"I should be with my unit," griped Harry with a distinctly mullish expression on his face.
Rachel rolled her eyes at him. "Yes, I know," she said. "You've only told me a thousand times. But the higher-ups wanted a trustworthy wizard here."
"And I'm it," he said. "Lucky me. There are thousands of capable wizards out there, you know, and most aren't bastards like the ones that tried to arrest you."
"And how many have been given the Medal of Honour?" asked Rachel. "You're unique, Harry."
"And that makes me so happy."
"It could be a lot worse."
"Yeah, I could be dead, rather than just having to sit on my hands here while my mates fight and die in the invasion," said Harry, dead-pan. "That makes me feel loads better."
There were times Rachel really, really missed the days of Darth Revan. People sure as hell didn't whine at her back then. Cower in fear and beg for mercy whenever they entered her presence, sure, but whine? Not so much. "Who else could they have selected?" she asked. "Who else could I have recommended? The list of wizards I know well enough to trust has only one name on it: you. And it's not like your people have exactly earned much in the way of trust, is it?"
Harry folded his arms over his chest and glared at her, but there wasn't much he could say to that. How could he argue that sort of compliment without seeming churlish? He had better manners than that, thankfully.
"Now," said Rachel, "please, report. The magical residue left behind by the assassin, is it usable?"
"Doesn't look like it," said Harry with a frown. "It deteriorates pretty quickly and the aurors just didn't get it in time."
Rachel scowled. "I already know that, Harry. They were trying to extrapolate from what they had."
"Yeah, well, it didn't work," he said with a shrug. "At all. And even if it did, it's not like they could just put it in a database or something. You have no idea how backwards wizards really are. America's better than the UK, but not by that much. They're more likely to consult with demons than they are to use a computer."
Rachel bit back a stinging retort to that. It really wasn't his fault. "Right," she said tersely. "No physical evidence then. What other avenues are being explored?"
"The usual," he said. "Talking to witnesses, trying to track the assassin's movements, and all that. Police-type things. Things that I know nothing about whatsoever and serve no purpose for."
Rachel couldn't help but wonder if all brigadiers had to deal with subordinate officers that were so stroppy. She somehow doubted it. "You can at least keep them from acting like complete idiots," she said. "Their not collecting evidence in time doesn't exactly fill me with confidence."
Harry shrugged. "The best of them have been sent off to do important things," he said. "They're on the front-lines. What's left behind . . . not the sharpest knifes in the drawer. I really miss having Hermione around at times like this."
Rachel steepled her fingers and thought about it for a moment. "Is she still physically infirm?" she asked.
"She'll be fine by now," said Harry. "It's been years and she was never one to just sit and take what life threw at her. If the medi-wizards couldn't fix her, she'd have figured out a way to fix herself by now."
"You don't know?"
"I've been a little busy."
"They've been trying to get in touch," said Rachel with a sigh. "One of the Weasleys even asked me if I knew how to find you."
Harry shrugged, trying to appear nonchalant, but Rachel could see discomfort writ large across his features. He just didn't have the much control over his feelings. Oh, he tried, but he might as well be wearing a banner declaring his emotional state to a Jedi.
"Well, that's your business," she said. "I'm curious; have they managed to trace the assassin?"
"Sort of," said Harry. "They assembled this big file about him, full life history, and then they found his rotting body in a shallow grave near his home."
"Looks like it," said Harry. "And we're no closer to catching the assassin than we were a month ago."
"Oh, we are," replied Rachel. "The assassin's done a good job on the surface, but they're awfully sloppy. Leaving the body that close to their pawn's house? Bad form. Talk to the neighbours, see what they have to say. I have a good feeling about that course of action."
"You really should be the one running this investigation," said Harry. "These aurors . . . they're thick. And the officer the yanks have put in charge isn't much better. He's dead creepy, but he doesn't do much. Just watches and makes notes. Disappears a lot too."
"Creepy?" asked Rachel. The idea of some random officer creeping out Harry Potter amused her to no end.
"Yeah," he said. "The way he looks at you . . . I'd swear he was a legilimens if he was a wizard. Makes my skin crawl."
