At What Price
Xander looked so devastated that Ziva, despite her antagonism, felt some concern.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
Xander shook his head.
“Will you tell me how you knew when Talia died?”
Xander looked at her with such unhappiness that Ziva had to steel herself not to look away.
“Yes, I owe you that much at least,” he said quietly. “But not here.”
“Why not here?” Ziva demanded suspiciously.
“I’ll have to tell Dawn about Talia eventually, but I’d really prefer it not be because she walks back in here with DiNozzo at the wrong time and hears it in the worst possible way.”
“What has Talia to do with Dawn?” Ziva asked in confusion.
“I’ll tell you the whole story, from the beginning,” Xander promised. “Just find a place where I can tell you privately.”
Seeing her suspicion, he sighed again.
“Look, you can frisk me if you want. I don’t have any weapons, and while chances are we’re an even match hand to hand, you’re the one getting to choose the ground. You have the advantage. You’re owed an explanation, and you’ll get it if you’re willing to trust me just this little bit.”
Ziva did frisk him, but then she nodded.
“In the open is also not a good idea. I suggest a place both of us know, but is still neutral ground.”
“Where?” he asked.
“Gibbs’ house,” Ziva replied. “I will inform him where we are going.”
After a split second hesitation, Xander nodded.
Ziva picked up her phone and called Gibbs, who evidently gave his permission. She led him to her car.
“I trust you do not mind if I drive?” she asked, raising an eyebrow that said clearly that he had better not.
“Be my guest.”---
A much shorter time later than it would have taken had anyone else driven, they pulled up to Gibbs’ house.
“You handled that rather well,” Ziva told him grudgingly as they walked up to the front door.
“Trust me, after riding with Buffy, anyone else’s driving is relaxing. Does Gibbs ever lock his door?”
Ziva shook her head as she opened the door.
“Not that I know of. It is possible that he did while he was married.”
They walked in and looked at Gibbs’ slightly shabby couches.
“Basement?” Ziva asked.
“Basement,” Xander nodded.
They walked down the stairs, neither of them in a hurry now that they were here. Xander picked up a sanding block and fiddled with it nervously. Ziva was just as nervous.
“So why Gibbs' basement? I figured you’d pick a quiet coffee shop or something…”
Ziva shrugged. Now that they were there, she wasn’t entirely sure why she’d said it either. But it seemed appropriate somehow.
“My brother died just over there,” she announced suddenly.
“Ari. He was the eldest. I sometimes wonder what would have become of us if Tali had lived. She was the best of us. As it is…” she trailed off.
“I’m sorry,” Xander told her. “About both of them. Tell me about Talia?”
“There is not a lot to tell. She was the youngest, and the brightest. She would not have followed Ari and I into our father’s business. She wanted to help people. She hoped to be a doctor, from the time she was little. And then the Council came for her.”
“How old was she?” Xander asked quietly.
“She was eight when they came. They told my father that she was not a Slayer, but she could be, one day. They wanted to take her, to train her so she would be ready if it should happen. My father asked for time to consider. He investigated and did not like what he found. So he told the Council that they must send a Watcher to her, but he would not allow her to be taken from her family. He also demanded that her Watcher be Israeli- someone we could trust.”
“And they did that?” Xander asked, surprised. “I wasn’t under the impression they negotiated.”
“They probably usually do not, but when they are dealing with the deputy director of Mossad, they are perhaps not as free as usual in their actions.”
“That’s where I know the name David from,” Xander muttered. “Eli David is your father?”
“So they sent her a Watcher, Gershon Pollak. He trained her, and my father had some of the Mossad instructors train her also. He wanted his daughter to survive. We knew the age that Slayers are called. When she reached fifteen, we began to hope that perhaps she would escape. A few more years, and she would be too old. But then she was Called.”
Normally calm, Ziva paced as she spoke, remembering the agitation she had felt at the time.
“At first, we expected the Council would demand she leave, be sent to wherever they wanted her used. When they did not show up in that first week, my father ordered her Watcher to cease contact with the Council. He expected a fight, but the Watcher agreed. He told my father it was possible the Council did not know of the calling, though he did not explain why. He said that to protect Tali, he would conceal it as long as he could.”
“What happened?” Xander asked. “She didn’t last very long. Not at all what I would expect from Eli David’s daughter, especially knowing there were nothing more than minor demons and vampires in the area at that time. The real action was happening on the Hellmouth.”
Ziva’s mouth twisted.
“Even Slayers can not survive bombs. Just weeks after her sixteenth birthday, she went with her Watcher to a popular café. It was to be Gershon’s treat, as she had killed a demon the night before. A suicide bomber blew himself up less than ten feet from them. It was October 3rd. She was a Slayer for one hundred forty seven days.“
“Oh God. Ziva, I’m sorry.”
“It is not your fault.”
“You might not want to say that too quickly,” Xander told her, his mouth twisting. “This story might be easier if I start at the beginning. When I was in high school, I met this girl, Buffy Summers. Dawn’s older sister, as you’ve probably guessed. She moved to town, and started hanging out with me and my best friends Willow and Jesse.”
