Objects in the Rearview Mirror
Dawn waited until the Navy Yard was a vanishing speck in the mirror before she turned to Graham.
“Can I borrow your phone again?” she asked.
“I’ve got something better for you,” Graham replied, handing her a package. “New phone with a secure line and a number NCIS doesn’t have. They want to know anything about this baby, they’ll need a FISA warrant- and if anyone requests one, it’ll flag Riley over at Pentagon.”
“How did you get this? I thought you were here at the Navy Yard the whole time!” Dawn protested.
“Riley stopped by with a JAG lawyer from our unit,” Graham replied. “NCIS was mighty curious to know how I got there so quick last night. Don’t worry, Riley told them because of your prior hostage experience when you were a teenager, we all go a little overboard when it comes to your safety. He may have thrown in that incident in Oxford, too. But since he was coming anyway, he brought this with him.”
“Awesome,” Dawn replied, punching numbers as she spoke.
As usual, a Council rep picked up on the first ring. This time Dawn recognized the voice.
“Mona? Hi, Dawn. Yeah, it’s a new phone. No, don’t update the board. It’s restricted- only hand it to senior personnel until Buffy or I tell you otherwise. Yes, please, if she’s around. Uh oh.”
At her ‘uh-oh’, Graham shot her a concerned glance.
“Ok. Well, can you risk disturbing them? It’s important. I’m not exactly freaking out here, but I’m heading towards freakville by way of ‘well that’s not good’.”
She covered the phone.
“Buffy, Willow, Xander, Faith and Giles have been in conference all day. They’re not taking non-emergency calls. No one knows what it’s about, and people are getting a little nervous.”
Graham’s eyes widened. Hearing that Summers and Lehane were both in one place and weren’t taking anything but emergency calls might not be a sign of an apocalypse, but as Dawn would put it, it wasn’t of the good.
“Is it related to what went down here, or something else going on?”
Dawn shrugged as she listened to the other end of the conversation.
Unlike Graham, she knew her sister had something interesting and hopefully non world endy on her mind. Not to mention, the last time Faith and Buffy had hunkered down and made all of Slayer Central nervous, it turned out that Andrew had persuaded them to try Final Fantasy. The pair had been synchronized swearing at the final boss by the time the nervousness hit a crescendo and someone checked on them. She wasn’t worried yet. If there was an apocalypse on, someone would have called.
“Yeah. Ok, Mona, just tell them I’m heading to my one o’clock as soon as I grab lunch, but I’m not happy with how things went at NCIS this morning. I’ll call when I get back to Graham’s. And if they need me for anything Council related, make sure they use this line. I’m not sure if the other one is being monitored. Yeah, thanks, you too. Talk to you later.”
Dawn hung up.
“I’ll call them this evening from your place. Maybe I’ll get the rundown then.”
“You should probably keep using your original phone for non-work related stuff. If NCIS are monitoring your calls, and I expect they will from what they said while they were talking to me, it’ll look weird if you suddenly stop using it.”
“Were they ok with Riley’s explanation?” Dawn wanted to know.
Graham made a face.
“Probably not, but they made it sound like they were. My read on the situation is they know we’re holding out on them. What were they asking you?”
“Really weird stuff,” Dawn replied. “They wanted to know why Buffy and I don’t have birth certificates, which was news to me, and they asked a bunch of stuff about when Buffy was younger. I’m not sure why, the agent said something about her being tied to a previous investigation, but not as a suspect.”
“When were they asking about?” Graham asked, suddenly alert. He remembered the frustration in Initiative circles at the solid dead end they’d hit trying to dig up information on Buffy Summers. The theory back then had been that the Council was protecting the Slayer, but if Dawn didn’t know about it, there might well be more to it.
“He asked specifically about 1991, wanted to know what I could tell him about what Buffy was doing, and if I remembered her being around before that. It was strange.”
