A/N: Yes, a new chapter and it only took me four years to write. So sorry guys. Let's say that while BtVS is long over and NCIS is at its what, tenth season, it's really hard to get back into the swing of things. I'd like to say there's a next story slated and it's coming out soon but all I have are a handful of notes. I never really planned much for after season 2. I condensed as much as I could and sped through the events of NCIS episodes "SWAK" and "Twilight." I consider this story officially done. I might add to the series but don't hold your breath. :P Thanks for those who still read this and review. And my newest stories are all over at AO3 under the same penname.
Chapter Seven: Cracks
Oh if looks could kill, Xander would be slightly mangled by now. These days, there was a strange tension in the bullpen. He could feel Kate and McGee stare at him at odd times, but it was Tony that really made the back of his neck crawl. Tony's gaze was a mix of puzzlement, barely concealed jealousy and hurt, and determination. And a determined Tony DiNozzo was the last thing he needed, especially when he had secrets to keep.
Unfortunately, Gibbs was being the opposite of helpful. Xander wasn't sure how he'd take finding out about the supernatural. It wasn't pretty. He worked everyone twice as hard as if taking his frustrations out on them. Well, that was normal, more or less. But then he switched between treating Xander like scum and giving him preferential treatment. It was enough to give him whiplash.
And then there was Tony.
"Why do you do that? Why do you always play around with Tony's feelings?" Xander asked Gibbs in frustration. They had just solved a case, and he had requested a private conference with the boss, so they were in the elevator stuck between the ground floor and the basement.
Gibbs' eyebrows shot up to his hairline. "What?"
"You never just give him a compliment. There's always a catch. His ego won't grow out of proportion if you throw him a bone, Gibbs."
Gibbs leaned forward, impressed and irritated at the same time. "So you want me to hold his hand? Harris, this is a team, not a family."
"Tell that to Abby," Xander challenged him, not even flinching.
"Abby understands my methods," Gibbs retorted.
"Well they still suck," he almost shouted back. "Kate treats Tony without respect because you do, and Tony treats McGee like crap out of jealousy, or maybe in the misguided hope that McGee will eventually grow a spine. You don't have a team, Gibbs. You have a bunch of people jumping hoops for you."
Gibbs was silent for a moment. "Tony does not need respect; he needs attention, any kind will do. And McGee does not need hand-holding, he needs to be terrified into competence. You may disapprove of my methods, Harris. But nobody contests that they work."
Xander laughed humorlessly. He shoved a paper in Gibbs' chest. "Request for leave. It's apocalypse season back home. If I don't come back in a couple of months, you can move McGee to my desk and consider me fired. If I do come back, I just hope I have something to come back to."
He flipped the switch on the elevator and waited until the door are halfway open. "Maybe you should remember your own rules, Gibbs. Especially rule number fifteen."
Always work as a team.
He walked away, leaving Gibbs inside the elevator, staring down at the paper in his hands.
It was odd, working without Xander. Tony still had McGee to torment, and Kate to tease, of course, but it just wasn't the same.
And Gibbs had a particular look on his face that he couldn't read, couldn't anticipate. He's been milder with them—stricter when he and Kate went toe to toe—but otherwise mild, the kind of mild that's all about holding something back. It was disconcerting.
He also got some strange phone calls. Tony caught some of them, and the voices were off, some muffled, others somehow a mix of gargling and singing. He'd transfer them onwards, and watch Gibbs' face turn to stone, the expression that meant no questions.
So when they got that strange letter, he jumped at the chance to horse around. Diffuse the tension a little. How was he supposed to know there was a pocketful of plague inside? This wasn't in the handbook.
He was on Apocalypse Leave, risking his life fighting side by side with his friends trying to keep the Hellmouth from killing them all. Musty books to read, horrendous demons to kill, Angel to mock. It was like he never left. The bad guys missing their heads or guts. The good guys more or less alive, bruises and cuts notwithstanding. All was right in the world. So the phone call he received was the last thing he expected. He only got about one word for every three, but it was enough.
Tony. Infected. Plague.
Xander barely had time to rinse the demon guts from his hair before he's on the flight back. His thought vacillated between worry and rage. Willow and Tara exchanged worried glances from their seats beside him; he barely noticed.