It didn't take a genius to figure out what the officer was, but she supposed that Harry hadn't ran into many spooks before. "Don't worry about it," she said. "I doubt he's up to anything too troublesome. And you're an American hero these days. They wouldn't go after you anyway."
Harry rolled his eyes. "Like I'm scared of some little muggle guy," he said. "He just creeps me out. That's all."
Rachel shook her head. She could tell him, but where would the fun be in that? And there was always more reward in figuring things out for yourself. "Well, maybe you should ponder on why someone who isn't a threat creeps you," she said. "Now, as much as I'd prefer to while away an hour or two in conversation with you, I have work to do."
"Ah. I'll leave you to your paperwork then."
Paperwork was the bane of Rachel's life. She'd hated it when she was merely the head of research and, on paper, acting as Miller's second, but what she'd had to deal with then had nothing on what she had to deal with now that she acting in Miller's place on top of what she'd had before. Even with her off-loading much of her old work onto Sarah - who, it had to be said, wasn't best pleased with that - and leaving several good-sized chunks of Miller's work to the permanent successor she was drowning in reports and forms and memos and all the rest of it.
It would truly be a great day when command selected a real replacement and sent him along to take the job. She felt more like a civil servant pushing bits of paper around for a living than an acting major general. If she'd wanted the job in the first place, the leaning tower of paperwork would have dissuaded her damn quick. Really, she was beginning to wonder if she'd died somewhere along the line and ended up in a special circle of hell that had you dealing with paperwork for all eternity.
"Yo," said Faith. "Scarecrow's in a wicked bad mood still?"
"Has he been in anything else since he was assigned here?" asked Rachel, scribbling her signature on the form she was working on as she spoke. Then she downed pen and looked up. Ah, Faith. A sight for sore eyes as always. "It's getting old."
"Boy's gonna burst if he doesn't lighten up," said Faith. "We should take him to the nearest bar and get him drunk. Rest'll take care of itself."
"I somehow doubt that Harry'll be a happy drunk," said Rachel. "Just a feeling I have."
Faith waved her off. "Everyone's a happy drunk when they get laid," she said. "Shouldn't be too hard to find someone willing. Hell, I wouldn't mind a ride myself."
"Faith . . . "
"Yeah, yeah," she said. "I know. You ain't gonna share a bed with a guy. Your loss."
"He's old enough to make his own choice," said Rachel. "He's getting better. Seriously. You didn't see what he was like when he first showed up at X-COM. Talking to him was like pulling teeth at times."
Faith just stared at Rachel in utter disbelief. "Fuck," she said. "He's a real brood-boy, ain't he?"
"Nah," said Rachel. "He's more of a 'find an enemy and take it out on them' type. Brooding is Dead Boy's game. Gets a bit stroppy at times but it's nowhere near as annoying as the vampire's kicked puppy act."
"Not that you're biased or nothing."
"Not at all."
Faith eyed the colossal pile of paper in my in-tray. "Why are you bothering with that shit?" she asked. "Most of it's pointless. And what's with not using a computer for that shit anyway?"
"The aliens have a hell of an edge on us in computing," said Rachel. "And you can't hack into a courier carrying a bundle of forms. It's a bit slow, but it's safer. Least it will be 'till we get the new fabs up and running."
"Right. Technical shit," said Faith. "Thought you had everything squared away with that stuff."
"Not quite," said Rachel with a sigh. "We've been forcing Earth to go through a thousand years worth of research and advancement every year. Some things just don't work out right or slip through the cracks."
"Gives us some nice toys to place with though," said Faith with the 'Slayer with a new weapon' grin on her face. "Vibroswords are nice."
Rachel grimaced. "You would like the messiest weapon I can make," she said.
"Hey, it's me," said Faith with a wide grin and shrug of her shoulders that caused some interesting movements in her chest area. She wasn't wearing a bra, realised Rachel as she tracked the movements with her eyes.
"Yeah, that's what I'm afraid of."
Faith folded her arms across her chest. "You know, you could get away without doing half this shit," she said. "It ain't your job, not really. New guy'll probably change it all around when he shows up."
