A/N Sorry for the delay, personally I blame writer's block and a CPU meltdown. Here is my disclaimer: I have no proprietary claim on BTVS, Charmed or 7th Heaven; they belong to people who are much wealthier than me. As always, reviews are appreciated, even negative ones; but flames will be devoutly ignored since they hurt my two functional brain cells.
We meet people all the time, friends, acquaintances and strangers. Most of these meetings are quick, to the point and for a single purpose, whatever that purpose might be; and forgotten almost as soon as they happen. The thing is, we need these meetings, these connections because without simple human connection, we descend into madness. That; and you never know when a simple meeting is going to turn your life on its head.
Annie Camden smiled as she looked around the table. It was a simple family dinner, her and her husband Eric, their twins Sam and David as well as Lucy and her family. Annie would never admit it openly, but Lucy was the favorite of her many children. The young mother was very like her in addition to following in her husband’s calling. Kevin Kinkirk, her husband, was a good man and a police officer and Savannah, their daughter, was as delightful a child as there was. Annie loved her other children, but there was just something special about Lucy. As dinner was winding down, there was a knock at the door and Eric got up to see who it was, quietly she followed.
“Mr. Eric Camden?”
“Yes, how can I help you?”
“My name is Alexander Harris, I’m with the Department of Homeland Security,” the young man said, flashing his ID. “And I believe that you already know my partner; Agent Camden.” With that, a young woman stepped out of the shadows. ‘It couldn’t be,’ Annie kept thinking over and over, but it clearly was; it was Ruthie. Her little girl had come home. Annie couldn’t count the times she’d replayed that whole episode over in her mind, wishing that she had done something, anything differently. Knowing that their actions had driven their daughter away was a constant torment to her soul. But now she was back and things would be different. Annie resolved herself to hold her daughter once more in her arms and beg her forgiveness. She could see it all happening as clear as day, right up until her world went black and she collapsed onto the hall carpet.
Annie collapsing seemed to break the weird stasis that everyone was in. Ruthie rushed to her mother’s side and started checking to make sure that Annie was alright. Eric began moving that way as well, followed discretely by Xander, but was astonished at the speed with which Ruthie had moved. She had just seemed like a blur. Hearing the commotion, Kevin and Lucy came out of the kitchen. Immediately they saw Annie collapsed on the floor with an unknown young woman kneeling over her. Things were about to get ugly when Xander shouted, “Hold it.” The command in his voice froze everyone except Ruthie. “She just passed out,” he explained to the newcomers, “is there somewhere we can set her,” he asked, indicating Annie.
“There’s a sofa in the front room,” Eric muttered while still trying to make sense of what was going on.
Without seeming effort, Ruthie picked up her mother and gently carried her into the room and laid her down on the sofa, then went back to trying to revive the woman. Lucy and Kevin; still very confused, turned to Xander. “Who are you,” they asked in tandem.
“Alexander Harris, I’m with Homeland Security,” he answered.
“And why are you here,” Lucy persisted.
“Because I’m your sister’s partner.”
“No, Ruth,” he replied, pointing in the young woman’s general direction.
“But she’s too young to be working for the Government,” Eric chimed in, now even more confused.
“Listen,” Xander said, holding up his hands to forestall any more questions. “How about we wait until Annie is awake and then we’ll only have to go through this once?”
“But you love the sound of your own voice Xander,” Ruthie’s voice came floating out of the front room.
“Quiet Brat,” Xander mock growled.
Despite the confusion, Lucy gave a little chuckle; there was no doubt that this was her little sister, no one else she knew could be so bratty.
