Title: Marine Knots

Genre: Crossover (NCIS/Dresden Files book series)

Author: PaBurke and FaithDaria

Rating: PG-15 for innuendo, violence, and gore

Spoilers: Only up to Season 4 of NCIS (totally ignoring anything from Season 5) White Night of Dresden Files

Summary: Thomas goes to Washington, D.C. and is framed for murder. He calls the only person he knows that can get him out of this mess. Or, alternately, the 'Harry and Thomas' show goes to D.C.

Author's Note: This was written for sncross-bigbang.

Jethro Gibbs strode through the dark and mostly deserted offices. Most teams were either out working on a case or had decided to go home for the night. Ziva was still at her desk, as was McGee. They were both running from something and trying to keep busy.

"Where's DiNozzo?"

Ziva smirked. "Probably out with his girlfriend."

"Call him," Gibbs ordered. "We have a case."

His team obediently picked up their backpacks and waited as Gibbs retrieved his gun and badge. He tossed the keys to McGee. Ziva was already on the phone and, by the sound of it, was leaving a voice mail.

"He hasn't been too good at returning calls when he's out with Jeanne," ventured McGee.

"Have Abby call him every five minutes until he picks up. Ducky's already on his way."

"Sure thing, boss."

Gibbs' team joined him on the elevator. "What's the case?" Ziva asked.

"A dead marine at a senatorial fundraiser on Capitol Hill for people from the Mid-West."

McGee wrinkled his nose. "Turf war?"

"Turf war," agreed Gibbs.

"Turf war," Ziva asked.

McGee explained the situation. "It happened on Secret Service territory. It's going to involve people across state lines, so the FBI will be there."

"But it's a dead marine," protested Ziva.

"That's why we're going," Gibbs said.

The trip to the scene of the crime passed quickly. It was easy to see where the party had been; there were lights flashing and suited people everywhere. They were interviewing glittering politicians and aides. McGee parked and followed Gibbs to the middle of the melee. Fernell was in the middle. He offered Gibbs a nod and mostly ignored the other NCIS agents.

He stepped into the center of their group to hide from observing eyes. "It's a mess, Jethro. Everyone wants it done quickly, but it's yours if you want it."

Gibbs blinked. "Why?"

"The victim had recently come out of the closet and was back from a tour. Purple Heart. He was telling everyone of the accomplishments the US has had in Iraq. It doesn't matter who did it or why, it's going to be used for someone's agenda and the investigators are going to be scapegoats. There're too many news reporters attending. The woman who found the body got hysterical and yelled at the top of the lungs that there was a dead marine out on the alcove. It's not going to go away quietly."

"We'll take it."

Fernell nodded. He had expected as much. He jerked his head toward a graying man in a suit. "Bingham was in charge of security. He has the camera footage from the building cameras. My men are collecting as much of the news footage as possible, but we're sure that at least one tape made it past our block and will be on the news within the hour."

"McGee, find the body and Ducky. Get pictures and sketches. Ziva, collect the interviews from the FBI. Re-interview anyone you deem fit." Gibbs was already walking toward the Secret Service agent. "And call DiNozzo. I want him here now!"

McGee had his phone out on his way inside. After leaving an urgent message on Tony's voice mail, he found Ducky and Jimmy in an alcove taking the core temperature of a male marine in dress blues. He still had the haircut, the tan and the calluses from service overseas. He had a single wound to the chest cavity and there was a lot of blood. This was definitely the scene of the crime, not the dump site. McGee guessed that the victim was relatively good-looking for a guy. McGee took pictures of the hands (no defensive wounds, but the left was bloody and the right had the Marine's ring from graduating basic), the uniform (so that Abby could study the blood spatter), the shoes (there was blood on them and on the soles.) Had he stepped in his own blood before going down? McGee took a picture of every blood spatter that he could find in the alcove.

He was about to put away the camera and get out the sketchpad when Ducky said, "You missed some, Timothy." Ducky was pointing to a tile that he was deliberately Inot/I standing on.

McGee obediently took those pictures and then stepped back and looked at the big picture. "How many gawkers stepped in blood, you suppose?"

Ducky snorted in disgust. He hated it when people interfered with crime scenes. "Numerous, I'm sure. We don't even know if this is the position that he died in. He's been dead less than an hour and the blood hasn't had a chance to pool."

"Less than an hour?" McGee looked out on the busy yard and visually swept the alcove again. "And everyone's already here? Why didn't they try to send him to the hospital, or stop the bleeding? I don't see any indication that someone tried to staunch the bleeding. And for this response time, the first witness must have walked in immediately after the crime."

"Someone must have declared him dead," Jimmy said. He winced and hid slightly when McGee and Ducky looked at him. "Possibly?"

"You are absolutely correct, Palmer," Ducky agreed. "He probably would not have survived the trip to the hospital, but nobody Itried/I."

McGee flipped out his phone and texted Ziva. He warned her to ask about the body position when each witness first saw it, if they –or anyone else- moved it and why no one thought to call the paramedics instead of the coroner, and to check shoes for blood.

Ziva acknowledged that she had received the message with a simple, 'rgr.'

McGee sketched out the locations of all the blood. When he walked around Ducky and Palmer to the rail, he noticed more blood. It was on the rail itself and running down the supports. McGee took a picture and then, carefully avoiding the blood, leaned over the rail to see what was below. He saw landscaped bushes and flowers, but nothing reflected back up to him.

Ducky stood at his side. His eyes followed the blood trail. "It is possible that the assailant threw it down there to retrieve later."

"Yes," McGee agreed. "But it is also possible that someone else –either purposefully protecting the assailant or wanting a souvenir –tossed it down."

"I'll stand here and watch while you investigate," said Ducky.

"Thanks." McGee took the camera and the sketch pad and raced downstairs and out the door. He dodged the men in suits who were loitering, or interviewing, or corralling the news people. He saw Ziva collecting shoes from angry, expensively dressed people. It was a good thing that NCIS was in charge of the investigation. They would not be influenced to abandon or ignore any clues, no matter who it annoyed. Gibbs was walking with Bingham with security tapes in hand. Gibbs motioned McGee over.

McGee was torn and shook his head. Gibbs joined him to the bushes on the side of the building. "Are you done already?" Gibbs barked.

"No. I've got to take luminescence and a black light to the tiles leading away from the body, to see if there is a trail."

"Then why are you down here?"

McGee pointed to Ducky directly overhead. "It looks like the murder weapon was dropped off the side."

Gibbs nodded. "Good possibility. DiNozzo call yet?"

"No, boss."

Gibbs grunted but wandered away to help Ziva collect interviews and shoes. McGee waited until Gibbs was out of hearing range to call Tony yet again. Still no answer, McGee left a stressed message on voice mail. McGee put away his phone and took out his flashlight and camera. He searched the bushes and flowers. Then he took a step back and searched the wood chips. He couldn't even find a drop of blood. If the murder weapon had been still dripping up in the alcove, there should be Isome/I blood down here somewhere. There wasn't even an indication that the woodchips and the plants had been disturbed recently. So it didn't look like an accomplice caught the murder weapon. He recorded the lack of evidence with the camera.

Where did the murder weapon go?

"Anything, Timothy?" Ducky called down.

"Nothing." His frustration must have shown on his face.

Gibbs returned with two young FBI agents. "These two will search down here and keep an eye out for anyone suspicious," he ordered. "Get back up there and finish that part of the job."

Timothy nodded. "Sure thing, boss."

McGee was nearly finished with the luminescence and the camera when Gibbs strode through the now empty reception hall with the NCIS laptop.

"You done?"

McGee thought through it. "Until Ducky and Palmer move the body."

"Good." Gibbs handed McGee the computer and the security footage. "Make this play so that I can interview people intelligently."

McGee efficiently set up the computer on a nearby table. He returned to work while Gibbs studied the security.

"McGee," Gibbs called out.

In short order, McGee was at Gibbs' elbow.

"Which one is the victim?" he waved a hand at the screen.

There weren't many options. Only three marines in dress blues were pictured. It was easy to pick out… "Ducky! What is your patient's name?"

"Staff Sergeant Terrance Miller," Ducky called back.

McGee pointed to the screen. "That's him." The security camera had caught Miller chatting with another dark-haired, well-proportioned man on the outskirts of a larger group of women. The second man kept backing away from Miller, shaking his head. Finally, one of the women came to the second man's rescue, latching onto the man's arm. Miller looked disappointed but had wandered away. The NCIS agents watched Miller chat with various other attendees. Then without warning –and near the time of Ducky's estimated time-of-death, Miller broke away from a conversation to walk over to the alcove.

McGee leaned over Gibbs to rewind the footage to see if Miller had followed anyone into the alcove. Sure enough, the man that had turned Miller down before had just stepped out for a breath of fresh air. Gibbs and McGee re-watched Miller walk out to the alcove. A few minutes later, the dark-haired man walked out of the alcove alone. He didn't move hurriedly or look around suspiciously. He rejoined the group of women he had previously hung with. He had his back to the alcove where Miller had died. After speaking with two different women, he obviously made his excuses and left. The door had barely closed on the dark-haired man when a petite female glided out to the alcove. Then all heads turned to the alcove; the woman must have yelled.

Gibbs paused the footage, frowning.

McGee was just as confused. "He's either one cool customer, or he didn't do it."

"He's not a professional either," Gibbs added. "They would have taken care of security."

"Is it just me, or is this too easy?"

"It's too easy." Gibbs pointed at the screen. "Magnify the picture of the guy's face. I want to know who he is."

McGee obeyed with a few keystrokes. Soon, McGee had the man's face enlarged to fill the whole screen. He tilted his head. How would he describe this man in a book? About thirty, no obvious birthmarks, right at six feet tall and classically beautiful. He vacillated between Michelangelo's David and a porn star, depending on whether he was trying to blend in or flirting with someone. He was sculpted and he was wearing a shirt too bright and too tailored to be strictly straight. McGee noticed that he couldn't see any blood or dark spots on the man's clothing. Gibbs snatched the laptop and walked out of the reception area to question witnesses.

McGee returned to his task of finding and photographing the spots of blood that had been tracked by the gawkers. Then Ducky and Palmer wheeled a black bag on a gurney out of the alcove. McGee finished the job there as well in a timely manner. The blood had smeared under the Staff Sergeant, but there was a lot of it there. McGee peeked over the rail to check on the two FBI agents that Gibbs had assigned. They were still there, but they weren't searching anymore. The woodchips were definitely disturbed now. The plants and the bushes had lost some leaves or flowers. The change in the landscaping was obvious from before. McGee was more convinced than ever that no one had been down there to retrieve the missing weapon.

Satisfied that he had canvassed the murder scene, McGee joined the rest of the NCIS team outside. Gibbs had sent most of the people home. The FBI agents were firmly escorting busybodies and reporters off the premises. Ziva had a group of women separated and was trying to get them to answer questions. She had the NCIS laptop in hand with a picture of the obvious suspect. McGee recognized them as the same women that had hung with 'Porn Star David' during the party. To a woman, they were all vehemently insisting that 'Toe-moss' could not have possibly been involved in the murder.

Gibbs arrived at the little group about the same time McGee did. Ziva had lost control of the questioning and was looking flustered and frustrated.

"Introduce me," Gibbs commanded Ziva as he took the laptop away from her and handed it to McGee.

Most of the women responded favorably to Gibbs' authoritative presence, backed down and quieted. One, probably the eldest female there, stood up straighter and crossed her arms over her chest. Gibbs addressed her and only her.

"I am Special Agent Jethro Gibbs. I believe that you are Ms. Lewinski, campaigning for Illinois' congressional seat."

"I am." Ms. Lewinski was flattered to be recognized but tried not to be. Which was wise; Gibbs had probably read the information from Ziva's notes.

"I presume that you are from Chicago?"

"I am."

McGee quietly moved out of eyesight of most of the women and sat down within earshot of the conversations. He opened the laptop and hoped that this part of Capitol Hill was wired for wireless. It was. With a slight grin sent Gibbs' way, he started searching the Internet for clues about 'Toe-moss.'

"And these women are your staff?"

"For the most part."

"Was Thomas part of your staff as well?"

Lewinski glared at Gibbs, trying to figure out whether or not she should answer. McGee found Lewinski's website and browsed through, looking for names of assistants. He didn't find anyone named Thomas. He shook his head at Gibbs and knew that Gibbs saw the hint.

"Is Thomas a close personal friend?" Gibbs tried again.

Lewinski sniffed. "Toe-moss came as a personal favor to me and my staff. He prefers the other gender for 'close friends.'"

"Did he know Staff Sergeant Miller before this engagement?"

"I don't believe so."

"But they talked."

"Staff Sergeant Miller was looking for a date. Thomas is faithful to his Ifriend/I in Chicago. Thomas tried to let him down gently."

"What did Staff Sergeant talk to Thomas about?"

Lewinski waved a hand. "The usual; job, family, home, Ifriends/I."

"Did the Staff Sergeant seem to be intimidating Thomas?"

A woman on the side sniffed. "It takes more than testosterone to intimidate Thomas. Nothing fazes him; he had more experience refusing dates than most people have accepting them."

"Did Thomas' answers seem rushed or inaccurate in any way?"

Lewinski thought about it. "No, he talked about his sisters, recently immigrating from France and starting his shop in Chicago."

"Do you know where his citizenship is?"

"Here," a woman in the back piped up.

McGee started cross-referencing immigrants from France in Chicago.

"And the name of his shop?" Gibbs asked in the same easy tone of voice as before.

"Coiffure Cup," another woman added.

Bingo. McGee abandoned the previous search to find the owner or proprietor of the Coiffure Cup of Chicago. And it matched their information: Thomas Raith. The shop was a salon/coffee shop. Lewinski had brought along a hairdresser for herself and her team. McGee would let Abby explain to Gibbs why. He was not going to be able to understand.

Ziva suddenly appeared at McGee's side and dropped her notepad on the keyboard. Right on top was written Lisa Lewinski. A quick glance and McGee knew she was staying at the Hotel Monolith. The real question now was, was their register online?

Nope, or rather Hotel Monolith's guest list was not available without some serious hacking. He pointed to a phone number on Monolith's website and Ziva punched it into her cell as she walked away. Depending on how closed-lip the administration was, NCIS might need a warrant to get the guest list. McGee e-mailed Abby. She could make the phone calls clearing up the legalities without anyone eavesdropping.

As Gibbs fished for more information, McGee searched the internet. He found evidence of Raith's passport and US citizenship. He found Raith's credit card, which had some unique store purchases on it. He also found the bank accounts. While McGee could not see the actual transactions, he did find out that one of Raith's accounts was shared with a 'Harry Dresden.'

"McGee," Gibbs barked.

McGee hurried to shut down the computer and followed his boss and Ziva to the NCIS car. McGee got into the car that Gibbs was driving and Ziva pulled out the keys for the evidence van.

"Are we going to the Hotel Monolith?" McGee ventured.

"I don't know, McGee. Are we?"

"Did Ziva confirm that Raith was staying there?"

"Wraith, Elf Lord?" Gibbs raised an eyebrow.

McGee managed not to flush. "R-A-I-T-H, Raith. According to what I was able to piece together, Thomas Raith emigrated from France six months ago and set up shop in Chicago."

"Shop?"

"A salon-slash-coffee shop, hence the name the Coiffure Cup. He's a hairdresser by trade."

Gibbs grunted.

McGee assumed that was a hint to continue. "I couldn't find much. My French is sketchy, you'll have to get Ziva to read his background. He owns the shop free-n-clear; paid it off in a couple of months. Both his shop and his apartment are in the ritzier part of town. He doesn't have any weapons registered. He doesn't have a police record. And I don't think he owns a car –his place is within walking distance from his shop. He did recently file for an insurance payout for a boat that was subjected to arson. The police really don't think he set it himself and he had some witnesses to back up his story. He doesn't belong to any clubs that I could find. He does share one bank account with a Harry Dresden."

"Who's Dresden?"

"I don't know yet."

Gibbs grunted again, but McGee had nothing to add. The young agent was very glad when they arrived at the Hotel Monolith. Even with Gibbs not mad at him, the silence was oppressive. They got out of the car and waited for Ziva. She had made the stop for the legal papers, just in case. Within a very short period of time, the Israeli drove into the parking lot. The three agents walked up to the front desk and flashed their badges. McGee watched as Ziva and Gibbs played bad-cop-worse-cop. He wished that he had timed how long it took before the management succumbed and handed over the electronic key to Raith's suite.

The good news was that, according to their records and the computer tracking of the rooms, Raith was in his suite as he had been since thirty minutes after the murder. He had even called down for a little wine and fruit from room service at eleven. He had opened the door to receive it. He had even talked the maid delivering it into a quick trim, which she adored.

Gibbs asked for a lay-out of the hotel. There were two sets of stairs and two elevators near Raith's door. McGee knew that Tony was being cursed mentally. Gibbs nodded toward the stairs leading from the main lobby and McGee was thankful that Raith was only on the fourth floor of this twenty floor monstrosity. Gibbs and Ziva would each take an elevator up. McGee obeyed his orders. By the third floor, he was thanking God for all the time he had invested in his personal trainer.

Gibbs was waiting for him at the top –of course, a place like this would not have slow elevators. Gibbs peaked out the door to keep an eye on Raith's entrance and McGee assumed that Ziva mirrored Gibbs in the other stairwell. Gibbs watched McGee's even breathing and nodded with approval. "You good?"

McGee un-holstered his gun. "Yes."

Gibbs signaled to Ziva and the three congregated outside Raith's door. Gibbs used the electronic key and the three slid inside.

