Watchers Council – Lobby – Moments Later
Faith burst through the doors of the conference room, obviously somewhat perturbed.
“Red?” she called out, but Willow was nowhere to be seen. “Dammit!” Rowena emerged from the room behind Faith.
“Faith?” the watcher began.
“What now?” Faith asked, her voice filled with frustration and annoyance.
“All I did was say your name,” Rowena said. “Why are you so on edge around me lately? Why is everybody?”
The slayer sighed and turned to the blonde watcher. “Because, Ro, you hung Red out to dry over something that was only kinda her fault, and don’t try to pretend that you didn’t,” she continued, cutting off the words Rowena’s mouth seemed about to form. “If that’s what you do to your own girlfriend, what are you gonna do to the rest of us if we really mess up? I mean, when my kid was here, you took me off duty ’cause…I’m not even sure why, actually.”
“One, because you were stressed out,” Rowena answered before Faith could stop her. “And two, you’d be no good to Norman if you got yourself killed on patrol.”
“Whatever,” Faith sighed. “Point is everybody wants to be on your side, Ro, but you’re making it really tough.”
“I did what I had to do regarding Willow,” Rowena argued.
“No,” Faith began, “You suspended her because you didn’t want people thinking you were playing favorites but in doing that you took it too far. The punishment should fit the crime Blondie, no matter who it is here. And if you ask me, Will learned her lesson, so enough’s enough.”
Faith turned and walked away. Rowena sighed and pinched the bridge of her nose.
Watchers Council – Willow’s Apartment – Later that Morning
A businesslike knock at the door caused Willow to look up from her book. She walked over and opened the door, then watched Rowena enter at a brisk pace.
“Well…why don’t you just barge on in, Ro?” she said sarcastically.
“Why don’t you cut the crap? I’m here on official Council business. I don’t have time for a prima donna act.”
Willow’s face showed shock, followed by a flash of hurt, which was quickly replaced by a mask of restrained anger. “Official Council business?” she asked. “Then I’m afraid I can’t help you. I’m under suspension. Or have you forgotten that, Ms. Allister? You only unsuspended me long enough to vote, and, hey, the voting’s done.”
Rowena let out a low growl of frustration. “You have to be the most stubborn, infuriating person I’ve ever dealt with! Why can’t you just do the damned spell so that we can put this behind us?”
“Because it wouldn’t be behind us! It would be out there, waiting, like the next William Hung album. The Rule of Three –”
“Is part of your religion, Will. If you want to hide behind your religion, maybe you should’ve become a pharmacist instead of a watcher! Watchers don’t have that luxury. We have a duty: we’ve sworn to do whatever it takes, whatever it takes to keep the world safe, and sometimes that means doing things that are distasteful, things that…” Rowena’s voice lowered and her eyes dropped. When she continued, it was almost a whisper. “Things that keep you awake at night and haunt your waking hours and fill you with doubt and remorse, but they must be done because that’s what it takes to wage this war. And that’s what this is: a war. And to win this war – hell, not to win, just to hold the damned line – we have to make hard decisions. That’s what it means to be a watcher.”
“That’s the Old Council talking, Ro,” Willow responded. “They weren’t always right.”
“I know that. But you know something, Willow? They weren’t always wrong, either. The fact that we’re still here proves that.”
“And the fact that we’re no closer to winning the war may be proof that you can’t use evil to fight evil. Did ya ever consider that?”
Rowena sighed and shook her head in frustration. “It must be nice to live in a world that’s so black and white. We’re not talking evil here. We’re going to use a spell that will remove only specific memories. He’ll forget about the Council and the supernatural. That’s all. It’s not evil, or if it is, it’s the lesser of two. Do you really think he’ll be able to publish this story? The Council isn’t the only ones with a stake in this. If we don’t stop Devlin, someone else will, and I can assure you that they won’t be as gentle in their methods.”
“And when he starts wondering about his memory lapse, when he starts his investigation all over again, what then? Another spell? Where does it end?” Willow asked.
“I…I suppose that it may be necessary to include a slight compulsion along with the memory loss. Perhaps an aversion component.”