"Can't just leave it, Faith. I'm dealing with things that can't just be left till someone else does it," said Rachel with a distinct frown. "Soldiers need ammunition to use, food to eat, and all the rest. That means someone has to manage the operational budget."
"And Miller's chief of staff couldn't deal with that," said Faith a distinctly snarky tone to her voice. "No, it's got to be you."
"And there are troop deployments, training, discipline, and all the rest of it," continued Rachel. "That sort of thing doesn't deal with itself. I can't exactly ignore my real job, either. That research is crucial."
"Like I said, Miller had people to help him with this stuff," said Faith. "You don't have to do it yourself. And those eggheads are smart people. They're not much to look at, but they know their jobs."
"They're also arrogant as all hell and have a habit of running off to work on things they think are interesting rather than what they're supposed to be doing."
Faith waved her off. "They ain't pulled that stunt since you showed up," she said. "They don't dare fuck with you."
"My attention is divided now," Rachel pointed out.
"So? They aren't retards, you know. People that smart don't piss people off who can snap 'em in two without even trying, not when they get the impression you'd actually do it. Shit, you almost make me think you'd do it sometimes."
"Who says I wouldn't?"
"Yeah, that's it," said Faith. "You're wicked good at talking shit with a straight face. But that ain't why I'm here."
"And why are you here then?"
"Look, you don't need to be doing all this," she said. "But I know what you're like. You don't really want to stop and think about what's been happening, so you're working non-fucking-stop. Ain't any more complicated than that, I reckon."
"I liked Miller well enough and I'll miss him," said Rachel. "But we weren't that close, Faith."
"Yeah," said Faith. "But what about John? What about those X-COM soldiers who've been dropping like flies? One of 'em might not ding you much, but it all adds up, doesn't it?"
"Even if you're correct, what's your point?"
Faith leaned over the table and looked Rachel in the eye. "There are better ways to blow off steam than filling in bits of paper, Darth."
Put like that, offering a view like that, Rachel had a hard time arguing.
"You know, I like your girlfriend," said Jolee. "Hard for you to go Dark Side on the world when you've got someone like that around."
Rachel blinked. Last she remembered . . . "You can mess with my dreams now?"
"Oh yeah," said Jolee with a nod. "Handy little ability it is. Don't know why you're surprised, though. Not like normal Jedi can't do this sort of thing when they put their mind to it."
"Only if they're not blocked," said Rachel. "And I don't run shieldless."
"We've already established that being dead has its perks, kiddo. This is just another one of them. Handy, isn't it?"
"That's not the first word that comes to mind," said Rachel as she eyed the surroundings. "The Jedi Enclave on Dantooine? Nice choice."
"Yeah," said Jolee with another nod. "Nice scenery."
Rachel blinked again. Something about the way he said that . . . "I'm naked, aren't I?"
"You're project your physical form as is," said Jolee. "Which means . . . "
"Naked," said Rachel flatly.
"Hey, you don't need to rush to change that on my account."
Rachel gave him a flat stare, and then, with a moment's focus, she clad her projected form in a standard set of Jedi robes. "Warning would have been nice, you old letch," she said.
Jolee shrugged and his grin was entirely unapologetic. "Hey, I'm old and incorporeal," he said. "I'll take my pleasures where I can."
"How you ever got anywhere in the Jedi Order is beyond me," said Rachel with a shake of her head. "Vrook must have hated you; in an entirely non-emotional way, of course."
"Vrook was just another young whipper-snapper when I was in the Order," replied Jolee with an easy grin on his face. "His approval would have meant pretty much nothing to me when I was still a strapping young lad with a need for Jedi approval."
"Vrook was born old."
"It might seem that way to you," said a voice from behind me. "But maybe I was just born sensible."
"I was wrong when I said you could mess with your dreams," said Rachel. "This is a nightmare, not a dream."
"Your feeble attempts at humour aren't appreciated," said the voice, said Vrook, as he moved around Rachel to stand next to Jolee, who didn't look all that happy.
"Oh, I don't know about that," said Jolee. "A good bit of gallows humour can be good for the soul."
"It'll take more than good humour to save her soul."
"Hey," barked Rachel. "I've taken plenty of flak from you, Vrook, but you can leave my damn soul of all things out of it. Force, you're even more obnoxious dead than you were when you were alive. I didn't think that was possible."
