Xander growled as he stalked across the room. Throwing back the deadbolt he wrenched the door open.
“It appears that I’ve disturbed you.” Ezra looked slightly taken aback at the ferocity of Xander’s greeting.
“Dad! You’re back.” Xander pulled the man into an awkward hug. “Sorry, bad couple of days and didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“Is that why your door was locked?” Ezra was concerned at his son’s drawn features.
“Er, yeah. Something like that.” Xander stared at the man, unsure where things stood between them. The last time they’d talked not only had Ezra been drunk but he had just been rudely introduced to the supernatural world. Xander had no idea whether the Sunnydale effect was in play. Stepping back, he waited for Ezra to come in. “Coffee?”
Ezra followed his son towards the kitchen. As his gaze roamed the room he noticed a few new touches, out of place from what he knew of his son’s normal lifestyle. Making a note to mention it at a later date, he drew a deep breath, knowing that what happened next would be critical to their future relationship.
“Xander.” Ezra watched as his son bustled about the kitchen totally focused on what he was doing. “Xander… Alexander!”
Shocked brown eye rose to meet a steady green gaze.
“Xander. What happened before I left…” Ezra sighed and cleared his throat.
“I believe. All of it. I deeply regret that my job took me away at such a critical time between us.” Ezra paused as Xander dropped heavily to a kitchen chair, staring at him in disbelief.
“I understand why you keep it secret. I’d be lying if I didn’t say there was a part of me that wi…yearned,” Ezra gave a slight twitch of his lips in acknowledgement of his son’s dislike of the word, “that I still remained in ignorance of this new, twisted, reality I find myself in.”
Xander swallowed. Unconsciously his hand ran up his arm and viciously pinched the skin on his forearm. He gave a small yelp before rubbing the area. He returned his attention to the other man.
“Say it.” Xander croaked out. He couldn’t believe this was real. This kind of good karma just didn’t happen to him.
“You, my son Alexander Harris, fight vampires and demons. I, Ezra Standish, am incredibly proud of you and would like to support you in anyway I can. I’d like to know about your life, all of it.” Ezra stepped forward and placed a firm grasp on Xander’s shoulder.
There was a hitched sob from the young man before he threw his arms around Ezra’s waist. The clinch was firm but brief. Xander pulled back and stood to look his father in the eye.
“Thank you. You don’t know what that means to me.”
“Believe me, I do.” Ezra gave him a bittersweet smile.
“Xander, is everything OK?” A feminine voice from the doorway broke the moment, and Ezra turned to study the newcomer.
“Everything is going to be just fine, Abby.” Xander gave the pair a beaming smile. “Breakfast, Abs? You’ll stay won’t you, Ezra?”
“I’d love to breakfast with you. Come in, my dear, I’m sure any moment now my son will remember his manners and introduce us,” Ezra added slyly.
“Sorry. Ezra, this is my charge, Abby Samson. She’s staying with me for a while. Abby, this is my Dad, Ezra Standish. You can call him Gramps,” Xander threw over his shoulder as he puttered about, making breakfast.
“Very droll, Alexander.” Ezra held out a chair for Abby, who blushed prettily. “Ezra will be just fine, Abby. Is Abby your given name or is it short for something?”
“Just Abby, sir.”
“Ezra.” There was a mild rebuke in the agent’s tone. “Will you be enrolling in a local school or college?” Abby appeared startled at the question and looked to Xander.
“Abby’s home schooled at the moment. We haven’t discussed anything long term yet,” Xander answered calmly. There were still a lot of issues to be discussed between father and son, the existence of slayers being just one of them. Despite his father’s acceptance of the fact vampires and demons existed, and their role in Xander’s life, Xander had no idea how he was going to react to child soldiers and Xander’s complicity in their draft.
“So, Dad, did everything go alright in DC?” Xander slid plates in front of the pair already seated at the table before joining them.
Ezra smiled at the obvious redirection of the conversation but allowed it, knowing they had plenty of time to talk.
“It came to a satisfactory conclusion. Most unusual, considering the bureaucracy that cripples our nation’s capital,” Ezra replied. They kept the rest of the conversation light whilst they ate, mainly focusing on Abby’s experiences sightseeing in Denver. Xander cleared the table and they all moved into the living room.
Ezra sipped his coffee. As the so-called responsible adult he supposed it was up to him to move things along. His son’s guest was intriguing; the girl was very controlled. It sent a few warning signals to the undercover man and he suspected that he’d have to be very careful how he handled the following conversation.
