Smoothing Things Over
Jethro Gibbs wasn’t surprised to hear the sounds of someone in his basement when he stepped into what should have been his empty house after a long day at the office. After the kind of day they’d just had, it wouldn’t shock him if DiNozzo, or maybe Abby, showed up.
So he wasn’t terribly concerned as he walked into his kitchen and grabbed a pair of beers from the fridge. Sometimes talking helped. Then again, it could always be Ducky, in which case it probably wouldn’t be talking, it would be yelling. He wasn’t clear on why Duck had been ready to give himself up when the real criminal had been the torturer, much less why he’d expected that he and the others would stay out of it.
When he actually made it far enough down the basement stairs to see who was doing some sanding on his boat, he was surprised. He hadn’t expected to see the kid ever again, especially after Willow Rosenberg’s not so subtle warning last month.
Xander Harris was completely absorbed in his task, sanding as if his life depended on the resulting surface. Or maybe his sanity. Gibbs knew that feeling all too well. He deliberately made some noise the rest of the way down the stairs. Something told him that startling the kid wouldn’t be a good idea.
“Any particular reason you decided to help with my boat?” Gibbs asked, offering the other beer when Harris looked up.
Xander shrugged, accepting the beer and swiping a sleeve across his forehead to wipe away a slight sheen of sweat.
“Willow told me I owed you an apology, so I stopped by. Abby mentioned you don’t lock the door, so when no one answered, I figured I’d just wait. She said the basement was probably the best place.”
“Never apologize,” Gibbs told him, cutting off any attempt Xander might have made. “Sign of weakness."
"Huh," Xander said, nonplussed. “I always thought it was a sign of strength to admit when you were wrong and not let it continue.”
Gibbs waved that discussion off for another time.
“You explained what you’re doing here. The woodworking?” he prompted.
“I was a carpenter for a while. I like working with wood, even though I don’t get to do it very often these days. It’s kind of soothing, you know? Sanding is a little like meditation. If I’d known you had a piece this big that needed sanding, I’d have been here sooner.”
“Need a lot of soothing lately?” Gibbs asked noncommittally, picking up another sanding block as he did. Something was on the kid’s mind, and he was hoping to get him to open up about it, but he knew if he watched him too closely, it wouldn’t happen.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Xander replied, a touch of bitterness in his tone. “It’s been a rough week.”
“The kind of rough that involves a lot of unexpected cases dumped on your to-do list, or the kind of rough that Miss Rosenberg says is why you won’t be poaching Abby?”
“The kind that’s why we can’t hire Abby,” Xander replied evenly, eyeing his work critically before running a careful finger along the rail he'd been sanding to test its smoothness. Finding a rough spot, he resumed sanding.
“You lost someone?” Gibbs said quietly.
“No, Caridad will live,” Xander said, unable to keep the traces of bitterness from creeping in. “It’s just a question of whether or not she’ll ever walk again.”
Xander wasn’t in a mood to tell the whole story, but Cari had stumbled across the lair of a Haxil beast. Unfamiliar with that demon species, she had engaged without knowing how difficult it was to kill. In the old days, they would have been burying her and searching for the newly called Slayer who would replace her. These days, Cari’s distress signal had meant a backup team got there in time to extricate her and destroy the Haxil. That still didn’t mean she would ever be able to return to field duty. Even Slayer healing had its limits.
“That sort of thing happen often?” Gibbs asked, trying to keep his tone light.
“Often enough,” Xander replied, not hiding that it still hurt every time. “Abby didn’t mention the mortality stats to you? I figured she must have told you she’d turned us down on the full-time offer.”
Gibbs shook his head.
“She gets recruited so often she doesn’t usually mention it when she turns an offer down.”
“I’m not surprised, but I got the impression she was going to discuss this one with you. Part of the reason I figured it wouldn’t hurt to have a chat with you.”
“Oh?” Gibbs asked, raising his eyebrows. “Going to tell me if I reveal classified information, your organization will have me taken care of?”
Xander would have laughed at that most days, Gibbs was sure. Today, though, he just shook his head.
“No, we can be far more creative than that if we have to. I was actually going to offer you a chance to be ‘read in’ or whatever the jargon is for telling you what’s going on. We’re going to come to Abby occasionally with contract work.”
Seeing Gibbs’ expression, he smiled.
“Don’t worry, it’ll get cleared with your director. You won’t have to do or say anything. We’ll handle it. I just figured it would sit better with you if you knew what Abby’s working on. And, if it comes to that, how to keep her safe.”
Now Gibbs expression was fierce. If Xander hadn’t already seen far worse from demons and a certain hellgoddess, he might have been intimidated. As it was, he just sighed.
“Look, Agent Gibbs, Abby shouldn’t be in any danger. But our organization has learned over the years to plan for the worst that could happen. Because that’s pretty much what we do, worst case scenarios.”
“What organization would that be, exactly, Xander?”
Xander did manage a small grin at irritation in his tone. Gibbs inwardly sighed. Why did his contact for whatever agency it was have to be the equivalent of a younger Tony DiNozzo? The difference, of course, being that he couldn’t slap Harris’s head.
“The old name was the Watcher’s Council, but these days we prefer Council of Guardians. Besides helping remind everyone that there’s more to it than just the Watchers, it also gives us a handy three letter acronym if we need to play the alphabet soup game.”
It was Gibbs turn to snort. He’d never heard of COG, but he was guessing that if they ever did ‘play the alphabet soup game’, anyone they pulled the trick on would be unwilling to admit they had no idea there was any such agency, much less who it was or what they did.
“And what exactly does the Council of Guardians do?” he asked.
“You might want to pull up a chair, because this is the interesting part. We usually get Giles to do it, because it sounds better in a British accent, not to mention way more believable from someone who looks and sounds like he explains to the people on the History Channel what they got wrong. He’s got this whole speech he gives. It starts like this: This world is older than you know