McGee has had some awkward moments in his life – if Tony were here right now, he could probably rattle off at least his top twelve – but nothing comes quite so close as skirting around one Buffy Summers in the days after their patrol fiasco. They dance around each other in an odd shuffle step of avoiding lingering eye contact and trying very hard not to breach one another's personal space. McGee isn't really sure what to make of it, but he understands now where Rule 12 came from. There's nothing more awkward than –
"Probie One!" Tony interjects, leaning over McGee's desk with a gleeful – if somewhat gruesome – smile on his face. The swelling has gone down and all that is left of his tussle with the undead are a rather impressive pair of black smudges under his eyes.
McGee sighs. "Yes, Tony, what do you want?"
"Only some of your finest finding work, McSoulful. Need a trace on this cell." Tony flips a card onto the desk and moves back toward his own. Why he couldn't just do it himself, McGee never really knows. He opens the appropriate window and starts the program running.
"Where's Probie the Second?" Tony queries, shooting a glance around the bullpen before putting his feet up on his desk "Off tracking the power of the babe?"
"The babe with the power!" Off McGee's blank expression, Tony throws up his hands. "David Bowie? Labyrinth? Voodoo?"
Tim knows exactly what Tony is talking about, but it's far more fun to let him stew. Another ten seconds or so and he'll go into pacing mode, which is always entertaining.
"I ran a search for her earlier today, Tony; victims with similar disfigurements to our corpsman. Metro Homicide got two unsolved cases on their docket, both with post-mortem back tattoos."
"So it's a trifecta of tribal markings. A set of slashes. A –"
"A conundrum of chatty agents…. who got nothing?"
Of course Gibbs chooses that moment to pop up, because that is how these things work. They both scramble to attention, ready and hoping to please even after all these years.
"Not nothing, Boss – just running a search on Matthews' cell now."
Tim's computer beeps as if on cue. "Switched off." So it's no deal on that front. They haven't found a kill site, nobody has touched Matthews' bank accounts, no suspicious transactions. He relays all this information to Gibbs, who just looks stoic. They got nothing.
"Off dealing with Metro, Boss, should be back any – "
"You beeped?" Buffy says from over the other side of the divider, a fat stack of files in her hands and a grim expression on her face. "Don't think I'll ever get used to wrangling local LEO's. It took a whole lot of pretty eye flirting to get these case files. I think I sprained something."
"McGoo can check that out for you!" Tony says quickly, shoving Tim toward Buffy. McGee has put up with a lot of Tony's behaviour over the years and is thankful he's lost the ability to blush at being offered up as a sacrifice. Mostly.
"Any leads?" Gibbs says, in the voice that means his patience is wearing thin and headslapping is about to occur.
"None on the who, but a couple on the how." Buffy moves over and spreads the files open on her desk, pulling out the crime scene photos. McGee tries not to look directly at her – they are going to have to have a conversation about this at some point, but now is definitely not the time – as she holds them up for examination.
"All three were drained of blood, and not in an Ann Rice kind of way. No blood at any of the crime scenes, and no recognisable fingerprints on anything. Markings on their backs match, and all done after death with some kind of sharp implement. Got Giles and the ICWS voodoo team onto it. They don't exactly look tribal – more like some kind of message or symbol group, but you never know. I should hear back from them any time now.
"Wish my people worked that fast," Gibbs muses, before waggling his coffee cup in the universal language for 'refill'. " Find out if – "
" - there are any connections between the victims..." Tony jumps in. McGee is right behind him.
"Checking known associates, bank statements, credit card activity…."
"On it Boss!" They chorus together, a well-oiled machine. Gibbs nods and disappears.
"I hate to say it," Buffy muses, "but I don't think we're dealing with your kind of killer."
This stops McGee in his tracks. "Superna – uh, is this more up an ICWS alley?"
Buffy looks grim. "Three murders in as many days, all men who live life on the dark side of solitary? No witnesses and no trace evidence… carved up like a Christmas message turkey? I'm going with yeah." She looks over at Tim, and he catches a glimmer of a smile. "But I've been proven wrong before, and I'm definitely the type to look for zebras, so yeah, run whatever you can."
She slaps the files down onto her desk with what Tim figures is a large amount of Slayer restraint, and sighs. "My spidey sense is all over the place with this one. I need a fruity beverage. You coming, Tim?"
He gulps. "Now?"