"Federal Agents," Gibbs announced.

The main room of the suite was sparkling. A chair was obviously where Raith did all his work. He had his clippers and combs precisely laid out on a side table. He had his hair products laid out on another table. It was all very orderly if a little make-shift. The agents cleared the room and then cleared the bathroom, which resembled the main room. The door to the bedroom was firmly closed.

Gibbs nodded to Ziva. She opened the door and Gibbs swept in.

And very nearly tripped on Raith's bloody clothes.

Gibbs opened the door for the other two and they slid it. There was a body-shaped lump on the bed. Ziva hurried to the far side of the room and McGee stood at the foot of the bed. They had to step over clothes and towels and a general mess. Raith's luggage was in the corner, half empty. He was living out of it.

"Thomas Raith," Gibbs said loudly. "You are under arrest."

A groan, the lump moved. A hand lowered the blanket and a rumpled –and confused- Thomas peaked out. McGee immediately was reminded of his private nickname: Porn Star David, and from Ziva's sudden intake of breath, she agreed.

Thomas looked startled. He spoke in French, "Qui êtes-vous? Pourquoi êtes-vous dans ma chambre à coucher? Et sont-ils ces pistolets?"

"Thomas Raith?" Gibbs asked.

Thomas nodded slowly, "Oui? Pourquoi êtes-vous ici?"

"Get up," Gibbs ordered. "You are under arrest for the murder of Terrance Miller."

Thomas was surprised and startled and incredulous all at once. "Qui? Que dites-vous?"

Ziva answered in his own language. "Vous êtes en état d'arrestation pour le massacre de Miller."

"Je n'ai pas assassiné n'importe qui," Thomas protested. "Je suis juste un coiffeur."

"Raith," Gibbs ordered. "Get your hand out from under that pillow and stand up, or we'll shoot."

Raith looked at his pillow as if it had suddenly appeared.

"Lentement," Gibbs warned. McGee was reminded that Gibbs and the director had worked undercover in Paris. Gibbs was probably as fluent as Ziva in French. McGee should learn another language. If nothing else, he would be able to use it in his writing.

Raith slowly moved his hand out from under the pillow. He raised them and the blanket fell to his waist. Of course, he was bare-chested. Ziva had to tear her eyes away from Raith's body and that unnerved McGee. Ziva was still in mourning for the nuclear scientist. McGee saw a silver glint of a necklace. Was that a pentacle charm?

"Tenez," Gibbs ordered.

Raith swung his legs out from under the covers and then stopped. He was staring at the bloody pile of clothes at Gibbs' feet. He turned white as the satin sheet he was under. "Sacre bleu. Est-il ce sang? Sur ma chemise?" He finally switched over to thickly-accented English. "Blood will stain it." Then, as if he realized how that sounded, he hurried to explain. "It was not like that last night, je jure."

"You'll get your chance to explain, Raith. Now stand and keep your hands on your head."

Raith obeyed. He was nude. McGee flushed red and even Ziva had a little color in her cheeks. Gibbs rolled his eyes. He grabbed Raith's elbow and pushed him into the wall. "McGee, get him some clothes," he demanded dryly. McGee was glad to have something to do.

"Don't I get a phone call," asked Raith.

"As soon as you get to NCIS."

xxx

It was still dark when I got back to my apartment, but the eastern edge of the sky was a slightly lighter shade of gray. I had taken Molly out on a hunt for a missing child fae, a favor for the Summer Lady, and it had taken longer than expected. Then I had received a half hour lecture from Charity on the merits of returning her daughter before the clock read 3 am, and why my continued existence would hang on developing this ability. It took me a moment to remember how to get past my wards, and slightly longer to get the door open. I nodded to Mouse and Mister, kicked off my shoes, and fell across the bed to sleep the blissful sleep of a job well done. And that was when the phone rang.

It took me four rings to find the thing, and by then I was too exhausted to do anything but mumble a hello into the receiver.

"Harry?" The voice was so tentative that it took a second to register that I was talking to my supremely confident half-brother. The French accent thick enough to remind me of a Monty Python sketch added a degree of difficulty as well.

"Thomas? What's wrong?"

There was a pause, long enough that my own mental processes began to catch up. Pre-dawn phone calls were never good. Well, anything happening before dawn was usually a bad thing, but phone calls especially. They typically meant one of two things, and since my brother was obviously still alive, that only left . . .

"I'm in jail." There was a note of misery in his voice that was not entirely fake. The prospect of being locked away from his clients - and the energy they provided - for any length of time was undoubtedly unpleasant.

"What happened?"

"They said I killed someone. A Marine working at the fundraiser."

"And did you?"

"No! I've been set up! And Harry, I'm afraid what will happen to me here. I shouldn't have come to Washington." The flamboyant Toe-moss voice dropped a notch. "I miss the things in the apartment. No one here understands what I need."

"I'll take care of it. Is there anything else you need to tell me?"

"Only things I can tell you in person," his voice purred.

I rolled my eyes. Toe-moss was obviously performing for an attentive audience. "I'll leave right away."

"Be careful, Harry. This isn't a safe place for people like us."

I snorted, hit the button, and immediately dialed Murphy. She was only slightly more chipper than I had been to answer the phone at 4:30 in the morning, and interrupted me twice while I filled her in on the situation. After I was done, she was silent for a split second. "You realize this is a trap, right?"

"No, Murph, really?"

"Not for Thomas, dummy. For you. Someone is trying to lure you away from Chicago."

"Well, it's working."

"What kind of backup are you taking?"

"Thomas will be there."

"He'll be in jail. And speaking of that, what's your plan when you get to DC?"

"Get him out of jail."

"And how do you plan to do that?"

I thought about that for a minute. "Set the building on fire?"

"That sounds like a Harry plan."

"It has an elegant simplicity."

"It'll probably get you both killed." There was a sigh that I couldn't quite interpret on her end of the line. "I'll fly down and meet you there."

"You don't want to ride with me?"

"A twelve hour road trip in the Beetle, in September? No, thank you."

I grimaced. "It's more like fifteen. Assuming it doesn't break down on the way."

"Always assuming that. Stop by my house and pick up a few things that I can't take on the plane."

"Sure thing. I'll be by in an hour or so." I smiled, knowing she'd probably hear it in my voice. "Thank you, Karrin."

She hung up the phone, and I hit the button and called one more number. Thankfully, Charity didn't answer the phone at the Carpenter house or I would have been subjected to another discourse, complete with death threats. I spoke to my apprentice briefly, and then began collecting what I might need for my jaunt to the nation's capitol. Mister went out for an early morning ramble, and Mouse, seeing that I was leaving on a car trip, gathered his leash and waited by the door hopefully.

"You're staying here with Molly," I told him, and let him out to visit his designated area of the yard. I tramped down to the lab and packed up a few things that I might need but would be difficult to find in DC, and tossed Bob in his backpack, more because I didn't trust him alone with the padawan than because I would need him. He would be riding in the trunk, where I wouldn't have to talk to him across four states. A person can only take so much Bob in a day.

When I felt reasonably organized, I took the first load of weapons out to the Beetle and began loading up the trunk. The car rocked as I closed it, and I looked up to see Mouse sitting in the backseat. I sighed and pointed at the open door. "Out."

He looked at me with calm patience and remained exactly where he was. I took a step closer and spotted his food and water dishes on the floor of the backseat, with his leash next to them. "C'mon, Mouse, out of the car."

At this point he stretched out and lay down across the backseat. "Mouse, I am not riding in a car with you for fifteen hours. Let's go!"

Mouse closed his eyes and continued ignoring me. I studied the logistics of removing the very large dog from the very small car, and came to the conclusion that there was nothing to be done, short of setting him on fire. Which, granted, I was very good at, but this was my dog and not an abandoned building. Besides, if Mouse wanted to come along, he probably thought I would need him.

"Fine. You can stay," I growled. Mouse didn't open his eyes, but his tail thumped against the seat. I closed the car door and wished for coffee.

Molly pulled up in her father's beat-up truck as I was finishing up the packing. "Are we going on a car trip, boss?"

"I'm going on a car trip. You're going to watch out for Chicago while I'm gone." I handed her the supernatural who's who notebook I'd been putting together for just such an occasion.

"By myself?" She looked a little anxious at the thought.

"There's a list of contacts in the book. Check in with IOrdo Lebes/I, and answer the office phones during the day, just like you have been. If it looks like something nasty is coming down, you can call and I'll come through the Nevernever. But it's September, and bad things rarely start in September." Of course, now I had just jinxed all of Chicago and the magical entities would be coming out of the woodwork, but there was no need to tell my apprentice that. "And whatever you do, don't let anyone else touch the notebook. It's warded against anyone else."

"So why are you leaving town?"

I sighed and rubbed the bridge of my nose. Molly didn't know that Thomas and I were brothers. It seemed safest to keep the people who knew to a bare minimum. So I could hardly tell her that I was going to bail my half-brother out of jail.

"It's complicated," I finally said. "A friend of mine is in trouble."

"And you're going by yourself?"

I glared. My apprentice was getting to know me too well. "Murphy's meeting me. You can call her cell if there's trouble. And Mouse is riding along."

"Sergeant Murphy is leaving too?" Now she definitely sounded worried.

"You have Billy and the Werewolves, your dad is in town, and if it's truly an emergency and you can't get ahold of me, call Carlos." I got in the car, and Mouse opened his eyes and sat up. "Don't forget to feed Mister." The Beetle started up with only a slight moan of protest, and I was on my way.

I had three stops to make before I left Chicago, and the first was most important: Gas up the car and get coffee. With coffee in my system, I probably wouldn't engage in any road rage on the way. Probably. Thomas' place was next on the list, and I left Mouse to guard the car while I headed upstairs with an empty duffel bag. I rooted through the mess and came up with his cavalry saber, sawed-off shotgun, and a few other nasty-looking things that he wouldn't have been able to get onto an airplane. The security guy gave me a dirty look as I left, but I had written authorization to get into Toe-moss' apartment, so there wasn't much he could do.

I stopped at Murphy's place on my way out of town, and we loaded up her weapons trunk and suitcase so she wouldn't have to check anything at the airport. She raised an eyebrow when she saw Mouse sitting in the backseat. "You're taking your dog with you? Now I'm really glad I'm flying."

"He wouldn't let me leave him behind," I sighed. "Literally."

"It's going to make it hard to find a hotel in DC," she warned as she reached through the window and scratched him behind the ears.

"Can't be helped. Where do you want to meet up?"

"There's this coffeehouse called Charlie's off I 270, exit 1, just before you get into the city."

"See you there."

xxx

Gibbs directed Raith through NCIS to one of the interrogation rooms. He put Agent Lee in charge of the suspect's paperwork and his law-permitted phone call. He ground his teeth as DiNozzo still didn't answer his phone. He recruited Agent Graham to watch Lee's back as Gibbs ran down to Abby's lab. She was on the phone as he walked through the glass doors.

McGee was on the other end of the speakerphone. "Please Abby? Check and see if Gibbs is in interrogation."

"He's not," the person in question announced.

"Oh, good. I'm sending you some pictures that will interest you."

Abby pointed at the color copier. "They're already printing."

"Explain them to me."

"I assume that you're looking at the murder weapon?"

"Yes."

"That was found in Raith's pile of clothes. It's definitely human blood. Abby will need time to match blood and Ducky will need to confirm that it's the right size and shape."

"Why does the next picture have the murder weapon cleaned?" Gibbs interrupted.

"I'll get to that. One thing you should know about the murder weapon: it doesn't have fingerprints. It's a different knife from the next picture. That one was well hidden in a cut in the bed springs at the head of the bed with the steel throwing knife. These two do have finger prints. They clinked when Ziva threw the mattress off the frame. We had to cut a good portion of the bed springs to get our hands on those blades. Ziva says that the suspected murder weapon is a very good replication of the clean one. The clean one is of better quality and she doesn't believe that they are a matched set."

Gibbs grunted.

"We haven't found any more weapons-weapons in the suite. We've packed up all Raith's hairdressing tools. I've collected the computer programming for the hotel doors. All the times the door was open has been accounted for and I'm going to check to see if anyone erased a recording. Ziva interviewed the hotel waitress that got her hair cut. She says that Raith was wearing the same outfit that he had worn to the banquet and there wasn't a spot of blood on it at that time."

Gibbs by-passed the pictures of Raith's clothes that did have blood on it. The suspect was correct in saying that the shirt was ruined. So were the pants. Gibbs looked at a picture of the shoes. They had been tossed in a corner. They still had their shine. The photograph didn't feature any blood on them. None on top and no blood on the soles. "How pricy was the outfit?"

"Very," McGee answered, "Everything in this suite is high end merchandise, though some is a couple years old. Not everything is well cared for, but Ziva insists that the knives were."

Knives instead of guns, blood on parts of the clothes now that wasn't there after the murder; this case did not add up. One knife –a replica- that had blood and the original did not, but was well cared for. The clean area of the 'salon' part of the suite as compared to the mess of the bedroom; Raith did not add up. The pentacle necklace that Raith wore to sleep, where did that fit in?

It was time for Gibbs to interview Raith. He grabbed all the pictures that McGee had instructed Abby to print out. "Good job, McGee," Gibbs said as he walked out. His team was taking up the slack of DiNozzo's absence quite well. That boy was going to be on his blacklist for a while.

Gibbs opened the interrogation room door sharply. He stopped and frowned in disapproval. Agent Lee was laughing. Raith had talked her into standing, facing the mirror, as he explained some suggested hair style for her. He was touching her hair. As Lee's bodyguard, Graham didn't look thrilled with the idea and the position. He was hovering close, his hand always close to his gun. Raith wasn't ignoring Graham very well; he was stiff and his smile guarded. Every once in a while, he'd throw a French insult Graham's way. The one Gibbs heard basically translated to 'Neanderthal.'

Lee saw Gibbs' reflection in the one way mirror. She was instantly and -in Gibbs' opinion- rightfully chastised. She slid out of Raith's reach, scooped up her folders and brushed by Gibbs on the way out. "Everything is in order, Agent Gibbs," floated behind her. It was almost graceful, despite her embarrassment. She must have been getting practice somewhere. Graham nodded to Gibbs and the protective agent followed her out.

Gibbs shut the door firmly and put the folder of pictures on the table. He sat and twisted to look at Raith. The suspect was still standing in front of the mirror. He didn't look tired, but Gibbs knew that he was. Gibbs could see the wariness in his muscles. He was feeling threatened and was struggling between the 'fight or flight' defense mechanism.

"Please sit, Monsieur Raith," Gibbs directed.

Raith walked around the table and sat across the way. He looked Gibbs in the eyes. "I did not kill Monsieur Miller."

Gibbs didn't answer. He just kept on looking at Raith. He was trying to puzzle out the man. Raith had muscle. He was lithe and lean. He had smuggled two knives past airport security. He knew how to use those knives.

IHe knew how to kill with them./I

Gibbs waited. He knew that if he looked in a man's eyes long enough, he would learn about their character. Some people took longer than others. Raith met his eyes without fear. He didn't look down, he didn't try to avoid Gibbs' gaze.

IHe knew how /InotI to get caught lying, but he wasn't afraid of the truth./I

There were a lot of layers to Raith. None of the evidence added up. A prosecutor would probably say that Raith wouldn't want to dirty his favorite –the better- knife on Miller and that's why he had used the replica. But where had he hidden it during the banquet? Why would he have taken it to the banquet in the first place? How did he get it out of the dining hall without getting caught? A prosecutor would say that he had tossed it off the alcove balcony and retrieved it when he had left, but McGee and the FBI agents had not found one drop of evidence to support that.

Raith's eyes were arrestingly grey, pale grey.

Gibbs finally felt the subtle shifting and knew that he was breaking through the layers of Raith. The agent was aware of Raith's eyes widening, but tried to shift through the little bits of information.

IProtector./I

Gibbs was surprised with that revelation about Raith, but waited for more.

IFamily. Family was everything./I

"Who was your mother?"

Gibbs ignored the question, keeping his eyes locked with Raith's.

IComplicated family. Deadly family./I

"How long has she been dead –ta mere?"

Gibbs was once again in the interrogation room with Thomas Raith, murder suspect. He was looking at him questioningly.

"Your mother?" Raith asked again.

"Too long to matter to this discussion." Gibbs whipped the picture of the murder weapon out from the top of the file and put it in front of the other man.

Raith was visually surprised. "Where did you get that? How did it get blood on it?" He did not deny that it was his knife, which meant that there was a record of it belonging to Raith –somewhere. This man was too smart to admit to something that couldn't be verified.

Gibbs silently handed over the next picture which framed the murder weapon on Raith's bloody clothes.

"That was not like that when I went to sleep. There was no blood anywhere in my suite. Someone is …how do you say… framing me up."

Gibbs didn't bother to correct the idiom; he had subordinate agents for that. He merely passed Raith the next picture in the pile, the 'original' knife that was not bloody. In this particular picture, the knife was still in the bedsprings.

Raith stilled. He was surprised. He looked at the 'identical' knives, side by side. He compared them feature by feature. He was not detoured by the blood on the murder weapon. Gibbs could see the wheels turning in Raith's head. Was he trying to figure out who had the motive/opportunity to frame him, or was he trying to explain away the evidence?

"See?" Raith finally announced. "J'ai –I framed up. I have one knife…"

Gibbs raised an eyebrow and flipped through the rest of the file.

"…of this type," Raith qualified. "This one," he tapped the un-bloodied knife, "belongs to me. The other is fake."

