time to get the frak off the West Coast? Not when your rental car breaks down in Oxnard. Not even when you find yourself walking into something called the Fabulous Ladies Nite Lounge to sit while you wait for the tow truck. After all, you're into what you see on stage, despite not being a Fabulous Lady. No, it's when you realize the shape of the head at the table down front is familiar because you share DNA with it-- and as you sneak out you're
it was your Dad you'd almost run into.
"Freeze, asshole." She stepped closer, keeping herself in the blind side of the guy with the eyepatch. "Do not make a move."
Something about the voice was familiar, though Xander couldn't quite place it. Woman, not old but older than him, was all he could be sure of.
Well, that, and apparently 'pissed-off' which given he was the guy with a knot on the back of his head and a gun he couldn't quite make out pointed at him? Seemed a little unfair.
"Wasn't planning on it." At least until he stopped seeing double in a way that had nothing to do with having two eyes, and figured out what that move he wasn't making needed to be.
Miss Parker looked around at the 'crack team' she'd insinuated herself onto, and fought the urge to spit. Either in disgust at five of them getting taken down by one little girl, or by the girl's presence in this creep's motel room, she wasn't sure which. Everyone else out cold, and two Sweepers dragging off the 'target' while she dealt with the pervert did not help make her a happy camper. Times like this, she almost wished she was chasing Jarod.
Stepping over unconscious bodies, she made her way around her prisoner so she could see his face. Younger than she'd thought; mid-to-late twenties, maybe. The eye-patch wasn't an affectation, she noted from the way his remaining eye focused on her. Not Sweeper material, but more intelligent, at least from how careful he was being.
Private contractor? Pimp? Competition for the Centre?
"Who do you work for?"
"Funny, I was gonna ask you the same thing." He paused to listen for the sound of a vehicle starting up or taking off outside, but there was nothing. Which meant there was time for questions. "You from Wolfram and Ha--" Then he finally got a look at her face, and stopped cold.
It really, really couldn't be. Like, really really. You'd have to subtract 20-some years, for one thing.
Miss Parker waited for the end of the sentence, and when it never came, cocked one brow in disdain. "You don't get to ask where I'm from, moron. I'm the one with the gun. You're the pervert keeping a sixteen-year-old in his motel room."
"They only had one left," Xander answered, deceptively mild since the softness was more shellshock than anything else. He carefully waved an empty hand towards the beds, both of which had clearly been slept in. Granted most people would guess wrong about the one with the stuffed frog in it, but anyway.
He studied her face again. Still. She couldn't be. And yet. Even the way she held a gun.
She didn't look away then, but something about his stance, the evenness of his voice, made her re-think a few assumptions. So. Professional, then; maybe not Centre-calibre, but few were. Miss Parker ran down names in her head, remembered the one he'd mentioned-- Wolfram and Har--- Hart. Los Angeles firm. Represented scum of the earth, and the ridiculously wealthy bacterial life-forms that fed on it. Someone else wanted the girl with the impossible strength, and speed, and whatever else might be buried in her DNA.
Why was he staring at her like that, though? And why wasn't he trying to cut a deal? "I repeat: who are you?" After a beat, because while it wasn't unnerving, it was annoying: "And what the hell are you looking at?"
He wasn't trying to cut a deal because he didn't know who or what he was dealing with. Yet. "You."
Xander gave it his best guess, because it was the only one that made sense. "I think maybe I knew your daughter. Or well, a version of her."
Which was so far beyond bizarre that all she could do was stare at him. "Are you trying to make me shoot you?"
It was an honest question.
Clearly yes, since the next thing he said was, "...Maureen?" He meant it as a clarification. Judging by the look on her face, that wasn't how she took it.
Which made her tighten her grip on the gun from shock. The sonuvabitch was lucky she didn't shoot him. "What?" Her voice came out high and stunned, sounding like a little kid's; she stared at him again, really stared because she was going to have to remember this face. Anger built up, and she took a step forward. "How... Who told you that name?"
Very carefully, every second still clicking loudly in his ears, Xander answered, "I went to high school with Maureen Parker, though she'd probably point a gun at my head too if she caught me using her first name. Figured if you were her mom it wouldn't make a lot of sense to just say Parker, though."
Miss Parker would have laughed at any other time, but this statement was just right enough-- and wrong enough-- to piss her off again. "I don't have a daughter," she said through clenched teeth. "I never have had one. You know that. So who the hell told you my first name? Raines? Lyle?" An unpleasant, hurt feeling tightened her chest. "Jarod?"
