Summary: Ducky and Abby have told Gibbs all about Immortals. Will he allow Richie to keep working at NCIS or have him arrested for using a false identity?
The Gibbs Sanction
Richie sat in the passenger seat of Ducky's vintage Morgan. They'd driven the entire way to NCIS in silence. After the disclosure to Gibbs about his Immortality over the weekend, Richie had expected the senior agent to arrest him for a myriad of charges stemming from his false identity or at the very least fire him. But Gibbs had been gone before he'd returned downstairs; the expectation that Richie would be reporting as usual on Monday morning was delivered by Ducky.
Believing that maybe retreat was the better form of valor, Richie still debated leaving DC. Abby had been adamant that everything was going to be fine and Ducky insisted that Gibbs was not waiting to arrest Richie the minute he showed his face at NCIS headquarters. After making Richie swear, pinky swear in fact, that he wouldn't run away, Abby had finally left for the evening.
When Monday morning had dawned, the sleeting rain outside mirroring the grayness he felt inside, Richie once again debated breaking his promise to Abby. She may trust Gibbs, but Richie didn't – at least not yet. He was sure that Gibbs would be waiting at the NCIS main gate with a security detail to haul his ass off to prison or worse, some hidden secret government lab.
Richie tried to beg off going into work, but Ducky wouldn't take no for an answer as he almost forcibly pushed him toward the car. Not wanting the older man to hurt himself, Richie had reluctantly agreed to carpool with Ducky to NCIS. It's not like he could have ridden his bike in the rain anyway. Winter in DC was making him regret not taking Mac up on his offer to buy him a car. It would have been easier to pack up and escape regardless of the weather.
Richie was brought out of his musing when Ducky reached over to pat his leg. "I promise you, Richard, Jethro will not be waiting to drag you off in chains."
"How can you be so sure?"
Ducky shrugged as he turned the car onto the drive leading from the main gate. "Because I know the man."
"What I know is, the man's a straight arrow and my presence at NCIS is about as big a left turn from normal that he's ever seen. I don't think there's anything you could have told him last Friday that would have changed his mind."
"You'd be surprised. I can be very persuasive."
"Don't I know it." Richie laughed
Parking the car, Ducky shifted to look at his young charge. "You can not run every time things get complicated. You must learn to trust us mere mortals."
"Isn't running what Immortals do their whole lives?"
"You are entitled to one lifetime that isn't spent hiding who you are and I believe this is your chance." With a finality that brooked no arguments Ducky commanded, "Now stop being a frightened child and face the man."
Maybe Ducky was right. Maybe this was his chance. Abby and Ducky had become like family: people he cared about and trusted with his life Could he share who he was with Tony, Ziva and Tim and for once not have to watch what he said or did among non-Immortal friends? It would be nice to stop hiding. He was a social animal and the constant breaking of ties when people got too close to the truth was a hard price to pay for Immortality.
Decision made he said, "Alright, let's go to work," and exited the car. Richie trusted Ducky and he hoped he'd was ready to face what ever came next, even if it was prison.
They headed into the building and Richie felt the tension building in his gut as they approached the security check point. Familiar guards greeted him and inquired casually about his weekend as they passed him through without a second thought. Richie simply grunted his replies, unable to relax as he waited for a hand to land on his shoulder and haul him into custody, but it never came.
"You see, my dear boy. All is well," Ducky said as he pressed the call button for the elevator which would take them to the floor where the autopsy and IT departments were located.
"It's still early," Richie quipped.
Richie was grateful that he had no reason to go any where near the agent's bullpen and he was starting to believe that maybe he could avoid Gibbs completely. Maybe the senior agent wasn't even in the building this morning.
The bell dinged indicating the arrival of the car. No one else was waiting for the elevator so they would be able to make the trip in privacy.