Of course, a suspect would claim the knife that was not the suspected murder weapon, but Gibbs' gut believed him.

"Tell me about Staff Sergeant Terrance Miller."

"He is a Marine. He wanted a date. I was not interested in a Washington DC fling."

That matched what every other witness had said. "When did you last see him?"

"At the banquet yesterday. It was the first time I had met him. I haven't seen him since. I've been in my suite all night. You can ask room service. They were the only ones there. I never left."

Gibbs suddenly realized that Raith didn't know where and when Miller had died. "What happened on the balcony?"

Raith blinked. He was still a little confused with Gibbs' line of questioning, but the NCIS agent was not quite ready to give the suspect information. "Miller followed me out there. I was looking for cool air and quiet. Miller did not like being told 'no.' I had to push him out of my way to go back into the reception hall. The confrontation was upsetting, so I left. I never saw Miller again."

"Miller never left that alcove you're talking about."

Raith blanched. "Than someone else went outside. It was quite hot in that hall."

"We have the security recording. The next person to see Miller, saw him dead."

"C'est impossible! The next person must have…"

Gibbs turned around to face the TV sitting in the corner. He knocked on the one-way mirror as he turned on the machine. Gibbs turned back to the door as Abby entered. He noticed that Raith was watching him closely.

Abby pushed him out of the way. "Let me do it. You know it never works for you." Gibbs couldn't argue. He did have problems with most electronics. In short order, the TV was frozen at the point where Miller had first asked Raith for a date. Abby slapped the remote control into Gibbs' hand with a friendly warning. "Don't break it."

She ignored Raith as she left the room. Gibbs pressed the play button and sat on the table facing the suspect. He watched Raith watch the security footage. Raith was attentive, his eyes sharp and focused. He never lost the intensity. Gibbs had to twist his head toward the TV to know where the recording was. He was surprised to see that the initial confrontation between Raith and Miller was long over. Raith was watching all of the proceedings carefully.

IHe was watching for who could have framed him./I

Gibbs was tempted to fast-forward this middle part of the security footage. It wouldn't do for the main suspect to pick up a clue before Abby could review it all with a fine tooth comb. He watched Raith watch the footage and waited. Finally came the part where Raith had disappeared into the alcove. And then Miller had followed. Raith tensed in real life. He was watching every person in the footage. Then Raith reappeared on the scene and had said his farewells. Raith watched and waited.

IPredator./I

Then came the moment when the senator's wife had discovered the body.

"IShit!/I" It was said in the heavy French accent but, it wasn't a French swear. Raith stared at the TV in shock. His left thumb caressed the silver chain that held the pentacle necklace.

IRegret./I

"Oh, 'Arry," he whispered.

IProtector./I

This interview had left Gibbs with more questions than answers. "Let's start at the beginning, Monsieur Raith. When did you first know that you were coming to DC? And be sure to leave nothing out."

xxx

I hate airports. Most people complain about flying, especially flying coach, but I don't really mind that. It's one of the places where being short is a great advantage. While everyone around me is grumbling about being squashed, I settle my five foot and three-quarters of an inch frame into the seat and stretch out my legs.

Airports are something else entirely. I've never been crazy about crowds, and being in a crowd and unarmed is worse. People are more irritated in airports, more prone to push others out of their way, to snap at strangers who move more slowly than they would like, and to just generally be rude and mean-spirited. I have never been able to work up enough menace in my appearance to get any kind of personal space. Harry, of course, can do it without even really trying. I've never envied him the magic, which seems to carry with it all kinds of baggage, but I wouldn't mind having a little bit of that ability. It's hard to work up a good 'back off' presence when you look like a cheerleader and people know that you probably aren't armed.

I had a rental car in time to catch the tail end of DC's morning rush hour, and was soon tooling around town looking every bit the tourist. All Harry had been able to tell me about the actual crime was that the victim had been a Marine, attending a fundraiser somewhere on Capitol Hill. Something like that would be hard to keep out of the news, so I headed to a coffeehouse for caffeine and a newspaper.

I stayed in the car while I drank my coffee and read the paper. I knew intellectually that I could take out most people in hand-to-hand, but I felt vulnerable without weapons. I hadn't walked around unarmed since I graduated from the academy. Sending them with Harry had kept me from having to worry about airport security, but it meant I was going to be wandering around a very dangerous city unarmed until he got here. I missed my gun like some people miss their pets, and I missed the throwing knives I'd been practicing with nearly as much.

It wasn't hard to find the story; there had been several prominent politicians in attendance and the murder was on the front page. It didn't mention that an arrest had been made; only that NCIS had the case and were working on several leads. Thomas wasn't named anywhere in the story, but toward the end of the article a semi-familiar name popped out at me: Lisa Lewinski, senatorial candidate for the state of Illinois and resident of the Gold Coast in Chicago. Just the kind of woman who would bring her own personal hairdresser to take care of herself and her staff on a trip to Washington.

A few phone calls and a fifteen minute drive later, I was sitting in the living area of Ms. Lewinski's suite in the Hotel Monolith. "I already told that appalling man from NCIS everything I know. Thomas couldn't possibly have done this. He's such a gentle man."

I kept my face professionally blank. There was no need to tell the politician that Thomas most certainly could have done it if he'd seen the other man as a threat. "I know that, Ms. Lewinski. I'm not officially with the investigators on this." I dropped my voice, making the tone conspiratorial. "Let's just say that Thomas called someone very close to him, and that someone called in a favor from me." The woman's expression changed slightly, and just like that, I was no longer a cop, but one of I themI. "What can you tell me about last night?"

"Miller was practically hounding Thomas, looking for a date. Thomas made it clear he wasn't interested, that he was involved with someone else." Lewinski looked at me with interest. "I've never met his friend, you know, but he must be someone very special."

I nodded and brought the conversation back to the investigation, because I definitely didn't want to get into that discussion. "And then?"

"Thomas was feeling a little crowded, so he went out to get a little space and air. He came back exasperated, said he was going back to the hotel, and left. And then that little twit of a senator's wife started screaming about the dead Marine."

"Was there any blood on Thomas' shirt?"

"There most certainly was not! He was wearing the Versace; I would have noticed." She leaned in a little, a gleam in her eyes. "Just because I don't own the property, doesn't mean I can't admire the view."

I nodded in understanding. Thomas was very nice to look at. "Do you know why they took him?"

The woman frowned. "Something to do with the security recording, I think. That was why they started asking about him, anyway. And they've had his suite cordoned off with yellow tape all morning, looking for something to pin on him."

I asked a few more questions about the fundraiser and the victim, made my excuses, and headed for the next stop on the agenda: the crime scene down the hall.

I've noticed over the years that a badge and a bored expression can get you into almost any situation, whether you belong there or not. It's not a good thing, really, but it served me well in this instance. I left my badge clipped to my belt, nodded to the DC cops guarding the door, and ducked under the crime scene tape. There was a box of gloves and a box of shoe covers next to the door, and I slipped those on without hesitation and hugged the wall as I walked in. The suite was nearly identical to Lewinski's rooms down the hall; except that this one had several sturdy plastic boxes marked 'Evidence – NCIS' stacked on the couch. The floor had probably been swept for trace evidence, judging by the look of the carpet. I moved through the room in the general direction of the evidence boxes, and glanced at the one designated as 'priority.' There were three knives in individual bags. One I recognized as the cold iron throwing knife Thomas kept around in case of a chance encounter with a fey. The second was his kukuri, and the third was a close approximation of it, covered with blood. A brightly colored shirt and a pair of pants were in bags next to it, both showing dark red splotches of their own.

"You're not supposed to be here."

I forced myself to turn at a casual rate, despite the fact that the voice had startled me. The kid standing behind me reminded me of Harry's friend Billy; he was far too young for the job he was doing, and even with a scowl on his face he resembled nothing so much as a half-grown puppy. Of course, just like Billy, he was probably hiding some muscle underneath a little bit of baby fat. And unlike me, he was most definitely armed. I missed my gun. "The officers guarding the door let me in. Does this have to do with the murder last night?"

The scowl deepened. "You're not supposed to be here," he reiterated, clearly not willing to simply arrest me. Another nice perk from wearing a badge.

"I followed crime scene protocol. I was just visiting with Ms. Lewinski down the hall and was curious." I looked past him into the bedroom and spotted the dark red stain near the door.

"I'm going to have to ask you to leave," the kid said. "This area is off-limits to anyone but NCIS personnel." I went toward the door without protest, lest the rookie decide to arrest me. He stopped me just at the yellow tape and held out his hand. "Can I see your badge, please?"

Damn. I had hoped he wouldn't do that. If he called Stallings and told him I was in Washington DC and not home with the flu, my career was toast. If I refused, though, I would probably wind up facing charges, which would put me in deeper trouble. I handed it over, and he studied it briefly before returning it to me. As I waited, I took off the booties. He didn't, however, write anything down from it, so I was probably in the clear. I ducked under the yellow tape and made good my escape.

I made a few stops and headed for the coffeehouse to meet Harry. I settled down at a table near the door with my cell phone, a notebook, and the yellow pages, and ordered the coffeehouse specialty. The waitress brought me a cinnamon roll that normally would take me a week in the gym to work off, but I was on what promised to be one of Harry's 'special' cases and would probably work it off in the next 48 hours running for my life. While I waited for Harry to drive up in his clown car, I called and found the mechanic that I knew the Beetle would need and jotted down the number for a tow truck. Then I started looking for motels that would let us bring in Mouse.

When I heard the tortured sounds of a dying four-cylinder engine, I looked at my pocket watch. Only thirteen hours. No wonder the Beetle was dying. I gathered up my things, made one last phone call, and headed out to meet my friend.

xxx

Gibbs' cell phone rang and he answered it with a bark. "Gibbs."

McGee was softly chanting a number. "Boss," the young agent interrupted himself. "A woman was just snooping around Raith's suite. A Karrin Murphy from Chicago PD." He then proceeded to rattle off how the woman spelled her name and the first half of her badge number. McGee paused to 'catch his breath' and Ziva yelled the last numbers to the younger agent. Gibbs wrote it all down.

"Good. Hurry back to the lab," Gibbs ordered. He hung up without saying good-bye or letting McGee end the conversation in a more polite manner.

Gibbs sat down at his desk and called up information for the number the Chicago's Police Department. It took three transferred calls before he got results. He hated being put on hold. He had a team to do stuff like this; DiNozzo was going to pay for missing the beginning of the case.

"Rawlins," the new voice answered his desk phone.

Gibbs tried to be polite. "I'm Special Agent Jethro Gibbs with Navy Crime Investigators."

"From the docks," asked Rawlins.

"From DC," Gibbs corrected.

Rawlins paused, obviously about to transfer Gibbs to yet another officer.

"I'm looking for information about a Sergeant Karrin Murphy."

Rawlins swore softly and muttered. "Damn, Murph, you said you were sick, not out to catch Potomac Fever."

Gibbs catalogued that information. "Do you know why Sergeant Murphy would be in DC?"

"Is Dresden there?" Rawlins drawled.

Gibbs frowned. He had heard that name recently, connected to the prime suspect. "Harry Dresden?"

"That's him."

"I don't believe that's he's here."

"Yet."

"Excuse me?"

"Dresden's not there Iyet/I. He'll be there before sunset."

"The two work together," Gibbs surmised.

"When Murphy ran SI, cases got closed and people were safer. Dresden was her tool."

"SI?"

"Special Investigations."

"She no longer runs that department."

"Nope."

Gibbs could recognize a door slamming shut when he heard one. "She was good at it?"

"Very. I don't mind that she's been partnered with me. She's good at protecting her own."

"What's her relationship with Thomas Raith?"

"Raith? Oh, Toe-moss. Not much, I think. Harry is closer to him." Gibbs heard the grin in the detective's voice but didn't know why. "Any other questions, Agent Gibbs?"

"Not at this time."

"Good. If you have any more, just use my extension." Rawlins rattled it off. Gibbs knew that he was covering for his partner and at this point was willing to play along. He wrote down the numbers. It'd be nice if someone was cooperating with him. Now, if only Raith would quit stonewalling him.

xxx

I'd like to say I roared into Washington DC, but it's more truthful to say that I limped into the city instead. The Beetle died with an ominous rattle in the parking lot, and I coasted to a stop. Murphy watched this from her seat on the curb with a half-smile on her face. "You made good time."

I got out of the car, and Mouse followed after me, greeting Murphy enthusiastically. My dog has good taste in people.

"Almost didn't make it at all," I said, watching a tendril of smoke curl up from under the hood of my vehicle. "Got the name of a good mechanic in the area?"

"Already called. Tow truck should show up in about ten minutes."

I stared at her for a long moment. "Now that's just scary, Murph."

"I could hear the engine from three blocks away. There was no way you were driving that car across four states without problems somewhere. How was the trip?"

"Eh. Drive four hours, fill the gas tank, stretch the legs, look it's Ohio. Repeat for Pennsylvania and Maryland." I opened up the Beetle's trunk and began transferring the contents over to Murphy's rental; weapons in the trunk and clothing in the back seat. "What have you found out?"

"He's being held at NCIS headquarters."

"The who and the what now?"

Murphy rolled her eyes. "NCIS investigates crimes related to the Navy and Marines. The victim was a Marine."

"Right. What do they have on him?"

"The murder weapon was found in his hotel room, covered with the victim's blood, on top of the shirt Thomas was wearing. And according to security tapes, he was the last one to see the victim alive."

"Motive?"

"The victim had recently come out of the closet and was being a little aggressive with Thomas."

I grimaced. "That happens sometimes. I'm guessing from the phone call that he wants me to play his circumspect lover."

Murphy grinned. "I've heard you're pretty good at it."

"I knew you came all the way out here to see the 'Ah-ree and Toe-moss' act."

"It wasn't showing in Chicago." Her smile slipped off her face as she studied me. "You're ok with it, aren't you?"

"You know the truth. It's pretty good camouflage for everyone who doesn't need to know." We stood there silently for a moment, leaning against Murphy's rental. Mouse nudged his head underneath my hand, and I obligingly scratched behind his ears. Murphy shook herself out of her thoughts and glanced at me.

"You aren't going to wear that to see your 'boyfriend', are you?"

I looked down at my t-shirt and jeans and then at Murphy. "What's wrong with it?"

"If you look the part, it's a little more believable." She reached into the car and pulled out a bag. "Put one of these on."

I reached in and pulled out a shirt. It was black. With purple stripes. There were three others in the bag, each just on the edge of ostentatious. Hell's bells. I looked at Murphy. "You have got to be kidding me."

"Think of them as a costume. Hurry up, before the tow truck gets here."

I set the bag down on top of the car and gazed at its contents for a long moment. "The things I do for my brother," I said, sighing, and pulled off my t-shirt. I studiously avoided looking at Murphy as I buttoned up the new shirt. She had, after all, seen Thomas without a shirt, and I was pretty sure seeing me in the same position was like comparing one of those prints they hang up in a hotel lobby to the Mona Lisa: not bad to look at, but nowhere in the same league as DaVinci.

When I turned back to look at Murphy, her face was carefully blank. "Sit down," she said, nudging me gently toward the curb. "You can't go with your hair looking like that." She rummaged through her backpack and pulled out a hairbrush. Most women would have carried a purse, but most women don't need to carry extra ammunition and holy water-filled waterguns. She brushed my hair for about a minute, which was a fairly pleasant experience, but when she went back into her backpack and brought out the gel I stopped her.

"He likes to be able to run his fingers through my hair," I told her, pitching my voice a little higher than normal and putting a little fondness into the tone. Murphy snorted, but obligingly dropped the tube back. She was quiet for a moment, her small fingers fussing with my hair, and then I felt a sharp tug and saw her hand drop across my face. Held between her thumb and forefinger was a grey hair. "Somebody's getting old," she said in a sing-song voice.

I tilted my head back until I could see her. "I didn't need to see that, Murph," I groaned, and took the hair from her, destroying it with a little judiciously applied fire magic. "It's all Thomas' fault."

"How's that?"

"Family makes you crazy. And old before your time." I stood up as a battered tow truck rattled into the parking lot.

Murphy gave the driver directions to the mechanic, who we would see in the morning, and they dragged the Beetle away. Mouse jumped happily into the backseat despite the fact that he had just spent most of the day in the car, and Murphy drove me to NCIS headquarters. She gave me a long lingering look as I got out of the car and smirked. "You'll do," she said, and drove away with my dog, who seemed happy enough to leave me alone now that he had Murphy as a companion. Traitor.

I studied the building for a second, gathering up my courage. "Welcome to the 'Ah-ree and Toe-moss' show," I muttered, and walked in.

I got through the metal detectors without them exploding and tried to look comfortable and confident in the new shirt, which was much tighter across the torso than my usual shirts. It helped that I had my duster on overtop of it. On the plus side of things, Murphy had somehow managed to find a shirt that was long enough for my arms, which hardly ever happens. I could count on one hand the shirts I've owned as an adult that fit my arms, and most of them resembled a tent everywhere else.

I Head in the game, Harry. /I Most of my magic arsenal was with Murphy, since they likely wouldn't let me carry blunt objects, even ones made out of wood, into a government office. All I had was the shield bracelet on my left wrist and the rings on my right hand. I couldn't afford to let my concentration slip, even if Murphy apparently knew my dimensions well enough to buy me a shirt that fit perfectly.

The polite lady with a gun on her hip called for my escort after scrutinizing my driver's license and consultant's badge, and I stood there attempting to give out murky sexuality vibes with an official visitor's badge attached to my coat.

