Elijah Wood as Jeff Lindquist, Robert Picardo as Dr. Miller and Lacey Chabert as Skye Talisker
Amanda Tapping as Dr. Regina Wagner, Steffani Brass as Shannon and Robin Sachs as Ethan Rayne
Small Shack – Day
A brilliant, flooding white light receded to show the interior of a small shack. Inside was a group of conjurors: two witches, a warlock, a chaos demon and an eye-less demon from an unknown dimension.
They held fast and chanted as the glow again became brighter and brighter and brighter still.
They traded nervous glances as the light condensed between them, no longer transparent but seemingly solid and larger in size. Their voices began to drop off oddly. Within seconds, all of them were unnaturally still with fixed gazes – all of them with eyes, that is. Their mouths began to tremble or contort, and a couple of them drooled long cords of saliva from their lips.
They stood rooted to their spots, their bodies beginning to tremble.
The blazing glow, now an orb of incredible density and brightness, began to burn their eyes – except for the one who had none to begin with – and they cried out in unison as they squeezed their lids shut. Their bodies started to shake violently, though they seemed glued in their places.
The demon without eyes stood dead, killed silently in his place. His skin had been seared off his flesh. His frame held fast for a moment, upright and inanimate, like a store mannequin. But his once-golden flesh was now cooked purple, and his melted internal organs began running down the insides of his legs. His body collapsed suddenly downward onto his feet.
One of the witches opened her mouth in a silent scream, looking frighteningly like a famous painting. The others present underwent similar agonies.
Their task, their lives, their names were now forgotten. All awareness, sense and thought were blasted from them as their very cells became part of a dance of charged particles.
And then, in an instant, there was only quiet, and the five were no more.
Giles and Becca’s House – Kitchen – Same Time
Giles sighed heavily as he rubbed his head, entering the back door of the kitchen.
“How was your walk?” Becca asked, walking in from the living room.
“Hmm?” He turned, wincing, to face his wife.
“What is it?” she asked. She placed a cooling hand on his forehead. “Are your calves bothering you again? Dr. Miller told you not to walk too far.” She smiled. He only looked up weakly at her. “Rupert, you don’t look well.”
From the nursery, Baby Elizabeth began to make fussing noises.
“Why don’t you sit down?” Becca said. “I’ll get you some Tylenol and make you some tea in a minute.”
He nodded meekly, as if his head and stomach were conspiring to make him violently ill.
Becca returned with both Elizabeth and the pain pills. With practiced skill, she managed to cradle the baby in her arms, open the bottle and spill out two white caplets into her palm.
“Here you go,” she said, holding them out.
Giles reached for them.
“Rupert! Where did you go on your walk?” she gently chided. “Your boots are caked with mud.” She bounced Elizabeth lightly in her arms. “Look,” she said to the cooing baby, “Daddy’s all dirty.”
Becca’s smile began to slip away when Giles didn’t so much as grin at the comment. Becca quickly put Elizabeth down in her playpen and turned to face Giles with a look of alarm.
Small Shack – Moments Later
The man in the center of the small, bare room huddled over his own knees. Having accomplished its task of delivering him there, the light faded quickly, leaving him stark naked and curled in a ball over his own feet, his arms around his legs and his face pressed down hard onto his knees. His haunches hovered a mere inch above the wooden floor and shook with cold. He drew a sudden breath, hard and ragged, as though he had not breathed in eons.
Giles and Becca’s House – Kitchen – Same Time
“Rupert!” Becca called out to her husband, whose sudden, gasping breath startled both her and Elizabeth into silence.
“I’m calling the hospital,” she said, running over to the phone.
Giles let his breath out again, still shuddering. Picking up on her parents’ emotions, the baby began to cry, and Becca kept the phone to her ear as she walked back over.
“Becca…” Giles furrowed his brow and inhaled unevenly.
“Rupert, what is it? What’s wrong?”
Giles looked up at her and then at the baby, seemingly in a daze.
“The baby’s crying,” he said distantly.
“I know, but she’s fine in her pen.” Becca cupped his chin in her hand and tilted his face up toward her. He blinked at her. “What’s happening? What’s wrong?” she said with quiet dread.
Elizabeth, too, became unnaturally quiet again, almost as though she herself was waiting for an answer.
Giles searched Becca’s eyes for a moment, then forced some even breaths. He looked as if he were about to speak, but didn’t.
“Rupert, please. Answer me.” Her gaze stayed on Giles as she began to talk into the phone. “Yes, I think my husband is having another heart attack, maybe a stroke…He’s having difficulty breathing and speaking…No, he’s awake, in a chair. Please get someone here now,” she added, her demand filled with both fright and anger at the same time.
Giles stood and shook his head, and the strange malady seemed to fade fast. He walked over to the playpen. He reached his hand out and laid it on Elizabeth’s head, smiling at her gently.
“There now,” Giles told the baby. She made a sudden, happy noise at him.
