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Cross-Agency Cooperation

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This story is No. 10 in the series "Shadow and Light". You may wish to read the series introduction and the preceeding stories first.

Summary: Buffy, Willow, Jarod, Miss Parker, NCIS, Special Agent Seely Booth, and Dr. Temperance Brennan combine forces to bring down a global conspiracy bent on world domination.

Categories Author Rating Chapters Words Recs Reviews Hits Published Updated Complete
Multiple Crossings > Buffy-CenteredphoukaFR18633,85748116,29826 Apr 1228 Sep 13No

Just the Facts, Man

Author's Notes: A reviewer asked when specifically in the course of the different shows this story is set. That's a bit tricky. Part of that is because I am genetically incapable of watching a tv show regularly. I catch almost everything in syndication, so I have a much more generalized feel for the characters and have a very difficult time pinning them down to the show's timeline. Also, fudging the specific when allows me to pick and choose characteristics that help further the plot line. Lazy writing? Perhaps, but it does allow me to get the chapters out without pulling all my hair out.

So, to answer the question:
- Buffy and Willow are currently in an extremely alternative Season 8. Angel is dead. The rest of the group are settled in Cleveland.
- Jarod, Miss Parker, and the rest of the group from
The Pretender are post second-tv-movie, Island of the Haunted.
-
NCIS is at the point where Ziva has left Mossad, joined as a probationary officer, and is working on her citizenship.
-
Bones is after Hodgins and Angela get married, but before she's pregnant. Booth and Brennan have definitely not hooked up at this point.

Also, I have no doubt at all that some of my details on combat or firearms were faulty. Unfortunately, I do not keep a stable of combat specialists on call. (Wouldn't it be neat if I could though?) So, I thank you humbly for your generous attitude concerning such matters.




Breakfast was catered, and the individuals gathered in the Jeffersonian's forensic anthropology lab moved with varying rates of stiffness, crankiness, or energy. Sleep had been had by some, caffeine by most, and everyone was ready to present, hear, and decide.

Hodgins came up behind his wife and put his arms around her.

“I thought your work here was done,” he said. “What's this?”

It was a drawing, done in charcoal pencils, of a scene viewed through a doorway.

“I was headed back to my office,” Angela said, “and Jarod and Buffy were in one of the empty conference rooms. I could tell they'd been talking, but . . .”

She had captured a moment when Buffy had stepped into the circle of Jarod's arms. He had been sitting on the edge of the table. She had bent her head down only a few inches to kiss his forehead. The slope of his shoulders, the way she pressed the back of her fingers against his cheek, and his hand resting on her waist were a snapshot of private intimacy. He was tired unto exhaustion, stricken with grief and loneliness. She was an anchor, a shelter, a reason to get up and keep going. It was all caught in the drape of light cast through the conference room windows, a chiaroscuro of a half-glimpsed face and a delineated hand.

“Wow,” Hodgins breathed. “Babe, this is . . .”

“I know,” Angela agreed. “It's one of the best works I've ever done, and I don't know what to do with it. They didn't know I was there. I didn't mean to pry, but . . . I kept seeing it, and it wouldn't leave me alone until I put it down.”

“Save it,” Hodgins said. “We're in the run up of something that may change everything. They strike me as good people. Maybe, some day, you can give it to them, when they need it.”

“I guess.”

He gave her a kiss on the top of her head. “Come on. The fun's about to start.”



They gathered in the media lab after several extra couches and chairs had been moved in. Outside the lab, people were just beginning to arrive and peeking curiously in through the frosted glass. The forensic anthropology lab was known for its odd happenings, but there was no hint of the business at hand.

The NCIS team took up a couch and two seats, the Jeffersonian team either stood or occupied another couch. Jarod, Buffy, Willow, Miss Parker, Broots, and Dr. Green took the back row, perching on tables, chair arms, or leaning against the shelves of the far wall. Agent Finn stood off to the side, by himself.

Dr. Brennan began.

“Our purpose has been to determine if the accounts provided to us by Jarod and his associates were factual, accurate, and provable. Doctors Green, Sweets, and Mallard were also asked to give us an idea of how the organization known as The Centre, stipulating its existence, might behavior under a given set of circumstances. We also went a bit further when an opportunity was provided to us to test connections between Jarod and his associates and others associated, however tangentially, with The Centre. Dr. Hodgins will take the first allotment of time.”

