbs didn't answer, but then... that was an answer.
“You drink that, and I think I may have to hurt you myself.”
Ronnie looked up from the glass in front of him, shaking his head as he did. He didn't know that he could do it, much as he might want to. He had lost a decade to this before, and he could lose it again now. He had wanted this back when Matty was shot, when he'd thought he was dead. He'd always wanted something to change that, to make it different, bring Matty back, but now that he got his wish, he was back here, staring at a drink.
“You won't have to,” Ronnie said. He picked it up and turned it over. “If I'd been on this, I'd have an excuse.”
“For what?” Chandler asked, frowning.
“For not knowing Matty was alive. For not finding him. If I'd been drunk, I'd know why I failed him. It wouldn't have been a good reason, but I'd know. I don't know,” Ronnie said. He set the glass down, running a hand over his face. “I didn't ever want to believe Matty was dead. Didn't. In the back of my mind, it was never real. That was why seeing Malloy—it was easy to think Matt was still alive. I already wanted to believe it. But I didn't look. Not once.”
“We'd have said you were barmy and sent you off with Doctor Rawls or someone else to get your head on straight,” Chandler said, shaking her head. “You're not to blame for this, Ronnie. Not any more than the rest of us are. We all thought he was dead. None of us looked for him.”
Ronnie nodded. He knew he wasn't alone in that. They'd all failed Matt, but that didn't make it easier. It made it worse. “I don't know how to see him. I tried... He was...”
“He's out of surgery, and I think he should have someone there when he wakes up. Not the half-brother he doesn't know or that man's friends, but his own,” Chandler told him. “You can't change the past. None of us can go back a year ago and find him before this happened, can't stop him from being shot. We would. We'd take the damn bullets for him.”
“Aye, guv, we would,” Ronnie agreed. He would have in an instant, if he'd only had the chance. He would have pushed Matt out of the way and saved him.
“What we can do is get in there and be there for him now. We owe him that, Ronnie.”
Ronnie nodded. That they did. He took out his wallet, leaving enough money to cover his tab on the bar before walking with her toward the door. “What about the others? They there already?”
“Don't know,” Chandler admitted. “I've got detectives I should be supervising. We haven't found our burglars yet, we haven't found Cromwell yet, and we've got two dead for their Renault. We haven't proved that was Terzic yet. We still have to be sure.”
“Mallard was. He said the wounds were the same as the ones on Malloy.”
“And he's probably right, but we can't assume that and let someone get away with murdering two people in their home,” Chandler said. “I want those thieves found before they do any more damage, and if that murder wasn't Cromwell—”
“I think it was,” Ronnie said. “I know the theory's a bit wild, and it's not mine or Matt's, but his wife does what we do, and I swear listening to them was almost like having Matt back.”
“Now he is back,” Chandler reminded him, and Ronnie tried not to wince. They all had a lot to make up for, but there was no real way of doing that, just as he still couldn't fix what he'd done wrong in wasting his daughter's childhood on the drink.
Chandler stopped, putting her hand on Ronnie's arm. “Matt can hold a grudge if he wants to, but he has a good heart. You two have been through a lot together. You can get through this, too.”
“Thanks, guv,” Ronnie told her, but he didn't know that he believed that—or that she did, either. The guilt weighed on them all.
James nudged Alesha forward. The room was crowded, and he doubted the hospital thought much of that, but he also wasn't sure that they'd be willing to fight any of the crowd gathered around Malloy's bedside. His wife was there with all of her colleagues, and James didn't think any of them intended to leave until he woke.
It was some wonder that he hadn't already, given the amount of noise the group made even when they weren't talking, but then he had been sedated. He was probably still feeling the effects of what they'd used on him for the surgery.
“Yours is over there,” the oldest agent said, and James didn't miss the accusation in his eyes. He wanted to know where they'd been all this time.
James didn't know that they had a good answer to that. Ronnie had gone with Mallard, and he was there when Devlin and Malloy were found, but James had not known about that, nor had Alesha. She'd been waiting for word, working herself up over it. He didn't know if she would take the blame for it as she had that business with Merrick. The idea of Devlin being alive was not the relief one might expect it to be, and to have that confirmed seemed to be difficult for everyone.
Even though he had long since left CPS when Devlin died, James himself felt some sense of responsibility. He did not know how the investigation would have gone were he there. Would he have questioned Devlin's death if he'd been prosecuting? A part of him wanted to believe that he would, but he could not be certain.
