A/N: I'm not having the time to write anything this past coupla months, except code code code. So, I asked some of my closest friends to write chapters of my stuff. This one is brought to you by GreyWizard, one of the best fanfic writers around, so all the credit and reviews go to him. Thanks, John, a whole lot.
"So, you're saying that no one at the Council had any real idea of what Andrea was doing out here?" Joyce asked as they inspected the dead Slayer's apartment.
A simple phone call from Chief Hollister had quickly obtained the search warrant Joyce had requested on their way back from the coffee shop and they had only needed to stop at the local court building to pick it up on their way to the apartment complex where Andrea had been staying.
The apartment manager had been more than willing to accommodate their request to be left alone during their investigation, although his concern had seemed to have more to do with minimizing any disruption that might draw attention to what the two were actually doing there, than with any real distress over his deceased tenant's fate.
"Nope," Xander shook his head negatively as he inspected the contents of the various drawers in the desk and the other areas where someone might store information.
"All she really said was that she'd kept running across references to Annapolis and Washington, D.C. when she was checking out any reports on the missing demons," he stated as he leafed through the pages of the address book he'd found in the main desk drawer.
"And that she'd had what she thought might be a Slayer Dream a few days before she flew out here," he added. "She wasn't too forthcoming on the details of the dream, and wasn't even all that sure if it really was a Slayer Dream, according to the report she filed before she left Phoenix."
Seeing the look Joyce was giving him, he sighed and set down the address book.
"Look, I know that you official types, especially here in Washington, do things very much according to the book with rules and regulations out the wazoo, but you gotta admit that the kinda of stuff that the Council deals with on a daily basis would be considered as totally crazy by most normal people, right?" he asked her.
Seeing her reluctant nod of agreement, Xander then continued.
"Slayers, and by extension, the Council and its other operatives, are usually up to their necks in weirdness pretty much everyday of their lives, so we've learned to deal with things in a lot looser way," he said. "Gut feelings are a major part of the way Slayers find what's going on and a lot of the time, we don't have time to file reports and wait for things to be processed and the upper managements types to get back to whoever it is who's stumbled across the problem with possible solutions and recommendations.
"That's one reason we try to give everyone training at the main compound as much training as we can in the way of analytic and deductive reasoning skills in addition to the standard combat training and lessons in demonology and arcane ritual," he explained, "so that when they do come across something unusual, they'll hopefully have a better chance of figuring out what exactly is going on, and end up with a better chance of stopping the badness and making it back out alive."
"I can't believe that she didn't tell anyone anything about why she was coming out here," Joyce replied, an incredulous expression on her face.
"All Andrea told the woman at the operations center when she reported in was that she had a gut feeling that she needed to head east, so she was going to go with that and see what happened. She made her living arrangements after she arrived, reported in and gave the liaison her new address and that was the last we heard from her," Xander told her.
"When no one heard from her after three days, we sent one of the staff from one of our support operations in the area to stop by and check on her, and they reported that none of her neighbors had seen her after she had moved in. We then sent a licensed investigator we keep on retainer and who knows about the might life, to check things out and he says that no one reported hearing any kind of noise that might indicate a struggle of any kind – not that I'd worry about something like that with Andrea being a Slayer – and no one remembers any other strangers hanging around, either.
"The coven tried to do a locator spell to find her the next day, but they came up empty, and that's where things have stayed until you guys found that little scene in your basement," he finished up his explanation.
Joyce's cell phone rang before she could respond, so she answered the call before saying anything further, while Xander began checking out the virtually empty closets in the bedroom to occupy himself as she spoke.
"We might have something," she announced with a smile as she folded her phone and returned it to her pocket.
"Annapolis PD reported this morning that they had a complaint about a possible stalker filed by a Miss Andrea Miller the day before you said she disappeared," she reported. "The Chief got a copy of the police report and checked it out and he said it's pretty much your generic stalker report – she told the investigating officers that she thought someone had been following her around the city and maybe around Washington, too, for a couple days, gave a description that fits about sixty percent of the male population of the area and said he drove away when she tried to confront him. That's all."
"There's gotta be more than that to put that smile on your face," Xander replied once Joyce finished speaking.
