"So much for the theory that it never rains in Southern California." He hadn't seen the sun or a break in the clouds since he got in early this morning. It made the rather mundane drive from Los Angeles south to Sunnydale, California a little more exciting.
He had just taken a sip of his coffee when he spotted his exit. Good thing, too, because the sip was his last. Staying awake wasn't normally a problem, but the rain and the chill in the air made for good sleeping weather. Not so ideal when you were in the process of driving.
"Sunnydale. What do you have in store for me?"
It seemed like an ordinary enough town. Close enough to LA but still far enough away. He'd read up on it some. The death rate here was off the charts high. Unexplained phenomenon was, too. He assumed that the death certificate on file he was here to investigate had been a mistake. Sloppy administrative work. A death certificate had been written up for this Buffy Summers by mistake when it really should have been someone else's name on the document. It happened on occasion. Rare, but people were hurried and made mistakes. Type in one wrong number of a social security number and you had John Doe instead of Jane Doe.
That meant that someone else was probably dead and unaccounted for. That could lead to problems with the IRS and other agencies. Dead people can't pay taxes, but if someone isn't reported as dead. Well, the IRS will come a-calling to collect. His job wasn't to find out who had actually died, though.
He found the address in question easily enough. It appeared to be your typical suburban neighborhood. Some of the houses he passed had bars on the windows and doors. He wasn't sure if that was for aesthetics or precautionary measures. It was difficult to tell in a neighborhood like this. The projects of Chicago he'd know it was precautionary. The crime rate here was such that he wouldn't be surprised by either reason.
The odd thing was the woman listed on the death certificate yet seemingly still alive was listed in many files about the town. No one attributed her as a troublemaker, though the former principal of the high school tried to pin such a label on her. She just happened to be there when things happened, and stopped them. And from all the reports he could find, she never got hurt. So, why was there a death certificate with her name on it on file?
He knocked on the door, pulling out his ID and badge in one fluid motion. It was a practiced movement, one he'd performed a hundred, if not a thousand, times before. The monotony of it didn't bother him. His alternative? Taking lives out in the field. He liked the life he'd chosen, even if he did get sent on stupid jobs a time or two.
The brunette that answered looked a little baffled at seeing him standing there. He glanced at his wristwatch. It wasn't too late. He'd debated about the hour when he'd arrived, but he just wanted to get this over with.
At least here on the covered porch he was sheltered from the elements. He hadn't thought to bring a trench coat, which meant he'd be sending his suit to the cleaners ASAP. There was nothing like a musty smelling suit to impress a suspect or witness. Or a woman. Depending on his intentions of course.
"Hi, I'm Special Agent Seeley Booth. Is there a Buffy Summers here? And if she is may I speak with her?"
"Wh-What's this about, Ag-Agent Booth?"
"Just a couple of routine questions, ma'am. Is she here?"
"Uh, no, she's no-not here."
"Do you know where I might find her?"
The brunette glanced behind her, Booth peaked over her shoulder but couldn't make out who she might be looking at. A second, younger brunette came to the door.
"Can I help you?"
Oh brother, he mused to himself. Just what he needed, the third degree from a teenager who's probably seen too many episodes of CSI or Law & Order. He wasn't even sure why he was on this assignment to begin with. Word had come down from higher-ups, like the Executive Branch higher-ups. They wanted the status of Buffy Anne Summers confirmed one way or the other, alive or dead. And they wanted it pronto. He was in between cases and partnerless at the moment, so he was the Bureau's logical choice. It didn't mean he had to like it.
"I'm just looking for Buffy Summers. Can you tell me if she's home?"
The younger brunette eyed him with something akin to interest. "Are you the guy who stood her up?"
"Dawnie," the first brunette whispered, loud enough for Booth to hear though. He couldn't help but smile.
"No, I'm afraid not." He held his badge and ID up again, letting her get a good look at them. "I'm with the FBI."
"What do you want with Buffy? Did Riley send you? Because if he did, it's pretty lame of him not to come himself."
"I don't know anyone named Riley." At least he didn't think he did. "So, I can't speak to his coming himself. I just have a few routine questions is all. I really do need to speak with her, though. Is she home?"
The younger brunette seemed to think it over. "I'm not sure where she is. You could try The Magic Box or The Bronze. They're both downtown. She'll be at one or the other I'm pretty sure."
"All right. A hint as to which one you think I should choose first?" He brushed his suit coat back on one side, sliding a hand into his pants pocket.
"You're the guy with the badge."
"Dawnie, don't. He's an FBI agent."
He smirked, biting back the sharp retort that was on the tip of his tongue. Just where was this girl's parents? And why was she allowed to talk like that? He wasn't just an adult, someone older, he was an FBI agent. That should garner some respect. There was a time kids feared a badge. "Thanks for your help," he said.