Annie was revived and sitting up with her husband, Lucy and Kevin all on the sofa. The younger Camden’s had been sent over to Lucy’s house at Xander’s request. He was sitting across from then with Ruthie standing slightly behind and to his left. “Now I realize that you have questions, and I understand that you all are really confused right now, mostly about Ruth; but to get to everything you need to know; well that’s the kind of truth that you get in dribs and drabs, not in one big chunk. So bear with me while I help you sneak up on it. First of all I have to ask, have any of you ever had an experience or seen anything that simply defied explanation? You probably wrote it off as no sleep or too much imagination, but I really need you all to think about that as a line. You all live on one side of that line and Ruth and I live and work on the other side. The problem is, once you cross that line, there’s no going back. I can guarantee you two things; everything I’ll tell you is true, and you won’t sleep well for about a month. My advice is to take comfort in the knowledge that Ruth is fine and working for the government, helping us solve situations and taking care of evildoers and leave it at that.” He watched as several silent conversations took place but in his heart he knew that they would all stay, their love for Ruth and wanting to understand what was going on would trump any sense of self preservation. After a tense minute, four sets of eyes were looking back at him with a mix of curiosity and trepidation; he could practically read their thoughts, ‘How bad can it be,’ they were all wondering. ‘If they only knew,’ Xander thought with a sigh.
When it became clear that no one was leaving, Xander sighed and started talking. “When I was a sophomore in High School, I met this girl. Later that day I was in the Library where I overheard the Librarian talking to the same girl about someone finding a dead body in the girl’s locker room. If I’d been smart then this story would have ended right there, unfortunately for me . . . . . . . so now Ruth is one of many slayers. I won’t lie to you and tell you that it’s just another job like being a cop or a teacher, but the Watchers are now doing everything they can to help and support the Slayers, and that’s extended their life expectancies dramatically.” This last statement didn’t engender any good will on the part of the Camden’s, but Xander had told them he wouldn’t lie, and that was a promise he intended to keep.
The four Camden’s sat there silently, processing what Xander had told them. He was a bit surprised to note that a couple of them were not as shocked as Xander had expected. He sat back, grit his teeth and waited for the fireworks to start.
“You expect us to believe that . . . .” Annie started but was cut off by her husband.
“It’s true,” he said quietly but firmly.
“Eric?” She was now looking at her husband like he’d gone insane. “How would you know about this kind of thing?”
“When my father came back from Korea, he was recruited by something called the DRI. I could see that it bothered him and so when he went out for a walk, I sneaked into his study to see what all the fuss was about. Anyway, there were pictures and descriptions and that kind of thing, it gave me nightmares for weeks. At the time I thought it was all a joke that he was playing, or a lesson about sneaking in where I didn’t belong or something like that. But after a while it occurred to me that he never knew that I had seen what was there. After I became a Minister, I asked several of my colleagues, at least the ones that I trusted about what I’d seen. Many of them, more than I would have suspected, knew about what was really out there, we still talk from time to time about it, just in a ‘keeping your eyes open’ kind of way.” He turned to Annie, “didn’t you ever wonder why I always insisted that we never have a ‘WELCOME’ mat at the door.”
“Well, a little, but I figured it was just a pet peeve or something like that.”
“It works like a verbal invitation to a vampire,” Xander interjected. “If you have a welcome mat, then they can simply walk right in.”
Reverend Camden turned back to Xander; there were questions in his eyes. “Now you talked about the Watcher’s Council, but you’re with Homeland Security, why?”
“Personal reasons,” Xander answered tersely, making it clear that that line of questioning was closed. “When I found Ruth I offered to get her to a Slayer house so that she could be trained with the others, but she chose to stay with me. Since I was already a part of Homeland, well they just made room for her as my junior agent.”
“So you two function as Slayer and Watcher, just for the government and not the Council?”
“Yep, now the Council knows what I do, and I know what’s up with them, but in general we keep our distance.”
Reverend Camden continued with a hard look for a moment or two more, but then turned his wife and asked, “do you have any questions?”
Annie just sat there for almost a minute, and then simply darted across the room and gathered Ruth up in a tearful hug. This seemed to be a signal to the rest of the family, and suddenly Ruthie was at the center of a raging mass of love and heartfelt apologies. Xander could see the discomfort in the young girls face, but just sat back and watched this family start to put itself back together, a wistful smile on his face.
