Chapter One: Amber Alert
A/N: Once again, big thanks to verkisto for her impeccable assistance with betaing this. Any errors are mine.
C&C as always, is welcome.
Enjoy the story!
October 11, 2010
Redondo Beach, CA, United States
John Casey growled as the detective left the Bartowski residence. The urge to inflict pain grew as renewed sobs could be heard from the nursery. For all the shit he gave Bartowski and Walker, they sure as hell didn't deserve to have this happen to them.
As he shut the door to the Redondo Beach residence, a sharp trill emanated from his pocket. Thankful for the distraction, he placed the offending device to his ear. "Casey."
"Major Casey," came the tired voice of General Beckman, "get the Bartowskis into their office. We may have a breakthrough. I'll be waiting for the video conference."
Hoping that this would result in some imminent violence, Casey climbed the stairs to the nursery. Peeking in, to his dismay, nothing had changed. Bartowski idly handled a stuffed bear, staring blankly out the window. Ellie sat on the bench, cradling a sobbing Walker. Walker crying more than freaked him out. While she had lacked the edge that he carefully cultivated for himself, she was at least competent for a spook. To see her dissolve into this mess of hormones was just downright depressing. Bartowski was partly to blame for sure; he was the one who had domesticated Walker. Still, even Casey's crusty heart was hurt and pissed as a result of the events of the past two days.
"Bartowski, Walker, Beckman wants to talk to you two now," Casey stated, as he gestured downstairs towards the office. "I don't want to get your hopes up, but she says they may have a breakthrough."
Hope flared momentarily in Bartowski's eyes before he schooled his face. In light of the circumstances, Casey refrained from making his typical comments as Bartowski embraced Walker and encouraged her to stand up. Fucking pigs had done a real job on her. To his everlasting relief, the waterworks subsided into sputtering hiccups and Bartowski got her to head downstairs.
"John," Ellie called out, before he could follow the Bartowskis downstairs, "I'm going to help Devon in the kitchen. Do you guys need any drinks while I'm there?"
The prospect of Woodcomb-vintage food made his stomach growl, reminding him that he had skipped breakfast. "Don't bother, we'll be good," Casey assured her, as he headed out of the nursery.
Entering the office, Casey repressed a sigh when he saw that the leather couch had been taken over by the Bartowskis. That left him with that damn chair with a stiff spine. At least the only sign of Walker's crying jag were red eyes and blotchy skin.
A ping chimed to signal the satellite connection was established, prompting Casey to close the door and seal the room.
"Agent Bartowski, Mr. Bartowski, thank you for your prompt arrival," General Beckman greeted them. It was disconcerting to see baggy eyes marring the normally impeccable appearance of Beckman. "Before we proceed, do you swear that the events you told the local authorities are accurate, Agent Bartowski?"
To Casey's satisfaction, Walker's face flushed red in anger. It was good to see something other than grief. "Yes! I'm not crazy, I swear," Walker protested. "I know it was impossible, but I know I saw –"
"That will be enough Agent Bartowski," Beckman interrupted, holding up her hand. "The following information is far beyond all three of your security clearances, but I've received special disposition to bring you into the fold."
Even Casey gave in to the urge to grin, having received the first tantalizing hint of good news in two days.
Beckman sighed in response. "Don't get too excited. I've had to do a lot of groveling to get this organization to even hear you out."
Bartowski finally lost his cool. "What kind of people would refuse to help when –"
"Bartowski!" Beckman snapped. "Unfortunately, there is good reason for this organization to be hesitant to associate with the Federal Government, especially the NSA. My predecessor attempted to capture some operatives of this organization. They are the reason that he is six feet under and I was promoted to this position one-star short of what I should have been." Casey shared an uneasy look with the Bartowskis at this pronouncement. "There is an unofficial standing executive order that, in all interactions with this organization, we are to be deferential in our behavior. Is that understood?"
The trio nodded their agreement.
For the first time during the conversation, Beckman smiled softly. "I'm glad we're on the same page. Once we get their representative in this conference, I'm going to want you to recount precisely what happened, Agent Bartowski. Are you up to it?"
Jutting her chin out, Walker stared back at the screen defiantly. "As long as I don't get called 'mentally disturbed and delusional' again, I'll do whatever it takes to get my baby back."
Beckman snorted in response. "Trust me, these people won't call you crazy. Hold on a moment while we patch –"
Surprise flickered across Beckman's face as her portion of the screen was halved. A black expanse filled the new half of the screen with the words 'SOUND ONLY' dominating the top portion and 'IWC Representative Rosenberg' displayed on the bottom.
"No need to patch me in, General," a detached female voice chimed in. To Casey's surprise he swore he saw something akin to fear on Beckman's face before she schooled her expression. "Mr. and Mrs. Bartowski, my condolences for your situation. I hope that we will be able to assist you in the safe and speedy retrieval of your child."
Caution warred with gratitude on both Bartowski and Walker's faces before they simultaneously said, "Thank you." It always freaked Casey out when they two of them acted in sync.
