Cemetery – Day
Most of the members of the Council, and a few others, gathered at Lily’s graveside as a reverend officiated over the service. Jeff stood with Andrew’s arm around his shoulder and Dawn on his other side holding his hand. Her other hand was locked with Skye’s.
After the funeral ended and the mourners offered their condolences, they started to return to their cars. Silently, Jeff continued to stand at the graveside.
A few yards away, Willow cleared her throat and addressed the Council members that gathered in front of her. “You guys head back. We’ll be along later.”
“Are you sure?” Giles asked.
Willow nodded and the group began to make their way to their vehicles. Kennedy handed the witch the keys to her SUV, grasping Willow’s hand in support as she did. “Here. Mia and I will catch a ride with Robin and Faith.”
Willow looked down at Kennedy’s hand in hers and gave a light squeeze. She nodded her thanks and watched a moment longer as Kennedy and Mia walked away, hand in hand, toward the others. Faith stood outside her truck and waited for them, smoking a cigarette.
In the distance, Kennedy could be heard to ask Faith, “How many more left?” In response, Faith held up ten fingers. Kennedy asked next, “You’re not gonna go getting all moody, are you?”
Faith grinned and answered, “Nah, just bitchy.”
“For a while,” Robin piped in, “but you’ll be healthier in the long run.”
“The things we do for love.” Faith sighed. Robin smiled, giving her a kiss on the crown of her head.
Willow watched with a pained expression on her face as Kennedy ran her hand down the small of Mia’s back. Faith crushed the cigarette with her boot and all four of them entered the vehicle.
When their engine started, Willow turned and approached Jeff gently. She put a hand on his shoulder, giving it a light squeeze. The young man continued to stare into the empty grave next to his mother’s casket as the ground crew prepared to lower it.
“You know,” he said softly. “Before the battle ever happened I dreamed she died. I thought I could stop it if it turned out to be true. But I was just being a fool, huh?”
Willow took a breath to steady her nerves. “I’m worried about you, Jeff. I can feel your rage. I wanna help, but I’m not sure how.”
Jeff ignored the comment. “Is that bitch gonna be living at the Council?” he asked.
Willow seemed reluctant to answer. “For now, yeah.”
“Sorry Willow, but I don’t think I can stay there anymore if that’s the case.”
“I know you’re upset. I do. But you’re not ready to be on your own yet. You’ve only begun to tap into your power and you need –”
“Warren Meers,” he said softly, before finally turning around to face Willow. The name cut her comments off immediately and she looked away. “Would you live with him, if you hadn’t killed him? Even if he had useful information?” he added sarcastically. When Willow didn’t say anything, he went on. “That’s what I thought…I’m no different and I refuse to live with the woman who killed my mother. Training or not, I can’t do it.”
Jeff began to walk toward the parked car. Willow closed her eyes briefly before starting to follow him.
Watchers Council – Cell – Day
Hearing the outer door open, Bonnie rose up from her cot and looked up to see Andrew carrying a service tray.
“Great!” Bonnie exclaimed. “Food!”
“Sorry,” Andrew said, flippantly. “It might have gotten here sooner, but I had to attend the funeral of a co-worker slash mother of one of my best friends you helped kill.”
“I didn’t kill anyone,” she countered.
Andrew pushed the tray through the open slot in the bars and Bonnie took it. He examined her for a moment.
“I was once part of an organization like you were. I used to tell myself the same thing, ‘I didn’t hurt anyone. It wasn’t me.’ For a long time I never saw my part in what happened to the people we hurt; people we killed. Truth is, although I didn’t deliver the coupe de grace, I killed them just as much as he did. Maybe more so, because I had the power to stop it. I could have told someone. I could have done lots of things, but…I didn’t. And people are dead now because of me.”
“Lemme guess,” Bonnie smiled sarcastically. “Now you walk a path of redemption? Righting wrongs and making up for all your ill deeds?”
“No, I’m no Warrior Princess,” Andrew told her with great certainty.
“No?” Bonnie parroted, obviously confused.
