Disclaimer: I do not own BTVS or Dollhouse. They both belong to Joss Whedon (who is my God), and the meanies at Fox who cancel anything remotely good, and all the other people who are not me.
“I really don’t like this.”
“Really? I couldn’t tell.” Paul responded from his spot on the couch in his apartment, as he watched his friend and colleague pace up and down his living room.
Loomis stopped pacing and turned towards him, “Paul, I being serious. You have agreed to go to location with a potential suspect, where you have never been before. Alone. Remember what happened the last time you did that? It involved you being shot.”
“I pulled up the building records. I know all the entrances and exits. I know the history, who it is owned and used by. I have everything that’s on record. No, it’s not an ideal situation but if it brings me one step closer to Caroline and bringing down the Dollhouse then I am willing to take it.”
“Getting shot didn’t even phase you did it?” Loomis sighed in defeat. Ballard was one of the most stubborn people she knew. Especially when it came to the Dollhouse. Since getting a photo of the mysterious Caroline he had not stopped working, even when he had been severely wounded investigating what turned out to be a false lead. Well, she supposed, what worse could happen? He had already been shot once, and if it happened again she would be by his side with a bag of grapes and her famous ‘I told you so’ look on her face.
This was not the first time it had happened and she seriously doubted it was the last. Willow had done something that seemed completely idiotic and potentially dangerous and she didn’t seem to understand the gravity of the situation. Usually when Willow pulled such a stunt it all worked out perfectly and there was an entirely rational explanation for her actions, which Kennedy never really understood till after the event or until Willow had explained it to her.
But this was one of the times when she really did need to know the situation, because inviting a Fed to their doorstep was one thing, but inviting them inside was another. Another bad thing. Beyond bad, it was terrible, so Kennedy needed to know and no amount of resolve face was going to stop her, however cute Will looked.
As she marched into the main office, she said, “Am I missing something here?”
“Err... what?” Willow looked up from the book she was studying. Some of the slayers had been attacked by a particularly nasty demon last night who had told them their Lord would wreak vengeance on whoever touched them. The slayers in true Scooby nature decided the better choice was to ignore this and stop them. Now Willow was just trying to work out who this supposed Lord was and if he posed any real threat. “Missing what? Is this about the demon, ‘cause-”
“What would compel you to make him come here? Don’t you know what secret identity is? That hacking is breaking the law? You’re leading him right to us.”
“So not about the demon then. I take it we’re talking about Ballard.”
“Yes as in the Fed. The one you have invited around for tea and cakes before he can arrest us. ”
“I thought it would be the obvious location.”
“Yeah to get us arrested!”
“Why would he arrest us? He has no connection between Willow Rosenberg and the ‘White Witch’. Or at least none that he can sufficiently prove. And in any case we will have the upper hand.”
“How? How could we possibly have the upper hand?”
“Have you ever wondered why we have never been attacked here and yet it’s common knowledge in the demon world where we are?”
“There is a shield like a force field around the place. Kinda like the one at Caritas but ours has been modified. No one – human or demon – can enter the Hotel or its grounds if they want to hurt us. No outsiders can do any violence – magical or otherwise and we can detect any weapons that a person enters with. We have the upper hand.
“If Ballard manages to get in, he will not be able to talk to us without leaving his weapons at the door, he will not be able to fight us and if push comes to shove and he leaves us no choice we can relieve him of his recent memories.”
“Will... you know your memory spells never work 100%. Remember what happened last time?”
“Oh come on, if he leaves here thinking he is a chicken for ten minutes, it’s only ten minutes, he’ll get over it.”
Paul looked up at the building in front of him. To say it was large was an understatement. But then it did used to be a hotel so what could he expect? He had already seen the blue prints but seeing it up close made all the difference. It was at least six stories high and had a basement area.
“Excuse me, coming through.”
Paul turned behind him was a teenage girl and a younger girl. The teenage girl was carrying what looked like two heavy shopping bags, while the younger girl was eating an ice cream.
“Do you mind? You’re kinda in the way.”
“You’re going in here?” Ballard replied, pointing at the hotel. Why were two children going in there?
“Yup that was the plan. And these bags are kinda heavy so could you please move yourself so my arms don’t drop off. Thanks.”
Paul moved, and the two girls walked past him. After a moment’s consideration, wondering if he had actually found the right building, he followed them in.
