Crossover with NCIS

Disclaimer: I don't own anything but my soul. I've borrowed the following characters from Bellisario, the BBC and the amazing actors who portray them.

Shippiness: Slight Gibbs/Abby and Ash/Stacie.

A/N: Because at some point I have to get Illya and Napoleon Ducky and Albie together. Love to beckymonster, without her help this never would have become what it did. A million thanks to dragonessasmith for the awesome and speedy beta'ing. Also, I have to jump up and down because this has been complete for weeks, but just 8 days ago it became canon that Ducky and Abby were both familiar with con artists.

If you haven't seen Hustle: A non-related family of con artists. They con money out of the rich and currupt (but usually keep the profit for themselves) At the center of the group is Albie (Robert Vaughn, former UNCLE agent)

If you haven't seen NCIS: An unrelated family of federal agents (plus a forensic scientist and an ME). They solve crime. And tease each other. The Medical Examiner is Ducky (David McCallum, former UNCLE agent)

II

"Is Albert with you?" Eddie asked as we walked through the pub door.

"Good afternoon to you too," Stacie remarked pointedly.

"Nah, he's smoothing the way with Jason Wingham-Marks, our soon to be benefactor." At least I hope that was what was happening. Our coffers were running a bit low, and a slimy bastard who was making money selling child porn was just the right person to fill them up again.

"The rest of us are here, though, and we're a bit thirsty. How about four beers?" Mickey ordered for the group as the rest of us slid into our customary booth. Eddie didn't even bother asking how we were going to pay, simply placed the requested glass bottles on a tray and carried them over to the table.

"You know it's bad enough that you lot don't pay your tab. I've almost given up on that. And I know you have a hundred different ways to cheat me of my money. But do you really have to use me as an answering service on top of it all? I do have work to do. I can't be expected to drop everything to take messages for you." After setting the tray on the table Eddie crossed his arms and looked expectantly at Mickey. It's always amusing to see the landlord take a stand, and just as fun to see how quickly he backs down after one of us plays a simple mind game.

"I'm sorry, but I don't know what you are talking about." Mickey gave the rest of us sweeping glance; we all shook our heads. Though we occasionally use the bar during the course of our work, we never give out the number. It's too risky to have someone outside the group answer a phone, even to take a simple message. That's what we have mobiles for; at last count a total of seventeen between us.

"Someone called here looking for Albert." After we all took our beers Eddie snatched back the bar tray, as if he was worried we would keep it. Like we needed a bar tray.

"Did they say what they wanted?" I asked, curious as to who had tracked us down here.

"No, the bloke was rather short with me. Just said that his name was Gibbs and that Albert should call him as soon as possible."

"Did he leave a number?" His drink already half gone, Danny decided to join in the conversation.

"No." Eddie shrugged, and when a pair of customers who might actually pay walked into the bar he left us.

"Do we know anyone named Gibbs?" Danny wanted to know. Though the question was addressed to all of us he looked to Mickey for answers.

"The name doesn't strike any bells with me, either as an acquaintance or an alias. Ash?"

"It's not a name I've created any paperwork for." As the person responsible for faking all of our documents, I usually remember names the best.

"I doubt it would be someone we conned, since the man asked for Albie by his proper name," Stacie suggested. "Perhaps an old friend?"

"Who's an old friend?" The man in question appeared at the edge of the table, the grin on his face a clear sign that our newest game was a go.

"We're not sure about that, Albie. Someone called here, looking for you, and we were speculating about his identity." Mickey moved to his right, clearing space for Albert to sit down.

"Looking for me here? That's rather odd."

"We thought it was queer. So you know anyone named Gibbs?" His beer bottle empty, Danny focused on removing the paper label in a single piece. He didn't notice the flicker of surprise in Albie's eyes, quickly hidden. The rest of us did.

"He didn't leave a return number. Maybe he'll call back?" Stacie waved her hand in the air to catch Eddie's attention and motioned for five more beers.

Albie stared at the table for a moment before standing up, making a muttered excuse, and crossing the room. Only when he was in the farthest corner, out of earshot from all of us, did he take his mobile out of his jacket pocket. He only had to press two buttons; who ever Gibbs was, Albie knew him well enough to have his number on speed dial.

Out of respect the group turned their attention away from the phone call. I couldn't help but make a few furtive glances in his direction, though, and when the call ended I was the only one to notice Albie slump against the wall, his face suddenly devoid of all color. Trapped between Mickey and Stacie there was nothing I could do but nudge Mickey with my elbow.

"Oi, Mick," I whispered, jerking my head in the direction of our friend. Mickey was out of the booth and across the room in less time then it took me to blink.

"Albert? What's wrong?" With a firm arm wrapped around his waist Albert was led back to our table. At the same moment Eddie arrived with the beers. In a single smooth motion Albert lifted one from the tray, popped off the top with his thumb, and drained most of the liquid.

"Ducky's in the hospital. There was a car accident and he... he hasn't woken up yet."

"Oh Albie, I'm so sorry." Reaching across the table Stacie covered Albert's hands with her own.

"Who's Ducky? And what kind of name is that any way?" Danny wanted to know. I forget sometimes that he hasn't been with us for more then a couple of years, and doesn't know as much about our past lives.

"Ducky is Doctor Donald Mallard, a long time friend of Albie's." He's one of the few people Albert's ever mentioned who lives a 'normal' life. I don't know exactly how long they've know each other, but it's been at least forty years.

"He's the closest thing to family I have," Albert answered grimly.

"I though we was your family." Danny tried to make it a joke, but I could tell there was truth behind the jest. I have to admit that I felt a similar twinge of jealousy. Outside of June, the four people sitting at the table here were the only family I had.

"You are, my boy. A very dysfunctional family, sometimes, but a true one. If you all are my children then Ducky is my... brother." There was a moment of hesitation, and I wondered what he really though of Ducky as, in his secret heart. Caught up in speculation I didn't notice Albie trying to get my attention until he tapped my hand. "I need to get to DC as soon as possible. Could you..."

"I'll make the arrangements, have you out of here by tonight. No worries," I promised. Mentally I tried to figure out what favors could be called and how much actual money would need to be spent. Tracy at the British Airways ticket counter might be able to help out. Finishing the last of my beer I excused myself from the group. The sooner I made some calls the sooner I could put Albie's mind at ease.

II

"I'm sure Ducky will be okay, Albie." The man sitting next to me in the car hadn't spoken since we left the hotel and the silence was too loud. I wished I could think of something better to say but I never was one for pretty words; that's Mickey's job.

"You know nothing of the sort, but thank you for saying so anyway." He stared out the window, not looking at me as he spoke. Someone else might think that he was relaxed, but I could tell how stressed he was from the way he was fingering the plane ticket in his hand.

"Did Gibbs have anything new to report when you called him with your arrival time?"

"No change in Ducky's condition. He did offer to send one of his agents to pick me up, a young man by the name of DiNozzo."

"Agent? You mean like a ticket agent, right?" I didn't like the other definition of the word that had occurred to me.

"No, Ash. 'Agent' as in 'Special Agent'. Jethro Gibbs works for NCIS, a law enforcement group that investigates crimes involving the Navy. Ducky works for the same organization, but as a Medical Examiner, what we'd call a Forensic Pathologist, not an agent."

"Law enforcement? Sounds a little too much like walking into a lion's den, Albert. Are you sure about this?" I asked as I pulled alongside the curb in the passenger-unloading zone at the airport. Like anyone in our profession I have a healthy wariness of law enforcement officers.

"This is about Ducky. Nothing else matters." Albie turned from the window, giving me a half smile that was probably meant to be reassuring. I only noticed the determination in his eyes.

"Be careful, okay? It's one thing to break into an holding cell. It'd be a hell of a lot harder to break you out of an American one." I was glad when my joke was enough to earn me a laugh as he opened him door.

"Don't worry about me, I always land on my feet. Keep an eye on the others; they're the ones who need it." I promised him that I would, and then watched as he walked into the terminal and disappeared from sight. Shaking my head unhappily, I shifted into drive and pulled into the line of cars.

II

"I've heard from Albie." Mickey was the last to join us at the restaurant where we had agreed to meet for dinner the day after Albert left. Evidently he had a good reason for being late.

"He must've landed safely then," Danny remarked.

"Has he been to see Ducky yet?" Stacie inquired.

"Yes and yes," Mickey answered them both briefly.

"And?" Stacie prompted, not satisfied with the lack of information.

"And Ducky still hasn't awoken. His condition is critical. Albert called from the hospital; visiting hours are limited and most of his time so far has been spent in the waiting room."

"Is there anything we can do?" I noticed a gleam in Mickey's eyes when I asked and recognized it. He was up to something.

"Actually there is. Albert hasn't been idle; he's been talking to Ducky's friends and finding out everything he can about the car accident. It was a drunk driver."

"I hope the bastard is behind bars," Stacie said harshly.

"Sadly, no. The man is rather wealthy. Somehow the charges have disappeared and he's walked away without any penalty. He is either well connected or he's paid someone off. The end result is the same."

"Now that's not right," Danny crossed his arms and leaned back in his chair. "Not right at all."

"How wealthy?" The moment I said the words, I knew what Mickey was thinking. When his smile grew I knew I was right. Looked like I would be making another call to Tracy; I was going to need to arrange for four more plane tickets.

II

"Last time we were in this airport it was to catch a connection to Las Vegas. Any chance we can go there again after we're done here?" Danny looked at one of the departure screens as he asked his question. I could see Sin City's name somewhere in the middle of the list. Not a bad place to spend a vacation, but I'd never want to live there.

"You get a little to distracted when we're in Vegas, Danny." Stacie's teasing was mostly good-natured, but there was a hint of sharpness in her tone. After all, Danny's being 'distracted' had cost us a pretty penny not too long ago.

