Changes and Choices
Disclaimer: I do not own "Buffy: the Vampire Slayer," "Angel," or "NCIS."
An Unwelcome Visitor
Ellie awoke with a start. She had had nightmares before, but she knew that this was more than that. It was a Slayer dream. It was becoming a bit fuzzy, but there had definitely been a girl running … in a warehouse. She had been stabbed. Ellie shuddered. This dream reminded her of her dreams back in Sunnydale. All those potential Slayers, snuffed out.
She knew she should contact someone, but who. She and Angel had fallen out of touch about a year after Wolfram & Hart fell. She wanted the nice, ordinary life. She had not spoken to him in four years, not since she had fallen in love with Tony. Angel had argued with her, telling her that she could not keep her true self a secret, that she had to tell Tony, her boyfriend at the time, the truth about being the Slayer if the relationship were serious. She had disagreed. She knew that if she wanted a nice, normal life, she could not drag demons into it. She hadn't spoken to Angel again, not even to tell him when she and Tony became engaged and then married.
Ellie simply could not tell anyone. The others—Angel or the new Watchers Council or … someone—would deal with it. They didn't need her. She had a life to live.
"What's up?" asked Tony, rolling over and seeing the disturbed look on his wife's face.
"Nothing," she replied, smiling and decidedly shrugging off the nightmare. "I'm going to go for a run."
Ellie and Tony had a routine all worked out. Every morning Ellie went for a five-mile run while Tony slept an extra half hour. Then they brushed their teeth together and showered together. Then, while Ellie ironed out their clothes for the day, Tony made them breakfast. It wasn't that Tony made a great or varied breakfast, it was just that Ellie in the kitchen was almost always a disaster. She had once nearly burnt their apartment down trying to boil water. They ate breakfast, got dressed, and drove into work. It was a routine that some might call boring, but Ellie called it normal and she loved every minute of it.
The morning at work went normally too. Ellie quickly settled into the rhythm of her work day, taking care of anything and everything that Vance needed. Had someone told her ten years ago that she was going to be a secretary, she would have laughed and called them crazy. While the work wasn't particularly stimulating, it kept her busy and put bread on her table. That was all she really needed. She got all the stimulation she needed, both physical and intellectual, from Tony.
That morning was unnaturally crazy though. There had been some sort of threat against the Secretary of the Navy in Los Angeles, so, although the LA team was handling his protection, she still had to transfer an inordinate amount of phone calls, fax an inordinate amount of paperwork, and still do her regular job. Luckily the threat was resolved by 1:30 p.m. and Ellie decided to take a late lunch.
Some days she got lunch with Tony, but most days she didn't. Her forty-five-minute lunch hour was her one time during the day when no one was pestering her for anything and when she could just relax. It was nice. She usually went to one of the little cafes near the NCIS headquarters and ordered a shockingly large amount of food. She may not be slaying anymore, but she still had a Slayer's metabolism, and her morning run didn't help matters any.
For today's lunch, Ellie went to the sandwich place located a half-mile away; it was an easy jog for her. She was almost done with her lunch—four sandwiches and two Cokes—when an unwelcome acquaintance slid into the seat across from her.
"Whistler," she growled, not even trying to keep the menace out of her voice.
"Hey Slayer," he responded with his strong New York accent. In that moment Ellie hated him; she hated him more than anyone. And it wasn't because of his complete lack of fashion sense. Or because he was digging between his teeth with a toothpick while she was trying to eat. Or because he was smirking at her with the self-righteous air that only the PTB had. It was because he called her "Slayer." With one simple greeting, he was calling her back to a world she had vacated years ago and had no desire to rejoin.
"What do you want?" she ground out.
"You know what I want. You had the dream."
"So?" she challenged.
"So, aren't you going to do something about it? That girl died on your turf, Slayer."
"Not my problem," said Ellie, sounding much more resolute than she felt.
"Oh, really?" smirked Whistler.
"Really," said Ellie, getting up to leave.
Whistler grabbed her arm, pulling her back into her seat. She could have stopped him if she had wanted to; she could have thrown him clear across the shop. But she didn't. She did not want a scene … especially this close to the NCIS building.