As he walked in to the building he was stopped by a voice.
“Put your weapons in the tray.”
“Excuse me?” He walked down to the receptionist’s desk. There was a tray on the counter in front of her.
“I said put your weapons in the tray.”
“I’m a Federal Officer; I will do no such thing.”
“We have small children around. It would be irresponsible of us to allow you to carry weapons around when at any minute a ten year old might jump out and shock you. You can either put your weapons in the tray and stay, or turn around and leave.”
“And it would be equally irresponsible for me to just leave them lying about.”
“Don’t worry we will take good care of them, they go in that locker. Only three people have the key for it, they would be Kennedy, Willow and who is ever on the desk, which for this afternoon is me. So weapons in the tray please.”
Grudgingly he put the gun in the tray. If worse came to worse he still had a knife and he was very skilled in Moi Tai, so if he needed to fight he would be able to. Not that any of the people around here looked like they could stop him anyway.
“Don’t forget the knife on your leg and the one attached to your hip.”
“How did you...?”
“A magician never reveals her tricks.” He took the knife out and put it with gun. He then watched as she smiled, and then walked over to the cabinet, put both items inside and locked it with a key that was on a chain round her neck. She then sat back down, opened a small bag and took out her nail file.
Paul looked at her inquisitively, curiously he asked her, “How did you manage to get this job... your what 16?”
She sighed loudly, stopped filling her nails and then looked him directly in the eyes. “Could you be any more suspicious? I mean you’re cute and you guessed my age to be younger than I am so you get points for that, but the whole secret agent cop face is too overpowering. You need to be more James Bond in your questioning, charming so it makes us little swooning girls feel like, that by giving you the info we are doing you the favour and the other way around. Because what you’ve got really isn’t working – it doesn’t really inspire a lot of trust or swoon for that matter.
“But since you asked so nicely, it’s a summer job. I need money. Those pretty shoes won’t just go any themselves no matter how much I try to persuade them.
“Now no more annoying questions I have phones to answer and nails to file. Besides boss told me to show you to the waiting room.”
“And where would that be.”
“There’s a chair go sit go wait. Hope you don’t get hay fever.”
Paul turned his head in the direction that she was pointing. There was a lone chair with a big flowery plant next to it. “Thanks.” He replied gruffly, slightly annoyed that he had been able to get anything out of the girl. He walked over to the chair and sat down. The girl at the desk had gone back to filing her nails.
Then the phone rang and after the second ring, she picked it up. “Good afternoon, you have reached the Californian branch of the IWC, Lily speaking, how may I be of assistance... no sorry Mr Giles isn’t here right now. He left for England last week... do you have the phone number for our London branch? ... Ok, Sorry I couldn’t have been of more assistance, goodbye.”
The IWC, than rang a very large bell. This was the super-secret clad agency that no one knew about and Paul was not allowed to go near. And they had a teenager answering the phones? The building information said the building was owned by an Angel O’Connor since 2000 and was home to a small time detective agency called Angel Investigations for most of that time. But for the last few years it had been leased out to a Rupert Giles.
Paul made a mental note to research Rupert Giles at a later date.
While he was in deep thoughts a voice came through on the girl’s intercom. After getting the message she said, “Hey, hello?” Rolling her eyes in annoyance at this guy’s ability to phase out of reality at the drop of a hat, she tried again, louder. “Excuse me!” That got his attention.
Paul jerked his head up towards her, “Boss says that you should go in now, it’s that door on the left. Paul stood up and immediately walked to the door and opened it. The person sitting in the office at the desk studying a book was definitely not what Paul had been expecting. To be fair he hadn’t really known what to expect, but a young redhead in what Paul would describe as vaguely hippy clothes was definitely not it.
“Hi... Do you want to sit?” She asked, standing up to greet him.
“Special Agent Paul Ballard.” He walked over, holding out his hand.
“Willow Rosenberg.” The woman replied, shaking the hand with her own.
“Kennedy Fisher.” A brunette women said, as she walked up from behind Paul and went to lean on the wall opposite him, with what seemed to be a forced smile plastered on her face.
“So what can I do for you Agent Ballard?” Rosenberg was the first to speak, it seemed as if she was going to take control of the meeting, but that was fine by Ballard, the brunette, Fisher, there was something wrong about her, almost feline, and dangerous.
“I assumed you would know, since it was you who sent me the message.”