"Our pleasure," the voice responded with a hint of warmth. "Now Agent Bartowski, would you be so kind as to describe precisely what happened yesterday morning."
Walker wrung her hands in blatant distress. "It was right after eight in the morning yesterday. Chuck had just left for work and I realized that Alex had been uncharacteristically quiet. Even though at night he sleeps in the crib in our bedroom ever since we took him home from the hospital, I placed him in his crib in the nursery after his morning feeding shortly before six yesterday morning." Walker leaned into Bartowski, attempting to compose herself. "There were two men inside the nursery," Walker explained haltingly.
"I withdrew my pistol immediately, but the one closest to me grabbed Alex and held him as a shield. I… I had no clear shot. The man looked strange. His skin was nearly bright orange, as if he had spent too much time in a tanning booth gone wrong, and there were these odd growths all over his face," Walker said despondently. Casey didn't blame her. At this point in the story yesterday, the police had drawn Bartowski aside and asked if she had been taking hallucinogens. It had been a bitch getting those assaulting an officer charges dropped.
"The second man at this point just stared at me. He was Caucasian, short, I'd say around five feet six inches, and spoke with an Eastern Seaboard accent. My bet would be from a New York borough. He was wearing a black leather jacket and an ugly hat, like something K-Fed might wear."
A muffled curse came from the speakers. "Hold on a moment," the voice instructed. Ten seconds later, a pencil sketch of a dough-faced male appeared on the screen. "Is this your guy?"
A sharp hiss could be heard as recognition flared in Walker's eyes. "Yes, that's the man."
"The only name we have for him is Whistler," the voice lectured. "In the past, he's claimed to be an emissary from higher powers. We have had two known encounters with him. His MO has been to simply deliver unwanted news in an annoying manner. Kidnapping babies is new to us. Did he say anything to you?"
Walker nodded. "He said, 'Sorry lady, but he's needed elsewhere.' Then," Walker paused to compose herself, "something happened. I don't know what it was, but the air distorted around them and they all disappeared."
"Were there any patterns in the distortion?" the voice asked. "Like, did it swirl or ripple? We're trying to narrow down the species of the other sentient."
Other species? Shit, this lady was starting to make Walker sound like the only sane one in the room. Walker looked trapped between being ecstatic that a person in authority wasn't questioning her mental state and being in despair over the abduction of his godson.
"It… I guess it was like a cluster of small bubbles forming," Walker replied, her forehead scrunched in concentration.
"All right, I'm tasking people to start researching what it might have been," the voice replied, the screen switching back to its previous state. "What is the full name of your son? I'll get some people to start mining databases in case someone slipped and inserted your son's real name into something official."
"Alexander Elliot Bartowski," the Bartowskis answered again simultaneously. Thank god Casey would never have to deal with this sappy shit; his heart was safe with some French agent he'd never see again.
"On it. You're damn lucky I'm in town right now," the voice noted. "If you're willing, we'll send out a car to pick the two of you up and bring you back to our offices. There, we can conduct some more esoteric and effective searches for your son."
Bartowski nodded his consent immediately, but Walker stared cautiously at the screen.
A sigh was heard over the speakers. "Don't worry, feel free to bring all the weapons you want with you, if it makes you feel better. And, no, Major Casey will not be welcome. Unless something drastic happens, no NSA personnel will be permitted in our facilities."
There was a silent exchange between Bartowski and Walker before Walker caved and nodded her consent. Casey suppressed the urge to tear whomever this woman was a new hole for besmirching his beloved organization. She was offering to help get his godson back.
"All right, the car will be there within the hour. Depending on how long this takes, dinner will be on us, if necessary. We will consider it a courtesy if you don't tail the car back to our offices. We assure you that both Bartowskis will be returned unmolested unless this is a Trojan horse. You do remember the consequences, right, General Beckman?"
Beckman twitched, to Casey's amusement and horror. When she had composed herself, she replied, "I assure you that this is all above board. The last lesson your Council gave us, Ms Rosenberg, should hopefully last a generation or two."
"Glad to hear. I need to prepare for your arrival, so I'll see you two in person shortly." Representative Rosenberg's half of the screen abruptly blinked out of existence, restoring General Beckman's visage to the full screen.
"I'm not pleased that you're going to physically place yourself in their custody, Mr. Bartowski," Beckman chided. Bartowski's gaze simply became even more defiant, while Walker stared at him in a concerned manner. The thought of Bartowski walking into the den of an organization that scared Beckman probably didn't even cross her mind. Sloppy.
"Don't get me wrong, you will be perfectly safe. I'm more concerned that they'll try to recruit you," Beckman noted wryly. "They specialize in employing people with unique abilities. On that note, I wish you the best of luck."
The signal cut out, leaving the three of them alone in the office.
Moments later, Bartowski stood up, extending a hand to Walker. "We should probably clean up a bit. I don't think either of us have taken a shower since yesterday." Walker accepted his hand, giving Bartowski a fragile smile before unsealing the room and heading out.
Bartowski went to follow her but paused at the door and looked back towards Casey. "Mind watching over the house with Ellie and Awesome while we're gone in case any developments happen?" Casey nodded; it was the least he could do. "Thanks. Oh, Morgan will join you guys at five after he finishes his shift." With that parting comment, Bartowski was off to follow Walker.
