The Mile High City Affair

by Sammie

Disclaimer in part 1.

Thanks to the Black Powder site for its ballistics/wounds/etc. help.


SAFEHOUSE
UNDISCLOSED LOCATION

"I've got an open wound," whined an unfamiliar voice from inside the safehouse. "Come on! This is inhumane! I'll sue! If I - "

"Quit yer yammering," snarled Kelly. "Or I'll get Doc Mallard to shut you up permanently."

"He can't do that! He's a medical doctor! They're supposed to do no ha - "

"He's a medical examiner, and if you don't shut up, I'll put you on his autopsy table right next to your friend."

At that, the agents visibly relaxed, lowering their weapons. Chris banged on the front door, and one of Kelly's men opened it, waving towards the back. There was Kelly, half of his team, and one perp...with his hands tied up and somehow strapped to the top of his head with a bowtie. "A bowtie?" Gibbs wasn't impressed.

"It's not like we had a whole lot of options," Kelly replied. He sat back and took another gulp of his soda. "What took you ladies so long to get here? Stop at the spa? Find a good deal at Macy's? Get your hair done? We called two hours ago."

"His hair look like we stopped at a barber for two hours?" Chris waved at Gibbs' head. "Who're they?"

"One's dead. That motormouth" the Team 8 boss waved at the man with his hands tied up on his head "lawyered up fast."

As if on cue, the man hollered, "My butt's killing me! I'm bleedin' ALL over your couch! If - "

"Shut up," Chris snapped.

Kelly scowled at the shooter. "I hope you brought duct tape for his mouth."

"Ain't MacGyver," Gibbs replied. "What happened?"

"When the two of them came in, they said they were Marshals Dan Yanish and Kent Andrews, both of whom are on our approved list. Their IDs matched them and they were both on the approved list, so Kate let them in."

"Mary?" Chris cut in.

"She's fine. Kate had suggested - and I agreed - to put Ducky, Evie, Billy, and Mary in another room farther in, away from the front. Motormouth clobbered Kate over the head and kicked her right where the stitches were; three of us were shot at trying to get her."

"Where is she?" Gibbs asked pointedly.

"Mary'n Kate are in the next room," Kelly replied, his voice softening a little. "You should talk to your ME; Kate let him treat her. I've got Johnson outside her window and Carter at the door, so they're safe."

"And the other?" Chris asked as Gibbs headed out.

"They were closer to the door than we were, and the motormouth gave covering fire as his friend went inside. Mary and Ducky both shot at him; from the looks of it, he was dead before he hit the ground. When this guy heard this shooting inside, he started to run."

"His agent shot me in the rear!"

"You tried to kill five people," Chris shot back before turning to Kelly. "And the Marshals?"

"Found Yanish and Andrews, passed out and stuffed in the trunk of a car a mile out - chloroform. Tweedledee and Tweedledum took the two Marshal IDs and somehow cut out the photo and put theirs in pretty expertly."

Chris nodded at Kelly. "All right. We'll wrap up here."

Kelly nodded. "See ya in Denver," he called as the three scattered.


She was curled up slightly on the couch, lying on her good side, covered in a blanket. The frown and the slightly furrowed brow indicated her rest wasn't as restful as it should be. When she shivered, Mary, sitting nearby, took off her long coat and laid it worriedly over the agent.

"You two OK?"

Both started, Kate instinctively reaching under her pillow for what he assumed was her Sig Sauer. Recognizing who was at the door, Mary helped Kate sit up, then murmured a quiet excuse to go.

"Oh, that's not my blood," Kate replied as she saw him looking at some blood on her shirt. "Ducky already checked me over. I think that blood's from the jerk who clobbered me, or from the one who's dead." He still didn't look happy, so she tried to lighten the mood. "If Mary Travis is any evidence, Chris Larabee is a good shooting teacher," she smiled weakly.

Gibbs nodded as he moved forward, remembering the plucky Marine wife Laura Rowans. "Smart Marines always teach their wives to shoot. Larabee would do the same for Ms. Travis."

"Did you teach your wives?" Kate replied, her amused curiosity dancing in her eyes, which just got her Gibbs' usual dare-you-to-ask look.

"Let me see that side again," came the familiar voice of the ME as he entered. Ducky sat at down at the edge of the couch, Gibbs moving to the arm of the couch at the other end. He gently lifted her shirt to inspect the stitches. "Thankfully, still no internal bleeding. The good Lord only knows how they didn't rip when he punched you. How's your head?"