"You have a responsibility, Slayer. Come on, kid, you can pretend you're done all you want, but we both know you aren't. You're still just as much the Powers' plaything as ever. You had a vacation—that's nice. It's over now. You need to come back into the fold. There is trouble brewing here and you need to stop it."
"No, I really don't," she argued. "What about the others? Huh? Why can't they stop it?"
"It needs to be you."
"Why? So that I can lose everything I have worked so hard for? So that I can be dragged back into the darkness and pain and depression? Is that what you want? For me to be broken again?" Ellie could feel hot tears sliding down her face and in that moment she hated herself—hated herself for showing weakness like this. Especially in front of Whistler. The last time she had seen him, her life had been destroyed. She had killed Angel. And here he was now, all ready to destroy her life again. And there she was, sobbing in the middle of a sandwich shop. She could see people looking at her suspiciously and she could only be thankful that she had remained quiet and that they had not heard her words. They hopefully just thought he was breaking up with her or something.
"I'm sorry, kiddo, I really am. But this is your fight, no one else's. I'll be in touch," said Whistler, finally letting go of her arm and getting up to leave.
Ellie just sat there, tears still trickling down her face. She shakily picked up her last sandwich and began to eat again.
Unfortunately for Ellie, Tim and Abby had walked in just as Whistler had grabbed her arm. "Who's that?" Abby had squeaked, pointing at their coworker's wife.
"I don't know," Tim had responded, about to stride over and help her.
"Wait," said Abby. "Ellie's not the kind of person who would want our help. Let's just wait and see." Tim agreed, albeit hesitantly. He knew Ellie was tough—any woman who could withstand the Gibbs glare for so long had to be tough. Still though, he knew Tony would be upset by the idea of some stranger grabbing his wife and Tim not doing anything to help her. Tim made to move again when Ellie burst into tears, but again Abby held him back.
"What are they saying?" asked Tim.
"I'm not sure," replied Abby. "I can only see Ellie's mouth and what she is saying doesn't seem to make much sense. When was she broken?"
The second after the sketchy-looking man had left, Tim and Abby approached Ellie. "Are you OK? Who was that guy?" questioned Abby, worried for her friend.
Ellie's head snapped up, her eyes wide like a deer caught in the headlights. "Wh-what are you guys doing here?"
"We're getting lunch," said Tim softly. "What just happened?"
"Nothing," muttered Ellie, struggling to collect herself. "Everything's fine."
"You're crying," pointed out Tim. "That doesn't seem fine."
"It's personal, OK?" snapped Ellie. "Just leave me alone."
"Look, if you're in some sort of trouble, we can help. Tony would move heaven and earth to help you out," said Tim. Beside him, Abby nodded enthusiastically.
"No," Ellie nearly shouted. "I don't need help. I'm fine. And don't you dare tell Tony about this, got it?" She then fixed them with a glare so powerful that Tim would gladly have angered Gibbs at that point just to get away from it.
"I g-got it," stuttered Tim.
Abby was not as easily persuaded, however, and, hands on her hips, she fixed Ellie with her own stare and told her, "We don't lie to our friends, and Tony is our friend."
"It's not a lie," argued Ellie, "it's an omission. And if you tell Tony about this, I will never forgive you." Without waiting for a reply, Ellie stood up and made her way out of the sandwich shop.
"What was that all about?" asked Tim.
"I don't know, but we're going to tell Tony, right?" asked Abby.
"I'm not sure if we should," replied Tim. "Ellie seemed really adamant that we not tell him. I mean, she would tell us if she were in trouble."
"Fine," huffed Abby, yet again amazed by Tim's behavior. Sometimes, just when she thought Tim was manning up, he would go and do something like this. Abby usually wouldn't tattle on someone, but Ellie was her friend and she was worried about her. Sometimes you had to do things your friends didn't like to protect them. That was why Abby made up her mind to tell Tony what she and Tim had seen.
She tried to get Tony's attention all day, but Tony was busy with the fallout from the threat against the Secretary of the Navy and Abby did not get a moment alone with him. She tried to broach the topic a few times with the rest of the team around, but each time Tim would shoot her a look and change the topic. Abby was getting more and more frustrated.