Motherfucker. Now he had to deal with Grimes on top of everything else? Casey hoped that those bastards responsible for kidnapping his godson were found quickly; the urge to kill was getting hard to ignore.
Long Beach, CA, United States
Scratching her ass, Faith decided it was time to finally get out of bed. She glanced at the clock, which displayed that it was nearly three in the afternoon. Hot damn, she sure had caught up on her beauty sleep. Not that she needed it, in her expert opinion.
Opening her blinds, Faith grunted as the sunlight streamed into the room, causing her to blink. From her fourth floor unit, she could see traffic on the 710 backed up beyond her line of sight. Thankfully, she wasn't going to be a dumb bitch planning on driving during rush hour today.
She completed her morning ritual of stretching out the kinks and taking a piss. It was time to face the day and be responsible. Throwing on a pair of jeans with a shirt covered by a light jacket, Faith moseyed out of her door and stepped into the elevator. Two floors later, she stepped into the Los Angeles offices of Global Heritage and Antiquities Foundation. It was convenient to work at home.
Faith waved to Sandra Grey, the head Watcher for the Los Angeles branch of the IWC. Grey reminded Faith of her first watcher in all the right ways. The older sister to a slayer from Flagstaff, Grey had a vested interest in looking out for the five Slayers under her care. Didn't hurt that she was wicked smart too. Add in six months stationed with Havok and Grey wasn't shy about fighting dirty.
Opening the door to her office – huh, never thought she'd have an office – Faith noticed to her relief that there was nothing in her inbox. She could have sworn she was forgetting something, though –
"You took your sweet time waking up today."
Oh, yeah, Red was arriving this morning to drop off that Wicca Grey had requested over a year ago. Good to see the Coven was so timely in its assistance. Los Angeles may no longer have a regional Hellmouth, but it did have the second-highest concentration of Slayers for a city in North America. Plastering a smile on her face, Faith turned to greet her colleague, who was lounging in a chair stashed in the corner. Damn, Red was dressed all fancy-like in a black suit-dress. Faith wasn't sure what it was called, but it looked like something a politician would wear. "Sorry, Red, was up 'til six this morning on a conference call with Cleveland and Tiko discussing the state of the Slayer."
Unexpectedly, Red smiled softly and snorted. "I'm sorry. It's been over six years, but whenever I think of Xander establishing a continental headquarters on a plantation outside of a town named Tiko, I just crack up."
Faith shrugged and returned a genuine smile this time as she sat her ass down in her leather chair behind her desk. "What can I say, Havok had to go find a town whose name fit his wardrobe. I just can't believe that D followed his ass out there."
To Faith's surprise, Red shot her a sly smile. Maybe Red was defrosting after over a decade of giving her the cold shoulder. "That's probably more due to Dawnie wanting to get away from evil boyfriend number three of Buffy's."
"No shit," Faith replied, rolling her eyes. "I'm just glad to be living proof that being a Slayer doesn't mean you're doomed to fuck your prey. I'm perfectly satisfied with my streak of living-dildos, none of which have tried to kill me. Speaking of B, I haven't spoke to her in a while. She still want to hang Havok's balls over the fireplace, or do those two now co-exist in a state of détente?" Seeing the incredulous look on Red's face, Faith schooled a hurt expression on her face. "What?"
"You used a word like 'détente' in the appropriate context, wow," Red uttered, apparently in shock. "What's the temperature in hell right now?"
"Ah, shut your trap, you snobby bitch," Faith retorted, scowling. "You think I can't pull fancy words out of my ass like the rest of you edu-ma-cated people?" At this, Red merely raised an eyebrow. "Fine, fine. I was tracking a vamp that for some reason was skipping all the prime meals. Followed it into a lecture hall at Occidental. Dude up front was going on about U.S. foreign relations during the Cold War. To my surprise, the vamp actually pulled out a notebook and started to take notes." Faith paused to let Red finish chortling.
"So I had a wannabe politician vamp on my hands. Decided to stake his ass before he graduated via night class or whatever in case he decided to go to law school. No need to let this dude make the Triforce of Evil. You know, vamp, politician, lawyer," Faith said, ticking off each 'evil' with a finger.
Red had now begun to giggle like some school kid. "'Triumvirate' I believe is the word you're looking for. Triforce is from Zelda."
Faith shrugged. "Triumvirate, Triforce, same thing. I'll blame Havok for that. I spent two weeks at his place last month playing his games and sucking up to D."
A puzzled expression appeared on Red's face. "Why were you sucking up to Dawn?"
"You do know she has a bun in the oven, right?" Faith asked. Red nodded, as expected. Sad as it was, Red was probably Havok's first call. "I'm totally lobbying to be that brat's godmother."
Outrage blossomed on Red's face. "No way, missy! I'm not the one who tried to kill … Wait, I did. Never mind. Still, we grew up together! I'm going to be the godmother."