"Let's focus on right now before we worry about what comes next." Mickey stood in the middle of the group, his suit unwrinkled and his demeanor relaxed. How did he do that after seven hours on a plane? My jeans were creased and my nerves were frayed after our trip. Needing to stretch out my cramped muscles I left the rest of the group to collect the luggage and went to arrange a cab.

We found a hotel within walking distance of the hospital. I was worried about not being able to work the system like we usually did, but it turned out to be stupidly simple. The manager at the front desk was so charmed by Stacie's accent that he didn't notice that none of us were Mr. Chang Wo. The penthouse suite was rather posh.

We hadn't informed Albert of our arrival. I'm not sure if Mickey wanted to give Albert a pleasant surprise or prevent him from telling us not to come. As we settled into the room Mickey called to check on his whereabouts, and learned that very little had changed. Albert was in the hospital waiting room.

On the flight over here we had begun to make plans; deciding that there was no reason to waste anytime. Stacie and Mickey both had jobs that needed to be taken care of immediately, so it was decided that I would be the one to go to the hospital to check in on Albie and let him know what we were about to do. Danny opted to stay in the hotel room. He claimed that he needed to study the maps we had bought of the area, but I noticed him eyeing the telly before I left.

II

Albert wasn't alone when I found him in the waiting room. There was a woman with him: attractive, if more then a little odd looking. Her plaited hair, clothes and shoes were all black, as was the dog collar around her neck that only partially covered the tattoo of a spider in its web. That wasn't the only tattoo I could make out either. She was patting Albert's hand as she spoke to him in a gentle voice, though, and I decided that I liked her. It was nice to know that Albie hadn't been alone for all of the past two days.

"Pardon me, but is this seat taken?" His back was to me and I waited until I was only a few steps away before I spoke.

"Not at all. Why don't..." His response was immediate, and it took a few seconds for him to turn and look at me. Gobsmacked is not an expression I am used to seeing on Albie. "What are you doing here?" he asked even as he rose to give me a quick hug.

"I've always wanted to see the White House. This seemed like a good opportunity."

"I thought you were going to keep an eye on the others, not on me."

"No reason I can't do both. That's why I brought them with me." The real reason we are here will have to wait until we find a more private place to discuss it.

"So Albie, are you going to introduce me to your friend?" The woman stood up so that she was next to Albie, her hand resting on his shoulder. Albie was about to make introductions when she squinted her eyes. "No, wait a sec. I want to see if I can guess."

"Go ahead, my dear," Albie offered.

"Okay, he's definitely not Stacie. The whole being male thing is a tip off there. He's been in the room for more then a minute and hasn't hit on me, so clearly he's not Danny. That leaves Mickey or Ash. Nice to meet you, Ash. Or should I call you Three Socks?" She held out a hand and I shook it. She had a firm grip.

"How did you..."

"Albie and I have been trying to keep our minds off our troubles. I've told him all about my family and he's told me about his," she explained.

"You have me at a bit of a disadvantage. You know my name and I don't know yours."

"That's easily remedied. I'm Abby. So did you really bring everyone else with you? After everything Albie's told me I can't wait to meet them." She talks a mile a minute and I wonder if that's normal for her or if it has more to do with a lack of sleep. She has dark circles under her eyes and an over-sized soda cup next to her chair. I don't know what a Caf-pow! is, but it looked like Red Bull on steroids.

"Pleased to meet you, Abby. And yes, everyone's here. They're at the hotel, recovering from jet lag." I spared Albie a brief glance, the slight narrowing of my eyes enough to let him know that the truth is just a little different then what I speak.

"Good. I know when Ducky wakes up, he'll want to meet all of you too."

"Abigail," Albert said cautiously before I could ask if they have any new information about Ducky's health.

"It's called positive thought, Albie. Ducky will wake up. He will," she said insistently.

"Of course he will, Abbs." A man joined us, his movements so stealthy that I didn't even notice him until he came up behind Abby, with his badly cut, gray hair, a brown jacket and ramrod posture. I was pretty sure of his identity.

"Jethro Gibbs, I presume?"

"Just Gibbs. I rarely answer to Jethro. And you are?" He studied me with piercing blue eyes. I don't think he misses much.

"Ash Morgan, a friend of Albie's," I introduced myself.

"Good, maybe you can get your friend to go back to his hotel and get some rest. His collapsing from exhaustion isn't going to help Ducky at all." His words sounded like an order, but I could hear the underlying concern.

"Sounds like a good idea." Albie did look tired, and anyone who didn't know him well might mistakenly take his 'advanced age' as frailty. I knew better, but intended to use Gibbs' suggestion to my advantage.

"I'm fine, my friends," Albie insisted.

"At least come downstairs with me and keep me company while I have a smoke. I haven't had a chance to light up since we left London and you could use some fresh air." Albert agreed, and we headed for the lifts. Behind us I could hear Abby muttering something about cancer sticks and the pointlessness of fresh air being poisoned by smoke.

II

"So what are you really doing here, Ash?" Albie asked before I even had a chance to dig my lighter out of my pocket.

"You don't think I had a sudden hankering to see all the sights in DC?" I lit a cigarette and took in a drag, holding the smoke in my lungs for a moment before I exhaled. The acerbic burn was comforting in its familiarity.

"The only time I've known you to go near a tourist trap is to set up a con, so unless Mickey's come up with a scheme to sell some schmuck the Lincoln Memorial I very much doubt it."

"Now that would be fun. We'll have to keep that in mind," I laughed, allowing myself a moment to consider the idea. "We did come out here to work a con, though."

"I would have thought you had enough to do back home with Mr. Wingham-Marks, after all I did to get him nicely hooked."

"He'll still be around when we get back. We've a more important mark to concentrate on right now." After one last drag the cigarette was used up and I tossed it to the ground, grinding it with the toe of my trainer.

"And who might that be?" Albie asked curiously.

"Jeffery Lassiter," I said simply, trusting that Albie would recognize the name. When his eyes widen slightly I knew that he did.

"You're a good man, Ash. If ever there was a man who deserved to pay for his crimes its Lassiter."

"I can't take the credit. It was Mickey's idea."

"And I'll extend my thanks to Michael when I see him. Now what's the game?"

"I'd rather wait until we are in a less public place to explain it. I can tell you that it's already in the works, though. Mickey's doing some footwork and Stacie's probably already met the man. She's playing the roper this go round, in addition to her usual roles." It had been strange making a plan without Albert, when he was usually the one who brought the mark to the rest of us.

"Really? That is going to be interesting."

"Well she seemed..." I paused when a soft cough alerted me that we weren't alone, and grimaced when I looked over my shoulder to find Abby peeking out from behind a pillar.

"I want in," she said before I had a chance to ask her how much she had overheard.

"In on what, my dear?" Albert wore an innocent expression like a mask.

"In on whatever con you're planning for Lassiter."

"Con?" The answer to my earlier question appeared to be that she had heard quite a bit.

"You're talking about marks, ropers and games. I only know of one thing that adds up to; you're grifters."

"You have a wonderful imagination, Abby. It must be a help in your line of work, trying to piece forensic puzzles together."

"You have a smooth tongue, Albie. I'm sure it's a help in your line of work, sugarcoating lies so nicely."

"She's good." I looked at Albert, holding my hands palm up in a gesture of surrender. There's no way we are going to be able to hide from Abby. I can only hope that Albert can make the best of this turn of events.

"I grew up in the city of New Orleans and have a degree in forensic psychology. My grifter radar is pretty well tuned, more so after that fling with Jean-Paul during my freshman year of college." She walked over to us, circling around the bench so that she was standing in front of us. "Now like I said, I want to help. Ducky's my friend, the fact that Lassiter hurt him and is getting away with it, it isn't right."

"No it's not," Albie agreed. "But if we are what you say we are, and I'm not admitting to anything, then we have everything under control."

"Since Ash and the rest of your friends arrived only a few hours ago I don't think that's true. Obviously you need to talk among yourselves, though, so I won't push you. I will let you know that I have connections in most of the law enforcement agencies. Friends on both sides of the law, and the ability to break into almost any computer that exists. And above all that, I'll do anything for Ducky." Without waiting for a reply she turned and walked away, moving more smoothly then I would have thought anyone wearing combat boots could.

"Well that's an interesting turn in events," I commented.

"Yes, it is. One we'll have to ponder when we get to the hotel." He glanced down at his watch briefly. "In another hour I'll be able to visit Ducky, and then we can leave for the night."

I nodded in silent acknowledgment as I reach for another cigarette.

II

"So we've got ourselves a bit of a predicament," I announced once everyone had had a chance to greet Albert and we had filled him in on the bare bones of the con.

"Already? We've only just arrived, 'ent we? How can we be in trouble already?" Danny wanted to know.

"I don't think it's that big of a problem. In fact she might be able to help in whatever we have planned." Albert leaned back into the couch cushion and folded his hand together.

"She? Why Ash, don't tell be you've met a woman already," Stacie teased. I might have thrown a cushion at her if Mickey hadn't handed me a drink at that moment.

"Ash's nabbed a bird? I knew I should've gone to hospital with him."

"One of these days, Daniel, you are going to realize that women are more then just 'birds.' That attitude of yours is never going to work in an actual relationship." Albert accepted his own drink from Mickey and gestured with it as he lectured.

"Yeah, well, I don't want any relationships. After more then a couple of dates a girl starts expecting more then dinner and a good time in bed."

"As insightful as this look into Danny's personal life is, can we please return to the conversation at hand? What is troubling you, Ash?" Mickey, as usual, could be counted on to bring the conversation back to the task at hand.

"There's this friend of Ducky's, a woman named Abby. She, uh, knows what we are."

"What, precisely, does she know?" Setting his glass on the coffee table Mickey leaned forward, his expression humorless.

"She knows we're con artists," Albert supplied.