Vrook laughed, though it was a humourless thing. "Obnoxious?" he asked. "No, just realistic. The taint of the Sith will never leave you, Revan. Never. No amount of 'gallows humour' will change that."
Rachel rolled her eyes. "Because someone who never went within a country mile of the Dark Side knows all about it," she said. "Newsflash: I have more experience with that crap than you'd have if you lived a thousand lifetimes."
"And that's supposed to be a good thing?" asked Vrook. "Your judgement is far from sound on this, Revan."
"I don't know if you've noticed, Vrook, but I'm not Revan," said Rachel. "A part of me is, sure, but just as big a part is Xander Harris. I might not look or sound much like myself these days and I have abilities that I'd never have developed in a million years, but I'm still me."
Vrook snorted. "You're deluding yourself," he said. "The boy was a good child, brave and strong, but his will was nothing compared to Revan's. You consumed him."
Jolee stirred, looking somewhat uncomfortable. "I don't know about that," he said. "She's far more emotionally driven than Revan ever was."
"And that's supposed to be a good thing?" asked Vrook. "She almost killed someone who's supposed to be her friend in a blind rage. Emotions lead to the Dark Side. You of all people should understand."
"I was unbalanced at that time," said Rachel quietly. "I have learned to control myself since. The coven-"
"A band aid," snorted Vrook. "It's held longer than I would have expected, but there are adequate signs that it's failing."
"Because she allows herself to feel?" asked Jolee. "There's nothing wrong with that. She's young and life is to be enjoyed."
"She is supposed to be a Jedi," said Vrook. "A Jedi's life is duty, service to those who need them. It's not to be spent in bed with nubile young women."
Rachel could feel a distinct urge to kill rising within herself. A problem considering that Vrook was already dead, really.
"Oh-ho!" said Jolee. "Nubile, eh? So you're not as utterly boring as you seem then. Not that I can blame you. She is quite the specimen of young womanhood that girl."
Vrook's expression was quite the picture to behold. "I-it was a simple observation of fact!" he exclaimed. "She is an attractive young woman. It does not take a lecher to acknowledge that!"
"Methinks the lady doth protest too much," said Jolee with a wicked grin. "Oh my, Vrook with actual human feelings. No-one would believe this. What's next? Explosive nosebleeds? Reminds me of the time-"
"Enough!" barked Rachel, her patience finally exhausted. "Begone with you! Both of you!"
"I don't care!" barked Rachel. "I've had enough of the pair of you. Leave or be removed, I leave the choice to you."
Jolee shrugged and vanished into the ether with a wink. Vrook remained. "I'll leave when I've said my piece and not before," he said.
"You would force your presence in my mind upon me?" asked Rachel. "How very hypocritical. And how very stupid of you to think you could. Leave now or it will go badly for you."
"I'm dead, child. I have access to powers beyond mortal comprehension. You can't force me out."
"Do you really want to put that to the test? This is my mind; my power is supreme here, Vrook. Basic principle."
Vrook folded his arms over his chest. "I came here for a reason, Revan," he said. "I won't leave 'till I've fulfilled that purpose."
"So be it then."
Rachel gathered every iota power that she could harness, both through the Force and through magic, and began to shape it with her will into a weapon. She didn't particularly wish to harm Vrook, and wasn't sure that she could anyway with his already being deceased, but a weapon it was albeit a blunted one. Vrook's smug expression just drove her to greater heights as she harnessed her strength for one great blow to remove his presence from her mind.
And then, once her power was harnessed fully, Rachel struck out at Vrook. With all the power gained from a lifetime of refining her Force powers as Revan and then her years as Rachel, she went on the offensive. The power behind the move was immense and Vrook's expression quickly turned from smug to surprised as it struck him. Dead or alive, he just didn't have the same sort of raw power as Rachel no matter what he had believed. The battle of wills had an inevitable result.
"Well, hopefully that'll teach him a lesson," remarked Rachel as Vrook was banished from her mind. "Now, time to get some actual sleep."
