Watchers Council – Coven Room – Day
Jeff stood at Willow’s workbench, reading from an open book. “Wolfbane?” he asked.
“Check,” Dawn said, putting a small bottle into a box.
“Lilac,” he said next.
“Got it,” Skye answered, doing the same.
“And candles?” he finished.
“Right here,” Andrew said, holding them up.
“Is this gonna work?” Faith asked.
Jeff shrugged. “If I’m reading this right, yeah.”
“No offense, Harry Potter,” Kennedy began, “but you’re the guys that trapped them there to begin with. Maybe you should wait for Giles.”
“We might not have time,” Jeff answered.
“What do you mean, time?” she asked uneasily.
“We don’t know where they are or what’s happening to them.”
“You mean something in there might be killing them?” Mia asked.
Jeff looked reluctant. “I can’t say. I don’t know.”
“Here’s a tip,” Faith told them. “Next time you four decide to play with the dark forces of the universe, read the entire instruction manual first.” She briskly picked up the box from the table. “Son of a bitch,” she muttered under her breath. “Let’s get back there.” She started from the room
Chess Game – Same Time
Willow looked back and forth between Rowena and her dead lover.
“I don’t understand,” Willow mumbled.
“It’s simple, really,” Tara told the witch. “I scare her.”
“What?” Willow asked, confused.
Tara turned to Rowena, who still said nothing. “She’s waiting.”
Rowena cleared her throat. “I’m worried…”
“About?” Willow prompted impatiently, when Rowena didn’t go on.
“You’ll never let me in. Not really and not like you did with Tara. I’ll just be…the next one, nothing more.”
“And you’re basing this on…?”
Rowena looked away guiltily. “Kennedy. She tried and she couldn’t get in. What makes me think I’ll fare any better?”
Willow took a deep breath and blew it out. “It’s kinda hard to get close to someone who finds your religion nothing more than fairy tale crap.”
“I realize that, but it’s…” Rowena trailed off.
“What?” Willow pressed.
“I don’t want to live with a ghost,” Rowena said in a rush. “I don’t want to constantly be compared to what you had because, although some people say hindsight is 20/20, sometimes it’s not. Sometimes we romanticize what we’ve had and fail to see it for what it really was. So if there’s any fairy tales here between us, it’s the illusion that somehow I can replace her,” she said, pointing to the Bishop that looked like Tara.
“Oh, Rowena,” Willow sighed. “My life with Tara was far from perfect, and most of that I brought on myself. So if there’s anything that I want with you that’s the same it’s…it’s that feeling of unity and understanding. I can look across the room and know what you’re thinking with just a grin or a frown. Granted, it’s not always accurate, but our batting average is pretty good when it comes to understanding each other.”
Rowena grinned and looked down at the chessboard. “Yes, on average,” she agreed shyly.
“But I also know, there’s something here, something I don’t understand about you. Heck, maybe it’s something you don’t even understand, but I think together we can work through it,” Willow went on. “So if anyone here isn’t letting someone in…I think it’s you. Because I’m ready. I’ve been ready.”
Tara’s form took that of the Bishop again and Willow smiled at Rowena. Impulsively, the witch reached out, but the barrier blocked her. Both women rolled their eyes.
“This is getting quite annoying,” Rowena said with a slight chuckle.
“Let’s just keep playing,” Willow said, motioning with her hands for Rowena to move.
Rowena gave a short nod. “Queen to Queen’s Bishop Four.”
Willow bit her lip as she looked at the board, not moving.
“What’s wrong?” Rowena asked.
“I’m deciding,” Willow answered nervously.
Rowena motioned to the board. “There’s an obvious move right there Will – pawn for the taking.” She watched as Willow uncharacteristically chewed on her fingernail. “You feeling okay?” Rowena asked.
“I think I know what’s waiting behind that knight. I saw a glimmer when Giles appeared and…” Willow squared her shoulders and sighed. She nodded before she called out, “Knight takes Pawn.”