Kate closed her eyes. "Still hurts. He pistol-whipped me. How's Mary? She seemed a little shaken."

"She should be fine. The dear girl shot the man twice straight in the stomach," Ducky explained to both agents as he patted his own stomach area. "I went straight for the head. Yes, I think Mary was hoping he could be taken alive, and went for the gut instead. Agent Larabee taught her well. Indeed, some of the great gunfighters of the Old West understood what we today can merely verify - that is, that the so-called 'gut shot' could end a fight the way no other - "

"Duck," Gibbs said warningly. "How is Kate."

Ducky smiled down at the young woman and patted her arm gently. "You will be quite all right, my dear. Move carefully."


Chris found her repacking her small bag, shoving things inside with unnecessary force. When Mary came to the last item, the small Colt he had taught her to use, she paused, holding it, then started to unload it.

He crossed the room and gently took the gun from her, unloading it with one smooth motion. She turned to her things, not looking at him, and quietly zipped the bag shut.

He put an arm around her, hugging her gently, and felt her shudder a little, the wear of having shot another human being starting to show.


ATF INTERROGATION ROOM

"If you gentlemen would please refrain from bullying the poor man," came an officious British voice. They parted as Standish came in, his stylish glasses matching the expensive Italian suit. He looked indignantly at Tony, Vin, and Buck. "Such boorish behavior is not appreciated," he huffed, pointing at the perp's hands tied on top of his head.

"Psst. It wasn't them," the shooter and fake 'marshal' replied. "It was the ATF agent with the girly last name that tied me up. And his agent shot me in the rear!"

"Sir, it would behoove you to allow me to do the talking," Ezra replied without giving him a second glance. "While I am sure Special Agent Kelly has some part of the blame, I am of the opinion the responsibility for this sad state of affairs rests on the shoulders of these Neanderthal-like cretins. I cannot believe I am forced to work in such hideous conditions. I simply do not get paid enough to endure these indignities."

On the other side of the mirror, McGee and JD snickered.

"Now, if you gentlemen - and the term is entirely honorific - will excuse us, I would like to speak with the man," Ezra continued haughtily as he pointed the three men out the door.

"Pompous windbag," Buck muttered loud enough for Ezra to hear.

"Word of the day calendar, Special Agent Wilmington?"

As they left, they could hear the perp asking, "Are you a lawyer?"

"You called for one, did you not?"

"He's going to get our whole case blown," McGee whispered, standing behind the mirror. "He can't pretend to be a lawyer!"

"Don't worry. Ez'll get the rules to limbo without breakin' 'em."

"Now, I understand that you would like to enter a plea bargain?"

"I got info fer ya." The perp paused. "But not 'til I get a deal!"

"My dear chap, the deal depends entirely on the information. If you were to say, 'I had a sausage biscuit this morning,' no lawyer could get you a plea bargain. Indeed, no lawyer with any dignity would be stupid enough to approach Special Agent Larabee even to ask for one."

The perp whispered something in Standish's ear. Everyone leaned forward as they watched his expression darken. "That is indeed helpful information."

"So, what kind of deal do I get?" the perp asked eagerly.

"Considering you tried to kill Director Travis' daughter-in-law...his wife...his grandson...a NCIS federal agent...and a NCIS medical examiner who happens to be Director Travis' oldest friend?" Standish replied in a mirthless tone, the British accent gone as he turned at the door. He smirked at the now pale man. "You tell me what kind of deal you'll expect to get."


The office door slammed shut and the two men stood, glaring at each other. "It had to have been an inside job," Gibbs half-hissed. "How do I know your man Kelly didn't do it?"

"Kelly is the only team boss in this whole building I trust with my back," Chris retorted. "It's not him."

"How do you know that?"

"Why do we follow hunches based on your gut?"

Larabee and Gibbs fell into a furious silence for a few moments, ignoring each other as each tried to piece together how they had managed to let slip a killer. Finally calmer, Gibbs began thinking aloud. "Kelly and his team took everyone to the safehouse. They started here in Denver; half the team took Ducky, Ms. Travis, and Billy from HQ while the other took Kate straight from the hospital and met them halfway."