Later that evening, Xander was preparing to sleep on the Kinkirk’s couch; Ruthie was across the street with her parents; when he realized he wasn’t alone. “A lot to take in, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, it is,” Lucy replied with a sigh. “I try to get my head around it and I just keep coming back to these young girls, fighting and dying in anonymity.”
“It sucks,” Xander replied simply. “I won’t try and sugar coat it; the odds of your sister making it to thirty are somewhere between slim and none and nearly every day between now and when she dies, she’ll be fighting for her life. The Council is trying to make the Slayers lives a bit more normal, but given those parameters, there’s really not much we can do. Since she’s working with me and not in a traditional slayer role, your sister will have an easier time of it, but she’s still gonna be a walking target her entire life. I always feel like we should be able to find some way to extend their lives indefinitely, but that just isn’t possible. Some of the more traditional members of the Council disagree with how we’re treating the Slayers now, but it’s better than treating them like expendable tools the way the previous council did.”
Lucy stood there silently, it was clear to Xander that she wanted to ask something, but there would be no rushing her.
Finally she spoke, “do you know how they’re chosen?”
“No,” Xander replied. “We’ve tried, but there just isn’t any sure way to tell. We can predict, but no system we’ve come up with is perfect. The only rule seems to be that sisters aren’t both chosen. We’ve even had one of a set of twins, she was chosen but her sister wasn’t. Most of us just write it off as Fate and leave it at that.”
“So you couldn’t tell if Savannah . . . . .?”
“No, not until puberty or there abouts; and that’s not even a sure thing. One girl wasn’t chosen until she was eighteen.”
“So one day my daughter could just wake up and be able to bench press a Buick?”
“And if we just kept it quiet?”
“Then she’d die quickly,” Xander replied brutally. “Slayers can sense demons, and demons can sense Slayers. If she wasn’t told what she was or the truth behind her life then sooner or later she would be found and killed and never understand why.”
Lucy regarded the man again; she wanted to ask him how he lived with what he and his friends had thrust upon these girls. But she saw that he was hurting over it just as much, if not more, than she was. And in a burst of insight, she realized that he felt this all the time. “You probably ought to get to sleep,” Lucy said with a small grin. “Once my parents get done with their inquisition of Ruthie, they’ll have more questions for you; you’ll need your rest.”
Xander just smiled back, “thank you Lucy.”
“Take care of my sister and we’ll call it even.”
“Deal,” he quietly answered.
“Agent Booth, I understand you’ve been looking for me,” a voice called out.
Seeley whipped around, hand reaching for his gun while he tried to determine the source of the voice.
“Jesus, Xander was right, you do look just like him,” a tall sandy haired man exclaimed as he walked out of the shadows and into a lit portion of the sidewalk.
The man’s posture and the way he dressed screamed military to Booth but the way he moved was almost predatory, as though he were hunting instead of having a conversation. Booth straightened up and his hand left the butt of his gun, although he made sure that there wasn’t anything in the way in case he had to make a quick grab for it, “Riley Finn,” he asked.
“Yeah, so first question, why are you here?”
“Why are you here Agent Booth, it’s a simple question. You could have left this alone a long time ago and I’ll bet you’d be sleeping better right now, but you didn’t, you pushed ahead, why?”
Booth stood there for a moment, actually processing the question, because up to now he’d pretty much been running on instinct. “I investigate murders for the FBI and I work with a group from the Jeffersonian, and if there are a group of possible suspects out there, I want to know about it.”
The tone of the question had been implacable, it was clear to Booth that Finn would simply walk away if he wasn’t satisfied with what Booth had to say; with a sigh he went on. “They’re civilians in this so I need to be aware of what’s really out there so I can either protect them or tell em to walk away.”
“Them, don’t you mean her; Agent Booth?”
Booth glared daggers at the man, but he got the feeling that this was something Finn was used to. “Especially her, but the others as well.”
“Do you love her?”
“What the hell business is that of yours,” Booth responded hotly.