"Are you hoping for an insta-ding? We've got at least ten minutes or so before Gibbs comes back wanting answers… You could use a bit of fresh air." She sniffs in Tony's direction, making the Senior Field Agent frown and start sniffing at his shirt suspiciously. It's enough to make both of them crack a smile, and the tension in the room lifts.
"Sure. Let me just – "
"This one's on me," Buffy says cheerfully, leading the way into the elevator.
McGee isn't entirely sure what happens next, and Buffy has definitely proven to be full of surprises, so it should be no surprise to him, really, when she hits the emergency stop button on the elevator and plunges both of them into half-darkness.
"Buffy?" he questions, seeing her lean back against the elevator wall and sigh. "Are you – are you okay?"
"Define okay," she says lightly, but her face is somber. Tim can almost predict what's going to come out of her mouth.
"You're not still thinking about Abby and what happened – "
"Not so much." Buffy turns to face him. "Look, Tim, I like you, and I'm sure you're not the type to try to turn me into a mongoose or indulge in a little blood-sucking harlot fun, but…. There's this whole history where the people close to me tend to get shot, or hurt, or lose their souls… and plus… we work together."
He's noticed, and couldn't help but think similar thoughts, though the mongoose-and-harlot-fun-stories he will leave for another time closer to never.
"Rule 12," he says, and gets a confused look. "Boss has rules for everything. Rule 12: never date a co-worker."
"Wish I'd listened to that rule a few times in my slayage career," Buffy muses, almost cracking a smile, even though he knows the smile isn't really for him. "Might have saved a whole stinking lot of trouble." She touches him gently on the arm. "You're a great guy, and a great friend. But there's some wacky supernatural mojo brewing in this city and it's looking more and more like it's my job to find whatever it is and kill it dead. When it's over, maybe we can be more than that, but for now…."
He gets it, even though he doesn't really want to. "Friends. And teammates," he offers, smiling at her. Tim McGee is patient and keen to appease others, his third grade teacher once wrote on his report card, and he's never quite shaken those tags. "But only if you're still buying."
Buffy's smile lights up the elevator and it is almost enough.
Ziva is busy doing the dinner dishes in the kitchen while Buffy prepares herself for patrol. Her mind keeps straying from the dirty plates she's washing, thoughts leaping all over the place. There seem to be a lot of questions and none of them have real answers. What is slowly growing between her and Tony. What her father was thinking holding a funeral in her name (and who is in that plain pine coffin). What happens next when the 'big bad' Buffy keeps referring to is no more (because she has seen these people work and heard even more legendary stories than she can count) and they have no place in Washington. What her role will be in all of this that she still doesn't quite understand.
Ziva has no answers, and every thought just brings more questions. She tries to drown it out by scrubbing the dishes fervently, but to no avail.
"Zi, you coming out tonight?" Buffy calls from her room, and for a moment they could be two girls heading out for a night on the town. When Buffy steps into the kitchen, however, she is clad in black and has a wicked looking sword strapped to her back. Not just another girls night out.
She starts to shake her head, then thinking of all the empty space in their apartment changes her mind. "I will come," she says firmly, placing the last dish in the rack and drying her hands. "Give me a minute to change."
Her room is cosy and warm, but mostly bare of personal effects, except for one framed photograph of the team from sometime in the last year. She cannot even remember when it was taken – one of the annual NCIS events, perhaps, as all of them are in the much-loved picture, even Gibbs, who usually shies away from such social occasions. Ziva is used to being on the move, and had always travelled lightly until putting down roots in Washington. The destruction of her apartment only reminded her of why she does not make it a habit to collect personal items.
There was only one thing in that apartment she will truly miss – her photograph of herself, Tali and Ari as children - but like many other things it got lost under the scorching sun of the desert. The only other copy of that photograph in existence is in the hands of her father, and it is impossible now to ask for another. For more reasons than she is able to admit.
Ziva dresses quickly in combat pants and a light sweatshirt – she will be cold but it is a small price to pay being able to move one's arms if they come across anything that needs fighting – and pads out the door to where Buffy waits somewhat impatiently.
"I talked to McGee today," Buffy says, not meeting Ziva's eyes. "He took it well, I think."
"You are sure about this?" Ziva asks her seriously, quirking an eyebrow. "McGee can handle himself." It is not quite a lie. The junior agent has improved remarkably over the years she has known him, but Buffy's world is a whole new basket of fish. Kettle of fish?
"I know a lot of people who could handle themselves, and they still ended up getting hurt," Buffy says a little touchily. "I'm not going to put more people in danger if I can help it." Ziva lets it go, not wanting to push too hard. The tension in the apartment builds until Buffy cracks what Ziva now knows is her 'lighten the mood' smile.
