Chapter Six: Aftershocks
Director Tom Morrow stared down at his phone in consternation. He should have expected this. He should have prepared himself mentally.
A year ago, he had received a call from the Secretary of the Navy, along with a highly classified document that, even at his level, had been covered in blacked-out lines. One name in particular remained unconcealed: Alexander Lavelle Harris. And there was a résumé and transcript attached.
The SecNav had strongly suggested that he accept young Harris into his best team. He had read between the dark spaces in that report, and had made his own discreet investigations. He still didn’t have the whole picture of what went down in that military base in Small Town, California, but he had seen enough of it to stop from asking for more.
Now if only Leroy Jethro Gibbs could be as accommodating.
They were called the Cleaners.
As soon as the children had been carted off to the hospital and those Feds called back by their boss, they dispersed quietly onto the street from a single unmarked van like Men in Black. The few of them who were actually in black set up a road block and coordinated with local agencies to divert traffic, clearing the street completely.
Someone was already present at the hospital to interview the children very carefully, with the appropriate spells at hand.
The others were dressed in blue and white worker uniforms complete with masks, and they carried with them their specialized packs down the sewer. They all knew what’s what, but that didn’t stop most of them from gaping at the scene underground.
“Holy Shit!” Someone let out a muffled curse from behind their mask.
They approached slowly, each of them holding an axe in case the creatures weren’t completely dead. The giant spiders had white bodies and all-too-human faces and torsos, one male and the other female. The male legs had been hacked into pieces, and the neck obviously broken, while the female was lying on her back, her guts strewn on the ground, her mouth open in rage, showing off her sharp teeth. And behind her…
One Cleaner started to retch, and a few others followed.
“Noobs,” the guy in the lead muttered to himself, although he grimaced at the charred bodies of a dozen or so spiders the size of puppies, with heads and torsos of adorable little babies. The only sign that they were dangerous were the tiny fangs in their otherwise toothless mouths. “Get some shovels down here!” He bellowed at the other Cleaners even as he set down his pack and got out the lightweight, extra-large body bags. “No way in hell I’m touching these with my hands.”
The door slammed open, and Gibbs entered. In one hand, he clutched something.
“Jethro,” Director Morrow acknowledged with a nod. His secretary peeked in nervously and he waved her away. “Your team?” He asked delicately.
“Confined to the squad room as ordered,” Gibbs bit out. “DiNozzo’s briefing Worth on the Matlock case. Other than that, they’re just drumming their fingers and keeping their mouths shut.” It was the longest speech Morrow had ever heard from the agent and each word felt like an injured bull’s bellow of challenge.
“Special Agent Harris is heading in right now,” he informed the other man. “Perhaps we should wait before we start?”
Gibbs answered by dropping the box he was holding onto Morrow’s desk. It held q-tips and clear film with the fingerprints Kate had extracted from the weapons in Faith LeHane’s bag.
“Someone will be taking those,” Morrow said mildly.
“The hell they are!” Gibbs’s voice was hoarse as he tried his best not to shout at his boss. “Not before I get my answers.”
“It’s classified, Jethro.” Morrow rubbed his forehead.
“Then read me in,” Gibbs said slowly and softly, which was a sign of how near he was to running out of patience.
“It’s not that simple. This is bigger than you and me,” Morrow was saying just as Harris opened the door.
Xander had changed his clothes, and his hair was damp. His eyes met theirs for a second, before they flitted away to the shadows in the room. He stood by the door uncertainly, and he held himself like he was two seconds away from scarpering. He looked like a kid again.
“Where’s LeHane?” Gibbs demanded.
Xander opened his mouth to answer, but the Director beat him to it.
“I believe she will be leaving D.C. as soon as she has cleaned up. I’m sure you can understand her wariness about dealing with law enforcement?” He asked rhetorically.
“What he said,” Xander agreed, coming all the way in and dropping to a chair almost in defiance. Gibbs gave him the Look that usually had all of them jumping and running around like headless chickens in every direction. He felt his back stiffen automatically. “Faith has a job to do. If we get in her way, well, let’s just say it could be bad.”
“I want it all, Harris,” Gibbs growled almost sub-vocally.
Xander exchanged a meaningful look with Director Morrow, who raised both hands as if in surrender. “Fine. I’ll spill. But on one condition: nobody else on the team gets to know.”
“They are investigators, Harris,” Gibbs reminded the younger agent. “How long will you be able to keep this under wraps?”
“Boss, you may think you need to know this, but once you know… You’d wish you hadn’t. As for the others, it’s better that they don’t know it at all.” Xander answered simply. He wasn’t looking at either of them, and there was a peculiar expression on his face.
