Gibbs waited until Major Miller had escorted Summers- now dressed in a pair of jeans that fit too well to be new and a Marines sweatshirt that was definitely Miller’s- away. Presumably, they were heading to her hotel, although he’d overheard Summers saying she wasn’t sure she felt safe in a hotel now. Then he turned to his team.
“All right, tell me what happened here.”
“It’s complicated, boss, and the sequence of events starts well before this evening,” McGee replied. “Ducky and Palmer are still bagging them, but we’ve got about a dozen corpses, TOD ranging from just over an hour ago for Corporal McCarthy to a few Ducky may have some trouble with- could be days, could be weeks, given the weather. The days have been warming up, but it’s been at or below freezing every night for the past couple months. The building isn’t heated, and there are no windows, so it’s basically a fridge in here.”
“Tonight is what we have a solid timeline for,” DiNozzo said, picking up where McGee left off. “Our witness is Dawn Summers, age 25, formerly of California, currently based in England. Works for an organization called Guardian International. She’s in town on business, flew in from London this afternoon. She’s being transferred to DC full time at the end of the month. This week was supposed to be all planning meetings. She checked into the Monaco, did some shopping, and then drove down to Quantico for a late afternoon meeting with what she described as ‘general type people’. Had dinner at the officers’ club, went outside to get in her car for the drive back to her hotel, got grabbed from behind and knocked out. Woke up here, and I think you heard the rest, boss.”
“Do we think Summers was assaulted while she was unconscious?” McGee asked, trying not to wince as he said it. He hated to ask, but Summers’ statement had made the mentality of the men who’d abducted her disturbingly clear.
“She didn’t say anything,” DiNozzo replied. “And she seemed pretty sure she wasn’t unconscious very long. She thought it was only five minutes or so.”
He didn’t say out loud that it was a little worrisome that Dawn had enough experience to sound so sure about her estimate for how long she’d be out.
“Five minutes is enough time for some,” Ziva pointed out. “But I do not think she was. Though I doubt she would tell us if she had been.”
“What makes you say that, Ziva?” Gibbs asked.
“It is a feeling. She is too calm about the situation.”
“I wouldn’t exactly call her calm, Ziva,” Tony snapped. “I think she kept herself under control, but she was pretty upset by what happened. She said she’s been tortured before, in a similar manner to McCarthy. That’s why she was telling me to take her shirt off, boss- she was going to show me the scars.”
“Summers doesn’t fit the profile of the other victims. Was she a random choice, or do the attackers know her? Was she targeted for a reason? It wouldn’t have been hard to track her if they knew she was in town.”
“Perhaps we can ask Miss Summers tomorrow if she recognized any of the attackers,” Ziva suggested. “She will be coming to NCIS to work with an artist to create a sketch of the torturer.”
“I think if she recognized someone or knew why this happened, she might have mentioned it, Ziva,” Tony told her.
“And I disagree. I think she was perfectly aware that you found her attractive, and she used that to cover holes in her story.”
“You think she’s lying to us?” Gibbs asked.
Ziva hesitated. When she spoke, it was clear she was choosing her words carefully.
“I do not know that she is precisely lying
. But I think she is withholding information. I feel she could tell us more if she chooses.”
“What makes you say that, Ziva?” Gibbs asked, wondering if she could articulate what it was prompting her feeling.
Ziva considered for a minute before she answered, and when she did, it was slow, as if she were trying to put it together for herself as much as for him.
“Again, she is too calm. It is not the calm of shock, this is the calm of someone who has seen such things before. It is the calm that comes with training and experience. Dawn Summers is, what is the phrase? Not a first time at this rodeo.”
Gibbs nodded thoughtfully. He appreciated Ziva’s insight. Sometimes it was necessary, especially with cases like this. He looked at the girl and saw his daughter. Ziva looked at the girl and saw just the girl.
“She’s a little young to be a pro, Ziva,” Tony pointed out. “Her ID says she turned twenty-five in October.”
“When I was twenty-five, I was running missions for Mossad. Also, she declined medical attention, despite obvious injuries. Gibbs, she was more concerned that someone show up to take her home than anything else! And that is another thing- Major Miller was most insistent that he must be taken to Dawn Summers and that waiting outside was not acceptable. He said her sister scares him far more than I could.”