"At that point, half of Kelly's team takes them on to the safehouse; the other returns here to take care of Lawrence." Chris shook his head. "If he were the one, it would be easier to ambush along the way."

"At the safehouse they met the US Marshals, but the two assassins were fakes." Gibbs paused. "Still doesn't tell us how they knew about the safehouse."

They fell silent again when Chris suddenly straightened, heading for the door. "We weren't the only ones here when Mary and the others left!"


FBI HEADQUARTERS

The FBI agent came around the corner, puzzled at the looks he was getting. He stopped when he saw the long-haired sniper sitting in his chair, his feet propped up on his desk, watching amusedly as his mustached friend paused in his snipping to look at the Chia head with a more critical eye. "Needs a bit more off'n the top, Buck," Vin drawled from underneath his hat.

"You're right. Man, this high and tight stuff is difficult to cut."

"That why ya joined the Navy?"

"Have you seen Gibbs' hair? I'd never get a date with hair like that."

Vin chuckled. "I don't think datin' was his problem in the Corps, Buck."

"I doubt Mr. Gibbs has trouble attracting women, either," commented Standish from where he was perched, reading a magazine.

"Yeah, right," Buck scoffed. "The only person who glares more than Gibbs is Chris."

"I think women are more attracted to Mr. Larabee than they are to you, Mr. Wilmington."

"Scary 'nuff as that thought is, I think Ez's right."

Wilmington pointed the open business end of his scissors at his teammates. "Hey - "

The FBI agent finally cleared his throat, and the three ATF agents looked up as if seeing him for the first time. Buck held up the Chia head, flashing Tom Verucchi a huge smile of unconcealed amusement. "You really should take him to the barber more."

Vin grinned up at the man, his eyes barely visible with the brim of his hat pulled down over his face, and pretended suddenly to realize where he was. "Oh. Is this yours?" He brought his feet to the floor with a lazy bang but didn't get up.

"What do you want?" Verucchi asked tightly.

"Fer ya to take a trip downtown with us."

"There is an excellent new French eatery that just moved into the spot across from ATF headquarters," Ezra offered brightly.

Verucchi's eyes narrowed. "You arresting me?"

"Nobody's forcin' ya int'anything," Vin replied genially. There were clicks behind Verucchi, and he turned around to find several rather cheery federal agents staring back at him, guns pointed at him. "Motormouth 'n 'Jolene Garrett' are waiting on ya."

Verucchi just sneered. "You fail in catching a killer, so you play the favorite ATF game...'Shoot the FBI agent'."

Ezra just chuckled and held up a small cassette. He inserted it into the tape player on Verucchi's desk and let it roll. Within a few seconds, Gibbs and Chris' voices poured out, answered by Hopewell's as he admitted to hiring Verucchi.

"You can practice your hokey pokey right now by turnin' around," JD grinned, holding up a pair of handcuffs.

Once handcuffed, Verucchi was turned around and pushed forward, nearly crashing into a smaller body. He looked down and blanched.

Kate's smile widened and she stepped right up so she was nose to nose to him. "You look a little pale, Agent Verucchi," she said with mock concern.

"DEATH-ly pale," JD supplied, to groans.

Kate smirked. "You sent in those fake Marshals to kill Mary, and they reported I was there." She grinned. "They don't know who I am...they ask you. Too bad you didn't know we told the Marshals I was Ducky's daughter. So who told those two shooters that I was NCIS?" She pretended to think and looked at him before saying sarcastically, "I have no idea."

"It was kinda smart, wasn' it." Buck's levity gone. "Being the good agent, hiring Garcia like the FBI wanted you to, then setting up him and Lawrence. Everybody could believe he went back to his old ways. Everybody could believe he suckered his old friend, especially with that expensive house she's got on her pitiable salary. Perfect targets."

"And you brought on Tim Bozo Bickerstaff onto your team," Josiah continued. "Flashy temper, authority issues, interagency problems. If something like this went down, he'd be the suspect."

"You just didn't bank on Garcia findin' out," Vin replied in a low voice, his eyes narrowing ever so slightly. "Didn't know he was smart'r than you thought...didn't know he didn't trust ya...didn't count on him findin' out 'bout Hopewell, 'bout how you backstabbed him, 'bout his 'spotter'."

"You know how we catch guys like you?" Tony walked over, eyeing him. "Guys like you think too much. Try to make your crimes so nice and tidy and clean. Tiny slip, and bam...you've handed the case over."