Hodgins stepped forward, and an animation of the notebooks Jarod had turned over began.

“My job,” Hodgins explained, “was to see, as much as possible, if Jarod's notebooks were an authentic record of the events they describe. Ms. Montenegro will tell you more about handwriting analysis, choice of pictures, layouts, and other less numeric stuff. Here's what I can tell you.”

He clicked, and the timeline developed by the doctors three appeared, a connecting line drawn to a numbered notebook below it.

“I can tell you that the notebooks are identical in composition from paper to cover to staples to the ink that printed the blue lines. They were manufactured in North-”

“Hold on,” Gibbs said, raising a hand in protest.

“Yes?” Dr. Brennan asked.

“Skip the details. All I want to know is: is this for real?”

Hodgins looked mortally offended, and Brennan puzzled beyond her capacity to express. Abby stepped in.

“Guys, don't explain,” she said. “It takes too long. Sum up.”

“Plain English,” Booth told him. “Skip the squint talk.”

Hodgins rolled his eyes, half an inch from launching into a tirade.

“Hey,” Willow interrupted, “I read your report. It was really cool, and I have questions for afterwards, okay?”

Hodgins glared at her.

“Like the prevalence of aspergillum spores in urbanized desert areas,” she amended.

Everyone stared at her.

“What?”'

It was enough to break the tension.

“Sum up,” Hodgins repeated. “Sum up. Okay, to sum it up, the notebooks are real, the writing is real, the stories are real, and they all tally up with what Jarod's told us.”

“Could they have been faked?” Tony asked.

Hodgins shook his head. “Not without time travel.”

Buffy and Willow shared a look.

“Fine,” Gibbs said. “Next?”

“All the images purported to be Jarod on the digital recordings are consistent with anthropologic measurements over the course of statistically reviewed growth patterns,” Angela said.

“Squint talk,” Booth murmured.

“We can say that the images could be Jarod, based on skeletal and facial features,” Angela amended. “But we can't say that he's the only person it could be. We can say that the others who show up – Dr. Green, the now identified Mr. Cain Parker, and this mysterious Mr. Raines – match either conclusive records or, in Mr. Raines' case, some very grainy, difficult to verify images.”

“Okay,” Gibbs said. “Next.”

Abby stepped up with McGee beside her. Her bubbly energy was contagious.

“Okay, Gibbs, this stuff – the digital recordings and the playback device – seriously, it's out of the world. I mean, not literally, but figuratively. The circuitry, the hardware interfaces, and the software are all completely different from everything commercially available in the last forty years. It's like they grabbed some of the esoteric stuff from-”

“Abby,” Gibbs interrupted.

“Right. Just the facts. Basically, from the wear and accumulation of dust, pollen, and other stuff, this thing really is about forty years old. So, again, either it's genuine, or there's a crazy time traveler out to set us up.”

“There's no indication that time travel is a realistic possibility,” Dr. Brennan argued. “Even the most liberal interpretations of Einstein's theory of relativity-”

“Bones.” Booth stopped her. “She wasn't really including it as a possibility.”

“Oh.” Brennan subsided.

“McGee?” Gibbs asked.

“Okay, so we're having to work by a process of elimination on the projects Jarod and Miss Parker say The Centre has had a hand in,” McGee started. “After all, a secret conspiracy isn't going to leave many marks behind. Dr. Hodgins had some very useful suggestions.”

“You like conspiracies, Doc?” Gibbs asked.

“No,” Hodgins answered with a glare. “But I'm not a sheep. Instead of burying my head in the sand, I actually acknowledge that there are gr-”

Hodgins,” Booth interrupted.

“Uh . . . anyways,” McGee continued, “once Abby and I ran some of the forensics, there are some similarities in design, strategy, tactics, and knowledge of defenses that are statistically significant. It's more than just chance or a bunch of random terroristist groups. There is a common thread, and it matches what Jarod's told us.”

“DiNozzo?” Gibbs turned to him.

