Chapter Two: Conference Committee
Disclaimer: I don't own Angel, BtVS or Chuck.
Author's Note: This chapter took much longer than anticipated to be released. Finals and the holidays kept me occupied, unfortunately. At last though, this chapter is ready for release. I hope you enjoy it!
Also, if you are a member of Twisting the Hellmouth, vote for my stories! For Browncoat Reveille, I've been nominated for Best Portrayal of Xander, Best Portrayal of Cordelia, and Best Firefly Crossover. For Wired for the Task I've been nominated for Best Non-BtVS/AtS Story. Finally, I was nominated for Best New Author. Your votes are appreciated!
Once again, big props to Veriksto for her beta work.
Reviews, as always are appreciated.
Long Beach, CA, USA
Chuck Bartowski was used to emotional stress. His courtship of Sarah Walker consisted of continuous rejection, deceit, and just plain confusion. And that was without the threat of being shot, exes with dubious loyalties, and government-sanctioned kidnapping attempts thrown into the mix. The past forty-eight hours, though, had introduced him to a completely new type of hell. He would have a mere seventeen days with his firstborn son. The emotions were too raw for him to make sense of them, so he only allowed himself to feel relief that his son lived. And was apparently a very good man.
"What? It was a compliment. Trust me, you're, like, going to be the world's hottest GILF."
Unfortunately, his wife wasn't quite as good at handling the emotions involved in caring about other people. She only excelled at denying her emotions in order to complete the mission. The past two days had nearly shattered Sarah. The son she had carried for nine months had been abducted in front of her eyes and, despite her training, she had been helpless to prevent it. Sarah wasn't taking the news that she would never cradle Alex in her arms again very well.
Then of course this crass woman in their room may have had something to do with it. Spying Sarah's arm involuntarily reaching behind for either her gun or one of her knives, Chuck grabbed her arm and pulled her close. "Sarah, honey, take it as a compliment. I'm pretty sure she means well," he whispered into her ear.
A perplexed expression appeared on Faith's face. "Of course I meant it well. You're Havok's parents. Granted, out of the Sunnydale veterans there was only one decent parent, but right now, it looks like you're going to buck the trend."
Chuck's throat clenched at the implication of that statement. According to this woman, at best, his son had one decent parent.
Oblivious to Chuck's concerns, Faith continued. "After reading the files on you two and meeting you guys, I kind of see some of your traits in Havok."
Files? "What files?" Chuck asked as Sarah added, "What traits?"
Faith chuckled. "You two are adorable the way you speak all over one another, you know that? I'll answer Chuckles first. Some dude pulled them for us off this thing called the Enter…no, wasn't that…" Faith muttered under her breath in an effort to remember the word as Chuck's stomach dropped. Next to him, Sarah had gone as tense as a wire. "Intersect! That's what it was called."
Now Sarah was the one propping Chuck up. Issues with loved ones? Sarah leaned on Chuck. Issues with threats to national security? Chuck leaned on Sarah.
"Anyways, seriously, there's eighteen pages in there detailing every video game you play, Chuckles. Your son is just as big a dork as you are. Last month, I was chilling at his plantation. We'd be up to the crack of dawn playing Gears of War Three." Glancing quickly at Sarah, they shared a smile as they relaxed. "And your ability to attract smoking hot babes despite being the King of Dorks, that has to be genetic."
"Really?" Sarah asked, leaning forward in interest, releasing her hold on Chuck.
"Damn straight. His first girlfriend was the head cheerleader for Sunnydale High. Then he and Red had something going on for a bit, then me," Faith said with a wink and a leer, drawing an honest-to-God laugh out of Sarah. For that, Chuck would forgive Faith for reminding him a tad too much of Carina. "Then there was his fiancée Anya, who didn't survive the fall of Sunnydale. I didn't know her that well, but she's in your league, Lady Bond. Then D finally hit eighteen and enacted the plan she had spent over eight years crafting to make Havok hers. Poor bastard didn't stand a chance. They got married nearly four years ago."
Eight years of planning? "Wait, his wife wanted him when she was ten?" Chuck wasn't sure if that was romantic or a tad stalkerish.
Faith leaned back in her chair and propped her feet on the table. "What can I say? The girl is wicked smart. Now that they're moving back to England, word is D is going for her doctorate in ancient languages or something," Faith said, pride lacing her voice. "If my head had been screwed on straight when I tangoed with him, I sure as hell wouldn't have kicked him out of my bed."
And that was an awkward statement. Chuck had yet to meet Dawn but was already glad she was his daughter-in-law instead of Faith. Heaven help him if Faith ever met Jeff or Lester. A quick glance at Sarah showed that she looked just as lost as he did on how to handle that last statement.
To Chuck's dismay, Faith pointed at Sarah. "As for you Lady Bond-"
"Care if I cut in quickly?" Chuck interjected, raising his hand. Faith gave him an amused look but didn't protest.
Thank God. While Sarah didn't hold many regrets from her years as a deep-cover agent, they held more than a few discussions on how they didn't want that life for their son. A change in topic was necessary. "So I've gathered you guys aren't exactly a public organization. What do we tell my sister and brother-in-law? His godfather? My best friend?"
Faith rapped her fingers quickly on the surface of the table. "It's usually the call of the person in our organization. So it's up to Havok."