Yet again, the knight and the pawn began to change and Willow held her breath.
“Knew you couldn’t live without me.” The knight, now appearing as Dark Willow, smirked at the witch. Helpless, Willow watched as the other piece transformed too.
“Torture and kill anyone since we met last?” Warren Meers taunted the redhead. He turned swiftly to face Rowena. “You’re not really gonna fall for a murderer, are you?” he asked the blonde watcher.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
Alex and Giles sat at the rectangular table. “So what’re your thoughts Miss Neel?” he asked in a low voice. “Does Jeff have a chance of winning his case?”
“There’s always a chance,” she said with a grin, enjoying his discomfort. Then she motioned reassuringly. “Relax, Mr. Giles. I don’t see anything here that is too alarming or can’t be fixed. The workshop is my concern and, as I pointed out to Mr. Harris, not just for Jeffrey’s safety but the other children’s as well.”
Evelyn returned to the room. “I’ve made a copy of my recommendations here, Mr. Giles. There is one issue I’d like to point out that’s not on the report. I’ve been watching the school from the exterior for a few days now. I’ve seen him keep very late hours on school nights, which I’m sure will interfere with his studies. But I also understand the situation. He’s recently lost his mother after a long illness and that makes for some sleepless nights. Perhaps you could speak with him and see that he starts going to bed at an earlier hour.”
“Certainly, we can do that. It’s not a problem,” Giles told her. He took the list from her and studied it.
“You’re not in violation of any codes at this time, but I do have a few recommendations there. Particularly what Miss Neel pointed out regarding the workshop. Many schools have shop classes for their students, but there are a few things that could be handled better, as I’ve noted. Other than that, I’m all set.”
“Are you going to advise the state to take custody of my client?” Alex asked.
“Not at this time,” Evelyn answered. “Jeff looks tired, but as I said, circumstances being what they are, I understand. He does appear to be well-nourished, no signs of any abuse, and he seems quite satisfied with his current living arrangement. Our concern is his financial well-being, but from what you said Miss Neel, you have that information, and he’s quite well off in that area.”
“I do and he is,” she said, nodding.
“Very well, then,” she said, rising from the table and offering her hand to Giles and then to the lawyer. “I’ll be in touch with your office this week, Ms. Neel, to wrap up a few details.”
“Thank you,” Giles said with a broad smile. “Jeff will be delighted with this news. He’s been concerned he’d have to leave, as were we. He’s a good student, and we enjoy having him here.”
“Well, I don’t want to keep you any longer, Mr. Giles. I’m sure you have pressing business of your own.”
“Let me show you to the door,” Giles said, leading them from the office.
“That’s okay,” Alex said as she followed along. “I’ll see us out. Take care, Mr. Giles, and let Jeff know I’ll call him this week.”
“I most certainly will. Thank you both again,” he said.
He stood in the doorway of the office and waved casually as they walked to the front door of the Council. He issued another carefree wave as the doors closed. Once the doors officially shut, he paused a single second and, with a concerned expression, darted toward the library.
Chess Game – Same Time
“Oh, now she’s speechless. Well, that’s just great,” Warren said, throwing his hands up in the air and gesturing towards Willow. He turned back to Rowena and faced her. “You should have heard her the day she murdered me – going on and on and on. I was glad she killed me so I didn’t have to listen to her speech anymore. Did she tell you about that day?”
“I don’t think I want to hear,” Rowena answered, and turned away.
“Oh no, bitch!” he shouted as he pointed at her. “You look at me! You gotta know what you’re getting into. She’s a sadistic killer and if she tells you otherwise,” he said with a short laugh, “don’t buy it. I’m the proof. And why did she do it? All for love,” Warren taunted.
“Rowena,” Willow called over. “I won’t do that. I-I wouldn’t hurt anyone for you.”
“We both know that’s not true,” Rowena answered. They both watched as the Warren figure nodded dramatically and started pointing at Willow.
“See? She’s brighter than you give her credit for,” he said.