“To come here.”
“And what would you like to discuss.”
“I want you to tell me what you know about the Dollhouse.”
“I will tell you what I know, if you promise to tell us what you know.”
“Why would I do that? I am not allowed to discuss an ongoing investigation and withholding evidence is a crime.”
Any politeness that the two had shared before was starting to become a distant memory. Both of them were starting to get agitated. It was then that the other woman got involved.
Kennedy stopped leaning on the wall and stood up straight. “The IWC is beyond your control, threatening us will do nothing but destroy any relationship we might have had.”
“The IWC? And who exactly are the IWC? Your company’s name came up during my investigation and yet I can’t find anything on it, instead I get told to back off every time.”
“A class which you clearly fail in.”
“Answer my question.”
“The IWC is an international corporation that deals primarily in research but we do other things as well.” It was Rosenberg that replied this time, her voice was slightly softer than Fisher’s but it still sounded threatening.
“Then why are there 10 year olds running around here?”
“We also have several schools for gifted children. Some of the students do not live nearby so we provide housing for them. Since this used to be a hotel, we have many suitable rooms in the floors upstairs for such students. It seemed to be the perfect place. We have an onsite nurse, good security and trained carers to deal with the younger kids.”
“And what do you do here?”
“Kennedy and I share the position of Director of the Californian branch of the IWC . I also teach a computer class at the school.”
“That’s quite an achievement for two girls who can’t be older than 25!”
“Didn’t your mother ever teach you it was a bad move to ever guess a woman’s age? It is 25 and 23 thank you very much.”
“Sorry, but I stand by it, no one so young could possibly help me, whatever resources you have do not match the FBI’s. I don’t think you quite understand the extent of what you’re dealing with.”
“Patronising much? Are they trying to take over the world? I mean they’re capitalists so that is pretty much a given, but are they evil, cause we’ve dealt with evil?”
“Kennedy.” Whispered the Rosenberg woman, softly but it seemed to be more of a warning. “If you don’t think we can help, then leave. Go deal with the Dollhouse on your own, see how far it gets you. You are on your own. We know the FBI thinks that you are looking into a fairytale, you have virtually no support. We are offering to help you, but only if this is a mutual cooperation. We do not work for the US government and many of our members would prefer if we had no connection with them whatsoever. It took great extenuating circumstances to be granted the permission to meet you from our superior, and we would prefer it if you would listen fully to our proposition before you dismiss us just because we are younger than you.”
Willow, who was quietly seething, managed to contain most of her anger, and quick soothing hand from Kennedy managed to do the trick. She closed her eyes for second, breathing deeply, before re-opening them. It was trim for a new tactic. Ballard was not going to agree to anything when he thought they were just two little girls playing grownups. She pressed on the intercom button on her phone and said, “Lily, can you ask our mystery shopper to come in. Thanks.”
“You’ll see in a moment.”
The office door opened and a woman slinked her way into the office. She went over to Willow, gave her a short, brief hug, and then turned to Paul.
“Agent Ballard meet Faith. Faith this is the guy who has been digging around your files.”
Paul stood up. He definitely had not expected this. He had been researching this mystery woman for months and now here she was standing, or to be more precise slouching on the desk, right in front of him.
“Caroline?” And then he directed his questioning to Kennedy, “You are part of the Dollhouse? Are you clients?”
“No, no and no snobby.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Clearly. You must have looked up my photo on the FBI database right; you probably got a hit. Faith Lehane, 25 to life at a maximum security prison for second degree murder.”
“Hi I’m Faith.”
“I wasn’t the last time I checked.”
“Why aren’t you in prison?”
“You what?” Did she not realise that she was admitting to an FBI agent that she had broke out of prison.
“Yup.” With a slightly bored expression on her face.
“Why isn’t anyone looking for you?”
“I don’t know.”
“I was told to stop looking for you. That anyone connected to the IWC was a no go area.”
“Well then you are not doing a very good job of it are you.”
“Hacking into the FBI is a federal crime.” Ballard replied, attempting to regain some control over the situation.
Willow leaned back into her chair, a soft smirk on her face as she replied confidently, “I don’t remember hacking into anything.”
“Who else would have done it?” Paul was starting to get agitated, any control he had had over the meeting was gone, and he had no real evidence to use against her to make her help him. If he told his bosses that she had hacked in, it would mean he also had to reveal that he had previously known about it, and not told his superiors. The only way was if she let it slip, if she made a confession. But it appeared that that route was a lost cause.
