Cleveland Hopkins International Airport – Ticket Counter – Same Time
“Here you go,” the clerk said, handing the photo ID back to Bonnie. Another agent came over and whispered something in the clerk’s ear.
“One moment, please,” Bonnie’s clerk said, as she stepped away with her associate. The two conversed in hushed tones, and Bonnie caught sight of her clerk looking up at her, then glancing quickly away, as Bonnie pretended to examine her license.
Bonnie’s eyes began to shift around the airport and she noticed two security officers heading her way, looking straight at her.
“Son of a bitch,” she muttered, stuffing the license in her back pocket.
The ticket clerk returned to the counter. “It will just be a moment while the ticket prints,” she told her, sounding nervous.
Not fooled by the ticket agent’s stalling tactic, Bonnie dashed away through the airport before the guards could get any closer. Making it out the doors, she tried to hail a taxi, but couldn’t find one that would stop or wasn’t already loaded with passengers. She looked behind her to see the guards were now running, too, so she kept going.
She bolted across the line of traffic, a bus swerving to avoid hitting her. Spotting an idling cab, she ran over while the driver helped a couple load their suitcase in the trunk. She threw open the door, but before she could get inside, her body was suddenly slammed against the side of the car.
“Look fellas, take it easy,” Bonnie began as she was spun roughly around. A look of surprise then washed over her younger features and she fell silent.
“Leaving without saying goodbye to your sister-in-law? How rude,” Buffy told Bonnie. She pulled her away by the arm.
The guards arrived, looking winded. “Hold it right there, you two. We’ve been ordered to –”
Buffy flashed her Council badge at them. “I’ve got it from here guys, but thanks.”
One guard examined the badge more closely. His eyes widened as he matched the fragile-looking young woman before him with the image on the badge, and he looked suddenly nervous.
“Do you need transportation, Ms. Summers?” he asked, still trying to catch his breath.
“We’re good,” she told him. With a respectful nod, they began to walk away. “Now that was cool,” Buffy said, impressed.
“What? Throwing me against a car like in an episode of Cops?” Bonnie asked.
“Ordering around Homeland Security,” Buffy replied. “Okay, well, maybe for a week or two it would be cool, but then the novelty would wear off, I’m sure. Pretty soon it would be slay this, blah blah, slay that, blah blah, save the world, and so on.”
“Lucky for you, you only had to come to the airport this time, huh?” Bonnie asked sarcastically.
“Yeah, if all the evil-doers were as slow as you, I might re-up my Slayer contract full-time. You’re a walk in the park.”
“Very funny,” Bonnie answered.
“Now, now. No sour grapes. You’ll get lines on that pretty young face,” Buffy said, pinching Bonnie’s cheek, before once again pulling her along.
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Apartment – Later that Night
Rowena heard a knock and called out, “Who is it?”
“Willow. Can I come in?”
Rowena paused, eyebrows raised in surprise, then shook her head as she stood up. “Sure, it’s unlocked,” she called back.
Willow walked inside, and Rowena asked, “Do I really sound like that?”
“Like what?” Willow asked.
“I heard…me, from the other side of the door,” Rowena explained. “It kinda freaked me out for a second, like an out of body experience or something.”
Willow smiled and nodded her head in emphatic agreement. “Oh yeah, it’s like when you see a video or hear a tape recording of yourself. You listen and think, ‘God, is that what other people hear?’ You never sound the same in your own ears like you sound to other people.”
“Right, but to actually hear it live is…unnerving. I haven’t adjusted to being another person yet,” Rowena answered, as her fingers pushed her long hair behind her ear.
Willow turned and looked at the books scattered around. “And apparently we should start adapting. Is that what you’re saying?”
“Huh?” Rowena asked.
Willow motioned to the texts scattered about. “No luck on your stack yet?”
“Oh, no. Unfortunately, not a thing. And, yes, adapting might be in order here,” Rowena answered. “Unless – you…?”
Willow shook her head. “Nothing yet, but I’m sure we’ll find something. I just…I wanted to stop by a-and…chat.”
“Yeah, today when Giles asked what we were doing, you said we were talking….”