He might only think that because it absolved him of some of the guilt that everyone felt for allowing Devlin to be in the hands of a sadist for over a year. James might have been just as guilty as everyone else if he'd been here.
“How is he?” James heard himself ask.
“Malnourished, dehydrated, underweight, but they were able to stop the bleeding and they think he'll recover,” Bishop answered, and James knew he wasn't the only one frowning. She shrugged. “They got confused and forgot which one of them I was married to. It... was actually kind of scary until I understood I was getting reports on both of them, not just Jake.”
“Now that could be interesting,” her coworker said. “You and Jake and Jake's brother—”
“Tony,” she protested, shaking her head. “No. Just—don't. I—Jake and I have enough issues to work through without adding another person to the mess—”
“Guess that rules out kids, then.”
“You're impossible,” the other agent said.
James turned. That had come from a familiar voice. “Devlin. You're awake.”
That got a frown. “Steel? You... you quit. This... Must still be dreaming. Hallucinating...”
“No, you're not,” Alesha told him. “Matt, it's not a dream. We're here. If not for James, we would never have known about your half-brother, and we wouldn't have found you. It—it's complicated. Very complicated, but it's real. We're here.”
Devlin shook his head, agitation making him twist in the bed. He pulled at the IV, yanking it into the bed.
“Easy. It might help if you looked at us and—”
“Too bright... too bright...”
“There was a lot of dirt on that floor,” the NCIS agent said. “I thought it was just because of the state of the house, but if it was—he might have been held underground. If he spent most of the last year in the dark, he'd be light-sensitive and it would explain him waking before Jake—your senses will compensate for the loss, so he'd have more sensitive hearing, too.”
“We can fix the lights,” the other agent said, flipping the switch. “That better, Devlin? You can look now. Shouldn't be too bad.”
Devlin opened his eyes, still frowning. “I... I don't understand.”
“Neither do we,” James told him. “You are supposed to be dead, after all.”
“Terzic faked your death. He let everyone believe that you were killed when you were shot,” the agent added. “We think he may have arranged for you to be shot, since he would have had to have been prepared if he was going to pull that off, and the man who shot you conveniently died in prison not long after his conviction. He couldn't ever tell anyone he'd been hired to do it—though we believe he was. I was going to look into his financial records to see if he'd been paid, but then we went to find you, and that was more important. Both you and Jake could have died if we'd been much later.”
Devlin closed his eyes again. “Am... tired.”
“And you will have plenty of time to rest, I'm sure,” Doctor Mallard said, “however, we should have your doctor examine you while you're awake.”
“Fine... Want to be... alone.”
“Like that's going to happen. You just came back from the dead. No one's going to take their eyes off you, not for a second.”
Everyone's still at the hospital.
This chapter made things even more clear to me. I had kind of noticed it before, but it really hit home today. I find emotional stuff very difficult somehow (I thought that wasn't an issue for me, but it appears it is) and that I have trouble when that is all the plot I've got. The fallout here, in other stories, that seems to make me want to end the story right then, not deal with the fallout at all.
*sigh* Well, I tried. I know I still have a few things to go into, but I think I've touched on a couple of the main parts that needed to be seen. I'm still not sure what to do for the rest, and there's a part of me that just wants to go write Timeless fic because that was so much easier than this, which was pulling teeth for me.
“You know pretending to sleep only works for so long.”
Matt almost laughed. He knew doing that would reveal everything, but then again, he apparently hadn't fooled anyone. Well, maybe the ones that weren't in the room. He looked over at the other bed, seeing it no longer surrounded by the same group of people. One of them was still there, and she did look like she was asleep, her head resting against his shoulder.
“You abuse the privilege?”
Malloy looked like he would have shrugged if his wife wasn't asleep on him, though it was a little hard to tell from this angle and in this light.
“It was about the only privacy I had when I was in the hospital before,” Malloy answered. “Ellie's team... hovers. They are very overprotective. Which is not a bad thing. I like it—for her. Not so much for myself. I'm glad to know they're looking after her, but I'm not used to this much attention. She kind of is, in some ways. She's got three brothers. Older brothers.”
Matt didn't miss that. “You don't get on with your wife's family?”
“Let's just say that no one would ever be good enough for Ellie in her family's mind,” Malloy answered. “You can't avoid them forever.”
“I know,” Matt said. He knew that they'd all be back—Ronnie, the guv, Alesha, even Steel. He didn't know why in some cases, but he knew that this reprieve was temporary. He wasn't alone, not like he'd wanted to be. “I just... needed to think.”