"Tell us how it works." Kate's eyes narrowed and her arms crossed. "Feds don't pay enough...you invest big time in Wheeler hotel enterprises and Frank Elliot's banks, and then Stephen Travis ends up dead. Shot."

"Yer super gives ya 'much needed time off' 'cause of conflict of int'rest in the Travis case." Vin's voice dropped even lower as he narrowed his eyes at Verucchi. "You protect yer money by tamp'ring with the evidence yer Lynn Koschesky got, pushin' 'er to think it was some robb'ry gone bad...then Mary and us, we blow it wide open...and 'em two go to jail, you lose all that money."

Verucchi exploded. "My wife left me when we lost our finances! That SOB Stephen Travis should have never gone digging into those land deeds, and maybe he'd be alive."

"So what is this?" Kate snapped. "Revenge?"

"Yeah, maybe Mary Travis wouldn't have to worry about being killed if she hadn't tried to figure out why her HUSBAND DIED!" Buck exclaimed disgustedly.

"Please, Verucchi," Ezra replied smoothly but disdainfully. "That's preposterous logic. Really, with the entire federal law enforcement records at your hands, you should have investigated before you invested...or, oh, I don't know..." he glared "reported it when you found out Wheeler and Elliott were falsifying land deeds. Much less cover up the fact that you knew Stephen Travis was most likely murdered over those deeds."

Verucchi hissed at him. "My wife would still be with me if that witch had left her husband's death alone."

"No," Kate hissed. "Your wife would still be with you if you hadn't knowingly invested in criminal business and tried to cover up a murder."

Tony smirked at Verucchi's angry face. "You're a lucky man, you know that? Since Larabee gets to beat the cr-p out of Hopewell, you only have to contend with Gibbs, who'll just beat your pretty boy face for trying to kill our coworker." He turned Verucchi around and pushed him toward the elevator, the others following close behind.

They steered him past his silent colleagues to the elevator. There was a ding, and the elevator doors opened to reveal Gibbs and Larabee inside; the hardened looks on the men's faces quickly disappeared at the sight of Verucchi in cuffs, replaced by feral grins of anticipation.

The FBI agent in front of Vin visibly stiffened; yeah, Chris and Gibbs smiling like that were a lot scarier than their usual growl. The sniper leaned forward, his voice low and harsh. "The most dangerous man, Verucchi?" The Texan looked over the FBI agent's shoulder at the team bosses' predatory expressions. "The most dangerous man is the one who can't be bought."


NEXT MORNING
ATF HEADQUARTERS

The next morning the agents came in early to find Wilmington already there, face buried deep in a file. Four other ATF agents instantly turned to JD, who looked innocently at them. McGee paused, then grinned. Buck should've known better than to tease JD about "The Sound of Music" nuns.

Chris emerged from his office, a pair of office scissors and shaving kit in hand which he plunked down on Buck's desk. "Buck, it's beyond saving."

At that the entire bullpen turned to him. Buck made a face, lowering his file to reveal a hap-hazardly hand-snipped mustache tinged neon pink, apparently done while he was asleep. There was a long silence, broken by a few muffled laughs. Those who dared got dark looks from the explosives expert.

The sniper sat back in his seat, an appraising twinkle in his eye. "I think the ladies'll like it, Bucklin," he drawled in a teasing tone as the explosives man glared at him. "The pink's nice, and ya look ten years younger than yer and Chris' old geezer age." The blond in question glared at his friend, whose amused smile grew wider. "Quit glarin', cowboy. Ya know it's true."

"I must agree with Mr. Tanner," Standish replied. "It is much more becoming than that thing which crawled onto your lip to die...a prolonged death."

"Ya can save on that hair dye now to cover up them gray hairs in the mustache," Vin added. "JD did ya a real favor."

The NCIS agents just chuckled, watching the scene unfold.

The phone on the desk rang, and Nathan picked it up. "Jackson. ... OK. See ya." He turned to Buck, a big grin on his face. "Shave fast, Buck. We're gonna have a video conference with Hawaii in five minutes."


ATF CONTROL ROOM

"Don't you all look relaxed." Honolulu PD detective Sean Harrison chuckled, to big grins from the agents. "Bucklin, what happened to your mustache?"

