Not mine. Written for fun, not profit.
Beware outside POVs, falling crossovers, and cryptic Canadians.
The strange thing about the visitor is that no one remembers letting him in, although his name's in the guest book and, were someone to check, he'd be perfectly visible on the security cameras, conversing with a security guard who will later swear that's he's never seen the guy before. On the security tapes he looks overwhelmed, but not terribly worthy of suspicion, and when he steps off the elevator he's not so much a person as a collection of apologetic fidgets - adjusting his large glasses, running his fingers through his blond hair, shifting his weight from foot to foot.
None of these things stop him from approaching Gibbs's desk without a trace of hesitation and clearing his throat in a way that somehow manages to be both polite and very, very authoritative.
That's probably why Gibbs looks up at him in the first place, everyone agrees later.
"This is going to sound kind of weird," the man says. He looks twenty, if that, and is wearing a heavy winter coat despite the relatively warm March weather. "I know someone who needs your help, and he said if he was ever in trouble, that I should come talk to you."
Gibbs keeps looking at him. The rest of the office studiously pretends it isn't eavesdropping.
"My name's Matt," the man says. "My brother's a Marine. He's been missing for five days and I think something happened to him."
"What makes you say that?" Gibbs asks.
Matt looks him in the eye without giving any sign that he's intimidated, which is more than a lot of people can say.
"The bloodstain in his apartment was kind of a clue," he says.
A short while later, the following facts have come to light:
Matt, more formally known as Matthew Williams, is a Canadian citizen who does some kind of consulting work in Ottawa. He tries to explain exactly what, because he's the earnestly helpful sort even when his family is potentially in danger, but after a few minutes everyone's eyes have glazed over. Whatever he does is important, but not terribly interesting. He's not a suspect and that's all anyone cares about.
More importantly, he does in fact have a twin brother in the Marines. Alfred Jones ("Not Williams?" Tony asks a couple times, until Matt looks uncomfortable and mutters something about parents and custody arrangements and messy divorces) grew up in some Nebraska town so small no one can find it in an atlas, enlisted straight out of high school, and has been to Iraq twice. He went on leave six days ago, exactly when Matt says he last heard from him. It's apparently not unusual for Jones to wander off on his own, but - and Matt stresses this - he always lets a friend know first.
Then there's the matter of the apartment.
The bloodstain is exactly as Matt described it, right by the entrance. It's big enough that it's hard to imagine it belongs to anyone still alive, but there's no body, much less one belonging to a big Marine, and no sign of anyone dragging one away. There's nothing missing as far as anyone can determine - even Jones's wallet is sitting on a sideboard next to his keys and a bomber jacket Tony spents a moment coveting when he's sure no one's looking - and there's no sign of forced entry. ("There wouldn't be," Matt says later. "Alfred never locks his door.") Most of the apartment resembles a bachelor pad, albeit a fairly neat one with a handful of old-fashioned black-and-white pictures hanging on the walls and a strange lack of fungal growth and half-empty pizza boxes. Nothing in it gives a clue to where Jones has disappeared to or what happened to him.
There's a strong possibility that he's dead, of course. Especially with the bloodstain. Especially after almost a week.
Matt answers all the questions directed at him with the slightest trace of annoyance, like he's going to chew his brother out when he sees him again.
No one's told him that he might not have a brother anymore.
They get fingerprints from the apartment as a matter of course. They're mostly the same. Open-door apartment or not, Jones doesn't seem to have had many visitors lately.
Abby runs the best ones through her usual database.
Or tries to, anyway.
She stares at the screen open-mouthed, shakes her head, and then runs them again.
Of all the times, she thinks irritably, for the system to get a glitch.
"No one on the base could think of anyone who would want to hurt him," Ziva says as she returns from questioning assorted Marines. They're probably still sitting where she left them, happy to be alive and not quite sure why. "He can't have had many enemies."
