Tony eyed his boss curiously, quickly looking away every time the former Marine’s glance even dared to wander in his direction. Making with the completely irrelevant yabba-yabba when breaking in Kate was one thing; poking his nose around in Gibbs’ private life was quite another. He wanted so badly to ask how the thing with his daughter had gone.
The man had a daughter, of all things! He was like a militant NCIS machine. Who would’ve thought he had a family?
Breaking into that relationship had taken all of DiNozzo’s charm, which was not something to snub your nose at. Even with that, Tony was quite sure that he would never truly be part of that relationship. After all, they still signed in front of him. A lot.
He was broken out of his reverie when Gibbs’s cell phone rang, his hands frozen on the edge of the desk as he looked in his boss’s direction. “Gibbs.” His body felt like it was strung on a tight wire as his ears strained to listen to tone. The next moment revealed the relaxation of the boss’s shoulders and Tony knew that he didn’t have to be sneaky anymore. “Hey.”
Tony forced himself to relax as well, uncurling his fingers from the vicelike grip on the edge of the desk. He let his hands alternately adjust the mouse or fly across the keyboard as he strained to listen to the conversation. It was difficult and Gibbs was always deliberately vague but Tony swore to persevere.
“Really? That’s good.” Gibbs leaned back in his chair, facing the partition that separated him from other teams on the floor. “Oh, what’s his name?”
Surreptitiously, Tony flipped open his pocket notebook and jotted down ‘Boyfriend?’ before continuing to play at researching a case they didn’t currently have. After a moment, he started quickly compiling other things he’d noticed about the boss’s daughter when he wasn’t being drawn in by her friend’s flirting. ‘Redhead’, ‘wallflower’, and ‘paranoid’ joined the list. With a glance at Gibbs’s back, he immediately crossed out the last note and jotted ‘protective’ directly below it.
“Very good. I told you, didn’t I?” A moment passed and he laughed, which caused Tony to look at the agent-in-charge sharply. Gibbs never laughed; he wasn’t a laugher. So, that begged the question: was it family that fulfilled him, that made him an actual person? “Yes, he is. Oh, I’ve got a call. Can we continue this later?”
Tony watched as Gibbs pulled his phone away from his ear, scowling at it. (It was amazing how he could gauge his mood from body language but always seemed to miss the blatant facial expressions when it counted.) He jabbed a button with his finger and barked into the phone, “Gibbs.” He nodded imperceptibly, probably not even realizing what he was doing. “Right. Yes, on the way.” Looking up at his senior agent, not even acknowledging Kate’s presence for the time, he smiled lopsidedly. “Grab your gear.”
Shooting the new agent what he hoped was a sympathetic look but she probably interpreted as a creepy smirk, Tony bolted upright. “Grabbing my gear, boss.” The not looking or talking to the probie was something Special Agent in Charge Gibbs did for the first week to weed out the weaker ones. After all, they couldn’t always rely on his gut, as spotless as the gut decisions seemed to be. “So, about Faith…” He trailed off, wagging his eyebrows suggestively.
“Don’t even think about it, DiNozzo,” the old man ordered.
“Not thinking about it, boss.”
Following a very interesting and equally confusing conversation with Cordelia, Faith realized that Willow wasn’t the only circular babbler in the group. Something about dresses and the upcoming dance and… back taxes? Faith shook her head and headed back to Willow’s house as a leisurely pace.
Well, leisurely for a Slayer, anyway.
Willow’s house was in sight within a few minutes and Faith finally let the post-slayage calm and satisfaction flow over her. It wasn’t something she often did, for it was usually dark when slaying took place. Daytime gave her little reason to worry, so she didn’t. She let the worry and stress filter out of her body, resorting to old fantasies of sunbathing that she’d survived on during her cross-country trek to California.
Suddenly, she saw that the large living room light was on through the bay window and the anxiety returned.
“What in the…?”
She prepared to launch herself in that direction, for it was definitely not Willow in the house. The plan in addition to the vibe she’d gotten from the redhead herself asserted that she would be at the Wells’ household for some time to maintain their ruse, if nothing else. However, she then heard a sound, like a birdcall but not.
