When Annie returns, Xena is playing Tic Tac Toe in Auggie's office. He puts an arm around her protectively when he hears footsteps, but removes it when he realises it's Annie.
"Hey. You ready for some answers?" Annie asks Xena, offering a hand.
They find themselves in the garden outside Langley's food court.
"So," Xena says. "Benedict Arnold guy. What's his deal?"
"Don't call him 'Benedict Arnold guy'. Wait, that might actually be an accurate assessment of him."
"Just tell me, Annie."
"Ben-" She stops, sighs. "Ben Mercer used to be a CIA operative. He went rogue. He has his own idea of justice, and he's been acting as a vigilante for the past sixteen years by using his CIA skills and contacts."
"Okay. Still doesn't explain why you freaked out."
"He's also your father."
The look of shock and betrayal on Xena's face is almost more than Annie can bear. She feels the immediate urge to smooth the situation, to prove that she didn't knowingly have a relationship with one of the CIA's darkest secrets. "I didn't know he was CIA when I met him. We spent three weeks in Sri Lanka and then he took off without an explanation. I didn't find out why till three years later."
"So that guy we just saw being frog marched to the interrogation rooms is my dad?"
"No, he's not your dad unless you want him to be. He's your father. There's a difference." Annie takes her daughter's hands. "Now what you do with this information is your choice. If you never wanna talk about him again, I'll respect that."
"But we have an angle here that we might never have again. We need Ben's cooperation for this op in Columbia. There isn't a single operative that has his kinds of contacts in that area."
"And where do I fit into all this?"
"He wants to meet you."
"Oh." Xena's face pales.
"This kind of leverage is something that would get him to cooperate. But I won't do it if you're not okay with it. We can find another angle."
"No, I. . ." she takes a deep breath, in and out. "This is important. It could save lives. I'll do it."
"It'll be completely controlled by you. You'll be in an interrogation room, he'll be cuffed to the table, and we'll have an agent on the other side of the door and cameras without a single blindspot. The second you feel scared or even uncomfortable, you say the word and we'll have you out in a heartbeat. You understand?"
"Yeah." Xena stands. "Okay. I think I'm ready."
Xena walks into the interrogation room. Every step is careful, measured, until she sits down across from Ben. Neither person has spoken, though his face holds an expression of pure wonder. "Hi, Xena," he says. He smiles awkwardly. "I'm Ben."
"I know." She fiddles with the hem of her T-shirt, looking down at her hands before meeting his eyes. She doesn't know whether to be nervous or happy. Terrified or overjoyed.
She thinks that, right now, she's some combination of the two.
"So, you're fifteen? Are you in school?"
She nods. "Sophomore," she says quietly.
"And it's. . . good? You like it?"
"It's okay. I like art."
"Art." He smiles. "I bet you're great."
This isn't what meeting her father's supposed to feel like, she thinks. Everything he's said so far is nice, but something's off. She doesn't know what kind of terrible things he's done but she doesn't need to, not to feel the darkness seeping out of him like an inky black fog. He is deeply, irreparably damaged. And she's afraid of that.
"So you live with Annie? How's that?"
"Good. She's a good parent. Reliable. Dependable," Xena emphasises.
"I didn't want to leave her. Or you."
"But you did."
"I didn't know you existed."
"Would it have changed things if you had?"
Ben's hopeful expression fades. His face hardens in a way that makes Xena understand that this is who he really is. "You're young, Xena. There are things you can't begin to understand."
"I'm smarter than you think. And I know you've done bad things. Killed people."
He pales. "How can you possibly know that?"
"I see it in the way people look at you. I heard it in my mother's voice when she told me about you."
Ben stands, slamming his palms on the desk as he shouts, "I did it for the greater good!" He looks feral, his eyes wild and terrifying, mouth snarling. The effect it has is immediate. Xena recoils as the agent on the other side of the glass opens the door for her. She leaves the room while Ben begs her to stay.
"No, no, come back! Come back!"
She ignores him. She pushes past the agents and runs to the elevator, stopping at the second floor. She bolts to the middle of the room and flies into Annie's arms.
"I've got you," Annie murmurs. "I've got you."