"So-sorry we couldn't be of mo-more help."
"It's all right." Why should something that seemed easy actually be that way? How hard should it be to confirm someone is alive or dead?
Booth found his way to The Magic Box. He sat in his car, vaguely aware of the windshield wipers squeaking now that the rain wasn't quite so heavy as to warrant them being run constantly.
"The Magic Box," he said, turning on his dome light to jot the name of the business down on his notes. He wanted to detail every step in the event he couldn't find her. Certainly, if she was dead the brunette wouldn't have suggested he could find her at this place or the other. Now all he needed was visual and oral confirmation. He'd be set, another case closed and taken off the books.
He liked to the think the higher-ups would notice the speed with which he closed the case, assuming he closed it tonight that was. He'd barely had it in his possession for twenty-four hours. If he could call in with a preliminary report tonight, that would be excellent.
He wasn't a suspicious man by nature nor did he think of himself as being closed minded. Magic. It wasn't something he really believed in, but enough people did that they could be dangerous. He found himself reaching for the smaller version of his bedside rosary he kept on his person as he entered the store, though. He ran his fingertips over the smooth metal and said a silent prayer at the threshold.
"May I help you?" She was a perky, attractive blonde, eyeing Booth as if she was expecting him to plunk down a hundred dollar bill there and then.
"I'm looking for Buffy Summers. I was told she might be here." No sense making her think he was there for another reason.
"So you're not here to buy anything?"
"Uh, no," Booth said, taking a glance around the store. "Sorry. I'm sure it's good stuff."
"Yeah, right. She's not here."
"I was told she might be at a place called The Bronze if she wasn't here."
"That's as good a choice as any."
A man came into view from the back of the store. He was a little older than the woman, glasses, distinguished looking. He noticed Booth immediately and Booth realized looking into the man's eyes that he probably didn't miss much.
"Can I help you?"
"He's looking for Buffy."
"Buffy you say?"
"Yes, Buffy Summers," he said, pulling out his badge yet again. "I just want to ask her a few questions. Does she come here often?"
"If someone from The Initiative sent you, you can tell them they're too late and how often she frequents my establishment is really none of your concern. I may not be a citizen, but I'm aware that it still is a free country."
The Initiative? Was there some organization out here associated with the government? He'd have to look into that. "I'm just an FBI agent. There's been a mixup of sorts with some records. I just need to talk to Miss Summers, and actually see her, to get it cleared up."
"Oh, well, I suppose she's probably at The Bronze by now. Wouldn't you agree, Anya?"
"I already told him that was probably as good a choice as any. Did you try her at home?"
"I did. They told me to come here or The Bronze."
"Well, she's not here."
"Anya," the man said.
"I get that. Thanks for your help."
"Do you know how to get there, Agent?"
"Well, it's rather simple, I'll show you," he said, stepping outside with Booth. He gave him directions. He didn't return to the store or step away when he'd finished, so Booth gathered there was something on his mind. "Is she in some sort of trouble?"
"No, sir, I assure you it's just a snafu with some paperwork that needs to get straightened out. Once I talk to and see her, I'll be out of your hair."
"Very well, Agent. I hope you find her then."
"Me, too," Booth said simply. "What was your name?"
"Are you a friend of Buffy's? Or is she a regular customer of your store?"
"Mm, both I guess you could say. She has friends who are practicing Wicca's so they frequent our store. And I've known Buffy since she moved to Sunnydale from Los Angeles. I was the librarian at Sunnydale High."
He noticed he used past tense. So, he went from being a librarian to owning a magic store? That seemed a little strange, but Booth wasn't one to judge really. "All right," he said, filing that information away for later. She wasn't from Sunnydale. He couldn't remember if he'd read that in the notes. "Thank you, Mr. Giles. Have a good evening."
"You as well, Agent."
He made a quick stop on his way to The Bronze, trading his suit in for something a pair of jeans and a pullover shirt, that's all he brought with him beside his suit. He wondered if he might get more cooperation if he wasn't so obviously an official person. He should have thought of it earlier. This wasn't a case, it was more of an alive and well check. There were agents in the Bureau who did this type of thing all of the time.
He wished there was something he could do about his hair, but until the rain let up he was pretty much stuck with it. He loved a good storm as much as anyone, he just preferred being home and not running around looking for twenty-something women in them.