Willow snorted derisively. “Would you just listen to yourself? This is all an academic exercise to you, isn’t it? You’re so busy focusing on how you can combine components of different spells to get the most efficient outcome that you’re ignoring the fact that you’re planning to violate a man’s mind. Goddess, you really can be an ice queen, can’t you?”
“And you’re so focused on what you did to Tara that you can’t even imagine that you may be wrong this time!” Rowena exploded in anger.
The witch’s face went cold and hard, and her eyes darkened. Perhaps it was a trick of the light. Perhaps not.
“Don’t…” she said, “don’t you dare! Not now, not like this.”
“God, Will, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…” Rowena trailed off, her eyes filling with tears. She visibly struggled for composure. “I shouldn’t have brought that up,” she continued, still shaken, but with gathering surety. “I apologize, but it doesn’t change the fact that this has to be done. It will be done, with or without your help.”
“I think you should leave, Ro. Go now before we both say things that we can’t walk away from. If you’re so dead set on doing this, then do it. But you’ll do it without the help or support of the Coven.”
They were both quiet for a moment before Rowena spoke. “Fine,” she said. “You and the Coven aren’t the only ones here who have some measure of mystical potential. As head of the Coven, your protests are noted, but this will be done.”
She turned and left the room, closing the door behind her.
Watchers Council – Library – Afternoon
Jeff sat quietly at a table in the far corner of the Council library, several old books open in front of him. His gaze furtively switched between the various volumes.
“No,” he said, without looking up.
“I haven’t even asked you anything,” said a tired-looking Rowena, who stood in front of the young man.
Jeff looked up at her. “You don’t have to, remember?”
Rowena sighed and pulled out the chair across from Jeff, sitting down opposite the young warlock. “Some light reading, I see.”
“Yeah,” Jeff replied. “I want to be ready for when I’m assigned a slayer.”
“It’s a big step up,” Rowena said, “but maybe it’s not the only step you should take.”
Jeff raised one eyebrow. “Appealing to my hunger for power now?”
“It was worth a shot,” Rowena sighed.
“Everyone around here thinks I’m Anakin Skywalker, ready to jump at any chance to be more powerful,” Jeff said, an annoyed note in his voice.
“I don’t think that,” Rowena said defensively.
“Oh, everyone does,” Jeff said. “But see, that’s not me. You think I would go against Willow’s wishes, do a spell she forbade the Coven from doing? Maybe a year ago, but not now. You never even asked me a question, and now I’m giving a long-winded answer. Things are getting a little confusing, to say the least, and pretty much the only person who’s trying to make them more manageable is Willow. So, no, I’m not doing the spell.”
“Jeffrey,” Rowena began, “I’m sure I don’t need to explain to you how important –”
“I’m not…doing…the spell,” Jeff said evenly. “Good night, Rowena.” His eyes returned to the books.
A surprised Rowena looked at the young man in front of her for a moment. Then, without prodding him any further, she got up from her chair.
Watchers Council – Kennedy’s Apartment – Later that Afternoon
Kennedy sat cross-legged on the bed. Beside her was a book titled Chess for Beginners. In front of her was an electronic chess game. Perched on the windowsill, her dragon watched intently.
She moved a piece, then, in response to the indicator lights, she moved her electronic opponent’s piece. After a moment of scanning the board, her eyes lit up.
“Huh, this game isn’t so hard after all,” she observed.
Kennedy moved her bishop, capturing the white queen and creating an opening in white’s defense of its king. The dragon on the windowsill chirped, perhaps in warning, perhaps just wanting attention, but it was ignored.
The computer thought, its thinking indicated by little blinking lights. It then flashed its move. Kennedy reached out to move the computer’s piece, but stopped short as she saw the result of the move.
“Crap!” she exclaimed. “Stupid game.” She began setting up the pieces for another game. “I can’t believe it’s come to this. Me, Kennedy, playing chess alone in my room.”
The dragon rustled its wings, perhaps in protest at the use of the word “alone.” It rolled over on its back and began playing with its tail.
Whether or not the slayer would have been able to resist the display of reptilian cuteness was a question left unanswered due to a knock at the door.