“He’s standing now, but please send someone. Yes, that’s the address. Thank you.” Becca hung up and walked over to her husband, who stood over the pen, still smiling at his daughter. “Rupert,” Becca called gently. “Are you all right?”
“Yes,” he told her, though the way he said it indicated he had much more to say. “I’m fine. Just a little…dizzy spell. Need more sleep.”
Becca looked sternly at him, but he said no more and started tickling the baby on the cheek. Elizabeth gurgled in joy.
Small Shack – Same Time
The man’s eyes began to focus on his surroundings, and he let his gaze stray from wall to floor to wall again, staring in wonder at the strange images around him.
There were drawings on the floor – a circle that looked like it was made of string and stone, and the image of a large casting bowl just within the circle, all drawn in a strange silhouette. A mortar and pestle had been drawn on the floor outside the circle. In one spot, he saw what appeared to be a realistic image of a candle – so finely wrought that he could tell where wax had dripped and could even make out the density of the lumpier drippings.
He drew a startled breath.
With great effort, he uncurled his body and pushed himself up, standing on weak legs. Swaying a bit from side to side, he began turning slowly, studying the strange markings on all the surfaces of the small room.
The ghastly images of those who had brought him back into his natural world and the tools of their efforts were etched into the walls and floorboards in photo-negative: two witches, a warlock who had been covered in flowing robes and scarves, a chaos demon and a shape he did not know – a demon adept – all were preserved in perverse still-life. Nothing else had been touched beyond the vaporized conjurors’ irradiated images.
He turned again, slowly and deliberately, taking in everything a second time, then stopped. He breathed deeply and let his shoulders droop a bit.
“Bugger,” Ethan Rayne said aloud to the shadows of the mages. “No scotch.”
Watchers Council – Slayer Dorm – Same Time
Shannon entered her dorm room in a hurry, having missed breakfast and about to miss the first bell for class. She ran to her footlocker and opened it to get her books, then stopped. Slowly, she lowered the lid and looked over the top of the locker.
Across her bed, and on the floor on either side, was scattered her small collection of baseball cards. She turned quickly to the dresser and saw a few cards that remained there, askew now, where she had neatly piled them. It was plain that someone had swept them off the dresser and across the floor and bed.
Shannon stood and looked over at Lorinda’s bed and dresser, her eyes narrow slits of anger.
Watchers Council – Grounds – Same Time
Wild eyes shined in the darkness of the shadows. Steam rose in steady puffs, rhythmically obscuring the face of the creature.
The eyes shot forward in a blur, leaving behind barely stirring branches as snow silently fell. The quiet was suddenly marred by the sound of an animal’s death scream, then tearing and ripping. After a few moments, the silence returned. A dead and rent rabbit lay still upon the frozen ground.
Then came the sounds of something being choked down, intermingled with snarling and snorting. The next noise was that of feet lightly crunching through the snow and branches rustling in the thicket.
The yellow bowl that had been left behind earlier in the day was now empty. But whatever ate from it was now deep within the woods.
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Office – Same Time
Rowena was sitting behind her desk looking at the contents of a manila folder when there was a knock at her door.
“Come in,” she answered, without looking up.
A young man in his early twenties walked inside.
“Mr. Wood thought you might like to know,” he said as he walked over.
“Know what?” she asked, taking the piece of paper he held out for her.
“Paramedics were called to this location a few moments ago. Unresponsive male, shortness of breath.”
Rowena examined the page and her eyes suddenly widened.
“Thanks Jimmy,” she told him with a nod, as she began to dial the phone.
He reciprocated and then walked from the room.
“Kennedy,” she began. “I need you to get to Giles’s house immediately.”
Watchers Council – Willow’s Classroom – Morning
Willow stopped mid-sentence and watched as Shannon nearly crashed through the classroom door. The young slayer looked directly at Lorinda, who was absently chewing some gum and looking bored.
Shannon glared at her. Lorinda smiled slightly.
“Shannon!” Willow said. “This is the third time this week you’re late.”
“Overslept,” Shannon said darkly.
“Well, I’ll talk to Dawn. Maybe you need to cut back on a couple of nights of patrolling.” Shannon turned her glare toward Willow. Willow opened her mouth to say something, then seemed to think better of it. “Just take a seat,” she said, more gently. “Open your book to page…259. We’re talking about the first Coven to make a pact with the Watchers Council…”
Shannon sat down heavily in her seat and angrily plopped her books and laptop on her desk. She found her Honnegar’s History of Magic book and opened it. She noticed something odd about the pages as she flipped through them. Some seemed stuck together and lumpy. She pulled one pair apart and discovered a sticky, stringy mess of well-chewed bubble gum between the pages. Gum had been interspersed throughout the book.
Willow had turned to the whiteboard and was writing some notes for the class to copy. Shannon seized the opportunity to spin around in her chair and give Lorinda a look of hatred.
Lorinda looked back blandly at Shannon, then blew and popped a bubble in her general direction.
Giles and Becca’s House – Moments Later
Becca stood with the phone to her ear, holding Elizabeth. “Stubborn man that I love won’t go with the paramedics…Yes, yes I will…Thanks for calling, Rowena. See you in a while.”