"Yep," she agreed. "The names of the officers who took her report. And they're going to meet us for coffee in twenty minutes."
"Cool. Let's go."
Twenty-seven minutes later
"Officer Czarnota, Officer Marston, thank you for taking the time to talk to us," Joyce smiled at the two police officers as she slid into the booth across from them, with Xander sliding in next to her.
"I'm Special Agent Joyce Cameron with the Secret Service, and this is an associate, Mr. Alexander Harris," she introduced the two of them.
"We're investigating the disappearance of a Ms. Andrea Miller," she explained, "and were hoping you might be able to help us out with some additional facts about the stalker report she filed with you last month."
"The Lieutenant said this has got something to do with a possible murder and security breach at the White House. That right?" Marston, a wiry, fairly tall blonde-haired woman asked, her eyes checking out both of them as she took a sip of her coffee.
"Yeah, it does," Xander agreed before Joyce could answer. "What looks to be a very nasty ritualistic killing."
Seeing the annoyed look his companion was giving him for his words, he shook his head as though in disagreement with her clearly obvious desire to not reveal any information, before explaining his reasoning.
"Look, they obviously know this isn't some rinky-dink case about someone tying to climb over the fence on the front lawn to see the President," he pointed out, "and I've been involved in enough field work to know that trying to keep the people on the street and who're actually doing the grunt work in the dark about what's going on usually cause more problems than it prevents, so I'm gonna be up front with these guys about as much as I can.
"If you've got problems with that, either get used to it, or get a new partner," he concluded, noticing as he turned back to face them the grins his words had drawn from both officers.
"Got a picture of the vic?" Czarnota asked, his voice a growl more suited to a grizzly bear than the compactly-built fireplug he was.
"Yes," Joyce nodded, reaching into her inside coat pocket and withdrawing a four by six photo of the murdered Slayer.
Both cops studied the photo for a moment before Marston nodded and tapped her finger against it, her eyes narrowed with concentration.
"Yeah, I remember her," she informed the two investigators. "She flagged us down when we driving by one of those singles apartment complexes west of here and asked about how she could file a complaint about someone following her around. Remember her?" she asked her partner.
"Yeah," Czarnota agreed as his own forehead furrowed with a frown. "Said she thought it was someone trying to interfere with her job. But she was kind of vague on what her job was, exactly, as I recall."
"Yeah, from what I can remember, she said she worked for the security division of some European group and was checking out whether there were some local people interfering with work her company was responsible for," Marston elaborated. "Said that someone had been showing up at a lot of the same places she'd been looking around the past two or three days, and she was pretty sure it wasn't coincidence.
"Did she say anything about what places she might have been checking out, or if she had any idea of who it was that was following her?" Joyce asked, her eyes lighting up at the possibility of a lead in the case.
"Nope. She just said that she'd noticed the guy kept popping up at the same places she visited, and that it was straining the laws of probability way too much for it to be just a coincidence," the smaller cop replied.
"She acted like she was more annoyed at the guy than actually worried," Marston said. "When I suggested that she be careful about walking around alone if this guy was stalking her, she just kind of smiled and said she really wasn't worried about anything like that, since she could take care of herself."
"She did give us a pretty good description of the guy and his car," Czarnota volunteered. "It should all be in the report we filed."
"Yeah, well, we've got a copy of that and it only fits about two-thirds the male population of the area," Joyce sighed.
"Did the license number not check out?" Czarnota asked as he took another gulp of his coffee.
"What license number?" Xander immediately demanded.
"The one she gave us," the officer replied, tapping Andrea's photo. "I know I put it in the report, because I remember thinking that it'd make finding the guy a lot easier, if anything did happen."
"There wasn't any license number in the report we received," Joyce noted as she glanced over at Xander. "All it had was a pretty generic description of the guy and the car, like I said."
"That's strange," Czarnota said. "Okay, hold on a minute, then, and I'll see if I can find it for you," he offered as he pulled out his notebook and began thumbing through it.
A moment later, Xander and Joyce were the recipients of the previously unknown license number, along with a slightly more detailed description the possible stalker, one which included the notation of a possible bird-like tattoo or design on the man's inner right forearm.
