Before he had to time to look in the direction of his sister's voice, he found himself engulfed in her arms. "You're back! It's been like ages! And, wow, muscles. You've shaped up nicely. No more squishy Xander. But don't worry, I'll feed you all your favourites. And I've stocked up on Twinkies. Lots and lots of-"
Abby looked down in surprise. She hadn't noticed the tugging on her short skirt until she heard the annoyed outcry from below. Abby took a step back without letting go of Xander and looked down.
The confusion on her face immediately transformed into a bright smile.
A small girl of about four was pressing herself into Xander's leg. One arm was tightly wrapped around said leg and her other hand was still holding onto Abby's skirt, tugging ever so slightly. Her brow was deeply furrowed as she glared at Abby. "Mine
Abby smiled, knelt down and held out her hand. "Hi Sweetie, I'm Abby."
The girl looked at her with pale blue eyes. But her brow remained furrowed as she studied Abby and the outstretched hand. After what seemed like ages to Abby, the girl turned her head and gave Xander a questioning look.
Xander smiled and nodded before picking the girl up. He winced as he settled her on his hips, but ignored his discomfort in favour of introducing two of his favourite girls in the world. Besides, kneeling down would have been much more painful. "Niara, this is Abby. My sister." Brushing a kiss on her forehead, he whispered, "My Adimu."
Niara's eyes opened wide as she turned her head to study the woman in front of her again. She tilted her head and squinted at Abby. Finally having come to a decision, she rested her head in the crook of Xander's neck and waved.
If anything, Abby's smile became even bigger. She wanted nothing more than to pluck her from Xander's arms and cuddle her close. But one look at her brother told her that would be a bad idea so she scratched that thought. Instead, she slowly moved her hand towards the one still waving at her, watching Niara to make sure she wasn't scaring her.
"Hi." Abby gently took the girl's hand in hers for a moment. "It's nice to meet you."
Niara smiled, but remained where she was.
"So, anyone hungry?" Abby asked.
Xander's phone rung before he could answer. Looking at the display, he sighed and answered. He listened for a short time before telling the other person he'd call back in a minute.
"Niara?" Once he had the girl's attention, he motioned to his sister. "Will you stay with my Adimu for a while? I'll be right over there; you can watch me all the time, okay?"
Niara wasn't convinced as she looked between her Xander and the woman. She looked nice enough, but then so had the men who had wanted to take her away and hurt her.
Abby was bouncing on her feet, itching to cuddle the girl but kept her hands at her sides, not wanting to scare her away. Remembering her backpack, she squealed and quickly lifted it from the floor. A second later it was open and she pulled out Bert. Squeezing him, she grinned as Niara looked at the farting hippo in surprise.
"This is Bert. Do you wanna hold him?"
Niara gave Xander another look and an encouraging nod later she tentatively held out her arms. Abby handed her Bert before taking her from Xander's arms.
Niara gave Xander a small nod.
"I'll be right back." Xander leaned forward and kissed first Niara and then Abby on the cheek before quickly walking away from them.
Gibbs was swearing quietly. After her car had broken down the day before, he'd promised Abby to collect her and Xander from the airport, even though he'd been unable to take her there in the first place. Naturally, he first had been stuck in traffic and had then trouble finding a parking spot.
He was rather tempted to use his badge to get what he needed, but knew Abby would disapprove. She explicitly asked for his help as friend, not as NCIS agent. And, as the last case had been particularly hard on Abby, he'd decided to humour her. Now all he had to do was find the two amidst the masses of other travellers.
He hated airports. At least the queue at Starbucks was short for once and, fresh coffee in hand, he went in search of his wayward Goth. Gibbs spotted Xander first. He was standing somewhat to the side, out of the way of rushing passengers, talking on the phone. As he got closer, Gibbs saw the tiredness in his stance in general and in his face in particular. He also noticed the way he favoured his left leg.
They acknowledged each other before Xander motioned towards some seats. Gibbs eyes followed and he quickly spotted Abby - holding a small child. He raised his eyebrows at Xander but he was already engrossed in his phone call again. Gibbs took another sip from his coffee and made his way to Abby.
As he came closer, he realised the child was a small girl and, in contrast of his first assumption of her being white, an African albino. Smiling - he didn't want to scare her and he had to admit that she was cute - he stepped in front of them. "Hi."
"Gibbs!" Abby beamed at him. Leaning even closer to the girl on her lap, she added, "Niara, this is Gibbs. He's my friend."
Niara squirmed in response, glaring daggers at him. Abby frowned, then smirked at Gibbs, shooing him to the side. "You're in the way, she can't see Xander."
Gibbs rolled his eyes at her but stepped to the side and sat down next to Abby. Niara stopped squirming immediately and gave Bert a tight squeeze. She sighed when he made his farting sound and settled back against Abby.
"She's a bit shy."
Abby shrugged her shoulders. "Xander's phone rang before I could ask."
"Xan!" Niara lifted her arms towards him as soon as he started walking towards them.
