A/N: Look, I love Leverage, I love Buffy, and Buffy Summers deserves more people who love and support her. I've got nothing more to say.
Certain pieces of dialogue are lifted directly from "Anne."
Special thanks to shobogan for reading this over for me, and for supporting me through this entire crossover process!
Los Angeles is a sketchy city, and Nate doesn't like it very much, honestly.
But the fact is that a woman has come to them with proof against a homeless shelter that's preying on teenagers, so here they are, in the diner closest to the shelter, waiting for their mark to arrive.
They're running a variant of the Cassandra Tango, and Nate's wearing the Roman Collar, posing as a priest for this one.
The diner itself is thoroughly unremarkable; the kind of place that could be found anywhere in the country and is trying very hard to evoke the feeling of Kansas, rather than Los Angeles. It's pretty slow at this time of day; a couple of truckers, a lovesick young couple, and a few others, so Nate's not worried about hogging a table for a while.
The only waitress on duty, a tired, miserable looking teenager named Anne, comes over to check on him. "Need more coffee, Father?" She asks. Her smile is fragile and exhausted.
"Uh, sure," Nate says. "And why not a slice of pie, too?" She looks like she could use the larger tip. Not that Nate isn't already planning on a large tip, but the more he leaves, the more she can pocket without her manager noticing. Nate's seen the guy—he's definitely the sort of guy who takes tips.
She nods, tucks away her pad, and walks away.
In his ear, Eliot is arguing with Hardison about the identity of some of the unidentified bodies found in the area—Hardison is insisting they have a DNA match to some of the missing kids, while Eliot, in the morgue, is insisting that it can't be right.
"Hardison, I'm telling you, your machines are wrong! Jeanne Carver is, what, nineteen? This woman's got to be at least eighty, and she's got a lifetime of labor behind her!"
"The DNA doesn't lie, Eliot!"
"No, but you, on the other hand…"
"What—why would I lie? Why in the damn hells—"
"Guys, focus," Nate says, too softly for anyone in the diner to hear. He watches as Anne takes an order from a couple of truckers, and nearly gets to his feet when he sees one of them reach out and Anne freeze. Mentally, he adds another ten dollars to his tip, and plans to ask Hardison to ruin that guy's credit score. "Eliot, get some photos, we're going to want facial recognition to take a look here. Hardison, keep looking into the shelter's finances, okay? We need to know where the money's going if we're going to finish the con."
"Got it, Nate," Hardison says, still clearly miffed about Eliot's accusation, but at least they're no longer actively bickering on the line.
Anne returns with a slice of cherry pie, her expression pinched. Nate wonders how long she's been on shift for.
"Hey, uh… Anne?" Nate asks.
"Yeah?" Her eyes are wary and tired in a way that Nate's seen in the mirror more than once. He wonders what happened to her to give her that look, when she can't be older than seventeen.
"You know that, ah, homeless center in the area? Family Home? Do you know anyone who's been there?"
She frowns. "I've seen fliers for it around. It all seems to be one guy, handing them out."
One person? A small crew then. Probably around the size of their own crew. Well, that or they keep most of the crew wherever they keep the people they take in.
It's difficult, even for Hardison, to figure out how many people are missing. They can only catch people who are reported missing, and when it comes to the homeless community, those numbers are far from reliable. People don't notice, and those who do notice don't report.
"Why do you ask?" Anne asks.
"Ah, I was thinking of working with them, y'know, Catholic Charities and all, but no one really seems to know much about them… kind of seems shady."
"Ah," she says. She clicks her pen. "Anything else?"
"Good for now, thanks, ah, Anne."
She gives him a faint smile and drifts away, avoiding passing by the table with the truckers.
"Hardison, I'm going to need you to ruin some credit scores, when we have a moment," he murmurs, and then eats his pie.
Sophie makes contact with Ken, who's passing out all of the posters, like Anne said.
"Bella Campbell, a pleasure," she says. Her accent is American; California elite through and through, a voice that fits the role of benevolent socialite looking for a new pet project. The clothes fit the role too; a deliberate dressing down, but everything high quality, something that seems to blend in but really stands out in its own way. "I've been hearing such good things about your little operation!"
"So, are you in charge of the operation?"
