Presidium Lair – Device Room – Dusk
Bonnie led the four vampires into the device room where the Engineer and two of his minions were. The newcomers watched as the device slowed to a halt. A foul stench suddenly emanated from it that caused even the vampires to cringe. Bonnie’s face remained expressionless as the minions released Jeff from his restraints, letting him fall unceremoniously to the floor.
“Take him –” Bonnie began, but broke off as Gretz’s face morphed into its vampire form and, with a grin, he moved towards the fallen boy and lifted him by the collar, his fangs glistening in the pallid light of the device. The Engineer made a gesture and before Gretz could sink his teeth into Jeff’s neck, one of the Engineer’s minions grabbed Gretz by the throat and, with one arm, lifted him away from the boy.
“Gah!” Gretz cried as the minion’s talons squeezed inexorably together, the vampire’s legs flailing about helplessly. With a sickening crunch, Gretz’s head separated from his body and the minion allowed both to drop to the floor next to the unconscious Jeff. A moment later all that remained was dust.
Bonnie turned to the remaining vampires, who looked eager to be gone from the lair.
“As I was saying before I was so rudely interrupted, take him and dump him somewhere, but leave him alive,” she ordered. “Then get rid of the shopkeeper, like you should have last night. No mistakes this time, or you’ll join your brother. Understand?”
The vampires nodded and two of them lifted Jeff under the arms and dragged him from the room.
The Engineer turned towards Bonnie, his face impassive as always.
“My lord?” Bonnie said, bowing her head. “The test was a success?”
“The doors will be opened,” the Engineer replied, the sound rumbling from deep within his chest.
Bonnie bowed again, as did the other two minions.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Evening
Rowena sat cross-legged opposite from Willow on the floor, the map of Cleveland resting between them.
“Are you sure this is going to work, Willow?” Giles asked from where he was busy pacing in front of the worktable.
“The counter-spell worked, Giles,” Willow said, concentrating on mixing the herbs. “I can feel it.” She closed her eyes for a moment and then dusted the herbs on the map.
“Show me Jeffrey Lindquist,” she intoned. Immediately a bright light appeared on the map.
“There!” Rowena said, pointing at the map.
“Wait,” Willow said, holding up a hand.
“What is it?” Giles asked, moving towards them.
“The light – it’s moving,” she told him, a bit confused, but after a moment she realized what it meant. “He’s in transit.”
“Right,” Rowena nodded and flipped open her cell phone. Quickly hitting speed dial, she waited a moment and then said, “Vi? It’s Ro. Head for Euclid and Superior. Keep the speaker on. We’ll update you with any direction changes. You and Rona keep alert.”
Willow looked at the pacing watcher behind her. “Giles, you’re making me nervous,” Willow said.
Giles sighed. “I’m sorry,” he replied. “I just…I wish she would have accepted my offer of protection, at least for the time being.”
“Do you want to send a slayer over there anyway?” Willow asked. “Faith, maybe?”
“No,” Giles shook his head. “No, she doesn’t quite trust us as it is, and I don’t want to offend her by having a stranger camped out at her doorstep.”
“Then you go. She knows you,” Willow interrupted.
“Yes, the insane man who thinks he’s a monster killer that’s now stalking her,” Giles mumbled. “That will be quite reassuring.”
Willow grinned at him. “We both know you’re gonna go, so just do it and get it over with,” she teased.
Giles tried to look indignant, but couldn’t hold it for long and began to grin slightly. “Oh, bloody hell,” he sighed as he grabbed his coat and made for the exit.
Rowena looked up from the map. “What’s up with Giles?” she asked. “I’ve never seen him like this before.”
“I have,” Willow smiled.
“When he was in love,” she answered. Rowena matched her smile before turning back to the map.
F&H Waste Disposal Dump – Evening
The vampire broke the lock on the door leading into the dump. He held it open as the other two vampires dragged Jeff through. Moving quickly through the trash piles, they finally let the body fall to the ground behind a large stack of metal storage containers. Shortly after, the sound of squealing tires and slamming car doors beyond the gate caused all three vampires to look up.
“Slayers!” one of them hissed.
“Come on! One more stop and we’re done for the night,” the other said.
The vampires ran off, leaving Jeff as they hopped a fence and made their escape.
A minute later, Rona and Vi turned the corner and saw the body lying on the ground. Rona handed her stake to Vi and bent down to check for a pulse.