"Or many friends." McGee's sifting through Jones's electronics. His cell phone account is less than a year old and has almost never been used. The emails he gets seem to mostly be from his brother and a few acquaintances in the Marines, all innocuous. There's no significant other that anyone can find. No estranged children. No parents. Not even a pet goldfish. Jones's life is so squeaky-clean that he's either hiding something or forgot that he was supposed to have a life at all, and no one's quite sure which one it is yet.
Gibbs keeps frowning at the picture on the office screen. It's from Jones's military ID. The man's supposed to be in his mid-twenties, but just like Matt, he seems much younger. He looks like he wants to smile at the photographer and has to work very hard not to - like the type of person who should have a dozen people over every night for beer and football, who'd leave his door unlocked because he thinks the best of people.
Everyone on the case has taken a liking to the young man they've never met. Not that any of them would ever admit it, even to each other.
That's what the Marines said, Ziva could confirm for them.
Jones was - is - hard to get along with. He's even harder to hate.
"Why didn't you go to the police?" Gibbs asks Matt. They're sitting in an interrogation room for lack of a more convenient space.
"I told you," Matt says. "Alfred told me to talk to you if he was ever in trouble."
"NCIS has to work with the police sometimes."
Matt stares at him blankly for a moment, before comprehension seems to dawn.
"No," he says. "No, no, no. Not like that."
Gibbs frowns at him.
"Alfred didn't want me to talk to NCIS," Matt says. "He wanted me to talk to you."
Abby tests the blood found at the scene and compares it to Matt's. It matches well enough to belong to Jones.
She tries to run the fingerprints again. Then she gives up and summons McGee.
He's never seen that kind of glitch either.
Gibbs remembers meeting someone a long time ago - Army, liked to talk even when no one was in the mood to listen, glasses, non-regulation haircut, the sort of personality that would smile in an ID picture.
He liked Marines. Said they made him feel more patriotic.
Without explanation, Gibbs asks Ziva if Jones has an older brother.
He does, it turns out - a half-brother; strange family tree - but the man lives in London and always has, and the resemblance is superficial at best.
Gibbs tries to put the matter out of his head.
Seven days after the last sighting of Alfred Jones, Tony figures out why the little Nebraska town isn't in an atlas, or on Google Maps for that matter.
"It doesn't exist," he says. "Ghost town. Jones's grandpa might've lived there, but not him."
After that the case comes tumbling down, each uncovered discrepency hinting at three more. Alfred Jones never went to high school, or at least not to the high school that supposedly issued the diploma found in his apartment. (Although a very confused school secretary examines a faxed copy and admits that it certainly looks like they made it.) There's no record of him earning his Eagle Scout badges. There's no bank account receiving his nonexistent paychecks. There's no sign that he ever enlisted, much less completed basic training. There's no Social Security number. There's not even a birth certificate.
It's as if he popped into existence somewhere during his first flight to Iraq.
Gibbs has the director alert Homeland Security to a highly unusual and possibly serious security breach.
The Secretary of Defense thanks NCIS for their time and then tells them to leave Jones, whoever he is, well enough alone.
There's an amusing blurb on the local evening news, about some robber being frog-marched around the DC area to apologize to his victims.
For some reason it reminds Ducky's mother of a charming American soldier she met at a dance during the war.
He listens to the story thirteen times that evening and counts his blessings. Yesterday all she wanted to talk about was professional wrestling.
"I told you," Matt says. "We haven't lived together since we were little. I have no idea where Alfred grew up."
"And if we checked your records," Ziva says, "I wonder what we would find."
Matt shifts in his seat, looking trapped.
"Who are you?" she asks.
There's a long silence, and then Matt sighs like he wants to slide under the table. "You wouldn't believe me if I told you. Ask one of your friends in Mossad."
Each word drags out of him reluctantly, but Ziva hardly notices. It's all she can do not to stare at him. That wasn't a bluff or a stab in the dark. She knows how to read people, is an expert at it, and if she knows one thing about Matt with absolute certainty, it's that he can't lie to save his life.