“Just a minute!” Kennedy yelled. She looked guiltily at her chess paraphernalia. She gathered it up and hastily shoved it all under a couch cushion. Reaching under her bed, she fished out a pair of weights, tossed one on the bed and carried the other with her to the door.
She opened the door and said, “Sorry, just getting in an extra workout.” She took a couple of deep breaths and pretended to wipe sweat from her brow as she motioned Rowena into the room. “Whaddya want?” she asked the watcher.
“I…umm…that is…What makes you think that I want something? Isn’t it possible that I’m here to visit? To simply pass some time with my former slayer?” Rowena challenged.
Kennedy just looked at her.
“Okay,” Rowena gave ground. “There is something that I need your assistance with. And I want you to consider very carefully before saying no.”
She moved towards the couch and was preparing to sit on the cushion under which lay the Chess King 5000 when Kennedy took her by the arm and guided her to the other side of the couch.
“You don’t want to sit there,” she told the watcher.
Rowena complied, but she looked puzzled and asked, “Why not?”
“Umm…because the dragon peed on the cushion,” was the hesitant answer.
The dragon slapped its tail against the windowsill in protest. Then it turned its back to the humans and studiously ignored them in favor of grooming its scales.
“Oh,” was Rowena’s only response.
Kennedy took a seat across from the watcher and waited.
And waited some more.
The dragon took an interest in the gathering silence, craning its neck around backwards to watch the two women. Finally, Kennedy broke the silence.
“Y’know, awkward silence isn’t the most productive use of our time. Shouldn’t we at least be insulting each other or something?” Kennedy said.
“No, after our last bout, I realized the folly of trying to match you insult for insult. However could I possibly top ‘snooty girlfriend stealer’ as an insult?” Rowena smiled as she made that last statement, and Kennedy chuckled in response.
“Hey! Even the best of us have an off-day,” the slayer explained. “But…that’s not what you’re here for, is it? So, shoot. The worst that can happen is that I say no.”
“I want you to help me do the Tabula Rasa spell on Dev –”
“No,” Kennedy instantly pronounced. “See? That wasn’t so bad, was it?” She stood to escort Rowena out.
The watcher protested. “Kennedy, just…just hear me out, okay? This is important! I thought you were on board with this. If our story gets out –”
“Yeah, it’ll be bad. I don’t know how we’ll continue operate if we have the press dogging us. People will die. I get that. And I’m on board with doing something about it, something non-lethal, at least. Hell, if you want do the spell, I’ll cheer you on, but why the hell do you want me involved? Me and magic just don’t go together. Why not get someone who actually likes the stuff? Willow –”
“Has refused to do the spell,” Rowena interjected. “And –”
“Yeah, I know. Faith’s real pissed,” Kennedy continued. “She played along when you guys outvoted her, but Willow gets veto privilege? What’s up with that? Slayers have to toe the line, but watchers can –”
“Kennedy! Will you just stop for a minute? Willow’s refusal to allow the Coven to do the spell will be dealt with in due time, but Devlin has to be stopped now. You don’t want to help me with the spell because you find magic distasteful. Fine. I find this whole matter distasteful. I’m contemplating…no, I am going to violate a man’s mind. A man who is by all indications a good, honest man who is simply trying to do what he feels is right. I’ve not only gone against my lover’s wishes, I’ve tried to enlist her most promising student, and if I had been successful…” Rowena blinked back tears. “If I had been successful in convincing Jeff to aid me, I doubt that Willow would ever forgive that betrayal. As it is…” Rowena’s voice trailed off.
“Harry Potter turned you down? I’d have thought he’d jump at the chance to save the day. I guess you never know about people.” Kennedy looked at Rowena, a puzzled frown on her face. “Why me? Seriously. What can I do to help, other than watch and make the occasional witty remark?”
“You can do the spell,” the watcher said.
“Okay, you lost me there. If I don’t like magic, I sure as hell don’t do magic.”