Standing up, Faith stretched, exposing a scar on her abs as her shirt lifted up. Chuck's breathing came to a halt as a flash hit him. A mug shot of Faith. A corpse in a pool of dried blood. A pardon by signed by Governor Davis. A pale man with shiny black hair. A dossier emphasizing membership in the International Watchers Council. Chuck shook his head as his vision returned to normal.
"You alright there, Chuckles?" Faith asked, concern showing on her face. Sarah turned to face him, but he didn't dare tell her what he saw in a building full of women with super-hearing. The fact that there were women with super-hearing was sheer insane, but after having a government database jammed into his head, he was used to having his view of the world turned upside down.
Shrugging, he tried to look as sheepish as possible. "Yeah, just a little tired. Hey, should we contact the police since our son was technically found?" Chuck inquired, trying to keep the topic off of his wife's former role in the Agency.
Thankfully, both the Agency and the NSA had come down pretty hard on the LAPD to keep the abduction quiet from the media for now. The reasoning behind the clampdown was two-fold: first, it didn't expose Sarah to a national audience as a crazy lady who saw demons; second, it didn't expose Sarah and their family to an international audience that may want to enact revenge for operations she undertook overseas.
Faith snapped her fingers. "Good point. I forgot. Hey, why don't you guys follow me out here while I get Sandra to yank the pigs off the case. I can show you the photos I have of Havok in my office."
Chuck plastered a grin on his face at the idea. As long as he kept busy, he didn't worry about having to think too much. Standing up, he waited for Sarah to hook her arm though his before they followed Faith out of the conference room.
October 12, 2010
Seven miles out of Tiko, Cameroon
Sweat dripped off of Xander's face as he leaned back in his chair in the communications room. Even at nearly one in the morning the temperature was in the high seventies accompanied by horrendous humidity. He took a sip of his Leffe Blonde, cursing that the AC had blown sometime earlier in the afternoon. Armand would be back tomorrow morning, hopefully with the correct parts from Douala. At least the residences had AC; Xander didn't want Dawn to be uncomfortable in her state.
He was going to miss Tiko. For the past six years, he had made his home on this plantation. Consisting of forty-five hundred acres, it had been bestowed upon the Watchers Council when its former owner, along with his potential, had been slain by the Bringers of the First. When Dawn, Vi and Xander had come to claim the plantation, it had consisted of a rundown two-story house and a stable. Now, where the house once stood were state-of-the-art training facilities. An operations center had been built nearby. Five apartment blocks, capable of housing sixty people apiece, encircled a garden for growing fresh fruits and vegetables that flourished in the fertile soil. A large runway, capable of accommodating a C130, had been paved onto the property, leading to three massive hangers that housed the diverse aircraft used to transport personnel to various hot spots on the continent.
London had a lot to live up to.
Xander's thoughts turned back to the scry he had felt nearly forty minutes ago. If Willow thought she had been comforting during their transmission, she had failed miserably. Willow figured she was the one who had scryed Dawn and him? Either she had scryed him or she hadn't.
"Hey," a soft voice called out. "Is everything all right? You shouldn't be here by yourself. Raissa is scheduled to be on the comms tonight."
Xander smiled, swiveling the chair to face Dawn and patting his knee. He let loose with an exaggerated grunt as Dawn sat down on him, which promptly earned him an elbow in the gut.
"Just because I'm pregnant doesn't mean I can't inflict pain on you."
Xander chuckled while gently wrapping his arms around her stomach. "I don't doubt that in the slightest. And I sent Rai out so I could talk with Willow alone. "
"So what's the deal?" Dawn asked, leaning back into Xander. "Was it Willow?"
Sighing, Xander groaned. "I don't know. When I told Willow what happened, she freaked and told me she'd contact me in thirty minutes," Xander said, glancing at his watch. "It's been twenty-eight minutes now."
A yellow light lit up on the console as a low beep began to sound. Dawn pushed off of Xander so she could activate the transmission before reclaiming her seat.
"Hey, Willow," Dawn greeted the redhead. "What's wrong?"
A sharp laugh came from Willow. "Nothing," she assured them. "I’m actually glad you're there, Dawn. You should hear this and keep Xander from overreacting."
Xander gave Dawn a confused look, wondering why he needed a handler.
"I'll have you know that I'm a very mature adult in full control of my emotions," Xander stated to a pair of disbelieving snorts.
"Funny, Xander," Willow said, rolling her eyes. "Now hear out the full story before you react. Promise?"
Xander duly nodded his head.
"Lieutenant General Beckman of the NSA contacted me this morning for assistance." Xander made a move to stand, but his wife's weight and her not-so-gentle grip kept him down. "Two CIA agents she works with had their seventeen day old son abducted yesterday morning." Dawn clucked in sympathy. "It was Whistler - along with a time-traveling demon."
Xander's head started to buzz, although he couldn't figure out why.
"The baby's name was Alexander Elliot Bartowski. The parents arrived here roughly an hour ago so I could scry the planet for their son or any descendants the son may have had."
The buzz became a roar, and Dawn's grip became painful.
"Xander, you were born in Cedar-Sinai Medical Center, weighing nine pounds and seven ounces, at five-oh-eight p.m., September 24, 2010. The labs in London confirmed that you're their son. One-hundred-percent positive."
A squeak from Dawn made Xander realize he was putting pressure on her stomach. Immediately releasing her, he gripped the arms of his chair. "Repeat that, Wills?" Xander muttered absently.