Malloy nodded, closing his eyes. “A lot to take in.”
“A whole year of my life is... gone,” Matt said, not sure how his half-brother managed to get him talking like that. He didn't know Malloy. He'd thought the man was a hallucination. Maybe that was why. Maybe it was easier to talk to something—someone—who didn't seem that real in the first place. “I... I don't know what to think about that. How to feel. I'm supposed to be dead. They all thought I was dead. And... there's you. I have this half-brother—”
“Who doesn't have to be anything to you,” Malloy said. Matt frowned. “We have lived for over thirty years without being a part of each other's lives. That... doesn't actually have to change.”
Matt didn't know how Malloy could say that. Not only were they related by blood, but from what Terzic had said, this was because of him. Because that sick bastard Nugent hadn't gone after him like he had the others. That meant that Matt and his previously unknown brother had to suffer. Or so Terzic was convinced.
Matt wasn't sure he'd ever been one of Nugent's victims, just that the man had wanted some excuse to hurt someone and taken it.
“He took you because of me.”
Malloy shook his head. “Not sure that's true.”
Matt snorted. He didn't see how Malloy could think otherwise. He'd heard the same thing from Terzic, hadn't he? Or was he actually out of it at the time? “He took me first. He... faked my death. Held me for a year. I think. I don't... I... Part of it I don't remember. I was drugged... I think there was a hospital bed at first...”
“You were shot,” Malloy said. “He'd need to let you recover first.”
“That makes no sense. Why save me only to... to... He was going to kill me. Us. Both of us.” Matt frowned. “He... knew about you? Is that why he waited? So he could get us both? Why not go after one of the other altar boys? I wasn't the only one Nugent left alone. We never knew which of us... I knew about Harry and about Pete, but not about anyone else. They were my friends. We were close. Anyone else... they wouldn't have told. They didn't. I... I heard about some after the trial. Not before. Not ever before.”
“Do you blame yourself for all of the kids he hurt?”
Matt swallowed. “I became a cop. I... I never did anything about Nugent, even though I knew... I kept my word to my mates, didn't tell because they asked me not to...”
“And sometimes you think if you had, everything would be different.”
“Are we sure you're not a hallucination brought on by the drugs the doctors gave me?”
“We all have things we wish we'd said. Things that could have changed everything. Even if it's just... never talking to that person we liked in high school, everyone has that moment. I think I may have had more than my share of them. I...” Malloy shook his head again. “I used to work for the NSA. I saw classified information about possible terror attacks. I didn't say anything. I also didn't say anything about a woman not going through with the abortion her boyfriend wanted her to have, and that led to him deciding it was worth blowing up a building, killing seven people and injuring others, and having me abducted and tortured.”
Matt didn't know that he believed that. “You worked for the NSA?”
“As a lawyer. Not a spy.”
Matt could maybe accept the lawyer part. He had friends that were lawyers. If Matt could actually call them friends. “They didn't look for me. A whole year, and they didn't look for me.”
“They did think you were dead.”
“Is that enough?”
“Only you can decide if you're going to forgive them. No one can do that for you,” Malloy told him. “I... I don't know how I'd feel. I... I suppose in part I have experience with that.”
“You believed that they'd come for you.”
“As did you right up until I told you it had been a year.”
Matt had. He'd been confused by how much time had passed, but he'd assumed he'd be found. Ronnie wouldn't have given up. Not him. He never did, not with anyone on any other case. “They didn't, though. No one ever looked.”
“That doesn't mean they didn't want to,” Malloy told him. “They may have convinced themselves it was better if they didn't.”
“For them, maybe.”
“Well, depending on the afterlife you believe in, they might have figured you wouldn't have wanted that, either, them not accepting your death and being able to move on with theirs. I know when I left for London, I actually thought that it was what Ellie wanted, that she wanted me to go.” Malloy leaned his head against his wife's. “I was wrong, and I don't know if she forgave me because I was abducted and tortured or if we would have actually fixed things without that.”
“So is what you're going through. I think... you have to take the time to feel everything you're going to feel. Be angry. Be hurt. Don't... don't just cover up how you feel because you want to keep the peace. Ellie and I did that. More than once. It was the wrong thing to do.”
“You still love her, though. I don't even know you, but I can hear it in your voice.”
“Some things don't change,” Malloy said. “Maybe how you feel about your friends is one of them.”