“No, because no matter what I do, no matter who I save from here on out, I can never bring back Katrina or Tara or Jonathan, and I can’t help myself. It’s too late for me. So all I can do, all I can hope for really, is to help the people trying to make a difference any way I can.”
“By being a glorified short order cook?” Bonnie asked.
“If that’s how I can help that day of the week, sure. Other days, I help the Council kick a little Presidium heinie by one-upping your bosses. Just a matter of what shoe fits that day.”
Andrew turned away and walked toward the door.
“So why do it?” Bonnie called after him, making him stop.
“What do you mean?”
“If it’s too late for you, and you’re not helping for your own sake, then why do it at all?” she asked.
Andrew took a few steps closer. “I realized I’m not gonna find some Nexus Ribbon that’s gonna make everything all right. I have to go on living, making more choices. But I want to make the right ones. I think the best way to do that is to make decisions based on everyone and not just myself. I’ll never find redemption. But it’s not about that. So…if working in the kitchen or reading spell books or looking over watcher diaries helps at least one person, then I’m there. Like I said, it isn’t going to help me, but it might help someone else. Regardless of anything I’ve done before…that’s the way it should be.”
Bonnie held her tray and watched Andrew solemnly walk away. “I find that hard to believe,” she called out.
Andrew continued to walk and didn’t look back. “That’s because it’s called faith in humanity. And you have none.”
Bonnie continued to look at the closed door even after Andrew slipped through.
Watchers Council – Computer Area – Day
“Did you find those minutes from that city hall meeting?” Dawn asked.
She turned around to look at Skye, who was typing something into the computer located directly behind her. “Coming up now,” her girlfriend answered. Dawn rolled her chair over and began to look over Skye’s shoulder at the screen.
“Hmm,” Dawn hummed.
“Hmm. What?” Skye asked. “We have something ‘hmm’ worthy here?”
Dawn pointed at the monitor. “It says the city issued a permit to Palmer Corporations to expand its property near the lake.”
“Palmer? That’s the name of the owners of the last property, the one where Faith and Kennedy got drenched.”
Willow walked in and found Dawn’s chin resting on Skye’s shoulder. She averted her eyes back to the folder in her hand. “Three feet apart,” she muttered absently and both teenagers rolled their eyes.
“Dawn might have found something,” Skye told the witch. “About your flood lady,” she added.
Willow cocked her head in interest and walked over.
“The owners of the last building were given permits to expand their property near the lakefront,” Dawn said. She tapped Skye on the shoulder and motioned to switch spots.
Both young women rose and Dawn took a seat at the monitor and began to type again as she talked. “Now the expansion includes a change in the land structure.”
“How so?” Willow asked.
“They’re building up the lakefront by bringing in earth. You know, creating more land and less water? Maybe there’s a connection here.”
Dawn continued to type and started to smile before she gave a small chuckle.
“What did you find?” Willow asked.
“Pay dirt – literally,” Dawn said as she rose up and headed to the printer. “Remember how we talked about Necksa and his undines, his loyal ranks of merwomen?” Willow nodded. “I found a connection. I think Faith’s run-in the other night was a coincidence. The attacks aren’t forming a geometric pattern, but they are specific in nature.”
“In what way?” Willow asked. Dawn handed the printout to Willow and pointed as Willow read. “Ohhh,” the witch answered and began to nod. “All were attacks against companies either owned by or associated with this Palmer Corp. in some way.”
“Exactly,” Dawn told her. “I’m not sure how we stop it, but I don’t think these attacks are going to go away. The slayers are going up against an invulnerable foe. According to Faith’s report, her fist went right through that creature and it tried to drown both her and Vi. One undine was able to flood an entire building in approximately four hours time, maybe less. If enough undines united…”
“They could flood the entire city of Cleveland within a day,” Willow finished.
Dawn nodded and quipped, “It’s not nice to fool with Mother Nature…or Father Nature in this case.”
Willow grinned. “I think I’ll head out with the girls on patrol tonight. Oh shoot! I was going to spend the evening with Jeff.”
“We can do it,” Dawn offered, motioning to her and Skye. “We were going to go to the movies, but I don’t mind skipping out and staying home. Is that okay?” she asked Skye apologetically in afterthought.