“He’s alive,” she said, then easily lifted the boy over her shoulder. As they trotted back to the car, Vi dialed the Council. She appeared frustrated as she looked back at the fence, possibly sensing the vampires heading in that direction.
“Get the Doc ready,” Vi warned, speaking into the phone. “HP’s alive but he’s in rough shape, Ro. We’ll be there in ten.”
Becca’s Books – Early Evening
Becca had bent to reach for her ledger behind the counter when the front door crashed open. Her head popped up and her eyes widened in fear as three of her attackers from the night before entered the store. She turned and ran for the back room.
“There she is!” one of the vamps cried. “Get her!”
Becca had just reached the door to the back room when the leading vampire grabbed her arm and spun her around. The other two vamps held her still, while the third’s face morphed into demon form.
Sheer panic washed over Becca’s face. “What the hell?” she garbled.
“Gretz was too afraid to eat you, but we’ve got permission,” the vampire said. “And I think there’s just enough to go around.”
Becca screamed as he leaned in to nuzzle her neck, but suddenly he stiffened. He pulled away just as his body turned to dust. Standing in front of her was Rupert Giles.
“Not too late, am I?” the watcher asked as the other two vampires released Becca.
Giles ducked away from the charging vampires and slid across a reading table, grabbing a large book and slamming it into the face of one of his attackers. The undead demon howled in frustration and picked up the watcher in both hands, lifting him up and tossing him over the counter. Becca raced to meet him, kneeling down to see if he was all right.
Giles shook his head to clear it and looked up at Becca. He put his finger to his lips and with the other hand unplugged the cash register, meeting Becca’s eyes. She nodded. Hearing a slight noise, she suddenly picked up the heavy machine and lifted it over her head as she came to her feet. A vampire was trying to creep over the counter when she crashed it down on its head. Giles popped up a moment later and plunged his stake through the back of the dazed vampire.
The final vampire took one look at the two of them and began to back up. Giles vaulted the counter, stake in hand. Not looking to be the third casualty, the vampire began to run but before he could clear the open door Giles threw the stake with deadly accuracy into the vampire’s back. The demon stopped in mid stride before exploding into dust.
“Are you alright?” Giles asked Becca. As she looked around at the new wreckage strewn around her store, he tried to examine her neck for injuries. Not seeing anything visible, he began to adjust his skewed clothing.
She simply nodded and then turned sharply to Giles. “The bar!” she exclaimed, snapping her fingers and pointing at him.
Giles looked up from dusting off his trousers and asked, “Excuse me?”
“Jimmy’s,” she said. “A couple of weeks ago. We had a gig and there was a fight. I broke my guitar over the head of one of those…those wrinkly-faced guys.”
“It was a vampire,” Giles said. “And yes, we were there. I-I guess that’s where I saw you before. You were the singer?”
Becca nodded. “I still haven’t replaced the ax I lost that night.”
“Oh,” Giles said. “Well, since you lost it in the course of saving my life, perhaps you’d let me replace it for you? Only seems fair.”
“Vampires,” she said, shaking her head. “I couldn’t believe what I saw that night, and when I told the band, they said I was nuts, but now…you were right, they really do exist.”
“They do,” Giles agreed.
“And that whole story about good versus evil is…”
“Also true,” Giles finished. A brief silence passed between them until Giles spoke again, “I’m sorry for all the mess I brought to your shop. Oddly enough, I know all too well how it feels.”
Becca shrugged her shoulders and Giles reached into his back pocket.
“Here is my card,” he said, handing her one. “I’ll make sure the slayers patrol this street as part of their regular route, but I don’t suspect these fellows would dare to venture this way again. Gossip spreads fast in the demon world,” he said with a slight grin. “Once others hear that the slayers are in this area, they won’t return. But if you experience any further trouble, call us. One of the skills our girls have is speed. They can be here at a moment’s notice.” Giles walked to the door, but stopped and turned around. “In…in the meantime, I promise I won’t intrude on you again.”
Looking disappointed, he turned around and headed for the door, but her voice stopped him.
“Yes?” he asked, turning around.
“Um, what are you doing tomorrow?” she asked.
Giles noticed the slight grin on her face and responded in kind. “Oh, working on ways to kill demons I suppose,” he replied. “It’s what we do.”