"Thanks, guys, you've been a really incredible help on this thing," Xander smiled at the officers as he and Joyce slid out of the booth to leave.
"You mind answering me a question?" Czarnota asked as he looked up at them.
"It depends," Xander immediately hedged. "What do you want to know?"
"This woman…was she an agent of some kind? 'Cause I got the impression she could handle herself pretty well."
Glancing over at Joyce for her reaction to the question, he saw her looking at him with a neutral expression on her face, leaving him to answer however he wanted.
"You might say that," he cautiously agreed. "But she wasn't affiliated with any federal agency."
Seeing the way the two cops glanced at each other after hearing that, he shrugged to himself.
Let them think whatever they want, he decided. If they want to think she was a spy, nothing I say will make them believe otherwise.
"Thanks for the information, officers," he smiled at them as he and Joyce left. "You were a great help."
The snow had stopped by the time they were leaving, but traffic was still snarled and practically bumper to bumper on the main roads, so Xander turned off and headed off along some of the lesser traveled routes as Joyce reported in to Hollister.
"So, what'd your boss have to say about the license number Andrea reported to the police oh-so-coincidentally being missing from the report he received?" he asked as he drove along one of the lesser traveled roads.
"He just grunted and said that accidents happen, and that maybe whoever was transcribing their report just missed it," Joyce answered.
"You think he really believes that?"
"No. But we need a whole lot more than that before we start screaming about conspiracies," she replied, shaking her head. "Like, for instance, some idea of who it was that killed the young woman we found or a possible motive that sounds a lot better to a district attorney than 'magic'."
"Okay, I'll agree with you on that," Xander nodded, as Joyce noticed him glancing into his rear-view mirror for the third time in less than a minute.
"Something you might want to mention to me?" she asked, glancing at the passenger-side mirror to see if she could spot whatever it was that had him on edge. She was professional enough to not turn around and look out the rear windshield and possibly alert anyone following them to the fact they had been noticed.
"The white van with the dented right front fender that's four cars behind us was parked in Andrea's apartment complex parking lot when we left and it's been following us since we left the diner after talking to those two cops," he informed her. "It matches the same general description of the vehicle Andrea said might have been following her right before she disappeared.
"And it's also made the last four random turns I've made," he added, before she could say anything.
"Interesting," she half-smiled as she glanced over at him. She was gaining more respect for her companion as the day passed.
"I don't suppose you can make this even easier for us and that you managed to catch a look at the license plate at the same time you noticed our stalker, did you?" she gently teased him.
"Hey, no making fun of the guy with only one eye," he grinned at her as he took a moment to glance over at her. "You're the one with all the superpowers here, remember?
Ignoring the wisecrack, Joyce asked, "What do you think we should do about this?
"If they actually are following us, they haven't done anything that we can use to justify stopping them and questioning them about," she pointed out.
"Maybe not officially," Xander agreed. "This might be a good time to use some of our old Sunnydale information-gathering techniques, though."
The grin on his face as he said that made Joyce's stomach twinge just the slightest bit, and she reluctantly asked, "What, exactly, were those?"
"Oh well, when we weren't sure what was going on, we'd head on down to Willie's place – he ran the local demon bar," he added parenthetically, "and then Buffy would threaten him with physical violence until he told us what we wanted to know."
"I can't do anything like that!" Joyce immediately exploded in outrage. "I'm a federal agent, and that's not only illegal and get me fired, it'd invalidate any evidence that we might discover later as a results of any information you get from the person I threatened!"
"Yeah, you are," Xander nodded with a grin that seemed entirely too predatory for Joyce's peace of mind, "but I'm not, so anything I might find out is completely okay for you to follow up on, right?"
"Yeah, I suppose so," she replied doubtfully. "But –"
"Good," he cut her off before she could say anything else. "Then it's settled. Now, let's find a place for us to talk with our shadow. The snow's made that a lot easier than it would normally be."
Joyce frowned, not completely comfortable with the plan, but since she couldn't see any other alternative available to them at the moment, she just shrugged and sat back.
It took Xander only ten minutes to drive to a new housing development being out up on the outskirts of the city, their shadow letting the distance between them increase to several hundred yards as the traffic grew less congested.