The Bronze was busy when he got there, evidently the rain wasn't keeping the customers away. He wasn't sure how he was supposed to find her amidst the crowd, but he was determined to get this done tonight. If he finished tonight, he could be on his way back east tomorrow morning. He wished that he had a picture of Buffy Summers to go by, but he had nothing but a name. So, he did what he did best. He got himself a beer and he schmoozed. He talked and smiled, making his way through the crowd without actually giving away that he was looking for someone. Finally, he found a group that not only knew her, but more importantly, had seen her. Even better still, he was able to get a handle on what she was wearing so he at least had something to work with when he went upstairs to look for her.
It took him a couple of minutes to find her. The upstairs area was small, but much darker than the lower level. He passed quite a few couples while looking for her that didn't seem to have dancing on their minds. At least, not any sort of dancing he knew about - with clothes on anyway.
She was alone, standing by the railing that overlooked the dance floor below. He glanced from her to the people dancing once he'd made his way to her side. Now that he actually had her in his eyesight, he wasn't entirely sure how to approach this. Did she even know she was reportedly dead? That somewhere in the county seat there was a death certificate with her name on it? He allowed himself to check her out, take her in. She was most definitely alive.
"Bored?" he asked simply, leaning against the railing.
She shrugged and gave him a sideways glance. "Just not much with the dancing tonight."
"Are you other nights?"
"I guess, not so much lately, though."
"There comes a time when you just start to wonder what the point is."
"Ah," he said with a knowing nod. Scenes like this could get old. "You're a little young to have gotten to that point, but I understand."
She turned to face him then, looking as if she might argue her point until she glanced over his shoulder at something. Or someone. "What's your name?"
"Booth. Seeley Booth. I," he started to tell her why he was there. That he wasn't here to pick her up. Her kiss stopped him from saying anything more. And it wasn't just a peck either. Thoughts of his being there in an official capacity drifted away when he felt her tongue graze his lower lip. She was a good kisser, from a purely good or bad standpoint. She lacked something, though. He wasn't sure how to describe it as she broke the kiss, sliding her hand into his. Beyond it lacked emotion, feeling. He just got the impression she wasn't all there. Not that she didn't have his attention.
"Listen," he mused with a frown when he saw a not too happy looking blond guy looking at them.
"Spike, I told you I had plans tonight."
"Who's this, luv?"
He closed his eyes, wondering what he'd just stepped into.
"Your date, huh. He doesn't look like any bloke I've seen before around these parts."
"Does he look like someone who usually comes here or the places you go, Spike?"
The man, Spike?, extended his hand to Seeley. "The name's Spike. It's nice to meet you. How do you know our girl here?"
"I, uh," he glanced from Spike to Buffy.
"You do know her, right?"
He felt a death-like grip on his hand. She had a good one, too.
"Yes. We were about to go down for a dance, though," he said.
"Oh? Going out back for a little snog later, too?"
"Actually, I was thinking more like my room, but if she wants to stop out back for a bit I wouldn't complain."
He heard her laugh and what he thought sounded like a growl come from Spike. He must have heard wrong, feedback from one of the band's microphones or something. Humans didn't make that kind of sound. Buffy clutched his arm with her hand.
"Let's go," she whispered, standing on her tiptoes so he could hear her.
The song was a slower one, thank goodness. Seeley wasn't much of a dancer, but slow ones he could fake his way through.
This wasn't how he'd seen this going, but he'd give her a dance or two, ask her a few questions to confirm she was who he believed her to be. Then he'd offer her a ride home and be on his way. Back at his hotel room he'd change his return flight for the first one available out of LA and he'd be set.
"Sorry about that," she said when they were downstairs.
"Not even close. He likes me, I don't like him, he thinks if he hovers and harasses me."
"Ah, I get it." Seeley glanced up to the second floor. Spike hadn't left the spot they'd just vacated. Seeley didn't scare very easily. He'd looked down the barrel of his weapon time and time again, pulling the trigger without breaking a sweat. The look on the blond Englishman's face told Seeley he'd tear his heart out if he could.
"Listen, thanks. I don't normally. I mean, you're cute and all, it's just."
It was Booth's turn to surprise her. He wasn't sure how the Spike guy had caught up to them so fast, but he had and Seeley had caught a glimpse of him out of the corner of his eye. So, he did what any man would do under the circumstances. Well, given she'd kissed him first anyway. He took her into his arms and kissed her.
It started out much the same way the first one had. Sterile, a kiss you could write a textbook blurb on. Somewhere, somehow, though they got beyond that. Maybe it was when they both let emotions come into play. Things like getting turned on. Forgetting they were kissing as part of a ruse to make some guy think she had a date. Or feeling her hands slide along his back to his waist and chest. Oh, yeah, she was definitely a living, breathing woman. Just why didn't she have a date?
"Do you bring guys here and, what did he call it, snog often?"
She laughed. "No. I mean, I won't say I've never kissed a guy here, but not random guys."