It was nice to see that she could now push Red's buttons without having her eyes turn black. "Nah, remember who the beloved head of his security detail is? That's right, your ex," Faith drawled out, grinning at how Red flinched. "Now, which one of us is on speaking terms with everyone's favorite rich bitch of a carpet muncher? She's already singing my praises on a daily basis. Hence, my lobbying trumps your emotional appeals."
Red's mouth opened and closed like a guppy. "First, that's just low. Second, 'lobbying'? Seriously, are you watching C-SPAN these days, Faith?"
Kicking her feet beneath her desk, Faith placed her hand over her mouth and batted her eyes in an attempt to look demure. "Sorry Red, a girl's gotta keep some secrets. Maybe over some wine tonight I'll let you explore my hidden depths."
Point, set and match. Red's face attempted to match her hair.
"Why are you still here, anyways?" Faith asked, before Red could retort. "I figured you'd bail as soon as you dropped off the newbie."
"Well, while you were sleeping, I was on the phone with the head lady of the NSA," Red stated, as she reached into her tote bag.
"What the fuck?" Faith spat out, standing up. "Why were you talking to those shits?"
In response, she got two thick folders tossed to her. Scowling at Red, Faith parked herself back in her seat.
"Two CIA agents got a visit by Whistler and an unknown demon. Their three-week old son was kidnapped."
Faith deflated at that news. "I guess that's a worthy cause," Faith noted, as she began to scan the top folder. "Damn, this babe is stone cold. I can't believe they sent you all this classified four-one-one."
"Please, I had Tyler hack the Intersect," Red said, the smirk audible. "It's kind of cute how clueless they are that their top secret databases are completely vulnerable to techno pagans."
"Huh," Faith muttered, as she progressed to the second folder. "So you mentioned Whistler. Who was demon number two?"
"No clue," Red offered, in an all-too-chipper tone. "I have London and Hong Kong looking up the answer for me. I'm so glad I'm no longer research girl."
Issuing a non-committal grunt, Faith focused back on the file of Charles Bartowski. Did the government seriously have eighteen pages detailing the different types of video games he played?
Kate Perry's I Kissed a Girl
filled the room, causing Red to blush as she picked up her cell phone. "Uh huh." A pause. "That doesn't sound good. E-mail what you got to s-dot-grey-at-iwc-dot-org. Instruct her to print it out immediately. Thanks, David," Red said, before she snapped her phone shut. "Hong Kong got a hit on our demon. It's a doozy."
"Real subtle ringtone there, Red," Faith drawled out, ignoring the subject of the demon.
A sharp knock on the doorframe halted whatever rebuttal Red may have had. "Ms Rosenberg, the supplies are ready for you in the conference room. All that is missing are the blood samples," a pert-looking Asian woman said, standing in the doorway.
"Thank you Ahram," Red replied, standing up from her chair. "Faith, this is Ahram Ko. She's from the Halifax Coven. Ahram, this is Faith Lehane. She's the Senior Slayer for the Los Angeles branch of the IWC."
Faith idly raised a hand and gave the new witch a wave. "Pleasure."
"No, the pleasure's all mine," Ahram gushed, drawing a raised eyebrow from Faith. "Sorry, I know I'm a bit hyper right now. I'm just so ecstatic about finally getting a posting, and it's one with the IWC!" Now Red was joining in with the blank stares, although she was at least able to give a polite smile. "Sorry, I also had a double-shot espresso about five minutes ago. I think I'll head upstairs and start unpacking."
The girl shot off like a ping-pong ball, leaving the two women to stare blankly at her after-image.
"You gave me a hyper chick just to piss me off, didn't ya, Red?" Faith asked, after a few moments of awkward silence.
Looking a tad guilty, Red shrugged. "I never met her before picking her up last night in Montreal." Translation: I read the personnel reports and decided to unload her on you.
As Faith went to open her mouth to retort, I Kissed a Girl
once more filled the room.
"All right, I'll be right down in the lobby," Red said briskly, as she shut her phone and picked up her tote bag. "Our CIA friends are here. Do you want to sit in on the meeting in the Conference Room?"
Faith shrugged as she rose out of her chair. "Sure, why not?" Faith drawled, as she followed Red out of the conference room. They paused while Red picked up the info regarding the second demon from the printer. "You're not going to stick me with doing the 'one girl in the world' speech, are ya?"
"Nope," Red assured her, as they arrived in front of the elevator doors. "I had Jenny and Natasha pick them up, so they got tasked with giving them the speech."
"In that case, I'll go claim my seat," Faith said, as she headed down the hall to the conference room. "Don't worry, I won't touch any of your crap," Faith commented, preempting any complaint from Red.
The conference room was refreshingly simple. A long table dominated it, with several office chairs bought at Costco spread out for optimal sitting arrangements. The east wall held a large screen for playing videos, if necessary. Faith sighed when she saw that the heavy drapes had been opened. The window facing the south went wasted in this room. Although it provided a spectacular view of palm trees and the towering hotels of the Long Beach Marina, it left them far too exposed to any potentially malicious eyes.
