“When you regained consciousness, Miss Summers, what did you see?”
Dawn had a feeling Very Special Agent Anthony DiNozzo would hold her hand if it wasn’t still bloody. Stupid vampires. Or not so stupid, really. Vamps siring Marines and special forces types was bad news. Of course it had to happen to her on her first day in town. Buffy was going to freak. Actually, once she was in private, Dawn might freak a little bit herself. This was really, really not good.
“There was a really big guy holding a knife to my throat,” she said. “Asked me how I liked the view.”
“Then what happened?” DiNozzo asked.
“I tried to play it cool, so he turned it up a notch. Told me he had a special show just for me.”
She waved in the direction of the dead Marine.
“When I realized he meant that guy, I tried to buy some time. Mouthed off a bit to distract him, and he smacked me around for my trouble. It didn’t last long, though. Then he started torturing him.”
Dawn pointed forlornly at the man she hadn’t been able to save. Corporal Sean McCarthy, she’d heard another investigator say. She hadn’t known his name while he was still alive.
Not that it really mattered. The part that mattered was that he was a vampire victim. It was supposed to be her job to make sure those who killed him were dealt with, because goddess knew these NCIS people wouldn’t be able to. Riley’s promised help could show up any time now...
“When you say torturing,” DiNozzo began gently.
“I mean torturing,” Dawn replied flatly. “It wasn’t his first session either. He was already pretty mangled when the ‘show’ started.”
“Tell me about the show.”
“That knife,” Dawn pointed. “And that one over there. Alternating blades, shallow cuts. Maximum pain, lots of panic, but a nice slow bleed, to allow the greatest possible time until loss of consciousness or death.”
She was doing her best to keep it professional. These Navy investigators didn’t need emotion getting in the way of them doing their job, and her feelings were none of their business anyway. She had to give them just enough to make it seem like she’d been as helpful as possible, and then call in Council people once NCIS was safely out of the way.
Dawn didn’t mention the other reason for the slow bleed- in addition to the extra torture, it also meant the vamp got the maximum feeding time. Let NCIS assume what they liked- hopefully they’d go with ‘sadist with a grudge against the Marines’. It would certainly sound far more plausible to the uninitiated than ‘vampires eating Marines’.
“You sound like you know a lot about this,” DiNozzo said, his previously sympathetic, flirty manner tinged slightly with suspicion, though he kept his voice pleasant.
“Yeah,” Dawn said, not bothering to hide the bitterness that still lingered, even after all this time. “Lucky me.”
It had taken years to stop being angry with herself for not doing something, anything different- something that would have saved her sister and changed everything that happened after that night. The best part of a decade, actually.
She sighed at DiNozzo’s still distrustful expression.
“I have the scars to show how I know so much about it, ok? I’d pull my shirt up, but your partner asked me not to touch anything, including my clothes. Apparently it’s all evidence. So since you’re the one wearing gloves, you’re free to take off my shirt if you want to take a look.”
Agent DiNozzo had evidently not been expecting to hear that. Before he could respond, someone else joined the conversation.
“DiNozzo, why the hell do you have a witness inviting you to undress her?”
Dawn tried not to snicker as DiNozzo winced. The annoyed looking gray haired guy behind him had to be his boss. It was petty, she knew, but it was good to know Tuesday was a pain in someone else’s ass too.
“Long story, boss,” DiNozzo said hastily. “Dawn, this is Special Agent Gibbs. Boss, our witness, Dawn Summers. She was walking back to her car after dinner at the officers’ club when she was hit over the head. Woke up here with a front row seat for the torture and murder of Corporal McCarthy.”
“How’d she end up covered in blood?” Gibbs demanded, his eyes taking in the blood on her hands and pants, as well as the livid bruise on her face.
“Don’t worry, most of it’s not mine,” Dawn assured him.
The look on Gibbs face was reminiscent of Buffy’s right before she went off on a demon in Slayer smash mode. Somehow, she suspected that Gibbs had a similar reaction to people hurting ‘defenceless girls’.