Dawn couldn’t tell him that part of the reason she found it so unsettling was because none of her memories from that time were real. Buffy had never told Riley about the Key, and everyone left alive who did know- Buffy, Giles, Willow, Xander, and Spike- had agreed that it was probably best if that information stayed buried.
It had been years before they told Faith the full story, and that had been Dawn’s decision. Buffy had agreed that at 21, Dawn was old enough to understand fully what telling others meant. Although Faith had initially been hurt about being frozen out, once she understood the full implications, she completely backed Buffy and Giles’ feeling that the fewer people who knew, the safer it was for everyone. Graham had no idea.
“And he wouldn’t tell you what investigation it was connected to?”
Dawn shook her head.
“I don’t even know how they latched onto Buffy in the first place. It’s not like she was here. She hasn’t even been in country since the Cleveland Hellmouth was sealed.”
Buffy and Faith were usually reserved for Hellmouth troubleshooting and apocalypse duty these days. With Cleveland finally out of business, if Buffy crossed the Atlantic, she was more likely to be heading to one of Mexico’s twin Hellmouths.
“Your locket,” Graham said quietly. “It had hair. Yours, your sister’s, and your mother’s. If they found it, and got DNA from it, they would check to see if the DNA matched anything already on file.”
“I thought you had to have hair with the root still attached to do that,” Dawn protested. “It’s not like we ripped those hairs out of our scalp.”
“They’d only need to find one or two with the root still attached,” Graham replied. “And who knows, I’m not up on the latest in forensic DNA methods. Maybe they don’t even need that anymore. But I can’t think why they would be asking about her childhood, unless…”
He stopped, frowning.
“Unless what?” Dawn demanded. “No holding out on me, Marine!”
“Unless the match came from a kidnapping case,” Graham said quietly. “A missing child. Why else would they care what she was doing twenty years ago?”
Dawn looked at him blankly.
“That’s ridiculous. Buffy can’t be a missing child. I mean, hello, who kidnaps two children? How can they even think that?”
She stopped abruptly, not liking the answer that had just popped into her head. Unlike Graham, she knew there would have been only one kidnapped child. And that child had been a Potential. She had the sudden, sinking feeling that this could get all kinds of awkward.
“I don’t know. But it’s the only thing I can think of that fits what they were asking.”---
Buffy’s mother looked like she was ready to cry. Buffy, feeling guilty that she’d made her mom upset, took her hand. It was cool, not warm. Like Joyce’s body, part of her memory whispered.
“He was deployed, baby, do you remember?”
Buffy chewed her lip. She did remember, but only in a hazy way.
“He was a Marine. It wasn’t the first time he deployed. He’d gone before. We visited Mom-mom and Pop-pop. Mom-mom yelled at him before we left, just like she always did. Daddy got mad and asked her why she had to do this in front of me. I wasn’t scared, though. I was upset at Mom-mom. Is this the time he didn’t come back?”
Her mother shook her head.
“He came back, baby, but we were gone. Do you remember anything else?”
Buffy shrugged. She knew there was more, but it was like looking through a kaleidoscope- it kept shifting and whirling and the patterns didn’t always make sense. She remembered begging her dad not to go. That always happened whenever he deployed, too.
“We moved. It happened really fast. Our house was rented out, and we followed Daddy to California…”
So that’s when she’d moved to California. Most of the new stuff swirling around her head felt like it had an East Coast vibe to her. But they hadn’t lived in LA, not then.
“We were living on base. I remember I started school there in September. There were a bunch of us who were new, our dads had all deployed. There was something big going on… it must have been Desert Storm. The teachers were all really nice to us. And then… you saw something bad happen?”
Her mother nodded.
“That’s right, baby. I saw something bad happen. I told NIS I would testify in court about it.”
Buffy tried not to let it irritate her that her mother was still talking to her like she was a child. She wasn’t about to say anything, though. She wasn’t sure if this was actually her mother talking, or whether it was just her memory coming back.