“No, that’s fine by me,” Skye assured her as she closed the distance between them. “Actually, it might be better if I stay home tonight anyway and do some studying. You guys could hang out.”
“Are you sure?” Willow asked sympathetically. “I don’t want to ruin your plans.”
“Hey, if you can save Cleveland from becoming Atlantis, I think we can catch the flick next week,” Dawn assured her. “Besides, no disrespect to you in the slightest Willow, but I’ve been there, done that – you know, with Mom. Maybe he could use someone who can relate.”
“You think I can’t?” Willow countered.
“No, I know you’ve had loss, Willow, terrible loss,” Dawn said quickly. “But when it’s your mom, it’s, I don’t know, it’s different. You lose that connection to the person who brought you into the world, raised you, and in the end, you feel like an orphan, no matter how untrue that might be.” Dawn’s voice seemed to crack and Skye ran a palm over the back of her head. In a steadier voice, Dawn said, “At least, that’s the best way I can describe it. So no offense.”
“Okay,” Willow conceded. “But if you need me, I’m just a phone call away, okay?”
Dawn gave her a slight nod.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Later that Afternoon
Dawn knocked on the door. A few moments later, Jeff opened it to see Dawn standing there.
“Yes?” he asked impatiently.
“You didn’t come down for breakfast earlier, and you weren’t at lunch. I figured you haven’t had anything today.”
“Yeah, well, I haven’t felt like eating.”
With that, she thrust a napkin forward. “I saved one for you, which is quite a feat when fending off hungry slayers with superpowers.” Jeff opened it to reveal a powdered donut inside. “It’s not high on the nutritional scale, but at least it’s something,” she added.
“Thanks, but really, I’m not hungry.”
“Well, just eat it for me then,” Dawn said, giving him a friendly grin. “Besides I had to outrun that slayer herd to bring it here, so you damn well better enjoy it.”
Jeff gave her a ghost of a smile and opened the door wider to let her step across the threshold.
City Street – Night
“So, anything on the mojo meter?” Faith asked as she nodded to the crystal in Willow’s hand. The Wiccan opened her palm, but nothing was happening.
“Not yet,” she answered. Mia leaned over and examined the crystal more closely.
“So, what’s that thing do, anyway?” she asked.
“It’s like a tracking device. If there’s anything mystically happening that’s water-related, it will give off a blue glow and pull in the direction we should be heading.”
“Let’s hope South Bay Bessie isn’t in the area, or our troops could be marching into the lake,” Faith answered sardonically, making Willow grin.
“How’d you make that exactly?” Mia asked the witch.
“With magic,” Willow answered. “It is kinda cool actually. What you do is…” Willow trailed off when she saw the aggravation growing on Kennedy’s face. “You put together a series of herbs and presto!” she replied, keeping her answer briefer than she obviously intended.
“That would be neat to learn,” Mia added. “Do you have slayers in your Coven?”
“Slayers don’t wield magic,” Kennedy answered before Willow could.
“Why not?” Mia asked innocently, looking back to Willow. “I mean, damn, think of the power that could give the Slayer Army – not just physical strength, but magical strength too.”
“Right, and if the wrong person was trained then what?” Kennedy replied. “If Andrew was here, I’m sure he could work in a Darth Vader analogy.”
Mia chuckled slightly and gave Kennedy’s hand a squeeze, which finally made Kennedy relax a bit and grin.
“Oh,” Willow said as she looked into her hand to see a blue light emanating from it. “We got something, gals. This way,” she pointed.
Warehouse Entrance – Moments Later
“Fool me once,” Faith muttered as she looked at the door before her. She glanced around at the street and quickly motioned the girls to the left and up the alley. “You all stay north.” She pointed up the street.
“Technically that’s south,” Marsha answered. “North is that way.”
Faith just gave her an annoyed look and pointed again. “Fine. Just go up there where it’s higher.” As Willow led her slayer away, Faith turned to Kennedy and Vi. “Ready?”
“No,” Vi answered, her voice tense. “I shoulda brought my scuba gear.”
Faith gave her a crooked grin and motioned to Vi to join the others. Faith then nodded to Kennedy.