After Becca hung up, she walked over to the paramedics while she patted Elizabeth on the back, the baby looking out over her shoulder.
“Are you certain you don’t want to go?” she asked Giles. Behind him, the paramedics began to re-pack their equipment.
“Yes. Yes I am. As certain as I am of anything.”
One of the paramedics turned to Becca. “If he doesn’t come back with us, I’d suggest he see a doctor as soon as possible.”
“You hear that? You’re going to see Dr. Miller,” Becca told Giles. He opened his mouth to speak, but she cut him off. “You might have had a stroke, so he is going to check you out. Case closed.”
Giles shook his head at her, but she ignored him and walked the paramedic team to the door. “Thank you,” she told him. “I’ll be certain he gets in to see someone.”
“Have a good day, ma’am,” the paramedic said. Then he motioned his partner to leave.
“You too. Thanks again,” Becca replied. She shut the door and walked back into the living room.
“It was no stroke,” Giles said once they were alone. “Nor anything else like that. Becca, when we fought the Presidium, I knew the instant Ethan disappeared into Vor – knew he was gone. I also knew he wasn’t dead, even though I no longer had a sense of his presence.”
“A sense of –”
“And I know that little episode I just had in the kitchen was very likely what Ethan was feeling on his return to this dimension.”
“Return? You’re saying Ethan is back?”
Giles nodded minutely.
“You’re telling me that Ethan is back and you…sensed it – what was happening to – do you mean to say that Willow was right all this time? That you and Ethan share some kind of link or…”
“It’s very simple,” he explained quickly, as he dialed Willow’s pager. “Ethan and I were close. And involved in magicks, deep magicks, some very dark. We came together as friends and mages. I don’t know how to explain it but…he’s here, somewhere.”
“Definitely a stroke,” Becca muttered.
Giles sighed. “It was not a stroke. Please, believe me. After the debacle with Eyghon and Randall’s death, I came to my better sense and left it all – and Ethan – far behind. But the magicks we used, not just on others but on each other, they left a sort of – what would you call it – a residue, let’s say.”
“No. Let’s say a link or force. Residue is something you find in your bathtub.”
“Becca. Really, there is no link or force holding us together. We’re not living in one of Andrew’s sci-fi movies, you know?”
“After that little speech, you coulda surprised me,” she replied. Giles sighed once again. “Just promise me you’ll see Dr. Miller. That’s all I ask, okay?”
Just then there was a knock at the door, and Becca walked over and opened it to find Kennedy standing there.
“Have you convinced him yet?” she quipped.
Becca smiled and called over her shoulder. “Cavalry’s here to collect you. Get your coat.” She motioned Kennedy inside and shut the door behind her. “How did you know?”
“Ro called over the radio, said I might have to use force to get him over to the Council,” she said. She extended her arms and cracked her knuckles. Giles walked around the corner with a slight grin. “Come on,” she said, balling her hands into fists. “I know I can take ya. Think of all those practices where I beat you up,” she said, making a jab toward him, but purposely missing.
Giles’s grin widened. “This really isn’t necessary,” he told her.
Becca was going to say something, but Kennedy put a hand on her shoulder and took a step closer to him.
“Ya got two choices,” Kennedy said, stuffing her other hand in her back pocket. “You walk out of here with me, or I carry you out. Again, your choice.”
Giles folded his arms across his chest. “And if I say no,” he asked with a growing smile.
“Then I just have to resort to plan C,” Kennedy replied.
“Which is?” Giles asked.
“Begging and guilt,” Kennedy said. “Please come with me,” she said sincerely, the humor now gone from her face. “If these two ladies aren’t enough reason to go, then come back for my sake and for other people at the Council who love you too. If it was something serious, then Dr. Miller might be able to help, and if it’s not, then you guys can visit everyone while you’re there. It’s a win-win situation. So what do you say? We’ll all grab lunch or something. I’ll even treat.”
Giles grinned. “Give us a few moments to get Elizabeth dressed,” he answered.
“Take your time,” Kennedy said.
As Giles walked toward the closet, Becca mouthed a “thank you” to Kennedy. The slayer simply nodded in return.
Watchers Council – Outside Willow’s Classroom – Later that Day
“Hey, Will,” Xander called out over the crush of students in the corridor. She turned to him, rubbing her forehead and grimacing in pain as he approached. “Disturbance in the Force?” he asked, noting her discomfort.
“No, the classroom,” she answered, motioning inside. Xander looked around her and saw a sullen Shannon seated off to one side, scraping something off the pages of one of her books.
“She’s turning into a handful, isn’t she?” he said.
Willow turned and called out to the girl, “Okay, Shannon, you can go on to your next class. And if Mrs. Monahan wants to know why you’re late, you tell her I’ll come by to talk to her this afternoon.”
Shannon abruptly stopped what she was doing, closed her book, scooped it up with the rest of her things, and hurried from the room. She said nothing on her way out and plowed between Willow and Xander like a linebacker, her books clutched close to her ribs.