“I hear they actually want to keep you longer than they do him, and he was the one bleeding all over, at least that I saw,” Ronnie said as he took a seat next to Matt's bed. He glanced toward the other side of the room, not surprised to see it crowded up again. Matt's should be—he was missed by everyone. Trouble was, everyone also felt guilty.
“I'm fine,” Matt said. “I still think he's in worse shape than me.”
“Ah, the broken hands are misleading. He's half-healed from them. Couple more weeks and he'll be out of the casts,” Ronnie said. He gave Matt a smile, but the other man didn't return it. He grimaced. “You did give us more than a scare, you know.”
Matt nodded. “I know. I've been trying to understand that since he told me. I still... I don't know, Ronnie. I don't ever remember being dead—dumb thing to say, yeah, because I wouldn't. I just... wouldn't. Still, it's not ever like that for me. I didn't get shot, die, and somehow come back. I got shot, passed out, and woke up in a strange hospital bed. Maybe twice. Then... nothing. Just... darkness. And Terzic. I never saw his face. Didn't know it was him. I just... He... he came down, he did things... And then...”
“Then he brought down your brother.”
Ronnie knew he shouldn't be glad of it, but a part of him was. If not for Malloy's abduction, they would have gone on believing that Matt was dead. They wouldn't have found him without NCIS intervention. Or they might have, but it would have been too late. They'd been close enough as it was, since Terzic had injured both men. He supposed it was possible, since the doctor and forensic expert at NCIS had their doubts about the autopsy, that they might have known even without the kidnapping. They might not have believed it, though.
Well, this drunk would have. Ronnie would have given anything to have Matt back, and he would have believed them. The others would have tried to stop him, but he'd wanted that so much—he still didn't know how he'd accepted it back when it happened.
“He's a good man,” Ronnie said. “Your brother. Not you. No one is.”
Matt snorted. “Ronnie—”
“There wasn't a day that went by that I didn't miss you. That I didn't talk about you. The new guy—he's got it in his head that I think he's a bad copper because he's not you. He's wrong. I've told him that so many times, but he's still convinced he has to transfer because you're back.”
Matt shook his head. “I'm not back. I don't know—I guess I... I haven't thought much about what I am going to do.”
Ronnie figured he'd make his way back to being a cop. That was what Matt knew, what he did best. He was good at it. He knew it would be a while before he was ready to do it again, and not just because he'd been in surgery.
“I would be glad to have you with me again,” Ronnie said. Matt looked at him. Ronnie shook his head. “You shouldn't have to doubt that. You and me... we worked together for years. We were partners. Friends. You were almost a son to me, though I'm not so sure I'd let you date any of my daughters.”
“Thanks a lot,” Matt said, though he smiled as he did.
“Ah, that's it. That's the smile you've been missing,” Ronnie told him, glad to see it. Malloy's was not the same. Close, but not it.
“I know,” Ronnie said. It was never going to be the same again. He'd known that a year ago. Having Matt back didn't change that. “I'm just glad you're alive.”
“You keep looking over there,” Tony said, picking up on the direction of Malloy's attention. “You jealous or worried?”
Malloy frowned. “Why would I be jealous?”
“Because it's pretty obvious you're sick of the attention by now. Or did you somehow think that we'd miss all of the comments about leaving you alone and being able to go home now?” Tony asked, a bit amused that Malloy thought that they didn't know he wanted them gone. “Yeah, you did say that. More than once, even.”
Malloy winced. “I'm... It is...”
“Relax. We all know what it's like when someone gets hurt. We've all been on your side of things, and it can be hell,” Tony told him. He had gotten pretty sick of care, and Gibbs actually threatened to shoot people when he was the one in the bed. “Where are all of his people, anyway?”
“He managed to convince most of them to leave when he went to sleep,” Malloy said. “His partner was here for a while. Ellie took him to get some food. They had a good laugh about that. Wasn't too long before you showed up and McGee took his break.”
“Aren't you glad he's avoiding me?” Tony teased, and Malloy rolled his eyes. “Relax. He's not, and even if he was, we'd still be here to annoy you, unlike his friends.”
Malloy shook his head. “It's different for them, Tony. They feel responsible for what happened to him.”
Tony snorted. Like that wasn't true of people on this side of the room. Gibbs was still pissed about being hit on the head and losing Malloy in that lot. Bishop blamed herself for not staying by her husband's side, even if she'd been the one to shoot the guy and save both brothers. Plus they all carried some guilt for going back to the states without finding Terzic. That didn't change that they were here.