“Tried to help McCarthy, boss,” DiNozzo replied. “Base MPs weren’t exactly subtle in their arrival. When the perps took off, Ms. Summers managed to break free and did what she could for the other victim.”
“Unfortunately, by that time, it was a little too late,” Dawn said. “God, this is just my luck. I hate Tuesdays.”
She absentmindedly brushed some hair back from her face and then cursed creatively as she realized she’d just smeared blood on her forehead.
“Great. Does this mean my face is evidence now, too?”
“It already was,” Gibbs told her. “Don’t worry, you get to keep it. We just take pictures. ”
“And swabs,” DiNozzo added helpfully.
“How long before I can wash my hands?” Dawn asked. “And when will I be able to leave? Riley couldn’t come, he’s alone with the kids, but he said he’d send someone to drive me back to my hotel.”
“Riley?” Gibbs asked lightly.
“Riley Finn,” Dawn replied. “Family friend. He works at the Pentagon. I touched base with him this afternoon right after I checked in to my hotel, then I had to drive down here to meet with some stupid brassa- um, general type people.”
Gibbs smothered a chuckle at her hasty correction.
“I called him once- well, once the police had everything under control,” Dawn continued. “Riley’s my emergency contact in these parts, seeing as the rest of my family is an ocean away.”
Gibbs was pleased to note that DiNozzo was taking all this down instead of gawking at the girl.
“I’ll get someone to come take whatever photos and samples we need right away, Miss Summers,” he told her. He tried not to look at her too much. He couldn’t help seeing his daughter when he looked at girls like this, especially on a night like this when he’d already been thinking about Kelly. Seeing your child like this was any parent’s second worst nightmare. He’d already lived the worst one.
“Your attackers didn’t take your phone?” DiNozzo asked.
“They did, but they dropped it right in front of me. I think the idea was to let it drive me crazy that I could call for help if I could only reach it. A little round of mind games to warm up before they started in on the physical torture. I’m just lucky the police showed up before things got that far.”
She had actually been terrified they’d do something intelligent like check her contacts. One look at the last few number dialled and she’d have been an instant happy meal. There were very few vamps who didn’t know who Buffy Summers and Faith Lehane were, and ‘Buffy’ and ‘Faith’ were her two most recent calls. Fortunately, they’d just taunted her with it.
“How’d you get the bruises on your neck?” Gibbs asked.
“My neck?” Dawn looked puzzled, then panicked as her hands flew to her bruised but otherwise empty neck.
“My locket! Oh my god, one of those bastards took it! They must have pulled it off while I was still out.”
Dawn looked around, hoping against hope she’d spot it on the floor somewhere.
“DiNozzo, make sure you get photos,” Gibbs said in an undertone. “Was there anything special about the locket, Miss Summers? Was it valuable?”
“Sentimental value only,” she said, sounding devastated. “Monetarily, it’s almost worthless, I doubt it’s even fifty bucks. But to me, it’s pretty much priceless.”
“Can you describe it, please?” DiNozzo asked.
Dawn hesitated, and the two agents could see her trying to form the mental image in her mind.
“Um, an old fashioned locket, silver, oval. Inside there’s a photo of my mother, my sister, and me, surrounded by a braid made with a strand of each of our hair. It’s the only photo we have left of all three of us, and it was too small to make larger copies that aren’t all blurry. They must have taken it while I was still out. I didn’t know it was gone.”
Dawn looked stricken, close to tears for the first time since Gibbs had seen her.
“If it’s in here anywhere, we’ll find it,” Gibbs told her. “But it might be a while before we can return it to you. Everything in this building is evidence right now.”
Dawn tried to get herself back under control. It was probably in there somewhere. The locket had a cross on the outside- it was doubtful the vamps would have held onto it. Probably why they’d ripped it off in the first place.
“I can be patient if I know I’m getting it back at some point,” she said. “Please let me know if you find it.”
She turned back to DiNozzo. Gibbs stayed where he was, satisfied to let DiNozzo finish questioning her.
“So, Agent DiNozzo, where were we?”