"Okay, let's see what they do when I do this," Xander said as he made an abrupt turn down one of the still-only-partially completed streets and accelerated, breaking the line of sight that the other had been maintaining during their drive.
Turning left down another of the only-partially-finished streets, he made yet another abrupt turn and pulled behind a large construction trailer, killing his headlights and concealing them from the view of anyone passing by on the street, but leaving the engine running.
"What're you doing?" Joyce demanded.
"Waiting to see what our unknown playmates are going to do," he told her.
"If they are involved with Andrea's murder and they've been following us most of the day, then they're probably pretty sure we haven't come across anything having to do with the case that they don't know about, so far, so I'm doing something they won't be understand, to see what their reaction is," he explained as he watched the street intently.
"This street is a dead end, so there's nowhere we can go," he told her. "I'm waiting to see how curious whoever's driving the van is. Do they follow us in here to see what we're doing, or just wait for us to come back out? I'm hoping they're the impatient type, myself."
"And if they do follow us in, what do we do then?" Joyce asked. "What did you guys do back in Sunnydale when this Willie guy didn't have anything to tell you?"
"Beats me," Xander shrugged with another of she was coming to realize was his habitual goofy grins. "Giles was the brains back then, I was just the comedy relief."
Before she could say anything more, the white van that had been following them drifted past slowly, as thought looking for something.
The moment it was past, Xander gunned the engine and pulled out behind them, the SUV now blocking the street, and negating any chance of escape without a confrontation.
Xander got out and began approaching the van, albeit a bit cautiously, Joyce reluctantly admitted as she quickly got out and followed him.
"You guys want to explain why it is you're following us?" he demanded, stopping about ten feet back as the van's doors swung open and two guys got out to confront him.
The driver was a darkly-tanned Caucasian, medium height – maybe five feet, eleven inches tall – with brown eyes, a shaven head, and probably medium build (although that was hard to determine with him wearing the heavy winter coat he had on), Joyce automatically catalogued the man's description as she closed in to guard Xander's back.
His companion was a taller black man, about six feet, three inches in height, and more massively built, brown-eyed and sporting a shaven-head, too, she noticed.
Both of the men who had been following them had an aura of arrogance that seemed to radiate from them as they stood there staring at them.
"No, not really," the driver shook his head and sneered as he moved forward till he was only an arm's length away, as though he were going to physically confront Xander.
"But you should know that you're sticking your nose into things that really don't concern you in the least," he went on, "and that if you don't back off, then all kinds of unfortunate things could happen."
"Is that a threat?" Xander half-smiled as he stood there listening to the other man speak.
" 'Cause if it is, I gotta say, I've been threatened a lot of times, by a lot scarier things than you and I'm still here," he added with a little shrug.
"You've got a real pretty wife and a beautiful little baby. It's be a real shame if – uurrrkk!"
Whatever the guy was going to say was lost as Xander suddenly moved faster than Joyce would have believed possible for anyone completely human.
Once moment, he had been standing there, calm as anything; the next, he had lunged forward, his left fist sinking wrist deep into the guy's stomach and doubling him over, as his right slammed into his jaw. A second later, he had the driver of the van pinned against the back of the van, hand around his throat and his Five-seveN pressing into the soft tissue under the guy's jaw, with a look of complete and utter ruthlessness on his face like nothing she'd ever seen before.
The big black guy had just started to move towards Xander, as surprised as they all were at how quickly and violently he had reacted to the uncompleted threat to his family, when Joyce took him down with a simple leg sweep, being careful to not move at anywhere near her top speed as she did so, and she held him pinned on the ground with an arm lock as she looked to see what Xander was doing.
"You just made your first and last mistake by mentioning my family, ass wipe," the Agent could hear him growling at his semi-conscious prisoner as he shoved the muzzle of his pistol more firmly into the guy's throat. "Now, I'm only going to say this one time, so you better pay real close attention."
"If I even think that someone is looking the wrong way at my family, I'm gonna hunt you down and find you, and once I'm done with you, the coroner will have to make a DNA match-up to be able to identify what's left of your body," he said in a low voice that left everyone listening without the slightest doubt that he was completely willing and able to follow up on his promise.