Finally, just as they were leaving for the day, Abby got her chance. While the rest of the team was packing up, Tim was in Vance's office discussing computer upgrades for the team. "Tony, we need to talk," she said, jumping right in.
"What is it? What's wrong?" asked Tony immediately.
Gibbs and Ziva drew closer as well, on the off-chance that Abby's problem would require their efforts to fix as well.
"Um … well … you see," began Abby, suddenly very unsure of herself.
"What is it?" asked Gibbs, direct and to the point as always.
Abby launched right into it, speaking about a mile a minute: "Well, Tim and I went for lunch today and we went to that sandwich shop, you the know the one, the one that sells that avocado sandwich that Ziva likes so much, but that Jimmy refuses to eat at because of that one time when … never mind, that's not important. Anyway, Ellie was there, eating lunch—she had four sandwiches, isn't that crazy?—and there was this guy sitting across from her and he was really hinky looking. I mean, his clothes were dark and mismatched and he looked greasy and had a toothpick and a bowler hat and he grabbed Ellie." At this point Tony yelled "what?" before Gibbs quelled him with a look. Abby continued, "And he held her in place so he could talk to her and she looked really unhappy about it, but he didn't let go. And we couldn't hear what they were saying, but Ellie was crying, like a lot, and I read her lips a bit and she said something about being broken and about how she was depressed. Then he left and she was still crying, but she told Tim and me not to tell you about it because friends don't tell on friends, but since we're friends, I had to tell you, because I was worried." Abby finally slowed down and said, "I was really worried, Tony. She was really upset, but she wouldn't tell me or Tim what was wrong. She just told us not to tell you."
"And you have no idea who this guy was?" asked Tony, worried himself now.
"No," said Abby apologetically. "But I made this," she said, holding up a computer-generated sketch of the man who had made Ellie cry.
"You know him?" Gibbs asked Tony.
"No," said Tony. He had to admit that he agreed with Abby's assessment. This man definitely looked hinky.
"Would Ellie not tell us if she were in trouble?" asked Ziva, wanting to give Ellie the benefit of the doubt. When Ellie and Tony had first begun dating, Ziva had not liked the woman. Some would call it jealousy. But, after getting to know Ellie, she began to like the woman almost more than she liked Tony. Ellie was a strong woman and that was something Ziva admired. She was uncomfortable with the idea of her team discussing Ellie's personal business behind the woman's back.
Tony's mind was going too quickly for him even to attempt to answer Ziva. He had spent ten minutes speaking with his wife at around 3 p.m. and she had not mentioned any of this to him. He always prided their marriage on its openness; now he felt like it was in a tailspin. Some sketchy-looking man had made his wife cry and, not only had she not told him about it, but she had made Abby and Tim promise not to tell him either. That was unlike his wife and that worried him.
Gibbs was just watching Tony to get some clue of what was going through his senior field agent's mind. Gibbs knew that he was not an expert in healthy marriages, but he knew that marriages rarely did well in the face of lies and secrets. He thought of Tony as a son and didn't like seeing him upset and certainly didn't like to see cracks in the agent's marriage, even if they were only micro-fissures. If Gibbs had learned anything from working with wood, it was that sometimes one small crack in piece of wood could widen and end up destroying the whole boat.
"I think Ellie was scared of something," replied Abby quietly. "I've been running the sketch through facial recognition software, but that can take a while and we all know that sketches are not one-hundred percent accurate. We probably won't get anything. Maybe we can—"
"I have to go," interrupted Tony, grabbing the rest of his things and sprinting up the stairs to get his wife.
"Hey, what's going on?" asked Tim, returning from the bathroom. After looking around at the rest of the group and following their gaze to Tony, Tim looked at Abby and said disbelievingly, "You didn't?"
"Let's go," said Tony gruffly to Ellie, bursting into her office.
Ellie looked up from what she was doing and smiled at her husband. Usually he couldn't help but return the smile; today he did not. She didn't ask what was wrong. It had been a rough day, what with the threat against the Secretary of the Navy, and Tony was probably tired. "Sure," she said, a bit stiltedly. "Just let me finish this up."