“I had an astounding message on my voice mail yesterday. In fact, it was the reason I found myself on a red-eye in the early hours of this morning. Chris Larabee--” Ezra had been watching his son’s face intently, although no one would have missed the tightening of his features. He also felt Abby stiffen beside him, making Ezra realise that the situation may be even worse than he’d thought. “Chris Larabee apologised.”
Xander suddenly relaxed and snorted inelegantly. “Quick, Abby, phone Cleveland. It must be a sign of the apocalypse.”
“May I enquire what should prompt such a momentous event?” Ezra encouraged gently.
Xander sighed and looked at Abby. While he was willing to have a long talk with Ezra about everything in his life, it wasn’t his place to share her secrets.
“You can tell him about me, about *everything*, Xander,” Abby said softly as she stood to leave. “I’m going to my room.”
“You don’t have to go, Abby. Right now, this is your home too.” Xander didn’t want her to feel she had to leave, but in the long run it may be better until he knew how Ezra was going to react.
“I know. Thank you, but you need to talk to your Dad.” Abby left quietly, leaving the two men in an awkward silence.
“She seems a fine young lady,” Ezra offered.
“Yeah. She is. And she doesn’t deserve what’s happened to her.” Xander moved to sit beside his father. “So… what did you find out?”
Ezra briefly considered hedging his answer but decided that honesty was going to be his best option.
“I called in a number of favours, and met with some individuals that with my new… outlook, made me very, very nervous.” Ezra gave a self-depreciating chuckle.
“As they say, ‘eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable…’ Of course, my ‘hands-on’ demonstration of those creatures was hard to deny, as much as I would have liked to. Armed with these facts I was able not only to confirm their existence but discovered there have been numerous programs to exploit such beings over the years.” At Xander’s look of surprise Ezra gave him a sly smile. “As I said, I used several favours as well as having some *material* that certain people wouldn’t like to be… exposed. Additionally, in my line of work, I have several dubious contacts who are more than happy to point fingers at the misdoings of our government.”
“Note to self: don’t bother trying to hide from Dad.” Xander laughed quietly.
“Indeed.” Ezra patted Xander’s leg. “More intriguingly, I found out about the existence of an international agency who dedicated themselves to fighting such creatures.”
Xander sucked in a surprised breath. That was a lot more than he’d been expecting Ezra to find out, which--while it may make things easier for him--was worrying for the safety of the girls.
“As far as I could tell, they are a very long-standing organisation and very well connected. They operate a small, extremely specialised force. However, it’s my understanding that the headquarters in Britain was attacked last year, causing a reorganisation of their hierarchy. Rumour has it they relocated to Cleveland,” Ezra finished. Xander had paled considerably by the end of his summation.
“Shit!” Xander got up and started pacing. “I’ve gotta call Giles and warn him, or something. How could you…? I mean, I know we were never exactly stealthy, but… ”
“Xander, calm down. I don’t think you need to worry about many others discovering as much as I have; I’m very good at what I do. I managed to piece everything together using numerous comments from over the months I’ve known you. Additionally, that night’s little revelation left me with enough knowledge to encourage me to be much more *tenacious* than I may have been previously and, of course, I am very well connected.” Ezra’s words slowly sank in, and finally Xander returned to the sofa.
“OK, so I just need to tell Giles none of the girls can date law enforcement,” Xander huffed.
Ezra shot him an insulted glare. “I think you’ll find I’m a cut above one of the ‘boys in blue’.”
Xander laughed at his expression before sobering. “Alright, so you’ve made some quite spectacular discoveries on the shadowy organisation front. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty.”
Xander took a moment trying to decide where to start.
“Well, there’s this whole ‘the world is older than you know’ speech, but to sum up: demons ruled the earth, then they were forced to leave but left a parting gift of a blood exchange that made vampires. The demons here and now are remnants and a few that slipped back through the cracks. OK?”
“Hardly, but do continue,” Ezra drawled.
“If you ask nicely, I’ll get you a book to brush up on the details,” Xander snapped out, frustrated and nervous about the coming conversation.
“There’s no need for that kind of attitude, young man.” Ezra looked as surprised as Xander at his words.
“Huh.” Xander felt a rush of emotions at Ezra’s unexpected move into fatherly disapproval: puzzlement, irritation and finally acceptance. He was still asking the other man to take a lot on faith and Ezra was really making an effort. “Sorry, Ezra, you’ve been nothing but supportive. I’m just…”
“I do understand. I’m not, however, prepared to let it slide,” Ezra stated firmly.