"She also knows that we have something planned for Lassiter." Briefly I filled them in on the conversation of a few hours ago, including Abby's offer of help.

"I don't like this." Mickey shook his head unhappily.

"Don't be such a stick in the mud, Mick. I'll tell you what we do. We have this Abby help us, but make sure that one of us sticks close to her to make sure nothing goes wrong," Danny suggested. "I can do it."

"You're only saying that because Ash said the woman was attractive, Danny. Nice try." Sitting next to Danny on the couch Stacie elbowed him lightly before turning to Mickey. "I do think he's right, though."

"Hah!" Danny exclaimed triumphantly.

"Not about partnering up with Abby," she clarified. "I do think she could be helpful, though. If we tweaked the back-story we've worked out for Danny, made him Navy instead of a local cop..."

"That's brill, Stac." I could see where she was going with her idea, and appreciated her quick thinking. Not only would it mean less work for me, but it would add a layer of realism to our sting.

"Are you sure about this Albert? The consequences if she is caught helping us could be rather unpleasant," Mickey pointed out.

"Then we'd best not get caught, Michael." Although Mickey shook his head briefly at Albie's dictate, I knew that the decision was made. Abby Sciuto would be, temporarily, a member of our team.

II

Albie went back to the hospital the next morning after we all had breakfast together. Danny, currently at loose ends, volunteered to go with him. We'd all agreed that one of us would keep Albie company whenever possible, but my guess was that Danny was more interested in meeting Abby than anything else. I would have liked to see what Ducky's friends made of Danny, but I was sure that Albie would tell us about it that evening.

Stacie left the hotel shortly after Albie and Danny. She was going to arrange an 'accidental' second meeting with Lassiter. Yesterday she had fallen in front of his house as he was coming home, spilling the contents of her handbag on the front pavement. Today the plan was to show up at the bank where he worked and charm him into taking her out to lunch.

I spent most of the morning in the living room of the hotel suite. I had to puzzle out the American Naval system so that I could work up a fake history for Danny. I also had to create a rap sheet for Mickey and a fake police report of Stacie's. There were fake ID's to be made for all of us and a million little details to work out. It was almost one before I realized how hungry I was, and when Mickey came into the room a few minutes later I convinced him to buy me lunch.

We ate in the hotel restaurant, charging the meal to our room. Since we weren't planning to pay the bill we didn't have to worry about the cost of the food. The prime cut of steak was cooked to perfection, and Mickey's lobster looked equally appealing.

After lunch we decided to pop into the hospital to check on Albie and make sure that Danny wasn't getting into too much trouble. Albie wasn't in the waiting room when we got there, but Danny was sitting next to Abby, and they were joined by a third young man who was staring glumly at the floor. Abby was the first of the trio to notice us.

"Hey Danny boy, your friends are here. You going to introduce me to Mickey?" Abby bounced out of her chair and waited for Danny's response.

"What for? You've already figured out who he is, and I'm certain he knows who you are already." Danny shrugged his shoulders and leaned back in the stiff chair.

"I'm sorry, Miss Sciuto. Manners never have been one of Danny's strong suits." Mickey, the smooth bastard, took the hand Abby offered and kissed the tips of her fingers, flashing her a charming smile.

"Don't apologize for Danny, we understand each other. And please call me Abby. All my friends do, and we're going to be friends, aren't we?" She cocked a single eyebrow as she smiled back at Mickey, and there was something in her look that told me she would make a good con artist if she ever wanted to change professions. In the space of a few sentences she not only let Mickey know that she was in on the plan, but also set him at ease and offered her friendship to all of us.

"I think we will be, Abby. And as for understanding Danny..."

"Don't say anything you might regret, Mick." Danny shot Mickey a look that was probably supposed to look intimidating, but looked more like a pout.

"You two remind me of some friends of mine. What do you think, Jimmy? Do they have more of a Tony and McGee or Tony and Ziva vibe going on?" She turned to the young man who had yet to move since we had come in.

"Huh? Did you say something?" The man blinked several times and adjusted his glasses, a confused look on his face.

"Never mind, Jimmy." She patted his shoulder gently, frowning slightly when he went back to starring at his shoes.

"He always like that?" I felt compelled to ask.

"He's always a little spacey, but not like this. Jimmy is Ducky's assistant; they're very close. Between worrying about Ducky, dealing with the temporary ME at work, and all the work he has for medical school he's about half a step away from complete overload." She sounded worried. Yesterday she had said that she and Albie had traded stories of their families; it occurred to me now that her family was made up of the people she worked with, just like mine was.

Even as I thought the word family Albie came into the room, looking disheartened. As soon as he saw us he pasted on a fake smile, one that didn't make it to his tired eyes. He acknowledged us with a nod, then turned his attention to Abby.

"Abigail, I thought you were going to go back to work. You don't want Gibbs calling to yell at you, do you?"

"Gibbs never yells at me. He saves that for suspects and Tony. I do have to get back to my lab, though. If I'm not back before the team gets back from their crime scene Gibbs will be cranky. He might not yell at me but he does growl." With a few whispered words Abby made sure that Albie would keep an eye on Jimmy, then she left with a whirlwind of motion as she kissed Albie on the cheek and gave everyone farewell hugs.

"Ducky hasn't woken up yet, has he?" Mickey gestured for Albie to sit, then lowered himself into a chair facing Albie and Danny. There was a coffee machine in the corner of the room, and I decided that we could all do with something hot to drink. Needing a few extra hands if I was to carry five cups, I grabbed at the loose fabric of Jimmy's shirt and pulled him into a standing position. Wordlessly he followed me.

I was feeding coins into the machine for the third time when my mobile phone rang. After speaking briefly to Stacie I took the two coffee cups from Jimmy.

"That one's yours, so doctor it however you like." The light on the vending machine was blinking, and when the silent young man nodded that he understood I left him alone.

"Stacie's ready for you, Danny." I handed Mickey and Albie each a styrofoam cup filled with coffee, eyeing Danny to make sure he'd heard me.

"It's about time. I've been looking forward to this bit." Danny rubbed his hands together, offering the group a cocky grin.

"Don't overplay it," Mickey cautioned. He might have said more if Jimmy hadn't rejoined us at that moment."

"You worry too much, Mick. I know how to be subtle." At Danny's comment Albie let out a soft snort.

"Subtle as a Royal in a parade," I couldn't resist saying. When Danny headed for the elevators without saying goodbye I followed him. Mickey would stay with Albie for the next few hours, I was sure, and I had things to do.

II

"You didn't have to come with me," Danny said petulantly.

"I just wanted to catch the show. Besides, if I hadn't come you'd have had to pay the cabbie." Even as I spoke I quickly calculated the exchange rate and handed the man the appropriate bills, plus tip. Danny was right, there was no reason for me to be here right now. I had no role to play, and in fact would have to be careful to remain unobtrusive. I couldn't risk Lassiter noticing me; at some point I would have to meet the man. For some reason, though, I felt the need to watch over the two youngest members of our team.

"I guess that's alright then." Funny, for as much money as we handle because of our jobs, grifters tend to be horrible skinflints.

"I'll go in the bank first. I need to get a good look at the place anyway. Stacie'll text you when they're about to enter the lobby."

"We went over this already, Ash. More then once, in fact." Danny clenched and unclenched his hands a sure sign that he was ready, anticipation setting his nerves on edge. This was going to be interesting.

There was a grouping of couches just to the right of the front doors, intended as a waiting area. I looked around the room casually before sitting in the one that gave the best view of the lobby, and picked up a section of the newspaper that saw strewn on the low table in front of me. I had barely opened it up when Stacie entered the space from a hallway on the other side of the room.

She was accompanied by a man who some might call handsome. He was tall, at least a few inches more then Stacie. His grey suit was perfectly tailored, his blond hair well groomed, his face clean-shaven. There was confidence in the way he walked, not the smooth elegance that Mickey projected, but more like a tiger on the hunt. Even if I knew nothing about him I wouldn't like him, if only for the predatory way his eyes followed Stacie as he walked a step behind her.

As I watched, Stacie slipped her cell phone into her purse. She and Lassiter weren't even halfway across the lobby when Danny strolled through the front doors. He made a show of stopping and staring before jogging to meet Stacie.

"What a stroke of luck. I've been looking for you everywhere Diane." All traces of London was gone from Danny's voice. He sounded as if he was American, with just a hint of twang revealing the fake Texas childhood we had made up for him. "Why won't you answer my calls?"

"Because I don't want to talk to you, Trevor. After six weeks I would think you would understand that by now." She took a step away from Danny- Trevor- brushing against Lassiter as she did so. Except for being a little subdued, Stacie spoke in the same voice she usually did.

"Don't say that, Di. You know you don't mean it."

"I mean every word, just like I did when signed the divorce papers." Her low-pitched voice was hard to hear and I had to strain to make out the words.

"Just because we had an argument doesn't mean it has to be over." There was pleading in Danny's voice and just a hint of anger. The boy was quite an actor.

"It wasn't an argument, it..." Stacie was cut off when Lassiter patted her on the shoulder, then stepped in front of her.

"I think the lady's made it abundantly clear that she doesn't want to talk to you."

"I don't know who the hell you are, but this is between Diane and me. Stay out of it."

"I will not, and if you know what's good for you you'll leave here, and stay away from Diane from now on." Despite the horrible clich├ęd line I silently cheered as Danny stormed out of the bank, throwing one last scathing look over his shoulder before passing through the glass door. Lassiter's implied threat meant that we were right on track.

I folded up the unread newspaper I had been hiding behind, watching out of the corner of my eye as Stacie and Lassiter had a whispered conversation. I knew she was explaining to him who Trevor was, a brief history of their rocky relationship and rockier break up. There was a wary look in her eye, as if she was only telling him half of the story, which she was. It would take a little more prompting on his part for her to 'confess' the full story. They were saying their goodbyes when I left the bank.