For an answer, Finn just smiled and said, “follow me Agent Booth, but make sure to secure your weapon, you don’t want to do something stupid.”
“Where are we going,” Booth asked, still a little rattled.
“Right here,” Finn answered.
Booth looked up, there was an old doorway leading into what appeared to be an empty warehouse, the sign above the door said ‘Veritas’. “What’s here?”
“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you,” Finn answered with a smirk.
Booth sat down in his apartment in a state of total awe. As a soldier and an agent, he’d experienced lots of strange things, not to mention what he’d seen these past years, working with Bones and the Squints; but a demon Karaoke bar was so quantum above everything else that it left him speechless. While they’d been there, Finn had given him the whole run-down on demons, where they were and what they were all about. He explained that while DHS was good, that the real experts were the Council. The Council had a database that you could access that gave descriptions, likely lairs, feeding habits and that kind of thing. The only problem was that they had to grant you access and that meant a face to face meeting, a meeting that Finn was willing to arrange. Booth had left without giving Finn an answer. So now he sat in his apartment; knowing that he was in over his head, trying to figure out if he really wanted to know how deep the rabbit hole went.
“Stop the car, there’s something here.”
“Hang on,” Xander replied, pulling the car over to the curb. “What is it?”
“You remember when we went through Cleveland so I would know what a Hellmouth felt like?”
“Sure, and you nearly ate that diner out of business.”
“Anyway,” Ruth said with some annoyance, “it feels like that, only different.”
“Like it isn’t evil,” it was clear to Xander that Ruth was trying to quantify something she wasn’t sure of. “It feels different, there’s power there but it’s just power, not good or evil, just power.”
“Can you localize it?”
“Yeah, it’s right across the street.”
Without looking Xander asked, “What do you wanna bet that’s where our witches live?”
“No bet,” Ruthie quickly replied, having learned the hard way that you don’t bet with Xander, nor if you want your dignity to remain intact.
The two of them looked over to see a rather large house. Xander was admiring the architecture while Ruthie was imagining growing up with her own room when both of them were knocked out of their reveries when something clearly not human came flying out the front door. Almost without thinking, Xander was out of the car and hustling towards the trunk, where the real weapons were stored. But as fast as he was, Ruthie was faster. She popped the trunk and arrived there in time to get her favorite sword and toss Xander his axe just as he made his way around the car. As they dashed across the road, she slung a bandoleer of stakes across her chest, considering that she was wearing a fairly conservative business suit, this looked a bit incongruous, but Ruthie was more concerned with function rather than fashion. The demon, it was obvious that whatever it was wasn’t human, was so focused on the house that it didn’t even realize that someone else was there until it felt the bite of the katana in its neck. With the only visible bad guy taken care of, a Slayer and her Watcher headed into the house, quickly but carefully.
As they entered the main room through the devastated foyer, Xander was careful to keep his left side to the wall so that he could watch Ruthie’s back without having to worry about his blind side. In the main room there were four more of the demons, and one guy that looked human wearing some rather garish robes. They were facing off against three women, all dark haired and, Xander noted; all three were drop dead gorgeous. The youngest looked to only be a couple of years older than he was. She was fighting hand to hand with the demons, and while it was obvious that she’d had some training, she wasn’t nearly up to slayer levels. One of her sisters, it was clear that they were sisters, was using some kind of repelling force to toss the demons around while the other sister seemed to be having some kind of mojo duel with robe guy.
All the bad guys were clearly focused on the three; this gave Ruthie an opening so she took it and fell on the demons like the wrath of God. Xander smiled as he watched his young charge, every move was precise, economical and lethal. Three of the demons were dead before any of the original combatants were aware of her entry. The only thing that saved the fourth was that it was grappling closely with the youngest sister; Ruthie stood back and waited for her opening, as the older sister gaped openly at her, as though she couldn’t believe that someone was there to help them. Unfortunately Ruthie was focused on the demons and not their master. Robe guy managed to incapacitate the witch he was fighting and took in the scene. A rather nasty smile appeared on his face and just as Ruthie was raising her sword to finish off demon number four. His hands started glowing and he reached for her, but he never made it. There was a roaring sound which echoed around the room, stunning everyone there; as for the guy in the robes, he stood there seemingly frozen as most of his forehead was now spattered over the far wall. Ruthie turned from the last demon and looked at her watcher with wide eyes.
