There are no words to describe how happy I am to be finishing this story. Considering this has lost most of its readers, I doubt you'll care, but finally our tale has come to a close, fair readers. I glossed over the events of the Thieves Like Us part of the storyline because I never should have gotten into the in the first place and nobody but me knows those books anyway, but if you do, know that the dialogue during Alec's escape comes directly from The Bloodline Cipher in some cases, and I give all credit for Coldhardt, the Talent, and any of the situations used before Alec goes home to their rightful owner, the wonderful author Stephen Cole.
I did my best to do right by the readers to end this story. I hope it lives up to your expectations.
Disclaimer: I don't own NCIS or any of its characters; CBS does. I don't own the book Thieves Like Us or its two sequels, they belong to their author, Stephen Cole, as do Jonah, his boss, and his friends, as well as a good chunk of the dialogue and events in this chapter up to the point where Alec goes back to D.C. I do own Alec, the gang and anyone/thing you don't know.
Alec was less than pleased with what happened after she and English had decided to run like hell. They had met up with some strange girl named Maya who Alec sensed something extremely off about. The girl was weird, to say the least. Maya and Jonah had gone running again, and Alec had struggled to catch up. They reached some large room, and before Alec could follow, English had spun on his heel and told her to stay out of things before he turned around again and ran into the room.
Too bad Alec was never very good at following direct orders, or really any sort of orders, as both Landon and Gibbs had realized.
She slipped into the room after the two, but stayed in a shadowed corner, choosing not to get involved in the multiple fights she saw occurring. Especially when the guns were drawn, Alec kept to herself and just observed. Sorry, but she didn't much care for being shot, especially when trying to help people she didn't even know. If one was looking for a hero, then they weren't going to find it with her. Besides, Jonah had told her not to help, anyway. Still, she was rooting for the group of teens who she assumed was English's team.
There was a large fight going on, and Alec did her best to follow along with what must have been a big revelation concerning an old Irishman with snow white hair and cold blue eyes and a bunch of other, similarly aged old guys. She didn't much care to concern herself with the politics of it all; in this business, it didn't do you well to know more than necessary. That either meant that you had blackmail or you had a target on your head. In Alec's case, she would be slapping a giant bull's-eye on her forehead. It was in her best interest if she didn't know what everyone was screaming about in the middle of the huge room.
She was drawn from her reveries by a loud, piercing gunshot that struck one of the men in the neck. Resisting the urge to gag, she averted her eyes and tried to ignore the sound of him choking on his blood, the sound of it burbling and frothing from his main arteries and veins in great crimson spurts.
When pandemonium broke out, her eyes were still downcast. It wasn't until a girl's head cracked against the stone floor that she looked up again, shocked to find English kneeling on the girl's back, holding her down, while a pretty girl with skin the color of milk chocolate stood next to him. Alec was more than a little surprised when English then grabbed the girl, who was presumably one of his comrades, in a fierce kiss.
That was unexpected, she thought. Who knew English had it in him? She barely resisted making a loud comment to the couple, considering that would completely break her cover. But to her surprise, someone took over her role for her.
A boy about Cal's age in grungy goth clothing with black hair in a ponytail and a scraggly goatee watched the couple derisively. "Gee, guys, that's a big surprise to no one at all." Alec was surprised to hear his American accent. "But if you guys are planning on going further, I'd wait till Patch is around. You can sell him tickets."
Vaguely, Alec wondered who Patch could be and how much of a pervert he was. Her guesses? A member of their team who was for some reason not present; and very.
The girl abruptly stopped kissing Jonah and said, "Patch is-"
"Alive, we are told," said a strikingly beautiful blond girl in an odd accent that wasn't quite French. She helped the Irishman stand; Alec could only assume that this was English's leader.
Only through the silence in the room could she hear Jonah whisper to the girl in his arms, "It's true. Maya says Patch is okay!" Huh, so what had happened to Patch the Pervert, then?
"He was when we left him," said the girl Alec had been introduced to as Maya. "But we must return, and quickly." Considering Alec didn't know who was returning where, she wasn't quite sure if she was supposed to be listening to this segment, and considered becoming very interested in the destruction that the expensive room had undergone.