“Right, boss,” Tony answered. “The Jeffersonian wasn't really set up for this, but Agent Finn was able to pull some strings, and Doctor Saroyan offered her office for a secure satellite link. The facilities Miss Parker named are present where she said. Previous records of satellite intel are, strangely enough, missing, corrupted, or have unexplained gaps. Real time imagery shows some very strange spikes of infra-red and radio activity. Flights in and out, especially from the compound in Delaware, somehow get slipped into the national aviation control system without being noticed. They've got people in the system protecting them.”

“Ziva?”

“All of Jarod's qualifications check out,” she answered. “Also, he mastered as much Krav Maga as I could give instruction in under an hour and did a better job than most Mossad agents after a year's training.”

Several sets of eyes turned towards Jarod, who stood, arms crossed, favoring a swollen left ankle. He also had a bruise the shape of a size seven woman's boot across his right cheekbone.

“All things being equal,” Jarod said, “I'd rather have had a knitting lesson.”

“He was quite impressive,” Ziva concluded.

“I don't know whether to hit her or ask for a sparring session,” Buffy muttered.

Agent Finn stepped forward.

“Miss Summers, Miss Rosenberg, Jarod, and Miss Parker were the ones who brought this to me,” he said. “I've known Buffy and Willow long enough to trust them with my life. Jarod's proven himself to me on two separate occasions, and all three of them vouch for Miss Parker and her associates.”

He paused.

“But this isn't just a strategic mission. One misstep, and The Centre not only gets their hands on Jarod, but they know Miss Parker, Doctor Green, and Broots have turned on them. They catch one whiff of any of us, and none of us, none of our family are safe. We fail, and we hand them the time they need to do global damage. And, there is no one else we can bring in. So what I need to know is are you in, or are you out?”

“You had me at the USS Cole,” Gibbs said. “I'm in.”

“I'm in,” Ziva said.

“In,” DiNozzo answered.

“I'm in,” McGee said.

“I'm in,” Abby answered.

“And I,” Doctor Mallard added.

Riley turned towards the Jeffersonian team. They all looked towards Booth and Brennan.

“On weighing the balance of the evidence and the gravity of the situation,” Brennan said, “even though the scenario appears extremely implausible, I'm convinced of the threat and cannot in good conscience refuse to participate.”

“That's a yes,” Booth translated. “For me too.”

“Hell, yes, I'm in,” Hodgins said.

“Count me in,” Doctor Saroyan said.

“I'm in,” Angela said.

“I'm in. Whatever you need,” Dr. Sweets said.

Riley looked at the last remaining group – Jarod, Buffy, and their compatriots.

“I have to ask,” Riley said.

“The answer is yes,” Jarod spoke, his voice unusually soft and harsh.

“Yes,” Miss Parker said a moment after him.

“Uh . . . y-yeah,” Broots said. “About time I got to stick it to The Man.”

“I'm in,” Sidney said. “For the rest of my life, if need be.”

Buffy looked up. “I've been in the world-saving business for a few years, though this isn't my usual genre. I'm in.”

“I could use a few more gold stars, and you guys are a blast,” Willow said. “Count me in.”



“You don't plan strategy with twenty people,” Gibbs said.

“We're not,” Riley answered. “Not exactly. But each of the people here has a unique perspective on the situation, and we need all the ideas we can get before we decide our approach.”

“You said our first priority was located and ensuring the safety of Jarod's family,” Dr. Sweets stated.

“Yes,” Riley answered. “They're at the most risk. According to Miss Parker, there have been teams after them since before Jarod escaped The Centre.”

“So, how exactly do we find a group of people who've been on the run longer than Jarod, are probably as smart as Jarod, and weren't raised in a lab the way he was?” Tony asked.

“Not to mention,” Dr. Mallard added, “they won't be driven to put themselves at risk in order to make amends for their actions. Jarod has made himself a very large, noticeable target in his efforts to bring justice to the less fortunate.”

“Jarod?” Booth asked.

Jarod had been quiet and withdrawn through the whole meeting, turned in on himself and lost in thought.

“I don't know,” he finally admitted. “Every time I've come close to finding my mother and sister, The Centre intervened, and they were in danger as well. I found my father, I thought, more by coincidence, and we took advantage of the opportunity.”