"Your birth parents never went looking for you, because you didn't go missing until yesterday morning. They're both CIA but also two very distraught individuals who desperately miss their son. They somehow convinced the head of the NSA to come begging to us for assistance in finding you."
At this, Dawn wiggled herself off of Xander's lap to stand up. "Honey, I'm going to get Ken up and have whoever is on duty start fueling the G10," Dawn declared, ignoring Xander's motions for her to rejoin him. "Willow, when you're done talking to Xander, will you call Balsas and have them prepped for us to refuel in about twelve hours? We'll handle filing the flight plans on our end."
"Sure thing, Dawnie," Willow promised. "I look forward to seeing you tomorrow."
"Wha - Wait!" Xander called out to Dawn, but she ignored him and left the room. "Wills, why am I going?"
Willow sighed. "Xander, your birth parents are out of their minds worrying about you. They never
abandoned you. Your mom was beside herself with guilt because she couldn't get a shot off, since Whistler's friend was using you as a human shield."
Xander blinked. This woman (he couldn't think of her as his mother) had fought to prevent him from being kidnapped. Why was Whistler involved?
"Hey!" Willow snapped at him, interpreting his silence for being stubborn. "How would you like it if your baby was kidnapped through time and you were unable to go follow it back in time and raise it? I know you have issues, but you will come out here and be damn glad to meet these people." Willow paused, scrunching her face in thought. "Unless, they're jerks, which so far I don't think they are. But if that is the case, I'll - Well, I'll do something mean. And appropriate."
Relaxing back into his seat, Xander wiped the sweat off his brow. Willow did make a point. If his and Dawn's baby were to be kidnapped by demons, he didn't know what he would do. And that was precisely what had happened to his parents, apparently. "What are they like?" Xander asked, trying and failing to sound nonchalant.
Willow smiled as Xander's anger receded. "Your dad is a CIA analyst. Graduated from Stanford, although for some reason he took a nearly six-year sabbatical before finishing his degree. The vast majority of his file consisted of documenting which video games he played."
The thought that he grew up playing the same games as his dad struck him as hilarious. As fate's bitch, it wouldn't surprise him if he had faced off with his dad in Halo 3. "What about…" Xander paused, hesitant to use the title. "What about my mother?"
"She assassinated the President of Belarus when he was visiting Syria back in '06," Willow said dryly as Xander's eye twitched. "The CIA recruited her out of Harvard."
Xander's mouth dropped. His Dad went to Stanford, his mom Harvard, and he barely graduated from Sunnydale High.
"She was one of their heavy hitters until August of '07. Then she got assigned to protect your dad, although it doesn't list the reason why in the files. It's actually really sweet. There's an evaluation in here from the Directors of the CIA and NSA whining because your father ruined her for overseas operations. They didn't like her falling head-over-heels in love with your daddy. Perhaps dating dangerous women is genetic in your family. You know, you really can be Example A for nature versus nurture."
Xander snorted and rolled his eye at Willow's attempt at levity. "Well, I suppose if I got engaged to an eleven-hundred year old vengeance demon that tortured men, I’m in no position to complain that my mother was a CIA assassin," Xander noted, still pausing before using the word "mother". "Do I have any other relatives?"
To his amusement, Willow's image bounced up and down on screen. "That's right! You have an aunt. Possibly an uncle as well, but I didn't investigate," Willow said before quickly typing at a keyboard off-screen. "Oh. You do have one grandparent, but he's in the Colorado Supermax, apparently. I figure I'll let your mom explain that one."
Huh. What the hell did his grandfather do to end up in the most exclusive prison in the United States? Xander blinked, as the door to the communications room swung open, permitting Edward, one of his bodyguards to step in.
"Sorry for the intrusion," the man apologized when he saw that Xander was still talking to Willow. "Dawn asked me to tell you to be on the runway in thirty minutes. Oh, and don't worry, she has Kennedy packing for you."
Xander sighed. Kennedy did not appreciate his fondness for all things Hawaiian. Growing up in New England as part of the upper crust, she probably was filling his luggage with Dockers and those damn sweaters she insisted upon giving him for his birthdays and Christmas. "Thanks Ed. I'll be out of here in a few minutes."
Xander turned back to Willow to find her off-screen as he heard the door close on his blind side. "Wills?"
A finger popped up on the screen, signaling for him to wait. Xander smirked before picking up his Leffe and downing the remainder.
"Back," Willow said as she retook her seat. "Had to pick up the printouts I got on your aunt and uncle. Your aunt's name is Eleanor Woodcomb. Ooh, I bet you she's where you got your middle name. She's a practicing trauma surgeon at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital in Los Angeles. Your uncle's name is Devon Woodcomb. He's a practicing cardiology specialist at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital too. How cute! They work together," Willow squealed.
Xander knew that it was up to the member of the IWC to choose whom to inform about the nature of the world. Lord knew he had counseled countless Slayers and Watchers on this issue. "Wills, mind sending some people back with my parents? Let those two in on the secret. Goddess knows we can always use more doctors."
"Sure thing," Willow agreed before taking on a more pensive expression. "There is the issue of your godfather, though. You won't like this Xander." Willow paused. "He's an NSA cleaner."
"No," Xander stated without hesitation. "No information, no access. I don't care how, just get rid of him."
"You won't see me arguing," Willow agreed. "If he kicks up a fit, one of us will take him down fast and hard."