It was for that look that Gibbs nodded. “They know something is up, though,” he added.
“I can authorize it,” Morrow said, when Xander shot him a questioning look.
“Thanks, Director,” he said.
“Authorize what?” Gibbs demanded again.
“Memory removal,” Tom Morrow said. “Or adjustment, I suppose. We’ll get our stories straight later. For now, let’s start in the beginning.”
Xander bit back a snort, wishing Giles was in the room with them. It always sounded more reasonable if you explained it in a British accent. “The world is older than you think…” he said in a monotone.
Gibbs pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed. Patience was never his strong suit, especially when people kept trying to beat around the damned bush.
Morrow took pity on the younger agent and took over. “There are more things in heaven and on earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy.”
Gibbs gave him a perplexed look which changed to a disbelieving one when Xander asked. “What do you know about demons?”
It was as if he spoke loud and clear: You’ve got to be kidding me.
So Xander pushed on. “In the beginning, the demons ruled the earth. Then the humans came and somehow drove them out. But the last demon bit a human and their blood was mingled and that created the first vampire. ”
Xander could see how quickly he was losing Gibbs’ interest—and respect—so he jumped over Buffy completely and went straight to the point. “The government knows about the demons existing, but they keep it hush-hush, and part of the reason why they let me join in was my prior experience. So even though it’s out of my jurisdiction as an NCIS agent, I’m actually authorized to take over any crime scene if it has anything to do with the supernatural.”
“What prior experience?”
“Well it’s not something you can find on a résumé,” Xander said biting back a grin as he imagined how that would read: five years’ experience as a sidekick, two as an amateur demon hunter.
“I… I’ve known about them since my sophomore year in high school. I’ve had some informal training from a trusted authority,” he explained as vaguely as he could. “But compared to me, Faith is in her own league. She is a Jedi Master to my Padawan, so to speak.”
“So what exactly is this demon in the sewers? What, an urban legend that ran amok?”
“Uh, it’s a half-human, half-spider thing. Faith was after the dad who was abducting kids across the country, sort of hoarding them to feed its young. The uh, mommy and kiddies were nesting underground.” Xander shuddered. “It wasn’t a pretty sight.”
Director Morrow checked his phone as it beeped. “Clean-up crew’s done. And the kids are alright.”
“So their brains are scrambled?” Gibbs asked skeptically. “How exactly does this memory thing work?”
“Well, if you can stomach believing demons, I’m sure magic’s gonna be easy-peasy for ya,” Xander said cheerfully.
“A demonstration’d be appreciated,” Gibbs shot back.
Xander sighed. “I can’t just wave my hand and chant alakazam.” He mimicked a small explosion with his hands. “I do a bit of protective magic, but I’m not enough of a natural to just go fiddling around with a spell. Maybe the next time Willow visits…” He bit his lip, glancing at the director.
“Willow Rosenberg is being monitored,” was Director Morrow’s mild answer.
“She is?” Xander asked, eyebrows shooting up.
“Everyone involved in the incident in your file is a person of interest. Ms. Rosenberg in particular exhibits extremely high levels of power. There have been attempts to recruit her, but she doesn’t seem interested in government work.”
Gibbs brought down his palms on the table, hard enough to rattle the papers on top of it. “Memory spell,” he got out between clenched teeth.
Xander just shrugged. “Never really had to use it, or see it in action. Where I come from, we don’t need spells. People just forget things on their own.”
The director took over the explanation. “According to the brief I read, the spell removes the pertinent details without impinging on regular brain functions, and this lets you make up your own stories to cover up the holes. There haven’t been any negative side effects recorded.”
“And the kids are better for it, trust me,” Xander reassured him. “I would guess Uncle Sam would only hire the best casters anyway, so I’m sure they’re gonna be safe.”
This seemed to mollify Gibbs a little, until he turned to Xander again and asked. “So why exactly is Faith LeHane an expert?”
"Let me get this straight." Tony was waving his hands around like they could clear some imaginary cobwebs. "You went after some Mole People living in the sewers who kidnapped kids over state lines. And how is that your jurisdiction, anyway? Sounds like an FBI thing to me." They were sitting in the squad room, while Director Morrow and Gibbs remained upstairs, continuing their conversation about official policies on the supernatural. Xander had already been read in to those policies, so he had excused himself. The director waved him away, but Gibbs had given him a long, considering look that did not bode well.
So now Xander had to come up with some story while waiting for the government-issued magic users to come in and do their thing.
"And how would your friend Faith know about it? She's not law enforcement. Quite the opposite in fact," Kate added. Her eyes were drilling holes into Xander.
McGee looked like he wanted to chime in, too, but he held back, probably still mulling it over in his big brain.