“You have no opinion here,” Willow shouted at Warren, before turning to Rowena with a softer expression. “You’re right. I might hurt someone if I had to, but I wouldn’t kill them…not intentionally. I wouldn’t.”
“But you have before,” Rowena said, motioning toward the Warren piece in the middle of the board.
“Things are different now,” Willow told her. “I’m different…you have to trust me to do the right thing. Have I given you any reason to doubt that since you’ve known me?”
“I read your Old Guard file,” Rowena countered. “I know what happened from Giles’s diaries and –”
“Forget what you read for a minute. I can’t change that. What I’m saying is, have I shown you, in all the time you’ve known me, that I would kill someone for sport, or out of rage?”
“No,” Rowena answered softly.
“Right, I haven’t. And I swear I won’t. I know what’s inside here,” Willow said, touching her chest over her heart. “I couldn’t take another human life.”
Rowena released a breath and gave a small nod of acceptance.
“Oh, you’re really falling for it! I don’t believe it! Do you realize just what she did to me?” Warren continued to taunt. Dark Willow rolled her eyes and made a yapping motion with her fingers as Warren continued. “She didn’t just go for the quick kill. Oh, no! She took joy in hurting me, in torturing me. She took a bullet and drove it into my skin inch by inch until I begged and pleaded for my life. And what did I get for my trouble? Oh, this you gotta see, Sweetheart, so you know first hand what Willow Rosenberg does in the name of love. Ms. ‘I’ll never hurt anyone’ –”
“Oh, shuut uuup already,” Dark Willow sighed and waved her hand casually.
Warren spread his arms out and his skin pulled away from his body instantly, leaving him flayed, only muscle and bones remaining. Rowena looked away sharply as the corpse toppled to the board before vanishing. The watcher looked over to Willow as Dark Willow took his spot.
“Is that how it happened, or just how you saw it?” Rowena asked Willow softly.
The figure on the board turned toward Rowena, and that’s when she noticed the raven hair that framed Willow’s face and glowing eyes. The chess piece gave Rowena a feral grin that appeared to shake the blonde watcher to her very core.
Willow’s hands and bottom lip trembled and she closed her eyes as if to block out the image. She appeared to try to answer, but couldn’t. Giving up, she opened her eyes to face Rowena.
“Make a move,” she ordered, her voice shaking.
“Everyone else had their turn. Why not me?” her evil counterpart asked.
“Because you don’t exist anymore,” Willow retorted.
“Yeah right, magic junkie. Like she’s a credible source,” Dark Willow sighed and dismissed Willow with a wave of her hand before turning back to face Rowena. “I’m inside her, every hour of every day. She might not want to admit it. She might not feel it. But I’m always there. Always waiting for my chance. And it will come. The day she’s covered in your blood, you’ll see.”
“That’s a lie,” Willow countered.
“Wanna know how it starts?” Dark Willow taunted Rowena with a conspiratorial grin.
“Leave her alone,” Willow shouted.
The evil witch ignored Willow and went on. “First, her eyes will turn black. She’ll beg. She’ll plead. But the gods will still deny her wish and then…that’s when the fun starts.” She paused and gave a demonic smirk. “When you die in her arms, when she starts thinking of all the things she could have done differently, that’s when I’ll slip inside. My vengeance will be hers and she will destroy anyone and anything in her path. Won’t you, Lovergirl?” she added, as she looked over her shoulder to Willow.
“You’re not Willow,” Rowena said defiantly, making the evil witch turn her way again. “You’re a shadow, nothing more.”
“I’ve got a couple of dead bodies that would say otherwise, Sweetie…but, hey, let’s hear a little Giles psycho babble from the lady of the hour,” she said, turning back to Willow. “You tell me. What makes you sooo special now?”
Willow’s fear melted away and she cocked her head as she looked at her dark counterpart. Slowly, she began to grin.
