Gibbs loosed a string of expletives as he reacted, jerking the steering wheel to the left with his left hand and unintentionally crushing the cardboard coffee cup he held in his right hand. The liquid inside the cup erupted over the front of his coat as the pickup skidded by behind him, passing within an inch of the crime scene truck's rear bumper. That was his third close call this trip with drivers not adept at handling icy roads.

It should have been a forty five minute drive this time of night. But, it had turned into a trying journey of almost three hours, the delay caused by having to slow for road conditions and the numerous accidents those conditions had caused. Adding to the many aggravations of the drive was the fact that he'd had to make it solo. A virulent flu bug was making the rounds of the Navy Yard. It had left the department working with skeleton crews made up more of probies and TAD temps than pros. The one remaining permanent member of his own team was out and had at least two more days of doctor ordered rest before a return to even light desk duty. After seven unanswered calls, he'd given up trying to find a sub to accompany him to Baltimore.

Gibbs steered the truck onto a side street fogged with the exhaust of two idling vehicles-the NCIS ME's van and a Baltimore PD patrol car. He pulled to the curb and parked, the truck nose to nose with the cruiser. He saw Mallard, sitting beside Gerald in the cab of the van, acknowledge his arrival with a nod of greeting. Gibbs stepped out into the twenty degree midnight air, looked around then walked to the cruiser and knuckle tapped the driver's window. The glass went down and a uniformed officer, about fifty years old and slightly overweight, looked up to him and spoke.

"You the NSI guy in charge?"

"NCIS"

The policeman disregarded the acronym correction and asked again. "Are you lead?"

"Yeah."

"Great. I'm outta here."

The power window rose with no warning, the officer switched gears and the cruiser pulled away. Gibbs took a quick step back onto the sidewalk and whacked the rear quarter panel as it moved past. "Hey!"

The officer ignored both his whack and irate yelp as he drove out of sight.

Ducky appeared at his side. "He'd been waiting, rather impatiently, for you. As had I."

"Traffic's screwed." Gibbs said. He walked past the ME to glance down the alley that was their crime scene, then returned.

"You're alone?" Ducky asked.

"Reyes is still out and nobody answered when I tried calling for a sub."

"Due to caller i.d., I'd wager. I've told you not to use your own phone when you make those calls."

"Where the hell's Baltimore PD? Was he it? One uniform?"

"No. I was told that a Detective Anthony DiNozzo is the lead investigator. Officer Henry greeted me when I arrived, gave what little information he had, then retired to his patrol car. He said there was no identification on the body. Det. DiNozzo, though, did discover a Semper Fi tattoo that led him to believe that our victim was a Marine."

"He had more than that to call us in," Gibbs said.

"One would certainly hope so. You'll have to ask Det. DiNozzo."

"Where is he?"

"There," Ducky pointed to a coffee shop across the street. Through the glass panes that fronted the shop, they could see the only visible occupant other than the female behind the counter. The man sat on a stool across from the woman, his elbows on the counter, leaning in towards her.

"Henry pointed him out to me. Waiting for you, I've spent my time watching him chat up the girl. He's a very animated young man. At one point, he seemed to be impersonating either Frankenstein or a zombie. Or, possibly, a stiff legged sleepwalker. Whatever the context, the young lady seemed highly entertained." Gibbs's already dark expression deepened as he watched DiNozzo and listened to Mallard.

"The body had been moved and the scene compromised before I arrived. So, I didn't wait for you before performing an initial examination. Cause of death appears to be a stab wound in the vicinity of the heart. Approximate time of death will have to wait until I can do temperature configurations."

At that moment, Det. DiNozzo glanced their way and his gaze went to the crime scene truck parked across the street. He said something to the girl that caused her to laugh then left the coffee shop and headed their way. As he stepped up onto the side walk, he extended his hand to Gibbs.

"Detective Tony DiNozzo."

Gibbs ignored DiNozzo's outstretched hand and slightly inclined his head towards the coffee shop across the street.

"That how you work lead on a homicide?"

DiNozzo dropped his hand, raised an eyebrow, cocked his head to one side and squinted at Gibbs. He hesitated a few beats before answering as if considering his response. Then, he smiled a huge smile and spoke.

"Yeah. Yeah, it is."

The detective's sunny countenance stoked Gibbs's already high temper.

"Something funny, DiNozzo?'

"About the situation? No, not at all. Pretty tragic, I'd say, especially so close to Christmas."

"And yet, there you stand, grinning like an idiot."

"Oh yeah. I am smiling. Because, in spite of the situation, I'm a happy man. Because, very soon, me and my idiot grin are off to a nice, warm place with a nice, warm young lady. While you and your bad attitude are stuck out here in the cold. I'm smiling because I don't have to deal with you or this case or the cold much longer. I'm smiling because, this time, I can walk away. Just walk away without having to waste my time in a pissing contest with a-"

"Detective," Ducky interrupted DiNozzo, quickly maneuvering himself so that he was partially in between the two men, halting Gibbs' forward motion with his shoulder. "Officer Henry, before his abrupt departure, could only tell me that you believed our deceased a marine due to his tattoo."