“I have to talk to Dawn about that girl,” Willow sighed.
“Yeah, Will, uh, later for that, okay? Did you get Ro’s page?”
“Yes, but I almost had to break up a fistfight in there, so I didn’t call her back.”
Xander held up a hand. “Everything is cool now, but the paramedics were called to Giles’s house.” Willow’s face still registered fear. “He’s okay now. He was having trouble breathing, so Becca called 911. Robin, sharp tack that he is, noticed the call was Giles’s house and gave Ro the message. To make a long story short – too late, I know – Kennedy went and got Giles. Dr. Miller said everything’s fine. But Giles wants us in the Coven Room. He’s waiting now, as a matter of fact.”
“The Coven Room?”
“Yeah, he didn’t say what it’s about,” Xander explained, as he and Willow walked down the now-empty hallway. “So who was mixing it up in class today?”
“Three guesses,” Willow said.
“And the first two are Shannon and Lorinda.”
“Gotta get up real early to fool you.”
“That’s what they tell me.” Xander chuckled, as they made their way to the Coven Room.
Small Shack – Moments Later
Ethan shivered, hidden from view under a heavy, damp tarp that also concealed a great deal of firewood. Three men were searching inside the small shack where he had been brought back by the conjurors. The men were talking in stunned voices. He couldn’t make out their language, but it sounded Slavic.
The men exited the small building and began to lift and slap at the edges of the tarp. Ethan held his breath. One of them was within a footfall of him when another of the men on the opposite side of the tarp called out to the other two.
There was more talking, and then some laughter, before Ethan heard the unmistakable slosh of heavy liquid. Nearly flattening himself on the ground, he peered out from under the tarp to see one of the men enter the shack with a red and yellow plastic container. After a few seconds, the man came out again and splashed more liquid all around the exterior of the building. Then, another of them stuffed the top of the container with a handkerchief and set it ablaze with a couple of flicks of a cigarette lighter. The gas container was flung and the Molotov cocktail sailed into the shack.
Flames burst out of the doorway and burned fast and wildly, with a great many cracks and pops. Within a moment or two, sparks began to fly out from the walls and ceiling, as the little shed was engulfed in flames. One of the windows blew out violently from the surge of intense heat.
A shard of glass sliced through the air and impaled Ethan’s right foot. He bit down on his own tongue to keep from screaming in pain; the shard had gone deep. His foot bled heavily onto the muddy earth.
Another spray of sparks and embers shot from the building and ignited a piece of firewood sticking out from underneath the tarp mere inches from Ethan.
One of the men said something and began to pull the tarp off the woodpile. The others waved him off casually, and they began to leave. Ethan waited until they were far enough away before he dragged himself out from under the tarp and around the other side of the burning shed. Bleeding, cut, and now singed on the inside of one thigh, he moved painfully along on the ground, trying to find refuge.
There was a grassy area and some heavy bushes not far from the shack. He headed there.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
“So,” Giles said to Willow, “you can transport us all back, then? In one shot?”
Before she could answer, Xander said, “Wait a minute. Not that I don’t trust a feeling, but that’s not much to go on. Especially if it’s Ethan.”
“And what if it’s not?” Willow asked.
“It is,” Giles said calmly.
Willow and Xander traded a look.
“Look, I prefer not to have either of you tag along, truth be told. If anything is wrong with him, he may be a bit difficult, and I’d never forgive myself for putting you in harm’s way.”
“That’s a new one,” Xander said with a snort.
“He’s in trouble,” Giles said with certainty. “And Ethan in trouble can be extremely dangerous, unbelievably unpredictable, and well…frankly, also quite vulnerable. Helping him may take more than just me, so…”
“We’ll help, of course,” Willow said, and Xander nodded. “But what if it’s not Ethan, and just a trap? I mean, who brought him back? It sure wasn’t anyone we know. We’ve been trying for months.”
“And what if it is Ethan? Maybe he got himself back, and he’s just looking for some attention?” Xander said sourly. “Wouldn’t be the first time he’s sucked you into some game of his.”
“He’s always looking for attention,” Giles said evenly, “but this time he needs attention, which is quite a different turn. Are you both with me? I can go with only one, if either of you would rather remain behind,” he said, looking squarely at Xander.
“No, we’re with you,” Xander answered soundly.
“Right then, let’s be off. Willow, I’ve already done a locator spell, but you’d best do one yourself.”
“What about Becca and Elizabeth? Kennedy said they came too. They should be in the dining room with Faith,” Xander added.
“I’ll leave a note,” Giles said. Willow and Xander looked at Giles disapprovingly. “Please, I don’t have time for a debate. Not with her or you.”
Willow’s expression softened first. “Okay, Giles. You write. Xander, when he’s done, have someone take it to the dining hall. I’ll get everything together.”
Watchers Council – Study Hall – Moments Later
The study hall was filled with students, some intent on studying, others on talking and still others on combing their hair and painting their fingernails. Two or three were talking quietly and chewing gum, and another girl flipped idly through a fashion magazine.