“Torturing Corporal McCarthy,” DiNozzo replied.
“Right. I was freaking out, but the guy doing it must have expected that, cause he just laughed. Actually, I think he kinda got off on it. While he was busy with McCarthy, I tried to work my hands free.”
“Your hands were tied?” DiNozzo asked, making a note.
“Yeah, behind my back,” Dawn replied. “Not very well, as it turned out, but it’s tough to undo knots you can’t see.”
She tried not to rub at her sore wrists. She’d chafed them raw trying to work one hand or the other free without drawing the vamps’ attention to what she was doing. She’d had much better luck freeing her legs. Fortunately, these vamps either hadn’t been expecting effective resistance on her part or hadn’t been experienced kidnappers- they’d gone with rope restraints, not chains or zip ties, which were much more difficult. They’d actually been tied pretty well, but she couldn’t exactly tell NCIS that- or how much practice she’d had at undoing knots she couldn’t see.
“Then what?” DiNozzo prompted.
“There were sirens outside, and someone started banging on the door. The guy torturing Corporal McCarthy yelled at his buddies. They headed that way-“ She pointed at the rear entrance to the warehouse. “He started toward me, like he was going to take care of me before he left, but the police were almost through the door, so he just... snarled
at me and ran for it.”
Dawn felt safe adding as many truthful details as she could, like the snarling. She was of course omitting the fact that all three ‘people’ she’d seen were vampires, that the one in charge had been in game face when he’d snarled at her, and that the vamps might not have been choosing their vics at random. That particular detail would lead to a whole world of questions she did not want to answer.
“The police busted in, and of course they saw the guys running for it, so they went after them. I pulled free pretty quick since I didn’t have to try to be subtle about it anymore and went over to McCarthy to try to help. He was pretty messed up, but still breathing, so I tried to put pressure on his wounds, stop the bleeding. I think I just made it worse, there was blood everywhere...”
Dawn looked down at her bloody hands. That part was true enough. She’d had very little hope that she’d be able to save McCarthy- she was pretty sure the plan had been torture him until he was desperate enough to beg. She was guessing he had been a candidate for siring. Otherwise he’d have been drained and tossed like the pile of corpses on the far side of the warehouse. He’d been conscious right up until the end, and she couldn’t get the look in his eyes out of her head. He’d known how bad off he was.
She wasn’t used to this. Usually if she interacted with vampire victims, it was either ones who were definitely going to survive or ones who were already dead. Slayers were the ones who saw things like this, not Watchers. Buffy had never talked about the ones who didn’t make it. Faith never talked about any of them.
“You did the best you could,” DiNozzo assured her. “Don’t blame yourself for this, Dawn. From the looks of it, even if you were the world’s best EMT, there isn’t much you could have done.”
“Yeah, right,” Dawn said listlessly. “That’s what people always say when something awful happens. ‘There’s nothing you could have done.’ It ranks right up there with ‘she died quickly and painlessly and probably never knew what was happening’ on the list of things people say to make you feel better.”
Gibbs decided not to address the tone of experience in her voice. From the sound of it, this girl’s life was no picnic even before this evening.
“If you really want to, you can go with depressed and guilty,” Gibbs told her. “But unless it was your idea to kidnap and torture him, I don’t think you can call this your fault.”
“No, but that doesn’t really help,” Dawn replied tiredly. “Will I be able to go soon? I really just want to get out of these clothes and take a shower.”
DiNozzo spotted Ziva headed toward them, with what looked to be a Marine trailing behind her.
“I think my partner is coming to get your clothes for evidence right now, actually,” he said, flashing her a grin.
When Dawn looked up, she zeroed in on the man following Ziva.
Ziva reached them, and Gibbs could see she didn’t look entirely happy. The Marine, on the other hand, looked immensely relieved to see Dawn alive and more or less well.
“Major Graham Miller,” Ziva announced, “would not accept that he needed to wait outside and insisted he’d been ordered by his superiors to pick up Miss Summers.”