The doors opened to reveal agent Gibbs leaning casually against the back wall. He made no move to exit the elevator. Tony had often complained that Gibbs knew where everyone was all the time. Had Gibbs sensed their arrival in the building and timed his movements to intercept them in the elevator? It seemed the logical conclusion because Richie couldn't imagine that Gibbs had simply spent his morning riding the elevator, like a happy five year-old, in anticipation of this encounter.
Ducky glanced from Richie to Gibbs and, seeing something Richie obviously didn't, announced, "I'll take the stairs."
"You do that, Duck," Gibbs deadpanned and then waited patiently for Richie to enter.
Richie hesitated. "Ah…Maybe I should-" he pointed toward where Ducky had retreated toward the stairwell, "you know, go with Ducky- "
"Get in the elevator, Blaine." Gibbs said in that tone that made people just do as he commanded.
Richie practically jumped into the car as the doors snapped shut behind him. "You called me Blaine," Richie said, confused by Gibbs' use of his alias.
"It's your name, isn't it?"
"Yeah, but I assumed that under the circumstances you'd be insisting on using my real name and stuff. Because of, you know, everything Ducky told you on Friday." Gibbs was staring at him, offering no hint of his thoughts and Richie felt compelled to fill the silence.
"I mean we didn't get a chance to really talk about it. And I assumed - " Richie stopped babbling when Gibbs reached past him to press the stop button halting the elevator's ascent.
Uh oh. Tony had told him how Gibbs liked to use the elevator as an impromptu office and suddenly Richie could believe that the man had been riding up and down all morning waiting for his arrival.
Gibbs crossed his arms and gave no indication that he intended to speak at all.
Richie gulped and started talking again. His voice had taken on a frantic quality as he felt himself withering under Gibbs' glare. "You were already gone when I came down. I was kind of surprised actually. I figured you'd want to arrest me." Richie paused a moment giving Gibbs the opportunity to deny that this was his intent, but the senior agent was an unmoving wall of silence.
Richie quickly resumed babbling because standing in a stopped elevator with a cryptic Gibbs was incredibly disconcerting and he felt compelled to fill the silence.
"Anyway. Ducky wouldn't tell me what you'd talked about, but he wanted me to come to work today. I figured I'd just go, you know, away, but Abby made me pinky swear and Ducky made me drive with him. And I still have clearance in the building, which I gotta tell you surprised me – " Richie took a breath, shrugged and trailed into silence. Was he even making any sense at this point? He was completely confused and had no idea what Gibbs wanted him to say or if the man was just torturing him before finally slapping the cuffs on. At this point, he was pretty sure he had nothing left to add.
Richie nodded not trusting himself to keep his mouth from running off again if he opened it.
"Why didn't you run?"
Richie was confused because, he was pretty sure during his verbal diarrhea he'd explained how Abby had made him pinky swear.
"Because Ducky and Abby made me prom- "
Gibbs reached out and smacked him on the back of his head. "Don't tell me about them. Tell me about you."
Richie struggled to keep himself from smiling. Gibbs had smacked him like he was one of the family. He was pretty sure that was a good thing, but it was hard to tell.
"Because it's my mess and I have to clean it up and if that means being arrested so that Abby and Ducky can have a clean slate then that's what I have to do."
Gibbs nodded. "That's what you said on Friday."
"I wasn't kidding then and I'm not now. Oh, I thought about running - a lot," he admitted. There was a part of him that was surprised that he was actually standing here today. He may have whined and complained about coming into to work and risking his freedom, but if he'd really wanted to leave there was nothing Ducky could have done to stop him. "I wouldn't have been able to live with myself if I'd betrayed their trust – " Richie hesitated as he finally understood the motivation behind his actions over the weekend and today.
Ducky and Abby were too important for him to ever hurt them. Richie meant it when he said he'd do anything to protect them. He was ready to face the consequences and, surprisingly, he was finally at peace about the choices he was making.
Richie took a deep calming breath as he met Gibbs' glare head on finding strength in his epiphany. "I'm not afraid, Agent Gibbs. I won't ask you to compromise your principles." For emphasis, he held his hands out, ready for the handcuffs. "And I won't trade my freedom for Ducky and Abby's careers or their friendship with you."