V.O., Shannon: “To: Slayerson@yahoo.com. From: Sheena2@clevelandcouncil.org. Subject: Hi Again!”
“Hi Norm. Got to see him this morning. Well, not all of him. Just two black eyes staring at me. I think he’s been nervous about coming out in the open lately. Don’t know why.”
Unfazed by the activity around her, Shannon typed away on her laptop.
V.O., Shannon: “Can’t wait to visit. Got something really great to show you that my grandfather left me. Nobody knows, not even my parents, and I’m only telling you. You’re gonna freak, but I’m keeping it until I find out how much it’s –”
“Hi,” Dawn said, quietly.
Shannon stopped typing and quickly closed her laptop. She looked up, unsmiling, at Dawn.
“I’m springing you from this joint,” Dawn smiled. “C’mon.”
Shannon’s look turned resentful. She hesitated a moment and then scooped up her books, papers, and laptop. Dawn’s smile remained, but began to look forced. She slowly turned and walked toward the door.
Shannon followed, far behind. As Shannon walked between the rows of desks, Lorinda casually stretched her arms above her head and her legs out across the narrow aisle, forcing Shannon to either stop or step over them. Shannon stopped and glanced back at the study-hall teacher, who was busy grading papers. She looked at the doorway and saw Dawn had already exited.
Lorinda raised a single eyebrow at Shannon at Shannon, daring her to pass. The room began to quiet as the students realized there was a standoff between the two girls. Shannon turned to go back up the aisle and take another route from the classroom. As soon as she did, another slayer – one of Lorinda’s friends, CeCe – put her legs out across the aisle, too, and laughed silently. Shannon was snared.
She gave Lorinda a hard look and prepared to drop her heavy books on the girl’s legs.
“Shannon?” Dawn’s voice startled the students.
Both Lorinda and CeCe pulled their legs in quickly.
Dawn stood in the doorway at an angle and only saw Shannon staring Lorinda down. “Shannon!”
Shannon walked slowly past Lorinda, staring hard at her until she had passed. Then she proceeded to the door and Dawn.
“What was all that in there?” Dawn asked, after they had walked a little way in silence.
“That was quite a look Lorinda got for nothin’,” Dawn pressed. “Want to tell me abou –”
“No. I don’t want to tell anybody anything. What do you want me for? Am I in trouble again?”
Dawn stopped and opened her mouth once, then closed it. “No. Not again. Just…Willow told me you had a little incident with Lorinda in class today.”
Shannon snorted and looked away.
“And I thought, well, maybe it’d make you feel better to take a walk and talk about it a little. I remember when I was in school, there was this one girl who always used to call me –”
“Look. Thanks. I appreciate your taking an interest,” Shannon told her abruptly. “But I don’t need any help. I can handle my own stuff. Y’know?”
“I know,” Dawn said. “You’re a slayer, and slayers are really great…stuff-handlers. But even slayers need help someti –”
“NO! I don’t want your help! I don’t want anyone’s help! Okay? Leave me alone.”
“Shannon, if I’m going to be your wa –”
“You are not my watcher! Not EVER!”
Shannon turned to run down the corridor and bumped hard into a tall figure.
“Whoa!” the man’s deep voice cried in surprise, as Shannon’s books tumbled to the floor. She immediately held out two steadying hands, taking the man by both arms and holding him upright with slayer strength. She looked up to see Robin looking down sternly at her.
Small Shack – Moments Later
Xander teetered one way then the other. Willow put a hand out to steady him. “I think we left my stomach back in Cleveland,” he said.
“Shh!” Giles cautioned. “We don’t know who else might be about…nor quite where to look,” he realized.
“Giles,” Willow said, “I’ll just do another locator spell. And where exactly are we?” She looked around, taking in the smoldering remains of what looked like a tool shed, a badly burned tarp and a smoking pile of half-burned firewood beneath it.
“Uh…guys…” Xander began.
“I think, from the look of it,” Giles replied, “that we may be in Europe…”
“Eastern Europe, perhaps…”
“Judging from the general terrain and –”
“And the naked guy standing near the bushes?” Xander said.
Willow and Giles turned to look in the direction Xander was facing, just in time to see Ethan crumple and fall to the ground.
Watchers Council – Grounds – Same Time
Shannon burst from the building at a dead run and tore across the field before Dawn had reached the doorway.
“Let her go,” Robin said, coming up slowly behind her.
Dawn said nothing, but watched Shannon disappear over the rise on a course toward the woods. Finally, she turned to Robin and held up her hands in frustration.
“Her watcher died,” Robin said sympathetically. “Her new best friend, Norman, had to leave, and she hasn’t seen him in months. Her grandfather died over Christmas from a heart attack, and Lorinda is getting to her more easily.”
“And I don’t know all this?” Dawn asked. “What are you saying?”
“That having her start a new slayer-watcher relationship now is hard enough. I wouldn’t complicate it by forcing a new friendship on her as well. Even Giles didn’t try to be Buffy’s friend.”
