A/N This is the second story in the series. I appreciate all of the positive feedback I received and I hope you like the second installment. I, of course, have no proprietary claim to either BTVS or Bones; but I wish I did. I do, however; have proprietary claim to an old Subaru and an older Basset hound, both of which are a little cranky.
WHO’S THAT GIRL
Choice, as Neo put it in “The Matrix”, the problem is choice. We make thousands of choices every day, most of them on a level that borders on the unconscious. After all, we’re certainly not aware of most of the choices we make while driving, or shaving or walking down the street. That’s because most of the choices we make are automatic; relatively speaking, few of the choices we make in the course of a day are given any thought. We know that all choices have consequences and sometimes these consequences are ones that we’d never suspect. And we also know that there are some choices we wish we didn’t have to make and that there are some choices that we’d do anything to change.
“You can’t be serious, Bones, you actually like that kind of thing.”
“What do you mean, Booth; free form jazz is beautiful and complex. There are very few artists that can conceptualize the scales and then find the gaps the way these do, plus I think it sounds cool.”
“Cool, it sounded like someone beating a cat with a violin. Given the choice I’d rather listen to Spew or Murder Breath than that stuff.”
“That’s just because you have no taste.”
“I don’t have any taste, what about . . .”
“Excuse me Doctor Brennan.”
“What is it, Wendell.”
“There’s someone in your office, he’s been waiting for about half an hour.”
“Thank you Wendell, come on Booth, this will probably involve you too.”
“Sure, it’s not like I do anything outside of working with you squints.”
“Was that sarcasm, I really couldn’t tell.”
As the two bickering friends enter Dr. Brennan’s office, the rest of the Lab smiles at the intense flirting that is going on; something that is obvious to everyone except the two people who are actually engaged in it. As their eyes adjust to the dark, they both become aware of a man standing there, a man that one of them recognizes,
“Hey, Xander, what brings you to our neck of the woods,” Booth asks, recalling the man that had given him some advice six months ago
“Seeley,” he replies, then turns to face Bones. “Dr. Brennan, I presume,” he asked while gallantly bowing and kissing the back of her hand.
“Yes, do you two know each other,” Bones asked, a little flustered by the one eyed man’s actions.
“Just a little, we’ve only met once. And for the record, it’s Alexander Harris, Department of Homeland Security.”
“Wait, you’re with DHS,” Seeley asked, a little upset by the fact that this hadn’t been mentioned the first time they met.
“I am now, I wasn’t when we met.”
“What can I say; I have an interesting skill set that Homeland decided it needed, so I was pretty much given my pick of assignments. Also the fact that I know one of the Deputy Directors didn’t hurt.”
“I bet, which one do you know?”
“Riley Finn, he’s my boss,” Xander answered, knowing that Booth was going to do some checking.
“So what can we do for you,” Bones asked, taking control of the conversation.
“I need you to tell me if a body is really who it is supposed to be.”
“What,” Bones asked while Booth was still getting his mind around the request.
“This is a situation from Los Angeles. I have reason to believe that someone was made to look like someone else and then the impostor killed in her place. I need you to tell me if I’m right or not.”
“Does this have anything to do with what went on there a month or so ago?”
“Only peripherally,” Xander replied, leaving it at that.
Bones started to speak, preparing to tell the young agent that they had an enormous backlog and might get to his case in about six months, but she kept silent as he held up his hand. “Before you say anything, it might be best if Dr. Saroyan was here as well.”
“Why,” Bones asked, annoyed that he’d interrupted her.
“It will make things easier,” Harris replied, again giving no information in his answer.
“Fine,” Booth finally said and went into the Lab in search of Cam.
Silence descended in Bones’ office as Agent Harris wandered around eying the décor as Bones watched him. He certainly didn’t seem intimidated by either the silence or her scrutiny. “Did you enjoy Africa,” he asked suddenly.
“Excuse me,” Bones asked, shocked at the question coming out of the blue like that,
“I saw your Bantu Fetishes, and most of them need you to be there when they’re made, which tells me that you’ve been in Africa, did you enjoy it?”
“Not particularly, a colleague and I were identifying massacre victims in Rwanda.”
“Yeah, that place sucks; I hated it when I was there. I almost ended up getting shot about five times.”
“So where were you, besides Rwanda?”
All over, I spent about nine months over there. I started in South Africa and worked north. I missed a couple of the smaller countries but I hit a majority of them.” He looked up as Cam and Booth entered the room.