Xander suddenly grinned at him. “Line in the sand seen, acknowledged, and understood,” he paused before adding, “Dad.”
“Good.” Ezra gave him an answering smile. “So, demons and vampires are the last traces of the original occupiers of our fair planet.”
“Something like that. Anyway, the new tenants decided that these…‘bad’ elements needed to be eradicated, but as they were stronger and faster than us ‘norms’, some powerful men created a warrior specifically designed to fight them.”
“Created? Using what? DNA splicing, or a breeding program?” Ezra queried.
“Noooo, this was a long time ago. Created by magic.” Xander hadn’t really appreciated how much easier this kind of explanation was with people who could provide demonstrations to hand.
“Yep. There are some basic things, wards, etc., which pretty much anyone can do, but the fancy stuff needs specialists.” Xander tried to keep it simple.
“You’re talking about what, witches?” Ezra made an effort to keep his tone even.
“Yeah. Wiccas sorcerers, shamans, warlocks, mages, witches, and so on. Practitioners of the arcane arts, and they come in the full range of good and evil.” Xander gave Ezra a moment before carrying on. “These sorcerers enhanced someone to give them the strength and speed to fight. . . well, vampires mainly, but other demons too. They were called the Vampire Slayer and when one died, a new one was activated.”
Ezra hadn’t missed the way Xander was describing, or more accurately avoiding fully describing, this mystical warrior.
“One of your girls became this warrior,” Ezra surmised, making the kind of intuitive leap that allowed him to excel in his job.
“Technically, she was the Slayer first. I met her after she’d been ‘called.’” Xander sagged back into the couch. “She was the new girl in High School, and I had a major crush, then Jesse died and my whole world changed.”
“Jesse was killed by a vampire?” Ezra asked.
“Worse, turned.” Realising Ezra still didn’t have all the details, Xander went on. “When a vampire bites, it can drain you of some or all of your blood, which -- worst case scenario -- kills you. But if they drain someone, then feed them their blood in return, they ‘sire’ a vampire. The person dies and then is resurrected as a vampire later. That’s the ‘worst of the worst case scenario.’”
Ezra sighed softly; he assumed that this warrior had killed his son’s friend. He tried to imagine how it would feel to have one of his friends turned into a monster and killed by someone he knew. Suppressing a shudder, he returned his focus back to Xander.
“How did you manage to fight those creatures? This warrior had extra abilities, but you were just a boy.” Ezra mentally winced at his poor choice of words. “Sorry, I mean--”
“No, it’s OK. I’ve always been the normal one, the liability.” Ezra wasn’t happy at Xander’s flat tone as he made that statement but now was not the time to address it. “At first, I gotta tell ya, it was primarily running away, plus I make excellent bait. Mainly, it was all about the research and the donuts, but it was inevitable that we became involved in the fighting, too.”
“Is that how you lost your eye?” Ezra asked.
“Kind of; I bought someone some time,” Xander answered. He knew he’d have to give more details eventually, but he wanted to focus on slayers rather than himself for the moment. “Essentially, I’ve been helping the Slayer fight vampires and demons since High School, but it was more than that, too. Sometimes it’s worse.”
“Worse than school children fighting monsters?” Ezra said dryly.
“Yeah. Are you sure you want to hear all of it? There’s no going back.” Xander offered the man he’d come to respect one last out.
“I want to know everything about you. No matter how far down the rabbit hole it takes me.” Ezra was still determined to support Xander in this, whatever it took.
“OK, so every now and then we had to, er, save the world.” Xander refused to look at the man seated beside him. “Turns out the Apocalypse isn’t a one time deal like the bible suggests. Happens quite a lot, really; it’s a miracle we’re still here. Early summer is practically the season for them, but you know, they can happen pretty much anytime,” Xander trailed off.
Ezra stared at his son’s profile, trying to take it in. Hmm, apocalypses? Apocali? What was the plural for the end of the world?
“You alright, Ezra?” After a few moments, Xander finally turned to face the other man.
“I’m fine. I do apologise for my lapse, but I thought you just said you and your friends regularly saved the world during apocalypse season,” Ezra muttered.
“Ah.” Ezra dropped his gaze to his hands. He was pleased to find they were resting comfortably on his thighs. No tell there for his inner turmoil.