The promised escort eventually arrived in the form of a kid who didn't look old enough to shave. There was a bit of baby fat still in his face, and his expression was just shy of earnest and willing to please, which made me feel old. There was also something vaguely familiar about his face, like I'd seen it in passing sometime recently. I shook off the feeling. It would come to me eventually.

"I'm Special Agent McGee. I understand you have information about a case?"

"Harry Dresden," I replied, holding out my hand for him to shake, "and no, I don't. I need to see Thomas Raith. I came to see him as soon as he called me." I tried to inject a little worry into my Murphy impersonation voice. "It's just terrible, thinking about him being locked away. I knew he'd need me here."

The kid's eager-to-please look remained, reminding me of a golden retriever. "You'll have to talk to my supervisor about that," he said, leading me to an elevator. When the doors slid shut, he turned to me and asked, with polite interest in his voice, "So how did you and Mister Raith meet?"

"At a costume party," I answered truthfully. It was a bad idea to lie to cops, even rookies. "There were fireworks between us, but we'd each come with someone else."

He nodded thoughtfully. "And what do you do for a living?"

"I'm a wizard."

"You mean for parties?"

I shook my head and managed to laugh at a higher pitch without my voice cracking. "I advise people about the occult. And sometimes I consult with the police." The doors to the elevator opened before he could ask more questions, and I stepped out into the open and away from further queries. Special Agent McGee was a good fisherman: easy to talk to, good at asking leading questions, and non-threatening. Forget playing good cop, it was hard to remember that he was a cop at all. If he really was the rookie I took him to be, his boss was going to prove to be a problem.

Agent McGee took me into an open office space, with low cubicles set in groups, and stopped next to a grey-haired man whose body language screamed 'soldier.' "Boss?"

The man turned from the big screen he was perusing and looked at the two of us. "Yeah, McGee?"

"This is Harry Dresden. He's here to see Mr. Raith. Mr. Dresden, this is Special Agent Jethro Gibbs." The kid seemed to get ready to say something else, but instead beat a hasty retreat to a nearby desk from the glare his superior sent after him.

The same glare found its way to me next, but I've been intimidated by some of the scariest things out there, and it didn't have the same effect on me. "Are you his lawyer," the man finally asked.

"No. Thomas and I have a Ipersonal/I relationship." I glanced at the screen he'd just been looking at and froze. It was split two ways, with the photo of a man in uniform on the left. The right side was running video of a small, windowless room occupied by one person: Thomas. He was sitting at a table by himself, his hands in front of him and his face turned to the corner, studiously avoiding the camera. There was an edge of a wall-length mirror on the wall opposite him. Probably a one-way mirror. By the way he was carefully not moving, he knew they were watching him.

I felt a surge of anger. They had my brother in a cage, observing him like some exotic new animal. There was a muffled pop behind me, presumably a computer dying. The lights overhead flickered, and the screen in front of me began to ghost with static. Easy, Harry. This wasn't helping.

Agent Gibbs was watching me when I looked back at him, his face carefully neutral. I waited until I was sure my tone would be completely even before speaking. "Can I see him, please?"

The older man studied me for a long second, trying to meet my eyes without being obvious about it, and then nodded and headed down the hallway, motioning for me to follow. He led me to an unmarked door, opened it and walked in, and I was two steps behind him, my senses jangling for the possibility of a trap.

It wasn't. Thomas was sitting at the table, looking at the door, and the neutral mask dropped when he saw me. "Ah-ree," he said with that ludicrous French accent, and he got up and hugged me.

"You touch my ass, and I'll slug you," I said very, very softly, and he made a sound that would probably pass as a choked sob but was in actuality laughter. Then he broke the embrace and looked me square in the eyes.

"I had nothing to do with what happened to that man," he said gravely.

"I know," I replied, and meant it. "I trust you, Thomas." I turned to Agent Gibbs. "Can we have some privacy?"

He looked back at me, then Thomas, and then turned to the mirrored wall. "Cut the cameras," he grated out, and left the room, closing the door behind him.

Because I have an inherent distrust of authority, honed over most of my adult life, I waited for a moment and then hexed down the camera and microphone, and two of the fluorescent light bulbs by accident. Then I Listened, and caught the sound of people talking, very faintly. Finally I turned back to Thomas. "What Iare/I you wearing? I know you didn't dress yourself," I said, still in my Murphy Impersonation Voice.

Thomas shrugged, managing to make the faded red sweatpants and T-shirt look like something from a designer. "Neither did you," he said, putting his hand on my arm.

I flushed red and looked down. "Murphy dressed me." Thomas managed to keep from laughing, but I suspect it was a near thing. I spoke again before he could make another smartass comment. "I'm pretty sure they're still watching, but I hexed down the camera and microphone, so we should be ok."

"First things first, Harry. Do you have backup?" Thomas had thankfully dropped the French accent. "This is a trap for at least one of us, and you have more enemies than I do."

"Sad but true. Murphy flew into town this morning, and Mouse rode along with me. What about you? Do you need to feed?"

"I should be all right for another day or so before it gets bad."

That put us on a specific timetable to get him out of this. "All right. Tell me everything that happened last night."

xxx

Tony was screwed.

It wasn't his fault! He had left after the work day was over. Gibbs' NCIS team was supposed to have the weekend off. Jeanne had the weekend off from the hospital. He and Jeanne had planned to spend the weekend in the deserted part of the Appalachian mountains. One sleeping bag and the starry sky for a tent. No rain in the forecast, it should have been a perfect weekend getaway.

Then the most publicized NCIS case of the year happened.

And he had been out of cell phone reception range, defying rule 12 or was it rule 17? Never be unreachable. Of course the Director had given the case to Gibbs. He was the only one with the brass balls to run this case Isans/I politics. His team would be the only ones willing to ignore the publicity, the chance to get their faces and names on the front page of every news story. So when Jeanne had wanted to go to a restaurant for a late lunch and they had driven to the nearest town, Tony realized that his voice mail box was filled to capacity. He was being ordered back to work Inow/I. Only now was a three hour drive away.

Jeanne had seen the news on the little TV that the greasy spoon owner used to keep occupied. She had heard that NCIS was in charge of the case. She had quickly and silently packed up their stuff. Sometimes, there were advantages to dating a career woman. She just looked so sad on the ride home. Maybe that's why Tony loved her so much.

Tony was screwed no matter which way he looked. He had listened to enough of McGeek's messages to know that Gibbs wanted him back in town immediately. Abby had left several warnings, as had Ziva. He broke every speed limit on the way back to the office. He kept all the radio stations on the news, hoping against hope that the reporters had learned something that Gibbs hadn't. Of course, that would put Gibbs in a Ireally/I bad mood, but Tony needed every scrap of information he could glean. He called Abby and she tried to give him as much as she knew. She knew that there was a suspect in the interrogation room that Gibbs had not charged and had not cracked. That was more than the news radio knew.

Which was as much as Gibbs knew. Tony needed to walk into NCIS knowing something new. How?

Pure luck was his only option. He hated relying on luck. Gibbs was going to be pissed and Tony was screwed.

Tony dropped off Jeanne with a quick kiss and hurried to NCIS without changing clothes. He looked a little rumpled, but he had no choice. He did stop at the corner coffee shop to get him self some caffeine for what was sure to be a very late night and to get Gibbs some as a peace offering. It wouldn't go far, but anything and everything would help get Tony out of the doghouse for the next …oh, year.

So Tony parked in his normal parking spot, juggled the two cups of coffee and locked his car up. He happened to walk in behind a stranger, a very tall stranger in a beat-up, black trench coat. Tony had seen him get out of his car: he had been the passenger and a woman had been the driver. And there had been a really big honkin' dog in the backseat. The stranger kept tugging at the sleeves of his shirt and then he tugged at the hem and the collar. He looked really uncomfortable and then he tried to look normal. Tony had watched the guy put on his 'game face.'

Then he had said the oddest thing: "Welcome to the 'Ah-ree and Toe-moss' show." Hadn't Abby said that the main suspect was named 'Toe-moss'? Tony flirted with the entrance security long enough to see McGee come down and get the stranger. McGee had seen him, but Tony had made a motion behind the stranger's back to keep his identity a secret. He watched McGee take the guy –named Dresden- up in the elevator. Tony made a bee-line for the stairs, to go downstairs to the interrogation room and hopefully well out of Gibbs' way. He prayed hard that Gibbs would not stop in the observation room when he dropped him off. Prayers were answered.

Gibbs trusted that his subordinates would obey –which they had. The video and microphones had been turned off. Ziva teased Tony a little but mostly filled Tony in on the case. He listened with half an ear, but generally watched the interaction between Dresden and Toe-moss Raith. They were both tall and dark, each striking in their own way. Neither one was forgettable. He looked down at the two unconsumed coffee cups in his hands and had an idea. He thanked Ziva fervently, made a smart-aleck joke at the observation technician who had just seen his computer fry and walked out into the hallway. He did check to make sure Gibbs was no where behind him before knocking at the interrogation door.

"Oui?" Raith answered.

Tony juggled the coffee and the door handle. He shot a quick, apologetic smile at the two men. "Sorry. I just thought that you'd like some coffee. I know that the stuff in the cafeteria could corrode steel." He set both large plastic cups on the table and dug into his coat pocket and pulled out packets of cream and sugar.

"Merci," said the pretty one.

"Thanks," grunted Trench coat.

He waved at the one-way mirror. "Just knock on that when you're done and Ziva will escort you out." He left the room and breathed deep. Now it was time to find McGee and see what he knew and what information he needed help finding. He needed to make himself useful for this case Ipronto/I.

xxx

"Why haven't you charged him yet?"

"He hasn't confessed."

"Not all of them do, Jethro. Some can hold out under the famous Gibbs stare."

The agent just shrugged and continued staring at the prime suspect.

"Why are you holding him?"

"All the evidence points to him."

"Why haven't you charged him yet?"

"My gut says he didn't do it. Miller didn't pose a threat to anything of Raith's."

"Some people don't need a reason to kill," Jen reminded quietly.

"Raith does."

The director waited.

"I miss Kate."

Her jaw dropped. It was the last thing Jen had expected Jethro to say.

"I might need a psychologist to look over the evidence and explain Raith to me."

"I thought you said that you were sure that he didn't do it."

"I did and I am," Gibbs growled. "But he's the key to this. Someone had his personal knife reproduced for this. This was planned and planned well. I don't think that they had expected Raith to bring the knife with him. It might be the only thing that they hadn't accounted for. Raith had been picked to take the fall. Raith probably has a pretty good idea of who would set him up, but he won't talk to my team. We both know that in jail, it would be a matter of days before he died. Someone wants him dead and wants us to facilitate it. I need to know why."

"And Kate," Jen ventured.

"Ducky's a little too new at this. It's more of a hobby for McGee and both concentrate more on actions of people than their environments. If Raith was easy to figure out, we would have done it by now."

Jen smiled slightly. "I normally get a dinner brought to my office for a case like this."

"If Raith gets out, it'll be a matter of hours before he's dead." Gibbs' voice turned wry. "And then I lose my main suspect and my best lead."

xxx

Gibbs watched Tony and McGee banter back and forth. Tony was slightly subdued, constantly glancing his way. He was being very careful not to push Gibbs' buttons today. Gibbs was thankful; this case was confusing enough without DiNozzo sarcasm muddying the waters. And Gibbs was sure that Tony would be back to his irreverent self before the case was over.

"I think you're making a big assumption," Tony told McGee.

"No, I'm not," the probie argued. "You weren't here. Agent Lee listened to their phone call. They share a bank account. They are lovers."

"I think that's what they want you to think."

McGee threw up his hands. "Do you have any proof?"

"They have many of the same features and mannerisms."

"They are lovers, Tony. When you're around someone that much, you have a tendency to pick up things like that."

"Dresden got dropped off by a woman."

"Short? Blonde hair? Gymnast build?" McGee rattled off the description of the cop he had met.

DiNozzo was surprised and it showed. "Yeah."

"She's a cop. He's a consultant. They've worked together on several cases. Dresden probably called in a favor. Or Dresden and Raith could have a very open relationship. It's possible. Dresden and Murphy got a motel room together."

DiNozzo rolled his eyes. "You are looking for the mystery book answer, Probie; the surprise ending."

"And you're not," McGee shot back.

Gibbs looked up from his desk to see Ziva shaking her head at the argument. Then Gibbs saw Abby well out of McGee's line-of-sight. Her eyes met DiNozzo's and she gave him two thumbs up. DiNozzo relaxed incrementally.

"Why don't you put your money where your mouth is, Gemcity? A hundred bucks says that Dresden and Raith are related."

"You're on."

"Both of you are out," Gibbs barked. "As in out of my sight." They hurried away.

Good. Gibbs had a phone call to make in privacy. He called Chicago PD and then Rawlins' extension.

Thankfully, the police officer answered. "Rawlins."

"Sergeant, this is Agent Gibbs with NCIS again."

"What can I do for you?"

"I need a gut answer from you. Totally off the record." There was silence on the other end, but Gibbs was not detoured. "If I told you that Thomas Raith was being held on suspicion of murder, but there was no motive, what would you think?"

There was a long pause. "I'd wonder if that person posed a threat to Dresden. But I need for you to understand something. Earlier this year, Raith's boat was demolished. The witnesses aboard were potential targets of a serial killer. Raith had figured out that there was a serial killer long before the police, he figured out who the killer was targeting and he had spirited the women and children to his boat for safe keeping. This isn't in any official report."

"Sergeant Murphy told you?" Gibbs guessed.

"Yeah. She wanted me to know who a good guy was in a pinch."

"Like Dresden?"

"Yeah. Did Dresden show?"

"Yes. Drove here."

Rawlins snickered and then stopped. "Raith, Dresden and Murphy are all in DC? All hell's about to break loose."

"Here or there?"

Rawlins snorted. "Probably both."

"Thank you for your time, Sergeant Rawlins."

"Welcome. One last thing…"

"Oh."

"When hell arrives, you can trust Murphy to cover your back. I was partnered with her father back in the day and Murphy's probably better than her old man. Dresden's good too but very unorthodox."

The two hung up. Gibbs sat at his desk and mulled through the information. Raith was a confirmed protector. Raith had a deadly, confusing family that he would protect at all costs. Dresden was part of that family. Raith and Dresden had gone to great lengths to hide their familial connection. It was a good thing that Tony had been suspicious of the men's relationship. Gibbs probably would have missed it and McGee still was blind to the truth. There was a very good reason for keeping that boy around and it wasn't just for his pretty looks. Dresden and Raith had pretended to be lovers. Why?

Maybe it was time for Gibbs to find out. He realized that Ziva was on the phone talking in a foreign language. While that wasn't too unusual, for this case, Gibbs was surprised that she wasn't rattling off in French. If Gibbs wasn't mistaken, that was Yiddish.

She hung up the phone, looking bemused.

"Ziva?"

The Israeli jerked her head his way.

"What are you doing on my time?"

"I was trying to find out if there was any equipment can take out electrical components and computers so well."

Gibbs raised an eyebrow. "You don't think it's natural? Or a coincidence?"

"No. I've seen everything current and no one has told me if the improvements would make the jammers small enough to be carried –unobserved- by a person."

"He came through the metal detectors."

"I know. That is the true advancement. He has equipment better than anything Mossad has. I can't find where he got it. It must be very new on the market."

Gibbs grunted and walked away. Ziva assumed that Gibbs wasn't interested in further chasing of the lead. Or he could be assuming that Ziva wouldn't need to be told to keep working. Ziva tapped a pencil on her chin. Abby could help her. She knew where and how to find most of the high-tech secrets of the United States.

xxx

I spent an hour with Thomas in that interrogation room, and we went over everyone who could have framed him. His sister was an obvious suspect, but if Lara had set Thomas up for murder she would have set him up within the supernatural community as well. Eventually, we decided that the suspect pool was too large, and limited only by an assumed ability to travel in the Nevernever. Between the two of us, we just had way too many enemies to guess on this one.

The biggest surprise so far was Thomas' revelation that Special Agent Gibbs had magical talent and had managed to put a weak soulgaze on my brother. There was no telling what the man had seen, but Thomas had seen a bulldog, a soldier, and a man whose team was his family. A dangerous combination.

My brother had managed to find out one more useful piece of information: the location of the forensics lab. The lab where they were running tests that were sure to confirm that the blood on his clothing belonged to the victim.

The lab filled with all that sensitive electronic equipment, the kind that stopped working when a pissed-off wizard was near.

Someone had set my brother up for murder. I was plenty pissed. So I took a stroll around the outside of the building, slowed down as I neared a basement window, and sent a little power in that direction. I was rewarded with a popping sound and a female cry of, "Not again!" I smirked. Mission accomplished.

I met up with Murphy at the street corner. She'd parked the rental somewhere and was standing there with Mouse. They made an interesting contrast, since my dog is nearly as tall as Murphy when seated. It was full-on dark by this time, so we made an unspoken agreement to head for the coffeeshop down the street. She waited until we were seated at a table in the corner with hot, life-sustaining caffeinated beverage before she spoke. "How is he?"

I sipped my coffee and almost smiled at the feel of it. When you're really tired, you can feel the caffeine entering the bloodstream from a good cup of coffee. This was the same kind they'd brought into the interrogation room. "He's hungry, but he'll be ok for a day or two. And he's upset because he thinks that this is really a complicated hit to get me out of the way, and he hates being bait."

"Is it?"

"Might be. Whoever did this probably went through the Nevernever, killed the victim, and then popped back through to Thomas' hotel room with the bloody knife. Neat, clean, and impossible to defend against in mortal court."