Xander's thoughts grew darker at the thought of the NSA. Xander had formed the Slayer Auxiliary Unit to escort and protect Slayers when they were deployed to the numerous conflict regions in Africa. The theory was let the Slayers handle the slaying and the SAU handle the human armed forces. The SAU was also handy when deployed in heavily Islamic regions, allowing them to act as male escorts for the female Slayers.
The parallels between the SAU and the amoral wetwork teams of the old Council weren't lost on him. Xander, Colonel Ackers, and one of the Slayers had to report every deployment of the SAU to Giles back in London within two hours of every offensive deployment. The Slayers were actively encouraged to gossip amongst themselves regarding the movement and missions of the SAU. No one wanted a repeat of the abusive way Travers had used the wetwork teams to advance his personal agenda.
Never had Xander imagined that the SAU would see combat against the United States government within the continental U.S. Nor did he envision their being used as his own personal guard. Thanks to the fucking NSA, though, both events had come to pass.
"Xander, c'mon," Willow implored. "We'll keep him away. Anyways, I should probably go track down your parents. I may have left them alone with Faith."
Xander's eye twitched. "What? How could you? At Dawn's bridal shower, Faith did a ten-minute play-by-play recap of the time I slept with her!"
Willow giggled, her eyes glazing over. "Yes, Faith did describe in explicit detail at what I missed out on," Willow said slyly. "She did swear that, in retrospect, you deserved a Rookie of the Year trophy."
"Wills…" Xander paused for a moment, flustered, his face red in embarrassment. "Can you just go keep them company?"
"Of course I will," Willow assured him, smiling gently. "I'll see you tomorrow. Fly safe."
The connection promptly winked out, leaving Xander in silence.
He sat alone for the next twenty-five minutes, trying to wrap his head around what had happened. Back in Sunnydale, Xander had often lamented that he was the normal one of the group. It was just his luck that once he was finally secure and happy in his life, it turned out that there was something freakish about him. Why on Earth had Whistler orchestrated sending him back in time? At least he was still human.
A brief rap at the door stirred him from his musings. Dawn's head poked in. "You alive in there? It's time to board the plane."
Xander pulled himself up and walked over to Dawn, hugging her as tightly as he dared. He would try to connect with his parents for their sakes. And if they turned out to be dicks, who cared? He had his friends. And he had Dawn.
Dawn pecked his cheek before leaning back and facing him. "You know what I just realized?" she asked, wrinkling her nose. "You're not even three weeks old. I'm literally robbing the cradle."
Laughing, Xander spun her around to face the door and began pushing her towards the runway. "And from a certain perspective, you're only ten years old, Dawn Patrol. We're both pedophiles."
October 11, 2010
Redondo Beach, CA, USA
Her son had lost an eye. Her baby was gone. Her son was only one year younger than she was. The world had gone completely insane during the past two days. She was going to be a grandmother in four months, before her thirty-first birthday. Her son had lost an eye.
Riding in the backseat of a Ford Escape, Sarah realized that her training had completely failed her. Or perhaps she had failed her training. She had been instructed to not form permanent relations. Chuck was and would always be the driving force that broke down all of her walls, but Ellie, Devon, Casey and even Morgan had broken through as well.
She had to remind herself that she wasn't alone. Chuck had lost just as much as she had (ignoring the voice that told her Chuck didn't carry Alex in his stomach for the past nine months).
Her mind flashed back to the photos of Alex she saw in Faith's office. If she hadn't been told that he was a demon hunter, she would have assumed he was an Afrikaner mercenary. His build was wiry with tanned skin and that eyepatch. To Sarah's vexation, Faith refused to break her friend's trust, insisting that the circumstances involving the loss of his eye was his story to tell.
Seeing the numerous pictures of Alex with his wife, Dawn, brought a whole new level of anxiety. Outside of her professional career, there were very few people Sarah Walker sought the approval of. Now she felt pressured to like this woman, despite never having met her. Sarah did not like being forced to do anything outside of the scope of official orders.
One question, though, was begging to be asked. "Why? Why would this Whistler take Alex?" Sarah inquired breaking the silence in the Escape.
Seated in front of Sarah, Willow and Faith shared a glance. In the passenger seat Faith shrugged, indicating that she would defer to Willow.
"I've been asking that myself," Willow confessed, making eye contact in the rear-view mirror. "Mind if I speculate?"
Sarah smiled slightly. "I wouldn’t have asked otherwise."
"Xander has saved the world once single-handedly," Willow stated. Sarah turned towards Chuck, awe present in her eyes.
Faith coughed in an exaggerated manner. "Twice." Willow shifted her gaze from the road to stare at Faith. "Red, keep your eyes on the road for fuck's sake. And it was twice, as far as I know."
"When?" Willow blurted out, shock evident in her voice.
Faith swiveled around in her seat to directly face the Bartowskis. "Take this, senior year of high school for your son. A demon bitch is about to do me in, when Havok comes roaring in like a bat out of hell, running that bitch over with his car, saving my fine ass. I then reward him in ways that I have been instructed should not be heard by your delicate ears."
While no stranger to sex, Sarah felt slightly queasy at the thought of her child sleeping with this Carina knock-off.
"Anyways, here is where Havok went to save the world," Faith continued. Sarah detected smugness, probably because she knew something that Willow didn't. "Mind you, this is all second-hand shit that I heard from my trip to the darkside. Now, remember that night, Red, how those crazy bitches managed to open the Hellmouth for a bit?"