“I have the knowledge to do the spell, but I lack the power necessary to perform it,” Rowena answered. “As Andrew puts it, I lack the ‘magichlorians’ to pull it off. You have the potential, whether you want to admit it or not. Your mother was Kalderash – there’s magic in your bloodline. You’ve also, on two occasions, channeled a great deal of mystical energy. You have the raw power, I have the technical knowledge. Between the two of us, I’ve no doubt that we can successfully perform the spell.”
“Let me get this straight. You want me to do a spell with you behind Willow’s back?”
“Not exactly behind her back, but certainly without her approval, yes.”
“If I help you, we’re both in the same doghouse. If I don’t…”
“Who knows? She may look to you for comfort. You may even get another kiss out of it.” There was a hint of challenge in Rowena’s voice.
“Maybe. Sounds like I benefit more if I don’t help you than if I do,” Kennedy challenges back.
“It does, doesn’t it?” Rowena said. She met the slayer’s gaze, and the two women were quiet for a moment, each lost in thought.
“Okay, I’ll do it,” the slayer said at last. “I’ll probably hate myself in the morning, but I’m in.”
“Good. I knew I could count on you.”
“That so, Blondie? Why’s that?” Kennedy asked.
“Because, for all your faults – which are not few, by the way – you’ve never failed to put duty before your own personal interests,” the watcher answered. “Because you know that people will be hurt, that people will die if this story is published. Because, when you look beneath the surface, you and I are more alike than either of us likes to admit. That,” Rowena said as she turned to leave, “is why. Meet me at my apartment at midnight. I’ll have everything prepared by then.”
As the door closed behind the watcher, Kennedy sighed. “Oh, man.”
She walked over to a table, grabbed a pen and notepad, and began scribbling.
In case of memory loss:
Your name is Kennedy.
You are a kick-ass slayer.
The blonde with the stick up her ass is not your girlfriend!!!
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Apartment – Night
Rowena was waiting silently by a flickering fire in a large leather chair when Kennedy peeked her head in the door.
“I was beginning to think you weren’t coming,” Rowena said.
“So was I, to be honest,” Kennedy admitted, entering the room and closing the door behind her. “But here I am.”
“All right, well, I’ve got the crystal and some Lethe’s Bramble,” Rowena said, getting up from her chair. “Everything’s ready. All you have to do is follow the recipe.”
She sat cross-legged by the fire, next to the crystal and a plastic baggie filled with some nondescript green leaves, and held up a slip of lined notebook paper for Kennedy. Reluctantly, the slayer took the paper and sat down in an imitation of Rowena. She took a deep breath.
“Okay, how do I start?”
“Just read what it says there,” Rowena replied impatiently, pointing to the piece of paper.
“Right,” Kennedy said. Then she took another deep breath. Rowena looked on expectantly. Still the slayer didn’t move.
“Now would be good,” Rowena pushed.
“All right, jeez!” Kennedy exclaimed, “Hold your horses. I’m just a little nervous. Kind of in the same way that Brell is a little blue.”
“It’ll be fine,” Rowena assured her, “you can do it.” Kennedy gave the watcher a doubtful look, then turned back to the paper.
“For Robert Devlin, this I char. Let Lethe’s Bramble do its chore,” the slayer began. “Throw one piece of bramble into fire,” she read aloud. “Okay.” She opened the bag and fished one of the green bits out, tossing it into the flames.
“You don’t need to say that part out loud,” Rowena supplied, attempting to sound helpful.
“Just…be quiet!” Kennedy said, exasperated. “I’m trying to do magic here!”
“Okay, okay, sheesh,” Rowena said defensively. Kennedy sighed and began again.
“Purge his mind of memories secret, of discoveries and findings recent,” she continued, picking up the crystal. “When the fire goes out, when the crystal turns black, the spell will be cast.” Kennedy turned and looked at Rowena, who nodded without changing her facial expression. “Tabula Rasa, Tabula Rasa, Tabula Rasa.” Kennedy then picked up another piece of bramble and threw it into the fire as well.
“Hey!” Rowena exclaimed. “It doesn’t say to do that! Why did you do that?”
“Just to be safe,” Kennedy said. “One didn’t seem like enough.”