"Unfortunately, a lot of people want to kill you."

"Yep," I said, almost cheerfully. I'd been awake for nearly 48 hours, and had so much caffeine floating in my body I was practically a walking latte. It was making me a little loopy. "Can't understand why. I'm usually so very polite and friendly to everyone." Murphy snorted, and I gave her a lopsided smile. "The suspect list can't even be narrowed down to everyone that's met me. A lot of people want me dead on principle."

"So we're just going to hang around and wait for someone to come after you?"

"Pretty much. I'll start putting out some very quiet feelers in the community tomorrow morning."

"Can't you just walk in with the cloak and start asking questions?"

I grimaced. "That could get pretty dicey. We don't want too many people wondering why a Warden was interested in helping a White Court vampire. And besides," I cut that thought off abruptly, but Murphy noticed it and didn't let it go.

"Besides what?"

"I, um, have a reputation." I felt my face heat up. Hell's bells, this was embarrassing.

"As what?" She arched one blond eyebrow.

"A supernatural gunslinger," I choked out, still flushing. "Very few people in the community want to talk to me unless they know me personally."

"They're afraid of you." It was a statement, not a question.

I nodded. Fifteen years ago, being the supernatural world's answer to Clint Eastwood would have felt unbearably cool. Now it just made me uncomfortable. "So if I go in with the cloak and staff, they'll scatter and take any answers with them." My stomach chose that moment to growl loudly, thankfully ending the discussion. Mouse looked up from his place by my feet, and Murphy rolled her eyes.

"Guess that means it's time to feed the beast," she said, standing up. "Pizza at the motel sound good?"

I feigned shock. "You got us a motel room? Whatever will my boyfriend say? Ow!" I rubbed my shoulder where Murphy had just hit with a fair amount of skill.

"Wiseass," she muttered.

"All the time," I agreed.

The ride to the motel was blessedly uneventful, so much so that the motion of the car had almost put me to sleep despite my empty stomach. Murphy ordered pizza while I took a shower, nearly drowning myself twice because the hot water was so relaxing. I barely needed two hands to count the number of hot showers I've had as an adult.

I threw on sweatpants and a T-shirt and was barely out of the bathroom before Murphy hauled her suitcase in. "You can finish off the pizza," she called as she shut the door.

I looked at Mouse, who was lying down between the beds. "Was it something you said?" My dog looked back at me, somehow conveying that I was an idiot who needed to get back to important things like eating and scratching him behind the ears. He had a point. I wasn't going to begin to understand women at this point. Better to just have pizza and sleep.

As hungry as I was, I still couldn't quite polish off the pizza. I gave the last two slices to Mouse, laid down diagonally across one of the beds, and was asleep before I could turn off the light.

I woke up not too long after dawn. Damned internal clock. It took me a moment to get my bearings, because I'd never woken up in an I Love Lucy episode before, with a woman I cared about in a twin bed five feet away. Murphy was burrowed under the blankets, only a little bit of her blond hair visible, and Mouse was asleep between the two beds.

I had known Murphy a long time. She knew just about everything about me, and there were few people I knew better than her. That said, I had no idea what kind of morning routine she had: whether she got up grudgingly or happily, whether she liked to brush her teeth right away or read the paper and have coffee first. That kind of thing is the purview of lovers, which Murphy and I were not. So I chickened out. I shoved my feet into some shoes, nudged Mouse, and grabbed my wallet and the key on the nightstand. Mouse was waiting at the door by the time I found his lead and scribbled a note, and the two of us headed out. We visited a little strip of grass that called itself a park across the street and Mouse took care of business, and then we headed down the street. The folks at the Denny's down the street willingly put together two breakfasts to go, complete with coffee. This took enough time that I felt safe going back.

Murphy was dressed and reading the newspaper when I noisily let myself back into the room. She seemed a little subdued, but that was probably a morning thing. She accepted the food and caffeine with a tired smile, and we got down to the important business of eating pancakes.

The murder was still in the paper, although it had slipped off the front page. NCIS had managed to keep Thomas out of their comments for the second day in a row, which impressed me a little. I would have thought that someone would have succumbed to the pressure by now and given up the very good suspect to the press. Agent Gibbs and his team didn't really strike me as people who would give in, but there had to be at least one person whose job mostly depended on politics and keeping people happy.

About halfway through her coffee, Murphy's mood brightened and breakfast became much less awkward. "So tell me about the NCIS team. Maybe you can use them to find whoever set this up."

I frowned. "Something about them seems familiar. Not like I've met them, but like I've heard about them before." I told her everything I had observed about Gibbs and his people, and she narrowed her eyes in thought as I slipped Mouse the rest of my bacon.

"You're right. Something about them rings a bell. Can't really say what, though." She took a thoughtful sip of her coffee and grimaced. "I'm heading out for hot coffee. Do you want anything?"

"I never drank my Coke last night," I told her. "I'm fine. We'll go check on the Beetle and then head to NCIS when you get back."

"Only when you've put on something besides sweats and a T-shirt," she warned. "I have some standards, Dresden."

"Yeah, yeah. I'll be ready." I shooed her out the door and headed for the bathroom with another of Murphy's gift shirts and a clean pair of slacks.

I was waiting outside with Mouse when she returned, dressed and groomed as much as I could stand. I'd called Molly and got her just as she was opening up the office, and she promised to make some calls to check about activity in DC. She sounded a little too cheerful, which meant she probably wasn't telling me everything, but there was nothing I could do about it until I got back to Chicago.

The drive to NCIS headquarters passed in a comfortable silence. Murphy parked the car about a block away, instead of dropping me off, and then got out when I did. "I'm coming inside this time," she said.

"Won't the fact that you're not in Chicago cause a problem? Because I'm pretty sure we're out of your jurisdiction."

"They already know I'm here. Maybe being a little more up front about it will shake loose a little information. Besides, Harry, it's a little bit easier to be your backup if I'm in the same building as you."

I couldn't argue with that. Knowing that Murphy was at my side, ready and willing to kick a little ass to get the job done, would be a great comfort. But she'd already lost SI because of our friendship, and I'd hate for her to lose more.

Suck it up, Harry. She's a grown-up; she can make her own decisions. Just like with Kincaid.

That thought didn't really help.

"All right, Murph," I said, putting up my hands in surrender. "Your playing field, your rules."

She snorted. "Damn straight."

After she had locked her gun up in the trunk, the two of us walked to the building, Mouse between us. They wouldn't let the dog into the building, which I had expected. I had a different task in mind for him. "Guard the door," I told him. "Send up the signal if something bad is coming." He obediently sat down to the side of the door, and Murphy and I headed inside.

"Will he really be able to do that?" Murphy asked quietly as we went through the metal detectors.

"He can sense dark magic," I replied. "And he usually lets me know when he does." We signed in at the desk and waited for Agent McGee, the puppy dog escort.

"Will you be able to hear him?"

"If he wanted to, he could make himself heard blocks away."

Murphy rolled her eyes. "You can't even have a normal pet, can you?"

"Normalcy is overrated. Or so I assume. I have yet to meet anyone who could actually claim it." She gave me a wry smile, and I smiled back. Then the elevator pinged open to reveal Agent McGee.

He must have met Murphy before, possibly when she was snooping around the day before, because just nodded to both of us and directed us to the elevator. "We've been expecting you, Sergeant Murphy, Mr. Dresden." There was some repressed gloating in his tone that most people wouldn't have picked up on. "Special Agent Gibbs is waiting for you with Mr. Raith."

I smelled a setup. People, especially federal agent type people, are never this polite to me. Most of them see me as either a nutcase or a con artist. The only time a federal agent has been polite to me, it was to send me in the direction of death and/or maiming. It's one of the many reasons I have trust issues with authority figures.

That probably wasn't going to happen here, but I prepared my shield bracelet just in case. Murphy followed Agent McGee out of the elevator, her body relaxed and ready for trouble, and I bought up the rear. We went down the hallway to the same interrogation room from the night before. Thomas was seated at the table, looking tired and somewhat tense. His Hunger was probably making itself known right about now.

Agent Gibbs was seated across from him, a folder resting on the table. "Have a seat, Mr. Dresden. Agent McGee, would you get a chair for Sergeant Murphy?" The young man nodded and disappeared through the door, returning momentarily with another of the sturdy, uncomfortable seats. I waited until Murphy sat down before sitting between her and Thomas. Something was most definitely hinky in here. I glanced at my brother, and he shrugged slightly. Wonderful.

"We have a bet," the agent finally said, after trying to meet my eyes again. "Two of my people think all three of you are lovers after tailing you two into a motel last night." Agent Gibbs glanced at Murphy, then me, before continuing. "But the others have decided that you're related." He gestured toward me and Thomas. "Maybe you'd like to clear up this matter for us?"

After less than a second of hesitation Thomas said, in a hurt tone, "You got a motel room without me?"

There was a pregnant pause. "Bite me, pretty boy," Murphy growled. "It's your fault we're in DC in the first place. You can find your own fun."

"But we have so much fun when we're together. It's like the world nearly ends every time."

Murphy's cheeks turned pink, but she returned fire. "Harry and I can do that all on our own. We'll call you when we need our hair done."

Hell's bells. I dropped my head into my hands. How did I get myself into this, and how could I get out of it?

Thomas wrapped a possessive hand around my arm and looked at Murphy. "Are you putting a move on my man?"

Murphy echoed the gesture and leaned toward me. "He put a move on me."

"There's enough of me to go around," I said, and forced myself not to wince from the pressure hold Murphy had on my arm.

Agent Gibbs clapped his hands twice, ironically. "Bravo. I feel like I should give out awards but I don't know which of you earned Best Actor." He opened up the file in front of him and pulled out a paper.

Murphy stiffened, which made Thomas and I wary.

"Did you obtain that legally?" she asked.

"Everything was collected within this very room."

Murph glared at me and I put my hands up in surrender. It must have been the coffee cups that did it. The only other thing I'd done in here was talk to Thomas. You'd think all that mucking around with faeries would teach me not to accept gifts.

Agent Gibbs put the paper in front of me. "This is a DNA comparison," he explained, although Murphy's reaction had already told me that much. "Subject A is Mr. Raith, Subject B is Mr. Dresden. You are related. From the percentage of similar strands, my lab tech guesses that you are either half-brothers or cousins." He studied both me and Thomas in turn. "Now why would you keep that a secret?"

This was not good. I looked at Thomas and his eyes told me that this information could not spread. I knew that. My right hand idly curled the top corner of the paper. Then the lights flickered slightly –so maybe, not so idly. Murphy put a hand on my arm. Her eyes shouted at me, 'don't do anything stupid.'

I smiled at her. She did not look reassured.

I curled and uncurled that top corner of the DNA paper. The silence in the room grew thick, and I knew I had been nominated to explain. I stared at the one way mirror and pulled the muscle that controlled my Sight. Slowly, things changed.

Out of the corner of my eye, I knew that Gibbs had changed into a warrior in white. Through the mirror, I saw four more figures. Each one was a warrior in white, though with obviously less experience than Gibbs. The NCIS probably didn't know how good of a team they had here. I could see the static of computers and aimed magic that away. The static sparked and then disappeared. If I was good, this entire recording had just gone up in smoke. I let go of my Sight. Now I felt safe to speak freely.

"Family is everything," I said, and felt him react more than saw it. "Lovers come and go. Blood stays. If you want to destroy someone, you start with their family." I carefully avoided looking at Murphy. "Including the family they've chosen."

"So it's for protection?" Thomas nodded, and Agent Gibbs stared him straight in the eyes. "Protection from whom?"

"I don't think you're ready to know that, Agent Gibbs." Thomas still kept the accent, but that didn't make his words any less potent. "Not until you're ready to talk about your mother."

The man's hands clenched into fists. Without a word, he stood up and knocked on the mirror. Agent Puppy Dog McGee and the Coffee Weasel walked into the room. "Dinozzo, arrest Mr. Raith on obstruction charges. McGee, escort Mr. Dresden and Sergeant Murphy out."

Anger rushed into me, hot and so powerful that I nearly choked on it. Three of the fluorescent lights overhead flickered out, leaving the room lit by one lone bulb. I closed my eyes and pushed the emotion down, forcing my breathing to remain even. Murphy's hand closed over mine for a second, and I squeezed back and let go. When I looked up again, Agent Gibbs was looking at me speculatively. I clenched my jaw shut so tightly that my teeth ached and followed Agent McGee and Murphy out of the building. Mouse followed me as I moved past him, and I scratched him behind the ears. Pets are supposed to be therapeutic. Maybe if I spent enough time with my dog, I would stop wanting to kill a federal agent for messing with my family.

And maybe my dog would take up the drums so we could start a band.

xxx

"I hope you've got the C-note in your wallet, Gemcity. You are so going to lose your bet," Tony taunted.

McGee ignored the other agent and frowned at Abby from his seat at the monitoring computers. Gibbs had asked his team to keep this interview 'in house' and so agents outside the team were given a break. "What are you doing?"

Abby paused in setting up the equipment and smiled at him. "I'm going to be measuring the ambient electrical charges in the interrogation room during the interview. It's an experiment Ziva and I are doing. As of right now, it's running a little higher than normal."

McGee's gaze swung to the Israeli. Ziva was staring out at the interrogation room. Gibbs was sitting across from Raith, Dresden and Murphy, in that order. When Gibbs started the questioning time mentioning the bet, McGee flushed.

"Why say that?" he asked. Then Gibbs brought out the DNA results. McGee glared at Tony. "That shouldn't count if you knew before hand."

"Cough it up, McGee." Tony held out his hand. "I didn't know for sure. I just had the question in the machine, then."

"Abby," McGee tried to plead his case.

"Sorry McGee. He gave me the DNA samples almost as soon as he got here."

"Where's my money?"

Grudgingly, McGee handed over hundred dollar bill. "Why would anyone hide their family, even in the paperwork?" he grumbled.

"Let's ask the person who did it," Tony looked to Ziva.

Her eyes were wide. She was still in the beginning of processing the familial relationship between Dresden and Raith. Ziva hadn't considered the ramifications yet. Why would a close family relationship be hidden so completely? "Danger," Ziva whispered. "Many, many deadly enemies."

"The output is increasing," Abby suddenly announced. "Holy cow! It's building. It's…."

ICrackle./i McGee's computer fried before his eyes. He pushed away from the light show. He dove for the main plug, but that sparked in his hand and he jerked away. He waited a few seconds for it to calm down and then unplugged it. He stood back and looked at the conglomerate. "It's all toast." He looked to Abby. "I don't think we'll be able to recover much."

"Ziva! Short hand it," Tony ordered. He grabbed a piece of paper himself and started taking notes. "Abby, McGee, go out into the hall and try to write down as much of the earlier conversation as possible. Sign it when you're done and we'll compare later." A sudden hush came over the observation room as everyone followed Tony's orders.

xxx

I walked past the rental car, and Murphy hurried to catch up from her own pause next to the vehicle. "Harry?"

"Just a minute, Murph," I said. I waited until we'd walked into an empty parking lot before stopping and sitting down on a curb. I had to do this now, while the connection was still there, which meant I had to calm down. Murphy sat down next to me and watched as I took several slow, measured breaths. Mouse sat down on the other side, being sympathetic and doggy, which helped tremendously. It's hard to be mad when a dog is looking at you like that.

"I'm guessing you have a plan. Hopefully one that doesn't involve any one of us getting hurt."

"Yes." I took another breath, let it out slowly, and reached into the pocket of my duster for the lump of chalk I keep with me. "First I need to do a little thaumaturgy to take care of the DNA testing." I drew a circle, willed it shut, and fished the corner of the test result paper from my other pocket. I hoped Agent Gibbs had put down the folder. As angry as I was at him, I still wouldn't wish a burned hand on anything human. I cast the spell and broke the circle, then moved several feet away and drew a new one. This spell would be a bit more delicate, so I spent a few more minutes focusing on my intent and shunting away the anger. Finally I spat on the ground, drew my finger through it while whispering Idisintegratus/I, and broke the second circle.

Murphy looked at me, one golden eyebrow raised. "That was a little gross, Dresden."

"A little," I admitted. "Had to be done that way, though. Got anything to clean off my hand?"

She reached into her backpack and pulled out a little bottle of hand sanitizer. I scrubbed at my right hand while trying not to get too much goop on my gloved left. She started walking back toward the rental before I was quite finished, and Mouse and I picked up the pace and met her there. I let the dog into the backseat first before folding myself in. "Let's go back to the motel."

Murphy pulled into the flow of traffic and away from NCIS headquarters and my brother. "So what did you just do?"

"I set fire to the DNA report and everything in the folder it was with," I replied.

"You can do that?" She seemed somewhere between impressed and upset. I guess the idea of someone destroying paperwork long distance didn't appeal to her.

"I tore off the corner of the sheet he had. Remember when I explained about how things were connected?"

She nodded. "So you can only do it if you had the paper in your hands to begin with." It was more statement than question, and I responded in kind.

"It works very well on sheets that have been handwritten or typed, but the connection is more tenuous from a laser printer. That's why I had to do it right away."

"And the thing with the spit?"

I frowned. "The only thing I did in that room last night besides talk to Thomas was drink some coffee they brought me. So if they collected DNA from me, it had to be from the coffee cup. If they try to run the test again, whatever they got from me will have broken down beyond testing." I fidgeted, trying to find a place for my head that wasn't already occupied. "Two years ago I wouldn't have been able to do something that precise at all. And if they had blood I wouldn't risk it."

"Why not?"

"It would be very difficult to do without somehow hurting Thomas. Blood in magic is all about connection."