Up until she said the last word, Xander's fuzzy-but-racing brain had been trying to put together a picture of a universe where maybe it was Parker who'd been stolen away from her mother at birth, and her brother who'd been raised with the family name. Then she hit 'Jarod' and the picture in his head turned upside down like somebody'd shaken a snowglobe.
"You can't be Parker. Not m-- not Jarod's Parker. You're too old." Okay, maybe he could've found a smoother way of putting that, in retrospect.
She glared at him. "Old? I'm younger than he is, and I'm not Jarod's anything, no matter what he told you about me! This is the stupidest conversation I've had in months, and I work at the Centre. That's saying something." Miss Parker backed off a step, adjusting her grip on the gun, trying to figure out what the hell the man's game was, all the while, the tick-tock awareness of the Sweepers' retrieval mission was counting down in the back of her brain. She froze. "Did he send you to get the girl? Kristen? Is that why you're here?"
She knew his Slayer's name; they'd come specifically for her. And...if this was Parker, it definitely wasn't his. Instead of answering, Xander asked her the question that was most important to him right now. "What're they doing with her?"
"At the moment, nothing. She's just being readied for transport," Parker said absently, trying to put together a coherent picture of what was going on. "If Wonder Boy sent you, why the hell didn't he contact me?" Her eyes narrowed, and she flicked off the safety on her gun. "Except he didn't. He knows me well enough that if he knew about Kristen, and what they have planned--" She cut herself off. "I'm going to give you one last shot, Pirate Jim. Tell me who you are and what your business with the girl is, or they're finding your body in the dumpster tomorrow."
"I work for the Council of Watchers. We train girls like Kristen. And by we I mean other people; mostly I pick them up and take them to London."
That wasn't entirely accurate, since you didn't get a lot of choice about what you taught somebody when you were attacked by something slimy about two minutes after you met them, but it wasn't his primary job, at least.
"London. And what kind of training? For what purpose?" Damnit, she didn't want to waste time on this. Everything out of this guy's mouth just raised more questions, and at this point, taking him into the Centre for interrogation might cause more problems than it would solve. She glared, wondering why this crap always came up when she had five million other things to work around. "And what the hell did Jarod tell you about me, anyway?"
"We train them to help people."
Xander sighed. He could lie, try to string this along and let her think he'd been sent by her version of Jarod, but he knew absolutely nothing about the guy in this dimension. He barely knew anything about the guy in Fandom beyond his jobs and that Parker cared about him. Plus... time. Was he racing against it or stalling for it? He had an idea, but he couldn't be sure.
Crapshoot whether the truth was weird enough to keep her interested, or unbelievable enough to just piss her off more, but what else did Xander have to work with? "Jarod didn't tell me anything about you. I only talked to him a couple of times, and both of those were before you guys were actually dating. You told me your first name. Just... a lot younger you. A really lot, since you were kind of four at the time."
The amount of what the fuck? needed to process that statement was enough to make her actually point the gun downward and just stare at him for about twenty seconds.
"You're insane," Miss Parker finally decided. Because that face wasn't one that lied well, she could see that much. "Which, fine. I'm going to ignore that for now. Just--" She meant to ask him about who else knew about Kristen, then knock him out, but damnit. Curiosity kicked in. "Four? Why four? And I never dated the lab rat. One freakin' kiss, and he..." She shook her head, caught on the usual fish-hook of her feelings for Jarod.
"Random wacky spell. We all turned into kids." Xander watched to see how that one would go over, because he had himself a vague guess that whatever these people wanted Kristen for, it didn't involve black magic, at least.
"Oh, a spell. Why didn't you say so, Houdini?" Parker gave him a disgusted look. "Fine. Into the closet, if you're going to bibble. I have to be out there in a few minutes, I don't have time for this crap."
"Been there, done that, didn't like the decor. Too many half-empty paint cans, not enough hot guys." Xander shook his head. "You people don't have a clue what you've got out there, do you. Besides the fact that she's strong and fast and you can use that for whatever the hell your Centre does."
Miss Parker's face went blank. "Does it matter? Strong and fast is enough to condemn her to whatever they have planned for her." She caught the slip on they and hoped he wouldn't. "Anything else is gravy. If you're going to say we can't handle it, you're wrong." She cocked her head. "And if the 'Council of Watchers' steps in-- geek patrol, I'm assuming? -- they'll be damn sorry. Tell all your friends."
He didn't miss it. Because he was listening to every word she said and didn't say like other lives besides his depended on it.