Danny was waiting at out prearranged meeting spot, around the corner and down a block. He was attempting to catch the attention of a cabbie, but none of them stopped. Before I reached him three yellow cabs drove past. Stacie, who was only half a dozen steps behind me, raised her hand in the air briefly. Almost immediately a cab pulled alongside the curb.

"Show off," Danny muttered.

"That man is the most egotistical, vain, rude, and sexist man I have ever had the misfortune of knowing. I am going to enjoy taking his money." Ignoring Danny, Stacie let out a rant that I was sure she had been holding in for most of the morning.

"So we pegged him right, then." I hadn't been able to find out much about Lassiter, other than his business dealings. I did learn, from a newspaper article, that he controlled his family's extensive fortune, and with the death of his father a decade ago was also the legal guardian of a much younger sister. The girl had been sent to an exclusive British girls school, and had spent this past spring attending a string of high class soirees. Lassiter had been quoted as saying that his hope was to find his sister 'a man who would take care of her.' No mention had been made of University, and he had scoffed at the idea of his sister joining him in the family business.

"The man thinks women are something pretty to look at, weak, and have nothing more important in their heads then thoughts of parties and clothes." Stacie brushed the spot where Lassiter had touched her earlier, as if the man's personality could be transmitted by physical contact.

"And you, of course, are doing your best impression of being an airhead."

"Oh, Jeffery, I just don't know how you keep all those numbers straight. It looks so hard. The only sums I ever do is adding up the price tags on the newest spring fashions." She sounded like a cartoon character as she spoke in a falsetto, throwing the back of her hand against her forehead in a swoon. Danny and I both burst into laughter. Weak, empty headed, submissive- it was so very much not the woman we knew. Plus I've never know anyone who could run numbers in their head the way Stacie can.

"Do you think he'll fall into our plan when the time comes?"

"I think so, but he might need a convincer."

"What kind of convincer?" This wasn't our typical con. We weren't selling him stocks or getting him to bet on horses. There was no way for him to win a little money to prove that we were legit.

"I'm not sure that the restraining order and the story will be enough. I think I might need some physical proof as to what kind of man Trevor is."

It took a moment to understand exactly what she was saying, but than her meaning sank in. "Not bloody likely," I exclaimed. Anger and shock mingled together as I stared at her.

"Wait, I missed something. What's Stacie after?" Danny shifted forward in his seat, craning his neck to look past Stacie to me.

"It doesn't matter because it's not going to happen." I answered Danny but didn't take my eyes off of Stacie.

"Think of it logically, Ash. The only way we are going to be able to move to the next stage is if Lassiter is convinced that I'm scared for my life, that he has to protect me. If I could apply stage makeup I would, but I can't be sure he won't touch it. It has to do more than look real, the bruises have to be real."

"She's got a point," Danny commented, his voice more serious than usual.

"I don't care if she's got a million points." Danny was right but that didn't make it any easier. I grasped Stacie's hand, forcing myself to keep my touch light. "I won't do it, Stac. I won't hurt you."

"You really are a sweet man, Ash." She kissed me on the cheek, and for just a moment I hoped the issue was resolved. Stacie always has been too damn stubborn for her own good. "I'm sorry, but I am going to do this. If you don't want to help me I understand. I can ask Danny..."

"Think again, Stac. If my nan ever found out she'd box my ears, she would." Danny crossed his arms, and I wasn't sure if I was relieved or disappointed at his resolve. It doesn't happen often, but there are times that I hate my job. Usually it's when I'm stuck doing some menial job like waxing a floor or when my eyes cross from too many hours at the computer. I've never hated it as much as I did at this moment.

"Oh hell," I muttered, glaring at Stacie. The taxi pulled up in front of the hotel and I threw the door open, leaving my companions to pay the fare.

I didn't go up to our suite, needing time alone. Instead I passed through the lobby and exited in the rear, finding myself in an oasis of green grass and tall trees. I collapsed onto the nearest bench and reached into my jacket pocket for a cigarette. i was just about to light it when a voice from behind startled me.

"Those things'll kill you." Abby moved around the bench and settled herself next to me.

"They could. But then throwing myself in front of moving cars could do the same thing and I do that quite often." I removed the cigarette from my mouth, and played with it, rolling it between my fingers.

"Interesting life you lead, Ash Morgan."

"Yours is hardly boring," I commented, looking at her pointedly. She wasn't wearing a dog collar today, the tattoo on her neck plainly visible. The black shirt she wore featured the image of a grinning skeleton and the skirt appeared to be held up by giant safety pins. "You always sneak up on people, or is it just me?"

"I didn't sneak up on you; I was here first. You just didn't notice me. Now you want to see some sneaking you should hang around Gibbs. The man can move so quietly that he'll whisper in your ear before you know he's in the room. He disappear just as fast, which is much more annoying. Sometimes I turn to tell him something and..."

"What are you doing here, Abby?" I interrupted her, not knowing how long she could continue to speak without taking a pause for a breath.

"Mickey asked me to come by after work. He's going to fill me in on the plan." Her eyes gleamed with excitement, and she reminded me a little of Danny. Both of them having something of the playful child in them.

"Mickey's up in the suite. What are you doing down here?" With a small sigh I replaced the cigarette I had been playing with back in the pack. i may not have the polished manners of Mickey or Albie but I wasn't going to light up when it so obviously bothered Abby.

"It's nice and shady out here, with all the trees, so I don't have to worry about direct sunlight. When I'm in my lab all I see of the outside is sidewalk and people's feet. After a long day I like the reminder that green and growing things still exist."

"You wouldn't happen to be a vampire, would you?" I asked, looking pointedly at her dark clothing and pale skin.

"Yes, and I'm dating a hundred and something year old guy named Spike." She laughed at what I was sure was a confused expression on my face. "No, of course I'm not. Though the question as to whether or not vampires exist outside of folklore is an interesting one. Just last week Ducky and I..." She stopped speaking suddenly, the smile leaving her face as she pressed her lips together tightly.

"The extent of my vampire knowledge is watching old Boris Karloff movies," I said. After returning the cigarette pack to my pocket I gently wrapped my fingers against the inside of Abby's arm, pulling her from the bench when I stood up. "Come on, let's head upstairs. If were going to have a planning session I think we should order up some food. You like pizza?"

"I love it, especially with pineapple." Her smile was back, a fact that filled me with relief. There was something about this woman; she looked completely capable of taking care of herself but at the same time made me feel rather protective of her. Maybe it was the pigtails that made her look younger than she was, or it could be the fact that she reminded me a little of Stacie. What ever it was I couldn't help being pleased when my obvious disagreement with her choice of pizza topping made her giggle.

II

"What wanker decided to order a pizza with fruit on it?" Danny lifted the cardboard lid off the first pizza, wrinkling his nose at the sight. He's no more fond of pineapple than I am.

"Oh did someone order pineapple? What a wonderful change from the usual." Stacie took the box from Danny, set it on the table, and lifted a slice out onto her plate. Abby was right behind her. I passed a few bills to the delivery-boy and shut the door behind him.

"Don't worry, the other two have normal toppings on them," I reassured Danny.

"Normal? Did you hear that, Abby? I think Ash just implied that we weren't normal." Stacie settled herself on the couch, winking at me as I shook my head.

"Normal is highly overrated." Abby pulled one of the dinning room chairs over to the seating area, placing it between the couch and the armchair where Albie was sitting.

The conversation while we ate was kept deliberately light. We talked of nothing more important than the warm spring weather, favorite movies, and the possibility of going out to a bar later in the evening. Abby waited until we were all done eating before she turned to Mickey and asked him politely to fill her in on the details of the plan. Though he purposely left out a few things, Mickey complied. Abby listen in rapt silence, not interrupting a single time.

"That's genius. It's really really cool. I'm glad you guys are on our side, 'cause if you were Navy bad guys and committing crimes even Gibbs would have a hard time catching you." She paused for just the barest moment before continuing "There's just one little thing I would change."

"What would that be, my dear?" Albie was the first to ask.

"You've got Ash playing the part of the NCIS agent. I'm sure you'd have no problem, Ash, but wouldn't it make more sense to use a real agent?"

"No offense, Abby, but you don't really look the part," Mickey commented.

"Much to the chagrin to the weenies in admin who think I should be wearing polyester suits and high heels to work," she said as she wrinkled her nose. "But I wasn't talking to me."

"That boss of yours, then?" Danny asked.

"No," Abby shook her head. "As much as I hate hiding things from Gibbs he would find this all a little too hinky. He's more in favor of the direct 'you hurt my friend and I'll break your arm' approach than something this convoluted, not to mention illegal. The person I was thinking of is Tony."

"I'm not really comfortable with involving anyone else, especially a law enforcement officer," I said, shifting in my seat. We've been forced to work with cops before, and it's not an experience I was eager to repeat.

"Tony's not law enforcement. I mean he is, of course, but it's not the most important thing about him. Plus he's known Ducky almost as long as I have, and he'd be hurt if he knew that we were doing something like this and he wasn't given the chance to help. And bonus points, he's good at undercover work; no one does sleazy and corruptible better than Tony." it was funny the way she made sleazy and corruptible sound like glowing recommendations.

"Albie?" Mickey said, the question unasked but understood.

"I trust Abby's instincts. Our resources are a little thin, given that our usual bit players are an ocean away. It wouldn't hurt to have a little more help." He tapped his fingers together, then nodded. "I say we bring him in."

"Stacie, Danny?" They both nodded their accent.

"Ash?"

I sighed. "If Abby gives me his details I'll start doctoring his records in the morning."

"That, Ashman, is not a problem. Tony's past is already a little hinky. I don't think you'll have to change a thing."