She was silent for a moment. "Are you all right now?"

"I'm still angry," I growled. "He could starve to death while this plays out. Or the Hunger could take him over completely. We're running out of time, and I still have no idea who framed him in the first place or how to get him out."

"They don't think he did it," Murphy said quietly. "They'd have charged him for murder instead of obstruction if they did. They probably think they're protecting him."

"And instead they're slowly killing him." I rubbed the bridge of my nose. The car pulled to a stop in front of the motel. "There's something I'm missing, but my head's so full that I can't put it together. I'm going to go for a run, see if that helps."

"I'd offer to keep you company, but I'm pretty sure I'd need my motorcycle to keep up," said Murphy sourly. Running was just about the only physical activity where I was better than her, and she wasn't entirely happy about it. "Take Mouse."

I nodded and went inside to change, stripping out of the metrosexual shirt and tossing on shorts and a T-shirt. After a moment's thought I tugged off the leather glove on my left hand. It tended to get a little disgusting when I worked up a sweat. Murphy was on her cell phone when I went back outside, and shooed me away. I took the hint about not blowing up the phone and grabbed the dog's lead. We headed for the park I'd found a few blocks away. It wasn't very fancy, just a square half-mile of grass and benches, but it beat running up and down city streets. I stretched out while my dog watched in bemusement, then jogged across the park until my muscles felt warm. I broke into a full run when I reached the edge and started around the perimeter of the park, my mind working through the facts while my body went on autopilot. The murder had taken place at night, in a public place. The victim was one of opportunity, with the objective of framing Thomas in the mortal world. They had probably gone through the Nevernever to plant evidence, which was no easy task even for a wizard.

It was midway through our second lap around the park when Mouse suddenly stopped and growled. I dropped his lead and readied my shield bracelet, my breathing and heartbeat loud in my ears. It would be unbelievably bad for me to be attacked right now, with my blasting rod and staff back at the motel with Murphy. Hell, I didn't even have my gun with me, just the shield bracelet and rings.

So of course, six figures carrying automatic weapons surrounded me. I took in their crazed expressions, lack of concern for their surroundings, and the bright sun overhead, and knew who had set this up and why. I was probably going to be dead within the next five minutes, so that knowledge wouldn't do much good, but at least I had eventually figured it out.

xxx

"Ziva, tail them," Gibbs ordered as soon as he entered the observation room.

Ziva handed over her notes of the previous interview to Abby and rushed out the door. The other agents would have to explain how the recording computer had sparked in the middle of the conversation. The Israeli wondered how long it would take Tony to realize that her notes were not entirely in English, once he started combining the renditions. Short-hand was easier for her if she only had to translate each word one time instead of two. She would have to translate everything when she returned from her mission.

Ziva knew the license plate of Sergeant Murphy's rental car and it was still in the parking lot. That concerned Ziva until she spied the pair across the way in an adjacent lot. Dresden was seated on the asphalt, doing something. Murphy was waiting impatiently. The sergeant glanced around as un-idly as anyone who lived on the edge, but Ziva was a professional and made sure that she wasn't seen.

Dresden finished up whatever he had been working on and the two walked swiftly to their rental. Ziva unlocked the NCIS team car the same time that the pair unlocked theirs. The NCIS car was a deliberate choice on Ziva's part; it was much less noticeable in the DC streets than her Mini and it had a tracer on it so that Abby could find her wherever Ziva drove. Dresden and Murphy drove straight to the motel.

They carried in their belongings. Ziva noticed that Murphy had her service revolver at her side. That was illegal in DC. If the sergeant got in the way, the revolver would be a good excuse to get her out of the way. Ziva had just called up Gibbs to report in when Dresden exited the motel, changed and with the monster dog on a leash. She put the car into drive and followed.

"IWhat?/I" Gibbs snapped as he answered his phone.

That was much testier than Gibbs had been when she had left HQ. "What happened?"

"Raith's file caught fire, set off the alarms and the sprinklers up and down the interrogation hallway. Had to evacuate Raith to a new location and fill out paperwork to get the firefighters to leave."

"How did that happen?"

"You tell me," growled Gibbs.

Ziva wisely changed the subject; Gibbs already knew that she was clueless and wasn't really expecting an answer. "Murphy's at the motel and Dresden's going for a run. I'm following Dresden."

Gibbs grunted. "I'll send McGee to the motel. Anything else?"

"Murphy's packing her service revolver."

A pause. "I'll pass it on." Gibbs didn't seem too surprised, but then again, neither was Ziva. Murphy came across as a very competent cop. Gibbs hung up and Ziva pocketed her phone. She found a parking space near the park and watched Dresden work through a set of stretches. He was deep in thought and never noticed her, the dog on the other hand, had. Dresden started running, his long strides eating up the distance. The man could move when he wished. Ziva darted into the park and ran an inner circuit to Dresden's outer.

She saw when the dog stopped in his tracks and the owner obediently followed. She saw the fear of the NCIS team become reality. Six men with AK-47's surrounded Dresden and they weren't looking to kidnap him either. She had her cell phone in hand and was running toward them before the first shots were fired. She didn't give Gibbs a chance to say anything. "Shots fired." The ricochet of bullets punctuated her yell. "Dresden's unarmed. At Elliot Park." Ziva hung up before Gibbs could ask any more questions.

By some miracle, Dresden was still standing. He had a bullet in his leg which was slowing his retreat. The dog surprised Ziva by not running but, with great efficiency, he jumped the closest attacker and killed him. The others paid no attention to the dog; they were so focused on their target.

"Federal agent," Ziva announced. "Put down your guns."

The five remaining men ignored Ziva as if she hadn't spoken. They advanced on Dresden and then fired again. Dresden put out his hand in resistance. By some miracle, the bullets didn't hit him. Ziva had said and seen enough. She double-tapped the shooter furthest from Dresden –the one that was directly opposite Dresden- in the chest. He dropped. She shot the next one in line, the first time hitting him in the arm. The wounded man didn't jerk, didn't even look at her. He kept his gun pointed at Dresden. He was so intent on Dresden, that he ignored the one who was armed. Ziva mentally shrugged and double-tapped him in the head.

Three down.

"Dresden," Ziva ordered. "Run straight through."

Dresden obeyed. He ran –limped- as fast as he could. Ziva rushed to join him. They met up on the other side of the street, and ran side-by-side down an alley where there were several abandoned stores. Bullets ricocheted off the brick walls and one creased Ziva's arm. She held her gun despite the pain. The two took cover in a deep doorway. Ziva kept an eye out for the approaching three gunmen as she heard Dresden rattle the locked doorway. She noticed that two of the gunmen were changing magazines so she took a chance and fired at the third. Double-tap. Four down. Two to go.

"How are you with a gun?" she asked. "I can pick the lock."

To her surprise the door opened behind her. "Done," Dresden said.

Dresden was probably the fastest lock-picker under pressure that she had ever known and she knew the best ones in the world. Then Dresden held the door open for her. Ziva couldn't believe that he'd still use manners in a moment like this. She didn't argue, but darted inside, the dog was on her heels. Dresden closed the door behind him, locked it and immediately began looking for a barricade.

Ziva was already dragging over a crate and none too soon. The two remaining men were shooting through the door, reducing it to splinters. "Why are they so persistent?"

Dresden ignored her and was looking for the exit. The dog was two steps ahead of him. Ziva grabbed his arm. "I shot one of them and they never once acknowledged my existence. Why are they so focused on you?"

The door exploded inwards. How, Ziva didn't know. Dresden wrapped an arm around Ziva and pulled her in front of him, turning at the same time so that his body protected hers. He grunted, jerked and Ziva knew that he'd been hit by shrapnel. She ran ahead of him. He followed as closely as he could. At the next door, she swung it open. Dresden ran through and Ziva slammed the door shut, locked it and jumped over the main counter of what used to be a diner. Dresden was huddled behind it already.

Ziva traded her empty magazine for a full one. "Answer me," she demanded. "Why are they so persistent?"

"They're Renfields," Dresden finally answered.

That meant nothing to the Israeli. "Is that some stupid American slang?"

"Renfields are people irreversibly, psychologically tortured to the point where their torturers will give them simple –destructive- orders and they'll obey blindly, to the exclusion of all else."

"Jehovah Jirah," Ziva breathed. She crawled around Dresden, to be on an angle so that the two remaining would not accidentally hit her as they were demolishing the door. There was now a big enough hole for one of them to reach in to unlock the handle. He, very stupidly, left himself exposed doing so. Ziva shot him in the exposed chest twice, but the man had managed to open the door. The last of the Renfields jumped through, bullets flying. Ziva double-tapped this one in the chest and he went down.

"Not very smart, are they?" she asked Dresden in the sudden silence.

He gave her a pained smile. "Cannon fodder doesn't need to be smart." He had bunched up his shorts and folded the one side over the bleeding bullet hole. Now he was in the midst of wrapping the dog's leash around that same spot. Ziva noted with approval that he had started on top of the wound, twined it around and knotted the leash directly over the bleeding spot. Ziva noticed that Dresden's left hand was a familiar menagerie of twisted up scars. He had been wearing a glove in the interrogation room, which was why Ziva hadn't noticed it before. The twisted scars were familiar because they were obviously a result of an intense fire. Ziva had seen too many victims of bombings not to know what fire scars resembled. In spite of it all, Ziva was impressed with Dresden's mobility in his injured hand; from the depth of the scar tissue, she would have expected it to be useless. Idly she wondered who his physical therapist was; she had friends who could benefit from the doctor's expertise.

"You've been hurt before." By fire and by bullets; Dresden had made an excellent field dressing.

Dresden snorted at the comment. "My medical records are thicker than 2 Chicago phone books. A friend oh-so-helpfully compared them for me." He looked around the empty shop and listened intently. "There may be more Renfields," he warned.

Grumbling, Ziva pulled her phone out of her pocket and, without looking, dialed Gibbs. Nothing. She glanced at the screen and it was black. She looked it over; it hadn't taken a bullet, so why wouldn't it turn on?

Ziva slapped it onto the counter in frustration, but she was too professional to let it slow her down. "I called for back-up before," she warned Dresden, "but I'm going have to get out there and meet them and possibly collect the guns." The six AK-47's would be a prize for any local thug in the neighborhood and Ziva couldn't risk losing the evidence.

Dresden offered a crooked, strained smile and in it, Ziva could see the attraction both men and women would have toward him. "I'll be fine. IYou/I be careful, the Renfields won't stop for anything sort of a killing bullet." He paused for a moment, debating. "I don't suppose you'll leave me your spare gun?"

Now Ziva was debating; she would not be able to hear Dresden call for help while she was waiting in the park but she would be able to hear a gun discharge. She had just seen what the 'cannon fodder' the opposite side was playing with and she hadn't just saved Dresden's ass to get him killed now. In the end, she pulled out her ankle firearm and the spare magazine. "You steal this, 'lose' it or damage it and I'll hunt you down and make you pay."

"Yes ma'am," Dresden said solemnly. Dresden's dog looked at Ziva just as solemnly.

Satisfied that Dresden's competent handling of the weapon was not faked, Ziva left the man and beast, and hurried toward the beginning of the crime scene. She had to step over several dead bodies, but those didn't bother her –much.

The bodies in the alley were the same as she had left them, but the three bodies in the street were starting to gain an audience. Several teen boys were checking to see if anyone was watching and started bending down.

"Federal agent," Ziva yelled. "You touch those guns and I'll charge you with attempted murder, kidnapping, interfering with a federal investigation Iand/I possession of an illegal firearm." Since Ziva had her badge and her gun very visible, the boys decided against picking up the guns. Instead they ran the other way. Most of the other residents decided that they didn't want anything to do with the feds, so those too slipped away.

Unfortunately, Ziva couldn't trust that they'd stay away. There was no way that she, just one agent, could keep such an extended crime scene uncontaminated. She hated the idea of contaminating the scene of a crime and really didn't want Gibbs yelling at her because of it, but those guns would draw out thieves like butterflies to a flame. She eyed the scene carefully; she would have to draw a representation for the files. Then she picked up the three guns, careful not to smudge any of the prints and carried them part way down the alley. She leaned them against the far side of a dumpster. That accomplished one goal.

Ziva then grabbed the three biggest people from the depleting crowd and told them to keep the gawkers at bay. The two women grinned and started yelling at the youths, telling them at the cops would be here any moment. It was close enough to the truth for Ziva and for the crowd. It started to disperse faster. One of the women apparently recognized one of the gang and threatened to tell parents. They were down to only Ziva's chosen three and two busybodies. It looked like they had the people under control so Ziva ran to the NCIS car to grab the yellow crime scene tape. With the crowd mostly dispersed, cars would try to go down the street again and that would be bad.

She was just returning to the scene when two cars screeched to a stop behind her. They very effectively block the road from that direction. NCIS agents tumbled out of the vehicles. Gibbs was the first one at her side, with his weapon drawn.

"Report," he barked.

Ziva started jogging toward the scene, Gibbs at her side. "Six armed men came from that alley," she pointed as she passed. "They shot at Dresden and he obtained a leg wound. His dog killed one. I announced myself. They shot again at Dresden and I started shooting. I winged one, but he never stopped pointing his weapon at Dresden. I killed two, gave Dresden an opening and we ran down that…" Ziva stopped talking.

In front of her should have been the crime scene. And it still was, but it wasn't surrounded by standing bystanders. All the bystanders were lying on the ground. The NCIS team spread out and checked pulses.

"Still alive," Tony reported.

"Here too," McGee chimed in from his position.

Ziva ignored the downed civilians and realized what was missing. "The corpses are gone," she shouted. "Dresden's hurt and down here!" The Israeli officer took off sprinting down the alley. If someone had managed to cover their tracks with the Renfields –so silently- in such a short period of time, there's no telling if they had managed to get a hold of Dresden.

xxx

As I watched Harry walk away from the hotel room with Mouse, I felt a smile flicker across my face despite everything. It was sometimes hard to tell who the master in their relationship was.

"You there?" Rawlins' voice brought me back to the phone conversation.

"Go ahead."

"I can cover for you for the next couple of days, but you and Dresden need to finish wreaking havoc in DC and head back soon."

"Does Stallings know yet?"

Rawlins snorted. "If he knew for sure, he'd have to order you back and hand you over to IA. So he doesn't ask."

"Understood. I'll call when I'm back."

"Tell Dresden to watch your ass." I hung up before he could follow up with the ribald comment I was sure he had ready.

Harry would probably be gone for close to an hour. That was long enough to gain a little focus on the matters at hand. Last night had been more difficult than I thought it would be, and that little conversation in the interrogation room hadn't made things any easier. It was an incredibly surreal situation when you stopped to think about it, Thomas and me fighting over Harry. I would never have played along if I hadn't been tired.

"Enough thinking, Karrin," I told myself, and went into the tiny bathroom to change. I had one guaranteed refuge for things like this and it was in one of the formal katas I had learned over the years. The only time this hadn't worked was when I had been recovering from the Nightmare five years ago, and Harry had put me back on track then.

That was probably when I started seeing him as more than a friend.

I stumbled in the opening moves, went back and started again. Put the feelings to the side, Karrin. Breathe in. Breathe out. Don't think about Harry, or the situation with Thomas. Inhale. Exhale.

I had been working for thirty minutes, and was just starting to get some clarity, when I heard a sharp bark outside the door. I fell out of the kata roughly, the sound startling me in more ways than one. Now I saw what Harry was talking about when he said that Mouse would let him know if anything was going happening. I jerked open the door, my nerves jangling, and looked at the dog. He had blood on the fur around his neck and on his collar, and in several blotches along his back. His leash was missing – unclipped, not torn. And, most importantly, there was no Harry holding it. There was no Harry in sight, and that combined with the blood sent my heartbeat racing. I grabbed my gun and a loose jacket to cover it and ran out of the motel room.

Mouse broke into a trot as soon as I cleared the door, and I followed behind as quickly as I could. He wasn't dead, because Mouse was still alive and apparently unhurt. But the blood had to have come from somewhere, and the smart money was on Harry being wounded and probably unconscious. The man was more injury-prone than anyone else I had ever met. Granted, when people occasionally deliver your pizza with a bomb in the box, it says something about you and your people skills. Harry had been shot at so many times that he should qualify for some sort of club. Frequent Targets instead of Frequent Fliers, where you earn points every time a bullet is aimed your way.

Mouse led me into a tiny park, its tranquility marred by the rushing sound of traffic from the streets surrounding it, and, further in, by the distinctive smell of discharged firearms. Harry had most definitely been here. The smell grew stronger and then abruptly grew faint as we reached a road that had been blocked off for construction. The big dog dodged around the inactive equipment and a hole in the ground big enough to swallow Harry's car and began to run as we reached a ramshackle building that looked like a movie cliché of an abandoned warehouse.

I had my gun out –but out of sight- as we came around to the back of the structure and was scanning for threats as Mouse bounded down the alleyway. I followed him around a pile of old crates, trusting that Harry's dog wouldn't lead me into danger but keeping my weapon ready just in case, and found another smell overpowering the smells of the alley: blood. My pulse picked up speed, and I fought down the urge to call out for Harry. Moving into the situation before I knew what was going on would get us both killed.

The dog stopped next to an aged pallet that was leaning against the back of the next building and whined softly. There was movement behind the rotting wood, and I hesitated for a moment before I holstered my gun and moved it out of my way.

Harry was propped up against the brick wall, his lower body spattered liberally with blood and his skin ashen. I whipped off my jacket and knelt down to check his pulse, some of the tension going out when I found it. His eyes opened at my touch, and he managed a tired smile. "Hey, Murph," he said, very softly, and winced in pain.