He kissed her lightly, lingering just a bit. "I can't say I'm complaining."
"Who's the guy you were supposed to be out with tonight?"
"I was by your house earlier and one of the girls who answered the door asked if I was the date that had stood you up."
"Oh, I didn't really, I just told them that so they wouldn't think I was being mopey."
"Ah. He's still around, isn't he?"
"He will until he sees us leave together?" He was getting a feel for how this guy worked.
"Well, then we'll leave together. I need to talk to you anyway."
"Yes, that's what I've been trying to tell you. Listen, this is going to sound awkward and a little strange. I want you to know who I really am."
"Okay. You're not really Seeley Booth?"
"No, I am. It's just that I'm an FBI agent."
"I'm here looking for you."
She laughed then. "You're kidding. What could the FBI want with me?"
"I was sent here to confirm you're alive."
"Because there's a death certificate with your name on in it."
"Get out. Really?" He was pretty good at reading people, detecting things from the way they said things. She wasn't entirely surprised to hear about the death certificate.
"Any idea why that might have happened?"
"No. This is Sunnydale. People die, lots of people die."
"I noticed that."
"So, I don't know what to tell you. I have my birth certificate and social security card at home if you need to see them."
"Yeah, I will."
"Okay." He noticed her looking in Spike's direction.
"Is he going to hurt you or something?"
She laughed, it was really more of a scoff. "Spike? No," she shrugged. "He's just not my type and he thinks he is."
"Well, I was kind of kidding about offering to take you back to my room, but if you wanted to."
"And then you'll be gone, right? I mean, you'll go back to wherever you came from?"
"Washington, D.C. And right."
She looked at him, nibbling on her lower lip. "I can't do this."
"Hey, you're an adult."
"No, I really can't do this. I've had sex with three guys. One was a one-night stand, only I didn't know it. But it wasn't like this. I didn't just meet him or anything."
"And I'll bet he wasn't here to confirm you're alive either."
She laughed. "No, no, he wasn't."
"Listen, I'm really not inviting you back for anything more than the use of the bed. For that matter, we can go get coffee if there's a place for that until you think enough time's passed for me to bring you home and have it still be a date. You told that guy we were together, and maybe it'll make him think twice before bugging you again."
"I doubt it, especially since you'll be going back to D.C."
"You could always tell him I'm a long distance guy or something."
"I can't even hang onto a local guy, I doubt he'd believe that."
"How could he prove you were lying?"
"Let's go back to your place so I can see the birth certificate and social security card and then we can go from there. If you decide you want to come with me. Fine. If you just want coffee, that's cool by me. On the other hand, I could always do some up close and personal inspections to make sure that you're not a fake."
She laughed. "Yeah, because so many other girls would walk around claiming to be Buffy."
"All right, let's go. I'm not having fun dancing with Spike glowering at me anyway."
The rain hadn't stopped, in fact it seemed to be coming down heavier again. He opened her door for her before getting in the car on his side.
"Listen, I won't lie to you. I just got out of a relationship. It ended pretty badly, but I have a son out of the deal. So, I'm not looking for a relationship or anything."
"If this is the let down that should come tomorrow I've already read the disclaimer."
"Just making sure. I'm not here to hurt anyone. And I think you're the kind of girl that would get hurt, whether you realize it or not. So, I think I'm going to stick with coffee and leave it at that."
"Because you're just here to confirm I'm alive?"
He turned the car on, letting the wiper blades be the only sound for a minute while he collected his thoughts.
"No, I mean that's part of it, sure. I'm not paid to sleep with my witnesses, but no. I don't know you, but I see the look in your eyes that I can tell a one-night stand wouldn't work for you."
"You see that?"
"Yeah, yeah, I do. The way you kissed me at first told me, too. You've been hurt, I get that. I'm a man, but I try and pride myself on being a gentleman and I wouldn't feel right leaving here tomorrow knowing I added to that hurt."
"So, what happens then?"
"What do you mean?"
"You confirm I'm alive and then what?"
"I don't know. I close the case, report to my superiors and they do with it whatever they need to. The Bureau isn't interested actually, it came from someone else. I don't know who, but pretty high up. Whoever you are, someone in the top tier of things has you on their radar."
"Yeah, I've been trying to figure that one out myself. I mean, someone would have to be pretty damned important to get the attention you seem to have gotten. Are you going to tell me who you are?"
"I'm just a woman, Seeley. Buffy Summers."
He wasn't so sure about that, but as he headed to her house to get the proof he needed for his report he realized that it was all he was going to get out of her. And, really, why should she give him any more than that? That didn't mean when he got back to D.C. he couldn't do some digging on his own. And maybe, just maybe he'd be back and could rethink the coffee bit.