A/N: Hi guys! I am soooo sorry for the long wait! I've had this chapter on my computer for like three months but I couldn't finish the darn thing. Here it is - hope it was worth the wait! xo laptopheroine
"How's the arm?" Auggie asks as Annie walks into his office.
"I've had worse," she replies, peeling back the bandage and inspecting the stitches on her forearm. The cut is long but not too deep, a result of a nasty fight.
"How are you gonna tell Xena what happened?"
"The same thing I always tell her. It's classified but I'm okay and we got the job done."
"I'm not sure that'll work this time. She's never seen you this beat up."
"It'll be fine, Aug. Besides, I won't even be seeing her until the weekend. That gives a couple days for the bruises to settle down."
"Alright, fine, I'll drop it. Go home, Walker."
"Allen's, tomorrow night?"
Annie falls asleep watching a movie, waking up to a phone call less than two hours later. The number's unknown. "Annie?"
"Xena? Why aren't you using your phone?"
"I need you to pick me up."
"The police station."
"Why the hell are you at the police station?"
"I uh, got arrested."
Annie bolts to the police station, where Xena is sitting on a chair next to an officer's desk. She's soaking wet, with her backpack and suitcase next to her. She looks completely downtrodden.
Annie forgets all about her own pain. She has the immediate urge to wrap her daughter in a blanket and then kill whoever made her look like this.
The officer stands, offers a hand for Annie to shake. "She was found in Montrose Park sleeping on a bench. We're not pressing charges but we have issued her a warning. Her social worker was unavailable, so asked to call you."
"Thank you. Can I have a moment alone with her?"
"Of course. Come find me when you're done and we'll sign the release paperwork."
Xena follows Annie into a relatively quiet hallway. The first thing Annie does is hug her. "I'm so glad you're safe," she says. She pulls away and looks at her daughter. "Now what the hell were you doing sleeping in a public park?"
"The Holloways kicked me out. I came home late after the gym and they said that if I couldn't live by their rules I couldn't live there at all."
"So you decided sleeping in a public park after dark was the better option?"
"I didn't have anywhere to go."
"Yes, you did! You had me! Why on earth wouldn't you think you have me?"
"I'm sorry," Xena says quietly. "I've never had someone to call in the middle of the night before."
Annie sighs. "I know we've only known each other for a few weeks but I'm your mother. You are supposed to come to me when you need anything, and I mean anything. I don't care if you robbed a bank, you need help you call me, okay?"
"Now, let's go home."
"You didn't really think I'd send you to another foster home after this, did you? You'll come home with me and tomorrow I'll call your social worker and get guardianship of you, if that's what you want."
"You mean- you really want-" Xena's not making sense, but the teary smile on her face is more than enough indication of what she's feeling. She throws her arms around Annie's neck. Annie returns in kind, laughing. "Of course I want you to live with me."
Over the next week or so, Annie learns a lot of things about Xena that she never thought she'd get the chance to. She learns that she always leaves dishes in the sink, watches trashy sitcoms well into the night, and can make a dessert with almost anything in the pantry including bacon. It's surprisingly good, too.
Xena learns how to be taken care of. How to put her laundry in with someone else's, how to catch rides to school and ask for help with her homework. How to watch a musical and sing wildly and out of tune with her partner, how to learn which games are great to play with Auggie and which are terrible. She learns how to respond to a nickname, Zee,
She learns how to be loved.
Less than a month into this arrangement, unbeknownst to Xena, Annie begins to go through the proper channels to get permanent custody of Xena. While she waits for the long process to go through, she encourages Xena to try new things, to find something she enjoys doing besides planning for the bleak future she once thought was her only option. Annie notices one of Xena's doodles on the corner of a (failed) math test and signs her up for after-school art classes on a hunch. It's a rousing success. She takes pride in her daughter's progress, and the joy Xena expresses after each class.
Life is finally - finally - looking up.
Annie should've known it wouldn't last.
Xena stands in front of Annie, hands on hips, defiant as anything. "You couldn't be more wrong," she says.
"Where's your proof?"
"Seasons one through two, that's my proof. Rory totally should've ended up with Dean."
"You're completely insane!"
"Says the chick who thinks frickin' Jess should've ended up with her. He was a jerk!"