"Faith actually works for a PI. Old friend of mine," Xander choked out the explanation with as straight a face as he could muster. He never thought he’d ever describe Angel like that. “That’s why I tried not to involve you guys. It was a personal favor.”
Kate’s eyebrows shot up. “You worked for a private investigator? That’s not in your resume.”Along with eighty-five percent of my life,
Xander thought, rolling his eyes. “I didn’t get paid for it,” he informed her. They locked eyes—and imaginary horns—before Xander looked away. He sure hoped this MIB-type spell was damned effective, so his ridiculous cover story would soon fade in the rest of his team’s memories. If worse came to worst, he’d just have to call Willow and request a favor.
Tony leaned back. “But still, man, you tapped that? She’s way out of your league.”
Kate whacked Tony on his shoulder just as McGee spoke up. “She’s very…”
“Hot?” Tony asked.
“Scary,” McGee finished.
Xander closed his eyes. Scary? Yeah. That, she was.
Faith, on the back seat of the first bus out of town, felt her ears itch. She pulled on one lobe absent-mindedly, and smiled at the streets passing in a blur. “Well hell, that boy got hot,” she muttered under her breath, still a little jittery from a successful kill. Too bad we didn’t have time to get horizontal.
She remembered Xander’s kiss at the bar. It had felt like a promise. Maybe next time.
The morning after, he came in to work and there was no mention of Mole People or kidnapped children. Xander sat down behind his desk and sighed in relief. It earned him a curious look from Tony. He buried his face in old paperwork, and with one hand, surreptitiously checked if his desk drawers were locked. He would have to sneak in his axe again, which had been such a pain the first time around.
Then Gibbs came in, his face expressionless but somehow harder than usual.
“Hey, Boss, weren’t we working on the Worth case?” Tony asked as he rifled through his papers. “Matlock told me they got their guy last night. He was blowing a little hot air in my direction.” His annoyance bled through his words.
“The director wanted us to have some down time,” Gibbs explained easily.
Kate looked surprised. “He’s sidelining his best team?”
“Oh, careful with that ego, Kate,” Tony crowed. “You might hit the ceiling.”
“D-did we do something, boss?” McGee spoke anxiously.
Xander kept his silence, even though he could feel Gibbs’ eyes on him. “If you did, you’d all know it,” the boss stated calmly. “Personnel have raised concerns that I’ve been working you through most weekends, so they got us on forced liberty. You all have this weekend off. And no coming in to the office to do paperwork.” Gibbs shot a look in Tony’s direction, but the agent just shrugged it off without explaining himself.
“Go have fun. Go on dates,” Gibbs said exasperatedly, though there was a note of fondness in his voice as he caught Kate and McGee’s eyes. “Finish all your paperwork today and then head on home.” Then his tone changed, “Harris,” and he tilted his head towards the elevator.
Xander bit back a sigh and stood up, ignoring the rest of the team’s looks of curiosity as he jogged after his boss into the unofficial conference room.
As soon as Gibbs pressed the emergency hold button, he crossed his arms, turning the full force of his eyes on his young agent. “You are going to show me one of these demons,” he said.
“Boss, it’s not really a good idea to mix the two…” Xander’s voice faded at a glare from Gibbs. “Fine. But only if you promise to follow my lead.” He tried to sound tough but his eyes were pleading. “I don’t know as much as you guys think I do, but it’s still better than going in blind.”
“What’s there to know? You said taking the heads off works for most of them.”
“Demon politics, Boss. It’s a lot more complicated than ‘See Demon, Kill Demon.’ I can’t go in there guns blazing, and neither can you. So don’t bother bringing anything bigger than a pocket knife.”
Demon politics? He had enough trouble with the regular kind. For the first time, Gibbs wondered what he had gotten himself into.
Petrovich’s was surprisingly quiet for a weekend. The music was the same demon Muzak with the strange underlying beats, soft enough to talk over and loud enough to dance to. But there were fewer bodies clustered on the tables or the dance floor. Xander Harris shifted on the balls of his feet, even as he checked out who was there and who wasn’t. He was planning on meeting Gibbs there, but he arrived half an hour earlier to do some recon. It wouldn’t do to get his boss in trouble.
He slid onto a stool by the bar and was confused by Kobal’s reaction. The Treika’n wouldn’t meet his eyes, though he got his usual drink and a plate of roasted peanuts.
“Hey, Bal. How’s the blood sugar?” He asked as non-threateningly as possible.
“It go all the way down to the ground when your girlfriend showed up,” his neighbor answered. “Next time, dude, I’d appreciate a bit of a heads up when the Slayer comes rolling into town. I just about emptied a damn candy store to keep me chillin’.”