"Oh, no, I'm just one of many people trying to help. Despair is a physical force, you know, and it just feeds off these kids. Makes them young before their time."
Nate frowns. Something seems off about the man Sophie is talking to, but he can't tell what.
"Yes, I couldn't agree more! So tell me, have you considered expanding your operation?"
"Oh, we're a pretty modest set up. We're still really only just getting going, it's far too soon to look at expanding."
Sophie spins a pretty thread, but the mark isn't biting, which doesn't fit at all what Hardison was able to pull up from the guy's records.
"We've got predator who doesn't want to expand his hunting grounds?" Eliot says, frowning. "That doesn't make sense! Why would he turn that down?"
"Because he knows that his operation is barely passing under cover as it is," Nate says, realization dawning. "If he goes bigger, there's no way someone won't figure it out."
"So what do we do?" Parker says, crossing her arms.
"Well, it means that this operation is fragile. All it takes is one step of the operation going wrong…" Nate says, looking hard at the map. The cogs turn in his head, as he slowly puts it all back together. "And it's all… going to come… crashing down around him." Nate gets to his feet. "Hardison, any luck on that facial recognition?"
"Not on traditional recognition," Hardison says, going up to the screen. "Okay so, this is our girl Jeanne Carver." The photo appears on the screen, of a young, pretty woman with dark skin and a shy smile. "And this is our Jane Doe." An older black woman, thin and frail in death. "Now. The autopsy report came back. Our vic's heart gave out. She had signs of physical abuse, chronic malnutrition, vitamin deficiencies, scurvy, as well as like, a whole laundry list of other issues. But here's an interesting thing. And by interesting, I mean really creepy. She also had a birthmark inside of her right wrist… which Jeanne Carver is supposed to have." Two photos of a pale splotch vaguely shaped like a bird appeared on the screen, one an autopsy shot on an arm sagging with age, the other on a social media photo. The angles were different, but the resemblance was uncanny. "So I ran age-progression software, y'know, that thing they use to figure out what missing kids look like after five, ten years." He pressed another button, and Jeanne Carver's photo began to warp, until it looked like a slightly better fed version of their victim.
"Neat trick! But there's just one problem!" Eliot leans forward, radiating frustration. "That's impossible."
"Guys!" Nate says, raising one hand, his eyes glued to the screen. "Focus. We need a way to disrupt their operation from the inside. Now, Cassandra Tango is clearly off the table, since they're not looking to expand."
"I'm thinking… the Italian Cross?" Sophie says, tilting her head to one side.
"No, that takes too long. The Edward Albee?"
"Parker?" Nate gets to his feet. "Get changed. You're the newest member of LA's homeless population."
Parker nods, her expression grim.
"Excellent!" Nate claps his hands together. "Let's go steal a homeless shelter!"
Parker's been homeless before, but never quite like this.
Before, it was more… she always knew she could pick a lock on a door and be inside, somewhere safe, in a moment. Or at least, she'd known since she was nine, and figured out how to pick locks.
"I'm no one," a woman tells her, sitting on a doorstep.
Parker takes a step away, more put off by the woman's intense stare than anything else.
"Parker!" Sophie reprimands her in her ear. "You need to talk to people here. I know it's hard for you, but you need to reach out and make connections!"
"Right," Parker says, taking a deep breath, and sidling closer to the woman.
"Hi. I'm Lucy," she says. She's not doing it right; Sophie's drilled her on this, on seeming "friendly" and "inviting" and all the rest of it, but Parker can't help it. Kids are going missing, and it's poking at her brain like a thousand tiny needles and it's making her twitchy and nervous and she never does good grifting when she's like this.
"I'm no one." The woman seems… empty. Like someone had taken everything that made her real and shattered it into a thousand tiny pieces, and even though Parker was grifting, even though she was Lucy McElroy, not Parker, it felt too close, too dangerous.
"Parker, it's okay," Sophie says soothingly. "If she's not up for talking, give her some space."
"I put cash in your pocket," Eliot says. There's a thump on the other side of the comm, which means he's punching somebody. Parker focuses on that sound and forces herself to calm down. "Give her one of the bills."