"Well, I-" Annie stops mid sentence as she watches two operatives lead a man in handcuffs into the bullpen. The man freezes for a moment, stares at them, until the operatives yank him away.
"Annie? An-nie. . ." Xena singsongs. "Who's that?"
Annie grabs her shoulder. "No one."
She begins to pull her away from the scene when Auggie bursts in, stopping in front of them. "Annie, you gotta get Zee out of here. They're bringing in Ben Mercer for the Columbia op."
"Who the hell is Ben Mercer and why does he make Annie look like Benedict Arnold just walked in?"
"Annie," Joan approaches them. "We need to talk. Come to my office, please."
Annie kisses her daughter's hair. "I promise I'll explain everything, okay? For now, go with Auggie."
Annie storms after Joan into her office. "What the hell is Ben Mercer doing here," she demands coldly. "And why didn't you warn me."
"I didn't know until twenty minutes ago. He was arrested last night in Prague and when Calder thought his contacts would be useful on the Columbia op he had him sent here."
"Xena saw him."
"Does she know who he is?"
Annie throws up her hands. "She's only been living with me for two months! I thought it was too soon."
"You shouldn't have kept something like that from her."
"Don't tell me how to parent my child." The words are sharp, but Joan knows their edges aren't directed at her but at Ben, for putting Annie in this situation.
"He wants to speak with you."
"In exchange for cooperation?"
"In exchange for a chance at cooperation." Joan's gaze is steely, intentional, yet somehow still shows the expression of a concerned boss. She and Annie both know how important this op is. It could save hundreds of lives.
Hopefully it won't damage two in the process.
"Fine." Annie stands and stalks out of the room, leaving a bitter silence and tension in the air.
She sits in the interrogation room across from Ben. "Annie," he says, a Mona Lisa smile on his face. "Good to see you."
"I wish I could say the same."
"I take it you know who I am, then. What I am."
"I do. Now what do you want from me?"
"Can't a guy just want to say hello to an old friend?"
"If the guy is you and the old friend is me? Hell no. What do you want, Ben?"
"I never realised how much I missed hearing you say my name until you said it."
"So you're still in love with me, is that it? Are you serious? You had your chance sixteen years ago in Sri Lanka."
Ben smirks. "You wish. No, there's something else I have my eye on."
"The girl who was standing next to you."
It's like someone poured ice water down Annie's back, sending shivers down her spine. Her hands, under the table, clench into fists so tight she knows they'll leave nail marks. "What about her?"
"I'm her father, aren't I?"
"You're her sperm donor. Her father died when she was five."
"She has my eyes."
"And none of your personality."
"I wanna meet her."
"Give me one good reason why not."
"Ben, you've killed multiple people in cold blood."
"Oh, and what do you call the lovely acts you commit for the US government, huh? Does she know about what happened in Sweden? Saudi Arabia? Hell, our own soil?"
"Different, right. Except it's not and you know that."
Annie slams her fist on the desk. "Yes it is! Because at the end of the day I get to come home to my daughter and know that I did right by her and by this country. Yes, there are things I regret, but none of them have ever made me want to run away and never come back."
He sighs. Rubs his hand across his face like he used to do when he was tired or frustrated. "I've done bad things, I'll admit that. But when I saw her standing there. . ." He lifts his head at her, really look at her, and for the first time this entire conversation, she feels like he feels something more than just self-preservation. "Five minutes, that's all I ask, and then I'll do whatever you want."
Annie doesn't say anything.
"What's her name?"
He smiles a faraway smile. "Xena," he says again.
A battle wages in Annie's head for what seems like hours. The room remains completely silent, Ben pretending he's not staring at Annie and Annie pretending that she doesn't notice. Finally, she stands. She looks down at him. "I make no promises. She is her own person and I won't make her do anything she's not comfortable with."
Ben grins, nodding. "Yes, I understand."
Annie glances at the one-way mirror, having a silent conversation with the operative on the other side of the glass. Without warning, she grabs the front of Ben's shirt in her hand, lifting him as far as his handcuffs will allow. Her face is inches from his. "If you harm one hair on your head I will end you."
Letting go, she marches out of the interrogation room.
A/N: For all you non-Americans/non history people, Benedict Arnold was one of George Washington's most trusted generals before he switched sides and fought for the British in the Revolutionary War. It was one of the most shocking betrayals in US history and I thought it fitting.