Closing the drapes, Faith plopped down in a chair and checked out Red's supplies. A divining crystal was laid out over a stack of maps. A small stone basin rested next to them, with a stash of various herbs set out by type next to it. Witchcraft reminded her far too often of the few chemistry classes she had attended. Last time she attended one, she accidentally spilled some acid or base on her partner. Shortly thereafter, her Watcher was dead and it was time to get the hell out of Dodge.
The sound of voices approaching caught her attention, putting Faith on alert. Faith was not pleased that Red had invited government spooks into her
Upon seeing the pair entering the room behind Red, Faith relaxed slightly. They looked like complete shit. Well, the woman was a looker and the guy definitely had the attractive dork look going for him, but the utter despair in their posture and glazed eyes the two were sporting showed two parents broken by the abduction of their child. Wait – they were still CIA goons, though. The chick – Lady Bond – had at least fifteen knives on her, by Faith's count, and a pistol stashed near her ass. That made them broken parents who were ready to mete out vengeance upon those who hurt their child. Faith could respect that.
"Take whichever seats you wish," Willow offered, playing the role of host. "Faith, Mr. and Mrs. Bartowski. This is Faith, the Senior Slayer of the Los Angeles branch."
Lady Bond immediately focused on Faith like a predator. Looked like she understood the implications of what a Slayer was. Her boy gave her a half-amazed stare; he was obviously still trying to wrap his mind over his expanded viewpoint of reality.
"Yo," Faith chipped in, attempting to defuse Lady Bond. "Sorry to hear about what happened. Don't worry, Red here is the best at what she does."
Lady Bond's expression softened to return to the façade of neutrality she was sporting when she entered. "Thank you," she said softly, before turning to focus back on Red.
"Call me Chuck," the man offered, flashing her a sad smile.
"Sure thing, Chuckles."
A soft cough came from the front of the room. "Before we start, did Natasha withdraw blood samples from the two of you?" Willow asked, doing an excellent impression of a schoolmarm. With a wary expression on her face, Lady Bond handed over a pair of vials. "Excellent. Now, lets start off with the bad news."
A whimper escaped from the lips of Lady Bond, as Chuckles tightened his grip on her hand. Way to go Red.
"We believe we have identified the other demon," Red stated, handing a sheet to Lady Bond. "This is what the unknown demon looked like, correct?"
Lady Bond nodded.
"All right. Until yesterday, there have been only two recorded sightings of this demon, both in East Asia," Red lectured, oblivious that these people didn't want an explanation – they just wanted their child back. "We don't have a name translated for it in English, so I won't bother. The problem is, this demon transcends time and space, as we comprehend it, at least. The woodblock carving I showed you came from a monk who encountered one in the late 13th century near the city of Wuhan. Well, it's called Wuhan today, but it wasn't then." Red trailed off for a moment when she realized she was babbling.
"Anyways, one day, the monk was right outside his temple when the demon grabbed him. According to the manuscript, the monk experienced an alien sensation and found himself in the middle of an unknown temple. Now, this is where things get weird. There was documentation of the monk living in the late 13th century before his abduction. This manuscript was found at the unknown temple, near what is today known as Shenyang. The date of his arrival in this document translates into the Gregorian calendar as roughly 1150 A.D. Other manuscripts by contemporary monks apparently verify this account. The monk was transported over a thousand miles across China and to nearly a century before his birth."
"What exactly are you saying?" Chuckles asked, with a lost look on his face. Faith saw Lady Bond's expression harden. CIA or not, Faith would be willing to help subdue Whistler and this mystery demon to let her stab the shit out them.
Red sighed wearily. "I'm saying you need to prepare for your son to no longer be just shy of three weeks old. It's possible that he was sent back a century or, who knows, maybe sent forward a century." Both parents sported looks of disbelief on their faces. Faith figured, though, it was aimed at the overall situation, not the facts. Whoever did their 'the world is older than you know it' speech did a damn good job. Faith would have to find out which girl it was and delegate all future speeches to them.
"Now, here's what I can do. Using a mixture of your blood, I can scry to find any immediate relatives. Parents, siblings, children. And due to the particulars of your situation, I'll also scry for any other descendants. We'll start off with a map of the Los Angeles region and progress from there, all right?"
"Do it," Lady Bond ordered, before tempering her request with "please."
Faith watched with disinterest as Red mixed some herbs together in the basin, poured the blood in and set it on fire. Red then took the divining crystal and doused it in the gunk she had created. She then laid out a map of the Los Angeles region. Chanting in what Faith recognized as Latin, Red began to swing the crystal over the map. Faith stood up to be able to see where exactly the crystal would point to on the map.
Three short pillars of green rose up immediately.
"All right, these two are you two," Red said, pointing at the two pillars virtually on top of each other. "Who is this in Redondo?"
Chuckles and Lady Bond answered simultaneously.
"My sister –"
"All right, I'm going to switch to a map of the United States," Red informed them, reaching out to the pile beside her.
Once more Red repeated the dousing of the crystal and the chanting in Latin. This time, four green pillars rose out of the map, one from what looked to be Colorado.