“I really don’t want to be a dick about this, but I really need you all to drop whatever you’re doing and take care of my little request.”
“And that is,” Cam asked.
“Identity verification,” Bones answered without taking her eyes off Xander. “Why is this so important?”
Seeley watched as the one eyed man considered Bones’ question. He could see that Xander was in pain over the whole process but that there were issues that he could not discuss.
“As I said,” Xander finally answered, “she was peripherally involved with what happened in Los Angeles a month ago. We’re hoping that if this is indeed who it is supposed to be, then you all can shed some light on what happened to her and consequently what happened there. If, however; this isn’t her, then we can work to track her down and find out first hand what happened.”
“As crucial as that sounds and as nice a guy as you seem to be, I can’t just re-task my entire lab on your say so,” Cam cut in.
“I understand,” Xander replied, as he dug into his pocket and pulled out a rumpled piece of paper and walked it over to Cam. Booth watched as she unfolded it and went rigid. “OK,” she said with mock cheer in her voice after reading through the note twice, “you’ve got yourself the best lab in the world at your disposal Mr. Harris.”
“Thanks Doctor Saroyan, I’ll go have them deliver the body as well as all the pertinent medical files.” The three watched as he left, then Bones and Booth immediately turned to Cam.
“What was in the note Cam,” Booth asked just before Bones could.
“It was a brief not from Goodman, assuring him of our cooperation, and it was on White House stationary. I’m gonna go out on a limb and say that Agent Harris is connected like no one I’ve met.”
While Bones and Cam started talking about the logistics of what would happen, Booth went in search of the mysterious Agent Harris. Six months ago the guy was just a guy, Booth would have bet anything on that. Now he was an agent with Homeland Security and had enough pull to basically get the White House to issue him Carte Blanche. Beyond that, Booth knew Goodman. He knew that the head of the Jeffersonian was both stubborn and politically adept and wouldn’t just give some yahoo run of the place, even if he had backing from the White House. Goodman knew of a hundred ways to short circuit this kind of thing if he wanted to, but he hadn’t. He finally found his quarry escorting in a gurney, obviously with a body on it; that was being pushed by two men who were so forgettable that they made the dark suited FBI agent stand out like a peacock in a flock of seagulls. There was a third person as well, a young woman carrying a box of what Booth assumed were medical records; she was different. Booth didn’t know what it was, she was hardly imposing at about five one and maybe one hundred and five pounds; but there was something in the way she moved and the way she eyed the room that had danger signals going off like air raid sirens in his head. Booth was so focused on the girl that he didn’t even realize that Harris was standing right next to him, at least until the other man spoke.
“I honestly wish I could tell you the entire truth about what’s going on, but I can’t. First, because I have people to protect; and second, because you wouldn’t believe me.”
“I understand your first reason, but I can be pretty open minded. You can’t work with these squints for any time at all and not be.”
“I hear that,” Xander replied, laughter in his voice. “They remind me of an old friend, she’s all about the knowledge as well. But it’s one of those things you’ve got to experience to understand.” He started moving away then turned, “if you want a hint, talk to Doctor Saroyan about her stake.”
“Steak,” Booth asked, wondering what meat had to do with anything.
“No, stake, like a pointy piece of wood,” Xander shot back, crooked grin on his face. Booth stood there silently and watched as he gathered up his associates, exchanged a few words with Bones and left. Somehow Booth was convinced that the kid was a much greater mystery than the body he had brought to them.
He found Cam sitting at the counter of the Royal Diner reading some sort of professional journal and eating French Fries that she insisted on dipping in mayonnaise. Seeley winced a bit when he saw this, everyone knew that it was ketchup all the way when it came to eating Fries; but he had to ask a question so he sat down next to her and waved for his usual coffee. “How’s the ID going?”
“Not too bad, I took all the tissue samples necessary, they’re running through the system right now and Wendell’s cleaning the bones for Brennan to do her voodoo. Why the question, it’s not something you’re involved in?” She turned and gave Seeley a hard look. Cam could see that there was something cooking in the agent’s mind. “You’re interested in Harris, aren’t you?”
“You gotta admit, he’s a little young for what he’s doing, and how the hell did he get Goodman to sign off on this, and with backing from the White House?”
“No idea, but he’s nice enough and kinda cute.”
“I’ll take your word on that one, but I was talking to him and he said something funny. I asked him what all this was about and he said that if I wanted a hint, that I should ask you about your stake.” As soon as that was out of his mouth, Booth saw Cam change, her eyes got distant and she looked scared. “What is it Cam, you look like you’ve just seen a ghost?”