She tries to ask her question again, but she's rattled, even if no one watching her would ever be able to tell. What comes out is, "What are you?"
Matt smiles, kind and nervous, and looks like he would rather be anywhere else. But she hasn't scared him, Ziva realizes. She's not sure she can scare him.
"I'm Alfred's brother," he says.
In his mind, that seems to explain everything.
Abby turns a piece of evidence over in her hands. It's an old framed print of Abraham Lincoln. There's a note attached to the back of it. The tape's yellow with age and the ink and paper look decades older, but she can still read it just fine.
Be more careful with the next one.
She'd swear up, down, and sideways that the handwriting matches the samples they know belong to Jones.
This case is starting to give her the heebie-jeebies.
She looks up in time to see McGee slam the phone down. They've been calling administrators and programmers all day, getting nothing helpful in return. She's tried running other fingerprints. The databases work perfectly for them.
The glitch keeps happening anyway.
"Time to call Gibbs?" McGee asks.
She puts down the picture, makes an incoherent sound, and throws her hands up in defeat.
"Time to call Gibbs," McGee says.
The apologetic robber - because the local media can't figure out what else to call him - finally gives up and throws himself on the mercy of law enforcement. In his mug shot, he doesn't look dangerous so much as relieved.
By the next morning someone's put out a sketch of the would-be victim who decided to haul him all over the city. The police can't condone vigilante justice, no matter how hilarious.
Tony stares at the sketch for a good minute before he realizes his mouth is hanging open.
"Oh. Oh, no way."
No one sees how Matt gets himself out of the locked interrogation room. No one even sees him leave the building, although he's once again perfectly clear on the security cameras and even stops to wave goodbye.
Sometime later, someone thinks to mention this to the Canadian government.
Yes, they're told, he does that. One gets used to it.
"I don't get it," Abby says. "I can understand why this guy's fingerprints wouldn't get any matches, but why does he match the whole database?"
In the end, NCIS doesn't really find Alfred Jones, at least not before Alfred Jones finds Gibbs's beer.
The missing Marine is sitting in Gibbs's basement, making appreciative noises at the latest boat - which now has "100% AWESOME" scrawled on it, not that anyone's noticed that yet. He's wearing his jacket over his button-up shirt, which probably means that his keys and wallet and all the rest of his personal belongings are long-gone from Evidence as well.
"You don't look any older," Gibbs says, which may or may not be short for "What the hell are you doing in my house?"
Jones grins at him. If there had been any doubts that he and the Army man are one and the same (and there weren't any) this would have erased them.
"Sorry," he says. "Just had someone I needed to straighten out. Teach him the error of his ways and all that. Matt overreacted."
"That was a lot of blood in your apartment."
"Tell me about it. My security deposit's shot." His shirt is spotless, but there's a bullet hole in the fabric, right over his heart. "Glad to know he'd do it, though."
"My brother. He's got his own list. Lots of French names I can't pronounce." Alfred fiddles with the beer he hasn't actually opened yet. "And I've got mine. If I'm really in trouble, you're one of the people he's gonna come and get."
Gibbs doesn't say "One of?" - but he does say "Me?" in an appropriately sardonic way.
Jones shrugs, still smiling.
"You seemed like a good Marine," he says. "That's a good enough reason for me."
Homeland Security swoops in to take over Jones's case, what little is left of it. No one's happy about that, but an order directly from the Secretary of Defense is hard to argue with. No one wants to guess who Jones really is - not even Gibbs, who knows that the better question begins with "what."
As is often the case when there aren't any bodies to deal with, Ducky hears about the whole mess several different times, because sooner or later everyone comes to gripe or chatter at him. It sounds horribly convoluted, and all in all it makes him decide he likes his particular part of NCIS just that much more.
Things are so much less complicated down here.
In the interests of professionalism and family duty, he waits until he's home and has settled his mother in front of one of those old war movies she's become inexplicably fascinated with before he makes an international call.
"Ah, Arthur. I have a bit of a story for you."