“We had a protection officer,” Buffy remembered. “You talked to me about him, so I would understand why he was going everywhere with us. He was supposed to watch you until the bad guy went to jail.”
“That’s right,” her mother said. “He was making sure I was safe until the trial.”
“There was a skating party,” Buffy said slowly, forcing the memory to come. “It was somebody’s birthday. It was really fun, I skated the whole time and didn’t fall down once. We were coming back from the party. I fell asleep in the car. When I woke up-“
She looked up, startled. It was astonishing how sharp the bright line was dividing Buffy from Kelly. What was even sadder was that Kelly felt like a different person. Memories that would normally have faded with age still had the same stunning clarity they would for a nine year old, and they had no connection to the person that girl had become.
“When I woke up, I was Buffy Summers, and I lived in LA. You were gone. Mom, what happened?”
Her mother hugged her.
“I don’t know, baby. But the important thing is, you woke up.”
Buffy pulled back to look at her.
“You didn’t,” she said flatly.
Her mother shook her head.
Buffy knew then and there that if she ever found out who was responsible, they were going to have a very bad day. Rule 22 only applied if it had been normal humans against normal humans. Somehow Buffy didn’t think that was terribly likely in this case. And if it wasn’t humans… well, maybe it was time to make ‘Anything that comes at me through my family is going to die painfully’ a rule.
“Tell me about what happened when you woke up?” her mother asked.
“My parents were Joyce and Hank. My mother was into art, and Hank was a tax attorney. Mom was wonderful. Hank was at first, but not once I was Called.”
Her mother looked at her, and Buffy could tell that this was something she really didn’t understand.
“What happened to you, Kelly baby?” she asked, sounding utterly heartbroken.
Buffy sighed. She really didn’t know how to handle giving The Speech to her dead mother- who might really only be her memory reasserting itself. She decided to go with reassuring instead.
“I’m ok, Mom. Really.”
Her mother gave her a watery smile, as if she knew there was more. Of course, if this was truly her mother talking to her, then it was possible she did. Buffy had run into more than one demon that knew she’d come back. Willow had told her once it showed in her aura if you knew how to see it.
“And Dawn?” her mother asked.
Buffy held her mother’s hand.
“She’s my sister. There were these monks who had something they had to protect at all costs. A hellgoddess was searching for it. They didn’t know what else to do, so they made it human- turned it into my sister. She didn’t exist until I was nineteen. But she’s your daughter just as much as I am.”
Her mother did her best to smile, but the tears spilled down her cheeks.
“Your father’s going to be so confused. Promise me you’ll explain everything to him?”
Maybe not a memory, then, Buffy thought. Would a memory be so insistent- or have such unshakable confidence she’d be seeing her father again?
“Mom, it’ll be ok-“
“You’re so much like him. Kelly, promise me.”
“Ok, mom, I promise.”---
Gibbs was not in a pleasant frame of mind when he strode into autopsy.
“Ah, Jethro,” Ducky greeted him. “I’ve been expecting you.”
“What do you have for me, Duck?” Gibbs demanded.
Ducky stepped over to the door and locked it.
“A question,” he replied seriously.
Gibbs looked at him in surprise. Glancing over at the camera, he noticed it had been disconnected. This conversation was both private and off the record.
“You have my attention.”
“Jethro, Abigail has told me of her findings. That Kelly is alive. That and a few things I have not committed to paper have led me to an unpleasant suspicion.”
He paused, then as if leaping off a cliff, posed his question.
“Jethro, I must ask. Before you deployed to Iraq, did anyone approach you and your wife regarding Kelly? A program for gifted students, perhaps, or a boarding school?”
Gibbs froze. He hadn’t thought about that in years.
“How did you-“
Ducky looked thunderous.
“I was afraid of this. Jethro, what I am about to tell you cannot possibly be entered into any official report. However outlandish it may sound, I assure you it is factual.”
He paused, and when Gibbs didn’t protest, he continued.