Xander was standing there with no emotion in his one eye, his right arm extended and a large, smoking revolver still covering the guy in robes, making sure that he didn’t have a trick or two left. “Situational awareness,” he muttered as the man’s muscles finally figured out that no more signals were forthcoming and collapsed. “You’ve gotta be aware of everything going on around you Ruth, otherwise the bad guys might get lucky and I would have to deal with your parents stringing me up in their front yard.”
Both the accuracy and absurdity of the statement hit Ruth at the same time, and so she reacted as many have to Xander’s pronouncements, with laughter. Giving his slayer a look to see if the lesson was learned, Xander slipped his gun back into its holster behind his back and turned to face the Halliwell sisters, “Ladies.”
The three sisters weren’t sure exactly what was going on. Someone they didn’t know had come in and taken down the man trying to get their powers, but now was acting like it had just been another day at the office. “Who the hell are you,” Prue managed to get out before the other two started asking questions.
“I’m Special Agent Harris with Homeland Security, and this is my partner, Agent Camden.”
“Right, like either of you are old enough for that,” Piper added.
“Well we do have a rather unique skill set, so that opened a lot of doors.”
“And that is,” Piper continued.
“I’m a Watcher and she’s my Slayer,” Xander answered in a rather bored tone. For her part, Ruthie was getting the bodies and parts together, however, she was subtly moving closer to the three in case they tried something stupid.
“Slayer,” Phoebe asked, “what’s a Slayer?”
“A Slayer, or Vampire Slayer to be specific, is a young girl chosen by fate to be a warrior for good against Vampires, Demons and that kind of stuff,” Xander replied. “If I was old and British, I could bore you for hours on the history of the Slayer and the Watcher’s Council, but frankly I don’t care and it’s not something you need to know.”
“So how did you happen to be here in time to help with . . . . ,” Pru indicated the room.
“We were just coming to ask you all for a favor when dark and fugly came flying out the front door, so I guess you’d say it was a happy coincidence.”
“You killed a man,” Piper stated, the morning’s events sinking in.
“Yeah,” Xander replied with a heavy sigh, “thanks for reminding me.” He then pulled out a phone and hit the speed dial. It soon connected. “Yeah, this is Harris, B25364. I need a clean up at,” he gave the address. “I’ll file the report later, just one human.” Xander hung up the phone and gave another huge sigh before turning back to Ruth and the sisters. “I’m sorry we got off on the wrong foot here, believe it or not, the only reason we’re here is that I need a small favor and then we’ll be out of your hair, for good if you want it that way.”
“Uh-Huh,” Piper replied sarcastically, “and what small favor would that be.”
“Just a locator spell,” Xander replied. “The problem is she’s being blocked somehow and the only thing I could think that would trump that was the power of you three.”
“So does the government know all about us,” Prue asked worriedly.
“One very small part of Homeland Security does, to everyone else you’re just three sisters, living in one house in San Francisco.”
“Why doesn’t that make me feel any better,” Piper ground out.
“So who are you wanting us to locate,” Phoebe asked, trying to get the conversation a bit more civil and giving her sisters time to calm down. She could see that both Prue and Piper were upset; heck, she was as well. She wasn’t too happy with the fact that any part of the government knew about who they were and the less said about killing the mage that attacked them the better; but she was also aware that pissing off something like the Department of Homeland Security wasn’t something you did without a lot of thought going into it.
“Have you got somewhere we could sit down, cause it’s kind of a long story?”
“Sure,” Phoebe answered before the other two could get snotty, “the dining room is right through here.”