“Well, after that, do you mind going out for dinner?” she asked. Giles looked shocked at first and Becca went on. “What?” she said with a laugh. “Statistically speaking, a woman my age has a better chance of being hit by lightning than finding a man. Never mind a decent man willing to risk his life for a stranger.”
“You mean a beautiful stranger,” he said with a bashful smile. “Um, can I see you home? To make sure you get there safely, a-and perhaps along the way I can give you some useful demon fighting tips?”
“Good idea,” she agreed, turning off the shop lights. “If I’m going to be living on a…what did you call it…a Hellmouth? I think I should at least know how to protect myself.”
The two of them left the store together, each face mirroring the other’s smile.
“So, you play the guitar too…?” Giles asked, the awe clear in his voice.
Becca nodded enthusiastically as she locked the door behind them. The pair proceeded down the street.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Late Evening
Lily Lindquist smoothed the unruly hair over her sleeping son’s brow, then looked up as Willow popped her head in the room. Willow beckoned her and she gave Jeff a final look before heading for the hallway.
Willow closed the door behind the other woman and said reassuringly, “He’s just sleeping.”
Lily nodded, “I know, but he’s not good, Willow.”
“Physically he’ll be fine, Lily,” Willow said. “The doctor examined him and, other than the physical effects of stress and exhaustion, he’s okay.”
“But what else?” Lily demanded. “All his ramblings about some torture machine. What does it mean?”
Willow sighed nervously.
“Nearly every ounce of magic in his body has been drained,” she said. “How he managed to survive, I have no idea. Usually…well, usually there’s not much left of the body after that happens, but somehow…He has the makings of a powerful witch, Lily.”
“So his magical ability isn’t gone? But you said –.”
“No,” Willow shook her head. “Just drained. He’ll get it back in time. It’s kind of like a battery recharging. He’ll pull energy from the earth and soon he’ll be back to normal. And who knows, after his ordeal he might be even stronger but we’ll see.”
“Willow,” Lily began, looking unsure if she should continue. She took a breath and cleared her throat. “I’m…I’m going to take Jeffrey and leave the Council, I think.”
“What?” Willow exclaimed, putting her hand on the other woman’s arm and quickly lowering her voice. “Lily, you can’t do that.”
“I have to, Willow,” the exhausted mother said. “I can’t put him through this again.”
“Lily, Jeff is safer with us. I know after everything that’s hard to believe. He needs to be trained. He’s a curious and bright young man,” Willow explained.
“One that I want to see grow to be an old man,” Lily countered.
“Lily,” Willow said before pausing, searching for a way to begin. “Curious and bright are wonderful attributes, but if it’s not kept in check it could turn out very Bad for Jeff with a capital B.”
“After what he’s already been through, how do you figure?”
“When I was his age, magic was my hobby and I had no one to guide me. Giles, of course, always issued warnings about its dangers but…I’m not blaming him, okay, but if I had more guidance than lectures, it would have made a difference, I think. Like Jeff, I was determined to learn magic any way I could, so I went about it the wrong way, and the end result was I nearly destroyed the world. I don’t want to see that happen with Jeff. He has the potential to be a powerful source for good and I’d hate to see him corrupted because no one’s watching out for him.”
“But it’s so dangerous, Willow,” Lily said with a slight sob. “I mean, I thought the Council would be safe, but that demon just walked right in and snatched him away.”
“I know,” Willow said. “But think about if you didn’t have the Council’s backing, and it was just you and Jeff alone. You could leave, but I can’t say that they won’t make another attempt on him. And if that happens…Look, I know we seemed ill-prepared, but after speaking with Rowena, many people have faced a Vutch demon, but few lived to tell about it. So please, Lily, stay. Not only for Jeff’s good but your own. You know enough about what we do here to realize that no place in the world is truly safe, even with this new danger rising in Cleveland. At least here you both can make a difference. A-and isn’t that what he wants? What he wrote in his journal?”
Lily nodded. “I’ll think about it, Willow. But I’m going to talk to Jeff about it. If he wants to leave then we’ll be going for sure. But thanks for coming to check on him. It means a lot. I’m gonna…”
Lily pointed back to the bedroom and Willow gave her a soft smile and watched as she turned and entered her son’s room. After a moment, the redhead left and walked down the hall, entering another door.
“Hey!” she said in surprise as she looked up and saw her girlfriend sitting on the edge of the bed, her feet dangling over the side. “You’re sitting up!”