“Ordered? I’m touched you care so much, Graham,” Dawn said acidly.
Behind her, DiNozzo raised an eyebrow at the tone.
“Finn does technically outrank me these days,” Miller replied soothingly. “Also, it was less ordered than he threatened to hogtie me and hand me over to your sister for use as a practice dummy if I didn’t get you safely back to your hotel.”
“What if I don’t want to go back to my hotel?”
“Then I take you wherever you do want to go. I’m your bodyguard tonight, brat. Get used to it.”
“Ziva, make sure we get all photos and samples we need from Miss Summers, and bag her clothes.”
Seeing Dawn about to protest, Miller intervened.
“I have a set of clothes here that should fit you.”
“How?” Dawn demanded.
“Stopped off at Potomac Mills on the way down,” Graham replied drily.
Dawn opened her mouth to say that the mall should have been closed this late, then decided it was better not to. She wasn’t entirely sure Graham wasn’t serious.
Ziva took the bag he held, and led Dawn to a corner where she could be swabbed for samples and then change without an audience.---
Graham waited until they were in the car and well away from the lights and tape of the crime scene before he asked Dawn what had happened.
“Vamps,” she muttered. “Stupid bloodsuckers that exist to make my family’s life hell.”
“Didn’t they realize they sent you here on a Tuesday?” Graham grinned.
“Shut up! Honestly, this is a new record even for a Tuesday. Faith has been to DC dozens of times and it was always quiet as anything. She was bored out of her gourd the last time she was here- not one single vamp. I come here, and BAM! Fang central in less than twelve hours. And you didn’t stop at Potomac Mills. These are the jeans I couldn’t find in Madagascar.”
“Yeah, I found them after you left. Still not sure how they ended up in a tree. But I didn’t think you wanted to tell the nice agents all about your personal life. Going to call in the big guns?” Graham asked.
“They probably think you’re a shoplifter now,” Dawn grumbled. “And as for calling in the big guns, I don’t have to. Willow’s supposed to be here next week anyway to do the final wards on the new Council house before anyone moves in. Buffy and Xander said they would come too as long as nothing big was happening, and we’d have a housewarming with everyone. So I don’t need to call them in, I just have to hold out until they get here. Maybe I should ask Will to bring her trip forward. But I will definitely call in and let everyone know what’s going on.”
“You have a secure line?” Graham asked.
Dawn shook her head.
“Didn’t think I’d need one. DC was supposed to be quiet, and once the house is operational, I wouldn’t need to worry about it anyway.”
“You do now that NCIS is involved,” Graham replied. “Here, use mine. I’ll see about getting you a new phone in the morning. You’re not the only one who will need to report in.”
Dawn took it and dialed.
“Dawn Summers. Put me through to my sister. What do you mean she’s unavailable? Ok, then Giles. Oh, right I forgot about that. What about Will- oh, hi, Andrew. No, Faith will be fine if everyone else is busy. Thanks. Who was that on phone duty, anyway? I didn’t recognize her.”
Dawn covered the phone and mouthed ‘is this call important?’ at Graham, who snickered.
When Faith got on, Dawn gave her a rundown of everything that had happened, up to and including Graham driving her back to town. Faith was full of sympathy.
“Damn, D. I’ve swung through DC how many times and never saw more than one or two fledges just striking out on their own. You’re there one night and fighting combat trained vamps. I don’t know how you do it.”
“I’m special,” Dawn said resignedly. “Anyway, this could put a cramp in the schedule for the week. I’m probably going to have to spend some time dealing with investigators, and I’m definitely going to need a Slayer to help track these guys down and deal with them. They are so above and beyond what I can handle on my own it’s not even funny. Can you ask Willow if it’s possible to bring her trip over here forward? I suddenly feel a lot less safe in a hotel. I’d like to move into the house ASAP-just accelerate the whole timeline on it.”
“Will do, D. B’s still asleep, but gotta warn you, she’s been on edge all day, almost like she knew something was coming. She wasn’t sharing, so no idea if the bug up her butt is about this, or if there’s something else starting. Expect her to call first thing your AM.”