II

I told Abby that I would meet her and Tony at a Chinese food restaurant a block away from their office for lunch the day after our pow wow at the hotel. I was glad of the excuse to away from the rest of the team. Stacie had cornered me after everyone else had gone to bed and 'reminded' me of what we had discussed in the cab. When she had come out of her bedroom this morning her eye was already a deep purple. I felt lower than dirt and couldn't look anyone else in the eye, even after Stacie had explained to Mickey and Albie the reason behind the bruise.

I arrived at the restaurant almost an hour early and spent the time drinking tea and going over the detailed plan I had written down in my notebook. I checked off things, tasks that had been completed, amended things that needed to be changed, and made a list of the most immediate chores. All of this was done, of course, in my own sort of coded shorthand. Not even Mickey, Albie or June know how to decipher my notebook; it's safer that way. Not that I don't trust them, but I don't want them to be in the position of having to perjure themselves if we ever wound up in court and it was presented as evidence. This way I'm the only one who has to lie.

Ten minutes before Abby and Tony were due to arrive I waved a waiter over and ordered a variety of dishes, figuring it would save us time. We had more important things to discuss than kung-pow chicken or beef and broccoli.

"Ashman!" Abby slid into the booth next to me and gave me a hug that should have been awkward but somehow wasn't.

"So you're Ash." The man who had accompanied Abby into the restaurant eyed me speculatively as he folded his lanky frame into the booth across from us. He looked more like a model in a posh clothing magazine than an officer of the law.

"Yeah. And you're Tony DiNozzo, NCIS agent and former cop from Peoria, Philadelphia, and Baltimore." I enjoyed watching the way his mouth fell open, even if he did recover quickly.

"That's privileged information." Tony glanced at Abby but she only shrugged. Though she had hinted at his record all my information came from computer work I had done last night. She had been right about his record not needing any help; three moves in six years and all of them without the traditional amount of notice, plus the time he spent undercover with the mob, made for a shady past. It wouldn't take anything to convince Lassiter that Tony was open to bribery.

"I make it a point to know something about the people I work with."

"Who says that I'm going to agree to work with you?" he said it casually, but I knew from the determined look in his eye that he had already decided. He was testing me.

"That's up to you. We can do this job without you. Abby's the one who thought you might want to help." I was giving him an out, the same way we always gave a mark a chance to back out once. It was true, we could run the con without him, though now that Abby had brought up the possibility of his help I hoped we wouldn't have to. He would make a much better NCIS agent than I would.

"I..." Tony was about to speak when the food arrived; half a dozen selections plus bowls of sticky rice and chow mien. We were all quiet until the waiter left, and before either Tony or I could continue Abby spoke up.

"Tony, you want to do what ever you can to help Ducky and make sure the man who hurt him pays for it, right?"

"Of course, Abbs." He sounded affronted that she would ask him such an obvious question.

"Ash, it would help you to have Tony involved in the plan, right?"

"Sure," I agreed.

"Okay then. Now that we've gotten that out of the way lets discuss the details. Tony can you pass me the sweet and sour pork please?" And as simply as that it was decided. The woman was a force of nature, and I don't think either one of us considered backing out once she had spoken.

For the next forty five minutes I explained in minute detail to Tony what I needed from him, and gave him a basic idea of how his part effected the larger plan.

"Ducky is going to love this. Want to bet he's going to be telling the story for years to come?" Tony pushed away his empty plate, moving it to the edge of the table.

"It's even better than a Thom Gemcity story," Abby said with a mischievous smile.

"Gemcity? Isn't he the bloke that wrote Deep Six? Brill book, that one. Is working at NCIS anything like it is in the book?" Abby and Tony exchanged looks, and I knew I was missing something.

"In many ways it is. Gemcity must have done a lot of research." Tony had been just taken a bite of chicken when Abby spoke, and he made a strangled choking sound.

"He got a few things wrong, Abby." Something brushed against the leg of my pants and I got the feeling that Tony was expressing his opinion with a kick of his foot as well as his words.

"Why don't you come see for yourself, Ash? After lunch come back to the Navy Yard with us and I'll give you a tour."

"That would be lovely." Learning about NCIS first hand would be much more entertaining, not to mention useful, than the government double speak I had found on the internet.

II

Stacie was the only one in the hotel suite when I returned. She was reclined on the couch, a book in hand and a drink on the table next to her. When she looked up to greet me I glanced over my shoulder at the door, but I could think of no reason to leave so soon after arriving. I don't know how she had been reading; her left eye was swollen almost shut.

"Come join me for a pre-dinner drink," she invited, patting the cushion of the couch next to her. I deliberated making up an excuse, but relented. I poured myself a double shot of brandy before joining her.

"Where is everyone?" I asked.

"Albie and Danny are still at the hospital. Albie called and said that they'd be coming back soon. He sounded tired." She frowned thoughtfully.

"And Mickey?"

"He's at that seedy little bar you found, waiting to meet Lassiter. How do you find out about places like that, Ash?"

"Talent," I said with a shrug. The bar I had chosen for Mickey's meeting place had iron grating on the windows and sawdust on the floor. It was nothing like Eddie's and very much like places I used to frequent before meeting Mickey and Albert. "So Lassiter fell for your story?"

"I'm glad Danny wasn't there, because I think Lassiter might have killed him when he got a look at my bruise. Beneath that polished veneer he's very much a caveman. He actually had the gall to be angry because another man touched 'his woman.' His woman, like I'm a pet or something." Unconsciously she brushed her fingers against the bruise and I slammed down my drink in a single gulp.

"I can understand how he feels." I knew that I shouldn't have said it, but I did.

"What? Ash Morgan I am not a..."

"Not about that," I said, putting a stop to her outburst. "About wanting to hurt who ever did this." I pressed my hand against her cheek, using the lightest touch of my thumb to trace the deepest purple of the bruise.

"Ash, you aren't to blame. You only did..."

"Am I interrupting something? I could go out and come back in again." Hands in the pocket of his leather jacket, Mickey stood just inside the doorway looking amused.

"I was... we were..." Not sure whether to be glad for Mickey's timing or curse it, I pulled my hand away from Stacie. "How did your meeting go?"

"I'm not sure if I'm more disgusted by the inside of that bar or by having to listen to Lassiter give me orders to kill Danny. He's a revolting man." Mickey took off his jacket and helped himself to a drink before settling onto the couch across from Stacie and I. He looked more than a little disreputable in his black jeans and fitted t-shirt, the end of a fake tattoo peaking out from the bottom of one sleeve. Perfect for the role he was playing as hit man. Stacie, as Diane, had 'accidentally' mentioned him to Lassiter as someone a friend had told her about.

"And what is the going rate for killing the abusive ex-husband of the woman you're trying to bed?" I ignored Stacie even when she hit me on the side.

"Twenty thousand, American." Reaching for the discarded jacket, Mickey pulled a bundle of bills out of the pocket. "Half now, half after I've done the job."

"Not bad." I did a quick conversion in my head; it was about what I had expected. We'd make sure he ended up paying a hell of a lot more, though, before this was over.

"It gets better. Lassiter offered me a five thousand dollar bonus if I finish the job in the next forty eight hours. He must really like you, Stac," Mickey teased.

"All the more reason to moving as quickly as possible. I don't care how well intentioned our con is, I am not sleeping with the man," she said indignantly.

The memory of the way Lassiter watched Stacie in the bank flashed in my mind, and I knew Mickey was right. I hated the thought of him touching her, let alone doing more. I clenched the glass in my hand tightly, but refrained from commenting.

"As soon as Danny gets back I'll fix things and snap some pictures," I offered. "Lassiter will want proof of the hit."

II

"Bang, you're dead." Taking careful aim I shot Danny in the heart. The mixture of ketchup, instant pudding, and water splattered across the front of his jersey. It wasn't the right color, but in the starkness of a black and white photo it should look like a realistic bullet wound. Not quite happy with the splatter pattern I used a paint brush to add more detail.

"Would you hurry up, Ash? This is not exactly the most comfortable position."

"I dunno, mate. Looks nice and cozy in there," I couldn't keep from teasing. I had 'borrowed' a mid-sized sedan from the hotel's parking garage for our photo shoot and Danny was currently lying in the trunk with his legs bent and one arm on top of the tire iron. I wanted it to look like he had been thrown into the trunk with no care or consideration.

"Yeah well, I don't see you volunteering to get in here."

"Stop complaining and stay still. I want to get these photos taken while the blood is still wet." Not one hundred percent pleased with the pose I repositioned Danny's arms, laughing at his creative use of language aimed in my direction.

II

"Here you go, Mick." I tosses Mickey an envelope of pictures, printed out on the printer the hotel had been nice enough to send up to our room. Not what I could do with a dark room, but they would work.

"Well done, Ash. If I didn't know better I would think Danny was dead. I might have to keep one of these as a souvenir." The last bit was added deliberately for Danny, who looked up from his magazine and made a rude gesture. Mickey laughed as he slipped the envelope into the pocket of his leather jacket.

"If you're taking orders I'd like a wallet sized one, please." Stacie, wrapped in a green silk robe, sauntered into the room. Danny tossed his magazine onto the table.

"I've got much more interesting pictures, Stac, if you want one." When Stacie only ruffled his hair in reply Danny dropped the leering grin.

"What's with the robe? It's not even five o'clock." Mickey's fingers ran across the silk at the shoulder of the robe and I had to remind myself that I had no right to feel jealous. Stacie was a grown up, and if she wanted to break her own rule about dating a person she worked with that was her choice. Funny though- when Danny flirted with her outrageously I felt nothing but amusement.

"Dinner tonight's going to be late, since Lassiter's meeting with you first. I thought I'd take this opportunity to try out the jacuzzi tub in the bathroom. I was just coming out here to get a glass of wine."