“Have you ever encountered a vampire?”
“Where are you going with this, Duck?” Gibbs asked. If anyone else had said it, he would have already been dialing for security to come with the straitjacket. But Ducky sounded far too sure, and Gibbs had known him too long to think it was a bad joke or that the man had gone crazy.
“No place I like,” Ducky replied darkly. “Indulge me- what would you do if vampires were real?”
“Shoot them,” Gibbs said without hesitation.
“Bullets won’t kill them,” Ducky said. “And even the weakest of them are stronger and faster than nearly all humans.”
“I give up, Duck, what do you do?”
“We don’t do anything, Jethro. There are those who do, however. They call themselves the Watcher’s Council- at least, they do if they’re using their real name. They’ve used many fronts and pseudonyms over the years. I suspect this Guardian International Dawn Summers claims as her employer is one of their newer ones.”
“How does this relate to Kelly?”
“They look for young girls with certain talents. Before you ask, it’s unclear to me how exactly they locate these girls, but the Council place great value on them. Potentials, they call them. When they identify one, they will stop at nothing to gain control of her.”
“How do you know this, Duck?” Gibbs asked. “If they’re not into using their name openly.”
“My sister was one of these girls,” Ducky replied.
“I thought you were an only child.”
“I wasn’t always. I had a younger sister. How she came to their attention, I will never know. They convinced my parents to send her away to school early, when she was only seven. We never saw her again.”
“Someone did come to ask if we were interested in sending Kelly to a school for gifted children. Offered a scholarship that would cover everything. We wouldn’t have paid a dime,” Gibbs told him. “Shannon wouldn’t hear of it. I was about to deploy and she didn’t want both of us going and leaving her alone in the house to worry. She said Kelly was staying with her, end of story. We told the man who talked to us that we’d reconsider after my deployment was over. The girls followed me out to Pendleton not long after.”
“And you never heard from him again.”
“I didn’t,” Gibbs replied slowly. “Shannon mentioned he’d contacted her just after New Year’s, to ask if she had changed her mind.”
“And she said she hadn’t,” Ducky guessed.
“That’s the last I knew of it. Hell, I hadn’t thought about that for years. Now that I do, I don’t know how he knew she was in California. We never told him we were moving.”
“It has all the hallmarks of their involvement,” Ducky said. “You see, when I was older, I crossed paths with one of those girls. I say girl, but she was a young adult by then. She told me my sister was dead and I should forget her. If she thought that would work, she was wrong. I did everything I could to find out more about the Council. If they decide a girl is what they’re looking for, you don’t get to say no. They will take her with or without her parents’ consent. Kelly would not be the first.”
“And this all relates to fighting vampires?”
Ducky sighed, and removed his glasses.
“That is the worst part, Jethro. The woman I encountered told me how it relates to fighting vampires- they train the girls to fight them. Once the Council takes a girl, she is trained for that, and that alone. If they are chosen, the fight becomes their life, and they do not have the option to quit or retire. They fight until they lose. Then another girl is chosen to take up the fight. One of her first assignments is to avenge her fallen predecessor.”
“Needless to say, my informant was quite bitter about this. She was not herself chosen to fight, for which small mercy she was thankful. But even once the Council decides that a girl is not suitable to be their fighter, these girls are not simply released. They are instead groomed to become agents of the Council themselves. Some of them are permitted to have a semblance of a normal life- relationships, perhaps even a family. But only those who are deemed sufficiently loyal to the Council. The others become… disposable.”
“So you’re saying-“
“You should not have overly high hopes for Kelly, Jethro. If she was taken by the Council, chances are you will not have any contact with her. The Council is unlikely to permit it. And if they’ve managed to shape her into what they want…”
“Then she is unlikely to want to have any contact with me,” Gibbs finished grimly.
Ducky nodded heavily.
