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Fic: Marine Knots Part 3

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….”

Crackle. 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 disintegratus, 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.

What?” 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. You 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 and 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.

Part 4