“Looks like it’s just you and me, Slick. You ready?” Faith asked. Kennedy gave a nod.
In a synchronized move, they both kicked the doors open and a flood of water pushed its way through. Faith grabbed Kennedy by the back of the shirt and pulled her up the alley so the area could drain a bit. When the current slowed down, Faith ordered the troops inside by motioning with her hand.
“Okay, Red,” Faith told Willow. “Do your stuff.” Willow opened her mouth to chant, when five undines rose up from the water before them. Faith turned to Willow. “Helpful tip,” Faith added. “Do it quick.”
The creatures stalked closer and Willow stuttered as she began.
“Uhh, N-Necksa, powerful Titan of Lake and Sea, I beckon thee to come forth in all your glory. May your divine…”
Willow trailed off as a masculine figure, nearly a story high, rose from the water inside the building. Collectively, everyone began to back up.
“You didn’t say he’d be that big,” Faith remarked.
“I said chances are he’d be large,” Willow countered.
“Large doesn’t mean huge,” Faith retorted. “Girls,” she shouted to the room. “Back toward the door.”
Suddenly the doors slammed shut and the careful steps the slayers had been making to the exit now became frantic. With their combined strength, they still were unable to open the double doors. Meanwhile, the water began to climb higher.
“It’s not budging!” Marsha shouted back to her watcher.
“Everyone, just calm down,” Willow instructed, before turning to face Necksa. “Pardon my intrusion, Necksa. My name is –”
“Willow Rosenberg,” he finished. “I know of you. Why do you request my presence?”
“You do?” she asked, surprised, but quickly put her ego in check. “Well, I’m sure you’ve got…watery…things to do, so I’ll be brief. For starters…” Willow waved around at the destruction that had already occurred in the warehouse where they stood. “Can we turn off the faucet here and talk?”
Necksa waved his hand and the water began to lower. The slayers by the door looked a bit relieved.
“Uh, thanks,” Willow said sincerely. “Now, I have a theory that the humans who occupy these buildings have upset you or offended you in some way.”
“They’re moving into my domain,” he answered. “Shifting the natural balance more than they should.”
“I realize that, but…” Willow nervously watched as the undines began to circle her. She paused for a moment, regaining her confidence. “Innocent people are being harmed.”
“No one is truly innocent in this world,” he countered.
“Okay, I’ll give you that. But many folks are less guilty than others, and they’re in danger. Your undines mistook our slayers here as foes, when all they were doing was checking to see if everyone in a building was all right.”
“She’s a foe,” he nodded toward Faith.
Faith put her hand on her chest with a surprised expression. “What did I do?”
“I saw you at the dock this summer. You threw a cigarette into the lake.”
Everyone looked at Faith accusingly. “What?” she exclaimed. “Okay, so maybe I did, but I’m quitting. Don’t I get points for that?” When no one answered, Faith turned to Necksa. “I apologize and I promise it won’t happen again. Now, will you please call off the water goons, because they’re making our watcher here a nervous wreck?”
Necksa waved his hand and his merwomen floated back to his side obediently. “What solution do you have to this problem?” he asked Willow.
“Truth is, I don’t have one,” she answered honestly, then watched as the Titan-like creature folded his arms across his chest in frustration. “Yet,” Willow added quickly. “I don’t know yet. All I’m asking for is a little bit of time. Let me figure out a way to help you without putting people at risk. I know that you and your undines have looked out for humankind in the past, even protected those you felt were worthy, so I’m humbly begging here…give me the chance to make this right.”
“Very well,” he told her. “You have one week.”
“One week? I’m not sure if that’s enough –”
“One week,” he repeated firmly. Then he and his undines disappeared, merging with the water still inside the building.
“One week,” Willow muttered to no one in particular. “Better than nothing I guess.”
Vor – Presidium Citadel – Grand Hall – Moments Later
A sphere in the center of the room acted much like a television screen, showing the images of Faith and Willow leaving the warehouse in Cleveland and talking to each other. The screen reflected the blurred image of a female creature wearing a tiny grin.
“Remarkable,” she muttered as she continued to watch.