“They aren't going to be found unless they want to be found,” Miss Parker added. “It's fairly clear to me now that while Jarod was a top priority, he was actually considered to be less difficult to secure than his family members. Others – like Mr. Lyle – were put on the trail of his family, partly because there were things I wouldn't do.”

“Really?” Tony asked. “Because from what I've read, you don't have much of a problem with armed assault, kidnapping, terrorizing, theft, breaking and entering, a few counts of downright espionage, or putting an innocent man back in the hands of a bunch of people that make Nazi scientists look like cuddle monkeys.”

“I don't shoot people in cold blood, cut off thumbs as a warning to others, blow up subway systems, or set orphanages on fire, either, agent,” Miss Parker snapped. “And I don't use my rank to get dates with coeds.”

HEY!” Riley yelled. “That's enough. Make it constructive or keep it to yourself.”

Dr. Sweets took a step forward. “Look, we're all on the same side here, and we're all coming into this with some profound convictions that can lead us into conflict with others. Instead of snapping at each other over personalities or past histories, let's focus on what each of us can contribute.”

“That's an order, DiNozzo,” Gibbs added.

“Miss Parker,” Sidney began.

“Fine,” she answered.

“That still leaves us with the problem of how to find a group of people who are expert at living under the radar,” Booth said. “And they are not going to want to be found, not by Miss Parker, not by the government, and maybe not even by Jarod, knowing that he's always followed by agents from The Centre.”

“There's a lady in the FBI, over in the Behavioral Analysis Unit,” McGee put in. “She's a legend at pulling ghosts out of the system, finding the faintest signals in the noise, and putting it together into a short list of possibilities. Leadership over there credits her as one of the main reasons their solve rate is so high.”

“The more people we involve,” Riley answered, “especially from another department or division, the greater the chance that The Centre finds out.”

“I think you're looking at this from the wrong direction,” Doctor Mallard said.

“What do you mean, Ducky?” Gibbs asked.

“We don't need to find Jarod's family,” Ducky said. “All we need to do is let them know that it's safe to come to us.”

People stared at him.

“He's right,” Willow said, standing up straighter. She gazed off into space, considering things. “Look at it from their point of view. You're Jarod's mom. Your son was taken from you at an early age. Maybe it was a forcible kidnapping or maybe it was a trick. Either way, you realize you've got to protect your other kids. But you never forget about your son. And years later, you find out he's escaped, and he's looking for you. A couple of messages go through, and you almost meet him, but it's spoiled by The Centre. So, you know it's still dangerous. Do you stop? Do you give up?”

“No,” Booth answered. “You keep looking. You don't wait for him. You keep trying to find some way to get to Jarod. To communicate with him. To connect.”

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed, “but how do we let them know when The Centre is listening to everything Jarod says or does.”

“You don't use Jarod,” Ducky answered. “He's far too obvious. You use someone else. Someone The Centre isn't concerned about and doesn't believe has any reason to contact Jarod's family.”

Broots made a face and shrugged. “Our team's come under suspicion before. I don't think any of us could.”

“We've come under suspicion,” Sidney said, “because of me. I have a known connection to the first Katherine Parker and reason to help Jarod. The Centre knows both these things.”

“What they don't know,” Willow said, looking up from her thoughts. She stood in half-shadow, and for a moment, her eyes flashed in a way no one there could account for. “Is that Miss Parker knows exactly who she is and who she's related to.”

“I have no memory of any member of Jarod's family from my childhood,” Miss Parker answered, an edge of fright to her voice.

“Doesn't matter,” Willow said, shrugging off any and all concerns. “Think about it, Katherine. Jarod's mother is your aunt. You are her sister's daughter. There's no way she doesn't know about you. From the timeline Jarod's given us, you were probably born not long before he was kidnapped. Hell, your mom might have stayed with The Centre in an effort to get Jarod, her nephew, back.”

“That's not-” Miss Parker started. “I don't . . .”

She ran her hands through her hair, then stood, thinking hard.

“They don't have any reason to believe that I'm anything other than a Centre agent, raised to do my f- Mr. Parker's bidding.”

“Ah, but it doesn't have to be so,” Sidney said. “Just as Jarod, his father, and his half-brother share all the qualities of a Pretender, so you and your mother share a particular gift. It wouldn't be unreasonable to speculate that Jarod's mother – your aunt – also shares that gift.”