"But how can he be okay?" asked Jonah's girlfriend of him. "Jonah, you said-"
"Maya is an uncommonly skilled member of the Order," the Irishman interjected; geez, was Jonah's girlfriend ever allowed to finish a sentence? Considering it sounded like a weirdo cult was now being discussed, Alec took her chance to admire the damage the poor room had taken. She continued to do so until it appeared that the group was exiting the room. It was then that she slunk from the shadows, intent on following at a safe distance. That sentiment was crushed by the elderly Irishman.
Without turning his back, the man who Alec had heard referred to as Coldhardt stopped. "Miss Broekhart, if you would be so kind as to join us?" His younger companions turned to him confusedly, while Jonah looked surprised and looked around for Alec.
Okay, that was unexpected. She stepped forward, her footsteps loud and echoing on the stone floor, drawing the group to turn and watch her.
Nervously, she waved her hand. "Uh, hey everybody. Don't mind me, I'm just hitchhiking back to the States."
Coldhardt raised a brow. "Hitchhiking, yes. We'd best return you to Landon soon; he seems to be quite worried about you."
Even more unexpected. "You know Landon? Eh, all of you crime bosses seem to know each other; I shouldn't be so surprised after all of this time."
Jonah was too busy looking from the door and then back at Alec. "I told you to stay outside! What the hell are you doing in here?"
"I got lonely, English; sue me. I didn't get involved, just like you asked. In fact, I found myself to be quite...disinterested in the whole situation." She sent a meaningful look at Coldhardt, who nodded, content with her promise to helpfully "forget" what she had seen and heard.
Choosing to ignore the confused stares from Jonah's team, she followed happily after Coldhardt. "So you know Landon well?"
"You could say that." Alec noticed the slightly annoyed look in his eyes, but said nothing. Due to that, she was surprised that he continued speaking to her. "He is an old employee of mine."
The grungy goth froze in his tracks. "No shit, she works for a member of one of your old teams?"
Coldhardt's head moved; whether it was in affirmation or he just had an itch, Alec wasn't sure. All she knew was that her conversation was over.
Alec did her best to ignore the odd situations that followed, and resisted asking why Coldhardt was whisked away to God knew where as soon as they exited the premises. Jonah and team had a long, weird conversation with Maya in which Alec learned that English's girlfriend was named Tye, the blond girl was Con, and the goth was Motti. She stood off in the distance and watched as Maya left and the group shared a teary, awkward, familial embrace. In her chest, her heart ached for that same sort of camaraderie that she shared with her own team. She jolted when a voice called from inside the cave, the entrance of which was the setting of the hug.
"You sods gonna leave me in here all day or what?"
It was then that Alec was hastily introduced to Patch the Pervert, as she had dubbed him, a one-eyed fifteen year old locksmith with a thick London accent that could have given Cal a run for his money. She was baffled by the leer he sent at her until Motti clapped a hand on her shoulder, saying, "Don't get too freaked out, he does that to everyone he meets who's of the female persuasion; hell, even a few males!" Patch had objected loudly and angrily, but couldn't harm Motti as he wished because he had apparently blown up his hands, which was why he had not been involved in the great, climactic fight that Alec had ignored.
With great relief Alec heard the arrival of the helicopter Coldhardt had commissioned for her. It was to take her to the nearest large city, where she would then board a plane to D.C. It was going to be a very long flight across the Pacific with a layover in California, but at least she would be going home.
She made an awkward farewell to Coldhardt's Talent, who were not leaving with her, but instead taking their own mode of transportation to wherever they were going – she didn't bother asking about either, because frankly it wasn't her business. You didn't poke your nose into others' business in the underworld.
Jonah gave her an unsure handshake. Alec nodded at him. "See ya around, English." He smiled briefly. "Yeah, America; no more getting kidnapped to be sold in an auction, you hear?"
Alec shook her head with a grin. "Aw, but it was such fun this time around!" Jonah chuckled and lightly slugged her on the shoulder. She glanced over said shoulder to the landing copter, and then looked back at her one-time comrades of a sort. "Well, good luck, kiddos. I gotta go appease the American government, but good luck in whatever you guys plan on doing next. Perv – I mean, Patch, hope your hands heal up all right." Motti and Jonah snickered at her slip up. She turned to leave, and then looked back at Jonah.
"By the way, English? Be good to your girl there, because she is way out of your league."