"That would be my dad," Lady Bond said, a scowl briefly appearing on her face. "He's in ADX Florence."
Faith barely stopped herself from letting loose a whistle of appreciation. Hah, she could exercise restraint when it was appropriate.
Red frowned momentarily before unfolding a large map of the world. Once more, the chanting started.
Three pillars in California. One in Colorado. Moments passed where nothing else rose up as Red covered the Americas, Europe and Asia. Sweat was visible on Red's brow as she worked her magic.
Two pillars of green rose up. West Africa.
Both Bartowskis gasped as they stared at the pillars.
In relief, Red slumped back down into her chair. "Give me a moment to relax from channeling that much energy. So who do you know in - is that Nigeria or Cameroon?"
A look passed between the Bartowskis. "No… It could be my mother," Chuckles suggested hesitantly. "I haven't seen her since I was sixteen."
Faith squinted, looking in. "Hey, you guys are in luck. Looks like your mystery relatives are right on top of our facilities in Tiko," Faith said, in what she hoped to be a reassuring tone. "We could easily task a team to look for your son there."
An appreciative smile came from Chuckles, but Lady Bond refused to break her game face. "Thank you," Chuckles said, his voice deep with emotion. "You've given us a lead, at least. I still can't believe we're seeing real magic. Now we can –"
"Excuse me, Ms Rosenberg?" Sandra's voice came from the PA system. "There is a Priority Merlin call for you from Watcher Summers. Repeat, there is a Priority Merlin call for you from Watcher Summers. Please come up to the communications room immediately."
Willow turned her head up, a look of shock on her face, as the message played. Faith didn't blame her. Priority Merlin meant somebody needed assistance with magic, pronto. Last time Havok called it in, some douche of a Warlock was trying to enslave a good portion of Uganda so he could use its population in a ritual sacrifice, in order to summon an Old One. No one had been pleased when that dick had escaped.
Standing up, Willow was halfway out the room before she turned back and said, "Sorry, I need to take this."
"Send Havok my love!" Faith called out after her, before returning to her seat.
Chuckles and Lady Bond spoke over one another once more.
Faith pointed to Lady Bond. "I'll answer yours first. Priority Merlin means that there's some serious shit going down, magic-related. The fact that Red here was requested by name, I give it fifty-fifty odds that we have a potential Apocalypse happening." That finally broke Lady Bond's cool, and her face paled.
"Now for you, Chuckles. I'm guessing you're a dork, right?"
Color returned to Chuckles' face as he frowned at her. "Nerd, actually."
"Whatever. Anyways, what's the real name of Havok in the X-men?"
To her shock, it was Lady Bond that answered. "Alex Summers."
Staring incredulously, Faith nodded. "Yup, Alex Summers is Havok. Now, when my good friend Havok got married, his name was Alexander Harris." The flinches at her mentioning the name of 'Alexander' did not go unnoticed. "Sorry 'bout that. Anyways, he wasn't too hot on his last name, so he took his wife's last name, Summers."
Calling him not hot on his last name was an understatement. Faith had been following him like a puppy in the days after Sunnydale, trying to atone for the whole fuck-and-strangle deal during Havok's last year in High School. She was with him when he met up with his Uncle Rory, who not only informed him that his parents were dead, but that Havok was adopted. He gave some bullshit line about how Havok's parents didn't want him to know he wasn't theirs. Faith hated emotional breakdowns, but she was thankful that she got to hold him as he bawled (the tears leaking out of his left eye-socket were fucking trippy) as he tried dealing with the fact that the fucks who abused him his entire childhood weren't even his birth parents. "Hence, Alex Summers, a.k.a Havok."
"Ah," Chuckles noted, before returning his attention to Lady Bond.
An awkward silence fell upon the room.
"I'll be right back. Anyone want some coffee?"
Willow tapped her foot impatiently as she waited for the elevator doors to open. What could have been so important that Xander called her for a Priority Merlin? A faint pang of guilt flashed through her at abandoning the Bartowskis, but Xander would always be a priority for her.
At last, the doors opened and Willow rushed out towards the communication room. She nodded to Sandra, who was exiting, before taking a seat in front of a widescreen monitor. Willow typed in her username and password to enable Xander's face on the screen. Uh-oh. He did not look happy.
"Sorry to keep you waiting, Xander," Willow babbled, cursing the way he could turn her back into an insecure nine year old with a single glare. "What's wrong?"
"Please tell me you were the one who just pinged me, magically," Xander implored, fear lacing his voice.
Willow opened her mouth and closed it. "Wait – someone penetrated the protections I gave you with a scry?"
"Yup, just as I was getting ready for bed," Xander stated without humor. "Not just me. It tripped the protections you gave Dawn too, but it was focused on her stomach. I'm guessing the uterus, to be specific. Which means someone with a hell of a lot of magical power just scryed out my family line. I’m really hoping it was you."
No way. Oh, Goddess. No way. Impossible. No way.
Willow snapped out of her daze at Xander's shout.
"Wills, you're freaking me out here. Your face turning pale is making me real nervous. Do I need to worry about something attacking Dawn?"