“What gift?” Bones asked. “What's he talking about.”

“I closed that door a long time ago,” Miss Parker said, staring hard at him.

“This is the ideal environment in which to open it once more,” Sidney answered.

“I don't understand,” Bones said. “What gift?”

Booth gave her a hand signal that very clearly told her to drop it.

“I can help with that,” Willow said.

“Why do I get the feeling we're getting into some hinky territory, boss?” Tony muttered to Gibbs.

“Not what concerns me,” Gibbs answered, never taking his eyes off the discussion's participants.

Jarod stood and limped a few steps over to Miss Parker. He ducked his head to look her in the eyes.

“Katherine, please,” he said. “If there's something you can do . . .”

“I have no idea if it will work,” she hissed at him, panicked. “Or if it'll be accurate, or if The Centre doesn't have some way of tracking it.”

Jarod lowered his voice. “You know Willow will protect you. You know what we both saw. Katherine, they're your family too. You have cousins you've never met, that I've only seen twice in my entire life.”

She looked up at him, the two of them suddenly alone in a room filled with people.

“Jarod,” she whispered, “they'll hate me.”

“No,” he answered. “It won't happen. I won't let it. Katherine, please.”

Miss Parker studied him for a long moment and slowly, finally, let down her guard.

“I'll do it,” she said. “For you, Jarod. I'll do it.”

“Thank you.”

And for the first time in either's life, they hugged.

Dr. Sweets, standing next to Riley, leaned over a bit.

“What exactly was that all about?” he asked, intrigued.

Without looking over, Riley answered, “Doc, you ever heard the phrase 'need to know'?”

“Well, yeah. Sure.”

“You don't.”

Sweets grimaced and looked away. “I hate that phrase.”

“Willow, Miss Parker, Dr. Green, and Dr. Sweets,” Riley announced. “After we break, I want you to make contact with Jarod's family and establish communication. Gibbs, you're tactical. I want a break down of approaches to The Centre's headquarters, how we're going to lure the bigwigs in, and how you plan to take them in. If we lose cover on this part of the op, it's acceptable, but I want no body count and a lot of arrests.”

“Who do I get?” Gibbs asked.

“Who do you need?” Riley asked.

“My team,” Gibbs answered, tilting his head at them, “Jarod, and once she checks out, Miss Summers.”

“Uh . . . checks out?” Buffy asked. “When did I become a circulation desk?”

“Fine,” Riley answered. “I want a yes or no on Buffy by lunch today.”

“No problem.”

“Agent Booth,” Riley called.

“Yeah,” Booth replied, standing straight.

“I want your team assembled and ready to go as soon as Gibbs' team has secured the headquarters. It'll be your responsibility to gather and catalog every bit of evidence.”

“Isn't that more a crime scene technician job?” Angela asked. “No offense.”

“The stuff we expect to find in there,” Riley replied, “if it's as bad as what Jarod and Miss Parker's intel leads me to believe, we're going to need every ounce of skill and knowledge the Jeffersonian can throw at this. I want an airtight case. One of those bastards walks, we'll be doing this all over again in ten years.”

Booth exhaled. “I've got a bad feeling about this.”

“No kidding,” Hodgins replied.

“I don't understand what that means,” Brennan protested.

“For the time being, people,” Riley continued, “keep to your regular schedules. No sudden changes in habits or movements, because there's nothing special going on. If you don't have one, put together a go bag, because when it's time to roll, you'll have about five minutes' warning.”

The entire team of the Jeffersonian and half the others stared dumbly at him.

“Get some rest,” he told them. “You're excused.”

“You realize he just excused us ten minutes after the regular work day started,” Hodgins said to Angela.

“Don't be cranky,” she told him. “You can nap on my couch.”



“Check me out,” Buffy repeated, looking warily at Gibbs.

“Yeah. Your dossier says you're an expert at hand to hand and close quarters combat, but it's kind of skimpy on the details. I need to know what you can actually do,” Gibbs answered.

