Becca’s Books – Early Evening
The bell above the door jingled as Giles made his way inside the bookstore. Behind the counter sat a woman in her mid-40’s with a novel in her hand. Giles approached unnoticed until he was near the counter. Upon looking up, she put the book aside and took off her reading glasses.
“Ohh, hi,” she began. “I didn’t hear you come in.”
“I don’t mean to interrupt,” he said politely, pointing to the book she had in her hand.
“Sorry, I got caught up reading. Happens sometimes,” she blushed. “Is there something I can help you find?”
Giles looked around the shop for a brief moment. “This is Becca’s Books, correct? The only one here in Cleveland?”
“One and only, at least to my knowledge.” She grinned warmly and Giles found himself grinning in response. “Did someone refer you here?”
Giles opened his mouth, as if not quite sure how or if he should explain. “I-In a manner of speaking,” he told her.
“Well, I’m the owner, Rebecca Montague…Becca for short.”
Giles smiled at the mention of the last name, before saying, “Montague, just like Ro –.”
“Yes,” Becca sighed before he could finish. “I might be a hopeless romantic, but I’m not related to Shakespeare’s Romeo.” She reached across the counter and offered her hand to Giles, as if waiting for him to say something.
“Oh… Giles,” he told her as he shook it. “Rupert Giles,” he quickly corrected himself.
“I thought the only Brit who introduced himself that way was James Bond,” she teased.
Giles chuckled and shook his head. “Sorry for sounding pretentious. I’m a bit used to people calling me by my last name, but please, call me Rupert.”
“Well, Rupert,” she smirked. “What can I do you for?”
“Yes,” Giles answered as if he nearly forgot the reason he came. “I need a book, actually.”
“I got lots of those,” she said, waving around the store.
Giles gave an embarrassed grin. “Y-Yes, I see, but this is one that I believe you might not realize you have.”
“Well I can order it if you have the ISBN number,” she offered.
“No, what I mean is you might not realize you possess it, but you do.”
“Excuse me?” Becca replied, obviously confused.
Giles stopped and the wheels appeared to turn in his mind, trying to come up with a feasible explanation. “I could tell you how I know this, but chances are you wouldn’t believe it.”
Becca snorted. “I’ve seen some freaky things in this town lately,” she told him. “Try me.”
Giles gave a reluctant sigh, “Alright, at the risk of you thinking I’m totally insane and lack any credibility…a deceased friend told us about it.”
“Oh, I run a school for…gifted children…And this friend came to my colleague in a dream. I told you this would sound utterly ridiculous. In any case, she advised us that it was in a storage closet next to a metal filing cabinet or shelf of some kind. It was a shipment you recently acquired and it-it has a picture of an…” Giles stuttered, as if not sure he should continue. But seeing that Becca didn’t look terrified by his speech so far, he continued. “An angelic-looking creature with demon horns,” he ended softly.
Giles waited nervously for her to reply.
“I have a book with a picture of an angel on it that I don’t know I have?” Becca asked just to clarify.
“Yes,” Giles said softly.
“And it’s in my storage room?”
Again, Giles muttered bashfully, “Yes…I did warn you that the story would seem ridiculous.”
Becca took a moment to look Giles over, as if summing up his credibility. She then removed the key from the cash register.
“Come with me,” she said, nodding him toward the back of the store. “I must admit this is a strange request. But I did recently win some old books I found in an online auction. I haven’t gone through them…Truth be told, I hate computers, but they seem to be an everyday necessity.”
“I would have to agree with you there,” Giles smiled. They came to the storage room door and Becca held her hand out. “Wait here,” she told him. “You’ve got an honest face. but I’d rather not take the chance and be wrong.”
“Certainly,” Giles agreed, taking a few steps back, waiting by one of the stacks.
Becca unlocked the door and lifted one box, bringing it out and handing it to Giles before retrieving a second box. Kicking the door closed with her foot, she nodded to a reading table. “Over there,” she instructed.