Trying to form words but failing, Willow settled on shaking her head. She raised a finger to signal for him to wait while she tried to restart her brain. "Xander, I think it was me," Willow said at last. "Will you stay awake? I'm going to need about thirty minutes to verify my suspicions. Please, if I'm right, you'll want to know this."
To her relief, Xander nodded his consent. Disconnecting the transmission, Willow turned her attention to finding the building's paging system. Thank the Goddess that IWC employed the same contractor for communications worldwide.
Pressing the correct button, Willow cleared her throat. "Will Ahram Ko please report immediately to the conference room to prep it for teleporting a quick shipment. Repeat, will Ahram Ko please report to the conference room to prep it for transporting materials via teleportation. Sandra, I need you to withdraw a vial of blood each from both Mr. and Mrs. Bartowski. I'll join you in a few moments."
Picking up the phone at the console, Willow paused momentarily, trying to determine whom to call. Giles – he would be the best choice. If her suspicions panned out, he would want to be notified anyways. A quick glance at her watch showed it was only half past eleven in London. Punching in the numbers to his personal line, she waited for him to pick up.
"Hello," a groggy voice answered the phone.
"Giles! It's me, Willow! I didn't realize you would be in bed so early, old chap," Willow teased, as she nervously bounced in her seat. "I need you to do something for me."
A string of unintelligible muttering could be heard. "Lovely to speak with you as well, Willow. You're usually much more pleasant than the rest of your American brethren, so I presume there is a reason for your dearth of conversational niceties. How may I be of assistance?"
It was amazing how Giles could maintain propriety in nearly any situation. "I'm about to teleport some blood samples to the labs. Can I get you to ensure personally that they are analyzed immediately? Trust me, this is important. I don't care who you have to wake up or get in there; I just need them there and ready in about ten minutes."
"Of course. As you are well aware, it is staffed around the clock. I'll walk right over and be waiting for your call," Giles replied after a short pause, confusion evident in his voice.
"Thanks Giles. I'll call you back in ten," Willow said as she hung up the phone.
Willow rushed back out to the elevator, vibrating with excitement. She couldn't be sure her suspicions were correct. It would make sense, though. One pillar for Xander, the missing baby. One pillar for his child, a descendent. It was possible that Xander was simply a product of an affair of one of their parents. Still, a small part of her whispered, this would explain why Xander's birth parents had abandoned him.
And the missing baby was named Alexander.
Exiting onto the second floor again, she zoomed back into the conference room. Mrs. Bartowski appeared overwhelmed and nonplussed as Sandra was finishing withdrawing more blood from her. Mr. Bartowski stared incredulously at Ahram, who was painting the runes for teleporting.
"What kicked up the beehive, Red?" Faith asked, using that ridiculous nickname she insisted upon. "Is Africa going to be here tomorrow?"
"Africa's fine," Willow muttered idly, as she watched Ahram carefully draw a rune on the hardwood floor. Willow hoped that the floor was coated with a varnish or something that made it easy to wipe clean.
"So what's with the Priority Merlin? Havok has never had a false alarm," Faith inquired, not catching on that Willow was trying to double-check that Ahram was drawing correctly. "Red, hello?" There, Ahram was done. "Hey Red!"
Willow ignored Faith as she turned to Sandra. "Vials, please." Receiving the vials, she placed them in the center of the four runes that had been drawn. Ahram stepped back as Willow reached out to embrace Mother Gaia and began to chant. Transporting material instantaneously required an obscene amount of detail and concentration for the desired goods to arrive at the correct destination undamaged. Willow began to chant a mixture of Latin and Egyptian, throwing in the odd Germanic word. The vials of blood described perfectly; the location of the IWC London Labs visualized with the magic to the finest detail; the concept that Willow wanted these transported immediately – Willow's chant incorporated all three of these elements to create the spell. After nearly six minutes, she was done. The space around the vials distorted and they disappeared.
Ignoring the gasps of shock coming from the Bartowskis, Willow whipped out her cell phone. It was a little sad that the London labs were speed dial number six.
"Hello, this is Sheila. This is Willow, I presume?"
Willow's lips quirked into a smile. "Yes, it is. I take it Giles is there?"
"Yes, he is. We just received your vials of blood. What do you want me to do with them?"
"I need you to compare their DNA with those of one of our employees. Specifically, Alexander Lavelle Summers, Head Watcher for Africa. He's based in our Tiko branch. Determine what kind of familial relationship he has to the submitted vials." Willow noted in satisfaction that Faith spat out the coffee in her mouth as the Bartowskis stared, trembling.
"All right. As ordered, this has priority. Give me fifteen minutes."
"I'll be expecting the call." Willow snapped her phone shut and slumped down into the chair in exhaustion. Scrying the world's population and then teleporting blood to London had taken quite a bit out of her.
"What the fuck, Red?" Faith asked in disbelief, her mouth incapable of remaining closed.
"Hold on, Faith," Willow instructed before turning to where Ahram and Sandra sat next to one another. "You two, leave. And don't even think about contacting Xander or Dawn until I get confirmation one way or another."