They stood – Gibbs, Buffy, Ziva, Tony, Jarod, and McGee – in a Marine training facility at Quantico, an hour away from the Smithsonian. The only reason Buffy wasn't thoroughly cranky was because Gibbs had stopped at a Starbucks on the way and, without consulting her or Jarod, got them each a venti sized caffeinated drink. Upside down caramel machiatto for Buffy, skinny mocha for Jarod.

“What do you need?” Buffy asked, still dubious, but wide awake.

Gibbs made a slight face and tilted his head towards the sparring mat. “I'd like to see how you do against Ziva.”

“Okay.” Still dubious. “What are the rules?”

“Don't break anything,” he told her.

Buffy made the same slight face in return. “Fair enough.”

Jarod stopped her on the way to the mat. Under his breath, too softly for anyone else to hear, he said, “watch your speed and your power, Buffy. No one gets hurt, okay?”

She gave him a slightly exasperated smile.

At the edge of the mat, she pushed her shoes off and pulled her socks off as well, then stood barefoot, while Ziva waited for her. Both of them wore sweatpants and t-shirts. Both of them looked like they could kill and eat megafauna any day of the week. Buffy popped her neck, stretched her shoulders out, and then pressed her palms together and bowed towards Ziva. Ziva did the same.

“You might want to back up,” Jarod told the others, taking two large steps back.

McGee and Tony exchanged looks, but when Gibbs stepped back, they followed suit.

It started off as slow and graceful as a ballet, with Buffy and Ziva pacing in a counter-clockwise circle, gauging each other. Both were under five feet five inches tall, both were less than 120 pounds, both were well muscled, graceful, balanced, and athletic. The first attack was Ziva's, a straightforward punch to Buffy's solar plexus that Buffy twisted out of the path and then pinned Ziva's arm against her and turned in an elbow lock.

“Aikido,” Gibbs murmured.

Ziva dropped, allowing her turn and speed to free her before the lock was complete. She kicked at Buffy's knee as she fell, and was blocked. Buffy used the block to spin into a low back kick, which should have connected with Ziva's head, only Ziva didn't wait for it. She used a similar trap on Buffy's leg, but before she could cup Buffy's heel, Buffy simply tucked, rolled, and turned the trap into a throw that wrenched Ziva around by 180 degrees.

“Judo,” Gibbs added.

Ziva rolled again, getting her feet under her. Buffy swung all her weight onto her shoulders, put her hands against the mat and pushed off as she swung her feet back down, landing on them just as she came upright.

“Wow,” Tony said, “I've only seen Gene Kelly and Jackie Chan actually pull that off.”

The first exchange done, Buffy and Ziva looked each other over, adjusting expectations. The lull ended with a flurry of kicks by Ziva that Buffy blocked, dodged, and countered until she got a foot hooked around Ziva's back leg, and with a yank, knocked her on her back. Buffy spun to deliver a brutal fist strike, but Ziva was already out of the way.

“What was that one?” Tony asked.

“Jeet Kune Do,” Gibbs answered.

“Nice!”

Gibbs watched, tapping his thumbnail against his bottom teeth.

The women started grappling, taking hold, throwing, slithering out, turning, flipping, and evading new holds. It sped up. Both women were now sweaty and warmed up. Both women were smiling with fierce delight.

“Here we go,” Gibbs said. “Gloves are off.”

Ziva had gone in with orders to test Buffy, find out how quickly she could bring the girl down. Instead, she had her hands on a genuine opponent. She could actually test herself against this blond, brown-eyed young woman.

Around the training room, where Marines and NCIS officers sparred, lifted weights, jumped rope, or otherwise kept themselves in fighting trim, the activity began to fall off. More and more individuals were pausing and then stopping to watch the combat on the mat.

It was fast, and then became brutally faster. Gibbs was naming different fighting styles he spotted Buffy using almost every two or three seconds. She was now using blocks that, even though successful, would leave a spectrum of bruises in the morning, and she didn't look the slightest bit bothered by it. Ziva landed two different blows – one, an elbow strike to Buffy's shoulder from above, and the other, a glancing kick to the inside of Buffy's right knee. Buffy didn't falter. Instead, she swept Ziva's feet out from under her with a combined arm strike across Ziva's shoulders so hard, that Ziva hit the mat shoulders first, with an audible smack. Only the fact that she'd tucked her chin kept her from landing on the back of her head. There was a hiss of sympathy from the onlookers.