They placed the boxes down on the table and she opened the first one. “Let’s see what we have.”
Giles did the same and grinned as he looked inside and pulled a rather old-looking book from the box, carefully dusting it off. “I find it intriguing that you would purchase these,” he commented.
“Most people are looking for Tom Clancy or that Rowling woman’s works, I’d assume,” Giles commented.
“Well, these books are for me more than anyone else,” Becca confessed. “A few I might sell to some book lovers I know. But I enjoy books, especially the old ones, like these. It’s like they have a life of their own.” Giles didn’t say anything. He simply cocked his head with a curious expression that prompted Becca to explain as she continued to unload her box. “Well, every book is different – it has a different feel, texture. They smell, too, believe it or not, and scent is one of our most powerful senses. A certain smell can take our memory back to particular places and times and…I’m rambling, aren’t I?”
“Not at all,” Giles smiled affectionately. “In fact, I agree. It just strikes me as odd to know I’m not so alone in my opinion. Most of my colleagues are younger and…”
“Yes,” Becca nodded. “Palm pilots and ebooks and PDFs. Faster, quicker, convenient…but it’s not quite the same as curling up with a cup of cocoa and a first edition copy of A Christmas Carol on a chilly December night.”
Giles grinned and looked at the shopkeeper a moment longer.
“Would it be too forward to ask you to marry me?” he blurted out.
Becca chuckled gently as Giles turned bright red at his uncharacteristic, impetuous comment.
“My apologies,” he insisted. “A woman such as yourself is probably already spoken for, a-and if I’ve made you feel uncomfortable then –.”
Becca rested a hand on Giles’s arm before slowly moving it away.
“Don’t apologize. I’m not ‘spoken for,’ and it’s not often that a handsome stranger comes into my store and flirts with me,” Becca added with a smile. “But maybe we should try dinner first before we jump into the marriage business.” She began to look through the box again. “Oh wait!” she said, pulling a book out before Giles could reply to her proposal. “Is this it?”
She handed him a book bound in red leather and he looked at the cover. It was a perfect description. He gave a small grin, running his fingers over the top.
“Thank you, Tara,” he said softly. He turned to Becca and in a louder voice said, “Yes, I believe this is it…” Giles looked up and gave Becca a close examination. “This is going to sound like a trite cliché, but…have we met? Before this evening, I mean?”
Becca shrugged. “I don’t believe so. I think I would have remembered you.”
Giles gave a timid grin but shrugged it off. “Hmm…in any regard, how much would you like for it?”
“That book seems pretty important,” she teased, rubbing her hands together. “Probably worth quite a bit, I’m sure.”
“How much?” Giles asked, keeping his grin in place.
“Twenty-five thousand dollars,” Becca told him with a straight face.
“Sold.” Giles began to reach for his wallet.
“Hey wait!” Becca chuckled as she spoke. “I was just teasing. I couldn’t do that to you. How about this: Twenty dollars for the book as-is. If you pay $50, I’ll take you out to dinner, my treat.”
Giles grinned, took out his wallet and handed her a $50 bill. “I’d like to stay and chat some more but I’m needed back at the academy.”
“I understand,” Becca said sympathetically.
“How’s this Friday?” he asked.
“Great. I close up at eight, if that’s not too late for dinner.”
“No, that will be just fine.”
“Good, I’ll see you Friday then,” she beamed.
“Friday,” Giles nodded with a sappy grin as he left.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Later that Night
Willow was sitting at Kennedy’s bedside with the book Giles had bought when Rowena walked in with two cups of coffee. She paused a moment in the doorway, as if contemplating whether to enter.
Hearing the noise, Willow looked up and gave her a gentle smile, making Rowena’s decision for her.
“Thought you might want some,” the blonde Watcher said in a quiet voice. “Lots of cream and sugar.” She held out the cup in an outstretched hand.