“And we were,” Rowena added hastily.
“Umm, not really. We happened to be kissing too, if I remember correctly. I mean, I am remembering correctly, aren’t I? It wasn’t just another fantasy in my head?”
“No, it wasn’t a fantasy,” Rowena said, with a blush that quickly rivaled her hair color.
“Okay then, I gotta ask, what gives?”
“Come sit down,” Rowena said, waving Willow over to the sofa. She moved a few books to the coffee table and they both took a seat. “You said we’d go slow,” she began.
“And I meant it.”
“Good, because…I’m not quite ready to…come out, yet. I know I’m probably going to goof this up and say it all wrong, but…I love you Willow. That much I know. But I’m not sure if I’m ready to let the entire world know how I feel. I just want to take things slowly with us, before everyone else jumps in the mix offering their advice and opinions. Does that make sense?”
Willow paused, digesting the words. “You’re not ready to let our friends and family know you love me?” she asked slowly.
“Maybe a little,” Rowena confessed. “But more than that, I don’t want them poking their nose into our relationship. I like the idea of us being just us. At least for right now.”
Willow considered the words again and slowly nodded. “Okay. I-I get it on some level. I didn’t rush to tell Buffy or the gang about Tara. It took time, but eventually I told them – when I felt more confident about it. I think I get it.”
“Good,” Rowena sighed. “I just don’t want you thinking it’s you again, because it’s not. I spent a summer – hell, longer than that – confused, unsure. But more than all that, I wanted to be yours. And I wanted you to be mine. So for right now, I just want to take things slow, easy, no rushing. I’m not even sure if I can define myself as gay yet. I’ve never felt this way about another woman. Hell, I’ve never felt this way about a man, either. Not this passionately, anyway.”
Willow smiled broadly, but then a serious look returned to her face.
“I do get it,” Willow assured her, “but maybe instead of looking for a definition, maybe you could just…be.”
“What do you mean?”
Willow paused, as if searching for a starting place.
“I don’t expect you to go out and get a rainbow flag tattooed on your forehead,” the now-blonde priestess teased, causing Rowena to chuckle. “I just want you to trust me and talk to me. And if a problem does come up, be honest a-and don’t leave. Oh, and while you’re at it, why not see yourself as Rowena and not gay or straight. If I’m the only person you love, then that’s enough for me. I don’t expect you to shout it out to the world, but I think it’s important that the closer we get to each other, the more we let our loved ones know. Nothing immediate, gradual is fine.” Willow paused for a moment as her own eyes gazed back at her. “So, what do you think?”
Rowena looked startled and shook her head. “Sorry. I kinda zoned out there.”
“You didn’t hear anything I said?”
Rowena looked a bit nervous and started to grin. “In keeping with the honesty thing, not really. I was too busy waiting for your lips to stop moving long enough to kiss you.” The grin grew wider. “I’ll remind you that you did ask for honesty.”
Willow leaned in and kissed Rowena lightly on the lips. “How’s that?” she asked as she pulled away.
“Umm, not sure. Maybe you should do it again,” Rowena answered with a coy smile.
Willow grinned and captured Rowena’s lips again. “Better?”
“We’re getting there,” the older watcher teased.
Willow pulled back slightly, as if preparing to say something, then stopped herself.
“What is it?” Rowena asked. Willow paused reluctantly. “Now come on, honesty goes both ways,” she prompted, Rowena’s mock sternness sounding strange coming from Willow’s mouth.
“I was thinking…. It might sound crazy, but just hear me out.”
“About?” Rowena prodded.
Willow blushed. “Well, you mentioned you aren’t relaxed enough to…” Willow let the sentence hang as she looked down at her body and made a waving motion with her hand. “You know, feel stuff, even if you’re alone. Maybe this switch isn’t such a bad thing – maybe it could be freeing for you. It’s a non-threatening way to get comfortable touching. Then again it might be disastrous and make you more repressed so…oh brother, look, forget I mentioned it, okay? I’m just letting you know if you feel safer being ‘outside yourself’ and you want to explore, you can. You have my permission. Don’t think I wouldn’t be thinking about it, too.”