“I don’t know, you’re the detective. Go detect. Or we could just sit and talk about what you came to talk about. The mysteries of the Dollhouse. Did you know there is more than one?”
“More than one what?”
“Dollhouse... yeah we were kinda surprised as well, but as we have already pointed out, its big business capitalism – worldwide domination is kinda their thing.”
“That’s quite a lot coming from a international corporation such as yourself.”
“Maybe. But we make our money through investments of legitimate businesses and a pretty big trust fund. We don’t make money through brainwashing... for the most part anyway.”
“So are you ready to tell me everything you know?”
“This happens my way or no way at all.”
“You don’t seem to understand. We don’t work for you. We are helping you because we have an interest in this case. Don’t suppose you can bully us into doing what you want. The FBI has no power when it comes to us. You can’t threaten us with anything we care about. We can protect ourselves from every threat. You can either choose to work with us or not at all.”
Paul walked out of the Hyperion, so maybe that did answer a few of his question. Faith and Caroline were not the same person, but sisters. The IWC had powerful connections, but he wasn’t all that positive about who or what they entailed. They clearly cared about the next generation, why and how was another matter.
The two women who started the meeting, Willow Rosenberg and Kennedy Fisher, they seemed to be involved somehow. When Roseburg was starting to get angry, Fisher had held her hand for a second, it appeared to have a calming effect. He made a mental note to look them up on the database, see if they had any priors.
Faith Lehane, she was another matter entirely. What was a confessed escaped convict lounging about the central offices of the IWC for? Did they harbour any other fugitives, what did Faith do for them?
But one thing they had said did strike him. He was pretty alone in this. Sure Loomis helped him, but that was because they were friends not because she thought the Dollhouse was real. His other colleagues thought his investigation was a joke, and his superiors didn’t know what to do with him. The only real support he received from inside the agency was from an unknown source, one that kept him on the case despite his superiors’ wishes. Otherwise, there was only one person. Mellie. But she was just a civilian. It helped to bounce his ideas off her from time to time, get another perspective to make sure he hadn’t missed anything, but she couldn’t really help, and she seemed to be slightly annoyed by his need to find Caroline. It wouldn’t be terrible to have someone help him, to investigate with him, off the books. But he needed to weigh the options, this was a serious decision and one that couldn’t be done lightly, he needed a few days to mull it over and to investigate his future partners. Trust was something that Paul didn’t give easily, and he certainly wasn’t going to be fooled again.
“So what did you think?”
“He was hurt, a wound in the stomach, maybe, he hid it well but he had a slight limp.” Faith said, thoughtfully.
“Do you think he was shot, stabbed, hit?” Willow replied, questioned.
“I’d say either shot or stabbed.”
“I agree,” Kennedy said, joining in. “Probably during his investigation, he seemed mighty twitchy about the Dollhouse and getting help from us. He definitely has control issues. Like this case had become his whole life, and he wasn’t going to give it up for anyone.”
“Do we want to associate with someone that controlling? I mean in theory we could do this ourselves, it will take longer and we won’t have the official authority of the FBI to back us up, but we could do it.”
“The IWC only holds authority in the circles that know about us, and many of them think we have sold out anyway. Working with demons, supposedly evil witches.” Kennedy replied, giving a slightly pointed look in Willow’s direction and a smirk. “It’s going to be tough.”
Rolling her eyes, Willow suggested giving him a week to decide. “If he doesn’t make contact, we will go on our own.”
“Ok. One week.”
“You wanted to see me ma’am?” Mr Dominic
“Mr Dominic, in Victor’s last engagement as Anton Lubov, when being questioned about his sources by Agent Ballard a name came up. Somebody who might be involved in the case that we were not previously aware of. A ‘White Witch’.”
“Is that a code name?”
“That is for you to find out. This is a priority, we cannot have unknown people looking into the Dollhouse.”
“Have you informed them of this?”
“Yes, but I also said it might just be a rouse, we must be sure of this.”
“Of course ma’am. I’ll get on this straight away.”
“First Ballard now this. What could possibly happen next.
A/N: Sorry it’s been a while. There have been exams and revising and other fascinating things such as a broken down laptop and moving house.
Hope everyone is having a good holiday!