“Great. I’d better get to bed, then. I don’t think I can deal with a transatlantic big sisterly freakout on less than five hours. Take care, Faith.”
“You know if you want backup, Riley and I have you covered until a Slayer gets here,” Graham told her. “We should be able to hold the fort until the cavalry arrive.”
“Thanks,” Dawn said. “For now, I wouldn’t actually mind that whole bodyguard thing you mentioned in front of the nice agents. I wasn’t joking about not feeling safe in a hotel after the day I just had. You know there’s zero protection in a hotel.”
“I could stay and be your protection,” Graham grinned.
“With ordinary vamps, maybe,” Dawn replied seriously. “Not these ones. They were definitely military before they were undead. They’re not your average fledge. And body mass wise, the smallest one of them was an even match for you. I’d rather just stay at yours. I mean, if it’s not awkward for you to have a houseguest?”
“Not a problem,” Graham said, sounding perfectly happy with the arrangement. “I’m right in Pentagon City, so you won’t be late for your morning meetings.”
“I think my morning meeting has been pre-empted,” Dawn grumped. “I can’t go anywhere near the local magic users if NCIS may be taking an interest. Agent Flirtozzo was ok with my story, but I don’t know about his boss. His partner definitely wasn’t. Either way, I have a funny feeling they’re going to want to talk to me some more.”
“Count on it,” Graham replied. “Crap, I didn’t even think about that. Finn’s going to blow a gasket when I tell him we may have to shut down one of their investigations.”
“It’s his fault anyway,” Dawn said. “I told him me and Tuesdays were non-mixy things and he didn’t listen and scheduled me for Tuesday anyway. But what’s NCIS, and how come they get jurisdiction?”
“Sorry, I forgot you wouldn’t know the alphabet soup around here yet. Don’t worry, you’ll pick up the acronyms pretty quick. NCIS is Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Think CSI for the Navy and Marines, but with a side order of intelligence and counterespionage. And seeing as most of those poor bastards in the body pile were Marines, it’s their case.”
“And that’s a bad thing?” Dawn asked.
“They’re a total pain in the ass,” Graham confessed. “We’ve crossed trails with them a couple times before.
They don’t like leaving cases unsolved and the old ‘gangs on PCP’ standby in no way cuts it with that crowd. The ones that were there tonight, the major case response team, are the worst of the lot. Guy in charge has a reputation for being a bulldog.”
“Good tempered and attached to his family?” Dawn suggested.
“Funny. More like stubborn as all hell and determined to get to the bottom of any case that crosses his desk,” Graham said. “And it gets worse if he gets shut down from above, because he has a habit of skirting orders if he thinks there’s something hinky going on.”
“Sounds like he’d be a fan of rule seven,” Dawn mused.
“Seven... It will not kill you to say ‘sorry’?”
“No, that’s six. Seven is if you think something’s hinky, it probably is.”
“Yeah, he’d probably be down with that. Like I said, bulldog.”
“For ordinary cases, I’m sure that’s a good thing, but in this case, ugh. I’ll talk to Giles tomorrow and see if we have any local contacts who might have an in with NCIS or any favors they can call in to smooth the way for us. Riley can’t make this go away?”
An investigator like that was a headache and a half for the Council, unless of course, it was an ally who would make the case officially go away while privately passing on any info the Council needed to deal with it properly. Unfortunately, as far as Dawn knew, they currently had no contacts at NCIS. Hell, until tonight, she hadn’t even known they existed.
“He can get the orders issued if it’s necessary, but he’ll probably try to just stonewall first.”
“We’ll let him try that, then. Forget about having him shut it down officially. If we have to, we can always kill it at top level. Pretty sure the President outranks Riley and the NCIS crew both. But that’s last resort. Anyway, those are problems for tomorrow. For now, I’d rather just get to your place and get some sleep.”
“You know, you’re not supposed to sleep for several hours after a concussion.”
“Really?” Dawn asked, feigning surprise. “What did you have in mind to keep me awake, Major?”