Dawn’s mouth opened, and her expression grew dark. Then she thought for a moment and sighed. “So, what do I do?”
“Give her some space. You’re trying too hard.” He smiled at Dawn. “You want to be the best watcher you can be for her. She’s going to need that and more from you. And you’ll get there. Just don’t crowd her so much. Put enough space between you, and she’ll be coming to you before you know it.”
“You really should be doing this,” Dawn said dejectedly. “She likes you better, she responds to you better, she listens to you. She should have what’s best for her. And if it’s not me, then I’ll be the first to say I shouldn’t have been chosen for the job.”
Robin chuckled gently and nodded. “That’s exactly why you were,” he told her.
Watchers Council – Grounds – Moments Later
Shannon ran and ran, but slowed as she approached her destination, a thicket outside the woods. She loped along and eventually pulled up near the yellow plastic bowl. She walked in a circle until she caught her breath, then shivered. She had no coat on.
Shannon sat down next to the empty bowl and leaned back against a large boundary-marking boulder left by the property’s former owners. She breathed in the icy air and let it out in great breaths. Then she saw the dead carcass of the rabbit a few feet from the bowl.
“Ohhh…” she groaned aloud. “You gotta stop doing that!” Nothing stirred around her. Even the wind was still. “I’ll try to bring you more food…” she said, almost inaudibly.
Suddenly, she went on alert. Something made her nerves tense up. She looked toward the thicket. “Hey,” she said quietly, slowly. “How are you?”
“It’s okay, I’m not coming in,” she said conversationally. “You know, you gotta stop killing so much. I’ve been bringing you as much food as I can without making them suspicious, and besides, you’re not even killing to eat. You’re just…leavin’ ’em all shredded all over the place. If you keep on doing this, they’re gonna figure out that there’s really no more Shadow Demons. And then they’re gonna hunt for you.” She sighed and shivered. “I can protect you,” she said, more quietly, “but not from all of them. So please…stop killing everything, and I promise to bring you more food.”
Shannon quieted for a few moments and shivered some more against the cold. And then she saw them: two dark eyes, hollow and fixed, staring directly at her from just within the brambles of the thicket.
“Hi,” she said gently. “I knew you were there. Don’t you want to come out anymore?” She smiled and looked calmly back at the dark eyes. After many long minutes had passed, the eyes suddenly disappeared as the branches danced and rustled.
She waited a few more moments, got to her feet, and picked up the yellow bowl. “See you tomorrow,” she said quietly and walked back to the Council.
Bushes Near Small Shack – Same Time
“He’s in really bad shape,” Xander said, as he and Giles half-lifted Ethan off the ground.
Giles rested Ethan against Xander, then took his own coat off and draped it over the injured mage. “Get us back to the Council, Willow,” he said.
Willow nodded and began to work on the teleportation.
Giles felt the headiness and nausea that usually accompanied the time-space transfer and spoke to Xander sluggishly. “We shouldn’t tarry here. Whoever did this – brought him back and caused all this injury – is not anyone we want to be encountering. Especially since we don’t quite know where we –”
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Same Time
“—are.” Giles shook his head as he found himself and the others on the floor in the Coven Room.
Xander stood up and shook off some of his own wooziness. “You okay?” he asked Giles, who remained on the floor holding Ethan.
“Yes, yes. Fine. Help me get him to Doctor Miller. Uh, just a moment.” He fumbled inside the coat still draped over Ethan, who now moaned in semi-conscious pain.
Giles found his cell phone and hastily turned it on. He hit the key for Becca, and while Xander and Willow propped Ethan into a sitting position, he spoke into the phone. “Yes, we’re back. We’re all right, though Ethan’s a bit worse for wear. No, no, not life threatening, but not good, either. We’re taking him to the infirmary. Don’t worry anymore. We’re all absolutely fine.”
There was a pause, and then in a very gentle and affectionate tone, Giles said quietly, “Yes, I do, too. Both of you. I’ll see you shortly.” He snapped the cell phone shut and looked over to see Willow and Xander smiling at him.
“Makes you feel all warm and fuzzy,” Willow said, as Xander grinned in agreement.
“Ohhh…” Ethan groaned. “You have no idea,” he said groggily, “just how warm and fuzzy he is…or where…” Ethan’s head lolled to one side, then dropped down.
“Well,” Willow said, looking at Giles, “to hell and back and all banged up, but he still doesn’t miss a beat, does he?”
“I’ll hate myself for saying so,” Giles replied as he and Xander lifted Ethan, “but I’d be disappointed in him if he did.”
Willow turned to Giles. “Where are we going to keep him after he gets up and about? We’ve got the guest quarters here,” she offered. “I don’t think he’ll be a threat.”
“I agree,” Giles answered. “And he’s welcome to stay with me and Becca, if he likes.”
“Staying with the old folks at home,” Ethan said, mustering a grin. “Now there entails some possibilities.”
Giles rolled his eyes. “We’ll just have a place at both and he can pick and choose.” Ethan looked like he was going to say something and Giles held up his hand. “Please, not another word. You need your rest…and we already need a rest from you.”