"That used to include you." Xander caught her gaze and tried as hard as he possibly could to hold it. "Or maybe somebody you used to be. Think about it - that girl was here with me of her own free will, and if she wants to go home, she can. Your people stuck a needle in her. The Parker I knew wouldn't be part of whatever they've got planned for her."
"I don't have any friends." And if that came out sounding lonelier than she intended, then Miss Parker shut that down fast.
"You don't know me. Don't act like you do. I've done things that would make your hair curl." That smile was not a happy smile. "You could ask Jarod, your good buddy, about that. He'd tell you. This job is a vacation from what I'm usually doing to him." Her voice grew quieter. "I have people to answer to. And you're insane. I'm not giving her to you. So, sorry about the lack of hot men. But at least this closet doesn't come with a padlock on the door."
"I'm sorry too." Xander wasn't stupid enough to specify for what, though maybe his face showed it. "But I'm not letting them take her out of here."
Yes, he knew there was a gun pointing not quite at his head now. Still, truth in advertising; while he could move, he'd be doing his job, and time, whether he'd been stalling for it before or not, was running out.
"I'm not crazy. I don't know if it matters to you that I'm not, but I can prove it. Sort of. The friend part, anyway. The magic part maybe not so much right now."
She should just shove him in the closet and be done with it. Just ignore all the questions, and stop wondering who else knew about Kristen, there'd be time for that later, and... Goddamnit.
"Prove it. That we were friends?" Miss Parker snorted. "Okay, One-Eyed Jack. This I gotta see."
"Not Jack. Wrong friend." Xander pointed to the low bureau that ran in front of the mirror, and the denim jacket that was tossed atop it. "There's a phone in my top jacket pocket. Hit the voicemail button and then First, then scroll to the next."
Not that he'd memorized the pattern for doing that more years ago than he really cared to admit had passed.
Keeping her gun on him the whole time, Parker picked up the jacket and found the phone. Not a taser disguised as a phone, not a jamming device, just a phone. She flipped it open, and listened to the first message, because, hello, gun. No one to stop her.
"He sounds sweet," she said, still training the gun on the guy. "Although probably as delusional as you are." Ignoring his reaction to that, she hit the button for the second message. And froze.
"Okay, things I forgot... I'll look out for Bridge, even though he has mad kung-fu skills and doesn't really need it...." Her voice. Much younger, strained but upbeat, making promises and trying to sound okay. But hers. Which meant-- oh god-- either someone had pulled a Gemini on her, or ... "Hating you for leaving, Xander. Call when you get there so I know you're okay." Or at least part of what he was telling her was true.
She closed the phone with fingers that shook. "Xander. Hunh." She cleared her throat. "Nice name."
"It's short for Alexander, but mostly only my grandma and the DMV call me that." Xander didn't let the fact that his knuckles had long ago gone white stop him from sounding as casual as he could manage. He nodded at the phone. "So. It's a thing. With parallel dimensions and weird timing." He darted a glance towards the long mirror behind the bureau, then back at her. "Sometimes weirder than others."
Her immediate response was bullshit, but that would have come out sounding weak. Because she didn't entirely believe it now. Her name, the voice on the phone, stuff he knew-- it was all skewed enough to be someone running a con, but... why? What was the point?
"Friends. Hunh." She pointed her gun at the floor, and put the safety back on. Forget the rest. This was the important part. Whether Xander-Watcher-pirate could be trusted. "How'd that happen?"
Xander blinked. "I got really really drunk and accidentally sent you an email about how much I didn't like kissing guys." He grinned despite the stress, because heh, then added, "Though I guess we were kind of friendsish before that, since we were both into vampire population-control."
"Of course we were." Miss Parker kept her voice deadpan, and sent the kid a you are smoking the bad weed, dude, look. "And I imagine that I-- this younger, alternate, parallel me--" She paused, trying to think what the hell she would do, if she cared about that sort of thing. "Told you to suck it up?"
"...not dirty?" Xander replied automatically, then shook his head. "I guess, more or less. Maybe more with the less, since it was something like 'go talk to somebody who knows about this shit.' Which I did, eventually."
He pointed at her, again careful and empty-handed. "You think I'm kidding about the vamp population-control, but I'm not. They're real. Just as real here as they were there." Then a finger toward the hinge-busted door. "That's what you've got out there. A vampire Slayer."
"Uh-hunh. Glad to know I give such good advice." God, he was nuts. On the other hand, harmless nuts, versus the Centre. Easy choice. Except there was no choice, the girl needed contacts, resources-- wait. "Just how big is this 'Watcher's Council', anyway?" Miss Parker flicked a glance at the door, and then had a sudden, horrifying thought. "Crap. She's not the only one, is she? You said them. Girls like Kristen. Plural. More than one."
