Title: Substitute Duties

Author: Jedi Buttercup

Rating: T

Summary: A:tS, Die Hard 4. Lucy would never forgive him if John interrupted her and Matt's first weekend free in god knew how long. 2000 words.

Disclaimer: The words are mine; the worlds are not.

Spoilers: A:tVS post-"Not Fade Away"; "Live Free and Die Hard" (2007)

Notes: For a TTHFFA challenge. Follows "A Watcher's Duty".

John sighed, wincing at the pull on his black-and-blue ribs as he fished in his pocket for his car keys. It had been a long day- a very long, very boring day- spent following Ferrell and a team of FBI agents along a cyber crime trail, with nothing much to show at the end of it. Thank god it was Friday; with no urgently pressing leads for the task force and the paranormal upsurge of the full moon behind them, he and the kids had a quiet weekend ahead of them for once.

He frowned as his fingers encountered an unexpected shape- and realized, abruptly, that the weight he'd assumed was his keys when he left the station was something else altogether. This wasn't the jacket he usually wore to work, it was the one he'd had on the night before- the one he'd had to dust grass off of that morning.

"Damn it," he muttered, pulling the probably-stolen medallion from its hiding place and weighing it in his palm. Lucy had said she'd take the thing to Matt to research what exactly it was and what the demons they'd been fighting had planned to do with it, but he'd stuck the gaudy thing in a pocket during their argument after the dust fell and forgot all about it. Then he'd left it there all day at work, missing the opportunity to hand it over to Matt himself.

Lucy would never forgive him if he interrupted her and Matt's first weekend free in god knew how long- and personally, he'd rather keep existing in complete denial of what exactly they got up to when they were alone together. It didn't matter that Lucy could bend the kid into a pretzel all on her own if he crossed a line with her; she was still John's little girl, and until Matt stuck a ring on her finger- if he ever did- it was better for the continued health and sanity of all involved if he paid as little attention as possible.

That left him with just one alternative, unless he wanted to hang onto it all weekend. And he didn't. All that magic crap made him goddamn uncomfortable. It would be just his luck if the thing turned out to be the key ingredient in some spell or apocalypse or other, set to turn his apartment into magical ground zero if he hung onto it instead of turning it over to the experts.

It had surprised him, actually, that Matt was so much more comfortable with that kind of thing than he was, even considering the kid's familiarity with all that online World of Whatever gaming garbage. Pixels didn't bite back. Magic did, and it was dangerous enough to scare even John. According to Matt, though, spells were 'ethereal programs that hacked the intangible laws of the universe', whatever that meant, which made it all easier for him to get a mental handle on.

Whatever. As long as he kept John supplied with the information they needed to keep Lucy alive, John could deal. And in cases where Matt's research skills weren't enough- or when, as today, Matt happened to be unavailable- the Council had pointed them to another resource he could use. The spokeswitch for their borough made the hair stand up on the backs of his arms, but that was better than keeping the medallion in his pocket all weekend long, primed for god-knew-what.

He sighed, bracing a hand on the hood of his car, and leaned forward until his forehead met cool metal. Then he straightened and strode off toward the nearest staircase out of the parking garage. The coven's headquarters was close enough to hoof it if he didn't strain himself, and he could detour through the station on his way back to find his keys- wherever he'd managed to lose them over the course of a fidgety afternoon.

"Ain't your first trip on the merry-go-round," he muttered as he fumed his way over to the address in question. The Council-owned building had been a house once upon a time, not too high in the instep but not rock-bottom rent either, and gave off a kind of genteel aura of decay. Unassuming. Inoffensive. It raised his hackles, just looking at it, knowing what kinds of things went on behind that faƧade.

"Don't be a bigot, John," he sighed, then trudged up the front steps. His own daughter was just as deadly- and as well-intentioned- as most of the people living in that crazy supernatural world. It was just that so many of those he'd met had scorned John's badge before he could even open his mouth, and it bothered him, knowing that so much power rested in hostile, often immature, hands. It didn't matter what they looked like, or what their ancestry was; what mattered was whether they would be that guy in a pinch, or turn into obstacles for John to trip over. He really didn't want to face the end of the world some holiday soon and find himself under a barrage of spellfire from what was supposed to be his own side.

John shook his head, then reached for the doorknob. It turned easily under his hand; the security spells still recognized him, despite the several weeks that had passed since he'd last stopped by.

An optimistic bunch, the Council. He sighed and went inside.

The usual teenage kid wasn't at the desk in the entryway, though; John's brow furrowed as he took in the taller, much older form bent over something intricate and mechanical that looked like it ought to come out of the guts of a space-age car. John could hear the tramp of hasty young feet overhead in the big room the two local Slayers used for training, so he was pretty sure Caitlyn and little Ashley were still around, but he couldn't smell the cloying fragrance the old witch wore, and he'd never seen an adult male in the place other than himself, Matt, or one of the girls' relatives. That didn't bode well.