“Kennedy, magic is very fragile, one little thing can…” Rowena stopped when she saw the confused look growing on Kennedy’s face.
“Wait,” the slayer said, looking around the room. “Where am I? Who am I?” She looked at Rowena. “Who are you?”
“God, I was afraid of this,” Rowena said, panic entering her voice. “Listen, your name is Kennedy, you’re safe, and…” She stopped when Kennedy broke out into hysterical laughter.
“Gotcha!” she exclaimed.
“You are such a brat!” Rowena said, but she sounded more amused than angry.
“I know,” Kennedy said, composing herself, “Isn’t it fun?”
Watchers Council – Faith’s Office – Morning
Kennedy had a smile on her face as she and Rowena entered Faith’s office. “So it did work?” Kennedy was asking. Rowena nodded. “Cool! I knew it did; I could feel it. Hey Faith, this magic crap ain’t so hard after all.”
Rowena closed the door behind them. “Yes, the spell seems to have worked perfectly. Our contacts at Southwest General say that Devlin was admitted this morning, complaining of memory loss. He can’t remember anything that’s happened over the last two weeks.”
“People don’t just forget two weeks of stuff happening,” Faith pointed out. “Couple of days, yeah. Who hasn’t lost a coupla days after gettin’ good and blasted? But not two whole weeks. What’s to stop him from diggin’ back into it and starting the whole thing up again?”
“It’s covered. According to his editor, his previous story was on the growing use of designer drugs among college students. His doctor suspects that he was slipped something while he was conducting interviews at one of the local nightclubs. He’s expected to make a full recovery, and an anonymous charitable organization is covering all of his medical expenses. They’re even compensating him for his time.”
“How generous,” Faith said dryly. “The editor –”
“Has had his eye on a nice little sports car to help him through his mid-life crisis,” Kennedy broke in. “He’s probably out shopping right now.”
“Wow,” Faith said. “We’re just bribin’ people all over the place. Good thing the Council has deep pockets. So, that cover all our loose ends?”
“For the most part,” Rowena answered. “He had given his editor a copy of the tape for safe keeping, and that’s now in our hands. We also have his notebook… seems it fell out of his pocket during his little adventure with you. But he suspects that Devlin has a backup somewhere, probably his apartment. I’ll send a Black Ops team to recover it tonight.”
“Nah, me and Slick’ll do it,” Faith said.
“What?” Kennedy and Rowena asked together. Rowena continued, “This is the type of job that Black Ops trains for.”
“Yeah, maybe, if it was some mob guy or something. This is different. We’re gonna B and E some regular Joe. I ain’t ordering any of my girls to break no laws when it’s not the bad guys they’re goin’ after. You, me, and Slick, we’re already in this up to our eyeballs. We’ll see it through all the way. I don’t want anyone else gettin’ their hands dirty on this.” Faith leaned back in her chair and put her hands behind her head. “You and me, Slick. Tonight I’m gonna teach you my old-school slayer philosophy.” Her face lit up with a feral grin.
“Yeah?” Kennedy asked, somewhat dubiously. “What’s that?”
Watchers Council – Xander’s Apartment – Night
Xander slouched on the couch in front of his TV, flicking through the channels with the remote in his free hand, one cast-encased leg sticking out straight in front of him. After a moment there was a knock at the door, and his head rose slightly.
“Come in,” he said, without much force behind the words. Vi opened the door and tentatively stepped into the room. “Hey,” Xander said, a slight smile on his face.
“Hey,” Vi replied weakly. “I thought I’d…I wanted to come by.”
“Well, have a seat,” Xander said, gesturing to the empty couch space beside him. “Look, ESPN has the World Competitive Eating Championships. I always told my folks I was gonna be an athlete.”
Vi looked like she was trying to smile, but failing. She sat down on the couch next to Xander.
“So…how are you feeling?” Vi asked warily.
“Actually better, y’know?” Xander said, turning to the redhead. “I may not have the super slayer healing, but I’ll be alright eventually. Don’t get too used to the sexy plaster.”
“That’s great,” said Vi, trying to sound cheery, but once again failing.