Another figure entered the room, of the same general species but hulking and dressed in battle armor, his strides quick and purposeful. He gave a slight bow as he stopped a few feet before her.
“Lover,” he said formally.
“Yes, my dear Flayer?” she asked, not bothering to look in his direction.
“My troops grow impatient, your highness,” he told her respectfully.
“And how does this concern me? They are your troops, are they not?” she said coldly.
The male creature rolled his shoulder, as if it were a means to keep calm. “Yes, your highness, but we await your order.”
“You will await longer.”
The Flayer’s voice took on an irritated tone. “It’s been four months since the Engineer’s demise and you’re still no closer to –”
She held up a single finger that silenced him as she continued to watch the screen. “The Slayer Army works well as a team, and their leader is very intuitive. And that Wiccan,” the Lover paused and gave an appreciative grin. “She truly is something to behold. The gods themselves favor her. The work ahead of us will prove quite interesting, I’m sure. We can’t afford the same mistakes again.”
“The Engineer’s plan was flawless,” the Flayer began to argue. “They simply bumbled their way to a victory and –”
“If the plan was flawless, we would control the dimension now and we would still be twelve members strong.” The Lover finally turned to address the Flayer directly. “I promise you. We will move in, but I refuse to move in haste. That is all.”
“But your highness –”
“I said, that is all,” she repeated more firmly. “Do not make me repeat it again.”
With a nervous nod, the Flayer left the room. Once he had gone, another figure emerged from the shadows, an even taller creature. He seemed to float, as if his feet moved without touching the ground. He laid a hand gently on her arm.
“I realize that he’s impatient,” she told the new arrival, as if hearing an unspoken question. “But if we’re going to continue to survive, we cannot take this threat lightly, and we need our balance returned. I want to know them, each and every one of them, backwards, forwards, sideways.” The creature tilted its head as if making a remark and the Lover went on. “Don’t worry, my sweet,” she said, assuring him, “In time, it will be done. Patience has always been one of our virtues.”
Watchers Council – Lobby – Day
“I can’t believe you turned her loose to walk around here,” Jeff argued as he walked briskly from the Coven Room.
Willow followed close on his heels. Xander, Giles and Kennedy stood at the lobby desk looking at some blueprints Xander held. They all paused in their discussion and watched the growing argument.
“Bonnie’s not loose,” Willow countered, making Jeff stop. “She has restricted access within the Council and the binding spell makes it impossible for her to physically harm anyone. You’re safe, Jeff.”
“That’s not the point!” Jeff shouted. “Next you’ll have her staying in Mom’s apartment!”
“I told you, her quarters are in the Slayer Dorm and the spells are in place, so she can’t do any harm.”
“She can’t do any good either from where I’m standing.”
“We need her,” Willow said firmly. “If what she’s saying is correct, she might be the only link we have to the Presidium. I respect you, and your mother’s memory, but you have to look at the bigger picture here.”
“You look at the bigger picture. I’m outta here.” Jeff stormed toward the front door.
“Where are you going?” Willow called out.
“For a walk!” Jeff didn’t bother to turn around as he stormed out the front door.
Willow released a heavy sigh and turned to face the trio looking at her. “Well that went great, wouldn’t you say?” Willow asked in a defeated voice.
“Just give him some space,” Kennedy offered. “The constant badgering of ‘Are you okay?’ sometimes makes it worse, so just let him cool off.”
“I agree,” Giles answered. “His belongings are still here. If he leaves for good, he’ll at least pack an overnight bag. We’ll have a slayer watch his movements for the time being.”
“True, but I don’t want to spy on him, Giles. He needs his privacy,” Willow remarked.
“And he will have that, but let’s just keep a closer watch on him for the time being is all I suggest.”
Willow nodded and released a heavy sigh. “I’m starting to wonder if this day could possibly get any worse.” Immediately after the words left her mouth, the witch watched as Xander’s, Kennedy’s and Giles’s jaws all dropped collectively. “Now what?” Willow sighed again as she turned around to see what grabbed their attention.
Rowena was standing near the doorway, clutching a folder protectively to her chest.
“And the hits just keep on comin’,” the witch muttered to herself.
End of Everything Old
Next on Watchers…