Willow leaned over and took Ethan’s hand in hers.
“I searched for you, y’know? Days, weeks, months even,” she told him.
Ethan gently squeezed Willow’s hand. “At least someone here missed me,” he said, casting a look over to Giles.
“Bloody hell,” Giles sighed.
Watchers Council – Slayer Dorms – Moments Later
Shannon returned to the Council dormitory instead of classes. She entered the room she shared with the other girls in her section and looked immediately at her dresser. Her baseball cards were still stacked where she had left them after picking them all up earlier in the morning. She put them quickly into a zip-lock bag and brought them to her footlocker.
As Shannon opened the locker, a thought occurred to her. Moving a few things around until she reached the bottom, she uncovered an old, wooden cigar box with a tiny metal latch. The smell of tobacco, her grandfather’s blend, still emanated from it. She opened it up.
Inside were a variety of items: a small, pearl-handled pocket-knife; an old, wooden poker chip strung on a long, brown cord; an age-worn deck of Bicycle playing cards; a yellowed and brittle letter from 1948; and a single card with a baseball player’s image on it.
Shannon sighed in relief to find the box and its contents intact. She looked at everything in turn. She opened the knife and tested it on one of her hairs – still razor-sharp. She shuffled the deck of cards smoothly and effortlessly, then glanced at the letter. It was addressed to “Momma and Daddy” and announced that their son was coming home from the war; it was signed by Shannon’s grandfather.
She picked up the old poker chip by its cord and watched it turn one way and the other as it dangled before her. She frowned at it and set it aside.
Finally, she lifted the baseball card out of the box. She had looked at it many times since her grandmother had given the cigar box to her at her grandfather’s funeral. “These were your granddad’s things that he wanted you to have,” her grandmother had told her. “Probably not worth much, if you ask me, but still, he wanted you to have them.”
Shannon held the Mickey Mantle baseball card in front of her. It was like new. She turned it over and inspected it, even though she had memorized practically all the stats on the back. Then she put it carefully back in the box with the other items – save one – closed the box and hid it well below everything else in her footlocker.
Standing up, she again held up the poker chip on its cord. “Well,” she said aloud to her departed grandfather, “if everyone around here can believe in magic, I can believe in your good luck charm.” She put the poker chip on around her neck, closed the footlocker and went around to the side of her bed where she sat, then lay down, then curled up to rest before her patrol that evening.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Night
“He’s stabilized, but we’ll have to keep an eye on that foot,” Dr. Miller said, indicating the sleeping Ethan at the nearby bed in the Council infirmary. “How are you doing?” he asked Giles, with a hint of concern.
“Fine. Is there anything else you can tell us?” Giles asked.
“That was quite a piece of glass he had lodged in there. But it’s that second-degree burn on the inner thigh that’s going to cause him the most discomfort. It’s in a hell of a spot. It’ll heal, but he’s going to feel it for a good while.”
Giles nodded. “How much longer will he be out?”
“For the rest of the night, I hope. I gave him something to make him sleep and a low dose of morphine.”
“Well, please let me know as soon as he wakes up. Willow and I both agree he’s not an immediate danger to anyone. At least, not magically. I can’t vouch for anyone’s safety if he starts talking.”
“Ah! Mr. Giles. Speaking of magic,” Dr. Miller said, as if he had just remembered something, “I did want to show you something. They’re odd markings, and I wouldn’t even have noticed them myself. But the nurse was assisting in cleaning him up, and she saw them. Here, give me a hand, and we’ll turn him on his side.”
Willow looked on as Dr. Miller and Giles rolled Ethan onto his left side and steadied him there. The doctor parted the hospital gown. Willow drew a quick breath. From the base of Ethan’s neck to the end of his tailbone, and across the entire surface of his back, were black symbols and rune-like markings.
“I examined them more closely,” Doctor Miller said. “I had hoped they were nothing more than a fancy set of tattoos, but they’re actually almost…embossed, or etched –”
“No,” Giles said. “Those aren’t tattoos.”
The doctor looked at Giles for a moment. “You’ve seen these marks before?” he asked.
“Not these ones, no,” Giles replied, tracing the main set of markings with his first and second fingertips. “But I’m quite familiar with the marks of demons, witches and…other things.”
“Does this mean he’s under someone’s power?” the doctor asked, sounding a bit nervous. “Someone evil?”
Giles was looking grimly at the marks, his hand having come to rest at the small of Ethan’s back.
Giles looked up. He sighed at the frightened medic. “Well, even if he is, he’s safe here,” he said, lowering Ethan into his original position. “And so are we. Willow’s protection spell over him will protect him from any hostile threat.”
“What if it’s something her protection spell can’t recognize?” Dr. Miller asked bluntly.
“Well, not to worry. Contrary to how it may seem, I have a great deal of control over Ethan.”
Willow snorted and looked away, smirking.
“I’ve just never bothered exerting it,” Giles finished, with a sidelong look in her direction.