The Talent chuckled with the exception of Jonah, who gaped at her and tried to formulate a response. Before he could, she was off climbing into the helicopter and chatting up the pilot while jamming a helmet over her head. She waved jauntily from the copter's window, and then she was gone.
All was silent amongst the Talent, until Motti breached a question that they had all wanted to ask since they had first seen her.
"Okay, who the hell was that chick?"
Gibbs was not happy to be harboring criminals in his home, even if they were just a pack of teenage boys who were holed up in his basement. He had allowed Landon to remain in his kitchen, but both he and the criminal had agreed that it was best to keep the boys from anywhere that the public could see them.
Landon had received a short call from his "colleague" telling him that Alec would be taking a plane into D.C. and arriving in what would now be about a half hour. How she was able to fly commercially without being arrested, he would never know, but then again these criminals had their ways.
So Gibbs and his team made their way through the hectic airport, Landon walking alongside them with a cool and sophisticated air that made Gibbs want to punch him. The criminal had left Zannen in charge of the rest of his team, so hopefully Gibbs's basement – and his current boat – would be completely intact upon their return.
The group waited for the plane to arrive in various states of anxiety. Nobody knew what was going to occur when Alec arrived – would she stay with NCIS, or return to the criminals?
It was a little surprising to find the teenager walking into the terminal as if there was nothing amiss – as if she wasn't a wanted criminal with a BOLO on her head stating that she had escaped government custody and was possibly dangerous.
As if she didn't have a highly probable chance of being sent to prison, despite the best efforts of her two different – severely different – teams.
As if she didn't have a huge decision to be made.
When her eyes landed on the groups', they surprisingly met Gibbs's first. Gibbs didn't know what this exactly entailed, but chalked it up to her being afraid of his reaction more than Landon's.
Alec approached the agents and criminal with guarded steps, tension suddenly filling her previously lethargic body.
"Hi," she mumbled, ducking her head so her hair fell into he eyes, saving her from having to meet the inquiring and probably judgmental gazes. "I'm, uh, sorry about what's happened. Though in my defense, I didn't really know I was being, um, tricked. I wouldn't have run if I had known I was being lied to. And, uh, I didn't guess it was a trick till I was attacked, and that was a little bit late, I guess."
Really, Alec, you guess? What are you, dense?
To her dismay – or was it relief? – Gibbs opted to just stare at her with an unreadable look in the arctic wasteland of his eyes. He tossed his head lightly to the side, canting it in indication of the area behind him.
"C'mon," he said quietly with a hint of a smile gracing the corners of his mouth, which belied the turmoil his eyes held. He spoke the same way he always had to the team, to her, and if she hadn't known better she would have thought he was calling the team after him as he strode out of the bullpen to a crime scene, or to interrogate a criminal. Well, in a way he was going to interrogate a criminal.
Alec swallowed visibly and followed after the agent; Tony and Ziva moved to walk behind her on either side. With trepidation and a tinge of hurt she realized that this was to ensure she didn't try to run away.
Nobody said a word. Not even Abby, who had joined the team to meet her, would speak.
The silence was becoming increasingly uncomfortable when a hand landed on her shoulder. Alec was sure she must have jumped a mile high before she twisted her head violently to the right, craning upward to see the tall figure that the hand belonged to.
Landon looked down on her, the skin around his eyes crinkling lightly as he smiled at her. "It's going to be okay, kid," he murmured.
She smiled tightly, knowing the expression was forced and grim. "I don't even want to know how you came to be with this lot." She froze for a moment in terror, but quickly resumed walking as to not set off Tony and Ziva, who were so full of tension they seemed ready to spring at a moment's notice.
"You aren't..." she trailed off and tried to subtly glance around to ascertain who had their attention on the pair of criminals. Finding nobody listening too closely to their conversation, she leaned in closer to her original leader and whispered, "You're not, you know, incarcerated or anything, right?"
Landon shook his head briefly. "Not at the moment, no. We agreed to work together to get you back. But that could all change, it seems. I have no more of an idea of what's to happen next than you do, my girl."
The rest of the trip was held in silence. It was nice to have Landon their as support, but Alec still felt this need to get back into Gibbs' good graces.
Like a puppy who did wrong and wants to please their master, she thought cynically.