"Let me." Glad of something to do I walked over to the wet bar and perused the selection of wines. Among the choices was a red I thought Stacie would appreciate. I poured her a glass, and deciding that the bottle shouldn't go to waste I poured a glass for myself.

"Just the one I was thinking of trying." Stacie took the glass from my hand and swirled the liquid gently before taking a sip. She squeezed my hand, the silk of her robe brushing against the inside of my wrist, and turned to leave the room.

"Give a holler if you need someone to scrub your back," Danny called out after her. I took my wine and a half empty pack of cigarettes out to the balcony where the sounds of the hotel were muffled and I couldn't here the running bath water.

II

"So where does your boss think you are right now?" I sat in the passenger seat of Tony DiNozzo's car- strange to be on the right side but not driving- and looked out the window at the homes as we drove past. Except they weren't so much homes as they were scaled down palaces.

"Following up a lead on a cold case. It's been kind of slow in the office this week, other wise I would have had to invent a dental emergency."

"And if Gibbs starts asking question about your supposed cold case?" The tie around my neck was chaffing, and I tugged at it to loosen the knot. I was not used to wearing the blasted thing.

"Abby's got it covered. She's an expert at distracting Gibbs, has him wrapped around her little finger. Of course you can't tell him I said that. He likes to think we don't know about his weak spot."

"Are he and Abby together then?" The affection between them had been easy to see from the first moment, but I didn't know if it was friendship or something more.

"Gibbs and Abby? Hell no. Gibbs is... and there's Abby who... and rule twelve says..." Tony shook his head, seeming even less able to convince himself than he was me. He seemed relieved to turn into the long driveway of a palatial estate a few moments latter.

"Here goes nothing."

A maid answered the door to Tony's knock.

"I'm Special Agent DiNozzo from NCIS and this is my partner Special Agent Spade. Is Mr. Jeffery Lassiter in?" We knew that the answer was yes, since we had checked the garage to see that his car was inside. For extra measures we had called his bank and learned that he was out sick. I was not surprised, given that Stacie didn't return from her dinner date until almost three in the morning.

"I'm sorry, sir, but Mr. Lassiter is out. He won't be returning until late tonight, or possibly tomorrow."

"Tell your boss we were here, and had some question about a man named Trevor Crawford. We'll come back tomorrow. If he has any questions before than here is my information." Tony passed the woman a business card, the details on it altered slightly so that if he called NCIS it would instead ring up Abby's direct number. Abby was tickled at the idea, and had been practicing her "operator" voice as well as learning what she should say if Lassiter called checking on the "case."

"Yes sir." As quickly as she could the woman took the card and dismissed us with a closing of the door.

"That went well," I said when we were back in the car and Tony was backing out onto the street.

"You're kidding, right? It was a waste of a trip. The guy didn't have the guts to see us."

"Trust me, it's better this way. He knows what we came about, and I'm sure he has your card by now. He can do his homework, find out all about you, and when we come back tomorrow we won't have to waste any time."

"I don't like waiting. I feel like we're giving him a chance to get away."

"He's not going to run, he has too much to loose." I hoped that I was right. The 25,000 dollars we had gotten wasn't exactly chump change, but it wasn't enough to hurt Lassiter either. If he did decide to take the next twenty-four hours to skip town than the game was over. I shrugged. "All we can do is wait and see. And speaking of waiting, can you drop me at the hospital on your way back to work?"

II

Danny was at the nurses station, flirting with a woman wearing pink scrubs, when I arrived in the waiting room. Now that he was officially dead there wasn't much for him to do. Hopefully the rest of the con would move quickly or he'd go stir crazy. Danny bored is never a good thing. I left him to his flirting and took a pack of cards out of my pocket. When Albert got back from his ten minute visit with Ducky I could distract him with a game of poker. It would be worth a few lost dollars.

It was a relief to see a smile on Albie's face when he came through the swinging doors.

"They've taken him off oxygen, he's breathing on his own." Hands clasped together, if I didn't know better I would think he was praying.

"What do the doctors say?"

"They're cautiously optimistic. You know doctors, they like to give hope with one hand and take it with the other. They say that the fact that he's now breathing on his own is good, but a week in a coma is troubling."

"Yeah well, what do doctors know. The bloke that put the metal plate in my head said I'd probably have brain damage, and look at me." I shuffled the cards, trying not to think of June or the possibilities of a shifted plate. "Now how about a game of Texas Hold'm?"

"Only if you are prepared to loose the contents of your wallet." He gave me a look that said he understood what I said and what I didn't, and reached out to cut the deck.

II

"You've got Lassiter good and rattled." Almost a hundred pounds poorer, I was glad when Stacie and Mickey showed up at the hospital and halted the poker game.

"Are you sure you aren't the one that rattled him, my dear? That's quite the ensemble."

"Thank you Albie. You are too sweet." Stacie did a quick spin, jokingly showing off her outfit. It wasn't anything special- a red sweater revealing just a hint of cleavage, fitted black pants, a scarf that seemed to be more for looks than actual warmth- but on Stacie they looked glamorous and posh. "And no, he was rattled when I went to visit him. He barely looked at me, just muttered an excuse about having to work and had his maid show me the door."

"Men can be so rude, can't they?" Abby joined our circle, nudging Danny out of her way and sitting on the floor at Albie's feet. "But I guess he couldn't tell you that he had just spoken to NCIS on the phone and found out the the hit-man he hired was being held and was being offered a deal if he named names, now could he?"

"So Lassiter called you?" Stacie sat in the chair next to Albie, smiling when Abby leaned backwards to use her knees as a head rest.

"About an hour ago. I 'accidentally' let some details drop, both about the case and about our shady Agent DiNozzo. It was fun. If I didn't like my lab so much I might consider fieldwork."

"I think Gibbs would find a way to veto that idea, Abigail." Albie rested his hand on Abby's shoulder,

"No worries, Albie. I'm too attached to my mass spec to leave it for long. Besides, Bert would miss me too much."

"Bert?" I asked. I didn't recall a coworker named Bert being mentioned before.

"My pet hippo."

Deciding that some things were best left alone, I avoided any follow up questions. "Did you here Ducky's off the respirator?"

"I've already been in to see him. Not only is he breathing on his own, but I think he squeezed my hand." Abby fluttered her fingers as she spoke.

"It was probably one of those whatch-ya-ma-call-its. You know, an involuntary move thing." Shaking my head, I made a mental note to make sure Danny never played a doctor.

"He squeezed my hand, Danny Blue, and it wasn't an involuntary reflex activity. It was Ducky, letting me know he knew I was there." Her eyes narrowed and her hands curled tightly into fists, Abby looked as if she was ready to attack Danny. Something told me she would probably win too.

"Oi, mate, I didn't mean anything." Danny's hands raised in surrender seemed to appease Abby somewhat. She did keep her distance from him for the rest of the evening though, and spoke to him only when she was directly addressed. Danny worked twice as hard as usual to be charming, with no results.

II

"You on your way up?" When I went outside for a smoke I found Gibbs, his back turned away from the hospital.

"In a minute. Is Abby up there?" His hands were in his pockets and he was looking up at the stars but he seemed anything but relaxed.

"It was her turn to go sit with Ducky when I headed for the lift." She and Albie both visited Ducky as often as the nurses would allow. We all visited him- even I had taken a few turns on the hard plastic chair reading aloud- but Albie and Abby were the most frequent visitors.

"She's going to burn herself out. I don't think she's slept this week, just keeps drinking those damned Caf-Pow!s of hers." He punctuated his statement by balling up the empty coffee cup in his hand and throwing it in the trash. If it had been anyone else I might have remarked on the irony. Instead I quietly lit my cigarette and took a deep drag.

"She's dead sure Ducky's going to wake up any time now. If he doesn't..."

"I know." Gibbs turned away for the sky and looked at me, his blue eyes looking exactly the same as Abby's green ones had earlier. The look was shuttered in an instant. "I know exactly what kind of hell to expect."

"You should take her home after you visit Ducky," I suggested. "She might sleep better if she's not alone."

"We're all alone," he muttered before he passed through the sliding doors of the hospital entrance.

II

It might have been deja vu, if not for the different color ties we were wearing. We pulled into Lassiter's driveway almost exactly twenty-four hours after we had been there before. The door was opened by the same maid. This time, however, Lassiter was waiting for us in the library. Whatever nervousness he had allowed Stacie to see the day before was carefully masked now.

"I'd offer you gentleman a drink, but I assume you would say no." Lassiter took a sip of his own drink, the ice rattling in the glass. He had positioned himself in front of a large window overlooking the backyard and his features were slightly shadowed by the back-lighting. This was a man who played his own games, all about power and dominance. It made my own game all the more satisfying.

"Thank you, but no," Tony answered for the both of us. "We just have a few questions for you, and then we will leave you alone."

"Ask away, Mr..."

"DiNozzo. I'm Special Agent DiNozzo and this is my partner Special Agent Spade," Tony lied easily.

"And you are with the ATF?" The question, seemingly casual, sounded just a little too rehearsed.

"NCIS," I corrected.

"Of course, I remember now. So many acronyms, they all seem to run together."

"Mr Lassiter, do you know a man by the name of Tommy Briggs?" Presumably not wanting to let Lassiter to continue to run the interview, Tony jumped straight to the reason for our visit.

"Briggs? No, I don't believe I do. The name doesn't sound familiar."

"Funny, because he claims to know you." With Tony asking most of the questions I was able to step back and watch. Lassiter's body language told a very interesting story.

"Wait, is he one of the men I hired to work on the pool house? If he's an illegal or something I didn't know. I was promised by the foreman that they were all legit."

"Oh you hired him alright, but it wasn't for construction," I interjected from the corner of the room where I was pretending to peruse the bookcase. It bothered the man that he couldn't watch Tony and I at the same time.

"I don't understand."