“That’s only because he doesn’t know you, Ziva,” Tony assured her.
She glared at him.
“He did not care who I am or what I might be able to do. He told me specifically that unless I was their long lost sister, there was no way I could do as much damage to him as Buffy Summers.”
“McGee, first thing in the morning-“
“Background check on Dawn Summers, looking for any ties to other agencies or signs of a manufactured identity.”
“Looking for past cases that fit our kidnappers’ m.o., and trying to find anything on Summers’ torture case. On it, boss.”
Ziva raised an eyebrow.
“And what do I do?” she asked.
“See if you can find the necklace Miss Summers was so worried about,” Gibbs replied. “If she’s someone’s operative, that necklace must be important or she wouldn’t ask about it.”
“And if she is just an unlucky girl…?” Ziva prompted.
“Then I’ll sleep a little better knowing we found something important to her after the night she just had,” Gibbs replied.---
Buffy frowned. As she’d expected, she was back in her room. But as she looked around, the room flickered. It reminded her of tirer la couveture, except that she hadn’t done any magic this time. Both rooms looked familiar, and both of them were definitely hers. She knew that, although she wasn’t sure how she knew it. What she really didn’t understand was why they kept switching. The changes were subtle, but she could still see them if she paid attention.
She tried the closet door, first tentatively, then with increasing strength, until she was using the full power of the Slayer against it. The door stubbornly refused to budge. She kicked it in frustration, putting enough power behind the blow that a normal door would have been blown off its hinges or shattered, and it didn’t even twitch. She was sure whatever was behind the door was important.
“Mom?” she called cautiously. “Are you here?”
For a long moment, she thought there wasn’t going to be an answer.
“Where else would I be?” called a voice from downstairs.
“Can you come up here for a sec?” Buffy asked, pondering the still jammed closet door. Slayer strength should have been enough to open it, definitely. Yet it had failed twice.
“Still haven’t done anything about that, sweetheart?”
Buffy turned. This time, she got a better look at her ‘mother’. She was younger than Joyce- in fact, she looked to be not much older than Buffy herself. That startled her for a minute, but she realized that whenever Joyce appeared in her dreams, she hadn’t aged either. She was frozen in time at the age Buffy had last seen her. Did that mean this woman was a memory, or was she dead too?
“I don’t know what to do,” Buffy said. “Brute force isn’t cutting it. You told me to try the basement before…”
“Yes,” the redhead agreed. “All the tools your father has down there, there’s sure to be something that will work. “
Buffy smiled. After hanging around Xander for years, she had picked up a thing or two about tools, especially the ones that could double as weapons- and when you got right down to it, most hand tools could. She’d found them a lot more interesting once she’d worked that out.
“Ok, be right back up,” she said, forcing herself to be cheerful. If there was one thing years of dealing with Slayer dreams had taught her, it was that getting frustrated wouldn’t help.
She walked downstairs, watching the whole house flicker as she did, as if it couldn’t quite decide what setting it should be on. Not much changed, though. She stopped halfway down the stairs- the photos on the wall in the alternate setting, the one that didn’t feel as familiar, didn’t have Dawn in them anywhere. She glanced back up the stairs to find her mother was following her.
“Yes, it is a little confusing,” her mother said, sounding sad. “I don’t understand it. They tell me she’s my daughter, but baby, you were an only child. Not that we didn’t want another…”
Buffy bit off her instinctive reply- her mother had known Dawn wasn’t hers but loved her anyway.
She walked around into the kitchen and stepped through the door into the basement- only to find that there was a definite difference here. The flickering had stopped- on a basement Buffy didn’t recognize. This was not the basement at Revello Drive, or the house in LA. This was someone’s workshop. Someone Xander would love to talk to, because they were clearly good with their hands- and building a boat. Who built a boat in their basement?
Better question – how did they get the boat out of the basement once it was done?
“Take a closer look,” her mother’s voice floated down the stairs after her.
Buffy stepped cautiously down into the basement. There was a bloodstain on the floor at one end. It upset her, but she wasn’t completely sure why. All she could say was that it felt wrong. The basement was supposed to be a safe place. She looked at the boat. There was a name written across the back of it, but her eyes refused to focus on the name, no matter how hard she concentrated.
“I can’t read it, Mom. Why can’t I read it?” she asked, puzzled. “It’s all fuzzy!”