“Don’t get too excited,” Xander quipped sarcastically. Then his features got serious. “They told me that you got me out of there. They told me… they told me you saved my life.”
With a sob, Vi burst into tears. Xander’s eyes widened in confusion at this sudden turn of events.
“Whoa, and here I thought I had a girl who didn’t want me dead. What’s wrong?”
“Xander, six girls died, and it’s my fault!” Vi managed to get out.
Xander took Vi’s wet cheek in his free hand and brought her eyes up to his. “Listen to me. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault. It’s not Willow’s fault. We couldn’t have done anything different. The high and mighties just needed somebody to blame, that’s all.”
“You don’t get it,” Vi said, her green eyes glistening. “Six girls died, and all I can think about is how I almost lost you.”
“But you didn’t,” Xander assured her. “You were there to save me. Just like I’ll always be there to save you.” He gave her a wink.
“No, I won’t be,” Vi insisted, bringing her hand up to hold Xander’s. “I won’t always be there to save you. We have dangerous lives, things happen all the time –”
“Nothing is going to happen to me. Or to you.”
“You can’t know that,” Vi said frantically in a near whisper. “Nobody can. And I’ve never felt this way about…” She stopped and took a deep breath. “I think I might love you.”
“Well,” Xander replied with a grin, “I think I might love you, too.”
And Vi kissed him, deeply, passionately, completely. It lasted for several seconds before the pair broke apart.
“Watch the arm,” Xander gasped, and the pair kissed again.
Devlin’s Apartment – Later that Night
The door opened into the darkened apartment, and two black-clad figures entered stealthily. As the door closed behind them, Faith flipped on her flashlight and swept the room with the beam.
“Damn, this guy’s about as good a housekeeper as you are, Ken,” Faith said, as the beam passed over a sink full of unwashed dishes.
Kennedy moved into the room, her flashlight illuminating piles of dirty clothes. “You looked at your place lately?” she asked. She moved to a shelf full of books and began searching through them.
“Yeah, well, Ace hasn’t been keepin’ up his end of the housework.”
“Let alone doing your half, like he used to,” Kennedy shot back.
“Yeah, somethin’ like that,” Faith admitted. She opened a closet and began searching it.
Something in her voice, an edge of tired bitterness perhaps, seemed to draw the younger slayer’s attention. Kennedy started to speak, then thought better of it, then thought better of the thinking better, and finally spoke up. “Faith…” was all she managed before she trailed off.
Faith shined her light at her companion, prompting Kennedy to shield her eyes. “Out with it, Slick. You got something to say, just spit it out. Just ’cause you’ve done a spell don’t mean you got to start beatin’ around the bush like Red.” She moved over to the bed and began pulling out draws from the nightstand.
“Okay,” Kennedy replied. “I’ll spit it out. Have you talked to Willow about doing the spell?”
“Huh? Come again? I thought that you and Ro already did the spell?”
“Not that spell. The other spell. You know, the Xander spell. I know an eye’s different than a leg, but…”
Faith snorted. “Oh. That spell. And how much of that idea is you wanting to see how Ro deals with it?”
“Well, ya know, icing,” Kennedy said, tossing Faith a sheepish grin. Then she got serious. “But this thing with you and Robin, it’s tearing you guys up, and I hate to see that. If it has just a chance of working…”
“Ain’t gonna happen, Slick. You might as well drop it.”
“So, what happened to not letting petty jealousy get in the way? If it could get Robin’s leg back, isn’t it worth it?”
Faith laughed. “You think I wouldn’t let Willow do the spell? You think I’d let Robin be a cripple if there was a way around it? Because I’m jealous? You’re nuts, Ken. I already asked, okay? I already asked Red to do the spell. Hell, I offered to join in if it’d help!”
Kennedy’s eyes glossed over for a moment as she considered that image, then she shook her head. She looked puzzled as she asked, “She said no? Willow wouldn’t do the spell? Why not? She said that it’d be her duty as a Wiccan.”