Cam took a second to compose herself, then looked Booth right in the eye. “Do you trust me Seeley?”
“Sure Camille, you know I do.”
“Then trust me when I tell you to back off. There are some things that when you learn them, there’s no going back; your whole world view changes and not for the better. This is one of those things.”
Booth studied the woman in front of him, he could tell that she was completely serious; but he had to know. This was clearly communicated to Cam and her face fell, but she answered. “Every Coroner and Mortician I know of has a wooden stake under their autopsy table. It doesn’t matter where it is or how long they’ve been in the business or even what their religious beliefs are; every on of them has a stake handy just in case.”
“In case of what, someone coming back from the dead,” Seeley joked, then realized that Cam wasn’t even smiling. “You’re serious.”
“Have you ever needed to use it?”
Cam just looked at her friend, then turned back to her Fries. “This conversation is over,” she said then picked up her journal and ignored the man next to her.
For his part, Booth didn’t know what to think. What Cam was suggesting just wasn’t possible, but it was clear that she believed that it was. It was clear that he wasn’t going to get any more information from Cam, but then he realized that Cam might not be the only source of information. Finishing off his coffee he stood up and started out the door, ready to head back to the Jeffersonian when Cam spoke up. “You really want to walk away from this one Seeley.”
Booth turned back to say something to Cam, but she wasn’t looking at him, so he silently left.
Dr. Daniel Goodman loved the Botanical Gardens that were part of the Jeffersonian; it was his favorite place to get away from it all. He sat in the sun, trying not to think about the two meetings he had coming up when he noticed the shadow next to him. “I was wondering how long it would take for you to come looking for me,” he rumbled out without turning towards Booth. “It took you half an hour longer than I expected.”
“Sorry to disappoint,” Seeley said, sitting down next to the Director of the Jeffersonian.
“To answer the questions you were about to ask, I have never met Mr. Harris directly before today. I know of him because of my position and because he rendered my family a service a year and two months ago. He did not know who he was helping, nor did he mention it when we met and most likely has no idea that it was me he helped back then. That issue aside, I would still be helping him because he deserves it, not because someone asked me to do so.”
“You’re really sticking your neck a long way out, helping this guy as much as you are.”
Goodman finally turned to Booth. “How much would you do for the man that saved your son?” He then returned to contemplating the foliage.
One of the skills Booth had was knowing when to push and when to back off, it was one of the things that made him a brilliant interrogator. He knew that if he pushed a little bit more right now, he might get some more information but he would invoke Goodman’s enmity for as long as the man chose to hold a grudge. So rather than pull that down on himself, Booth got up and walked back to the lab, thinking about what he’d learned.
“So what have you got for me,” Xander asked, looking around at the team from the Jeffersonian.
“Well, the lack of comparative DNA made things difficult,” Dr. Saroyan began, “but there were some rather radical modifications to her DNA. This suggests that something fundamental was changed in this person, possibly to either change appearance or to made identification impossible.”
“All the particulate evidence places the body around Los Angeles for a significant amount of time, so there was nothing telling there,” Hodgens kicked in.
“I’ve got nothing,” Angela said, “if her records were doctored in any way then it was expertly done.”
“At first there was nothing which would indicate some sort of alteration, the usual plastic surgery markers were absent, but then we noticed these marks on the mandible. . . .”
“Oh, why didn’t you just say jaw?”
“They did,” Booth said, “Bones is just showing off.”
“If I may continue,” Brennan asked, shooting both Xander and Booth a glare. “These marks indicate that the fundamental shape of her jaw and cheekbones were altered.” She turned to Xander, “this would have been done when she was young, ten to twelve; is that possible.”
“No,” Xander replied. “Cordy wouldn’t have gone for anything like that, certainly not when she was that young.” Then it hit him, this girl wasn’t Cordy, but she had been altered to look like her back when Cordelia was in Sunnydale and not looking to leave for at least six more years. Xander really didn’t like the implications of that. “Do you know who could have done something like this?”
“The only surgeon that could have possibly done this is Dr. Henry Atlas, he currently lives in Los Angeles,” Saroyan said, flashing the doctor’s picture.
When he saw the face, Xander twitched a bit and his eye widened; only Booth noticed but he was definitely going to talk to the DHS guy after everything was done.
“Other than the work on the jaw, there were no distinguishing marks on the skeleton.”
“What about the rib?”
“Excuse me,” Bones asked.