"She needs to buy food, Parker," Eliot snaps, in that way that means she said something wrong. "You don't know her, you don't know her story, and she deserves to eat or to buy whatever else she goddamn wants to—"
"Eliot," Sophie's voice interrupts.
"Just do it," Eliot grumbles.
"Can't she just steal her own?" Parker says, but she finds the roll of bills in her pocket and gives one of them to the woman.
"Not everyone can look after themselves like you can, Parker," Hardison says. "It sucks but rent prices in LA are just too damn high. There's nearly sixty thousand homeless people in LA County, and about forty-two thousand of them are living on the streets."
"It's all about those high rises and luxury apartments," Sophie says. "Not enough affordable housing to go around."
"Plenty of landlords turning people out because there's more money to be made," Nate says, and he's definitely been drinking.
"Yeah, and a lot of those people are teenagers or young adults. Some of them are out there with their parents, but there's a lot of kids fending for themselves."
"The people that Ken's targeting," Nate's voice is grim.
"I'm no one," the woman says again.
"No, you're not," Parker says, and then goes to see if she can find more people.
Parker finds the guy passing around leaflets just after midnight.
"Okay Parker, you need to get his attention," Sophie whispers in her ear. "Nothing too dramatic; you don't want to seem like you're going to be trouble or too sick to bother with. So what you're going to want to do is trip. Fall right into him."
"If you can manage a lift, do it," Nate adds. "But be subtle."
Parker rolls her eyes. No one catches a lift that she's doing.
But she doesn't say anything, and does what Sophie says, taking a bit too much pleasure in sending the guy toppling onto the concrete.
"Help him with his papers, Parker," Sophie coaches.
"Sorry," Parker mutters, kneeling to help him. The logo for the shelter is creepy.
"I haven't seen you around before," Ken says. "Are you new?"
"Look to the side, then down. Then give a bit of a shrug. He'll expect you to be evasive, but don't confirm anything."
"Hey, it's okay. I know what it's like. I'm Ken. What's your name?"
"Hesitate, Parker, like you're not going to give it to him. Then look at the pamphlet, then meet his eyes, but only for a moment."
"Look Lucy…" Ken touches her arm and it takes all of Parker's strength not to punch him in the neck. "It's really easy to fall into despair, out here. It's a physical thing, and it drains the life out of you." He hands her a leaflet. "But hope is real too. And there is hope."
"Oh, he's good," Sophie mutters.
"He's slimy," Hardison counters.
"What do you mean?" Parker says to Ken, meeting his eyes, just like Sophie taught her.
"Why don't you come to Family Home? We'll get you taken care of."
"Okay, guys, get ready."
Ken takes Parker to Family Home, and then leaves her there with a "volunteer" named "John."
"I'll be back soon," he says.
John stops her from being able to snoop, but it does give the others time to get into position for an Edward Albee.
Ken comes back with another girl named Lily, and he gives them weird clothes made from a weirder material.
"This is culty as hell, Parker, whatever you do, don't drink the damn Kool-aid."
"Hardison, shut up!" Eliot snaps. "Can you keep your earbud in, Parker?"
Parker carefully arranges her hair. "Yep," she whispers.
"Will I see Rickie soon?" Lily is asking Ken, and oh, that doesn't sound good.
"After the cleansing," Ken assures her.
That really doesn't sound good.
Nate and Sophie are just getting into position; Nate is wearing his tackiest Hawaiian shirt and Sophie has thoroughly doused herself in the scent of alcohol, to create the perfect appearance of an incredibly drunk tourist couple.
That's when a young blonde girl knocks on the door of Family Home.
"What's going on?" Eliot says. "It's three in the morning, what is she doing?"
"Hi! I've been seeing you guys around and you know, I just . . . I woke up, and I looked in the mirror, and I thought, "hey, what's with all the sin? I need to change. I'm . . . I'm dirty. I'm, I'm bad with the . . . sex and the envy and that, that loud music us kids listen to nowadays."
The four of them stare.
"She might just be the worst liar I've ever hard," Hardison marvels.
"This is like Sophie's Lady Macbeth," Eliot agrees. "What is she up to?"
"— Oh, I just suck at undercover." The girl says. And she's not wrong, but the sudden swerve is still surprising. "Where's Ken?"