“You left for a couple weeks. He was held for a year. You all did everything you could to find me. They didn't look for him. It's different,” Malloy said, and that was difficult to argue with, but Tony knew that Gibbs wouldn't think much of it as an excuse. “It's complicated.”
“I suppose a man who went to another country rather than face his wife over his marriage ending would say that.”
Malloy rolled his eyes. “And somehow you're still surprised that you're single.”
Tony laughed. “I am perfectly fine with that, I'll have you know.”
Malloy snorted. “Sure you are. Wait... What happened with Zoe?”
James wasn't sure why he was here. He doubted very much that Matt Devlin had any interest in seeing him. They were never more than colleagues, and that last case was not the first—or even the worst—time they'd been in conflict. Still, he was here, and it wasn't every day that a man came back from the dead.
“DS Devlin,” James said, falling into the habit of using the man's rank even if he hadn't been a policeman in over a year. He supposed they wouldn't have let him go, but he might not be reinstated, either. Would Devlin even want that?
“I don't actually have testimony to prepare this time,” Devlin said. “And there won't be a trial.”
“You didn't forget that I am no longer with the CPS, did you?” James asked, rewarded with a smile. “I see. You're teasing.”
Devlin shrugged. “Need something to pass the time in here. It gets boring with nothing to do but stare at the walls. I suppose I should be grateful. I actually have something to look at now.”
“You couldn't see anything before?”
“No. A bit of light when he came in and out, but that was it.”
“I'm sorry.” James sat down in the chair, not sure why it was available. Devlin's brother was certainly not short on visitors. Devlin gave him a look. “I am. I can't imagine how difficult it was for you being confined in the dark like that. And despite our disagreements, I always respected your abilities as an investigator. I know it may not have seemed that way, not after that stalker case—”
“You made me look incompetent.”
James nodded. He wouldn't try and justify that. What he'd done was necessary to convict a killer. “It was the only time that allegation was made against you.”
“That you know of,” Devlin said. He shook his head. “Ronnie said you actually work with Malloy?”
“Yes, though I only just met him the same day that Ronnie and Alesha did. We were all quite startled by the resemblance. I'm told he is your half-brother.”
“According to DNA, yes. Abby explained the results to me, though I'm not sure any of actually need that. I look at him, and I almost see myself. Hard to deny the relation,” Devlin said. He looked over at the other side of the room. “Doesn't bother me like I thought it would. I suppose it helps that my father was a bastard, and I'm not surprised by anything he's done.”
James nodded. “You seem... remarkably calm about all of this.”
“Could be the drugs,” Devlin said. He shook his head. “I don't know. A part of it still doesn't seem real.”
“He's starting to gather a crowd again.”
Jake nodded, and he was glad, since he shouldn't be the only one with a crowd. His own was too much again, like it had been before, and he didn't have the excuse of trapping Charlie to get out of this place. The doctors did say they thought he could be released sooner than Matt, since they were still concerned about the long-term effects of his time with this Terzic guy. Matt was still underweight, even if they had fixed the dehydration and were working on the undernourished part of things.
“They starting to get their heads out of their asses, then?” Gibbs asked, and Jake shook his head. He wasn't sure that was the problem, though he supposed that had been said about him when he didn't handle things with Ellie properly. He could have made more of an effort to talk to her, he knew that, and he wasn't sure how to feel about the way his decision played out. Too many issues complicated that—as they did the strained relations between Matt and his friends.
“Maybe next time you should just Gibbs-slap them,” Tony said. “Save us all a bit of time and trouble.”
Gibbs looked at him. He shrugged.
“We must let them muddle through their difficulties at their own pace,” Ducky said. “We cannot fix them for them, nor would that actually aid them at all. We cannot decide their emotions for them, even were we to want that.”
“I think that would more apply to parents and children, though maybe a bit with spouses,” Ellie said, giving Jake a smile as she reached over to touch his cheek. “I know I'd like to be able to take away the pain.”
“That sounds like something out of a movie,” Tony said. “Bit cliché, even.”
“Things are cliché because we use them. People don't even realize just how much clichés are a part of their lives until they actually try to stop using them,” Ellie said, and Jake had to nod, since they'd had that discussion early on in their relationship, back when they were still bonding over their jobs at the NSA. Ellie's supervisor kept kicking her reports back and demanding that she not use them, much to her frustration, since she hadn't even realized she was doing it. He'd had the same problem transitioning to legal writing, even after years of trying to avoid clichés in college.