“Ca-caw, ca-caw!” Faith finally found the origin of the sound and sighed deeply. Oh, but it had to be her Watcher, didn’t it?
Xander darted out from behind their cover, a thicket of bushes across the street from the Rosenberg home, and grabbed Faith’s arm to pull her in. “Geez, Wes, how is Cordelia even attracted to you?”
The Watcher spluttered in response, apparently unable to find words. Rolling her eyes, Faith hissed, “What’s going on?”
“I’ll give you three guesses and the first two don’t count,” Xander remarked sardonically. “Slayer and ex-Watcher, the Dynamic Duo of ‘I’m better than you’.”
“What the hell do they think they’re doing?”
Xander shrugged and looked to Wesley helplessly. “They are likely searching for proof of either Miss Rosenberg’s possession or her dissidence. I should hope there is no proof of the latter.”
“Dissidence?” Faith mouthed at the other teenager.
He shrugged again and mouthed in return, “Betrayal?”
Wesley pinned them with a patented British look of annoyance. It was this expression that reminded the dark Slayer just how alike he and Giles were. The pantiwaist had darkness in him, probably caused by the insecurities he so obviously had, and Faith could see it clearly. She knew about the older man’s dirty secrets, too – Eyghon, his father’s indifference, the Council’s mistrust. Before she had died, when they suspected that Kakistos was in South Boston, Diana had told her everything she could remember about Giles. She had said that learning about the Slayer was Faith’s responsibility but knowledge of the Watcher’s past would be harder to come by.
“I don’t believe they know of her return,” Wesley commented stiffly. “I am confident they are using the time to investigate Miss Rosenberg’s sudden change.”
“How did they even get in?” Faith asked, biting her lower lip. “They didn’t break anything, did they?”
“Didn’t need to,” Xander answered. “Buffy knows where her parents leave the Hide-A-Key.”
“We need to get them out of there before she gets home.” Faith’s eyes flicked over the house from their current distance. There was a chance she could make it up the trellis and surprise them but if Buffy knew Willow even half as well as she claimed, she had to know there was nothing personal in that house outside of the redhead’s bedroom.
“I figured we’d wait it out,” the boy told her with a soft voice. “It’s not like they know she’s back from D.C. yet.”
The Slayer turned on him, her brown eyes blazing with protective wrath. “Willow won’t distract Tucker forever, Xander. Plus, we’re supposed to meet her back at her house. Or don’t you remember?”
Before the teenager could even think to respond, Wesley cleared his throat, the sound poking holes in their brewing argument. “I am afraid it’s too late.” He tilted his head in a direction that was partially obscured by the treeline. “Her proximity indicates that we wouldn’t be able to ‘wait them out’, as you so eloquently put it, Mister Harris.”
“Xander,” the teenager in question corrected. “How many times do I have to tell you, Tweed Boy?”
Faith had other concerns, however. “Who’s that guy with her?”
Willow felt her lips curl into an amused and completely genuine smile as she watched Andrew walk backwards jauntily so that he was facing her while they talked. There was still the non-Willow in the back of her head, carefully examining his language for signs of evil and gauging his face for lies, but Willow somehow knew that Andrew had never really been evil, just really… desperate for companionship. Any companionship.
“And this whole Batman versus Superman thing has gotten out of hand, you know? I mean, they’ve both got their own pros and cons and if you like one over the other, it’s a personal thing, maybe even…” His voice faded and his forehead furrowed in thought. “God, it’s on the tip of my tongue. Don’t you hate it when that happens?”
“Philosophical?” she ventured, giggling softly. This is what talking to Xander used to feel like, when it was him and her and Jesse, before she had taken Jesse’s place as a Xander’s soundboard for girls. At least, with the information that the other Willow put in her head, she knew that was unlikely to happen.
Wait, did that mean she might become a soundboard for guys?
“Yeah, thanks. I mean, your choice says more about you than about the hero himself. So… who do you like best?”
“Batman.” Willow grinned goofily. “I kinda like all of his gadgets and the fact that he’s normal and still…” She trailed off and stopped, her eyes finally focusing on her house. “Something’s wrong. The light’s on,” she remarked as she finally found the difference.
“This is your house, right? Maybe the other Slayer and your friends are inside.”