"S'cuse me?" he said, bringing himself to the strange guy's attention.

From the unhurried way the dark-haired head lifted, and the cool look of disinterest in the guy's steel-blue eyes, he'd already known John was there but had simply not found him interesting enough to acknowledge. "Yes. Can I help you?" he asked, in a British accent softened by time in the States.

John's nostrils flared, but he tamped down on his temper. Just because he rubbed him the wrong way at first glance didn't mean the guy was suspicious. "Yeah, is Erma Lea in?" he asked.

"Do you have an appointment?" the other man said, ducking an answer.

John blew out an irritable breath. "If I had a damn appointment, would I be asking?" he replied, cataloguing the stranger a little more closely as he stood behind the desk. The guy was wearing slacks and one of those casual/dressy shirts that washed clean easily and didn't wrinkle under a leather jacket; his shoes were the kind you could run in, and there was a distinct and unmistakable bulge where John would have concealed a gun in that outfit.

John's hand automatically drifted toward his own weapon, almost without thinking about it- but only almost, as he caught himself catching the other guy making similar movements. Casually, he crossed his arms in front of his chest, deliberately backing down the danger in his stance a little; and almost as though they were connected by string, the stranger's shoulders fractionally eased. Cop, soldier, criminal- whatever the guy was, he'd seen serious action.

"I'm afraid Ms. Burr is not in," he said mildly, in response to John's query.

John gnawed the inside of his cheek a little as he considered that. "Not in, as in stepped out to run to the grocer's? Or not in, as in come back next week?" The more he considered the man behind the desk, the more he leaned toward the latter; if Erma Lea had business elsewhere, it would make sense for the Council to have sent someone to watch over the place while she was gone. The organization's membership had run to Brits before the headquarters had been blown up, or so he'd heard.

"Not in, as in she's taken seriously ill, I'm afraid. Might I ask what this is about?"

Still mild, but with a razor edge of threat somewhere behind the polite posturing. John approved, as aggravated as he was by the blockading tactics. "Had some official business for her. Some kind of artifact my daughter came across on her patrol last night," he said, explaining just enough that the guy would twig if he were in the know but not enough to spook him if he wasn't.

From the way his eyebrows flew up and his stance relaxed, the answer was: definitely in the know.

"Ah! You must be Ms. McClane's father; my apologies. Ms. Burr's description was rather vague. I'm Wesley Wyndham-Price; I was brought in to consult on a remedy when she was struck with a malignant spell last week, and I've been assigned to watch the House until she recovers."

Price, Price; the name was throwing up some kind of flag in the back of John's brain, but he couldn't quite put his thumb on it. He was obviously a Watcher, though, with that talk about spells, so John grudgingly unbent enough to take the man's outstretched hand and shake it. "Pleasure," he said, brusquely. "Any idea how long that'll be?"

"Some days at least; perhaps a few weeks," Price replied. "It was very close. I do have some small knowledge of her fields of expertise, however; if you'd care to show me the artefact in question...?"

"Sure," John shrugged in response, tugging the medallion out of his pocket. Why the hell not? Better any hands other than John's; and how Price handled it would give John a better picture of his capabilities, too. Good to know, if Lucy was going to spend any time here while he was in the city.

He'd already learned that the gun was no affectation: the calluses on Price's palm didn't lie. Which was unusual, for a magic-slinging scholar. Lucy had said most Slayers and Watchers avoided guns in favor of melee weapons and crossbows: partly because bullets tended not to affect supernatural enemies the way they would human ones, and partly so vampires wouldn't start getting ideas about using them in return. The main exception she'd mentioned, after his last lecture about self-defense, had been one of the chief Slayers' ex-Watchers. The younger one had joined an independent demon-hunting group after the Council had fired him, and his name had been-

John froze mid-pass, holding tight to the medallion's chain as Price gripped the heavy gold pendant. "Wait a minute. Aren't you supposed to be dead? Lucy said she heard you went down in that big blowout in L.A. back in '04."

Price winced visibly at that, though he didn't seem upset or embarrassed. More- haunted, as though John's question had unearthed an unpleasant memory. "Yes, well. As it happens, there was some dispute over my contract," he said, dryly.

He left it at that. John was pretty damn curious about what contracts had to do with him not being dead, but knew better than to press past that expression. He'd seen that look in his own mirror, once or twice. "If you say so," he shrugged, then unclasped his fingers.

Price frowned at him for a long moment, then shook his head and held the medallion up, tilting it from side to side under the overhead light.

A guy who picked his battles carefully, knew his weaponry, and knew esoteric shit, too; why hadn't John met him sooner? This was a Watcher he could deal with: one who might be 'that guy'.

Maybe there was more company for his dinosaur ass in Lucy's world than he'd thought.