“Diana was deeply unhappy about what she was being asked to do in the service of the Council, but she saw no other option. If they found out her true feelings, they would have killed her. The people running this organization are ruthless, Jethro. They have protection at the very highest levels, and not just from our government- from all governments. They are not subject to any oversight or control. They are a law unto themselves. And they have no compassion whatsoever for those poor girls.”
“Abby said the dead girl in the car with Shannon wasn’t Kelly. But there was a dead girl. One of their fighters?”
“Or one who didn’t make the cut,” Ducky sniffed. “I certainly wouldn’t put it past them to have switched a girl who was no longer useful to them for one they wanted.”
“Is it just Kelly you wanted to talk to me about, Duck?” Gibbs asked, burying frustration and flat out rage as deep as he could. If he ever met an agent of this Watchers’ Council, there would be a reckoning- and not just for Kelly.
“No. It is not only Kelly’s sudden reappearance that triggered my suspicions, Jethro. It is also the manner in which some of the victims of our multiple homicide died. Quite a few of them showed signs of torture. All of them died of exsanguination. Yet there was a distinct lack of blood at the scene. And then I found this.”
He led Gibbs to one of the occupied autopsy tables. The throat of the body had been badly mangled.
“As you can see, there is extensive damage to the throat,” Ducky said, pointing. “However, I was able to determine that much of this damage was post-mortem. Someone was trying to cover up the real cause of death.”
“You’re saying you suspect vampires.”
“Yes,” Ducky replied. “I am taking precautions with these bodies, Jethro, on the off chance that any of them were intended to become vampires themselves. I do not think it is coincidence that Dawn Summers was in that warehouse. She flew in from London and the perpetrators suddenly changed their pattern. I suspect that Miss Summers is an agent of the Council, and has been tasked to investigate a newly discovered vampire outbreak.”
“That would explain why they changed their pattern,” Gibbs mused. “They recognized her as a threat. But they were interrupted before they could finish her or dispose of the other bodies.”
He remembered Finn’s cryptic statement that if anyone had meant to take Dawn, she would have been dead before the MPs arrived. The obvious conclusion was that Finn knew about the Council and its mission- possibly because his unit had a similar one. He couldn’t imagine it sat well with the US government to have a secretive extra-governmental agency that obeyed no rules but its own as their only resort in case of a vampire problem. It made sense that the Corps would be involved.
“And if my suspicions are correct,” he said sadly, “Miss Summers would be the last person to tell you the full truth about what happened in that warehouse.”
Gibbs paused, before looking at the medical examiner in the closest thing to complete bewilderment Ducky had ever seen on his face.
“Ducky, she thinks Kelly is her sister. That both of them grew up in California. Even though that’s not possible- Kelly was with Shannon until the accident, and we only had one daughter. She wasn’t acting- there was genuine confusion on her face when McGee told her she had no birth certificate.”
Ducky sat down on the stool at his computer with a sigh.
“It’s perfectly possible that she truly believes Kelly to be her sister. If both of them have been in the Council’s care since childhood, there’s no telling what sort of conditioning they’ve been exposed to. Human memory is not as reliable as we like to think, Jethro. Given sufficient time and prompting, most people can be convinced that they remember things that never happened. A skilled manipulator can produce highly detailed memories the victim will subsequently swear are their own- and they become upset when the validity of those memories is challenged. It’s a bit like reprogramming a computer. Children are particularly vulnerable.”
Gibbs looked thunderous, not that Ducky had expected anything else. Abuse of children was always a sure-fire way to rile Gibbs. Abuse of his
He sighed. Unlike most cases in which he was even eager to see Gibbs catch the perpetrator, this time he was worried. The Council was above and beyond anything Jethro had ever tangled with before.
“I’ll see what Dawn can tell me. But I want to at least talk to Kelly, Duck. One way or another.”
Ducky nodded heavily. He’d expected as much.
“Be careful, Jethro. From what I know of them, the Council are quite capable of killing your career. Or killing you, should they decide it’s necessary.”