"JD happ'n'd," Vin answered for the explosives expert, who just made a face at them all when they were laughing.

"So, what do you got for us?" Chris asked.

"Well, we went looking with the picture of 'Jolene Garrett' you sent us," NCIS agent Richard Owens replied. "Better known here and in Denver as 'Karen Conicello.' She took a job as a teacher as a front. That's why your Rebekah Lawrence thought she seemed familiar. Conicello substitute teaches in the high school Lawrence teaches at."

"And Beckie didn't recognize her?" JD exclaimed.

"The school's got 4000 kids and tons of teachers, JD," Kate pointed out.

"This is the real Karen Conicello," Harrison replied, holding up a photo. "This is her picture from when she taught in a private school in Hawaii."

"Who's our fake Conicello...a.k.a. Jolene Garrett? And why so many aliases?"

"Her real name Rhonda Carpenter," Owens replied. "She was a dropout from Marines training. We're guessing she took over Conicello's life to get into Denver - the real Conicello had been scheduled to move to Denver - and took the Garrett persona to keep anybody from finding her on the military personnel database."

"Under the name Rhonda Carpenter," Harrison continued, "she's a pretty famous con artist and one-time killer. Her specialty - disguises. She can make herself look like anybody."

"And the woman whose life she took over - the one whose identity she stole?"

"We found the real Karen Conicello burned to a crisp," Harrison explained. "She was killed and then dumped in a volcano."

"Original." Tony winced.

"Our question is," Harrison cut in, "how did they plan so far ahead?"

"Agent Chia Head over at the FBI," Buck snorted in disgust. "The FBI had already been in talks with Garcia to help them out, and Verucchi made sure to set up Lawrence and Bickerstaff - among others - to take the fall. She almost did, too, without knowing it."


"Lunch!" Josiah boomed as he and JD came in with bags; as if he needed announcing, as the smell of Chinese food had preceded them into the bullpen. They were mobbed when they came in.

Tony swallowed a little bit as he looked around. He'd forgotten to ask for a fork. "Do you have any forks?" suddenly came Kate's voice. Tony looked up gratefully at her.

"Sure - we got community silverware in the kitchen," Nathan replied, directing her to the kitchen.

Arraignments had taken place all morning; statements from the two marshals, from Kate, from Mary. Verucchi, 'Garrett,' and the shooter masquerading as a US Marshal were more than happy to sell each other out; Verucchi, when he realized how close he was to a serious sentence, ratted out Hopewell. Garcia's letters and emails were entered into evidence, with his simple hiring by Horace enough to land both that advisor and the governor behind bars for a long while.

"Apparently Verucchi thought he wouldn't be caught and hadn't taken the time to dispose oF the evidence," Abby was explaining. "The stuff you got from searching his house was the jackpot. All the blood on the motel pillows and the motel sheets - blood matched Garcia's."

"And the box of listening devices we found?"

"All from Lawrence's house. He had the whole place wired to record her voice."

"That is so sick," Buck muttered. "Was he taping the woman in her house, too?" he asked in disgust.

Abby shook her head. "He was working to frame her; he wasn't a peeping tom type. From the time stamps, I'd wager...there was maybe three or four months' worth of tape."

"You'd 'wager'?" Gibbs repeated, an eyebrow raised.

All eyes turned to Ezra. "Well," came the cultured drawl, "I am delighted some of my qualities have appeared to influence my colleagues."

"Y'know, Katie," Buck said charmingly, apparently having decided to try with Kate one more time, "I can always teach you to use chopsticks. See," he began, moving to take her hand, "you just - "

"I know how to use chopsticks, Agent Wilmington," Kate replied with a pretended smile plastered on her face, "and my name is Kate." She smiled sweetly at him as his teammates snorted in laughter.

"Kate sixteen, Buck zero," JD announced with a huge grin and dodged a head cuff from Buck.

"You know, though," Buck continued, entirely undaunted by the rejection, "That's one of the best lines ever."

JD groaned, burying his head in his hands. "Buck, no one wants to hear this."

"Lemme guess, kid," Vin drawled, his eyes twinkling. "Did Buck try ta teach ya this?"

JD glared at his roommate. "Casey hit me in the chest."