Faith shook her head. “She had reasons. Can’t say that I followed ’em, but she had ’em. Somethin’ about ‘perfect love and perfect trust.’ It pretty much boiled down to Robin ain’t Xander, so it just ain’t happenin’. Let’s just drop it, okay? We’ve got business to attend to here, and there ain’t no use cryin’ over spilt milk.”
She dropped to her knees beside the bed and ran her hand between the mattress and bedspring. “Bingo! What do we have hiding here?”
“Is it the tape?” Kennedy asked.
“Nah. Just a book. Damn.”
“A book?” the younger slayer asked. “Porn?”
Faith looked at the book in her hand. “All the President’s Men,” she read the title and shrugged. “Weird.”
“Still sounds like porn to me,” Kennedy quipped.
With that, she tossed the book aside. It hit the bed and tumbled to the floor. As it landed, the cover opened and something fell out. Faith bent and picked it and the book off the floor. She shined her light on the book, revealing a hollow where the pages had been cut away. In her other hand, she held a video tape.
The two slayers looked at each other and grinned.
Watchers Council – War Room – Moments Later
“They got it,” reported Andrew, a telephone headset mashing down his unruly hair.
Rowena smiled slightly as she leaned Andrew’s shoulder, gazing at the War Room’s myriad of screens. “Good,” she said.
Then she heard the sound of footsteps coming closer, causing her to turn around. Willow entered from the hallway. For two full seconds, she and Rowena locked eyes from across the room.
“Don’t forget,” Willow said softly. “Magic always has a price.”
Then Willow abruptly turned heel and retreated the way she came. Rowena turned back to the desk, leaning her elbows on some nearby equipment and covering her face with her hands.
“Rowena, it’ll get better,” Andrew said gently. “It’ll get easier.”
She stood up and looked back at where Willow had briefly appeared. “I’m not sure it will. I’m really not.”
And she walked away.
Watchers Council – Faith and Robin’s Apartment – Later That Night
Robin sat alone on the couch in his lightless apartment, staring depressively into nothing. He finished off a glass of whiskey with one gulp, but appeared no happier. He grabbed a large bottle from the end table and poured himself another glass. He hesitated only a moment before swigging it down.
Downtown Alley – Same Time
A vampire exploded into dust to reveal Faith’s hardened features. She stood there for a few more seconds, looking right through where her adversary had just been. Then she turned and walked briskly down the alley, back toward the main street and civilization.
Watchers Council – Xander’s Apartment – Same Time
Xander lay prone on the couch, his bad arm jutting out to the side and his bad leg sticking straight out on the couch. Vi, clad only in her underwear, leaned down and kissed him deeply. She seemed to be oblivious when the pair began to move toward the edge. Xander looked alarmed, but managed only to flail his arm uselessly before the pair completely slipped off the couch and fell to the floor with a loud crash.
Watchers Council – Computer Room – Same Time
The dim light from the monitor was the only thing lighting Willow’s face as she sat down in a chair. Her fingers danced across the keys as she entered a free-form query into the Council database:
“Return: Storage location; Criteria keywords: Devlin [or] Tabula Rasa [or] Plain Dealer [or] Augustine Crystal”
A progress bar scrolled across the bottom of the screen, then a dialog box popped up.
“Found one result. Access is restricted.”
Stone faced, Willow quickly typed in her password. A small message box appeared.
“Result of specified query is locked for user: Rosenberg, Willow,” it said. “Locking authority: Council Chair.”
Willow sat back in her chair, seemingly unable to even look shocked anymore. After a moment, she got up and went to the door. She paused, silhouetted in the light coming from the hallway.
Suddenly, she kicked the plastic wastebasket next to the door as hard as she could, sending it flying over and strewing bits of paper all over the floor. Her expression revealed nothing, but her eyes were red. Willow turned and left the room.
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Apartment – Same Time
Under the light of a single lamp, Rowena sat on her bed, staring at the crystal she held in her fingertips. It had changed from clear to dark black, with a faint green glow emanating from it. Her eyes glistened with moisture as she contemplated the magical object. Then she closed her fist around the crystal and wearily placed it in the drawer next to her bed.
After shutting the drawer, Rowena glanced around the empty room.
End of Just the Facts
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