He pulled every string he could get his hands on so the witches could be given access to the blue room where Tony DiNozzo was recuperating. It was a little trickier to get past Kate, but somehow he managed it—though on second thought, Willow must have done something. He shrugged internally, pushing the suddenly docile Kate out the room to go home for the night, while the witches unzipped their bags and took out their herbs.
In short order, they were chanting over Tony's body while Xander leaned against a wall, trying to keep out of the way. The last thing he wanted to do was muck things up with his presence. Tony woke up in the middle, muttering, "Am I in heaven?" before passing out again. When they were done, and Willow smiled at him and Tara nodded, Xander exhaled, and almost passed out in sheer relief.
Willow's babble about speeded up healing and minimized scarring went in one ear and out the other without disturbing any brain cells in the process. Between them, they got Xander home, tucked him to bed and then squeezed in beside him. He wasn't awake enough to appreciate it.
The next morning after having breakfast at the nearest greasy spoon, Willow booked a flight back to Cleveland. Xander wanted to see them off at the airport but Willow waved away his protest. "Go sleep some more, Xander Harris," she ordered him. It felt futile to resist.
Tara hugged him goodbye. "I might be able to send something for your friend. A talisman of sorts to increase his luck." She looked uncertain but Xander smiled at her and impulsively kissed her cheek.
"I appreciate it. But make it something unobtrusive, okay? Tony's not into anything that will clash with his Zegna suits. And please send it to my place. I'm pretty sure the office will be much stricter about mail after this."
About a week later, the necklace that arrived in the mail had a gold chain, thin and almost delicate with an ancient-looking coin as a pendant. The markings on the coin were so faded he couldn't read it. He didn't get a chance to give it to Tony, however, until his first day back. Which was sooner than the doctor predicted so the chanting must have worked.
He handed it over almost bashfully. "Just a good luck charm, Tony. I asked some friends to make it."
"Your friends don't happen to be blonde and redheaded, do they? I knew I didn't dream those girls!" Tony smirked, though he still looked a tad shaky.
At Kate's questioning look, Xander looked sheepish. "They uh, did a spell to get you to heal faster."
Kate scoffed, but Xander challenged her. "You prayed for Tony, didn't you, Kate, the good Catholic that you are? Well I use spells. So sue me." He tugged the chain from around his neck. "I have one too, though this one's specially tailored to combat negative influences." AKA anti-possession charm.
"Really? Why doesn't it work against Tony, then?" Kate asked.
"Ha bloody ha, Katie," Tony said, pulling the necklace over his head. "Thanks, man. You know, you should give me your friends' numbers. In case I have a question about the necklace or something."
Xander chuckled. "Nice try, Tony, but uh, Willow's really possessive about her girlfriend."
Tony raised an eyebrow. "Which one is she again?"
And then Gibbs was there. They had a case. By unspoken agreement, Xander and Gibbs ignored what had happened before he left. It was a moot point now, anyway, with Tony hurt but healing, and Kate and McGee rolling their eyes at his antics to hide their relief. Xander didn't bother hiding his.
Team Gibbs was back in business.
And then they almost got blown to smithereens except that Tony just happened to get smacked down by an irate Kate and just happened to see the bomb under the car and gave them enough time to run. Go witches.
It was like a nightmare full of blood and pain. He was on his knees beside a car, covering McGee when they heard a shot and Tony's shout like an echo. Seconds later, the phone rang and McGee answered. Xander saw the horror dawn on McGee's face just before pain erupted in his shoulder. And then the darkness swallowed him.
It was just a nightmare. And then Xander woke up and the dread remained like a stone in his throat. He blinked, trying to remember where he was. There was an oxygen mask over his face, and he could feel the IV connected to his arm, so yes, the hospital. The bomb, the building, protecting McGee by the car. The phone call—no confirmation yet so he pushed it away from his mind.
He got shot. What drugs he was on made the gunshot wound on his shoulder a distant ache.
A small noise brought him back to the present. He plucked the needle from his arm slowly, trying to keep his breathing even.
Ari Haswari stepped toward his bed, his grin a flash in the darkness. He had a weapon in his hand, a knife.
Xander Harris reacted, rolling over towards him, hand grabbing Haswari's wrist. It was a blur of hard limbs and soft grunts. His shoulder was on fire, and his hospital gown was little protection, but he was used to pain, used to fighting past his body's limits. Haswari didn't let go of the knife, and it clanged against the metal of the bed and the hard floor. Then the other man rolled over and pinned him to the ground, his teeth bared. Xander blocked his arm with both of his.