The man tries to slam the door in her face, and Eliot starts to move forward because, well, this girl totally just blew their chance at getting them to come out, so they're going to have to brute-force their way in, when the girl kicks, and the door splinters.
… what the hell?
Parker can hear that something is about to go down. There's a pond full of dirty water in front of her, and Lily's about to touch it.
That's when the door bursts open and a teenager bursts in.
Ken gets to his feet.
"This is a private moment. If you could just—"
"How do you make 'em old, Ken? Do you feed on youth? What's the deal?" The girl moves forward, and she moves… she moves like Eliot. Like a predator.
Parker gets to her feet carefully, so as not to alert Ken.
"Do you really wanna know?" Ken demands, and he's smiling.
"What's going on?" Lily says.
The girl looks surprised to see Lily, her eyes widening.
That's when she lets out a scream, and Parker spins around, just in time to see Lily be yanked into the pool, which is suddenly not dirty water, but something viscous and black and alive.
The teenager runs forward, trying to get to her, but Ken reaches out and grabs her, and then Parker jumps on him, and Nate and Eliot and Hardison and Sophie are all yelling in her ear, demanding to know what's going on, but Ken loses his balance, and the three of them go tumbling into the pool…
And the voices of her team go abruptly, terrifyingly silent.
Parker goes quiet, and Eliot bursts into action.
There's nothing coming through the comm, nothing at all, and so he bursts through the door.
The two goons are on the ground, groaning, stunned from the blonde's blitz attack, but they're still conscious, and that's all Eliot needs to get answers.
One of them gets up; faster than Eliot might have expected, and swings at him. He's strong, stronger than he looks (and that's familiar, but it's been a while since he's seen anything like this) but Eliot is good at taking a hit, and he rolls with it before slamming his own fist into the guy's face.
The face feels…
Like a mask.
The uncomfortable sensation that's been building in his gut since Hardison started insisting that the old woman whose body that he had found was the same teenage girl that they were looking for builds up.
Moreau had some dealings with people like this. With people who were a little too stiff, a little too smug, a little too strong. Moreau didn't like giving answers about it, didn't like it much more than Eliot did.
Their worlds were better when they made sense.
Things like this…
They didn't exactly fit into that world view.
It doesn't take long to take the two down; they're not used to victims who fight back, and that leaves a sour note on Eliot's tongue, one that's far worse than the twinge in his gut.
"Damn it Parker," Eliot says, bending over the now-unconcious man (?) who he's standing over, and grabbing ahold of the face.
"Eliot, what are you doing?" Sophie cries.
The face comes away in his hands, exposing a strange, monstrous face beneath.
"Demons," Parker says.
Eliot spins around, and Parker looks battered, bruised—too bruised, he only lost sight of her for a minute at most—and leaning against the teenager. There's ten other kids, all around sixteen years old standing around them, all looking scared, and all wearing the same kind of clothes.
"Demons are real," Parker says, looking like she's not sure if she's angry or happy about this development.
The teenager sighs. "You guys aren't like, the FBI or anything right? Because I've had a very long day, and I really don't need this right now."
"Technically I'm an FBI agent!" Parker says. "But only sometimes."
"You know what, I'll take it."
Hardison comes around with Lucille and they take all of the kids back to their hotel, where Hardison sets all of them up with rooms, room service, and new clothes. He gets enough rooms for everyone, but they all seem to pair off, except the girl, who Nate has identified as Anne, the waitress from the diner, who Parker has latched onto.
"This is Buffy, she's great, and we're keeping her," Parker says to Nate the moment the kids are off showering and eating overpriced ice cream in their fancy hotel rooms.
"Buffy?" Nate asks, nursing his cup of mini-bar rum.
"You're not really a priest, you can't judge me," Buffy says.
"She's a Vampire Slayer," Parker says. "She's going to teach me how to shove wooden stakes through people's chests!"
"Only vampires," Buffy says.
"Wait, what? I know I did not hear that right." There's been a lot of words that Parker's been throwing around for the past hour or so. "Demons," "portals," "hell dimensions," "slave labor," "demon-run sweatshops," "artificial time bubbles," that sort of thing. He's managed to translate most of it from Parker-speak into English, but this isn't Parker saying it, which means it might be real.
"Vampires," Buffy says. "They're real."