“You use clichés all the time in your write-ups,” McGee told him. “Trust me, Tony. They're not wrong about that.”
“You're just saying that because of that reviewer who said your book was clichéd,” Tony told him, and McGee glared back at him.
“And this would be why Devlin is fortunate his friends are too guilt-ridden to be around him,” Jake muttered. He got a look from everyone then, and he tried not to squirm.
“The nurse did try and force feed him earlier,” Ellie said, grimacing. Jake wasn't sure why that had happened, since he did have an IV, but then with his hands, it wasn't in the usual spot, so she might have been confused. Or she was just confused, but either way, that had been an experience he never wanted to repeat. “I think we're all ready to get out of here.”
“Does this mean you're coming home, then?”
“He can't go back yet,” Abby said. She gestured to the other bed. “Jake just found his half-brother. He has to stay for a little while. At least as long as Matt's in the hospital, right? And he has the trial to wait for, so he can do both.”
Tony eyed her suspiciously. “Who are you and what have you done with Abby Scuito?”
“Relax, Tony,” Ellie said, amused. “She just happens to think that Matt is cute.”
McGee frowned. “Wait, what?”
Jake groaned. “Can we please not do this?”
“We could always talk about you and Bishop instead,” Tony said. “Now I seem to remember her telling us that you two had done this thing from a magazine and—”
“I think that Jakob could use some rest,” Ducky said. “As could we all. It is late, and I, for one, would like to get a good night's sleep.”
Jake wouldn't object to that himself, and he was definitely sick of the hovering. He wasn't sure if the drugs would be enough to keep away the nightmares this time, and he didn't want to try and sleep with an audience. Not for that. He knew he couldn't be entirely alone, not with his half-brother here, but Devlin had been that psycho's victim, too, and if it was just him and Ellie, it was a lot easier to face the idea of sleep.
“Keep an eye on him,” Gibbs told Ellie, and she nodded.
“On both of them.”
A few more pieces come together, starting everyone on the path to recovery.
So... I am thinking that I like the idea of ending things here. This gives everyone the start on healing, leaves things open-ended, and if I were to eventually come back for a third in this series, I could pick up with the trial and people interacting, or maybe just do short pieces with brothers and so on.
Yes, this seems good. I'm not sure everyone will agree, but this works for me.
“Good to see you're awake this time.”
Matt gave her a smile, and Natalie sat down in the chair next to his bed. Others had come and gone again, and the other half of the room was quiet, only a single visitor this time. The wife had stayed. The others were likely at a hotel for the night. She hadn't asked. No business of hers, and that mess was strained anyhow with the way they'd taken over her department and her case. They'd found Malloy—and Matt—and she couldn't complain, though she didn't like it.
This made them all look incompetent.
“We deal in facts, you know,” she said, and he frowned at her ever so slightly. “You know what I mean, Matt. We're police. We have facts. We know when something happened. How it happened. We take statements, we back them with forensics. You were one of the more emotional of us, and I know you hate me saying that, but it's true. It's not that none of us cared. It's just that you were still young enough to keep the passion we all lose a bit after years in this work.”
He grimaced. “You trying to insult me, guv?”
She shook her head. “No. Believe it or not, I'm trying to apologize.”
He laughed. “Well, I think it needs a bit of work.”
“All I'm saying is that we may have been too used to dealing only with the facts,” Natalie said. “We teach ourselves to reject the other parts of things—we can't do our jobs if we don't. You think we could do this if we felt the fear every time? If we wept with every victim, got angry over every killer? It's not even that we don't. We just... keep that in its place.”
Matt nodded. “I know what you mean.”
She reached over and took his hand. “It's not because we didn't care. It's because we cared too damn much to function if we didn't find some way to keep going. I thought I was going to lose Ronnie when I lost you. The new lad helped him through it, but it wasn't the same. Poor man. He got a bum deal if there ever was one. Coming into your place, trying to hold us all together, always feeling like we'd shove him out the door if we ever got you back...”
“I'm not ready for that,” Matt admitted, and she knew that was hard for him. “I don't... I'm not sure when or if that's gonna happen.”
“I know,” she said. “You have a place if you want it, if you can forgive us. You don't have to take it, but it will always be there. I'd like to think you wouldn't be a stranger, though.”
“Doubt I could be,” Matt admitted. “Ronnie would never allow that, and I don't know that I would, either.”