The next day, feeling much relaxed despite Vrook's interference with her dreams, Rachel decided to get in touch with Lorne and see if he was hearing anything that might be useful to figuring out who killed Miller.
"This is an abominably early hour of the day to be getting a nightclub owner out of bed, so I hope you have a good reason for calling, whoever you are," said Lorne when he answered the phone.
"Lorne, you'd think you weren't happy to hear from me," said Rachel. "I'm hurt."
A moment of silence passed. "I bet," said Lorne. "I've been expecting to hear from you for a while now."
"In their infinite wisdom, the powers that be decided to sequester me in the base," said Rachel. "Haven't the investigators been in touch?"
"I've met vampires with better manners than those wizards," said Lorne. "And those are real vampires, not ones cursed with a soul. So rude, so disrespectful, so utterly disinterested in what I had to say."
"I heard them talking," he continued. "Talking about how no wizard would lower themselves to associate with demonic filth. They must think I'm deaf. And I'll have you know that Caritas is about the most popular hang-out for that sort outside their own inbred little world!"
"As if that horrible little place could ever have anything like Caritas! We have soul here! Real entertainment! You won't see anything like this in those grimy little backstreet dives they call bars."
"That's, um, nice."
Lorne sighed. "Sorry, sorry," he said. "I'm ranting at the wrong person but they were just so . . . obnoxious."
"You're preching to the choir," said Rachel. "They tried to throw me in prison for defending myself. I haven't liked them much ever since."
"Such charming people. You have to wonder how they haven't gotten themselves wiped out."
"Give them time," said Rachel. "They keep pushing and they might find themselves on a one-way ticket to the sun."
"My heart would bleed if they weren't such raging assholes. Now, I assume you're phoning about that whole mess with your boss getting assassinated?"
"That would be the reason, yes."
"Horrible affair, that," said Lorne. "Very nasty business. My condolences."
"I'll pass those on to his family," said Rachel. "Now, have you heard anything that might be useful?"
"Hmm, not much," said Lorne. "These wanded types aren't all that talkative even when they do come around and they don't often work with demons for their evil ends. I just don't hear as much about that them as I do the normal demonic affairs."
"You have to have heard something. People talk and this was big. Miller wasn't exactly Mr. Popular with demons."
"No, he wasn't. Destroying Wolfram & Hart left a lot of very angry minions wandering around with no-one to hold their leash," replied Lorne. "He's not the only one who they'd like to kill, either, babyface. You'd better watch your back."
"Babyface," mouthed Rachel. That . . . well, as long as no-one else heard of it . . . "Yeah, I know," she said. "They'll have to join the queue."
"Such a depressing outlook," said Lorne. "Such a waste of your youth. You'll give yourself wrinkles being so cynical."
Rachel rolled her eyes. "Come on, Lorne. You must know something; stop beating around the bush."
"Okay, okay. I don't know much," he said. "Just some whispers, some big talk, you know? I don't know if it really means anything. I did tell those wand-users, but I guess they filed it in the trashcan."
There was a pause. Rachel assumed he was gathering his thoughts.
"Anyway, word is that this is just the start," he said eventually. "A shot across the bow, I suppose. Word is that your green-eyed boy might be bringing some of his enemies to the table too. I really wouldn't want to be you guys right now. Lot of powerful people gunning for your heads."
"Nothing we can't deal with," said Rachel. "Thanks for the information, Lorne. I will remember how helpful you were."
"Just don't do anything stupid, kid."
"My enemies?" asked Harry. "Huh. I thought all my enemies were dead. I did a pretty thorough sweep of them when I was done with Voldemort."
"Yeah," he said. "Well, it can't be Voldemort. I'd know if he found a way back again. What's left of him is locked up tight inside me and it ain't much to start with. Who could it be . . . there's nothing left alive connected to the Dark Mark so it's not a Death Eater and Fudge wouldn't dare . . . I have no idea, Rachel."
"I was afraid of that," said Rachel. "Time to make a list of all your enemies, past and present, and then to determine their true status. It's always possible that someone who's supposed to be dead really isn't."
"I don't know; when I kill someone, I'm pretty thorough about it. No-one gets back up from a killing curse."