Abby frowned as she saw him limp. She hadn't noticed it before, probably because she was so fixated on the girl in her arms. But now that she had, she was worried. "Are you okay?"
Xander sat down next to her and took Niara. "I'm fine."
"It's nothing a good night of sleep and pack of Twinkies can't cure."
Gibbs snorted - and found himself at the receiving ends of two impressive glares from Xander and Niara. "I'll be fine," Xander said firmly. "Though I was wondering if we could crash at your place? I was supposed to meet a friend and take Niara to her house but something came up."
Abby huffed. "That's a stupid question! Of course you can come! I've stocked up on all your favourite foods, remember?"
Xander's face lit up immediately. "Twinkies!"
"Yup." Abby grinned. "Let's go!"
Niara's eyes never left the window during the drive to Abby's apartment. There was so much to see! And with Xander next to her she knew that nobody could hurt her - just like nobody could hurt her when she was with Adimu. The thought of Adimu made her sad and she sniffed quietly. Xander was there immediately, putting his arms around her shoulders and giving her a reassuring squeeze.
Moments later they stopped and got out of the car. Niara had to crane her neck to see the top of the building they were standing in front of. Until today, she'd never seen anything that high. Pressing closer to her Xander, she couldn't get enough of all the new sights in front of her.
"Let's go." She saw Xander reaching for her hand. Pressing even closer, she shook her head.
Xander smiled and adjusted her head. Then he bent down to pick her up. "Someone's lazy, huh?"
Niara giggled but shook her head. Xander stuck out his tongue at her before following Gibbs into the building. Though he wasn't particularly happy for him to come up with them, he was also glad he was taking care of their luggage. Even though he'd said his leg would be fine, it did hurt after the long journey.
Once inside, he put Niara down again and nodded in encouragement when Abby offered to show her around. Xander listened to Abby talking excitedly for a moment before settling onto the couch. His head fell back and he closed his eyes as soon as he was half-way comfortable.
Xander didn't need to open his eyes to know Gibbs was still there - and watching him.
"Will be fine. Another scar to add, that's all," Xander replied rather dismissively.
Gibbs nodded, even though the younger man couldn't see him. "The girl? Is she?"
Xander rubbed his face tiredly before opening his eyes and looking at Gibbs. "No but her sister ... I was too late. She was mortally injured before I found her."
Xander sighed again and that was answer enough for Gibbs. He swore quietly and started pacing. Over the past ten months he'd often thought about the Slayers. Of ways to help them, to prevent teenage girls from fighting the monsters of the night.
One month after Xander had left, he had gotten another visit from Buffy. He'd started asking question and going as far as going back to the club with the demon barkeeper. Apparently Buffy had found out and wasn't happy about it. So she'd come back and given him a final warning - stay away or get in trouble with your superiors.
They had verbally sparred for a while but neither had been willing to change their opinion. In the end, it had been a phone call for Buffy that had changed everything. She had stepped out to answer and when she had come back, she'd been scowling furiously before demanding coffee.
Then they'd started to talk properly. Gibbs had voiced his concerns, his dislike of letting girls fight when they should be in school and only worry about what to wear next or which boy to ask out. Buffy had agreed wholeheartedly - and explained why it couldn't be. Then she had given him more background information and told him about their plans, now that there was more than one Slayer. He had grumbled that he still didn't like it - and then pointed out some possible improvements in their plans.
And while Gibbs had accepted that he couldn't prevent the girls from going out to fight, that they were the best equipped to do so, he'd also realised that he could still help. Going into the fight with a good plan - and backup plans for that matter - was important after all. And he knew all about planning. He'd suggested giving the girls theoretical scenarios and allowing them to come up with a plan, a plan he could go over with a toothcomb and point out the flaws. Buffy, or rather Giles, had agreed to a trial run and after it had proven popular with the girls, it had become a regular part of their schedule.
Now he knew more about the supernatural than he ever wanted to know, but at least wasn't feeling as helpless as he had at the beginning. He also knew that Xander hadn't just been travelling through Africa on a whim but rather followed information about new Slayers, finding them and offering advice and the opportunity to be trained properly. However, he hadn't known that Xander was coming back until Abby had jumped up and down in the bullpen a couple of days ago, telling everyone in shouting distance that her little brother was coming home.
Gibbs stopped pacing and sat back down. "I'm sorry."
"Yeah." Xander sounded as tired as he looked. But Gibbs still needed answers.
"What about the girl?"
"Niara." Xander said absently. "Adimu, her sister, didn't just have your box-standard slayer package. She apparently was a gifted Seer too." Xander snorted bitterly.
"She saw her death?"
"Yep. But she went to the demons' nest anyway. She killed all of them - but was poisoned in the process. She was barely alive when I found her." Xander rubbed his face again and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees and letting his head hang low. "She was expecting me. She ... she called Niara and told her I'd keep her safe and that the spider would make sure everything would be fine. Then she closed her eyes and died with a smile on her face."
Xander shrugged his shoulders. Gibbs' guess would be as good as his own.