“No, he wouldn't. You know he tried to get that brother of yours to solve a case for him? Oh, he tells it differently, of course—”
“And he says it was that your brother's wife meddled in it, but you should have seen the look on his face when he spoke about creating a theory with the two of them and how much your brother's mind works like yours,” Natalie said, shaking her head. “Turns out they were both right—Cromwell wasn't dead, and he did kill someone to try and frame Gibson. He had other reasons, but he admitted that he wanted his life back and thought if Gibson was convicted, finally, he'd be safe.”
Matt shook his head. “Sometimes I wonder if they think at all.”
“They don't,” she said, and he laughed. Still, he sounded tired, and there was enough of a mother in her to tell her now was the time to stop. “You get some rest now.”
He nodded. “Shouldn't be a problem. Drugs are working again.”
She gave his hand a squeeze. “Just heal up and don't scare us like that again.”
“We're getting you help. They're on their way, I promise,” Ellie said, desperate. Her hands shook, unable to stop the bleeding. Her words were useless. She couldn't comfort him. It was too late. She knew didn't want to believe it, but she could see it. The blood... “It's okay. We're here.”
“Bye... bye... pumpkin... pie.” Jake closed his eyes, his head slumping down.
She held him, shaking as tears rolled down her cheeks. She didn't know why she said it. He couldn't hear her. He was gone. “See you soon, macaroon.”
Ellie jerked, lifting her head and looking around. She needed a minute to get her breathing under control. That wasn't real, but it had felt like it. She'd been too close to it too many times recently. She would almost rather dream about shooting Terzic. Or the man in Kabul.
She stilled when her eyes went to the bed. She'd only wanted to confirm that her husband was alive, but to her surprise, Jake's eyes were open, and he was watching her. She grimaced.
“Did I wake you?”
“I was going to ask you that,” he said, and she almost laughed, though it wasn't that funny. She knew he didn't sleep well, hadn't since he was taken, but she couldn't be sure that he'd woken from a nightmare like she had or even that he'd been asleep at all. “Was it... shooting him?”
She shook her head. “Losing you.”
He closed his eyes, letting out a breath. “Oh.”
“Jake,” she said, reaching over to touch his face. “I know... we have had a lot of trouble in the past couple years—but if anything... that just showed me how much I want you in my life.”
He reached over, covering her hand with his. She tried not to wince when the cast over his fingers touched her skin.
She swallowed, twisting her lip. “I would shoot him again.”
“I don't blame you.”
“I... What if I'm getting too used to shooting people? This... I don't... The first time, I wasn't okay. I didn't tell you, but I wasn't. I pretended I was. I don't... This time I was... I don't know. It's like... it was easier, and if it was easier... What if that makes me a killer? Someone who enjoys it and—”
“No. Not you,” Jake said, moving his hand up to her cheek. “I'm not sure you're feeling it yet. That any of us are.”
She sighed. She knew that Matt had said that—he said it didn't seem real—and while Jake hadn't said it in words, not before this, she figured he felt the same. “Jake...”
He let go of her, scooting across his bed so that he was on the far side of it. She winced as she saw him do it, and she wasn't the only one. She saw the pain in his face when he moved. He patted the open space he'd created.
She shook her head. “That is such a bad idea. That bed is not big enough, and with that wound in your side—”
“I'll be fine,” he said. “And it's not fair to you to try and sleep in that chair, leaning over my bed. We have fit in tighter places before.”
“We were younger and stupider.”
“Because we were stupid?”
He shook his head. “Because we didn't let it get complicated. You are making this needlessly complicated. And hurting yourself sleeping like that. Please, Ellie. I'll get up and carry you over here if I have to.”
She laughed. That was not happening. She'd been stubborn enough already. She pushed the bar down and climbed up next to him. “This is crazy.”
“We used to enjoy crazy.”
“I still love you.”
“And I still love you,” he said, kissing her forehead. She settled in against him, closing her eyes. This felt right, even if she knew it shouldn't.
“Sneaking doesn't work that well in a hospital. Were you counting on me being asleep?” Matt asked, stopping Alesha at the foot of his bed. She tried to force a smile. “I know. It's awkward trying to have a private conversation with all those people on the other side of the room.”
She nodded, still looking uncomfortable. “And forget trying to apologize. It's... It's impossible.”
He shook his head. He'd already heard from almost everyone. He seemed to have flowers from half of them, too. Everyone was sorry. He'd found, though, that sorry wasn't really enough. It didn't fix anything. He didn't think anything could. “Not so impossible. You're here, aren't you? Ronnie's done it, the guv's done it, even Steel did it.”