"Vampires." Hardison repeats. "You mean like, sucking blood, turning into bats, Dracula, Van Helsing?"
"I've never seen one ever turn into a bat, but they do burn in the sunlight?" Buffy offers.
"Vampires. Demons. What else?" Nate says. He's got a scary look on his face, but not the scariest look. Just the one that means he's absorbing information at an alarming rate, and will probably use this against someone who utterly deserves it in the near future.
"Werewolves, fish creatures, a talking puppet, witches, giant magic praying mantises, ghosts, robots—"
"One was nearly my step-dad." She shrugs, as if that's no big deal.
"Robots aren't magic—"
"Yeah, but techno-pagans can do some weird stuff with robots."
"I'm sorry. Did you just say. Techno. Pagans?"
"Damn it Hardison," Eliot says, recognizing the spark in his eyes.
Buffy looks around. "So… you guys are… what, exactly?"
"We're the bad guys!" Parker says.
Buffy blinks slowly.
"Riiiight. I feel like I'm going to need you to start from the top."
Buffy Anne Summers is seventeen. Born in Los Angeles. Most recent address listed as Sunnydale, California. Wanted for questioning by the Sunnydale Police in regard to the death of one Kendra Young.
Hardison tells Nate this all in hushed tones, glancing at her image on his computer screen.
She's tucked under Parker's arm, leaning into her, only moving away in order to eat whatever food Eliot has placed in front of her.
"Nate," Hardison says.
"It's a cover up," Nate says, tiredly, cutting Hardison off. "She's innocent."
On the security footage, Buffy eats a burger like she's starving.
"… yeah," Hardison says. "Her mom is looking for her, though. So's some guy named "Rupert Giles," but I can't figure out why he's looking. He's supposed to be the librarian at her high school, but the guy's got something weird going on, I just haven't figured out what yet."
"We'll have to ask Buffy about it," Nate says. He thinks about Buffy, and the way she'd fought, and the way she'd deflected when he asked her about her parents.
"Uh-huh. You know, Parker doesn't usually get like this. Not about kids with moms."
"I know," Nate drums his fingers on the table and wishes for a drink. "I know."
Buffy glances up at the security camera, about to be taken back under Parker's arm, being finished with her burger, and waves.
"Right, so I got those charges cleared for you. Also, I took care of that gym fire, so you are officially an honest citizen."
"Age of the geek, Buffy. Everything's on the web."
"Now, the expulsion might be a tad bit trickier, but Sophie should be able to talk the Principle around pretty easily."
Buffy snorts. "I doubt it."
"Oh, you'd be surprised," Nate says.
She squints at them. "You guys are like. Criminal fairy godparents, aren't you."
"Once," Eliot mutters. "We did that once."
"So, what are you going to do now?" Hardison is the one who asks.
Buffy sighs, picking at the last of her fries. It's her third basket of fries, so Eliot isn't offended. If anything, he's impressed. But from what he's seen of her strength, she probably needs every single calorie.
"I should probably go home," she admits. "Mom and Giles and the rest are probably worried about me."
"Giles. Your Watcher?" Nate says. The new vocabulary hasn't quite settled in yet, but there's a sharp expression on his face, one that Buffy misses because she's staring into the fry scraps and ketchup squiggles like they contain the secrets of the universe.
"You don't have to, you know," Sophie says gently. "You can go anywhere, do anything. You're more than welcome to stay with us as long as you want."
Buffy looks up, and her eyes are full of tears. "… thanks," she says, her voice cracking.
Sophie reaches out an envelops her in a hug. Sophie is very good at hugs for every occasion.
Buffy doesn't sob, doesn't break down. She just buries her face in Sophie's shoulder and stays there for a moment, her shoulders shaking ever so slightly. Sophie runs her hands through Buffy's hair, and sits there quietly, the rest of the team watching.
Eventually, Buffy sits upright, wiping her eyes on the heel of her hand. "But Ken was right," she mutters. "I did run away. And I need to go back."
"No, you don't," Eliot says. "You're a kid."
"I'm the Slayer," she says, but she doesn't sound like she means it.
"And what, that makes you a legal, emotional, and physical adult?" Eliot snaps. "You shouldn't have to be fighting, and you don't need to do anything!"