Tony flopped down on the couch, staring at her as she finished typing the document to send to the director. His gaze was making her slightly uncomfortable, but she had dealt with much more unnerving situations. "OK," she said, hitting send, "let's go." She flashed him another dazzling smile and this time he returned it halfheartedly.
It wasn't until they were in the car driving home that Tony finally spoke to Ellie, who was sitting in the passenger seat of the car and fiddling with the radio. Reaching out, he shut off the radio, leaving them alone with their thoughts and the uneasy silence. When he spoke, although his voice was quiet, it carried throughout the car, and it sounded tight, as if he were exerting a lot of energy controlling it. "What happened today?" he asked, faking a calm that he was not feeling.
"What do you mean?" asked Ellie as nonchalantly as possible. Although she was pulling out her dumb blonde routine, her heart had skipped a beat: She knew what he was talking about.
"Abby told me."
The couple was again immersed in silence. Tony kept his eyes on the road and Ellie kept her eyes on her hands in her lap.
After a brief and uncomfortable period of time, Tony asked, "Who was that guy at the sandwich shop today?"
"Just somebody that I used to know," replied Ellie vaguely.
"Who was he?" asked Tony again, his voice rising this time.
"He was nobody," said Ellie as convincingly as she could, turning in her seat to look at her husband. "He's nobody important. You don't have to worry about it."
"I don't have to worry about it, but I do," said Tony, still not looking at Ellie. "Damn it Ellie, you're my wife. I can't help but worry about you. And when someone tells me that a strange man grabbed you at lunch today and made you cry, I worry. I worry even more when you ask our friends to keep it a secret from me. If it was nothing, then why didn't you want me to know about it?"
"Because it was nothing and I didn't want you to worry," pleaded Ellie.
"According to Abby, it didn't look like nothing. I want to know who this guy is."
"No," said Ellie quietly, so quietly that Tony wasn't sure what he had heard.
After a pause, Tony prompted her again, saying, "Who is he?"
"No," said Ellie, more loudly this time. "It is none of your business."
"How can you say that?" questioned Tony. "You're my wife; that makes you and your life my business." After taking a deep breath, he continued, "I don't want to force you to do or say anything you don't want to—you know I'm not like that—but I wish you felt you could trust me."
"I do trust you."
"Then tell me who this guy is."
"No," Ellie said again, more forcefully than before. "He belongs to a part of my life that is over now. I don't want to go there and, trust me, you don't either."
"Yes, I do."
"I'm fine, Tony. Just drop it."
"I'm sorry, Ellie, but I can't," said Tony apologetically. "I love you and I need to protect you."
Ellie snorted in disbelief, which only irritated Tony more. She couldn't help it; she had heard that line before: from Giles, from Spike, from Riley, from Xander, and so on. She had especially heard it from Angel. That had always been Angel's thing. He loved her, so he had to leave town. He loved her, so he had to stalk her. He loved her, so he had to dissect her life. She was tired of it and she would certainly not allow that sort of behavior from Tony. "I don't need your protection," she snapped.
"I'm tired of the secrets," yelled Tony, pulling into their apartment building's parking lot and finally turning to look at her. There was anger in his eyes. "I have accepted a lot of lies and half-truths, Ellie, because I love you, but enough is enough. I get that you don't like to talk about your past, but this is different. This isn't some inconsequential memory from your past; this is a flesh-and-blood man who made you cry in the middle of a café today."
Ferociously blinking back the tears from her eyes, Ellie looked at Tony and said, in a quavering voice, "I gave you my heart. Isn't that enough?"
Tony clenched his jaw and looked out the window before finally responding. "No, not anymore."
"Fine," said Ellie, on the verge of tears. She quickly climbed out of the car and began to walk away from their building.
"Where are you going?" shouted Tony after her.
"For a walk," she shouted back. "Just leave me alone."
"Fine," echoed Tony angrily, walking into the building.
Ellie continued down the street, keeping a fairly fast pace. She did not notice the car peel out of the parking space in front of her building, following her silently through the streets.
x TBC x
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