“Truth is, you are a part of me and I’ll never forget – ever,” Willow answered, making Dark Willow give a smug grin. “Like you said, every hour of every day. But I don’t ache for you. I don’t long for the power you could wield. I learned something after you showed up.”
“Oh, do tell,” Dark Willow said sarcastically.
“I don’t need you to be powerful.” Dark Willow laughed, but Willow went on. “Honestly. All the power I ever had came from inside me, from the elements around me, and NOT from you. You were created from my rage and my sorrow, but not once did you have a hand in giving me my true power.”
“And you’re an egomaniac. Your point being?” Willow said sarcastically. When Dark Willow didn’t answer, Willow motioned to Rowena. “Just play around her.”
“I don’t know if I can,” Rowena replied, as Dark Willow stood indignantly, with her hands on her hips.
“She has nothing more to say,” Willow answered. “She’s just holding up the game.”
“I resent that,” Dark Willow answered.
“Well what are you gonna do about it? Huh? Bring it on, Wicked Witch of the West,” Willow prodded.
“Abracadabra.” Dark Willow set her jaw and extended her hands, shooting bolts of electricity. Willow braced herself for impact, but nothing happened.
“Not so tough after all, are ya?” Willow mocked. “Just play,” she told Rowena in a disgusted tone.
Library – Same Time
Giles burst through the doors to see the slayers looking on as Jeff, Dawn, Skye and Andrew formed a ring around Willow and Rowena. Each member sat with a candle between them, as Jeff quietly spoke the incantation.
Chess Game – Same Time
“Your move,” Rowena told Willow.
Willow examined the board before she called out, “Knight to Queen’s Knight Seven.”
Dark Willow folded her arms across her chest, growing increasingly annoyed as she watched the two women playing around her.
“I’m surprised,” Rowena announced as she looked at the board.
“Why?” Willow asked.
Rowena shrugged. “You’re setting it up to lose one of your pieces.”
“I don’t need that piece,” Willow said confidently, casting a glance to Dark Willow.
“Okay, I believe you. Rook takes Knight,” Rowena announced.
Rowena watched as her rook transformed into an almost mirror image of Willow, with the exception of white flowing hair. Dark Willow quickly turned to the witch.
“You need me!” she shouted.
“Like I said,” Willow began, “I never needed you. And as I tell my Coven class…you’re dismissed.”
They watched as the white-haired rook raised a hand and, in a glittering storm, sent Dark Willow’s knight from the board.
Slowly, the rook became solid again. Willow took a steadying breath and turned to Rowena. “Thank you for having faith.”
Rowena smiled kindly and motioned to the board. “Your move again.”
“Rook to King’s Knight Five,” Willow announced.
When nothing happened, both women shrugged, and Rowena said, “Pawn to King’s Rook Six.” As the pawn moved forward, it began to transform and Rowena’s hand shot to her mouth.
“Oh god no,” she muttered. “Not him. Not here. Not now.” Rowena lost her reserve and started to sob. “Not like this! You bastard!” she yelled as she pointed at him.
“Rowena, who is he?” Willow asked, as she watched the blonde start to pace on the other side of the board.
“Hello, Luv. Miss me?” the pawn asked with a cold lecherous grin.
“Rowena?” Willow asked, not sure what to make of the figure’s arrival or of the way Rowena wrung her hands together as she walked. “Ro?” she tried again.
Finally, Rowena spoke, just above a whisper. “He’s the man who raped me.”
Willow opened her mouth, but no words came forth.
“Oh God,” Willow finally muttered.
“I’m sorry. Willow,” Rowena said, wiping her eyes. “I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you. I planned to –”
“He raped you?” Willow asked. “When?”
“She might say it was rape, but I knew better,” the man answered with a swagger. He turned back to Rowena. “You walked into that library, day after day. I saw the way you looked at me.”
“I admired you, you bastard!” Rowena shouted back. “I was fifteen years old and you promised to help me!”
