Title: Interlude Six -- Concerned Citizen

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Disclaimer: All your Buffy are belong to Joss Whedon and Mutant Enemy.

Rating: PG.

Pairings: None.

Summary: Officer Herrington finds Buffy's house in the Classifieds ...

Spoilers: Takes place after B:tVS Season 6, which in my AU conforms to canon through 6.17, "Normal Again". Specific spoilers for 6.14 "Older and Far Away".

Series: This is the sixth Interlude and ninth total entry in the "Lesser Men" series. Follows events in "They Also Serve".

Feedback: Yes, please! Be honest!

Notes: Remember the ambiguously intentioned policeman from "They Also Serve"? This is a little glimpse inside his brain, weeks later. Oh, and remember Buffy's DMP co-worker Sophie? She's in here, too.


"The hope of a secure and livable world lies with disciplined nonconformists who are dedicated to justice, peace and brotherhood."
~Martin Luther King, Jr.

SUNDAY, MAY 26, 2002
10:49 AM

George Albert Herrington, police officer of the city of Sunnydale, heaved a sigh and turned a page in his Sunday paper. As usual, there was nothing even remotely supernatural mentioned in the headlines, although there was a small column at the bottom of page A4 that mentioned the latest 'wild animal attacks'. It was a pretty sad state of affairs when a setback in the new high school's construction schedule was rated more newsworthy than two dead teenagers.

He liked to think of himself as an honest, concerned citizen. In fact, that was half the reason he'd picked this backwater town of all the places they could have moved to; there were so many errors and anomalies reported where Sunnydale was concerned. It was clear that something strange was going on. His wife Rose, an elementary school teacher, had also researched the school system here; she cast her vote for the place without hesitation. Turnover, she said, was awful. The kids couldn't be getting a decent education.

How naive they'd been. So far they'd been in this town half a year or so, and had made very little progress toward "making a difference". There were things - and beings? - in this place that were Never Spoken Of, and the practice extended beyond the police force and the school district. It was as though every person in Sunnydale was under a geas of silence. Cases were written off as gang drug wars or animal attacks that were clearly nothing of the sort, without even cursory forensics work. And as far as witnesses went . . . even when he tried to follow up a few cases on his own, every last prospect turned up deaf and blind. It was frustrating, to say the least.

Last night had just been more of the same. He'd been working swing shift all month, patrolling the streets by car in the dangerous hours between afternoon and midnight, but the days bracketing the full moon were always the worst. He'd been expecting violence and mayhem; he hadn't been disappointed. As usual, the villains responsible hadn't stuck around. He getting pretty tired of sending bodies off to the morgue, especially ones his daughter's age.

The telephone rang, interrupting his musings. It was startlingly loud in the quiet of the house and he gave it an irritated frown before deciding to just let it ring.

"Speaking of teenagers," he muttered.

Sometime over the last couple of months, Sophie had finally started making friends here. The move had been hard on her, taking her from friends she'd known all her life, but they hadn't really had much choice. According to her doctors, her various allergies had worsened since puberty; Oregon was not the best place for her health. Faced with a decision like that, what else could her parents do? At least, George had to admit, Sophie was the sort to spend hours on the phone, instead of playing let's-get-to-know-you at a nightclub. Not only did it keep her in touch with her friends, old and new, it also tended to keep the nasties away. Small comfort for a father all too aware of the dangers in the night.

The house fell quiet again after only two rings. George nodded to himself before taking a long sip of his cooling coffee and tossing the front section of the paper aside. Time for the sports section. There'd been an NCAA Outdoor Track & Field National Championship on Friday - not exactly his cup of tea - and Golf, of course. There was also Major League Soccer; he could get a little more interested in that, but it just wasn't the same as American football. There was nothing else of importance. The sports section followed the front page to the floor and he started paging through the inserts to find the comics.

Something caught his eye in passing and he flipped back a section or two with a puzzled expression. The Classifieds? What was that house doing in the Classifieds? George's puzzlement deepened into a frown, and he pulled the Real Estate section free, tracing a finger over the small photo. It was 1630 Revello Drive, all right. He'd been at that house - was it three weeks ago now? - when the current owner had been shot in her back yard. Reason enough for anyone normal to move, maybe, but then, this girl was very far from normal. What was she up to?

"Dad?" Sophie was at the top of the stairs, peering down at him with a frown. "Could you maybe drive me to work in a few? The DMP is a couple people short, and they're wondering if I can come in."

George sighed, and let the Classifieds droop to the table. "Sophrona, honey, haven't you worked enough overtime lately? You know your mom has plans for today, after she gets back from church."

She scuffed her toe against the top step, one hand clasped over the telephone's mouthpiece. "Yeah, I know, but they lost another girl today - Buffy's moving to L.A., I guess, and she just showed up to turn her stuff in this morning. Manuel's already tried most of the other people that are willing to work Sundays ..."