"If you want to go back, we won't stop you," Sophie says. "But Buffy… you have a choice."
She doesn't believe them. Not really. Not yet.
They'll have to work on that.
But she smiles at them anyways. "Thanks," she whispers.
"Right," Nate claps his hands together once they've dropped Buffy off. They watch as she hugs her mom, nodding approvingly. "So. Who wants to go to England? Let's go steal a Watcher's Council."
There's a pause, to respect the importance of the line, but then Eliot speaks up. "Actually, I think I'm going to stay here. There's vampires to kill. And someone needs to keep an eye on her."
"Oooh! I want to fight vampires too!" Parker says, raising her hand.
Nate sighs. "Fine. You guys can… steal a Slayer. We'll steal a Council. Hardison?"
"Oh, I'm not sticking around in this town. This town has vampires, Nate. Vampires. I am not going to be anyone's Gummy Frogs!"
"Wouldn't you technically be orange soda?" Parker says, standing just a little too close. "You know." She breathes in sharply through her teeth, as if trying to imitate slurping through a straw.
Hardison does a full body flinch, and retreats into Lucille.
Buffy missed Sunnydale, she really did.
A lot changed while she was gone—Snyder was fired, for starters, which she is pretty sure is because of Hardison. It makes things easier… even if Xander is mad at her for leaving.
"He's a teenage boy," Eliot tells her when he picks her up from school. "He doesn't count."
And that's different too. Eliot and Parker are around. The others are off on a job, but it's… nice, having them around. They both patrol with her, and they help her when her mom accidentally summon an army of zombies.
Xander hates Eliot, but… Buffy doesn't mind. He hated Angel too. Eliot is… nice. He's nice and good in a fight, and he makes great food, and he gets it.
He knows what it's like, to be dangerous and angry, knows what it's like to have to worry about hurting the people you care about. Knows the satisfaction of a good fight, knows how much she cares about her friends… but he also gets it, when she needs to be away from them. When it's too much.
Giles doesn't like it either, but that's mostly because he doesn't like her telling people about monsters and vampires and demons. He'll get over it. He'll probably get over it faster when Nate and Sophie get back and act like reasonable adults, rather than having to deal with Parker trying to teach Cordelia to pick pockets.
When the new Slayer turns up, Buffy probably shouldn't be surprised. It makes sense, since Kendra's dead, but it's a bitter taste on her tongue, a reminder that Kendra's not back in Jamaica or anything, she's gone and not coming back, and it's not fair.
But that's not Faith's fault.
Giles tells them that things have been weird with the Council lately, looking very harried as he does so, but he's pleased to announce that Faith will be getting a new Watcher soon.
Somehow, Buffy can't find it in her to be surprised when Sophie walks through the door.
"You must be Faith!" Sophie says, kissing Faith on both cheeks. "I'm Sophie. A pleasure to meet you."
Buffy can't help but start giggling.
"Ah, I'm sorry," Giles says, cleaning his glasses. "I don't think we've met."
"I'm rather new to this whole thing. But with the… situation in England, it was decided that it was best to send someone… untainted." Her smile is winning and bright.
"What did you do?" Buffy demands, her eyes narrowing, because Eliot had said they were on a job, but if something's up with the Council…
"Absolutely nothing that they didn't do to themselves," Nate announces from the door. "Nathan Ford. Mister Giles, a pleasure to meet you."
Giles is going to break his glasses if he keeps cleaning them like this, Buffy thinks with a delighted grin. "Ah. Eliot mentioned that something like this might happens."
"We're just here to help," Nate assures him.
Hardison enters the room, pushing a laptop cart as he goes. "What he means is, you've got a bunch of kids fighting against the forces of evil, and two teenage girls with superpowers. You're understaffed, overwhelmed, and we are professionals."
"Professional criminals!" Xander points out.
"Sometimes… bad guys… make the best good guys," Parker says, from right behind Xander. Xander yelps, spins, and falls flat on his butt. It's pretty funny, actually.
"I—I suppose, since you have authorization from the Council…" Giles mutters, looking absolutely overwhelmed.
"Good man!" Nate says, slapping him on the back. "So…" He looks at the Scoobies, and Buffy can't help but smile. "Let's get started!"