"So, do we understand each other?" he asked, using his grip on his throat to shake the rapidly recovering man.
"Y-yeah, I heard you," the guy managed to gasp out as he tried to pull air into his laboring lungs.
"Good," Xander growled, before abruptly pulling his pistol back and then slamming it against the side of his prisoner's head, knocking him cold. He let the guy slump to the snow-covered ground, no expression at all on his face, before then leaning down and pulling the guy's wallet from his back pants' pocket.
Riffling through the wallet's contents, he pulled a laminated card from one of the plastic pockets and then dropped the wallet back next to the unmoving body.
"Let him go," he instructed Joyce as he walked over to look down at the black guy whose arm she still had in a control hold.
Warily, she did as he said and then watched uncertainly as he pointed his pistol in the guy's general direction.
"If you're following us around, then you probably have a pretty good idea of what you're involved in," he said in a conversational tone of voice. "If you don't, then I'll tell you that you're playing around with things that are better left alone.
"Either way, you heard what I said to your buddy over there. The fact that you're both still alive after he threatened my family means that you're very, very lucky," he informed the other man, as he rose to his feet.
"Be smart and don't push that luck any further," he said, right before he kicked the guy in the head.
As the guy slumped to the ground, unconscious, Xander then bent over and riffled through his wallet the same he had done with the driver of the van. And just as he had done with the driver, after pulling out a laminated card, he dropped the wallet next to its insensate owner, then turned and began walking back to his SUV.
"Harris! What the hell was that!" Joyce immediately demanded, the moment she stopped staring at him in disbelief at what he just done.
"An example of two people who came very close to proving Darwin correct," he answered calmly as he climbed into his SUV.
"What!" she half-screamed as she stood outside, staring at him through the opened passenger-side door. "What does that mean?"
"You never heard of Charles Darwin?" he asked, a skeptical look on his face. "Come on! If they taught about him in Sunnydale, I know that all the other school systems in the country must have taught about him, too!"
"I know who Darwin is!" Joyce snapped at him. "What I meant was, what did you think you were doing back there with that little demonstration of macho bullshit!"
"Come on, get in," he replied as he started the engine. "It's too cold out for you to be standing outside and arguing."
Once she had climbed in, he shifted into first and headed out of the development, apparently not giving any further thought to the two unconscious men they had left lying on the snow-covered street.
"All right, enough bullshit! Tell me why I shouldn't have you arrested for assaulting those two guys back there?" she demanded as they drove along.
"Well, probably because if you really did want to prevent me from doing anything to either one of those scumbags, you would have acted back there, and not just stood by and watch," he pointed out reasonably. "After all, with you being a Slayer, you could've stopped me quite easily.
"And since you didn't, now I can give you those guys' driver's licenses and you can have your people check both of them out," he added as he handed her the cards he'd taken from the guys' wallets. "And you can check out their fingerprints and see if the names that come up for them match up with the ones on the licenses."
"You had all of that planned when you attacked that first guy who tried to threaten you?" Joyce was staring at him with a mixture of surprise and respect.
"Nope," he shook his head, quickly disrupting her idea of him as one of the most devious people she'd ever met. "That asshole made the mistake of trying to threaten Dawn and Jessie. After I had him laid out on the ground, I figured I might as well make the most of the situation."
"Did you really mean what you were saying back there?" she then asked him, staring at him while once again trying to reconcile the friendly and easy-going guy she'd been working with most of the day with the cold and very dangerous man she'd seen suddenly appear to threaten the two men who'd been tailing them for several hours. "About what you'd do if they threatened your family again."
"Certainly," he replied, taking a moment to glance over at her. "That's number one in my rules to live by: 'Nobody hurts the people I care about. Ever.' That includes threatening them and walking away unhurt."
"What are some of your other rules?" Joyce asked curiously. She really couldn't argue with him once he'd explained his reasoning; she had similar rules, herself.
"Well, one of my favorites lately is, 'If Buffy's visiting and staying with us, put her favorite cereal on the top shelf in the cabinet, and hide the step stool'," he informed her with a mischievous grin.
"By the way, when you call your boss about running down those licenses, don't forget to give him the license number Andrea gave those cops," he reminded her as he brought their conversation back to its original purpose.