"Ya ain't got my animal magnetism, kid," Buck replied cheerily. "I've taught a few women to use chopsticks. You hold their left hand with the food, and just wrap your arm right around them gorgeous shoulders like this." He demonstrated as all his teammates groaned loudly, throwing wadded up napkins at him, trying to get him to be quiet. "And ya lean down ta whisper in - "

"Mr. Wilmington." The cultured Southern drawl rose about the loud groans. "Please cease and desist. I am having enough trouble stomaching this MSG-infested thing you call food without having to listen to your disgusting attempts at charming the fairer sex."

"Of course, it's even better if they know how to use 'em. You just put on 'em puppy dog eyes and say it's real embarrassing that you don't know how to use chopsticks, and they just their soft arms around - "

The groans got louder, and more paper wads flew. Tony, however, looked at Buck with newfound awe. "That is the best idea I have ever heard," he breathed, shaking his head in amazement. "Why didn't I think of it? That is PURE genius!"

Buck grinned wide, throwing an arm around Tony. "Hang 'round me, and I'll show you the world."

"You'll corrupt the young man," Ezra corrected.

"Pigs! I work with pigs," Kate exclaimed.

Larabee turned to his counterpart with an amused expression as they stopped in the doorway. "How do you keep Kate on your team? Or any woman, for that matter."

"Hey!" Buck and Tony protested together.

"Yes, Gibbs," Kate replied. An amused look on her face, she turned to look at him. "I'd like to know how you think you keep women on your team."

Gibbs looked down at her briefly as the others continued their arguing. A tiny smile quirked at the corner of his lips, barely noticeable. "Me," he suggested, his smile widening, his eyes teasing as he continued on to pick up his food.

Kate's mouth fell open in protest. "Gibbs!"


TRAVIS HOME, A FEW EVENINGS LATER

The sun was beginning to set, splashing the sky with reds and purples against the mountains in the distance. A few little lightning bugs had ventured out, much to the delight of the smallest Travis, who had abandoned his privileged spot riding on the sniper's shoulders to run after the small lights for awhile. The dusk rang with the shouts of the male agents playing touch football.

Ducky finally got up from his chair and moved into the kitchen, overlooking the huge backyard. Sure enough, he found his oldest friend standing over the sink, watching out of the big window. "I thought I might find you here," he said quietly, smiling.

Orin turned, returning the smile. "I understand you and Nathan turned Garcia's body over to the Marines for burial this afternoon."

The ME nodded. "We've done all the work we had to do. There wasn't any reason left not to have him properly buried. It would be rather disrespectful, considering his service - even in his death."

The director nodded and was silent for a moment. "Did Lawrence see him?"

"She came today; Nathan and Vin didn't call her until we had finished cleaning Garcia up entirely." Ducky paused a moment, then answered Orin's unasked question. "She took it all right. I'm afraid the reality of the situation has not hit her yet."

Orin nodded, and the two fell into a peaceful silence. It felt almost strange to the assistant director to be here again like this, Ducky visiting his family. He could almost see Stephen in - sorrow seized him for a second, and the man swallowed hard and tried to divert his old friend's attention. "Do you realize how long it's been since we both were ever on the same case? Over twenty years, and that was a one-time job."

"And forty years last September when we first began working together," Ducky nodded.

Orin nodded, his eyes twinkling. "You've certainly become more chatty."

Ducky laughed. "And I never thought I would see the day when you would deny a well-dressed agent an agency reimbursement on a ruined suit. Our late boss must be laughing in his grave."

"Standish," Orin hmphed, but smiled even as he shook his head. Both men looked outside. Chris was working on another wooden toy for the child, and Billy, who was sitting in his mother's lap, was leaning over to watch in fascination. McGee missed a pass, the football bouncing to a stop at Gibbs' feet.

"Throw it!" JD hollered, and Gibbs obliged with a spiral that brought whoops and cheers from the others. It flew over their heads and bounced on the grass erratically. The agents running after it ended up in a huge pile on top, which in turn prompted more loud chastising from Nathan about getting hurt and being more careful.

Ducky and Orin both winced. "I don't know whether or not to be worried or proud that these men are in charge now," the latter muttered.

Ducky laughed. "That's not ours to worry about anymore, Orin. Come now, just enjoy the ride. After all, what do we have to lose, except our boredom - "

Orin smiled at his oldest friend, his eyes twinkling. " - or our lives?"

END

Thanks to all of you who managed to stick it out to the end:-) Hope you enjoyed it!