A/N: Right. So this is the absolute last thing I should have been doing last night, given that I have an exam in four hours and another NCIS story on the go that's overdue for an update… but 'Buffy' was on Sci-Fi and I got bitten by the plot bunny halfway through the episode. I think it had rabies – that's the only explanation for this madness.
Spoilers: Set 4 years post-Chosen in the BtVS universe, and a couple of weeks after Aliyah (6x25) in NCIS-world. Basically, everything in both shows up to this point is fair game.
Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer is the genius invention of Joss Whedon and co. As for NCIS: if you see the Bellisario et al or the CBS execs, let them know I'm borrowing their characters and will return them only if they bring Ziva back whole (and with a damned good explanation for that 'traitor' tag).
Summary: An unconventional team stumbles across something that NCIS has lost. And we all know how well Buffy deals with authority figures, and how Gibbs feels about loose ends…
0600: Navy Yard, Washington DC
The bullpen is bathed in early morning light, devoid of the usual hustle and bustle of sound (ringing phones and rustling paper and 'Put it on the plasma, McGee') and colour and agents racing to solve, to save, to decipher.
Alone in the squadroom, Tony has no audience to perform for, and he is simultaneously grateful for and unnerved by this. There is no-one wanting answers, and that's fine for now since all he has are endless questions – where and why and how and when, churning, burning through his mind like the acid in his empty stomach.
Nineteen days, he thinks, as he hits print and the machine behind him whirs to life, cutting through the silence like a buzz-saw. Another case report done and ready for filing, and isn't the irony of having to complete all her reports as well as his own bittersweet?
The elevator announces the intrusion of someone else into his privacy, and his mask slides firmly into place in the seconds between the alert and the slide of the doors. An agent whose name he can't remember (though he knows the heavyset, balding man is part of Reich's team) shuffles into the squadroom, flicking on the lights as he passes.
The room is bathed in humming artificial light and Tony shuts his eyes against the sudden unforgiving glare. Agent Unknown does not glance over at the lone MCRT agent, and Tony in turn does not spare the man a further look, only listens silently with his head down as the footsteps (shuffle shuffle shuffle) fade away.
'Alarm go off early this morning, DiNozzo?' a dry voice comes from directly in front of him, and he has to force himself not to jump. If Gibbs notices, he doesn't comment, just stows his gear like it's not unusual for his Senior Field Agent to be at his desk and working silently at 0600. The silence is almost too much too bear for both men, a stark reminder of how much things have changed in the past weeks.
'Morning, Boss,' Tony offers, a platitude that he doesn't expect returned. In the eight – almost nine – years he's been working with Gibbs, he's rarely known the man to bother with small talk.
This morning is no exception, and there's an odd comfort in consistency. Some things will never change.
'We get a case I don't know about?' Gibbs asks not unkindly.
'Just catching up on some paperwork. Neighbours started fighting again at 0430 and I'm betting they won't be complaining about the noise from my apartment anytime soon. People in glass houses and all that.'
The half-lie dangles in the air, but Gibbs just raises an eyebrow and again, doesn't press it. Tony doesn't quite know what to do with this new silence that almost feels like pity, but it leaves a bad taste in his mouth and he wants to escape that steely gaze so he grabs his wallet and stretches as he stands. Really need a more comfortable chair, he thinks as he walks around his desk and pauses.
'Going to the coffee shop. You want anything? Whipped mocha frappucino with extra cream? Jelly donut?'
'It's not too early for me to slap you, DiNozzo,' Gibbs says with a touch of his usual biting tone, and they've fallen into their old roles without a second thought, and oh the relief, he thinks as he pushes the elevator button and steps in without looking back.
There's comfort in consistency, after all.
0600: ICWS US Headquarters, Cleveland, OH
Buffy tries to slip in the front door quietly, no mean feat considering her busted knee and the number of sleeping people with super-senses currently residing in the building. Pausing in the entrance and listening for a moment, she breathes a sigh of weary relief when she hears none of the telltale sounds of stirring Slayers.
She loves them all, really she does, but after the night she's had (3 fledglings, 5 older vamps, a Fyarl demon and another that she couldn't identify but had nasty spines and left no small amount of goo on her favourite patrolling pants), she's in no mood for the endless play-by-plays that the girls usually demand.
You are their hero, Buffy, and being a leader demands a certain modicum of responsibility, the Giles-in-her-head says, but she shrugs him off – he won't sense it from all the way over in England – and pads as silently as she can into the massive dining room.
Good thing the old Council kept their cash in the bank and not at their headquarters, or we'd all be eating ramen over a camp stove, she thinks to herself wryly as she digs through the refrigerator for something post-slay worthy (no shortage of complex carbohydrates in a house of up to 15 growing Slayers). Food first, first aid later.
Sitting at the custom made dining table with her loot (they couldn't find one large enough in the stores, and though Xander has other responsibilities these days, he still wields a mean hammer), she thinks not for the first time how much things have changed. She forces herself not to think of those that have been lost and like the California girl she once was – and still is; when the situation calls for it – she thinks only of the material things.
Four years after they watched their town become a 'big honkin' hole in the earth', as Xander put it, the ragtag group of wounded and exhausted Scoobies and Slayers has expanded into a staff of thousands, stationed at key points all around the world.
The International Coalition of Watchers and Slayers – named because they wanted a constant reminder not to repeat old mistakes – has express permission to conduct covert operations in the US, UK, Australia, and various European countries, and security clearance that would make the CIA, FBI and the rest of the 'three letter gang's' collective heads spin.
Which, when she thinks about it, is actually not as funny to watch as it sounds. Mostly it's just messy.
None of them have much faith in law enforcement and government agencies, which is not exactly a surprise given their history of being set up by corrupt secret government operatives and reading 'cause of death: neck rupture' in countless 'solved' case files.