“Tony,” Gibbs said.

“Yeah, boss?”

“Take her down.”

Tony grinned and nodded. “Boy, I'd sure like t-”

Gibbs smacked him upside the back of the head.

“Right, boss.”

“Fight dirty.”

“Right, boss.”

Tony was still in his suit, but he peeled the jacket off, slipped out of his shoes and socks, and went straight for Buffy. He had every intention of doing exactly what Gibbs said, even if a little tiny voice in his head started babbling something. He ignored it, and instead of going first for the choke hold, he punched Buffy in the right kidney.

Except he didn't. She wasn't there. Then, her foot was there, right across the side of his head, knocking him flat. Ziva turned back into the fight, all pretense of fun dropped. Tony had, at least, provided a bit of a distraction, and Ziva used the opportunity put an arm lock on Buffy as she landed and lever her onto her knees.

Except Buffy defied conventional anatomy, accepted the agonizing pressure of the lock on her elbow, turned under, grabbed Ziva with her other hand, pulled her on top, and then – lock broken – threw her to the other side of the mat.

Tony was waiting for Buffy, taking a boxing stance, which she matched. He feinted twice, which she didn't blink at, and stepped in with a cross, which she blocked and countered with a left-handed jab to his face. For all that it was a jab, it felt like it went through his cheek and jawbone and made his face rebound like bowl of gelatin.

But at least that gave Ziva the chance to sweep Buffy's feet out from under her.

Except she didn't. Buffy's feet weren't on the mat, though she didn't change altitude. Tony felt a hammer blow strike just above his left knee and heard Ziva make an uncharacteristic “oof”. Finally ticked off, Tony's fist went straight for that pretty little face just as Ziva came up from her knees to deliver a debilitating kidney punch.

Nope, not that either. The hammer blow had been Buffy pushing off in an overhead backflip, which she finished with a three point landing off the mat. There was an audible gasp from the audience, and then a crunching clatter – like a box of dominoes dropped on the floor – as Ziva and Tony's fists met in the space Buffy no longer occupied.

And then Buffy nailed Ziva between the shoulder blades with a flying kick, sending her bowling into Tony, and knocking him down for good measure.

Ziva immediately rolled off Tony and sat up, holding her right hand with her left, stoically grimacing and cursing in Hebrew. Tony lay there like a slug for a long moment, waiting to be able to breathe again.

When his diaphragm finally worked again, he moaned, “she hurt me all over.”

Buffy stood, feet spread, hands on her hips, and looked up from her sparring partners to Gibbs.

“That was fun. Can we go again?” She grinned.

“Anyone else wanna try?” Gibbs asked.

There was an immediate chorus of “no”, “that's okay”, “gotta be going”, and “I don't think so” from the onlookers.

Buffy held a hand out to Ziva, who took it, and pulled her to her feet.

“You are awesome,” Buffy said. “Seriously. Anytime you want to spar, just let me know. And you have got to show me where you picked up that twisting knee strike.”

“Please tell me she is joking,” Ziva said, looking over at Gibbs.

“Why would I joke?” Buffy asked. “Jarod's the best sparring partner – outside of Faith, of course – I've had in ages, and he's got nothing on you.”

“Just wait,” Jarod called.

Buffy pulled Tony up to his feet next, though he didn't really seem to want to be there.

“And I haven't gotten to box in ages,” she told him. “You were pretty good with those sneakeriffic moves.”

“Uh, yeah. Can I get a bag of ice?” he called out. “And a new ego? I just got beat up by a cheerleader.”

Buffy went from friendly to sour. “I was only on the squad for a few weeks, and that was years ago.”

“You still look the part,” Tony answered.

Buffy shrugged and looked over at Gibbs.

“So, what's next?”

“Firearms.”



“You did that back in there,” Gibbs demanded, “and you're seriously telling me you've never handled a firearm before?”

“Uh . . . well, I fired a shoulder-mounted rocket thingie once,” Buffy managed. “Does that count? Oh, and I'm excellent with a crossbow.”

“Does that-” Gibbs stopped himself. “What exactly do you do, Miss Summers, that you can fight hand-to-hand like you're on wires, but you've never used a gun.”