“Thanks,” Willow said, motioning for Rowena to take a seat. “Get anything further on your end?”
“Not much is available when it comes to slayer medical records. I found no documented cases like this, at least, not yet. But I’m not gonna give up looking,” Rowena reassured her.
“What about that demon? Anything further?” Willow asked, keeping a soft tone as well.
“There was one incident of a slayer going against a Vutch demon…”
“And?” Willow prompted.
“Suffice it to say, the slayer didn’t win. Believe it or not, looks like we fared much better than we thought.” When Willow didn’t ask anything further, Rowena continued. “How’s she doing?”
“Lots of broken bones, some nerve damage. On the bright side, the doctor is having a wonderful time x-raying her and charting her progress. He said what usually takes a human weeks or even months to heal, she’s doing it in hours.”
“That’s wonderful, Willow,” Rowena told her. “Maybe she’ll recover. I mean if bone and nerves are healing that quickly, then perhaps there’s hope.”
“Yeah. I spoke to Faith when she came to visit and she thinks she’ll pull through. She’s too damn stubborn not to, Faith said,” Willow explained with a weak grin. “She also pointed out that after a stabbing, an overdose and an explosion, she’s still here. Maybe she’s right…”
“And the search?” Rowena nodded to the book in Willow’s hand.
“Not as fruitful as I hoped. They didn’t like to use chapters or a glossary back in the olden days, so lots of pointless reading, ya know? But the doctor just gave her another sedative for the pain, so she’ll be out for a few hours. Gives me the chance to read some more.”
Rowena took the coffee cup and book away from Willow. “Then go get some sleep,” she told her.
“I don’t want to leave her here,” Willow said, shaking her head, reaching for the book. “And I have to –”
“Get some rest,” Rowena ordered, pulling it further away. “As one of your watcher trainers, I insist.”
“Please don’t pull rank,” Willow told her. “‘Cause when I get my powers back I can turn you into a toad, no matter how trite that may be.”
Rowena gave a soft chuckle. “Rank aside, consider this: When Kennedy wakes up and sees the baggage under your eyes she’ll get concerned. Do you want her to worry about you?”
Willow gave a defeated sigh. Rowena looked behind them and walked over to the bed next to Kennedy’s, giving it a pat. “This will do.”
“No really, if she wakes up –.”
“Then I’ll wake you,” Rowena told her. “I’ll sit over here and read. Go on.”
“Are you sure?”
Rowena nodded. “Yeah, it’s been a pretty long day for all of us. So go ahead. When you wake up, we’ll trade off and I’ll catch a few winks. Then hopefully, between the two of us, we’ll know more by the end of the day.”
“And to think, I suggested teleporting you away,” Willow teased with a grin as she hopped up on the bed. She pulled the covers up over herself and laid her head on the pillow. “Thank you, Ro,” she called over.
Rowena had already begun to read the book and looked up. “No problem,” she grinned.
Presidium Lair – Same Time
“Gretz,” the Engineer rumbled from where he stood at the lectern.
Jeff was secured on the device, slumped in his restraints. He looked sweaty and exhausted.
Gretz, who was sitting by the far wall with three other gang members, shot to his feet quickly, a cold sweat breaking out on his wrinkled brow. “Yes, my Lord.” He quickly motioned for the other three to stand up.
The Engineer quietly said something to his minion and gave a curt nod. Said minion left his post and stood in front of Gretz.
“There’s been a disturbance to the plans,” the demon said.
“An unearthly spirit is aiding the Council.”
“We’ll kill them, sir.”
“Unearthly,” he repeated. “You’re too late. She’s dead. But she has knowledge and still has a great deal more power than most spirits who’ve passed on.”
“What can we do to help his Excellence-ness?”
The minion paused, and there was a rattling growl from the Engineer himself.