They all got comfortable, but the two older sisters continued to glower at the two newcomers and Phoebe as well. He cleared his throat and then Xander began telling the story of Cordelia Chase. He told the good, the bad, the beautiful and the ugly; and his part in all of it. Ruth was probably the most surprised in the room; she’d never heard her Watcher open up like this. Sure, he would answer questions and sometimes tell some pretty funny stories about life on the Hellmouth, but this was raw emotion that he’d been obviously holding back for some time. In the end, everyone in the room was in tears.
“So you’re sure she’s alive,” Prue asked.
“As sure as I can be,” Xander answered. “I mean, if she’s not alive, then why block locator spells?”
“And you’re sure the remains weren’t hers?”
“Yeah, the folks that checked that out are the best in the world at what they do; so I’m pretty confident.”
The three looked at each other, silently communicating as only siblings can; but the answer was obvious before they even started. “Wait down here,” Prue said. “We’ll go do it and give you a location when we come back down.”
Ruth looked like she wanted to protest, but Xander just nodded. “We’ll organize the clean up while you’re busy,” he said. And with that, the two parties went their separate ways.
It took a while, longer than Xander would have thought; long enough for the cleaners to arrive and remove the bodies and restore the front room to its original state. Eventually the sisters came down and Phoebe handed Xander an address. “There were some tough blocks, but we were able to get you this.” Xander was focused on the address, but Ruth could see that there was something in the Witch’s eyes; a combination of respect and longing. It occurred to Ruth that the three had probably taken the time to check him out, not simply buying his word on what was going down; and that was what had taken so long. Ruth could understand that look because she worn it herself a couple of times. Ruth respected Xander both for who he was and his accomplishments, but a part of her played ‘what if’ on occasion and that was the source of the longing. Because she couldn’t help but wonder periodically what would it have been like if she were older or he was younger or somehow he saw her in the way she really wanted him to. Intellectually she knew it would never happen, but it didn’t stop her from wondering about it from time to time; and she realized that Phoebe had done a bit of the same thing.
“Thank you,” Xander said, finally looking up at Phoebe. “If you all ever need anything; well, you’ve got my card and if I’m not in, just ask for Riley Finn, he’s my boss and can put you in touch with us.”
“We will,” Piper answered. “Good luck Xander,” she said, while giving him a brief kiss on the cheek. This was followed by Prue kissing his other cheek and offering similar wishes.
Xander straightened his back and said, “come on Agent Camden, we’ve got to get moving.”
“So where are we off to,” Ruth asked as they made their way across the front yard and towards the car, shedding their weaponry along the way.
“Michigan,” was Xander’s one word answer.
Seeley Booth looked around and wondered for the umpteenth time if he was getting played. He was standing on the sidewalk in front of an older house. It was one of those houses they had built around 1900 that was supposed to fit several generations of one family under the same roof, so it was big and it sprawled a bit. But it didn’t look like the headquarters of some super secret international organization that was as ruthless as Hodgens claimed. Of course looks could be deceiving, Seeley realized; but the further away he got from Finn, and Harris, the more preposterous it felt. Finally deciding that he’d might as well make sure that he hadn’t come all this way for nothing, he walked purposely up to the front door and knocked. He heard several sets of footsteps and what sounded like a lot of teenage voices when the door was jerked open. He found himself face to face with an extraordinary looking brunette; she was dressed like she was posing for a CD cover.
“Yeah, huh . . . . Fang,” she managed to rasp out, looking confused.
“Special Agent Booth with the FBI,” Seeley said, flashing his badge and then he saw someone over the brunette’s shoulder and froze. He was looking at himself. Well if he was about ten years younger and much more fussy about his hair, but it was definitely his face. It wasn’t the freakiest thing he’d ever seen, but it was definitely top ten.
With a sigh, a woman pulled out a piece of paper and a pen as she sat down at her desk. This was going to hurt, a lot. And it was going to cost her more than she could ever explain, but she was convinced it was the right thing to do. That knowledge didn’t make the task any easier. She bent over the paper and started . . . . Dear Xander.