"Dozens." If by dozens you meant hundreds, but he wasn't prepared to give her that much information. Not yet, maybe not ever.
And if what Raines could do with and to one super-powered girl was horrible, what he'd do with a dozen to waste didn't bear thinking about. She checked the time. Ten minutes. She barely had any leeway left. Now or never. Decide.
She didn't have to trust him. She just had to trust herself. Whoever, whatever person he knew, had called him friend. And meant it.
"Xander?" Miss Parker made a very careful showing of putting away the gun. Then reconsidered, slid the safety on, and handed it to him. "Have you ever taken a hostage before?"
Funny how fast white knuckles could click off a safety and put a muzzle to the back of somebody's head. "Not to curl your hair, but yeah."
Except the echo of the click and the hair that muzzle was buried in made Xander swallow against the feeling of whateverthehell he'd had for dinner three towns ago trying to crawl its way up his esophagus.
He gave a nervous laugh that he really wished he'd outgrown. "They're gonna believe I got the drop on you, though?"
The shoulders that had drawn themselves piano-string tight at the click of the gun suddenly relaxed at the nerves in that chuckle. Miss Parker deliberately tensed them again for appearance's sake, reminding herself and her sleeping ulcer that she chose this, she was trusting this kid, she wasn't in danger, God, Sydney was never going to believe she did this, Jarod would laugh himself ill if he ever found out....
"They're going to believe you got lucky. And they'll be so amused that it happened to me, they won't question it." She paused before turning the doorknob, realizing that maybe he needed to trust her. "I never would have let them get her back to the Centre. My brother has oversight on this project, and there was no way in hell I was going to allow that."
He stopped there for a moment. Maybe because that threw him, maybe because this had always been a bit of a waiting game. House of cards, always gonna fall but hard to tell which direction. "Angelo? Wow, he's gotta be different in this dimension."
And Miss Parker swung around, so surprised that she ignored the gun. "Angelo? I was talking about that cannibalistic bastard Lyle. Angelo's not my brother." She stared at Xander, and couldn't help the hope in her voice. "Is he?"
Xander lowered the gun a notch, for a moment. "Never heard anything about this Lyle guy, but I met Angelo. You said you had a twin that died when you were born..."
"...only it was a lie." Parker stared at him a little longer, then shook her head. "Later, we're going to have a talk about what you know, and what you don't. If that's the truth, and it can be proved--" Miss Parker's smile was jubilant and evil before she turned away to open the door again. "Christmas presents for everyone!"
"Hanukkah presents, if you're sending them to the guy who figured it out." Xander raised the gun again as they moved out the door, and muttered, "You manage that one, let me know."
"Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas and the Chinese Goddamn New Year." Parker opened the door-- carefully, with those hinges-- then blinked, and came to a stop. "Well, well, well...."
Kristen was just knocking out the second Sweeper, letting his unconscious body fall to the pavement, and turning around to scowl at Parker. She smiled when she saw Xander holding the gun. "Xander, are you okay?"
"Did I mention the awesome recovery time?" Xander nodded to Kristen. "I'm fine."
Parker held out her hand without turning around. "I want my gun back."
Kristen flipped a long blonde braid over her shoulder and frowned in Parker's direction, moving quickly towards them across the parking lot in the glare of headlights from the Sweepers' van.
Xander just flicked the safety on, then handed the gun back to its owner.
"Kristen, Parker. Parker, Kristen."
"Miss Parker," she corrected him, then, to Kristen, "Hey." With a quick flash of a smile, because she did not want this girl mad at her, then she holstered her gun and turned back to Xander. "So. Maybe we should exchange phone numbers? Just in case."
Xander reached for his card automatically -- the one with his real info on it, not the sort-of-legit licensed contractor card -- before remembering he'd been dragged out of bed, and everything including his wallet was still back in the room. That was okay, though. It gave him an excuse not to look at her and see what wasn't there, when he nodded slowly and repeated, "Miss Parker."
Yeah, maybe not.
Subject: Happy Birthday.
Hey, been a while. It's not that stuff stopped happening to me, just these days I forget to tell people about it who aren't asking for a written report and credit card receipts.
Did check the birth announcements again (even the ones this year just in case my math was off) but haven't seen your name. Then again didn't you say something about your mom going into labor on an international flight? So maybe wee little baby you is just technically a citizen of Lichtenstein or something.