"What about their mother?"
"Niara's mom is still in their village in Tanzania. She's just married again and is expecting another child."
"So she just gave her other child away?"
"No!" Xander took a couple of calming breaths. "No. She let Niara go because she loved her. They live in a rural area where witchdoctors are still playing an important part. And some of them really like albino body parts for their potions."
The venom with which Xander said the last sentence told Gibbs everything he needed.
"Everyone knew Adimu was strong and that she would protect her little sister. But with her gone..."
"Letting her go was the only way to protect her," Gibbs finished the sentence for Xander, who nodded in reply.
"We left that very night." Xander rubbed his leg absently. There had been some trouble on the way, but thankfully they'd made it to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's largest city and stayed in a small hotel until they had all the papers they needed.
"What happens now?"
"You know our Watcher in Washington?" Gibbs nodded. "She is willing to take Niara in. Willow assured me she'd be a good choice. She was supposed to meet us at the airport, but there was some trouble she had to attend to."
Gibbs raised his eyebrows but didn't comment. It didn't sound like Xander was looking forward to letting the little girl go. Then another thought crossed his mind. "It is awfully quiet."
Xander's eyes shot wide opened and he concentrated on the sounds surrounding them. Where there had been the faint sound of his sister's giggles, sometimes mixed with Niara's, there was now silence.
Both men got up simultaneously and moved towards Abby's bedroom, the last room they had heard noises coming from. The door was ajar, but the room behind it was silent. Gibbs and Xander exchanged a look before Xander pushed the door open - and stopped in his tracks. A huge grin adorning his face, he motioned for Gibbs to be quiet before he stepped aside to let him see.
Abby was lying on her back on the bed - and Niara was sprawled across her with Bert safely tucked under one arm. Both had wet hair and were fast asleep. As Gibbs went closer, he noticed something else. Shaking his head in disbelief, he pointed to where Niara's free hand was resting.
Her fingers where slightly curled but had been unmistakably placed over the spider tattoo on Abby's neck.
Xander's eyes opened wide in shock.
Back in the living room, Gibbs pushed Xander into the couch. He still hadn't spoken since seeing Niara and his sister sleeping and seemed to be in a bit of a shock.
"The slayer-seer, how accurate were her visions?"
"Accurate enough to call Giles and tell him of a probable change of plans," Xander said drolly. He never wanted to drag his sister into his world but it looked like it might be too late already.
Gibbs put his hand on Xander's shoulder as if he was reading his thoughts. "You said Niara isn't a Slayer, right? Is there a chance she will become one?"
Xander shook his head. "No, I've already tested her. Willow's detector thingy would have picked up on it."
"Then maybe this is a way to keep Niara away from the supernatural, rather than pulling Abby in."
Xander yawned widely. "Maybe."
Gibbs patted his shoulder. "Lay down, take a nap. There's always time to think about it later. Besides, you look dead on your feet."
"Gee, thanks." Xander grumbled but his eyes were closing already. Moments later, his breathing even out and Gibbs knew he was asleep.
Picking up a blanket, he put it over Xander's sleeping form before making his way into the kitchen.
He made himself a coffee and sat at the breakfast bar, thinking.
It looked like he hadn't just gained a complete new view of the world he was living in over the past year, but his family had grown as well. And, if Xander's reaction to Abby and Niara was any indication, it was still growing. It wasn't a bad thing either but just another reason to keep doing his job, hopefully getting better and better. He might not be able to fight the monsters of the night, but he could make damn well sure that those fighting them didn't need to worry about the monsters of the human kind.
He gave the young man on the couch another glance.
Abby's little brother.
They were similar in so many ways. It might be ironic that while Abby was fascinated by the idea of vampires, Xander was fighting them - and yet, in a strange way, it was fitting. And he had to agree with Xander - Abby should never have to learn the truth.
He was still deep in thought when he heard someone coming towards the kitchen. Someone small. A smile spreading across his face, he turned towards the door and, sure enough, Niara was standing there, wearing one of Abby's shirts and rubbing her eyes with one hand while the other was holding onto Bert.
The girl scrutinized him before she stretched out her arms and nodded. Gibbs picked her up and got her some orange juice.
"Found your spider, huh?"
Niara grinned and nodded.
Gibbs chuckled. It looked like Abby's little brother brought her a present from his trip none of them could have anticipated.
And no matter how it would end, it felt right.
--A/N: It's done! No idea where Niara came from, but I wanted to give a look into the future and somehow she sneaked in... Anyway, thanks for the ride, you've all been amazing! I loved all your reviews, have read them at least once and more often than not have they helped me to drive the story forward. You guys rock!
Also, thanks to whoever nominated Dawning Familarity for a best challenge response COA and to one of you how wanted me to finish this story so she could nominate it as well. Unfortunately this won't be possible, as I would have had to finish it before the 1st of June. But, well ... you could always nominate my stories that are eligible... Anyway, nomination or not, it's been a fantastic ride - thanks again for joining me for it!