Willow gave Faith an odd look. "Yeah. I also remember that we went out of our way to keep Xander fray adjacent, because none of us were really expecting to survive."
Faith snorted and rolled her eyes. "Shit, Red, you should know Havok takes instructions as well as I do. Long story short, Havok infiltrated a zombie gang. They were trying to blow up the school, which would have killed us and let the Hellmouth open fully. In case you didn't get the memo, open Hellmouth equals extinct humans. According to Trick - that was the Mayor's pet Vamp for you new to this story - Havok systematically killed the zombies and then disarmed the bomb. All by himself." Faith delivered in a matter-of-fact tone, ignoring the gaping mouths. "Mayor Wilkins was quite happy that someone managed to stop that gang. He was less pleased that Xander disappeared with the bomb." Faith paused to shove a stick of gum in her mouth. "Now that I think about it, Havok probably used that bomb as the basis for those bombs he used to blow Sunnyhell High to kingdom come."
"Wait," Chuck squeaked, causing Sarah to share a grin with Faith and Willow. "I remember reading about how that high school blew up. It happened the day before my graduation. Are you telling me that my - our son blew up his high school?"
Laughter rippled from Willow. "Well, his finger wasn't on the detonator, but, yes, he designed, built or stole and placed the explosives. Trust me, he was incredible. No civilians died from the explosion and the True Demon did."
Pride swelled up in Sarah. It was ridiculous, but the fact that her son leveled his high school with no collateral damage appealed to her professional side along with her newfound maternal instincts. "So Alex started committing federal offenses his senior year?" Sarah asked eagerly, her smile contradicting the accusatory language in her question.
"Make that his junior year," Willow replied, as she pulled up to a red light. "Don't ask me how, because he never told me, but he and Cordelia - his girlfriend at the time - walked into the Sunnydale National Guard Armory and walked out with a LAW launcher."
"He is so your son," Sarah and Chuck told one another simultaneously, prompting giggles from up front.
Chuck smiled as he placed his hand over Sarah's mouth. "C'mon, infiltrating military installations? Expertly blowing up high schools? That's you, spy girl."
Sarah rolled her eyes as she gently pushed Chuck's hand from her mouth and enclosed it in hers. "Please. She emphasized his walking into the military installation. That sounds like something you'd cook up." Sarah proceeded to pout and bat her eyes. "And don't tell me you've forgotten our first date. I do recall you dismantling a bomb."
"Wow, you guys are doing a great job making the CIA look human," Willow noted in a light tone. "So, yeah, Xander singlehandedly saved the world twice. And though I think he's incredible and I'll be forever glad I grew up with him, I still wonder what made him unique enough to justify Whistler taking him from you guys."
A more comfortable silence fell upon the car as the occupants pondered Willow's observation. Sarah exchanged a glance with Chuck and knew he felt the same: pride in their son mixed with abject despair that they played no role in raising him.
The Escape finally pulled off of Sepulveda Boulevard, nearing the Bartowski house. Sarah briefly wondered how Willow knew where to go before she remembered they were following another Escape driven by the girl who had picked them up. Was it only just almost four hours ago?
"Yo, Red," Faith said, breaking the silence. "Let me handle the NSA dude."
Sarah frowned at this comment. Why would Faith handle Casey?
Sighing, Willow gave Faith an irritated glance. "I can easily dispatch him myself."
"Sure you can, Red," Faith said, as if speaking to a small child. "But you've used more than a bit of magic today, which means you're tired. When you're tired, you take shortcuts. When you take shortcuts, Darth Willow makes an appearance. And since we're dealing with the NSA, I start to worry if there's going to be a Los Angeles tomorrow morning if you go Darth on us. So let me handle the tool."
Switching into agent mode, Sarah began to quickly assess the threat this pair posed to her partner. She didn't like the odds. The casual way Faith spoke of Willow acting like a Sith Lord (dammit she had spent far too much time with Chuck) made Sarah nervous. She had already seen this woman conduct a DNA test that spanned the globe today and teleport Sarah's blood to London. Dealing with Faith herself would be no walk in the park, either. Jenny had given her and Chuck the standard Slayer speech, emphasizing that they had unparalleled strength, speed, and unarmed combat skill. Before they had departed from Long Beach, Sarah had noted that Faith had slipped several knives into her clothing, along with what looked to be a double-edged short sword, into the lining of her jacket. In close quarters, Sarah figured she didn't stand a chance. That didn't even factor in the other two slayers and one witch that were present in the lead vehicle.
Diplomacy would be the best option.
Giving Chuck a hard stare to convey that she would handle this, Sarah placed a hand on Faith's shoulder. "Why are you talking about hurting Casey?" Sarah asked politely. "He is Alex's godfather."
"He's NSA," answered Faith and Willow.
Sarah raised a single eyebrow. General Beckman did mention that this organization had killed General Russo, the former director of the NSA. "Just out of curiosity, what's wrong with the NSA?"
To Sarah's fascination, black highlights began to streak through Willow's hair.
"Red!" Faith snapped, not so gently whacking Willow on the shoulder, causing the Escape to swerve. "Lady Bond doesn't know!"
The black highlights faded, returning Willow's hair to red. What the hell just happened?
The Escape pulled over to the side of the road. Willow turned around, her face stony. "The NSA kidnapped your son along with one of his best friends. The figured that as the only 'normal' human in the inner circle of the Council, he'd be an easy target."
Sarah felt short of breath. She knew NSA policy.