Xander winced. Of course. Faith the Vampire Slayer was probably a much bigger disruption than having Spike around. “Sorry. She was just hunting a Spidrall nest. I’m pretty sure she’s out of town by now. D.C. isn’t exactly a tourist spot for her.”
The relief loosened Kobal’s face and made his dreadlocks untwist a little, though he added, “Oh yeah? Tell that to my customers, dude. I think she made a whole Kapache clan wet their pants last night. At least she didn’t kill anyone here. I heard she busted up Jerry’s Hole down on 24th. It was a massacre.”
Xander winced while Kobal graphically described Faith’s excesses. “I’ll tell her to call me next time before she comes, okay? So I can spread the word on the street first.”
“And she’ll listen to you?” A look of awe settled on Kobal’s face, and it made Xander flush.
“No guarantees, Bal, but I can try.” He cleared his throat. “But the reason I’m here is because my boss uh, found out about D.C.’s nightlife.”
“LeroyJethroGibbs?” Kobal asked, pronouncing it as one whole name. He very carefully set down the glass he was wiping on the counter. Since the party at Xander’s, he had come to hear a lot about his neighbor’s boss. Enough to worry him. “And how did he take it?”
“That’s what we’re about to find out,” Xander said. “I told him to meet me here. I guess it’s actually a good thing the natives are laying low tonight. I don’t want him to get overwhelmed.”
“Why Petrovich’s? LeroyJethroGibbs could get us shut down like that.” Bal snapped his fingers in Xander’s face. “You should have brought him somewhere else.”
“Well this was the most civilized place I could think of. First impressions are important, you know.” Xander felt his phone vibrate. “That must be him now. Look, just pass it on, okay? It’s just a meet-and-greet sorta thing. Best behavior, right?” He looked around, making sure his words carried a bit further so those with more sensitive hearing could pick up on it. “I’d appreciate it, guys.”
Kobal nodded even as Xander stood up to head to the front door, flicking open his phone in the process. “Yeah, boss. I’m coming right out.”
That night, Leroy Jethro Gibbs tried to sand his boat, but his mind was too busy, too cluttered by images and impressions. He didn’t know what he was expecting. He tried not to come to a crime scene with expectations already formed. That made for sloppy investigations. But Petrovich’s was like entering through a damn wardrobe door and falling into Narnia.
At least Kobal was there. Xander’s next door neighbor was a familiar face, and though he had greeted Gibbs nervously, almost shyly, he never once showed any hostility, and even gave him a drink on the house. Granted, it was a fruity, girly drink that was a little too sweet, but the thought counted, and Xander assured him there weren’t any strange substances in it.
He had seen a different side in the kid tonight. Harris was nervous too, at first, but as he took Gibbs around for introductions, his back had straightened out, and he lost that uncertain tone in his voice. But what impressed Gibbs were the reactions he got.
The guests were a mixed lot. He kept his promise and followed Xander’s lead, keeping his game face on, and being polite, though he was a little rusty in the latter. He tried to remember all the names, but some of them were hard to pronounce. Those faces though… he’d never forget them. He met one that looked like a porcupine, with bright yellow quills. Another one was as big as a linebacker, and had a face made of granite, literally, though his eyes were a very normal brown. There were two tourists from Florida, wearing Hawaiian shirts over their green-gray bodies. They looked like aliens who escaped from a theme park. He’d seen a woman with two tails, another with sunken eyes and sallow, gray skin looking very much like a walking corpse.
How do you read the reactions of creatures like those? Not too badly, apparently. Some of them seemed to twitch considerably when Harris approached; they turned their bodies away, and couldn’t look him in the eye—most of them did
have eyes. Then he realized they were inching away from Harris,
not him. His agent seemed to notice him noticing, but he just laughed it off, making a lame joke about his body odor.
He raised an eyebrow but didn’t press the issue. By now, he was used to Harris’ deflection. It was something the young agent shared with DiNozzo, although Tony tended to prefer exaggeration rather than self-deprecation.
All throughout the night, he didn’t know what to do with his hands, whether to offer them to the creatures he met, or shove them in his pockets, so they’d stop itching for a weapon of any kind. Now those hands were starting to find their rhythm as he worked on a plank of the boat. He let the work consume him, even as his brain chanced upon an idea: he wanted to see Xander Harris in action.
A/N: Any mistakes left are mine, after ignoring my beta’s well-meaning advice. I’m sorry to say that the next chapter is just blank page at this stage, as I’ll have to review old notes again to figure out what will happen next. I do have a plan, but it’s pretty vague, so any suggestions are welcome. Thanks for everyone who reviewed and voted for the COA this year!