“Rowena,” Willow started. “I don’t understand –”
“He worked in the library,” Rowena explained quickly. “He knew all the books, inside and out, and I looked up to him because he seemed to know everything. I was having a hard time with my Sumerian class, so he offered to help me one night after hours. I trusted him…and…with no one around…”
“You got what was coming to you,” he finished. “Teasing me with all those glances and those short skirts you wore…I remember.”
Rowena’s jaw clenched for a moment. “And I remember how James Tyrell stood by me when they hauled your ass to the Council prison. I’m glad you blew up, you twisted son of a bitch!”
Rowena shook her head as she wiped her eyes and Willow bit her lip to hold back her own tears.
“Tyrell’s the reason you stayed,” Willow said softly. “He believed you…so you…”
“Dedicated myself to the council and excelled at everything…with the exception of Sumerian,” Rowena interrupted. “I was the best demonologist. The best fencer. The best watcher that I could be. That sick pervert took my innocence, but the Council did everything in their power to see justice served. From that moment I pledged my life, my skills, to fighting evil in this world – demon or otherwise,” she said, shooting a hard look at the pawn.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Willow asked with a pained, sorrowful expression.
Rowena looked up and anger flashed across her face.
“Right there,” she pointed at Willow, shaking her finger. “That’s why, right there. That-that-that look of pity and-and fear on your face. I never wanted to see that. That’s why I asked Becca to tell you.”
Willow paused for a moment and appeared unsure of what she just heard. “Wait a minute. You told Becca? When?” Willow asked.
“After I got back,” Rowena answered.
“But why tell –?”
“I wanted her to say it, so I wouldn’t have to see that shock, that-that disappointment! I’m not just some weak, goddamn victim.” Rowena took a ragged breath and wiped her eyes.
Willow looked nervous. “Okay, shock, yeah, but…I don’t think you’re weak Rowena.”
“Doesn’t matter what you think now. It’s out. You know,” she turned away from Willow and pointed at the pawn. “And you can go the hell away now,” Rowena shouted at the man.
He shrugged, then instantaneously returned to his wooden form on the board.
“Your friggin’ move,” Rowena whispered.
“Ro –” Willow said sympathetically.
“Just play the game!” she shouted and turned away, unable to look at Willow.
Willow looked up and examined the board for a moment. She gave a sad smile as she looked at Rowena. “Bishop to Queen’s Bishop One,” she said softly.
Rowena glanced up and shook her head. “Don’t do that,” she told the witch.
“It’s my move. I can do it if I want to,” Willow countered.
“Look closer at the board, Will,” Rowena told her.
“I know,” the witch answered.
The Bishop transformed into Tara and, with one of her enigmatic grins, she moved aside, allowing Willow and Rowena to look eye-to-eye.
“What are you doing?” Rowena asked.
“Giving you my queen,” Willow said, with an optimistic yet nervous smile. “That’s if, you know, if you really want her,” she stuttered apprehensively.
Rowena appeared timid and unsure, wrapping her arms around herself. “I don’t know if that’s wise, Willow,” she said softly.
Willow’s hopeful expression fell. She swallowed hard as she sniffed back the tears threatening to spill over her cheeks. Before she could reply, the world around them began to shimmer and they both looked around, confused.
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
The gang stood around the table as Jeff finished his chant. Instantly, Willow’s and Rowena’s bodies began to stir, their eyes darting around the room quickly before settling back on each other again.
“Thank God,” Giles sighed.
“Are you alright?” Andrew asked. “What happened? Were you like…” he trailed off when he saw Rowena’s eyes well up with tears. “Are you guys okay?”
Willow seemed to be on the verge of saying something. Before a syllable could pass her lips, though, she clenched her jaw and rose from the table. She left the room without a word or a backward glance. Rowena watched her departure, saying nothing. When Willow was gone, she ran a hand over both cheeks, continuing to sit in silence as the gang looked on, confused and concerned.
Fade to Black
End of Check Mate
Next on Watchers…
Mass chaos ensues at the Watchers Council after a magic vase switches everyone into each other’s bodies.
Click here to read “Swap Meet” now!