"Slayers are resistant to drugs. Vi broke loose. She died trying to get your son out of confinement," Willow stated harshly.
For a second, Sarah empathized with the government. She understood their perspective. This Council was a militarized global force with unknown strength and objectives that could penetrate the United States' most secure databases. It was understandable that they could rationalize the abduction of two individuals in order to assess the threat the Council posed.
Then she reminded herself what a black NSA interrogation consisted of, and that most importantly, her son
had been the recipient of it. He was her flesh and blood. She had carried him in her uterus for nine months. She had been willing to directly oppose her government for Chuck's sake just after knowing Chuck for five months.
"After performing her autopsy in front of Xander for kicks, they decided to start playing rough with your son," Willow said, anger lacing her voice. "If we hadn't had specialists flown in and waiting at a nearby safe house, at the very least, Xander wouldn't be walking today. I loathe taking human life, but I'll shed no tears for purging that facility."
"John Casey was a merciless killer when I first met him," Chuck interjected, to Sarah's surprise. "He scared the shit out of me. I wasn't sure if he was going to protect me or kill me. He's changed, though. He's still a bastard, but I trust him with the safety of my family."
Silence met Chuck's declaration.
After several moments, Willow sighed, then pulled back into the stream of traffic. "Doesn't matter, though. Xander doesn't want him there," Willow said without remorse. "Until he says otherwise, he'll either keep his distance or we'll keep him unconscious."
Sarah sat still, trying to understand the myriad of emotions coursing through her. Her training hadn't prepared her to deal with this. Chuck's defense of Casey stirred something in her, though. After three years on the assignment, Casey was practically family. Families look out for one another, through times thick and thin.
She nestled up to Chuck as they turned onto their street. Chuck was all the training she needed to cope with this.
Ty'ark sighed as he glanced through the living room window towards the obnoxiously plain house. If he weren't being paid five thousand dollars a month, he would never have bothered with this job. The money way barely adequate to make up for the overwhelming boredom of the assignment. All he did was observe the house and keep his eye out for flagged visitors.
At this rate, he was tempted to go over in his natural form to introduce himself, just so he could report a flagged visitor.
All things considered, the past couple of days had been a little too exciting for his taste. He didn't know why, but those damn police had been all over the street. It would be highly inconvenient if they were to clue in that the owners of the house he was residing in had long been digested by his stomach. Actually, their processed bodies were probably somewhere in the Pacific Ocean, if his knowledge of the sewer system was correct.
For just over six months, Ty'ark had occupied this house. It had been very simple to torture the account information out of the previous owners, allowing him to keep up the payments on the mortgage, electricity, and cable. Online banking and billing truly was a demon's best friend.
A black SUV pulled up to the house. Ty'ark was about to turn away when he saw a young woman jump out of the back seat and jog towards the backyard wall. With her long ebony hair pulled into a ponytail, the lithe black woman cut a striking figure. Then to his astonishment, she placed one hand on top of the brick wall and simply flung herself over it. Unless she was planning to compete in London, that girl wasn't human.
Paying rapt attention, he saw a blonde escorting an Asian chick. An Asian chick who was either hoping to get high from a variety of plants or was a Wicca carrying her spell supplies. A Wicca escorted by two young women.
A second black SUV pulled up into the driveway. From his vantage point, he could only see the right side of the SUV. He saw the female owner of the house step out of the back seat. Then a familiar-looking brunette hopped out of the passenger seat. He groped blindly for a few moments until his hand made contact with the cheat sheet of mug shots he had made.
Faith Lehane. Considered by some the last true slayer. And the current bogeyman of demons in Los Angeles ever since that faggot of a vamp Angel had performed one of the ballsiest murder-suicides in taking out the local Wolfram and Hart branch.
All right, looked like he was going to earn his pay today. Wouldn't hurt to stick around for a few more minutes, though, just to see who the driver was.
Everyone had gone inside the house for the time being. His sensitive ears picked up a loud snap, as if a large wattage of electricity had been discharged. Ty'ark wondered what the source of it was.
A few minutes later, the Asian Wicca emerged into the front yard. Followed by a redhead. A very familiar looking redhead.
Death was here. That was the only moniker that applied to her. She was known as Willow the Black, back when Sunnydale was around. Then she became Willow the White, after Sunnydale sank into hell, where it belonged. Unfortunately, these days depending on her mood, she could show up sporting either black or white hair. Didn't matter. If you were her enemy, you simply died.
Ty'ark stood up and calmly walked to the master bedroom. Exercising as much self-control as he was capable of, he meticulously packed away all of his personal belongings. No need to give Death a chance to track down his aura.
After double-checking the house, he stepped into the garage. The owner's Acura TSX was parked in its spot with what Ty'ark hoped was a full gas tank. Inserting the key into the ignition, he saw it had three-quarters of a tank. Good, that should get him somewhere safe.
He pulled out of the garage onto the driveway, taking care to close the garage door behind him. Knowing his luck, Death would see the door open and stop him like a Good Samaritan. Then kill him once she detected what he was.
It wasn't until he was on the 405 that Ty'ark let himself relax. He had made it. Now he had a contract to fulfill. Disregarding California state law, Ty'ark pulled out his cellphone and dialed the only programmed number as he headed south towards the border.
"Mr. van Kerk? You hired me to watch the residence of a Charles Bartowski. You wouldn't believe who just paid a visit to his house."