Richie saw a smile tugging at the corner of Gibbs' mouth before the senior agent clamped down on it. Gibbs hit the button to start the elevator again.
"You need to get to work."
Richie dropped his hands. "That's it?"
The elevator doors opened and Gibbs stepped forward extending a hand to keep the door from closing while keeping his gaze locked on Richie. "Unless you want me to arrest you?"
A smile lit up Richie's face. "No, sir!" Ducky had been right, Gibbs understood. Still he wanted to make sure that he was reading the situation correctly. "What made you change you mind?"
Gibbs dropped his hand from the door, stepped out of the elevator and turning back to Richie he let a rare smile show on his face. "Let's just say I'm no Javert."
"Wait –What the hell does that mean?" Richie asked, but the elevator doors had snapped shut cutting him off from Gibbs.
Friday – Three days earlier
Gibbs sat on the couch as Abby and Ducky weaved a supernatural tale of Immortals and their history. Ducky had been right about one thing, if he hadn't seen Richie heal from the gun shot wound, he would never have believed his friend's wild story.
"Doesn't change the fact that he broke the law when he came to work at NCIS under a false name," Gibbs said when Ducky had finished his story.
"But Gibbs," Abby pleaded with him. "He had no choice. He was dead in France and he had to make up a new identity or tell everyone he was Immortal and then the government would have turned him into a lab rat and then his life would have been over – "
She had a determined look in her eye and would not be silenced. "You know I'm right! He had to get a new identity."
Gibbs hated to disappoint Abby, but he didn't see it that way. "Abby, he compromised this agency by lying about who he is. I don't have a choice."
"Yes you do! He hasn't done anything wrong except change his name."
"Have you ever read Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, Jethro?" Ducky interrupted.
The non sequitur brought Gibbs up short and he simply shook his head, wondering what a 19th century novel had to do with the current situation.
"It's about a man named Jean Valjean who was sent to prison for stealing a loaf of bread; a relatively minor infraction. but one that, in those days, warranted years of jail time. Upon his release he broke his parole rather than starve because societal laws gave him no other choice; no one would hire a convict. Over the years he took on a new identity and he was able to make something of himself; in fact the economy of a small village became dependent on his patronage. But none of the good he'd done mattered when he was finally caught by a relentless police officer named Javert.
"Am I supposed to be Javert in this story?"
"Yes, you are," Abby said and crossed her arm on her chest.
Abby's anger distressed him in a way he'd never admit even to himself. Gibbs needed her to understand that it was time to stop fighting him and that, friend or no friend, Immortality did not give Ryan a pass to do as he pleased. Gibbs was about to say so when Ducky's glare made him swallow his words. He resigned himself to hearing the rest of the story, ultimately he supposed, he owed Ducky and Abby that much.
"Javert could not see that Valjean was an honest man," Ducky continued. "A good man who'd been placed in an untenable situation. Javert was convinced that one reckless act in his youth made Valjean a criminal with no hope for redemption and took the man back to prison. The economy of the village collapsed."
"Still not seeing the connection, Duck," Gibbs said.
Next to him, Abby was rolling her eyes and making exasperated hand gestures suggesting that the connection was obvious. Gibbs ignored her.
"When Jean Valjean escaped, Javert was right there pursuing him. The day came when Javert's life was in danger and he would have been killed; except that Valjean saved him even though he knew that exposing himself to the police officer meant his return to prison."
Ducky was staring at him, daring him not to see the parallel. Gibbs had to admit he was curious to know the ending. "So what happened?"
Ducky smiled in triumph thinking that he'd won Gibbs over. For his part, Gibbs was starting to feel some doubt about his course of action; Ducky had always had the ability to make Gibbs see things in a new light and tonight had been no exception.
"Javert let him go. Twenty-odd years he'd chased him and it had taken a brush with his own mortality to understand that Jean Valjean was not a criminal at all. Just a good man forced to do things because of the nature of society, and when given a choice, Valjean's own freedom meant nothing compared to the redemption of his soul."