Willow stood still, letting the wrongness and the feeling of violation wash over her body. Whoever was in her house wasn’t invited and she could feel fury building in the center of her gut. Wasn’t it bad enough that her parents were almost never home? Wasn’t it bad enough that she had more on her plate than she felt she could successfully manage? Who in the nine Hells would just walk into her home?
“Red, it’s them.” She turned her head and saw Faith standing next to her. “They were already inside when we got here.”
Willow sighed and the weightlessness of the day slipped away, once again leaving her with the feeling of the endless weight on her shoulders. Then Wesley spoke. “I would rather avoid an altercation, Miss Rosenberg.”
She glanced over her shoulder and saw Xander, his eyes projecting questions that she was already asking herself. Nodding slightly, she pointed at the Watcher. “Take him and go through the back door.”
“We’re blocking the exit?”
She gave him another nod and walked purposely toward her front door. Willow was almost glad that she’d chosen darker clothing today: dark green cargo pants and a black long-sleeved shirt under a blue t-shirt. Of course, while she’d been at the Wells’ household, she’d had the dark sleeves hidden in a way that didn’t bulge out the shorter sleeves and was still out of sight. Now, she pulled the sleeves out to their full length. It wasn’t quite Vampire Willow but it would do.
“What’s going on?” Andrew asked, a slight tremor in his voice (for he was aware of the true danger of Slayers) but courage leaking through like bravado in the face of Goliath.
“It’s a long story,” Willow murmured.
Faith grinned. “I was evil. Red here fixed me. Now, B thinks she’s possessed,” she told the younger boy succinctly.
“Okay,” Willow corrected, “not so long. There’s other stuff that makes this situation way more complicated than it sounds but that’s what’s important.”
“There’s no chance of my impending death, is there?” Increasing amounts of fear were present in Andrew’s voice but he still stayed with them as Willow opened the front door. You had to give him credit, she conceded internally. He was brave when it counted.
“Nah. Right?” Faith looked to the redhead, whose dark green gaze had turned hard.
“No death,” she agreed. “But it is playtime. Andrew, if you could summon something, it would really help.”
“I destroyed all my stuff when Tucker summoned the hellhounds. I didn’t know what kind of stupid he could invoke when I wasn’t around. The only thing I can manage without materials is a minor scamp. They look scary but they’re pretty harmless.”
“Do it,” Faith hissed as she noticed her blond counterpart at the head of the stairs, though the other had yet to notice them.
Andrew looked to Willow and she gave him a sharp nod, shooting him a smile before letting her face melt into blank lines. Faith glanced at Willow but decided she would follow the witch’s lead. She didn’t know what ‘playtime’ was but she had yet to steer her wrong. She did hope, however, that this didn’t start a fight with B; she didn’t feel up to explaining that to the Mayor or Willow’s parents.
Willow eyed Buffy, who was looking back over her shoulder. Probably Giles, who had likely performed a more thorough search of her room. The only thing that would seem out of place is the new necklace, courtesy of Mayor Wilkins, but it would be far-fetched for them to assume it was from anyone other than Oz or her parents. Giles might begin to doubt but Buffy never let go of her instincts, even when they were wrong.
Their gall was appalling, even if it hadn’t already begun infuriating her. Nearly everyone had seen hints of her anger but only Xander knew how bad it could get. And the Slayer and her Watcher, who believed they were so far beyond common courtesy and were willing to do whatever it took to prove what they
thought to be correct, were about to get a dose of her hidden wrath.
Feeling a presence at her side, she glanced down. The scamp was summoned and Andrew had been correct – the thing was scary. It stood at about the height of a typical five-year-old, though its legs had inverted joints like that of a dog or a goat and its skin was rough and rust-colored. It wrapped a claw around her wrist and its tail around her ankle. She almost smiled as it leaned its body against her leg and felt the vibrations of something similar to a cat’s purr.
A glance in Andrew’s direction revealed a confident grin. Willow imagined that if she felt the need, the scamp would attack anyone they decided to target but probably wouldn’t last very long. The only thing she didn’t like about this situation was that she was giving Buffy’s internal fallacies more steam and Giles would back her every inch.