Buffy? "Buffy Summers?" George asked, astonished.

He'd never considered that his daughter might know the girl - but then, they *were* in the same age bracket. And ... wait. Was Buffy the girl whose birthday party Sophie'd gone to a couple of months back? There'd been something very weird about that party. It had been days before she came home, turning up happy and relieved on the doorstep, seemingly oblivious to her parents' worry. For weeks afterward he hadn't let her out of the house again without a phone number to be reached at.

"Yeah," she frowned down at him. "So will you drive me?"

He blinked at her, and had to mentally retrace the conversation. Right; they were discussing the Doublemeat Palace. "Uh, sure, hon. But you get to explain it to your mother; no telling her that I said it was OK."

She rolled her eyes as she lifted the phone back to her ear, assuring Manuel Who-ever that she could come. George watched as she turned and strolled back toward her bedroom, and wondered. If Sophie knew Buffy, did she also know anything about what went bump in the night? Had something happened at that party? The thought was mind-boggling. He'd never told her anything more than to never go out alone after dark, but maybe that had been a mistake. He'd never forgive himself if something happened to her.

George stared down at the Classifieds again, reading the fine print under the photo of the Summers residence. The asking price was low for the neighborhood, and the description excessively flowery - she really meant business about this moving thing, didn't she?

Los Angeles. Thoughts of the city were tugging something else loose in his subconscious, and he fished around for the front page again. Something in that article about the new high school ... There. Halfway down the second column was a reference about "the loss of our primary supervisor", one Alexander Harris, to "an investigative agency in Los Angeles". Amazing what detail made it into these fluff articles.

So. Buffy Summers and Alexander Harris, both en route to the City of Angels. Their little group was two for two so far, and he'd be willing to bet his next paycheck that most of the others would follow. He'd have to investigate to make sure, but he wasn't a cop for nothing. The Misses Rosenburg and Maclay would have to file transfer information at the college. That shop, the Magic Box, was owned by Miss Jenkins and Mr. Giles; there should be notices posted if they were selling or moving. Miss Madison didn't currently have any permanent residence or occupation - he'd checked - but then, there weren't any records on her for the last three years at all. She'd be a bit harder to track.

Did Sophie know any of this? he wondered, speculating again about his daughter's involvement.

More plans and guesswork began formulating in the back of George's mind. He pushed his chair back from the table and got up, then retrieved his notepad from the living room to begin recording some of his thoughts. At best guess, from the sheer volume of delinquent activities reported in their files, Miss Summers and her cohorts had been heavily involved in the city's dark side for at least five years. Possibly more. Things had slacked off a little since the quake, but this town was still far from tame. They wouldn't just pick up and go unless something very significant had happened. So the question was, what did Los Angeles suddenly have that Sunnydale didn't?

Sophie came clattering down the stairs, and he hastily tucked the notepad away in a pocket. "Okay, I'm ready," she said cheerfully. She tucked a few loose strands of hair up into the hideous chicken-adorned hat that went with her uniform, and favored him with a sunny smile.

"Let's go then." He cleared his throat as he opened the front door, and tried to think of a way to ask her about Buffy without sounding like he was trying out his interrogation skills.

"So, hon, this Buffy is the one whose party you went to awhile back? You never really told us how you ended up stuck there so long."

Sophie's face went pale, and she shot him a nervous look. "Uh, it was nothing, really. It was just, the party never quite ended ... I guess you'd say we lost track of time. Actually, that's where I met Clem, and Tara."

Ah, Clem. The mystery guy she talked to every few days, who never came to visit because (according to Sophie) he was "sensitive about his skin condition." At the time, he'd thought she meant he had severe acne, but it was starting to sound a lot more suspicious in retrospect. And of course George knew who Tara was.

"Did anything ... strange ... happen, Sophrona?" he asked, carefully.

She gave him a startled look, then looked down at the ground, hiding her expression behind the brim of her hat as she got into the car. "What do you mean?" she asked, trying for the innocent approach.

He got into the driver's seat and started the car, then tried again. "I already know how strange this town is, hon, I don't think anything you say could surprise me. I just want to make sure you're okay."

She sat there for a long minute, biting her lip, then took a deep breath and buckled her seat belt. "Dad ... I don't know what you're trying to ask, but I *am* OK. You don't need to worry."

Didn't know? Or didn't want to say? George shifted into drive and pulled away from the curb a little abruptly, trying hard not to grind his teeth. Yet another incommunicative witness ... and this time it was his *daughter*. What was this, cosmic irony?

"Hon, your friend Buffy has a really interesting history in this town. So do most of her other friends. I think I have a right to worry."

"They have their reasons," Sophie replied, softly.

Reasons? Of course there were reasons. Ones that no one wanted to give him! George took a deep breath, and smiled grimly through the windshield. He *would* find out what was going on, even if he had to track these kids to L.A. to do it.