Rowena paused, considering the suggestion, her expression unsure, and Willow’s eyes widened. “Oh, that’s not to say that I would do the same! I wouldn’t! I mean, not after what happened to you. I wouldn’t violate your body or anything. No matter how beautiful it feels right now.”
Rowena put her hand on Willow’s arm. “I get what you’re saying,” she chuckled. “It’s a chance to be me and not be me.”
“Exactly!” Willow answered. “So if you do…you know, I wouldn’t be mad or upset or anything.”
“That’s very progressive of you, Willow…letting me touch your body all over.”
Willow smiled as she watched a playful leer come to Rowena’s features.
“Damn,” Willow sighed. “I can really look sexy when I want to. I’ll have to remember that.”
Rowena snorted and turned away, embarrassed. But then she looked back at Willow, the mirror of herself. “Who knows? Maybe someday I’ll be able to say the same thing.”
“Sweetie, all you have to do some days is just breathe,” Willow complimented. “The appeal is certainly there.” She looked down at her breasts. “And quite bountiful, I should add.”
Rowena blushed again and Willow leaned over to kiss Rowena gently on the lips again, before rising from the sofa and making her way to the door.
“Hey Will,” Rowena called out, making her turn around. “Thank you,” she said sincerely, in a soft voice. “Really…I wish I’d found you first.”
“Like they say, better late than never.” Willow wiggled her eyebrows playfully and opened the door. “‘Night.”
“Goodnight,” Rowena called out, before Willow slipped from the room.
She sat on the sofa and looked down at her blouse. She began to play with the top button as she chewed her lower lip thoughtfully.
“Oh, forget it,” she muttered to herself, letting her hand drop as she stood up.
She was walking toward the bedroom with her books in hand when she caught her reflection in the mirror. Willow stared back at her. Setting the books down, she walked toward the image of Willow’s face and let the back of her fingertips caress the cheek she saw. Her fingers worked their way to her mouth and she let her tongue snake out, giving them a light lick before sucking on the tip of one.
“Damn,” the watcher sighed. Her eyes fluttered closed and she took the ends of her long, red hair and raised them to her face, inhaling deeply as she let the strands roll around her fingers, soaking up their texture. “Okay Willow. You win,” she sighed. With that, she slipped into the dark bedroom, shutting the door behind her.
Watchers Council – Faith and Robin’s Bedroom – Later that Night
Robin sat in the chair watching television, the remote in hand. Faith watched him from behind for a moment before walking over to turn the television off. Then she walked over to Robin and took the remote away from him.
“So,” Faith said, as her dark-skinned hand worked its way through Robin’s long hair. “Alone at last.”
“Ohhhh no,” Robin said, shaking his head. “Don’t you be getting any ideas!”
Faith began to chuckle as she sat on the arm of the chair. “Come on, it’ll be fun. Aren’t you the least bit curious? Shoe on the other foot and all that.”
Robin seemed tempted for a moment, but then briskly shook his head. “No, Faith. Besides, we need to be up early tomorrow so we can start researching again and –”
Faith silenced him by kissing him passionately and pulling him to his feet. “Just a few minutes…or possibly hours. Your call.”
Robin said nothing, but finally looked up at Faith and sighed. “Fine, but we tell no one. Understand?”
“Your secret is safe with me,” she promised, crossing her heart with a finger. She hoisted him into her arms and walked toward the bedroom.
Watchers Council – Jeff’s Bathroom – Next Morning
Sunlight poured from the window into the small bathroom. “Okay, you can do this,” Jeff told Dawn’s face in the mirror. “After all, she’d want you to take a shower, right? Take care of the body on loan and all that.”
He briskly removed the pants and top and looked in the mirror in front of him. “Okay, evil thoughts, go away. Go away. Go away. You’re not gonna do this…damn, she’s hot. No! Water! Now!” his higher pitched voice demanded.
He turned and started the shower and soon the bathroom began to steam up. “Oh no, we need cold here. Much colder.” He began to turn the faucet in the other direction then tested it. He looked down at his naked body. “Not cold enough,” he decided, and gave the faucet another slight turn.