He absentmindedly began to sand as he talked.
“Well, not long after Buffy moved to town, we found out vampires were real. I lost one of my two best friends when he became a vampire. I ended up staking him. Turns out Buffy was the Slayer. According to the Council, she was supposed to work alone, but after what Will and I had seen, we were in no matter what they thought. So we did our best to help. At the end of the school year, we actually made a real difference. Buffy fought a very powerful vampire, and he left her unconscious, face down in water. She drowned. She died. A new Slayer was called. If Buffy were the kind of Slayer the Council had wanted, that would have been the end of the story. But she wasn’t. We found her, and I did CPR and revived her. She beat that vampire, and life as we knew it went on.”
“We didn’t actually find out about the new Slayer being called until later, when Kendra showed up. But there was another one called. Buffy was dead long enough for a new girl to be Called. She was the kind of Slayer the Council wanted. No family, no ties to the world. It sounded like her Watcher cared about her, but that was about it. She was killed by Drusilla, and another Slayer was called. Everyone, us included, assumed that meant the Slayer line had moved on.”
“Fast forward a few years to college,” Xander told her. “Buffy finds out this skanky hellgoddess is after Dawn, she wants to use her blood to end the world. We tried for the best part of a year to keep Dawn out of her claws, but in the end, Glory got what she wanted. She kidnapped Dawn and used her blood to start the ritual to end the world. Buffy got to Dawn, but too late. Her blood had already opened this portal o’ nastiness, and the only way to close it again was for the blood to stop flowing.”
“And it was not acceptable to let Dawn die,” Ziva stated flatly. “I would not have allowed anything to harm Tali if it were in my power to stop it.”
“Buff did this beautiful swan dive straight into that portal. Perfect 10. Course, it also killed her. That was in May of ’01. She was dead, and not the kind of dead CPR can do anything about. We buried her, and we did what we had to do to keep the vamps and demons on the hellmouth from noticing, or social services from dragging Dawn off. As far as we knew, that was the end of it. No new Slayer would be called, because the line had already passed through Kendra to Faith. With Buffy dead, the Slayer line returned to normal- one girl in all the world. We didn’t know there were still two.”
“Her dying I understand,” Ziva said. “Explain to me how you knew when Tali died? Especially since you expected no new Slayer would be called. This is why the Council did not take her. They did not know she was a Slayer. They also thought there was now only one.”
“Exactly,” Xander said. “And now comes the part where you’re entitled to hate me. I kind of hate myself, actually, now that I know. See, because of the way Buffy died, Willow worried that even though we knew she was dead, Buffy’s soul was trapped in a hell dimension. It had happened to someone else we knew, so it made more sense to us then. Also, I hear grief can mess with your mind. Anyway, Willow became convinced we needed to bring Buffy back.”
Ziva inhaled sharply.
“That is against all laws of nature or religion!” she hissed. “You are supposed to let the dead rest!”
“Yeah,” Xander agreed. “It is. And with good reason. But we were young and stupid, and Wills was starting to get bad with the magic addiction, even if we didn’t realize it at the time. She knew that spell was darker than she let anyone know in advance. If we’d known what some of the things involved were, I don’t think I could have gone along with it. I don’t think… I don’t know.”
Xander paused. He’d asked himself in the years since if Tara had known everything that went into that spell. Anya certainly had, but hadn’t shared that information with him until after. If he’d known about the blood in advance, he would have been a lot less ok with it. He’d wanted Buffy back, but not badly enough to kill anything innocent to achieve it.
“So we did the spell that brought Buffy back. And there were consequences, both large and small. For a start, a demon hitched a ride back with her and tried to kill her after doing its solid best to freak the rest of us out. Then we found out she hadn’t been in hell, but heaven. Her best friends pulled her out of there and put the weight of the world back on her shoulders- and we were so stupid and thoughtless we didn’t even think to dig her up out of her grave first. Honestly, for a while, I thought that was the most unforgivable part of what we did.”
Xander shook his head, still wishing he could give his younger self a good smack in the head. They’d been so foolish, with all the arrogance of youth. They hadn’t stopped to consider what their actions might cost. Hell, even when Spike had told them the night that Buffy returned that magic always had consequences, he’d dismissed it as just Spike’s own hurt talking. If only. Even with the risk that Ziva might decide he needed to be beaten to death with a hammer, confessing was kind of cathartic. No one aside from Giles had ever heard the full story before.
“But that wasn’t all,” Xander continued, wanting to finish now that he’d started. “It just kept getting worse. It took Buffy a while before she could even admit to us what had really happened, let alone come to terms with it. And then we found out her return gave a demonic entity that called itself the First Evil a chance to try to take over the world, killing the old Council in the process, along with dozens of Potentials. The Council I don’t feel too badly about, but the Potentials- most of those girls never stood a chance. Some of them never even knew why. That was on our heads, too. And now, years later, we find out that there was one more consequence. You see, we did that spell in October. Late at night on October second, to be exact. Which is why I didn’t want Dawn to overhear this conversation. It sounds to me like we gave Dawn her sister back at the expense of yours.”