However, it would make for an interesting report to the Mayor, having stripped the blond Slayer of almost everything useful (including the Watcher with official connections) and adding a demon summoner as well.
“What a surprise,” she drawled finished, making her voice declare that she was anything but surprised. This situation would need careful managing, which was why Xander and Wes were guarding the back door – they were more likely to wither under the Slayer’s self-imposed superiority.
Faith’s lips curled into a cruel smile. “Gotta say, B. I thought you were above sneaking into your own friend’s house.”
Buffy looked like she wasn’t sure whether she should be ashamed or determined. Determination, with a side of pride, won out after a moment. “That’s where you’re wrong. If a friend’s in trouble, I’ll do whatever it takes.”
The dark Slayer inhaled deeply, likely to remark how she evidently couldn’t do whatever it takes. Maybe a comment on her squeamishness at the deputy mayor’s death or her inability to destroy Angelus in any form. Willow shot her a look and a sharp shake of her head. Faith closed her eyes and let the air escape from her lungs like a punctured balloon.
“Buffy.” Willow rolled the name on her tongue as if it hated being there. “I’m not in trouble. In fact, both you and Giles are here without an invitation.”
“It’s too bad you can uninvite them, Will, like an vampire who’s more fang than friendly.” Willow looked to see Xander in a different direction, standing in the kitchen but still easily able to block their exit through the other door.
“I’m sure I could find a way,” she murmured, her lips finally moving to mimic Faith’s expression.
“Willow, this isn’t you,” Buffy pleaded, sincerity shining past the hard authority as she quickly descended the stairs and approached the redhead. In response, the small scamp growled and its tail tightened around Willow’s ankle. “It’s probably that thing.” Buffy reached out, maybe to snap its neck or to rip it away from her, but it disappeared.
As the blond Slayer’s eyes widened in shock, waving her arms in the area where the small demon had been, Willow glanced backwards and saw that the scamp had returned to its summoner. It made her smile because that defense mechanism proved that scamps were prey, often resorting to this ability to escape impending danger.
“And yet,” Willow drawled, “it is gone from me and I remain the same.” She pinned the older Watcher with a hard glare. “Get out of my house.”
Giles shook his head and joined his Slayer, concern clear in his gaze. The way they obviously looked down on her, as if she had absolutely no ability to take care of herself, made her itch to use the knowledge to dark magic still in her memory from her other self. She quelled the urge, reminding herself that path only led to badness. “Willow, you are not yourself. We only wish to help, if you would only tell us the problem.”
“The problem?” Faith spluttered, laughing in that way she had that sounded both cruel and condescending.
“You’re the problem,” Willow told them both, her voice harsh. “Giles, you have made it very clear that I am only useful when you’re at a loss and that I am completely unable to grasp anything that you yourself cannot control.” As he stammered to find a counterargument, she turned to Buffy. “And Buffy, I’m not a person to you. I’m a sounding board, a font of information. You’re just as bad as him, maybe even worse sometimes.” She sighed. “Get out.”
They acquiesced to her command, edging around her, but Buffy always had to have the last word. “I won’t stop, Will. I know we can get you back.”
Pressing her lips together, she slammed the door shut. After a very still moment, they all converged in the living room and Willow sank tiredly on the loveseat. Xander sat beside her and Faith eyed her with concern. “Are you okay, Will?” the dark-haired boy asked softly.
“It’s fine. I’m good,” she told him.
“Well, I’m thinking that just cemented her belief that you’re possessed,” Faith muttered. “What was with the… what did you call it? The scamp?”
Wesley inched closer to Andrew, who still held the demon protectively. “They are quite harmless but playful, like small children.” He reached forward slowly and touched one pointed ear, the scamp responding with a gentle bat at the Watcher’s hand. “I believe this was… What do Americans call it? A plan in motion?”
Willow nodded. “We’ll wait till they’re gone for sure.”
“Then what?” Faith asked.
“Then we talk to the Mayor.”A/N: For those of you who thought there might be some Cordelia in this chapter, I promise there will be some in the next. I do have plans but sometimes the muse decides 'this sounds better'. Ack! Anyway, thanks much for all the reviews, even if I don't say it enough!