"Don't try to talk, Harry. You're probably going into shock." I shoved my emotions into a corner of my mind and concentrated on the first aid training I had taken on multiple occasions during my career. He was talking, so he was breathing, although it was very shallow and occasionally accompanied by a pained expression. His blood-soaked shorts were bunched up under a make-shift tourniquet tied around his left thigh, something that had probably saved his life. He started to shiver, and I laid my jacket over him. "You need to go to a hospital."

"Can't go to a hospital, Karrin." He tried to pull himself a little more upright, and what color remained in his face drained out and he fell back again. "If they know I'm helpless, they'll set the place on fire to get to me."

"So you know who did this?"

"Renfields. Black Court." I watched as his eyes tried and failed to focus, and added possible concussion to the list that included cracked ribs, a gunshot wound, and blood loss. His left hand looked bruised under the burn scars, the knuckles of it torn open and oozing.

"I need to go get my car. If you can't go to a hospital, we'll have to at least get you back to the motel room." I couldn't do much for him there, but I could do a little more for him there than I could here.

"NCIS is coming," Harry said. "Girl followed us. Took care of the Renfields."

"They'll want to take you to a hospital," I warned. "And the hospital will want to keep you at least overnight."

"Don't let them. Need a threshold by sundown." He started to shiver a little more violently. "Tell them about the Congo if you have to."

I grimaced at the thought of that happening in Washington. It was sometimes hard to think about my best friend having to worry about collateral damage in assassination attempts, and having problems paying the rent at the same time.

xxx

Ziva heard the staccato of footsteps running behind her, following her down the alley littered with spent bullet shells. She thought that Gibbs was on her tail. She pointed to blood splatter and a pool of blood. "There should be another corpse there."

Gibbs grunted in understanding, then all of a sudden, IRaith/I sped by her and raced ahead. He missed the doorway that Dresden and Ziva had taken cover in, but quickly spotted it and somehow knew. Raith slid –nearly to his hands and knees- as he changed directions and then he shot into the abandoned diner storage area. Ziva and Gibbs were right on his tail.

They saw Raith run by the outer broken door, yet another pool of blood missing its corpse, the inner broken door and the final blood pool Isans/I body. Ziva pointed out each one to Gibbs as they ran by. Then their main suspect jumped the diner's countertop and landed lightly on the other side. He looked around frantically, swore and shouted, "IHarry!/I" A pause. "IHarry! Damn you!/I"

Ziva didn't hear a response but Raith ran out another door to the outside. The NCIS agents –trying to avoid contaminating the scene- followed.

"What is he doing here?" she asked breathlessly.

"He threatened to kill if he wasn't included and Dresden got hurt."

Ziva blinked and then skidded to a stop, nearly falling over Detective Murphy who was hovering over an unconscious Dresden. She was applying pressure; her shoulder holster was visible as her jacket was covering Dresden's chest. Or rather it had been until Raith had started checking Dresden's body for wounds. Dresden groaned when Raith touched his ribs and his shoulder.

Gibbs already had his phone out. "Ducky. Skip the civilians and get to the back. Dresden needs immediate attention."

"Ducky is a Icoroner/I," Raith spat.

"He's a doctor first," Gibbs responded. "We go to him when we get hurt. Dresden'll be in good hands."

Murphy smirked slightly and it made her face look macabre and young with a smear of blood across one cheek. "He'll be comfortable with a coroner taking care of him."

"How'd you get here so fast," Gibbs questioned her.

Murphy jerked her head the dog's way. "Mouse came and got me."

Gibbs took the comment at face value for the moment. Ducky had arrived and had taken control of the situation. Within moments, he had sent Palmer to the van to drive it around the buildings and park it at the other entrance of the alley, on the far side of the construction. Soon after, Dresden was on a gurney, covered, strapped in with his feet elevated, an IV in his arm and on his way toward someplace warm and safe. Murphy and Raith crowded Ducky at every turn and even climbed into the van before it had a chance to pull out. Even Dresden's dog hopped in and refused to be left behind.

Ziva and Gibbs watched them go.

"He threatened to kill if he wasn't included and Dresden got hurt?" Ziva repeated. "And you brought him?"

Gibbs thought about it and then decided to let Ziva in on his reasoning. "We all knew that he didn't kill Miller and that it was a set-up. We knew it was probably a trap. The fact that Dresden was targeted lets Raith off the hook. If we hadn't brought him along or not released him, just then, someone would be dead. Raith would have killed someone before we would be able to put a bullet in him. This way, I kept all of my team alive and kept an eye on Raith."

Ziva considered it. She spied her gun where Dresden's feet had been and retrieved it. She checked the magazine and saw that Dresden hadn't fired a shot. Good, that meant that Ziva hadn't done something stupid like faint. But how did she miss someone coming and picking up Isix/I bodies? How had they managed to leave no witnesses?

Gibbs grabbed her arm and steered her toward the diner. "Walk me through everything."

Ziva decided to start at the beginning. She and Gibbs talked through the first couple shots and the first three should-be corpses. When Ziva started mentioning the third corpse and her bloody arm, she remembered the three AK's that she had removed from the initial crime scene on the street.

Gibbs yelled for Tony to bring gauze, antiseptic and tape while Ziva directed Gibbs' attention to the three guns by the dumpster. While the lack of body in the alley included a lack of weaponry, as did the pools of blood in the warehouse, these three guns were exactly where Ziva had left them. Whoever had tried to cover up the hit job hadn't stuck around to try and find where the weaponry had disappeared to. It wasn't convenient and so the accomplices had left without the guns.

By disturbing the crime scene, Ziva had saved them something to work with.

Gibbs took the first-aid items from Tony and then sent the agent back to the evidence van so that he could bag and tag the guns.

As Gibbs was cleaning her wound, Ziva asked, "Have you ever heard of Renfields?"

Gibbs paused and then shook his head.

Tony spoke up from behind them, "Is that some weird Israeli slang?"

"No," Ziva said. "It was what Dresden called the men. Gibbs, these men didn't even Ilook/I at me after I shot the first one in the arm." She thought about it. "They never even looked at me when I shot one of them dead," she realized. "They were so focused on Dresden that I didn't exist, neither did the dog after it killed the first one. I asked Dresden about them and he called them Renfields. He said that they are 'people irreversibly, psychologically tortured to the point where their torturers will give them simple –destructive- orders and they'll obey blindly, to the exclusion of all else.'"

Tony winced and even Gibbs reacted. Ziva couldn't quantify Gibbs' reaction and Gibbs himself brushed off the information and demanded that Ziva continue narrating the attempted murder. Ziva complied. She mentioned how Dresden was very good at picking locks and how he was stupidly gentlemanly, using his body to shield the Mossad agent. She emphasized how the Renfields had put themselves in harms way to complete their goal. Back in the diner and using their flashlights, they could see slight footprints and streaks in the dust where Dresden's dog had apparently pulled his master outside.

Dresden's dog had probably saved his life. When whoever it had been had picked up the corpses, they hadn't been able to find Dresden and finish the job.

"Anything else?" Gibbs asked.

"Concerning?" Ziva wasn't sure what her boss wanted to know.

"Dresden, Raith, the Renfields. Dresden and Raith aren't going to tell us anything and we still have Miller's murder to solve. IWe/I know that Miller was collateral damage, but we have to prove it. And we don't know who sent the Renfields. I need your observations."

Ziva voiced the first idea that came to mind. "Dresden's got a really good physical therapist. His left hand should be useless, if not amputated."

Gibbs was surprised. He reviewed his memory and could only recall a leather glove on Dresden's left hand. That hand had been as mobile and flexible as the right. "How did he get it hurt?"

"My guess? Torture," Ziva offered her expert opinion. "It looked like someone stuck his hand into boiling oil. Dresden's also quite good at field dressings and knows how to handle a gun."

"He's got his conceal and carry permit and a weapon registered in his name."

Ziva nodded. It made sense. "What type of weapon?"

"A revolver, a big one."

Now she frowned. "A limited number of bullets and horrible reload time. I can understand how he would like a gun that fits his larger hands, but I think he's in a war. I have never seen any group so good at scene clean-up. This puts Mossad to shame. A revolver doesn't make sense; it's not the gun you want in the middle of a gun battle… Unless it's his back-up weapon?"

Gibbs shook his head. "It's the only gun registered to him." He had thought the same thing. Now he started sharing information that they had learned while she had been tailing Dresden. "Murphy flew to DC. Dresden drove."

"Dresden brought the dog and anything they couldn't get through airport security," Ziva surmised.

"Yes."

"While they're in the hospital, do you want someone to pick up their arsenal?"

"I don't think I want to disarm the side that's Inot/I shooting at the by-standers, yet. This wasn't the first attempt on Dresden's life. It won't be the last."

"Should someone have gone with Ducky and Palmer to the hospital?"

Gibbs considered it. "Hopefully, they'll be fine in transit. Both Murphy and Raith are predisposed to keeping Dresden alive. And Murphy's armed and Raith's dangerous. I'll call about getting guards at the hospital."

Tony and McGee walked into the abandoned diner with their investigation kits. "Everything else is processed, Boss. The bystanders have all been taken to the local hospital. You want to do in here?"

"No," Gibbs countered. "You do it. Ziva, take the spare camera and record anything that will spark your memory. Anything that might be a clue, especially to how they managed to remove all the corpses. Anyone who could remove corpses with no witnesses could have easily killed the same way. We will be recreating and reenacting this whole thing several times."

"Just so long as I don't have to be one of the crazies that Ziva kills," Tony joked. "Where did the bad guys come up with so many, anyway?"

"They made them," said Gibbs.

"But the men had to come from somewhere and six of them? Somebody's got to be missing them."

It was a good point, but Gibbs wasn't going to admit it aloud; DiNozzo was still on his blacklist. "Ziva, after you're done with the camera, spend some time with the sketch artist. See if we can't get some pictures of these men."

Ziva nodded. "Hopefully, Abby will be able to get fingerprints off of the guns."

"And the brass," McGee added tiredly. "There's a lot of brass. They might have prepped it themselves."

"There's more brass in here. Bag and tag it," Gibbs ordered. He walked out the door with his cell phone in hand. Ziva presumed that he was calling the hospital to arrange for Dresden's protective detail. A few minutes later, the team heard his terse voice say, "What do you mean, Dr. Mallard and patient hasn't arrived?"

Tony palmed his phone and called Ducky. McGee palmed his cell phone and called Abby. Tony was listening to Ducky's phone ring and ring and ring. Abby, on the other hand, picked up half way through the first ring.

"What do you have for me, McGee-ster?"

"Abby, you need to track the GPS on the NCIS morgue van. Now."

"On it. Ducky's lost?"

"Ducky and Palmer, Dresden, Murphy and Raith."

"Which one is dead?"

"None of them. They were supposed to be rushing Dresden to the hospital."

"I bet Ducky got a kick out of that. It probably reminded him on how the first ambulances were mortuary cars."

"Abby," McGee said as he looked worriedly at the scowling Gibbs.

"Working on it. Anyone try calling them?"

"Tony called Ducky. No answer."

"Huh."

"Abby!"

"Sorry. That was odd. It was as if the computer dropped the trace. It fizzed out on me. Trying it again."

"Hurry."

"Hurrying. But you know that I can't rush these things. When did you start sounding like Gibbs?"

"Since people started killing Marines to trap Chicago-ians. And crazy dead people started disappearing right and left."

In the midst of all the mayhem, Gibbs' phone rang. Everyone paused.

Gibbs frowned at the unfamiliar number but answered the call. "Gibbs." A pause and then he relaxed incrementally. "Ducky. What happened?"

xxx

The hunger was a pressing urgency, always at the back of my mind. Worrying about Harry helped a little, oddly enough. It gave me something to think about other than the proximity of Karrin, warm and female next to me. She would be so good in bed, flexible and passionate, and she would taste so good when I ate her up. The strong ones were always the best. Someone like Karrin would last for years if properly managed.

Getting into the front of the van was a relief. It had been days since I'd fed and Karrin was the kind of temptation that was almost impossible to ignore. She was also the kind of temptation that would get me killed if I gave in, and I knew it. Harry was my brother, and that was incredibly important to both of us, but Karrin was something more. The idiot was willing to throw himself in front of a grenade to protect her.

I could hear the chaos in the back as the coroner and Karrin worked to save my idiot brother's life. Mouse was back there as well, which made me feel a little safer. Maybe I'd been spending too much time with Harry, but I trusted that my brother's dog wouldn't let anything happen to him or Karrin, even if I was the danger in this situation.

The nerdy, nervous assistant was talking to me, but it was hard to pull my attention away from what was happening in the back of the van. Neither one of them sounded panicked, but then Karrin was one of the most controlled people I knew and the coroner didn't seem like the type to let those kinds of things show. Mouse stood silent guard over the proceedings, staying as unobtrusive as a dog that large can be.

Finally Karrin looked up at me and nodded. I relaxed the tiniest bit, because it meant that Harry was stable and it was time to take care of the next step.

We both knew that my brother couldn't be taken to the hospital, for any number of reasons. It was dangerous to both him and anyone else in the surrounding area. Karrin and Harry had managed to come up with a backup plan sometime after he'd been shot, and now it was time to set that plan into motion.

xxx

Jimmy Palmer was a nervous man. He always was. He liked dead people because he made so many less Ifaux pas/I's around them. He was already jittery around Raith since Michelle had been practically swooning over him. One part of him was jealous by how much Michelle had talked about the suspect while another part knew that Raith's lover was in the back of the NCIS van extremely hurt. So was Jimmy jealous or sympathetic? He didn't know and Raith wasn't making anything easier with his growls and turnings around to watch Murphy and Ducky work on Dresden.

And when Jimmy got nervous or weirded out, he started talking and couldn't stop. He knew that he was babbling now, but Raith was ignoring him.

"Ducky's a good doc," he was trying to reassure the lead suspect. "Really, he's great. I'm sure that he could have had a wonderful business if he had wanted to work on live people but he doesn't. Doesn't want to, that is. I don't know why."

"Can the doctor fix him on his own?" Raith interrupted. "If we get caught in traffic?"

"Sure, Ducky can do anything," Jimmy said. "But don't worry, it doesn't look like we are going to have a problem with traffic at all. That's why I'm using these side streets. We're only ten blocks away from the hospital. It's a good hospital and they'll help Ducky take care of him." Jimmy stopped at a stop sign. He offered a wry grin to Raith. "It wouldn't do to get in a wreck this close and with your friend needing help."

Something happened. Jimmy had no idea what, but next thing he knew, his face was smashed against the driver's side window and his hands were stuffed in his mouth. There was a pressure on Jimmy's legs and someone –Raith? was steering the van. Jimmy wasn't getting enough oxygen and black dots danced in front of his eyes. The next thing he knew (he was losing a lot of time on this trip), the van was parked and Jimmy was on the floor between the two front seats. His hands were tied behind his back and his head was stuffed by the driver's pedals, so he couldn't see anyone or thing or move. There was fabric in Jimmy's mouth that he couldn't remove or spit out.

He heard a murmur of "Congo," "gas," and "ten block radius." Jimmy waited and waited. He heard sounds of someone moving in the back of the van, but was it Ducky? Or was it Lieutenant Murphy? Did they know that something had happened to him? Did they think he was dead? Was it better if Raith thought he was dead? Where was Raith? Should Jimmy move or wait? Move or wait?

Jimmy waited. And waited.

And waited.

xxx

The house was big and the kind of old that spoke of money rather than necessity. Thomas and the coroner's assistant had manhandled Harry into the kitchen, turning the kitchen table into a makeshift operating table. I was pressed into service as a nurse, something I was never letting Harry know about, and ended up handing Dr. Mallard tools that had been hastily sanitized in a pot of boiling water on his stove. The doctor ("Call me Ducky, my dear") told a rambling story about something that had happened early in his career that was somehow calming. He was a very steady presence as he worked, which made me happy, and his house was also off the beaten path and incredibly low-tech, which made it easy to secure. Agent Gibbs and his team had arrived in the middle of the impromptu surgery and helped with that last task, which was the kind of break we needed right about now.

We moved Harry to a downstairs bedroom once he was stable and resting. This unfortunately left Thomas and I in the uncomfortable position of needing to decide what to tell the NCIS agents. Harry would have been better at deciding how much information was too much. He was good at reading people and figuring out how much they could handle. I was just going to have to wing it and hope that Thomas kept me from saying too much.

Speaking of Thomas, he was just a shade or two paler than normal. Somewhere in all of this he was going to have to find some way to feed. I wasn't very comfortable with it, but we needed him at top form if something was gunning for us, especially since it was the Black Court. Harry told me about Thomas fighting with the Black Court and what it had cost him, though that was knowledge I was never, ever sharing.

At some point Agent Gibbs had sent the puppyish Agent McGee out for food and coffee and at the same time deliver the evidence to Abby, and I was almost willing to propose to him for the food. Now that Harry was in relative safety I was starving. It took five minutes to scrub all the blood (Harry's blood) off of my face and hands. My clothing was still liberally splattered, but I would have to make do. Harry's were a complete loss, of course.

Thomas nibbled at a sandwich and sipped a cup of coffee with mechanical precision. It wouldn't sustain him like feeding off the good-looking female agent, which was probably why he was staying on the other side of the room. The caffeine hit my system like life itself, and I grunted in appreciation as I drank.

Agent Gibbs waited until I was finished before fixing his blue eyes on me. "Now would be a good time to explain," he said.