“She knows of a book here in Cleveland,” the minion said, “but they mustn’t get it. If the witch breaks the spell they could locate the boy, and we’re not quite finished yet.”
“I’ll have the book here by daybreak, sir.”
“You’ll do that,” the minion told him. “Because your undead life depends on it.”
Becca’s Books – Night
Becca turned off the back lights of her shop and walked to the front, turning over the open sign to read “Closed.” Taking the keys from her cash register, she was on her way to the front door when four men walked inside.
“Sorry fellas,” she told them. “I’m closing up for the night.”
Gretz turned and locked the door. He faced Becca with an ominous grin.
“That’s okay, this won’t take but a minute.”
Watchers Council – Computer Area – Morning
Willow walked in with a coffee cup, bloodshot eyes and a manila folder under her arm.
Giles was seated at a nearby table, looking at the book he had purchased.
“So Rowena didn’t find anything?” he asked as he flipped through the pages.
“So she says,” Willow sighed. “I tried this morning to pick it back up, but the words are kinda blurring together. Ken and her slayer skills,” Willow sighed. “We only slept for two hours and, believe it or not, Ken is far from a model patient, if you can imagine. The doctor is convinced now that she’ll make a full recovery because of that spirit. That’s good, don’t get me wrong, but…tiring, too. I got sick of arguing over why I wouldn’t give her a wheelchair to go out on patrol.”
“You’re joking?” he snorted.
“We’re talking about Kennedy here, Giles.” Willow cast him a glance that showed she was far from joking and he grinned in response. She pulled the book over and started to thumb through it.
“I just wish I knew what I was looking for here. And why couldn’t Tara have come to me and told me, ‘Hey Will, this is what you need,'” Willow added softly.
“Tara always struck me as a sensitive soul, a caregiver of sorts. Perhaps she thought her appearance would only add to the stress you’re feeling right now.”
“That’s true, with Jeff gone and no way to find him –”
“I meant with Kennedy,” Giles told her.
Willow didn’t say anything at first. She licked her lips nervously and couldn’t look up at Giles. “It doesn’t feel the same,” she said softly.
“What do you mean?” he asked, totally confused.
“I’m a terrible girlfriend,” she mumbled.
“You have a great deal on your shoulders right now, Willow and –”
“No, Giles,” Willow interrupted. “Oh gods, how do I say this without coming off like…remember that night Tara was hurt by Glory and we were all at the hospital?” He simply nodded and waited for her to continue. “I was a basket case a-and I did some pretty stupid stuff that night. I love Kennedy. I do. A-and I hate to see her in pain like this, but…”
“It’s not the same,” Giles finished.
Willow just nodded her head. “Told you…I’m a terrible girlfriend.”
“Well, this situation is different,” Giles offered. “You didn’t know if or how you could heal Tara. With Kennedy, her recovery is happening almost immediately. Perhaps you don’t have that fear because you realize on a rational level she’s going to be alright.”
“Yeah, maybe,” she reluctantly agreed with a roll of her shoulders. “Anyway, I’m assuming the slayers couldn’t get a handle on Jeff’s location?”
“No, sadly the slayers didn’t fare much better than us,” Giles told her. “No sign of him, and I’m not sure how much longer Lily is going to stay as calm as she has. It’s difficult on any mother, but Jeff was an only child so…”
“Yeah, I was an only child too, so it makes sense. My parents would worry. Well, okay, maybe not immediately. It would take a few days to notice I was gone but THEN they would worry,” Willow said. She opened the manila folder and began to read.
“I know your parents didn’t play a very active role in your interests, but I –”
“Giles?” Willow interrupted as she pushed the open folder over to him. “The police reports from last night say that a bookstore was vandalized and the shop keeper injured.”
“Where?” Giles asked. Willow pointed to the address.
“Is that the place where –?”
Before she could finish, Giles’s face went white. He was on his feet, pulling his coat from the back of the chair and running toward the exit.
End of Act Two