"Let's go shake the beastie tree," she says, tucking a stake into her left pocket.
"Buffy, behind you!"
"All over it like white on rice, Ziva," Buffy pants, whirling to drive her sword through the second demon in the group.
Ziva, as fit and well trained as she is, does not have the advantage of Slayer strength or speed, so the best she can do is hold the first demon at bay until the immediate threat has been dealt with. Buffy sends her sword home with a meaty thunk, then turns around to deal with Ziva's demon. Whatever they are, they have large knife-like bony appendages attached to the backs of their hands that look very much like something to be stayed well away from. Tony would no doubt have a movie quote for this, Ziva thinks, as she draws the demon toward her so that Buffy can creep up behind it and take off its head. Buffy makes it look as easy cutting through warm butter.
"Still moving," Ziva pants unnecessarily, watching in half-horror-half-amusement as the now headless demon lumbers to its feet for a second round.
"You think these bony things could be our tattooing weapon of choice?" Buffy says sharply, examining the sword-like appendages carefully as she raises her sword. "Sure looks like it; pity we can't ask Abby to verify it without raising a whole lot of questions at the office."
"It may be a match," Ziva replies, watching Buffy dance around her opponent.
Buffy uses her sword to shear it from neck to knee without further ceremony and finally it drops, much to the relief of both slayer and… whatever Ziva is these days. Watcher? Assistant? She only knows what she is not – a Mossad officer, an NCIS agent, a daughter, a sister.
"Not the time for musing," Buffy says quietly in her ear, and Ziva could kick herself for her stupidity. "Feel that?"
The hair on the back of Ziva's neck prickles. "We are being watched," she says in an undertone, her eyes scanning the scene for anything unusual. Nothing moves, save for the blowing of the leaves in the wind. A rustle in the bushes just behind them puts Ziva on high alert and all of a sudden Buffy moves almost faster than Ziva can see, turning in a graceful pirouette and pouncing (there is really no better way to describe it) on their prey to the sound of a startled cry.
Ziva advances cautiously, knife at the ready, only to see Buffy flat on her stomach on top of… nothing.
"Buffy?" she asks, noting that the Slayer seems to be struggling with something.
"Hate invisible beasties," Buffy grunts, pulling a pair of zip ties from her pocket and appearing to cuff… empty air. "Never know what they're hiding." She gives the air a shake. "Show yourself."
It is not a request, and it reminds Ziva not a little bit of Gibbs questioning witnesses. She's half expecting Tony to pop up from somewhere and start the betting on which interrogation tactic their boss will use. Never before, though, has she seen a solid form appear from empty air.
Buffy's world of strange things is the gift that keeps on giving.
The boy is young, maybe early twenties, and very, very human. He looks part horrified and part disgruntled. Just as Ziva imagines she would look if made in the middle of an op. Thankfully she has never yet had to wear that particular expression.
"Who do you work for?" Buffy demands, her sword dangerously close to the boy's jugular.
"Buffy, you know we do not – " The Slayer ignores her entirely.
"Global Security Company," he stammers, eyes darting wildly about as if he is hoping for an out. Buffy is not interested in giving him one. Ziva takes another step forward, pulling out her own sharp implement, and if it is possible, he goes even paler.
"Uh, Craig, ma'am."
This only makes the feral glint in Buffy's eye even more apparent. "Do I look like a ma'am?" she says in a slightly hurt tone. "And not your name. The name of your boss. Your assignment, even. Whatever information you have that will keep you from the wrath of my partner and her sharpest knife."
"M-my boss. Pete Smith. We do private surveillance, covert ops, that kind of thing."
"Disappear-o boy. Huh. You know a Marcie Ross?" Buffy asks suddenly, apropos of nothing. She sits back slightly, studying him. Ziva does not understand the reference, but the boy's confusion at the name is clear.
"You have been following us," Ziva says sharply. "Under whose orders?"
He hesitates for a fraction of a second. "I – I don't know, ma – um, miss. Observe and report. Those are my orders."
Something smells fishy about this. Surely demons would not –
"You've seen us fighting," Buffy says slowly, leaning in close. He gulps. "So you've seen what we can do. Try again. Report to who?"
"The…. The reports get sent to a Washington address. The Navy Yard."
Ziva knows what he is going to say even before he says it, and the thought of it makes her blood run cold.
"Director Leon Vance."
Anyone still reading? I know it's been many many years but reviews are still just as awesome as they were the last time I was around...