Her mother was at the top of the stairs, and sounded disappointed.
“I hoped that would work. I guess we’ll just have to try the closet again. Are you bringing the crowbar?”
“You hoped what would work?” Buffy asked. “I don’t understand. What’s going on?”
She started up the stairs…
…only to be shaken awake.
Definitely awake, and it was definitely morning, around the time she normally woke up unless she’d been patrolling really late.
Xander was leaning over her, looking concerned.
“You ok, Buff? You were talking in your sleep, and I have to tell you, that’s a first. Not that I’m in your room while you sleep all that often or anything, cause hello, creepy stalker…”
“Good morning to you, too, Xander,” she said. “What’s up?”
Xander made a face.
“I drew the short straw is what’s up. I want to start by saying she’s ok, so don’t freak out-“
“Oh god, what happened to Dawn this time?” Buffy demanded, perfectly aware that Dawn was the only person no one else would want to deliver bad news to her about. Somehow the minis always maneuvered Xander or Willow into doing it, regardless of who Dawn had reported to.
“There was an incident in Quantico overnight,” Xander said. “She called in not that long ago- and no, we didn’t wake you up to talk to her. She was heading to bed herself, cause she was beat.”
“Beat or beaten?” Buffy asked, aware she wasn’t completely succeeding at the ‘try not to freak out’. “She hasn’t even been there twenty-four hours!”
“Yeah, but in our cleverness, we had her travel on Tuesday,” Xander pointed out. “She did her usual ‘I’m fine’ shtick, but before you worry too much, we also got a separate call from Riley saying she’s a little bruised, but nothing serious. They checked her out at the scene, and there was nothing dire enough to insist she go to the hospital. She’s spending the night at Graham’s.”
Buffy raised an eyebrow. Graham was no doubt heartbroken about that. Not that she officially knew about the two of them- Dawn hadn’t said anything to her. But the Slayers who had been with her on the Madagascar assignment were two of the biggest gossips at Slayer Central…
“She’s going to call back when she wakes up in the morning- her morning, that is,” Xander told her. “You can get the blow by blow with the rest of us then, but the short and sweet is some genius decided to sire himself some special forces.”
“Of course this happens as soon as we send Dawn there, as opposed to the twenty or so times Faith has swung through DC.”
“She’s talented like that,” Xander agreed. “Anyway, I have the caffeine and the sugary goodness ready whenever you want it. You only need to say the word.”
“Actually, Xan, I think I need more than just sugar and caffeine this morning.”
Xander got a look of momentary panic.
“I want to have breakfast with you and Wills, just the three of us- unless Giles is back already?”
Xander shook his head, grinning with relief that a private breakfast was all she’d meant.
“Not due in until lunchtime, and that’s assuming the trains are on time, because I don’t think he’s up to driving this morning. Sounds like his London friends threw a pretty good party to celebrate him becoming Lord Rupert.”
“It’s just a shame the honor wasn’t made public. Giles deserves it,” she said, getting up and heading for the bathroom.
“Yeah,” Xander called after her, “but if the Queen awarded it publicly, people would probably want to know what Giles had done to deserve it, and can you imagine how hysterical the Daily Fail would get about vampires?”
Buffy could, and the thought of it made her giggle in the shower.
When she finished, she joined Xander and Willow in the study she’d appropriated as a private dining room last year so she and the Scoobies could occasionally have a relaxed meal somewhere other than their offices without younger Slayers gawking and doing things like putting their elbows in the butter dish because they’d been surreptitiously staring at the ‘famous’ Slayers, the Red Witch, the One Who Sees, or the Senior Watcher.
“Hey Buff. I hear Dawn managed to find trouble on a Tuesday.”
Buffy rolled her eyes.
“I know she’s an adult now, but seriously, I still think it might qualify as a public service to start locking her in a safe room once a week.”
“So is that why you wanted to talk to us?” Xander asked.
Buffy feigned shock.
“I’m hurt! I can’t want to have breakfast with just my two best friends?” she asked.
“I get wanting to have a quiet breakfast, especially with a new crop of minis just in, but you sounded like there was something.”
“There might be,” Buffy agreed, grabbing an almond Danish and a cup of tea. “That’s why I wanted to talk to my bestest buds in the world…”