"Let me clarify then," Tony said. "See, down at the Navy Yard we have a sailor in the morgue by the name of Trevor Crawford. Crawford wasn't the nicest guy around but he was Navy and we don't like it when our boys miss roll call because of being dead. We work real hard to find out who killed them. In this case a ballistics match led us to out friend Tommy. Tommy, it turns out, already has a bit of a rap sheet and wasn't thrilled at the idea of more prison time."

"I don't see what this has to do with me."

"According to Tommy it has an awful lot to do with you. He swears that he only shot petty officer Crawford on your say so. And then there is the woman."

"Woman?"

"You've been seen escorting a woman by the name of Diane Fellows around town recently. This same Diane Fellows that is Crawford's ex-wife. She had a restraining order against him."

"I do admit to knowing a woman named Diane, but that is all. Obviously this Tommy character is trying to throw the blame on someone else, and somehow he's picked me. I am a high profile person. Between the business and society sections of the newspaper I am mentioned quite often. That's probably how he got my name." It was a logical idea, and I almost had to applaud him for coming up with it. Almost.

"There is a witness, Mr Lassiter." I was directly behind him, close enough the see the drops of sweat that were starting to form in the crease of his neck just above his collar. He jumped just the slightest bit at the sound of my voice.

"There can't be." He hesitated slightly. "You can't have a witness to something that never happened."

"The thing that I always find interesting about bartenders, Mr. Lassiter, is that they become such a fixture behind the bar that you forget they are there. You met Tommy Briggs in a bar, not once but twice, and by a lucky coincidence the bartender was the same each night. He's a good listener, and has a real good memory."

"Shit, shit, SHIT." The glass he had been holding in his hand flew through the air and crashed against a wall, shattering into a thousand shards.

"Tsk, tsk, Mr. Lassiter. Temper like that, I'm surprised you didn't kill petty officer Crawford yourself." I fingered the handcuff I wore belted to my waist, making sure that Lassiter noticed.

"You're not taking me in for this. I have wealth, a position in the community, a sister who depends on me."

"You should have thought of that before." Tony took a step closer, so that Lassiter was now completely boxed in between the two of us and the desk.

"Wait." Lassiter held up one hand and backed up against the wall so that he could see both of us. "Let's stop and look at out options here."

"There are no options."

"Sure there are, Sam," Tony interjected. "He has a option of coming quietly or the one where we make a big scene and drag him from the house in front of whatever neighbors might be watching."

"Or the two of you special agents could leave here without me."

"I don't see that happening."

"But it could. You could leave here and write up your report saying that the hit-man and the bartender joined together to kill Crawford and were attempting to frame me." He looked from Tony to me and back again, waiting to see who would speak first. I waited until he was looking at Tony to do so.

"Why would we do that?"

"Crawford was a bastard. You said yourself that Diane had a restraining order against him, and for good reason."

"You can't go around killing people just because they aren't saints."

"No, but because of the extenuating circumstances you could look the other way this time. I'll even sweeten the deal. In my checking account right now is approximately 1.2 million dollars." Lassiter seemed calmer now that the discussion had moved towards money.

"Are you trying to bribe government officials?" I hoped that I managed to pull off the offended yet slightly intrigued voice I had been trying for.

"Think of it not as a bribe but a bonus for a job well done. And remember that Crawford was a violent man, and it could easily have been Diane in the morgue, dead at his hands."

"Spade can I talk to you in the hallway?" Tony's question carried an air of authority. It sounded like he was channeling Gibbs. I made a show of letting him lead, and closed the library door behind us.

It only took a minute to work out a fool-proof way of getting the money from the bank without Lassiter backing out. We spent an extra fourteen minutes talking about James Bond movies, arguing about the merits of Sean Connery versus Daniel Craig, letting Lassiter sweat it before we gave him a decision. His hand shook slightly as he wrote out the cheque but the letters were clear and that was all that mattered.

I had trouble hiding a smile as I settled onto the leather armchair in the corner of the room. Tony would take the cheque to the bank and call me when he had successfully cashed it. Until then I was staying at the house to make sure Lassiter didn't cancel the cheque. Discreetly I pressed a couple of keys on my cell phone and sent Stacie a text message. Less than five minutes later the doorbell rang.

"Miss Fellows is here to see you sir," the maid announced. Lassiter looked at me warily but nodded his head in the maid's direction. When Stacie entered the library I could see just a hint of tears in her eyes.

"Darling, what's wrong?" There was something akin to actual warmth and concern in his voice.

"Oh Jeffery, I'm sorry to come see you in such a state, but I didn't know where else to go."

"Don't be foolish. You just tell me what's wrong and I will do what I can to fix it." He patted Stacie's arm, and I admired her ability not to pull away from him. It was hard to sit and watch, and not growl at the rummy bastard that Stacie didn't need anyone to solve her problems, least of all him. But it wasn't Stacie in the room, it was Diane.

"I just got a phone call during lunch. Trevor's dead. He's been murdered." Bending down to get a tissue out of her purse, Stacie 'noticed' me for the first time. "I'm so sorry, I've interrupted something. I really should have called first."

"You are much more important than business, Diane. Mr Spade, I'm sure you wouldn't mind giving us a moment alone?"

"Not at all. I'm expecting a call anyway. I'll be in the hall." Stacie made sure she was turned away from Lassiter and gave me a wink before I left the room.

I left the door open a crack, listening as Stacie told Lassiter that she was leaving for Texas that very night. Wanting to blow him off as soon as possible we had decided that Diane had remained close to her ex-mother-in-law and was flying out to offer her support for the funeral. I wondered how long he would wait for her to return.

Tony called while they were still talking, and just as I closed the phone the library doors opened.

"I wish you would rethink this, Diane. Stay here and we can send the biggest bouquet of flowers you want."

"I have to go. I promised." She cupped his cheeks gently and gave him a kiss that spoke of tenderness.

"Diane, you..."

"I think our business is concluded for today," I interrupted. "Ma'am, can I see you to your car?"

"So, did we get it?" Stacie waited until we were out of sight of the house before catching my hand in hers and stopping me.

"Tony's meeting us at the hospital with the contents of Lassiter's bank account. One point two mill in small bills." The grin I offered Stacie was eclipsed by the warm kiss she placed on my cheek.

II

If we had been in a hotel room there would have been champagne to celebrate with. Since we were in a hospital waiting room we had to settle for coffee. At least it was from the cafe in the lobby and not the vending machine. Danny passed around the paper cups and Tony opened the briefcase so we could admire the neat stacks of green bills.

"To a job well done," Mickey proposed.

"To egotistical rats getting exactly what they deserve," Stacie added.

"To family, looking out for each other," Abby said as she raised her glass.

"To family," we all agreed as we clinked our cups together soundlessly.

"I'm going to go tell Albie the news," I said once the case was closed and stored under one of the chairs.

"Tell him we're all going out for a real meal in an hour, and he's not getting out of it."

I was glad for Mickey's suggestion. Albie had been eating too many of his meals in the hospital or in the hotel room. He needed a change of scenery and a few hours of relaxation. Between the lot of us, especially Abby and Danny, I was sure we could stretch the dinner out to a long and distracting one.

"Albie?" Hospital rooms, like churches, always made me instinctively lower my voice. Albie set the book he had been reading aloud down on the table and looked at me through his thick glasses.

"I'm going to have to get a new book soon. We're almost done with this one." He glanced at Ducky, as if expecting confirmation or a suggestion of what the next book should be. The only response was the beeping of the heart monitor.

"I think we can afford that. A million plus should buy you what ever book you want."

"A million... than it's done?" Albie looked relived, but the satisfied grin he usually wore after we'd succeeded in taking a mark was missing. The loss of money might make Lassiter suffer but it couldn't undo any of the damage he had caused.

"It's done, and we're going to dinner to celebrate. And," I rushed before he could protest, "you are coming with us."

"Ash, I don't..."

"You son of a bitch." Before I could turn to see who had thrown open the hospital room door I was slammed against a wall, an arm across my chest making it hard to breathe. A glance into piecing blue eyes told me that the lack of oxygen was done on purpose. Taking a wild stab in the dark I'd have to guess that Gibbs had found out what we'd been up to here in DC.

"Gibbs this is hardly appropriate behavior for a hospital room." Albie's observation went ignored.

"You have no right to come here and put my people in danger."

"I don't know what you are talking about, mate. Only person here in danger is Ducky, and I didn't have a thing to do with that." Never admit to anything, I had learned, until you know exactly how much the other person was aware of.

"Think again, Morgan. Or should I call you Spade?" The pressure of his arm on my chest increased ever so slightly.

"Why would you think my name was Spade?" I said out loud. Inwardly I thought "Bollocks." Somewhere along the way we had slipped up enough for Gibbs to catch on. Abby had warned us that it wouldn't take much.

"The director sent me a memo today. It seems that someone's been calling the office to get information about DiNozzo. Not completely unusual except for two things: he also wanted to know about DiNozzo's partner Spade, and his name was Lassiter. I called DiNozzo to find out what he was doing talking to the bastard that hit Ducky. He didn't pick up. McGee and Ziva didn't know where he was so I went down to the lab to ask Abby. She wasn't there either but I found a couple of interesting things on her desk."

"Gibbs, let go of Ash and let us explain," Albie spoke again.

"There's nothing to explain. If you want to risk prison, or worse if Lassiter catches you, that's your business. But you don't drag my agent into it and you stay far away from Abby."

"Jethro, let go of the young man. You're upsetting Albert."

"I'm not..." Gibbs froze, realizing at the same time that I did that it was not Albie who spoke. He turned his head in the direction of the bed without releasing his hold on me. "Ducky?"

"Your manners are even worse than usual, Gibbs." The voice was soft and slightly scratchy from disuse, but I could hear traces of Scotland and England under the Americanized accent.