Chuck was spitting out toothpaste into the sink when he heard the door to his room shut. Looking up in the mirror, he smiled softly to see Sarah slumping against the closed door. "Casey sleeping all right?"
Sarah gave him an exasperated look. "Whatever the hell that Ahram did to him, he's out," she said dryly. "I'm going to let Ellie be there when he wakes up. For whatever reason, he has a soft spot for her."
If Casey hadn't been such a close friend, Chuck would have laughed his ass off this afternoon. He had just stepped into the house when Natasha sped forward and tasered Casey into an involuntary nap. Ellie and Awesome just stared as a blonde slip of a girl picked him up by his belt and manhandled him onto the couch. In retrospect, that made those two a much more receptive audience for when Jenny finished her perimeter check and came in to do her speech.
Casey regained consciousness momentarily while Chuck and his family watched in awe as Natasha and Jenny sparred. Casey only had time to ask what had happened to him before Ahram had chanted something, knocking him out again. After demanding to know what happened to Casey, to Chuck's amusement, Ellie had mercilessly interrogated Ahram and Willow about the medical applications of magic.
At least Morgan had been easy to handle. Chuck had intercepted him outside, where all Morgan could see were the two black SUVs. It has been simple to explain to him that there were federal officers here to assist with the abduction investigation, space was at a premium, and he would call his friend as soon as there was news. Chuck hated that he was so adept at lying to Morgan, but Willow and Faith had drilled it into his head that only Alex could give Morgan clearance.
"Casey has a soft spot for Ellie because she feeds him so well," Chuck replied as he wiped the water from his face with a towel. "Speaking of which, where are Ellie and Awesome?"
"In the guest bedroom. Awesome thinks it's awesome that we have magically raised a great child with no effort on our part. Ellie is currently giving him the Morgan treatment," Sarah answered as she padded over to the bed. Reaching over to the table, she flicked the switch on the clock radio before collapsing onto the mattress. The sound of running water could be heard as the radio generated pink-noise. "There, hopefully we'll get some privacy. I'm not exactly comfortable with these Slayers patrolling our house with their super-hearing."
Chuck's lips quirked upwards. "Gee, I wonder what it's like to live with your every movement under surveillance." He quickly leaned back to dodge a paperback novel thrown at his head. "I flashed on Faith, by the way."
Sarah groaned before rolling over to face him. "What for? Do we need to take it to General Beckman?"
"Looked like she murdered someone," Chuck said. "But I also saw a pardon from Governor Davis. For now, I say we don't bother."
"Thank God," Sarah uttered as she burrowed beneath the sheets. "Today has been more than long enough as it is. I can't believe I didn't think about challenging the accuracy of the labs. Have I told you that I only married you for your sister?"
Rolling his eyes, Chuck stripped down to his boxers. "Many times. I'm glad that Ellie raised the point. Though you do have to admit, she backed down pretty fast when Willow mentioned that it was Windham Labs that verified the results."
With his hand hovering over the light switch, Chuck turned to face Sarah. "Did you brush and do your routine?"
"Yes," Sarah replied. "I did all of it while you were outside seeing off Willow and Natasha. I'm not sure how to feel about the fact that our house is now being guarded by two Slayers and a witch."
Chuck flipped the switch off, plunging the room into darkness. "I think they prefer being called Wicca, Sarah," Chuck corrected as he headed over to the bed. Despite not being able to see her face, he was sure that Sarah was glaring at him. "I can safely say that today is the most surreal day of my life. It even trumps our first date."
Soft laughter filled the room. "This is the first time in years that I've felt so completely out of my league. Sure, you drove me crazy as I tried to balance my feelings for you with my responsibility to the job. But this? I guess Dad lied again. There really are vampires and werewolves," Sarah said bitterly as she clenched the edge of the blanket and her knuckles whitened.
"Our son is grown up. He's been fighting vampires and demons since he was sixteen. On one level, I'm incredibly proud of him. But I can't help but feel that we failed him. We played no role in making him the man he is today. We didn't protect him when he was out risking his life."
Climbing into bed, Chuck struggled to voice the appropriate words. It wasn't until he had tenderly wrapped his arms around Sarah that inspiration struck. "You know, despite all the training your dad gave you that makes you a kickass killer, he didn't really raise you to be a good person," Chuck stated, willing himself to continue when he saw his wife's eyes tighten as his words sunk in. "Still, from that night you placed your pistol against my head, you've been the best person I've ever known. That was all you. It was simply an intrinsic part of your character. From what I've heard today, your father is a saint compared to the couple who raised Alex. Yet he sounds as if he could rival you for the best person I know. He inherited that from you."
The speed at which Sarah's expression shifted from barely concealed rage to teary relief startled Chuck, reminding him that his wife was still full of postpartum hormones. To his relief she was content to merely snuggle against him.
"And you wonder on occasion why I married you," Sarah murmured as her breathing slowly evened out.
October 12, 2010
Southern California Airspace
The sound of landing gear being deployed roused Xander from his musings. Turning his head, he saw Dawn peering with childlike wonder out the window as the plane descended over Orange County. To his dismay, the flight had gone far too quickly. Kennedy had spiked his drink shortly after he boarded only for him to wake up while the plane refueled in Balsas.
The next ten hours had been spent in near silence, to Xander's satisfaction. He was not in the mood to chat. Thankfully, Dawn had been asleep until roughly five minutes ago, discouraging all conversation in the cabin. Kennedy sat in front of him, next to the other slayer in his detail, Nai. Further ahead Ed and Tom were playing with their gear. It disturbed Xander a bit that his detail considered his visits to the United States to be as dangerous as those to Harare.