The door burst open. Haswari's eyes flickered, and his grip loosened. Xander pulled him down, one hand on his neck, and the other pushing his arm behind his back until the knife clattered free. Then he pulled Haswari's head up by his hair and broke his neck.
After the crack, there was deafening silence in the room, or that's how it seemed to Xander before he realized he was hearing the pounding of his own heart and someone's voice breathing behind him. It took all his remaining strength to stand up and turn around, legs shaky.
A woman with curly hair was standing in the doorway, gun pointed at his heart.
But she wasn't looking at him. "He's..."
"Dead, yeah," Xander said, too tired for niceties.
She made a noise, like a moan or a sob choked down, and it made Xander look at her again, past the fact that she was still threatening him.
"How could you—?" She asked.
"He tried to kill me!" Xander said.
"No! I mean, how could you win when you are wounded?" She looked him up and down. He grimaced, just now noticing the fresh blood running down his arm.
"He underestimated me. Why are you here?"
"I guessed you were his next target. I warned your boss, but I didn't think he'd come so soon. Oh Ari," she said softly.
"You were his handler, weren't you?" Xander asked, maneuvering around her and towards the bed. He needed something to lean on.
"And his sister." He froze, one hand on the bed, his back to her. "My name is Ziva David."
"Daughter of Eli David, Director of Mossad," he muttered under his breath. "I'm so sorry."
"Don't be." Her voice hardened. "If you hadn't killed him, I would have."
He shivered at her words. Then he heard the commotion of nurses and doctors, and rising above the din, Gibbs' demanding voice.
The relief was short-lived. As soon was Gibbs saw them, Ziva David lowered her weapon, wiping her eyes surreptitiously. Xander took one look at Gibbs' face and he didn't even have to ask.
Xander was in the morgue, sitting on the floor, not talking to Kate, when Dracula appeared.
His heartbeat ratcheted up and he breathed, visualizing Haswari's neck between his hands, the sound it made.
"Ari Haswari's dead," he said dully.
"I know. And so few souls to mourn him," Dracula murmured before nodding at the body on the gurney. "Would you like me to bring her back?"
Xander snorted. "We both know that's not how it works."
"Not by biting, yes, but," Dracula held out both his hands, "there are other ways."
Xander stared off into space for a while. "Willow wanted to bring her back, you know. That summer after—she told me there was a way, and I almost said yes."
He felt rather than saw Dracula sit beside him. "Why didn't you?"
"Because I was angry. Buffy jumped. She chose to leave us. Yes, she's a big fucking hero and yes, she saved the world. But she also broke my heart. It sounds stupid now." Xander fell silent for a second. "Then Spike said something about how Slayers get automatic passes to heaven. If she's there, how can we even think to bring her back?"
"And the same goes for Ms. Todd I suppose," Dracula said. "Child, you must forgive yourself."
Xander turned red-rimmed eyes onto the vampire. "I know that. I know I'm just an ordinary guy. Mr. Human. It's hard enough saving myself some days, let alone saving other people. But still I wish—" He bit off the words that followed, an unconscious habit that suddenly reminded him of Anya.
"I think you've saved enough lives as an ordinary guy to qualify as a hero."
Xander leaned back and closed his eyes. "Well, real heroes count by the number of lives they didn't save."
"Exactly, my dear. And then they soldier on, because it's the only thing they can do."
"Tomorrow," Xander said, his voice rough and weary. "I'll get up again tomorrow and the world will still be there. I know how this goes, Ma— Dracula. It's not my first time at the ball." He blinked. "Why are you here, anyway? Spike said—"
Dracula touched a finger to Xander's lips. It felt cool but insubstantial. "Don't worry, little wolf. I paid tribute to the kings of the hill first. After all, I am but an old soldier. As far as everyone's concerned, I was never here. And what William the Bloody doesn't know won't hurt him. Go home, Alexander. Rest. You're not completely well, yet."
Xander stood up and hesitated. "That girl, Haswari's sister, can she be trusted? I suppose she's also your great-great-grand-niece or whatever."
"Beneath her armor, Ziva David feels deeply, and she's an honorable child. But she is also the weapon her father forged her as. Be wary of her."
Xander remembers Ziva's expression before she leaned towards her dead brother. "I will."
And then he's alone in the morgue again, with only faded ghosts for company.