"Then look at associates of your enemies," said Rachel. "People who'd hold a grudge against you. You don't strike me as the sort to wipe out whole families on the off-chance they'll come after you, so that should be plenty to work with."
"Most Death Eater families didn't survive the war, but I'll check it out. It's almost like being back at Hogwarts, this, figuring out who is trying to kill me this year."
He seemed almost cheerful about it. What a perverse attitude. It did give Rachel an idea though. Harry's time at Hogwarts had been pretty successful when it came to fighting the good fight, but he hadn't done it alone. She wasn't exactly integrated with wizarding communication methods, but she reckoned that she could figure it out.
Of course, it wasn't all fun and games. A few days after Rachel clued Harry into the fact that his enemies were involved came Miller's funeral. He was buried at Arlington with full honours as befitted the rank he'd earned and the things he'd achieved as an officer of the US Army. It was a well attended ceremony - surprisingly so considering the way the world was and the fact that Miller had few friends outside the forces - and it was all very well done.
The security was, of course, top notch. Rachel had been able to spot at least half a dozen armed guards from every point of the procession and the wards surrounding the cemetary had been extremely powerful; she'd been able to feel them hot on her skin from the moment she entered them and she was sure that nothing short of a truly spectacular magical attack would break them.
Funerals are rarely short, especially not ones with full military honours, but eventually it came to an end as the chaplain handed the neatly folded flag that had draped the coffin off to Miller's wife, who had been stony-faced throughout the affair. It had been quite impressive really. Rachel could appreciate the strength it took to maintain composure in the face of such stress. Miller had married exactly the sort of woman she'd have expected him to.
Once the obligatory handshake and mutter condolences had been offered, Rachel made to leave, but, before she could do so, Miller's son caught up with her. He was almost the spitting image of his father too. A little taller, a bit trimmer around the middle, and with a whole lot less grey in his hair, sure, but otherwise the similarity in looks was otherwise quite astounding. More importantly, he reeked of suppressed rage. Understandable, yes, but also potentially dangerous. Revan would have twisted him inside-out and made him hers very quickly. She would have found him quite delicious, to be honest.
"My father always spoke very well of you," he said by way of an opening.
"I'm glad to hear that."
He stared at Rachel for a moment, an expression of great frustration on his face as if he was struggling both with his anger at what happened and to find the right words for what he wanted to say at the same time. "My father was a good man," he said eventually. "He didn't deserve this."
"I agree," said Rachel. "Very few deserve an end like that."
He was stymied for a moment before he blurted out his next. "I . . . I want to join the demon brigades," he said. "I want to fight against the people that did this."
Rachel quirked an eyebrow. "I'm not going to help you start a crusade for revenge," she said. "That never ends well. Believe me. Been there, done that, caused an awful lot of death and destruction."
"I . . . I have to do something. I just do."
"You're an officer of the US Army," said Rachel. "You won't be short of opportunities to fight the good fight, not these days."
"I know," he said. "Believe me, I know. But it's not the same. These people, these things, killed my father like he was nothing, and for what? Because he did his duty and protected humanity from them. It can't be allowed. They have to be stopped and I want to help with that."
It was, all told, remarkably coherent and far more principled a set of reasons than she'd expected given the circumstances. And judging by the look in his eye and the feelings she got through the Force he wasn't even lying to himself. Well, not that much, anyway. And he was Miller's kid, so she was inclined to think he could handle himself well enough to not get himself or anyone else killed before he worked his issues out. It might not be the best idea, but, hell, it was Miller's kid.
"I suppose I can put a word in the right ear," she said finally. "But if you get yourself killed I'll bring you back to life and kill you myself."
"It isn't time for me to be with my father yet."
"Damn right it isn't," said Rachel. "Your father would resurrect himself just to kill me if you went and got yourself knocked off."
A week after the funeral, Rachel's latest scheme came to fruition when a fairly attractive young woman with a slight limp who looked to be about ninety percent hair appeared at the base and just about cut Harry in two with a hug that rivalled a boa constrictor in intensity. She might not be one for interfering in someone's private life, but Hermione Granger had actual uses in dealing with the issues at hand, so why not?
Of course, she grew to regret her scheming slightly when the interrogations on how her powers worked started.