Jarod cleared his throat. “Special Agent Gibbs, I'm afraid that falls into the 'need to know' category. Suffice it to say that the population Buffy is most used to dealing with is . . . resistant to bullets.”

“Resistant,” Gibbs repeated.

“Well, a big enough bullet would probably do it,” Buffy said, holding her hands in a circle to suggest something larger than an eighty caliber round. “If you hit one in the neck. I mean, technically, it counts as decapitation if they don't have a neck left, right?”

Gibbs stared at her for a long moment and gave up.

“All right. Fine. Listen closely. This is a SIG Sauer P229R DAK. It is a semi-automatic full-sized duty weapon, and it's standard issue for much of the US military, nearly all Federal branches, and more than a few state and local authorities.”

He went over the action of the gun, how the trigger would reset itself after the first shot fired and require greater pull to fire again, how each round was loaded from the magazine and then the shell ejected after the round was fired, how to load the magazine, clear the chamber, and use the safety. Then he went over the four basic rules of gun safety: every gun is always loaded; do not point a gun at something unless you intend to shoot it; do not shoot someone unless you intend to kill them; and always, always check what's behind your target.

Two seconds into the lecture, the perky cheerleader disappeared under the intense, absorbing gaze of a trained warrior learning a new and very useful weapon. Again, Gibbs had the feeling that the young woman he was talking to had seen action. Not a little action. Not some bar fights or street gang activity. Something along the lines of three tours of Iraq and another two of Afghanistan type of action. She had seen people die. She had killed some of them. She had held some of them. She knew exactly what death was. The sparring in the gym had been for fun. If Ziva or Tony had fallen into the declared category of “resistant to bullets”, Buffy would have killed them.

“Now,” he said, “in your own words, repeat back to me what I just said.”

Her repetition included vocabulary like “dealy-bopper”, “killocity”, and “mongo responsibility”, but her grasp of the fundamentals was solid.

“That,” Gibbs said, pointing at the paper target hanging in front of them, “is what you're going to practice on. If you can somehow pass the firearm qualification test for NCIS agents before we're called up, you can come.”

Buffy studied it. “I take it I'm supposed to hit the inside amoeba-shaped thingie?”

“That's the kill zone,” he told her. “Any strike there, from between the eyebrows down to the sternum of the chest, is going to drop a person. Let's start at twenty yards.”

Buffy gave him an extremely offended look.

“Fine,” he said, and handed her the control for the target pulley.

She sent it all the way to the end. Gibbs glanced at his team. Tony had an icebag taped to his right knuckles. He was stonefaced. Ziva had just taped her hand up. She looked mildly interested. McGee looked nervous. Jarod was suppressing a smile.

“Glasses,” Gibbs said.

Buffy put the safety glasses on.

“Hearing protection.”

Everyone donned their sound-reducing headphones.

“Fire at will.”

Buffy emptied the clip in less than five seconds. Then she popped the magazine out, pulled the slide back to show the chamber was empty, and set the gun on the table. Everyone took off their headphones.

“Hey, it smells like the Fourth of July,” Buffy said.

“How's that?” Jarod asked.

Tony glanced at him. “Fireworks? Gunpowder? Ring a bell?”

“Oh, right,” Jarod said, nodding. “To celebrate the country's Declaration of Independence, people often set off fireworks, which contain combustion fuel nearly identical to the powder charge used in ammunition rounds. I hadn't thought of it that way.”

“I think it's neat,” Buffy said, pressing the return button.

The target practice area had strong fans, clearing the smoke fairly quickly. Quickly enough that even before the target was back, McGee whistled softly.

The magazine clip held fifteen rounds. The target had fifteen holes torn neatly through the paper in a vertical line from the top of the kill zone to the bottom.

“It's a lot easier than a crossbow,” Buffy said.

Gibbs took his phone out and dialed.

“Finn? Yeah, she'll do.”

He hung up, put his phone away, and took out the cleaning kit. “I'm going to show you this once,” he told Buffy. “After that, you clean your weapon every time you use it.”

“That's it?” she asked, disappointed.

“We'll start on tactical tomorrow,” he told her.

“Oh. Okay.”

“After this, though,” Gibbs continued. “I'm going to buy you lunch, and we're going to talk about rifle training.”
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