DiNozzo kept his eyes on Gibbs and his smile in place as he answered. "That's right."

"Tell me," Gibbs said, "that you're not such a slack off that you're trying to dump the case over a tattoo."

"Of course I had more than the tattoo! Check out the guy's haircut. It screams 'jarhead'." DiNozzo stopped talking to make a pointed glance at Gibbs's hair before continuing.

"But, for confirmation of the obvious, I took prints and had them run. Lance Corporal David Jenks, active duty, USMC, out of Quantico. His C.O., Captain Roger Hamilton, is unaware of any enemies or underhanded activities. Says you should speak to Staff Sergeant Richard Alvarez who could let you know more about Jenks's friends and personal life."

"There was a quarter inch of snow over him and the scene-all smooth, post mortem, no footprints. I got photos. Not developed yet but not much to see outside of snow. I didn't find anything obviously related. There were a couple of broken long necks; I bagged them along with some cigarette butts and .22 caliber brass. Which, considering the vic was stabbed, kinda clouds the issue. A half-assed sweep, I admit. The crime scene unit's otherwise occupied with a double homicide. But, it's your scene now and you can process it and do a damn fine job of it, I'm sure. I bet you're way better at dumpster diving than I could ever hope to be." DiNozzo paused to deliver another radiant grin.

"Jenks was in the coffee shop across the street, waiting for someone from about 1845 to 1900. She showed up and had some hot chocolate with him then they left together about 1930. The call came in at 2010. His lady friend was a Pamela Lee type, according to the witness, dressed in a long green coat. Debbie, the waitress witness, already washed all the cups and spoons they used. But, she didn't get around to wiping down the booth and table. It's taped off, in the back, if you want to dust it for mystery lady's prints. I would've, but I don't have a dusting kit with me. It was cleaned right before they took it, so theirs should be the only ones."

"I'll type up a quick report, send the film for processing, check-in the evidence. It'll all be waiting for you to pick up. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna slack off on back to the station, get this out of the way and enjoy the rest of the evening." He reached into his coat pocket and pulled out a notepad. "Until you get the official reports, it's all in here." He extended the notebook towards Gibbs.

"Merry Christmas."

Gibbs took the notepad, glaring, without comment. DiNozzo walked backwards his first few departing steps, giving them one more maximum wattage smile before turning on his heel with a dip and a flourish and sauntering to his car. Gibbs looked back towards Ducky and noticed his friend watching him, the corners of his mouth turned up in a small grin. Gibbs scowled and hitched his shoulder as he met Mallard's gaze. Ducky stood silent in the face of Gibbs' scowl, grin in place.

"What?" Gibbs demanded. Ducky's small grin became a wide smile.

"Testing, Jethro. This newfound weapon in the arsenal of coping mechanisms I've acquired through the years against your ill temper. Brilliant in its simplicity. Who would have thought a smile would be so effective?"

"It's not working. And, speaking of working, don't you have some to do?"

"My work here is done. After you've finished your inspection, Gerald and I'll pack up and go. Which leads to a dilemma. Isn't there a rule against an agent attending a crime scene alone?"

Gibbs ignored the question and went to the van for a portable stand lamp and camera. He returned to the scene, set up the lamp and took photos. He hung the camera on the lamp's adjustment dial then crouched down beside the body.

"Pity," Ducky said. "All those times you've fought like a pit bull for absolute control of an investigation. Now, when you're in great need of assistance, there's no one fighting back."

"I can manage."

"Still, surely Baltimore PD could spare one man. Don't you usually have, at the very least, a local liaison?"

"Usually."

"Well, then, call them."

"The liaison would be the lead that caught the case to begin with."

"He seemed competent enough," Ducky said.

"He also seemed a smartass sonofabitch."

"That was your impression, was it? My impression was he reminded me of you at that age. I was remembering the time you first crossed swords with Colonel Carson. I'd say-"

"Bag him," Gibbs's order cut Ducky off mid sentence. He stood. Ducky looked to the ME's van and saw Gerald's attention was on them, watching through the windshield. Mallard motioned to his assistant as if pulling up a zipper. Gerald nodded, left the cab of the van and walked round back to retrieve a body bag.

"As distasteful as the thought is to you of working with Detective DiNozzo," Ducky said, " I'd daresay he'd find the thought of working with you equally, if not even more, distressing. Personality conflict aside, he'd be forced to abandon his much anticipated plans for the evening, thrust back out into this bitter cold."

"Yeah, being dragged back here would really piss him off," Gibbs said.

"Oh, most definitely," Ducky agreed.

"Wipe the smile right off his face," Gibbs said.

Ducky nodded. Gibbs smiled and reached into his coat pocket for the slip he'd filled in when he'd caught the call. He took his cell phone and dialed a number from the form. When the call was answered, he spoke.

"I need to speak to the watch commander for the detective bureau."

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A/N: This story has a sequel, 'Day Four', about the night Tony met Abby.