She put her hands on the board at the foot of his bed. She looked down at her feet and then over at Malloy's bed. Matt had noticed that it was noisier over there than it had been before, partially because now two people were moving around in it.
“She's always here,” Alesha said. “Never seems to leave him.”
“She did a few times, though always when she knew someone else would be with him,” Matt said, shrugging. “Though he said it wasn't always like that. He wasn't the only one who said it. Apparently, I owe my life to their marital problems.”
Alesha frowned. “That's...”
“A part of me doesn't want to think about it. Then it's all I can think about.”
“We let you down, Matt. You were there for all of us. For me. And... we weren't there for you,” Alesha said. “We... We believed you were dead. It's not an excuse. I want it to be, but every time I tell myself it is...”
“I can't make it easier on you and say that I don't blame you,” Matt said. He knew that they all wanted him to say it. He couldn't. He'd be lying, and if there was one thing he'd taken from Malloy's advice, it was that. He wasn't going to deny how he felt to make the others feel better. He couldn't. Then again—was Malloy actually taking that advice?
“When I went after Merrick, you all thought that I was an idiot for putting myself in that position—”
“And I was,” she said, shaking her head. “I could have handled it differently. If I'd asked for help, maybe he wouldn't have walked away from what he did to me. James found a way to get him, but I still think sometimes if I'd made a different choice...”
“It's not the same,” Matt said. He grimaced. “I'm not saying that to—I still hate that I couldn't do anything to help you then, to stop it. I just... You didn't know I was alive, didn't know I needed help.”
“I didn't tell you about Merrick.”
Matt sighed. This wasn't going to work. Maybe he should have lied and said he didn't blame any of them. “I don't want to live angry at the world. I've had my chances over the years. I never took them before. I don't want to start now. And I don't want any of you drowning in guilt, either.”
She did smile then. “So still friends?”
“Like that stopped.”
She shrugged. “Well, you were dead.”
Matt shook his head. “Oh, no. That I don't think I could ever forgive. You let a little thing like death come between friends?”
“Don't tell me they're letting you out of here.”
Jake smiled, nodding. Ellie was getting the paperwork, though she'd be back in a minute to finish getting him ready to go. He had tried to do as much of getting ready on his own as he could, since there was next to no privacy in this room, but he still needed her for more than he liked. He was just glad that he had her to help instead of some nurse—or no one, as seemed to be the case for his half-brother.
Devlin sighed. “You were the one that bled all over that house.”
“You bled all over your insides,” Jake reminded him. Devlin gave him a look. “It's not about who was injured most. That's not a contest either of us wants to win. I think everyone believes it's you, since he had you for a year.”
“I don't have two broken hands.”
Jake shook his head. “I didn't come over here to argue with you. I came to offer you a place to stay—only if you want. Ellie and I were talking about it, and since you were dead, your apartment is probably gone, and you might not have a lot in possessions. Ellie actually doesn't have a lot over here because she wasn't planning on staying and—I just... I thought I'd offer you a room if you want one. And since we are similar in size, we could possibly share clothes for a bit... Just until you're back on your feet. So to speak, that is.”
Matt laughed. “I thought lawyers were supposed to be good at making speeches.”
“I've never been in court,” Jake said, getting a frown from him. “That's not what I did as a lawyer. And it's just an offer. I'd been avoiding using any of my family's properties, but the hotel is needlessly expensive, Gibbs' entire team is threatening to stay until Charlie's trial, and since you wouldn't have a place—you could stay with us.”
“Your family owns property here?”
Jake nodded. “I... My mother's family is actually quite wealthy. I'm not, but they are. And my mother is threatening to come make me use the estate in Kent, and that is not happening, so—it's available if you want it.”
Devlin frowned. “You don't even know me.”
“No, I don't.”
“And Terzic abducted you because of me.”
“And because of Charlie, who would have found someone else to do it even if it wasn't the same man who had some strange hatred for you,” Jake told him. “Ellie will probably try and talk you into it, and so will other members of her team. I've found it easier not to fight them most of the time.”
“I'll consider it,” Matt said. Then he frowned. “Would that mean leaving here today?”
“It might, since part of the reason they were keeping you was that you had nowhere to go.”
Devlin considered this. “I suppose I should get to know my brother. And my sister-in-law.”
Jake almost smiled, but he couldn't quite do it. “I think I owe DiNozzo twenty dollars. He said that was what you'd say."
Matt just laughed.