“Yeah,” Kennedy smiled. She pulled Willow into a warm embrace after she got closer.
“Thank the Goddess for slayer healing,” Willow said, kissing her lover on the lips.
“Jeff okay?” Kennedy asked. “Doc said he’d recover.”
“He’ll heal,” Willow said. “Even without slayer healing, but I’m not so sure about the emotional scars. I can’t even imagine what they put him through, or even why. Giles said he knows a psychologist we can trust who will be glad to talk to Jeff about what happened. I think it’s a good idea.”
“Poor kid,” Kennedy said.
“Poor us,” Willow returned. “We all took some hard hits, Ken, and I’m afraid things are just gonna get worse. But, in the meantime, I think we should just concentrate on the present and get on with our daily routine.”
“Yep,” Kennedy agreed. “So, how about you let me get dressed and I can catch up with Faith and the girls on their last sweep?”
Willow pulled back and looked at her sternly. “No way, Sweetie,” she said. “You’re going to get back in that bed and get a good night’s sleep.”
“Okay, but on one condition,” Kennedy smiled.
“Join me?” the brunette smirked. “Nice big hospital bed, plenty of room.”
Willow squinted her eyes at Kennedy in suspicion. “Okay, but no funny stuff. You are going to sleep, missy.”
“Right,” Ken nodded, unconvinced. “Get the lights.”
Willow rolled her eyes, but quickly stepped over and hit the off switch on the light plate.
“Good gods, I can’t see anything.”
“Well, I’ll just keep talking, so you can follow the sound of my voice. How’s that?”
The bed made a shifting noise, as if Willow was lying down. After a few moments of quiet Willow spoke up.
“Kennedy,” she chastised in the dark.
“What?” Kennedy answered, trying to act oblivious.
“Those are slayer lips I feel on my skin.”
“MmmHmm,” Kennedy hummed in the darkness as the mattress squeaked slightly. “And these are slayer hands.”
“Oh, Goddess help me. I’m trying to behave here,” Willow sighed.
Kennedy simply chuckled in the dark as Willow moaned in pleasure.
City Park – Day
Kennedy looked around her and threw her arms up in the air.
“Oh god, not you again!” she said, turning to the tall figure sitting on the park bench.
“‘Fraid so, Sweetie,” Tara shrugged. “Here, have a seat.”
Kennedy watched as Tara patted the bench next to her, then with a matching shrug sat down and crossed her arms over her chest. “So now what? Got any more cryptic messages that take days to figure out?”
“No,” Tara said. “Just wanted to thank you for your help. For listening to me and not letting your personal…animosities get in the way of other people’s safety. That takes character, Kennedy.”
“Yeah, well, that’s me, quite the character,” Kennedy said, reluctant to accept the compliment. “I just hope you’re not going to make this a nightly habit. I like sleeping with Willow and not her dead ex-girlfriend.”
“No, I won’t be coming back, not unless it’s a real emergency,” Tara said. Then she turned to face Kennedy fully. “Willow truly cares for you, Kennedy.”
“I know that,” Kennedy pouted. “I love her, too.”
“I know you do and I want you to promise me something,” Tara said seriously. “Promise you’ll do whatever it takes to make Willow happy. Okay?”
“Of course I will,” Kennedy said, her face confused, as if she couldn’t understand why Tara would ask this of her. “I’d do anything for Willow.”
“Even if it makes you unhappy?” Tara asked, her eyebrow raised.
“What?” Kennedy said, even more confused. “Is this about the Xander thing? Because I think I more than proved that point, well kinda. Of course tonight helped smooth things over even more,” she added with a sexy smirk.
Tara didn’t reply other than with a light chuckle , but then turned serious again. “Just remember that Willow always tries to do what she thinks is best for people. And she’ll always do what she thinks is best for you,” she added, putting a hand on Kennedy’s knee.
Kennedy looked confused. “I’m sorry Tara, but I don’t speak witch. I’m not quite sure what you’re saying.”
Tara smiled. “Just remember your promise, Sweetie.”
With that, Tara gave the knee a light pat and stood. She began to walk away, leaving Kennedy sitting alone on the bench to ponder her words.
Fade to Black
End of Dark Force Rising
On the next episode of Watchers…
It’s Christmas at the Watchers Council! Giles and bookshop-owner Becca Montague get to know each other better and a demon “Santa Claus” threatens Cleveland.
Click here to read “Blue Christmas” now!