"You think this kid is some noble righteous man forced by his Immortality to bend the rules."
"Yes, I do. Not all Immortals are good men, but Richie is."
"You really believe that." It wasn't a question and Gibbs was starting to accept the truth of Ducky's convictions.
His gut had told him that Ryan was hiding something and he'd been right about that, but he'd never felt that Richie was actually dangerous. If he trusted Ducky then he'd have to trust the man's assessment of his ward.
"You may have a point," Gibbs finally conceded.
Abby flung her arms around his neck. "See I knew you'd understand." He returned her hug.
"And it is a valid point, Jethro," Ducky said. "Immortals need to keep creating new identities or reveal themselves; there's nothing malicious about it. It is simply a matter of survival in the society in which we live."
Gibbs nodded having come to a decision. He'd let it play out without his interference. If Ryan chose to run away then he would feel compelled to report Richie's deception and make sure, at the very least, that he never worked in government again and that his name was added any watch lists. Those actions might not lead to Ryan's arrest, but Gibbs would feel he'd done what was necessary to prevent any compromise of national security issues. If the kid was the upright citizen Ducky believed him to be, he wouldn't run. Ryan would take responsibility for his actions and that was a man that Gibbs could respect, maybe even trust, and certainly someone he would not arrest.
"So what will you do now, Jethro?"
He stood. "I'll see you all at work on Monday."
"Richie too?" Abby pushed as she stood to face him.
"It's his decision," Gibbs said. "He can leave or he can come back to work." Implicit in his statement was the instruction that it had to be Richie's decision.
"So you won't arrest him?" Abby asked.
"Didn't say that, Abs." He headed toward the door.
"Gibbs!" She chased after him, blocking his exit.
"Trust me," he said softly as he kissed her cheek and headed out the door.
Gibbs allowed himself a small chuckle as he saw the confused look on Richie's face just before the elevator door snapped shut.
He'd been truly surprised when he'd caught sight of Ducky and Ryan heading into the building from the windows in the bull pen. Gibbs had quickly made the decision to confront Richie in the elevator, expecting the Immortal to lie or at least try to shift some of the responsibility away from himself. After listening to the kid babble for ten minutes, Gibbs had reached the conclusion that Richie had done the right thing and for the right reasons. Ducky had been correct in his assessment of the Immortal's moral code; Richie was a good kid in an unusual situation and one which was not a threat to national security.
As he strode over to his desk, Gibbs casually acknowledged his three agents and Ducky, unsurprised to find his friend standing in the bull pen waiting for him, a look of hope on his face.
"You need something, Duck?" he asked casually.
"I was wondering if you'd seen my nephew."
Gibbs tilted his head, feigning confusion. "I suspect he's downstairs in his cubicle."
"You are most likely correct." A smile of supreme satisfaction lit up Ducky's features.
Gibbs circled around his friend and settled into his desk. "Anything else because – " he gestured to the pile of paperwork in front of him.
"No, you've done quite enough," Ducky turned to leave and then stopped to face Gibbs again. "And Jethro," he waited for Gibbs to meet his gaze, "Thank you."
"Don't know what you're talking about."
Ducky continued to smile, "No, of course, you don't," and headed out of the bull pen.
Gibbs watched him leave. Ryan had gone a long way toward winning Gibbs' respect when he'd shown up this morning and taken responsibility for the whole mess. He'd been impressed by his continued willingness to sacrifice himself for Ducky and Abby.
There were a few other details Gibbs wanted to work out starting with telling McGee to stop investigating Ryan and then figuring out a way to have the kid reporting directly to him. But right now his gut was telling him that he'd done the right thing this morning and he was feeling pretty good about that.
The phone rang breaking him out of his musings. "Gibbs" he barked as he answered the call. He listened intently for a moment before disconnecting.
"We've got a dead marine," he announced to the others. "Grab your gear."
Without looking back he headed for the elevator. Just another day at the office.