When they arrived at Gibbs's home the silence remained. Alec, for one, was simply surprised that she hadn't been taken immediately to headquarters to be interrogated and then shipped off to prison.
She followed Gibbs into his home, noticing how the familiar atmosphere and decor did nothing to quiet the fluttering butterflies rioting in her gut.
Take a good look now, because it's the last time you'll see it.
Alec was blindsided when the basement door flew open and she was tackled to the ground.
Oh, Lord, not again, she thought, expecting to be taken prisoner once more. But that didn't happen, unless being hugged to death by her best friend counted as being prisoner.
"Roland!" she exclaimed as the boy, a man, really, squeezed her in an uncomfortably tight manner, the ungraceful meeting with the floor having knocked the air out of her lungs and leaving her desperate for a breath. "Can't breathe here!"
The pressure alleviated, just enough that she wouldn't pass out.
"Missed ya," he muttered, smiling down at her from under his unkempt hair. His eyes glittered like some odd jewels.
Alec didn't get the chance to stand before the rest of the guys piled on, ending with a heap of bodies lying on the linoleum floor of Gibbs's kitchen. Only Zannen stayed back, moving to stand in his ever-present place next to Landon. He gave her a small smile and nod of recognition, but made no move to join the group. She nodded back at him, accepting his decision.
That would always be their relationship, it seemed, skirting around one another, restraining themselves from acting too friendly for fear that it might become something that they couldn't lose even if they wanted to – something that would hurt when it was gone.
Gibbs cleared his throat loudly with tangible annoyance as he waited for the group to regain their composure. Alec didn't even bother asking what both of her teams were doing together in Gibbs's house. It was all too surreal – if she spoke of it, it might disappear.
After everyone had gotten situated in the living room, sitting on the sofa or one of the kitchen chairs that had been dragged in or opting for the floor or to just stand in Gibbs and Landon's cases, the discussion began. And oh, it wasn't very comfortable.
Alec did her best to give an abridged version of the events that had transpired, leaving out all names of the people she had encountered in the Philippines and helpfully forgetting just what happened once she and some kid escaped their confines. In fact, she seemed to have forgotten a lot as she glossed over just how she was taken on a helicopter to the airport, never once mentioning how she even got on the helicopter.
Gibbs would have asked, but he knew she wouldn't tell him, and he hated that. He hated that she would keep these huge secrets from him. The government always wanted to know as much as possible, so they never quite trained their agents to accept that it is sometimes best to stay out of things knowledge of which could get you killed. After all, that was something that was only taught in the Underworld.
And when it came time to make the Big Decision, Alec wished she was anywhere else in the world, even back in the dark room in the Philippines with English. She had known in the beginning that one day this day would come, but she had hoped that if she didn't think about it, it wouldn't happen and she wouldn't have to decide.
"So what are we going to do?" By the way Tony said it, Alec took that "we" more as a "you."
She tried using the plan she had been forming. "You know, I had this idea. You know how there are child labor laws and everything, right? But NCIS still had me working adult hours everyday with you guys, and they didn't do much in the way of schooling. So we should try to tell them that I need some time off from work each year, you know, my accumulated time from working adult hours all the time. So we use that time and I go with the gang, and then come back when the time's up, and then-"
"It would never work," Gibbs interjected. Alec frowned.
"Don't shoot it down so fast. I mean-"
"It wouldn't work because the government doesn't know about the Philippines or any of this, and they never will know. They only know that a criminal given the opportunity to work with NCIS to avoid jail time ran away, and unless you want to tell all to dispute that, you're going to remain a wanted criminal. And I know you won't talk."
Alec's eyes narrowed nervously. "What are you saying?"
Gibbs's expression remained cold, but his eyes were somber. "I'm saying that you need to go back with Landon."
Abby and Tony cried out as Ziva's eyebrows flew up in surprise and Tim made to stand.
It felt as if she had been stabbed in the heart. "What? I mean, I'm sure we could work something out."
Landon shook his head. "Government and criminals, kiddo. The two will never get along. They're opposing forces, working for two different goals. The government exists to stop us – they aren't going to change their ways, because that would defy everything they stand for, what they do. We can't ever come to an agreement."
"So she should just leave?" Abby asked unbelievingly.