With far too much experience, Xander resisted the urge to slip his finger underneath his eyepatch and scratch his eye socket. The damn thing never stopped itching.
"Shit, today's a new day, isn't it?" Kennedy asked as she turned to face Xander.
Failing to fully suppress a smile, Xander stared back. "All signs point to the Earth continuing to rotate. So, yes, I would presume that today is a new day. Although judging from when we took off, it's been a very long new day."
Kennedy snorted as she flicked back some hair that fell over her eyes. "Before we see everyone's favorite psycho, she wants you to know that she would be the best choice for godmother." Kennedy proclaimed with barely concealed amusement. "Oh, and 'Red is a fucking dyke who would sacrifice the child to her heathen religion and B is just a plain old bitch.' At least that means I'm only a fucking dyke."
From the corner of his eye, Xander saw Dawn turn away from her window, giggling. "Yes, because I can only pray that my child will be able to whore and kill just like Faith. She's truly the role model for my kid."
"I say we just take every candidate's name and place it in a hat," Xander interjected, trying to forestall further comments on the subject. He knew Buffy was Dawn's preference. Personally, he thought the honor should belong to Faith, Kennedy or Willow. The absence of Vi's name made his heart clench. It hurt to admit, but her death haunted him deeper than those of Anya's or Cordelia's. Perhaps it was because he and Vi never became lovers; they had simply made one hell of a field team.
Up ahead, Kennedy and Nai began to furiously tap their ears as the plane entered its final descent. Super-Slayer hearing made for super-Slayer ear pressure. While tapping his ears never worked the few times they got stuffy, he supposed it distracted the Slayers from the pain until their healing kicked in.
As the plane touched down smoothly on the runway, Xander felt Dawn tug at his arm. "What?" he asked.
Dawn gave him a stern look.
"Honey, I want you to play nice with your parents," Dawn lectured, eliciting a scowl from Xander. "I know you. You're the sweetest thing when someone needs help, but if you think someone has slighted you, you can give much more than you take."
"I'm not going to act like a bastard," Xander mumbled crossly.
Dawn arched an eyebrow. "Yes, you will. I know you. I've seen you fight with Buffy enough times. So listen to me. Your parents have done nothing wrong yet. Do not act like a prick because your parents haven't been able to go nearly three decades back in time in the past three days. You will act like the sweet, lovely man I married. Are we clear?" Dawn finished, digging her nails into his skin.
"Yes, yes!" Xander assured her as the plane slowed to a crawl. For being such a "normal" girl, there was nothing scarier on the planet than his wife.
"This is Terry, your pilot, speaking," came an accented voice from the cockpit. "Somehow our plane has already cleared through customs, so we will be heading directly to our hangar. So sit on your arses for a few more minutes and we can all enjoy the sunny weather of Southern California. I would like to remind all of you, however, that odds are a massive wildfire will hit the region shortly and shoot the air quality to hell. Thank you for flying on my plane."
The interior of the plane darkened as it entered the hangar, eventually coming to a complete stop. To Xander's chagrin, Dawn immediately began to push him towards the aisle.
"There will be no hiding on the plane, coward," Dawn hissed.
Laughter could be heard from ahead as Ed and Tom disembarked, carrying their large duffel bags full of equipment. It was perverse, in Xander's opinion, how their presence – and weapons – filled the role of a security blanket for him now.
Nai fell back to escort Dawn, while Kennedy flanked Xander. All levity had left their faces, their bodies taut in anticipation of possible action. The nervous hum in Xander's head returned. This felt more like they were about to enter a hotzone than meet his purported biological parents.
Xander stepped out onto the stairway and paused. A flash of red hair was easily identifiable as Wills. She stood there, beaming and waving without a care in the world, with a blonde woman – his mother – to her left and an unknown brunette to her right. Next to the blonde (mother, he had to remind himself) stood a man with brown, curly hair. His father.
"Hey Havok! Get your braindead ass in gear so I can greet my godchild!"
Ah yes, Los Angeles was Faith territory. Xander sent her a wry smile as he went down the stairs.
The shit-eating grin on her face soothed his nerves. Unlike Wills, Faith had serious trust issues. For her to be this relaxed around his parents meant that she approved of them. Despite her sadistic tendencies, Faith really was a good judge of character.
An approaching blur of blonde caught his attention. Xander only had time to brace himself as his mother's body impacted him.
"My baby! Alex!"
This was odd. With her arms wrapped around him, she felt like Joyce. Peering down at her, Xander couldn't help but think that she looked more like his contemporary than anything else.
A tad reluctantly, Xander put his arms around his mother while she half-sobbed, half-babbled into his shirt. All comparisons to Joyce ceased when his hands brushed against a pistol strapped to her back.
What to do now? While he sometimes felt that soothing emotionally overwrought females was his best talent, he was definitely off his game. He quickly lifted his head up to look for his wife. Dawn had joined up with Faith and the mystery brunette, all three looking far too happy at his reunion with his parents. Damn, she would provide no guidance.
Looked like he would just have to follow his instincts. He gently pushed her back, making her look up at him. Her expression made his heart clench, grief seemingly etched into her face. Did she think he was rejecting her? He smiled tentatively, hoping to assuage her fears.
Xander gave no resistance when the arms embraced him once more.