Quickly he jumped in and shut the curtain, yelping at the change in temperature. After a few seconds, his eyes moved down his curvy silhouette toward his chest and he groaned. “Oh, cold was so not the way to go.”
Watchers Council – Giles’s Bedroom – Morning
Giles walked to the closet and reached automatically for one of his sweaters on the hanger, then sighing and put it back to exchange it for one of Becca’s blouses instead.
From the bed, Becca gave a deep chuckle. “It’s a switch, isn’t it?”
“And hopefully a temporary one,” he told her.
“What? You don’t like my body now?” she asked, pointing to the feminine form he now wore.
“I love your body,” Giles answered. “On you, not me.”
“Trust me, after hitting my head getting into the council Jeep yesterday, I feel your pain. Literally.” She ran her fingers through the back of her short brown locks. “It reminded me of a time in London when I…”
When Becca trailed off, but didn’t add more, Giles turned around to see the confused look on what was once his face. “What is it?” he asked.
“I’ve never been to London, Rupert, but I do remember hitting my head on a car door. It was snowing outside and I…you slipped, didn’t you? You were trying to impress some girl and you whacked your head.”
“How did you know that?” Giles asked. “I don’t recall telling you.”
“You didn’t, but somehow I know.”
“Oh dear,” Giles muttered. “We’re merging. Our bodies have switched, but our identities, our minds seem to be merging too.”
“W-what does that mean?” she asked in a panicked tone.
“If we don’t find a way to restore ourselves soon, we might lose our identities entirely. We’ll essentially become each other. We’ll share the same memories, the same likes and dislikes. We will effectively cease to exist, or worse…”
“There’s something worse than not existing?”
“We become identical people in each body,” he said softly.
Becca chewed her lip for a moment. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that sounds bad.”
Watchers Council – Library – Moments Later
Tracey walked inside, pushing a cart of breakfast foods. She saw what she thought was Jeff sitting at a table, talking to Buffy. She paused for a moment and he looked up from his reading.
“Dawn, right?” Tracey asked and got an affirmation thanks to a bobbing head. A finger pointed at the nametag on Dawn’s shirt. “By the time I figure everyone out, they’ll be back to normal again.” Tracey grinned “Hungry?”
“Starving,” Dawn answered, her voice picking that moment to crack embarrassingly.
“Have you been up all night?” Tracey asked, as she poured a cup of coffee.
“Yeah, I told the others to go to bed and I’d keep looking. That way we’d have fresh eyes in the morning while I nap.” Becca and Giles raced inside the room and started looking about. “Where’s the fire?” Dawn asked them.
“The others aren’t here yet?” Giles asked. Dawn shook her head. “Tracey,” he went on, “can you bring everyone who has switched to the library immediately?”
“Sure thing,” she said, concerned, and swiftly left the room.
“What’s wrong, Bec…Giles?” Buffy asked.
They all turned to see Faith and Robin enter. Giles gave a short wave before speaking again. “Becca remembered something from my past. Something I hadn’t mentioned.”
“Oh?” Dawn questioned. A look of realization washed over her face. “Oh,” she repeated in a more concerned tone.
“So, what’s the worst that can happen?” Faith asked. “She learns a few Ripper tales? I thought you’d already told her everything.”
“Yes, I did tell her, but that’s not the point,” Giles replied. “We’re merging. My thoughts and memories are becoming hers, while she continues to retain her own. If this continues –”
“It won’t,” Rowena’s voice called from the doorway on the far side of the room. Willow entered, carrying a book. “I couldn’t sleep last night, and I think I found something.”
She walked inside and set the book on the table as Marsha and Kennedy walked inside.
“You needed us?” Kennedy asked.
“Willow might have found something,” Giles told her. “Go on,” he said, nodding toward Willow.
“I found the vase,” she said, nodding to Becca in Giles’s body, “but the text didn’t tell much, so I cross-referenced it with spells and such.”
“Oh boy, she even cross-references now,” Buffy quipped from the table. She grinned at Giles. “You’ve been a bad influence on her.”