“Her lower right rib,” Xander replied. “When she was eighteen her rib was nicked by a piece of rebar, I was there so I know it happened.”
“There were no marks on the ribs,” Wendell put in, "we checked them thoroughly.”
“So in conclusion?”
“We’d give it a ninety percent chance that this is not the person you’re looking for.”
They said ninety percent, but Xander knew, Cordelia was alive somewhere. “Thank you all,” he said, somewhat in a daze, “if you ever need any assistance, just call.” He handed a card to Cam and headed for the exit.
“Interesting response,” Sweets said from his spot away from everything. “He knew the girl well, was a close friend or boyfriend at one time.”
“So what kind of guy is he,” Angela asked.
“A very good one,” Sweets said, after a moment of thought. “He’d do anything for a friend, very self sacrificing.”
“Well that makes me feel better about helping him out,” Cam said; then looked around. “OK people, back to work here; there are questions out there that need our answers.”
Stew Miller called himself an artist or sometimes street performer. What he was, was unemployed but he owned a clown suit. He would perform in the street for money or better yet, stick with someone until they paid him to go away. The blow to his professional dignity was offset by being able to afford food. He saw his next mark coming up the street, two guys in suits that were talking rather animatedly. It was obvious to Stew that they wanted privacy so they’d pay him off quick. He ducked into an alley, then counted ten and jumped out in front of the two with a rousing “Ta Daaa”. However, instead of facing two startled guys, he was looking at the business end of a very sharp sword and a rather large gun; the liquid hitting the street was not from his lapel flower. “Buzz off Bozo,” the man with the gun said, while his silent friend twitched his sword indicating that Stew should cut a wide swath. Instantly he stepped to the side and the weapons disappeared like magic. Stew looked down, realizing he’d now have to visit a Laundromat before he could “perform” again.
“God, I hate clowns,” Xander muttered.
“Right there with ya,” Booth replied.
“What do you mean we can’t bring that slayer in, Giles?”
“She is working for the American Government Buffy, we can’t just go snatch her and incidentally declare war on the United States.”
“Maybe if we talked to her . . . . .”
“My sources tell me that she is happy and working for the Department of Homeland Security. Her area supervisor is Riley.”
“Riley, you mean the guy I used to date Riley.”
“Yes, and before you determine that they’re just experimenting with her, you should know that her immediate supervisor is one Alexander Harris.”
“Xander,” Buffy exclaimed, her voice rising sharply in volume. “Our Xander is working for the Feds.”
“It would appear so.”
Before Buffy could say anything else, Willow broke in. “Buffy, leave it alone. Xander made his choice and we need to accept that.”
The tiny blonde deflated, “I know Will, but I miss him.”
“So do I, but he felt that it was time for him to leave.”
“But how could he leave us?”
Willow paused, knowing that this wouldn’t go well. “Because we left him first Buffy. He was always there for us, but when he needed us for support, we left him hanging. Honestly it’s something we’ve done a lot and I guess he finally hit his limit.”
Buffy tried to reply to this, but reluctantly she realized that her friend was right. Fighting back the tears she turned to her Watcher, “keep an eye on him Giles, if he ever needs a hand, let us know; please.”
“Of course I will,” Giles replied; silently wishing that it hadn’t come to this.
“That’s good pie,” Xander said.
“Best in DC,” Booth replied. “So how do you know the doctor?” At Xander’s startled look he continued, “I saw how you reacted.”
“Honestly I’ve never seen or heard of the man, but he looks a lot like the former Mayor of Sunnydale.”
“The guy was insane, thought he was an evil sorcerer doing Satanic rituals, deals with demons and human sacrifices. He made sure that the cops were either imbeciles or corrupt. They were still trying to figure out how many he murdered when Sunnydale sank. One of the things that came out were some of the aliases he’d used and Atlas was one of them.”
“So you think that the Surgeon is related.”
“I wouldn’t be against it and if you’ve got any odd, unsolved murders in LA, especially ones dealing with mutilation, rituals or organ removal, well I’d put him at the top of the suspect parade.”
“Thanks, I’ll look into it,” Booth replied, sipping his coffee. “So what’s next for you?”
“Finding Cordelia. If your people are right, then she’s out there somewhere.”
“She might be dead and in the desert for all you know.”
“True, but then at least I’ll know.”
“Good luck,” Booth murmured as Xander stood and left.
The woman smiled to herself. He had discovered the truth about Cordelia. Now if he had any luck at all, he’d find out what had happened to her; and the woman knew that Alexander had luck to spare.