I didn't meet his eyes completely. Harry had warned me that Thomas had experienced something like a soul gaze from the man, but working in a government office would be nearly impossible for anyone who had ever really developed a magical ability. Harry couldn't even walk into a room with a functional computer most of the time. "Harry has made a lot of enemies over the years," I finally said. "He's got a talent for pissing people off."

Thomas snorted from his spot on the wall. I had a feeling he was reluctant to put himself in temptation's way, which meant that he was really, really hungry. We had to find a way to let him leave and find an appropriate food supply. "He goes out of his way to insult individuals who could crush him like a bug," Thomas said. He'd dropped the French accent completely somewhere along the way, probably figuring that it was a pointless endeavor as well as a waste of energy. "There are a couple of groups in particular who would like to either recruit him or dismember him."

"And one of them decided to shoot up my town?" Agent Gibbs asked, one silver eyebrow raising.

"We knew from the beginning that this might be a trap designed specifically for Harry," I told him. "Thomas is a nice bonus, and I'm sure they wouldn't mind removing me as well. But Harry was the main target, and now we have a general idea of which group is after him this time."

"Sometimes the only way to take care of a trap is to step into it and see who comes to take care of the prey," Agent David said. "Especially if he has made a lot of powerful enemies."

"Exactly. What happened at the park?" NCIS had showed up on the scene much too quickly. Someone, probably Agent David, had been trailing Harry. She must be very good, since we were both old hands at spotting a tail. The Renfields had to all be dead if Harry had lived long enough to be loaded into the van in the first place, but we needed to know how.

"Dresden was running through the park with the dog. I was following at a safe distance behind." The woman looked thoughtful, like she was piecing together what she'd seen in a new light after everything she'd learned. "The dog stopped first, almost like it knew the attackers were there before they could be seen. Dresden came to a halt almost immediately after and started looking around him."

"He trusts Mouse's instincts," I told her. "That dog knows when there's trouble and he always lets Harry know."

She nodded and continued laying out the crime scene, impressing me with how well she followed the action from an investigator's (and warrior's) point of view. I had no idea what her background was, though her accent and the prominent Star of David around her neck gave me a few clues, but she had been trained well. Facing six Renfields without knowing what they were wasn't exactly something most law enforcement could handle well, especially when you factored in automatic weapons. Special Agent Ziva David had done better against Renfields than I had my first time out, probably than I ever would. Give me vampires to decapitate any day of the week over anything even remotely human.

I turned to Thomas when she was finished. "What do you know about the Black Court?"

He shrugged. "A few of the major players, but they're just as close-mouthed as any of the Courts." There was a quick flash of a very white grin. "A little more, probably, since the whole world knows how to kill them. It's just such a shame, having your dirty business aired to the world like that."

I rolled my eyes and turned my attention back to Agent Gibbs. "We know which group is responsible. When Harry wakes up, we'll probably know more. Most importantly, Harry will know how to stop it." It was something I was depending on, Harry's ability to solve problems. He had come through for me in the past, and I was counting on it now.

xxx

He didn't trust them, exactly. They had, for all intents and purposes, kidnapped Ducky and Palmer, even if it was just to the man's home. Raith was still technically a suspect in the murder of a Marine, Murphy refused to meet his eyes, and Dresden was a completely unknown quantity. They had all been incredibly vague about the threat that they would be facing. But Gibbs had made a career out of listening to his gut, and he didn't distrust them either. It felt a little like his initial reaction to Ziva.

Raith slipped out the door when most of the busyness had died down. He considered following, more because he was worried that the man would be in danger from whatever mysterious group was after Dresden, but DiNozzo beat him to it. Tony would take care of it, and he could continue trying to put together this puzzle with Dresden and Murphy.

He'd seen agents head down that kind of path before. It was always a bad idea to break rule number twelve, no matter how close you became to your coworker. At the end of the day you still had to work with the woman, no matter how obstinate she was being or how pissed you were at her and her way of handling things, and that wasn't even counting the mess when the relationship ended.

Dresden woke up about an hour after Raith left and he and Murphy conversed quietly in the kitchen for a few minutes with the dog standing guard outside of the door. When the two of them came back out the woman was acting as an impromptu crutch under Dresden's arm. She helped him limp his way into the living room and sit down on the couch before heading back into the kitchen, bringing back two coffee mugs, pressing one into Dresden's hands and sitting down next to him.

"The ones responsible for this whole mess are known as the Black Court," Dresden said. "They're one of four different types of vampires, the ones that Bram Stoker's Dracula was based on, with all of the traditional habits of vampires. The men who shot up the park are called Renfields after the character in the book."

There was a long pause. Gibbs waited for the man to continue. "And?" he prompted when the silence stretched out. He was willing to let that idea slide past for now. He had seen a few things in his time and it was at least a possibility. None of the other members of his team spoke up to agree or decry the concept, thankfully following his lead.

Dresden's expression at this was a little hard to read since he still refused to meet Gibbs' eyes, but Gibbs settled on confusion mixed with a little exasperation. "Black Court vamps are the most physically and psychically strong, but they also have all the traditional vampire weaknesses. When 'Dracula' got published, it pretty much meant that all but the smartest, the strongest, and the sneakiest were hunted down and killed. That makes whoever is organizing this dangerous. It will probably have more Renfields, maybe a fledgling or two, and probably a psychologically subdued food supply."

"People set traps for you often, Mr. Dresden?" Gibbs asked.

Dresden sighed, and Gibbs had the feeling that the weariness was only partially from a long day and blood loss. "All the damn time, lately. The last few years have been kind of rough." Gibbs saw Murphy nudge him the tiniest bit, her shoulder bumping him in a way that could have been accidental if it hadn't been for the potentially lethal way she moved, and Dresden straightened a little. "Right. Sunlight, garlic, holy symbols, stake through the heart, and decapitation if you can make it happen. The only Black Court vamp that I know on a first-name basis would never have risked attracting attention with those Renfields." He took a sip from his mug. "The thing with Thomas is right up her alley, though. Hers and about a half-dozen other bad guys."

"How do we stop it?" he heard Ziva ask, her voice that deadly quiet that meant trouble. Gibbs looked over at her. He was a little surprised that she had chosen to join in on the conversation. He trusted his team to follow his lead, but on something like this he expected a little disbelief. Whatever she had seen during the firefight with Dresden, it must have been damned convincing.

Dresden smiled. It was not a nice expression. He was pale from blood loss, dark circles under his eyes and a little shaky, and he was currently dressed in a pair of Ducky's pajama pants, which rode up almost to his knees, and a T-shirt from Dinozzo's bag of spare clothes. The man should have looked ludicrous despite his size and his demonstrated capabilities. Instead, he looked more than a little intimidating, with the kind of inherent threat that had nothing to do with physical appearance (though the fact that the man was closer to seven feet than six probably didn't hurt) and everything to do with the man's ability to deliver on the promise. "We set up a trap of our own."

"Where?" Gibbs demanded.

"We just have to get in the general vicinity of them and they'll come to us. Missing Persons is a good place to start. Black Court has an appetite, though no one would probably find their kills."

Gibbs remembered Tony's comment about the origins of the Renfields. He glanced at his watch. McGee had delivered all the evidence with fingerprints to Abby. He would have been sure to give the Goth lab tech her priorities to identify the presumed (but missing) dead. He pressed speed dial to Abby's lab and waited two rings.

"Gibbs!" she answered. "There's a ton of evidence and I'm trying to go as fast as I can and scan in all of the fingerprints but…"

Gibbs interrupted her. "Compare the fingerprints you do have against recent missing persons' reports. Keep it local, DC and immediate areas."

"Okay," she accepted the order blithely. Gibbs could hear her computer beep over the speakerphone. "How do you do that, Bossman?" she muttered. "You were right. One of the missing, dead people was from DC." Another beep. "Two missing people from DC. Wait a minute." He could hear her typing. "They were last seen less than two blocks from each other."

"Where?"

"219th and Vine, the other one at Lincoln and Maple."

"Scan in as many different prints as possible, the mastermind collected the…" he would not call them Renfields to Abby, she didn't need to know, "men near his residence. Call with every answer you find."

"Got it."

Gibbs hung up and turned to Ducky. "Duck, you have a map of DC. As accurate as possible?"

"Of course," the coroner turned to find it.

They had a trap to prepare.

xxx

The problem with a place like DC is that it's never really quiet. Parts of it are, of course. The government buildings are all officially closed for the night and most of the traffic in the tourist areas dies down after midnight. But most is not all, and there's still a decent amount of people on the streets at any given time.

By the Thomas returned from Feeding, Gibbs' lab tech had identified all of the Renfields by their fingerprints on the discarded shell casings and had a good idea of where they were last seen. Given what there was to work with, we'd picked the best options available and proceeded to dangle the bait in the best way we could. Thomas and Murphy had bundled me into the rental car and trolled around after dark until they'd found a hospital with it's own super-special vampire watchdog. After that, all we had to do was get the thing's attention and get it away from people.

Apparently it had worked. Of course, leading it toward where we deducted the vampire stronghold to be helped. As always, even the best laid plans go awry. Thomas was knocked unconscious even before the vampire mastermind appeared by the fledglings (I was so going to harass him for that once we got out of here). To be fair, there were far more than the two or three that I had originally estimated. Five more, actually, and another three Renfields. At least we weren't storming the lair this time. The thought made my left hand twitch a little.

"My mother says hello," the Black Court vampire rasped over dried out vocal cords. It had probably been a woman once upon a time, but an unknown number of years as a walking corpse had left the body in a state where it was impossible to tell.

Murphy was behind me, covering my back, while Mouse stood over Thomas as my brother slowly regained consciousness. "Awfully polite of you to pass that along," I said, keeping my eyes focused on the major threat. Murphy would let me know if any of the cannon fodder made a move. Thomas had the decency to take out all three remaining Renfields before he began his sleeping beauty imitation, so that was good news. Psychological games were only effective if your opponent could think.

"It was a good idea to make sure you know who was responsible for your death," it agreed readily. The handful of fledglings behind her stirred again, their movements restless and jerky. They were all obviously dead, though freshly so, which made things easier when it came to the law enforcement safely behind the stately old home's threshold but meant that I wouldn't be able to effectively use fire against them. The human body is more than half water, and the fresher the corpse the harder it becomes to burn. Believe me, I know.

"Any particular reason Mavra threw this little shindig for me?" I asked. That was the only Black Court vampire I knew by name, and the only one likely to go to these kinds of lengths just to bag me. There weren't many of them out there anymore, thanks to Bram Stoker's book, and I had a feeling most of them had better things to do than make life more difficult for me.

"We are enemies," the vampire said, rotten face turned toward me. "You are a threat and she will be glad that you are eliminated."

"Wait, you didn't run this through mommy before you started shooting up the U.S. Capitol and getting the attention of at least one federal agency?" That just sounded like a bad idea. Agent Gibbs alone was not the kind of person anyone would want on their ass, and now he and his team knew how to take out vampires and what to look for. I almost wouldn't need to worry about this vampire. Mavra would probably take care of this one herself if I left it alone.

The vampire remained apparently unconcerned about its fate, which was common of its race, if more than a little stupid. "I will be forgiven everything once I present you to her," it said.

This was starting to border on 'too stupid to live' territory. How had she planned such an elaborate trap for Thomas and for myself? My guess was that my normal enemies were using this one as a cat's paw. They put the idea in her head and maybe offered some logistics assistance and let her take it from there. Which made me worry about what was happening in Chicago in my absence. I would worry about that later. "Maybe you should actually catch me first," I said, my internal countdown clicking away. I hadn't been the one to bring the mortal police into this mess, but I had no problem in using them now that they were here.

It tilted a head, posture giving it an odd sort of bemused look. It was pretty much impossible to truly read a Black Court vampire accurately; the bodies wore down too quickly to truly give anything away. "But I have caught you," it rasped out. "There is nowhere for you to go."

I grinned at it, the expression probably less happy and more feral than was fit for human company. "Nowhere for you to go, either."

xxx

Ziva took deep, measured breaths as she waited, an old trick to slow the heartbeat down. She knew Gibbs was on the roof with a rifle, waiting for Dresden's signal to start removing heads with a fifty-caliber bullet.

Dresden's signal, when it came, was hard to miss. The burst of flame was particularly dramatic against the darkness of the park. She heard the muffled crack of Gibbs' sniper rifle a second later, sufficiently different from what most people thought of as the sound of gunfire that there was a chance no one would call it in, and stepped out of the shelter of the shed. Tony would be doing the same at the opposite corner of the park, and hopefully he would be following Dresden's instructions as precisely as she intended to do.

The first shape moved jerkily into range, although it was moving fast despite that. Ziva took careful aim and went for the left kneecap first, following up on the right immediately afterward. That had been one of Dresden's first pieces of advice, once Gibbs had made it clear that they were all now involved. 'They can't walk without their knees. No matter how many bullets you pump into the body, it won't stop, but nothing can walk when you blast their knees into bone shards.'

She took the opportunity to put in a few more crippling shots in other key joints, careful to keep the distance. Dresden's story of a vampire that had been almost completely crushed and still managed to grab an unwary woman's ankle had been enough of a deterrent for her. Ziva was only going to get as close to the vampires as the range of her pistol. Once the vampire was down, it was Gibbs' job to kill it. Even vampires can't survive without their heads. His aim would be true and the bullet big enough to splatter the whole head. He did kill every one and Ziva knew he didn't feel any remorse. Ziva was looking for more vampires to maim and noticed that Tony was as careful as Ziva in staying far out of reach.

Finally, Dresden's fire had roasted the mastermind vampire and Gibbs' sniper shots had removed all their enemies' heads. It was finished.

The fight didn't seem to take long. Most altercations were like that, really. If they lasted more than ten minutes, something was wrong.

The hard part would be cleaning out the mess so that no one would stumble over evidence of federal agents killing what most would assume to be people. Abby was waiting impatiently in the car. As much as Gibbs would have preferred to keep Abby completely non-complicit in the battle, she was the most knowledgeable in making physical evidence disappear. Dresden had promised to assist as much as possible.

And then there was the paperwork. Gibbs better have an idea on how to clear Raith's name and close Staff Sergeant Terrance Miller's murder, because Ziva had pretty much exhausted her creativity for the week.

"I was right," Dresden said as they finished up. He was leaning heavily on Sergeant Murphy's shoulder as he limped out of the park, his dog at his side. Raith was already gone. "Definitely too stupid to live."

"Are you talking about you or the vampire, Harry?" The blond woman nudged him gently with her elbow, eliciting a groan from the tall man. "You should be in bed."

He grinned down at her. "Yes ma'am."

"Everything's taken care of?" Gibbs asked.

"As well as it can be," Dresden told him. "As long as none of the neighbors report anything, this should fly under the radar. We'll head back home in the morning." He fumbled with the hand that wasn't draped over Sergeant Murphy and pulled a card out of his pocket. "You have any questions, you can call." And with that they headed away.

Gibbs slid the card into the pocket of his jacket. "We all good?"

"It's clean, Gibbs. I wouldn't be able to piece together this crime scene if I didn't know what happened." Abby smiled, her expression more gleeful than it should have been. "I always knew vampires were real."

"Real and dangerous, Abby. You can call Dresden if you have questions." Gibbs looked over the area one last time. "See you all in the morning, first thing. We've got work to do."

xxx

It didn't take long to pack up the Beetle once I got it back from the mechanic. Murphy made Thomas do most of the heavy lifting, declaring that I was much too injured to take care of it without hurting myself further. She could probably have handled most if not all of it herself, but it was always a good idea to keep my brother busy.

"No one from Gibbs' team came to say goodbye," I observed as Murphy finished her sweep of the motel room and came out with the last two bags. "I figured that Agent McGee would at least come back to ask more questions." There had been a lot of questions once the dust had settled, mostly on the behalf of someone named Abby that I apparently wasn't allowed to meet. Karin had been given the responsibility of hustling me back to Ducky's house after the battle. Gibbs had said so that I could recover more, but I had the feeling that they didn't want me to learn more ways to make evidence disappear. And sometime during those questions I figured out exactly where I recognized the young agent. McGee was really Thom E. Gemcity, one of my favorite authors. I managed not to fawn over the kid, but I was looking forward to rereading his series. I was certain to understand the characters in his novels more. To that end, McGee had oh-so-graciously offered his newest book to me to read on the drive home. He had even signed it for me: 'To Dresden, for the stories that can't be written, Gemcity.'

"They're probably too overjoyed at the prospect of getting you out of town to take the chance of delaying your departure," Thomas told me.

"I've got their numbers and they have mine. If something comes up from your side of the street, they'll call. Otherwise I'm pretty sure they're going to pretend they never met you, Harry." Murphy handed me my backpack full of clothing and shooed me into the passenger seat. Ducky had told them both that letting me drive would put the stitches in my leg at risk and she had taken on those duties as well. "Let's get on the road. I'd like to get back to Chicago while I still have a job."

"See you around, Karrin," Thomas said, adding a little leer to the words. It was a surprisingly heartening gesture. Those two were back on even terms.

"Yeah, you wish, pretty boy," she groused. She let Mouse into the back seat and dropped her own bag in with the weapons trunk before climbing into the driver's side. The Beetle started with only a little whine of complaint and we pulled away from my brother and his insufferable grin. "One stop for coffee on our way out of town?"

I nodded in agreement. "One stop for coffee and then we're headed home."

"Heading home," she agreed. There was a smile on her face that I couldn't help matching as we drove west, the rising sun bright in the rearview mirror. It was a beautiful sight.