Buffy knows for a fact that Giles has a number of very important stuffed-shirts on speed dial to get them out of whatever legal or other non-demon-related trouble they might find themselves in, though they've never had to test that theory.
They've built quite the lucrative little empire (Anya would be proud), she and Giles and… the others, though most of the profits go straight back into the important and long overdue things, like Slayer housing, training and support, both magical and regular – including a back payment for Buffy large enough that she will never have to work again if she so chooses.
All in all, it's not such a bad gig being a Slayer under the new regime, and the perks are pretty damn sweet, to quote Faith. The second-most senior Slayer is in England at the Slayer Academy (officially the Janna Calendar School for the Gifted), helping the combat training team design a new program for the next influx of girls to enter the school.
Faith calls it 'Rule One 101', and every time Buffy hears it she can't help but think of those who should be here with them to see what they've worked so hard to build.
If she's learnt anything from her decade as a Slayer, it's that Giles was right when he said that saving the world means making sacrifices. She just wishes that he'd been talking about her nails, and smiles, but there's no warmth in it.
As if signalled, her injuries begin to make themselves known as the last of her adrenaline drains away. She almost welcomes the pain as relief from the ache in her chest. There's a reason why she's earned the reputation she has.
(She's like a robot, she heard one of the new Slayers say to Caitlin, a Level 4 Slayer from Australia, and it had surprised her how much the remark stung after all this time.)
The now-familiar sound of Slayer wake-up routines filters down from upstairs, showering and squabbling and a metallic 'clang' that she's fairly sure is the sound of illicit early morning fun with weapons. Buffy figures she has about fifteen good minutes to patch herself up before the kitchen is filled with laughter and chatter and fighting over who is and isn't allowed to have caffeine in the morning.
One more week of house-mother duty to go, and then she's due to fly out to Rota, Spain with a small team to investigate a number of strange deaths in the area. Sangria and flamenco and dismemberment, she thinks oddly, and has to smile at the wiggy associations that are part of the turf as an ICWS agent. Deputy director, if you want to get all technical (though 'Agent' does her fine most of the time).
International travel has become somewhat standard for all of them.
The last time Buffy saw Xander, he was headed to the Horn of Africa with a team of Slayers and support personnel to investigate an influx of demon activity somewhere in the mountains of Eritrea. Buffy didn't ask how they found the potential training camp, but the Magical Division has come a long way from dangling crystals over maps, with Willow's guidance and the help of Giles's friends from the Devon coven.
Her thoughts are interrupted as she senses a now-familiar disruption in the air behind her, a humming of energy like a neon light bulb held an inch from your face, and her hair stands on end for more than one reason. This is the last thing she needs right now.
A redheaded figure shimmers into view seconds later, and looks Buffy up and down with something akin to concern, which is Buffy's first clue that in addition to feeling like she's been chewed up and spat out, she must look like it too. Concern isn't something she gets very often from Willow anymore, not since…
'Giles needs to see you,' Willow says without preamble, her gaze fixed somewhere just past Buffy's left shoulder. Buffy wonders why Willow came herself rather than sending another witch, or even better, a text message. Her old friend doesn't look like she's about to volunteer information anytime soon, so Buffy sighs and hauls herself up.
'What's the what?' It's so easy to fall back into old habits, though it feels like she's playing at being someone else. Someone long gone.
'I don't know.' At this, Willow looks down, and Buffy instantly suspects Willow knows more than she's saying. If it were anyone else, or another morning, she'd push the issue, but it's not and it isn't and she's too tired to fight this battle again.
She just nods shortly and scribbles a quick note to Magdelena (Level 7 Slayer and 2IC when there's no Senior in the house) before stepping close to Willow and closing her eyes against the whirling of the world.
0735, NCIS Headquarters, Washington DC
'McTardy!' Tony crows as the junior field agent steps from the elevator, juggling coffee and backpack and laptop and looking around furtively for Gibbs. 'Relax, he's up in Vance's office.' The name is said with a fair helping of derision – like Gibbs, Tony is suspicious of Vance's motives, even more so after their trip to Israel.
'He sure is up there a lot lately. Think they're getting friendly?' McGee wonders out loud.
'Oh, I'm sure they're real friendly. Braiding each other's hair, reminiscing about the good old days when Gibbs was a sniper and Vance was – whatever he was.'
And if it were a normal day, a third voice would interject about now with a biting comment said with a wicked smile, and they would gang up on McGee, and Tony would make a sarcastic remark or correct an English mistake… and McGee would have another item to put on his 'objects never to carry around Mossad assassins' list (paperclips are still number 1).
That's how the game is played, only they're one short: there's nobody to field the ball, and it bounces through the gaps.
Comfort in consistency doesn't quite work when you look too closely.
It's unlikely to be a coincidence that Vance has been spending more time than usual hovering around the squadroom, either looking down from the catwalk or finding excuses to observe their investigations. Tony gets the feeling that Vance is waiting for something – Gibbs to tell him to go to hell, most likely – but he's not entirely sure what.
'Waiting for something, DiNozzo?'
And goddamnit, that's the second time today and he thought he had almost mastered the Gibbs-sense. McGee is already headed for the elevator, gear in hand, and Tony grabs his backpack and what remains of his coffee and makes a run for it.
Hopefully not too cryptic, and before people jump me about all the holes and nowhereness of this chapter, some things have been hinted at (did you catch the connection?) and others will be explained if not next chapter, then soonish.
Also…. there's this little thing called a 'hit counter' on both sites I post to, and funny enough, it tells me that a lot of people have been reading the scribbles I post, but only a few people actually review (and I love them for it).
It only takes a few minutes to let me know what you thought!