"Didn't know that was possible, Duck." The anger faded, replaced with a relieved half-smile. A temporary reprieve, I was sure, based on the look Gibbs gave me before he let go and turned his attention to Ducky.

"You're one to speak of manners, Donald. I come all the way across the Atlantic to visit and you spend a week sleeping."

"Merely payback for that week in Berlin, my dear friend." Ducky moved his fingers slightly so that they rested on the upturned palm of Albie's hand. Albie winked and squeezed his friend's fingers. I made a mental note to ask about Berlin at another time. It wasn't often that I gained clues about Albie's past. "Have I really been here for a week? The last thing I remember... I'm not sure what the last thing I remember is. I remember a boy named Hemmings being on my table."

"You were driving home that night, Duck. It was a drunk driver." Gibbs' voice was soft but I could hear the subdued rage. The hand not viewable from Ducky's bed was clenched into a fist. "I'll be right back. Abby's in the waiting room."

"Abigail's here?"

"She'd be moved in here and sleeping in the other bed if the staff would let her. That girl cares deeply about you," Albert said. I jumped at the opportunity to be out of the room and away from Gibbs.

"I'll get her and tell the others. You two stay with Ducky." Before Gibbs could object I made a quick exit.

II

"He's awake!" Abby's scream when I told the group the good news was almost enough to make me cover my ears. She threw herself at Tony who didn't seem at all surprised to find himself holding her. He held her tight as they spun in a half circle, combat boots flying, and laughed. The instant he put her down she was running in the direction of Ducky's hospital room. A nurse, almost trampled in Abby's wake, started to follow her. Mickey strode over to the woman and calmed her down with a few smooth words.

"I have to call the rest of the team." Tony dug in his pockets for change, as mobiles were not permitted inside the hospital. When he only came up with a few coins I gave him some of my own, carefully separating out the dead presidents from the heads of royalty. He nodded in thanks before swanning off to find a pay phone.

"Thank God. I don't know what they would have done if he hadn't woken up, or worse if he..." Stacie let the rest of the thought trail off, but we all knew what she meant. I don't know, though, which would be worse; the finality of death or continuing to linger without consciousness. It was a question I had spent many restless nights thinking on, usually while sitting next to June's bedside, but I had never come up with an answer.

"Weekly visits to a convalescent home or to a cemetery," I said finally. "Either way they would have mourned and then they would have learned to live with the absence."

Mickey looked at me with his head cocked slightly to one side, his lips parted as if he was about to say something but the words escaped without sound. Stacie bit her lower lip and took my hand gently in hers. Damn, but this is why I like to be in the background of things, not the center of attention; I don't have Albie's gift of saying the right thing or Mickey's smooth manners.

"Way to look on the bright side of things." Neither did I have Danny's 'gift' of ill-timed humor. This time, though, I was glad when his comment was enough to lighten the mood.

"Just call me Mr. Sunshine," I said sardonically. "I think your celebration dinner plans are on hold for now, Mick.

"Actually, I think we should go. We have twice as many things to celebrate," Stacie insisted persuasively.

"And we won't want to hang around here if a boatload of NCIS agents are going to be stopping by to visit." Mickey, as always, had a valid point.

"If we're celebrating let's go for somewhere really posh." Danny eyed the briefcase on the floor speculatively. I knew exactly the type of place he was thinking of, and didn't like the very slim but still real chance that Lassiter would be out on the town for dinner tonight.

"I'd rather go somewhere quieter. I wonder if there's a decent pub in Washington?"

II

Abby surprised me twice, first by agreeing to come to dinner with us and secondly by knowing just the place for us to eat. The bar was decorated with stained wood and dark colors, the dimmed lighting provided by stained glass lamps hung above each of the high backed booths. It reminded me a bit of Eddie's. The menu was a little more complicated than traditional pub grub but I didn't think the Yanks in the kitchen could mess up fish and chips too much.

I ordered a round of drinks at the bar while the others found us a booth. Brandies for Mickey and Tony, beers for Danny and myself, a glass of wine for Stacie and a Red Bull for Abby. Albie had stayed at the hospital with Ducky, as had Gibbs.

"Everyone get your own," I said as I slid the bar tray onto the table after taking hold of my own beer.

" May the best you've ever seen, be the worst you'll ever see, may a mouse ne'er leave y're girnal wi' a tear drop in his e'e, may ye aye keep hale and hearty 'til y're auld enough tae dee, may ye aye be just as happy as I wish ye all tae be."

"Now that was real pretty," Danny said when Tony was done giving his toast. "If a bit corny."

"Sound's better when Ducky says it. He doesn't have to fake the brogue." Abby looked like a stereotypical little sister when she stuck her tongue out at Tony after he gave her a derisive look.

"My Scottish accent has to be a million times better than Danny's Texas one," Tony defended himself.

"Oi, my accent was spot on."

"Neither of you could pass for the genuine article," Mickey said before the argument could start properly. "Now figure out what you are going to order before the waitress comes."

"I should warn everyone that Gibbs has found us out." I waited until our order had been taken, but didn't figure there was a reason to wait any longer.

"What?" Tony's hand went to the back of his head, rubbing as if my announcement had triggered a pain there.

"First Abby finds out who we are and now Gibbs knows what we've done? Bloody perceptive lot, these NCIS people," Danny frowned.

"Smarter than the average bear, eh Boo Boo?" Abby joked, but she looked worried. Mickey noticed.

"What's our immediate concern?" he asked.

"Nothing," Abby said quickly. "He won't turn you in."

"Probably," Tony interjected.

"He won't," Abby repeated. "He'll tell himself that it's because he can't implicate you without revealing that Tony and I were involved, or because turning in Albie would upset Ducky. The truth is that he'll be mostly upset because we were able to hurt Lassiter for what he did to Ducky and Gibbs couldn't. You've probably noticed that Gibbs is a bit protective of certain people."

"Understatement of the year," I couldn't help muttering, thinking of our conversation a few days ago and more recently a loss of oxygen.

"He has his reasons for being like he is, too many reasons. I'm sure he's angry right now..."

"Understatement number two," I breathed.

"But he'll make his peace with what we've done. Course it'll take a couple of long nights working on his boat and a couple of bottles of brandy to get to that point."

"And in the meantime?" Stacie wanted to know.

"Everyone gives Gibbs a wide berth. At least you guys will soon have an ocean separating you from Gibbs. I have to work with him everyday." Tony, looking like he was anticipating pain, gulped the rest of his brandy. "Dumpster diving, vomit cleaning, all night stakeouts with Probie- Gibbs is going to assign me every lousy job he can find."

"Aw, poor baby." Stacie didn't sound too sympathetic. Abby laughed and clinked her tin can against Stacie's glass.

I looked at the mostly empty glasses and decided that it was time to order a second round. We'd worry about any more repercussions tomorrow. Tonight we were here to celebrate.

II

"Ah, Mr. Morgan here you are. Taking advantage of the break in the weather or looking for an escape from all the noise?"

"Neither." I lifted my cigarette to my lips and drew in a breathful of smoke.

"Ah ha. Very courteous, but unnecessary. I don't banish my guests to the outdoors just because of a little smoke." Ducky moved slowly across the porch, using the cane he carried to lower himself onto the porch swing next to me.

"I didn't want to risk the wrath of Abby."

"She is rather adamant about her dislike of tobacco. Jethro used to smoke, but he quit a few months after Abigail started working for NCIS."

"I'm sure she'd be even more adamant about keeping the air around you clean, so soon after your release from hospital." It had only been a few days ago, but he had insisted that we all come over for a small party before we left for London. Albie, of course, had said yes for all of us.

"For having been here such a brief time you certainly have a keen understanding of my friends."

"Being able to read people quickly is important in my line of work." There were still a few drags left on my cigarette, but I tossed it on the wood porch and stubbed it out.

"Your line of work," Ducky shook his head. "That's one thing Albert and I have never seen eye to eye on."

"It does seem ironic, you and Albie being such good friends and yet working on different sides of the law." There certainly wasn't anyone in law enforcement that I would call friend, at least not until recently.

"And if we had both worked on, as you say, different sides of the law when we met we never would have become friends. It would have been a great loss for both of us." Ducky took off his glasses and rubbed the bridge of his nose. "Gibbs told me what you did to Jeffery Lassiter. Albert told me his version too, which was probably a little closer to the truth."

"We..." I was eight years old and sitting in the confessional, being choked by the tie my grandmother had dressed me in as she instructed me to tell the priest everything I had done wrong that week. I had refused to speak to the priest then and I was tempted to do the same now. How did I explain to a man like Ducky, who believed in truth and honesty and the judicial system, that lying, blackmail, and faked photos offered their own kind of justice? Apparently he wasn't waiting for an explanation.

"I can't approve of what you did, but I understand why you all did it. I'm touched that you, Mickey, Stacie and Danny wold do so much for someone you had never met." With his glasses replaced Ducky looked at me with focused blue eyes. "I can't accept the money."

"What?" We had all talked about it before the con was even complete, and decided that what ever money we got from Lassiter should go to Ducky. Not even Danny had protested.

"It wouldn't be right for me to disapprove and yet profit from what I disapproved of."

"What would you have us do with the money than?"

"It's your money and your choice." Ducky stared out across the drive at the trees on the other side of the yard. He was silent for long enough that I thought I had gotten all the answer I was going to get. "I'd like to think that some of the money might find its way to the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society. Not everyone who is in an accident like I was is lucky enough to recover, or has such good friends around to help."

"Consider it done," I promised.

"Ash?"

"Yeah?"

"Pay the hotel bill first."

"Alright." He really did know Albie well.

"Now come inside and I'll show you where I keep my cigars, the ones I save for special occasions. Much better than your cigarettes. Just promise not to tell Abby."

I chuckled and followed Ducky back into the house.