“You hush,” Willow chastised playfully, before turning back to Giles. “This vase was a gift from Maat, Egyptian goddess of truth, justice and the cosmic order. She gave it to a mortal – couldn’t find his name, sorry – around 3,000 years ago.”
“And?” Kennedy prompted, as Xander, Andrew and Rowena walked inside the room with Tracey to listen.
“And,” Willow continued, “It has the power to offer insight into others around you. If it’s confined to an area like a hut or, say, a Watchers Council, it has the power to switch all inside.”
“Then why didn’t Buffy and I switch?” Tracey asked.
“I’m not sure,” Willow answered. “It says here, ‘To those who wield the vase of Maat, enlightenment is the key to unlock and disable the power. For only once the important truth is known shall the spell be broken’.”
“Wait a second. Go back. What was that part again?” Rowena asked.
“What part?” Willow asked.
“The truth part,” Rowena replied.
“For only once the important truth is known shall the spell be broken,” Willow repeated.
“And what was the purpose of this gift?” Giles asked.
“Maat created it for a mortal. Legend says he was a favorite of the goddess, and when this man’s brother married a woman the family didn’t get along with, it was given to offer the family insight into each other’s thoughts.”
“So…” Rowena held up a finger and considered the story. “There was some type of conflict. Maybe that’s why Buffy and Tracey didn’t switch. They don’t really know each other, much less have any, for lack of a better pop-psychology term, issues with one another. There was no need for them to switch.”
Andrew addressed the room. “Everyone forgets, knowledge is the ultimate weapon.”
“Thank you for that bit of enlightenment, Dr. Phil,” Kennedy sighed.
“No, no,” Rowena said quickly. “Sure, he’s being melodramatic, but he’s absolutely right.”
“I am?” Andrew remarked in a questioning tone and then in a more confident voice said, “I am.”
“In this case,” Rowena continued, “knowledge might truly be the power that stops this.”
“So you’re saying we got switched because we’re screwed up?” Faith asked.
“I don’t know if I’d go that far,” Rowena offered. “But maybe we haven’t all been as truthful with each other as we should be. We have things about our relationships with each other or ourselves that we’re afraid to discuss.”
“But what about Marsha and me?” Kennedy asked. “I have no issues with her. In fact, she’s one of my best slayerettes. Willow’s done a wonderful job with her.”
“Why thank you,” Willow said proudly, her blonde head bobbing.
“You’re welcome,” Kennedy replied with a smile.
“Oh really?” Marsha asked sarcastically.
“Absolutely,” Kennedy insisted.
“If that’s the case, then why do you let Rita get away with taunting me constantly? I love having Willow as my watcher, but sometimes it bites.”
“What?” Kennedy and Willow both asked.
“She’s not just A watcher,” Marsha continued. “She’s one of the TOP watchers, best friend to the original Slayer, and I think Rita’s jealous. So what does she do? She torments me any chance she gets. But you, you just turn a blind eye to it,” Marsha told Kennedy.
“Marsha, I had no idea,” Kennedy replied honestly, the answer sounding strangely mature from the teenage voice that spoke it. “Why didn’t you tell me she was harassing you?”
“And then be a tattletale, a slayer that couldn’t fight her own battles? No thanks. Maybe you should just open your eyes and ears a little more?”
Suddenly, Marsha and Kennedy doubled over and groaned at the same time.
“Are you okay?” Becca said as she put a grip on Marsha’s arm.
The blonde Slayer raised her head and exclaimed, “Holy crap!”
From beside her, Kennedy started to smile. “I think we found the cure,” she said, looking at her hand, then feeling her face and hair.
“You mean, you found the cure!” Faith countered, her deep voice booming in the small room. “What about the rest of us? Does that mean we’re stuck like this until we figure it out? And let’s face it!” Faith said, pointing to Rowena and Willow. “You two have enough baggage to go live in Europe for a decade!”
Willow and Rowena both looked away from Faith and tried to find something else to focus on in the room.
“It will take some doing on all our parts,” Giles said. “But as this example shows, it’s the best chance we have at reversal.”
“Yeah, if you’re a mind reader,” Faith said, waving her hand in disgust. “I think it’s time to admit the rest of us are screwed.”
End of Act Three