Sometimes it was good to be on the executive council for the Council. Only Giles – and maybe Xander – could overrule her.
Next, she turned her attention to Faith and the Bartowskis. "I don't want to get your hopes up too much, so please remain calm, all right?" Mr. Bartowski nodded while Mrs. Bartowski just gave her a steely glare. Wonderful. "The Priority Merlin was called in because, Xander – I suppose Alexander Summers, if you want to be technical – felt my scry. I'm pretty sure he was a green pillar in Cameroon."
It hurt to see the hope flare in the Bartowskis' eyes. If her suspicions were correct, their three-week-old baby was now twenty-nine years old. "We don't know if our Alexander is your Alexander."
"Wait!" Mr. Bartowski blurted out. "There were two pillars. Only our son went missing. How could there be two pillars?"
Willow exchanged a glance with Faith. Although she truly believed these people weren't part of an elaborate scheme of the United States to try to kill or capture them, she wasn't sure how far she could trust them. But if they were Xander's parents – "Xander is married. His wife is currently five months pregnant."
Both Bartowskis looked poleaxed.
"We don't know the facts," Willow interjected, trying to stave off the complete mental breakdown of at least one of the Bartowskis. "One of your parents could be one of Xander's birth parents. He could be a half-sibling. It's possible that Xander himself is a descendent of your Alexander. This is all speculation for now, so let's just remain calm."
An uncomfortable silence filled the room as they waited for the results. Faith, who had restrained herself admirably for the past hour, was content to merely shoot inquisitive glances towards the Bartowskis. Willow herself gave in to the impulse to study their faces to try and find Xander in them. The eyes of Mr. Bartowski were clearly a possible match. Then, of course, there were some children who scarcely resembled her parents. Like herself.
The Bartowskis themselves simply sat, their hands linked together. Willow was amazed at the alacrity with which they had accepted Slayers and Demons and magic. She supposed it helped that Mrs. Bartowski saw two demons take her son right in front of her eyes. In spite of this, the grace they displayed in the face of what surely must have been a series of reality-skewing revelations filled Willow with a sense of wonder at the capacity of the human mind to adapt quickly to new circumstances. Or perhaps they were so wrapped up in their personal grief they just didn't care that they had been exposed to the supernatural. No matter what the results were, they had for all intents and purposes lost their baby. Willow hoped the tests showed that Xander was their son. No respectable parents, which the Bartowskis definitely seemed to be, could be disappointed in him.
And this would explain why Xander's birth parents had never come looking for him. Willow recalled offering to look for his relatives only to have him turn down her offer. If they were willing to give him up, why should he bother getting to know them? Except his parents never knew he was missing. Because he was born –
"Excuse me, Mrs. Bartowski?" Willow asked softly, while she grabbed a notepad and a pen. "When was your son born? Where was he born? How much did he weigh?"
Mrs. Bartowski involuntarily smiled at the thought of her son. "Five-oh-eight p.m., September 24, 2010. Cedars-Sinai Medical Center. Nine pounds, seven ounces. Ten fingers, ten toes."
Scratching down the responses, Willow smiled at the wistful tone in Mrs. Bartowski's voice. Tempted as she was to sing Xander's praises (biased as she was), it would probably just be like twisting a knife in the wound.
Once again, Kate Perry's I Kissed a Girl
filled the room. Willow could hear Faith snickering softly, as she reached into her pocket looking for her cell. She really needed to change that ringtone, or at least keep her phone on vibrate mode. "This is Willow."
"Hello, Willow." It was Giles. "I believe Xander had instructed you to not go looking for his parents."
"Just repeat to me the results. It's not quite what you're thinking," Willow instructed, hoping to avoid a lecture. She turned away from the Bartowskis, unable to look at their faces, which were suspended between hope and dread.
"I don't understand a single thing about how it was determined, but Sheila assures me that the blood was that of his parents." Willow exhaled sharply at the confirmation. "It is rather odd that they would come looking for him after all this time."
An involuntary giggle escaped from Willow's mouth. "No, it really isn't. I need to focus on Xander, but you'll get the full story out of one of us in a couple of days, all right? And thank you."
Willow ended the call and turned around to face the anxious parents. "Congratulations, we found your son," Willow said softy, her eyes shimmering with the thought that just maybe, besides Buffy's mom, one of her friends had decent parents. Mrs. Bartowski sank into her husband's arms, who simply looked relieved that his son had been found. "He's been my best friend since I was five and he's the best man I've ever known. Now if you will excuse me, I really need to talk to him. I'm sorry, but it should probably be me, just at first, breaking the news to him."
Willow stood up and walked out, refusing to make eye contact. She didn't want to let it slip that their son would be furious at first, having labored under the misconception for the past seven years that his birth parents had abandoned him. Fact was, within thirty hours of being kidnapped, his parents had gotten the Director of the NSA to come begging for assistance.
Waiting once more for the elevator, she heard Faith ask if the Bartowskis wanted to endorse her in the competition to be Xander's child's godmother. Willow shook her head, realizing a little too late that it was a mistake to leave Xander's parents alone in a room with the woman who had popped his cherry.