"Yes," Gibbs replied in a cold, flat voice that made Abby and Alec both flinch. He aimed his look straight at Alec. "Get your things and leave. Now. I'm giving you an hour to leave, and that's being generous. If any of you are still here by then, I'm arresting you all. Got it?"
Tears pricking in her eyes, Alec nodded numbly and all but raced up the stairs to pack her things. She was done in twenty minutes, so desperate was she to leave before she broke down sobbing.
She didn't look back as she left the house, flanked and surrounded by her gang.
None of the members of NCIS looked at her as she left.
Nobody said goodbye.
For a year that moment smarted for Alec. It was a sore that continued to fester because she refused to address it was there. It was Zannen who forced her to talk about it.
They had been at one of Landon's many homes, this one a large estate in Australia. As they watched the rest of the gang fool around in the pool, splashing each other and making a ruckus, the pair sat on recliners by each other and talked.
"He did it for you, you know," Zannen said.
This surprised Alec, because they had previously been discussing a television show they had all taken to watching. "Who did what?"
"Gibbs. The NCIS Idiot. He told you to leave for your sake."
Nobody had spoken about that ordeal since it had occurred, so Alec was more than surprised to hear Zannen suddenly address the subject.
Before she could speak, he continued. "He knew it hurt you to go, but he didn't want to make you choose, so he chose for you. He was protecting you, in a way."
This she had known for quite some while, but she had refused to even think about the events of last year and had not yet acknowledged what she had already subconsciously realized.
"I know," she said in a raw, hoarse voice. "Why are you telling me this?"
He paused for a long, pregnant moment. "I wanted to reconcile that, to get it all off my chest. I didn't want to go into this with any lingering thoughts about the past."
"Go into what?" she asked carefully.
And in that moment, he laid a hand on the edge of her chair to balance himself, leaned forward, and kissed her.
They ignored the whistles and catcalls coming from the pool.
Ten years after the incident with the criminal, as the group at NCIS had come to think of it, something odd happened.
An agent by the name Patterson was bringing in a series of new Probies fresh out of training and ready for their first runs as field agents. Gibbs didn't bother paying attention as Patterson read off the name of the Probie who was assigned to be with his team. He didn't want another member of his team – they worked well together, Tony, McGee, Ziva and himself. They didn't need someone else.
So he didn't think anything of it when he heard Patterson introduce Agent Samantha Phillips, and he ignored the situation when he heard her tell Patterson to just call her Sam.
He did start to pay attention when he caught a glimpse of her through his peripheral vision.
She was of medium height with a sturdy build and white, pale skin that would burn after an hour in the sun. Her hair was a chocolate brown cut into a short, professional bob and her eyes were a dark blue.
But that wasn't what caught his attention. No, what he noticed was when her bangs shifted to reveal a glimpse of a small, thin white scar above one eye and another tucked beneath her right ear, and a few raised marks on her jaw that must have been covered in make-up.
What he noticed was how familiar her face was.
She smiled at Patterson as he bid her goodbye, shaking her head lightly as she did so. He was offering to find her an issue of the Probie book.
"Got my own," she said in a familiar voice, pulling a wrinkled and faded copy of the book in question from an equally ratty messenger bag that had Gibbs's gut doing flips.
When Patterson had left, she turned and looked Gibbs directly in the eyes. The color of her eyes was different, but the look in them was the same.
"Phillips, huh?" he asked with a raised brow.
She nodded, making her hair shift once more. "Of course. That's my name, after all." He may have believed her if it weren't for the huge smile adorning her features. She laid her copy of the Probie Book on her desk – because it was her desk, nobody had ever stopped thinking of it as such – and the front cover flopped open. It was there purposely, as a testament from an agent who had finally returned to the fold.
On the title page in the unmistakable handwriting of one Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo was a warning to the reader and a hangman.
In much fresher ink, someone had added to the drawing. There was another figure next to the hangman, and it had a hand outstretched giving the hangman an unmistakable gesture:
A head slap.
Finally, 'tis over! You will never understand just how good this feels right now. This is one of my longest lasting stories, after all, and from beginning to end is a living testament to how much my writing skills have progressed over time. Alec is a Mary-Sue and not very original, but I'm glad to have been able to realize that and move on from that phase in my writing.
Thank you so much to everybody who has reviewed, favorited, or alerted this story. It means the world to me.
Fare thee well, kind readers,
From your faithful author,