A commotion from the outer office caught everyone’s attention. The nurse came into the infirmary ahead of Kennedy and then Vi, who carried a limp and groaning slayer in her arms. One of the girl’s arms flopped against Vi’s hip. Her other arm was bent and her hand clutched to her chest.
“Shannon!” Willow cried. “What happened? Ken?”
“Vampire bite,” Kennedy answered. “Bad one, almost sucked her dry.”
“Bring her this way,” Doctor Miller led Vi into the emergency area.
“Let’s prep a transfusion,” Doctor Miller told the nurse.
“Kennedy,” Giles called the slayer off to the side. Willow came up alongside. “How did this happen?”
“She wasn’t paying attention. She hasn’t been lately, y’know? I’ve been on her case for a couple of weeks – she just doesn’t think! I give an order, and she’s all ‘yes ma’am’ and then goes and does something else. Like tonight. I told them to buddy up, cubs with senior slayers. Her buddy turned around, and the next thing she knows, Shannon’s gone.” Kennedy shook her head.
Giles motioned the two women outside the door, allowing the doctor and nurse to do their work.
“Who was her buddy?” Willow asked.
Ken nodded toward Vi, who stood looking worriedly on as Dr. Miller and the nurse tended the young girl.
“Where did this happen?” Giles asked.
“Near the woods,” Kennedy answered. “We found another couple of dead animal carcasses all torn up over the past day or so. They seemed to lead to or from the woods, so we spread out in that area. Then Shannon split from Vi and…I don’t think she even had a chance to scream. It’s like that vamp caught her completely by surprise. She was damn lucky that Vi found her while the vamp was still in the act of feeding, or she’d be –”
“The vampire was staked?” Giles cut off her comment.
“Yeah. Must’ve been newly risen. He was full of dirt, Vi told me.”
Vi came out of the room and joined them quietly.
“You okay?” Willow asked.
“It wasn’t your fault,” Kennedy said. “You know she’s been all over the place lately. She was just lucky it was you she buddied with. Anyone else probably wouldn’t have found her as fast or handled it as well.”
Willow patted Vi earnestly on the arm.
“I’d like to stay put and make sure she’s all right,” Vi told Kennedy.
Kennedy nodded. “Yeah. Yeah, I think this put enough of a scare into everyone else to keep ’em in line and on their toes tonight. Stay here and keep me posted. And let Dawn know what happened.”
As they spoke, Dr. Miller began to prep Shannon for a blood transfusion. Her shirt had been replaced by a hospital gown.
“What on earth is this?” Dr. Miller asked, prying the moaning girl’s hand from her chest. She clutched something that hung from her neck tightly in her fist. Uncurling her fingers with effort, he saw an odd pendant – an old, wooden poker chip. “Nurse,” he called, and the woman lifted the cord from around Shannon’s neck. “I’ll put it back on her when we’re done,” she told the doctor. He nodded and started the transfusion.
Dr. Wagner’s Office – Evening
Dr. Wagner sat behind her desk, while a vampire stood on her left. On the other side of the desk, directly across from her, sat Skye, looking impatient.
“Our master is not pleased,” Dr. Wagner began. Skye just rolled her eyes. “This is serious, young lady,” she chastised.
“I stopped being a young lady when my sire over there turned me,” Skye said, pointing to the man at Wagner’s left.
Wagner ignored her remark. “We specifically asked you to not bring attention to yourself, and what do you do? You blow up an apartment building!”
Skye chuckled. “You gotta give me points for creativity.” When Wagner didn’t share in her amusement, she added, “Besides, what was I gonna do, huh? Suck her dry and toss her in a dumpster? People saw me leave that bar with her. It had to look like a suicide.”
“That is no excuse!” Wagner shouted.
“The hell it’s not!” Skye countered, jumping to her feet. “You left me with no way to feed, and despite what he might think,” she said, pitching a thumb in the vampire’s direction, “human blood isn’t all that tasty. In fact, it’s downright gross. So how on earth am I supposed to eat, huh? Go to the pet store to buy puppies, instead? Do that enough and people will start to think I’m Cruella DeVille, except I won’t have a nice dog coat to show off.”
“We can provide you with blood, if you give us the information we need.”
“Did you stop to think when planning this little ‘get someone inside’ operation that you might have overlooked one important detail?”
“And what’s that?” Wagner asked.
“I don’t want to help you,” Skye said with a chuckle. “And you know what, I’m not gonna help you.”
“So you’ll side with the Council then? You somehow managed to lose your soul but keep your conscience?” Wagner asked incredulously.
Skye leaned forward, biting off her words very carefully. “Listen close…you two took my soul, took my life, and everything I had planned for my future, in one swoop. I didn’t ask for this undead existence. And as for a conscience, no, I don’t have one, thanks to you guys. But I do, however, have a mind. So this isn’t about picking sides. Truth be told, they’re just as incompetent as you folks are here. No, what I’m doing is ignoring everyone else from here on out, everyone except me. If I’m immortal, I’m gonna make the most of it, and I’m sure as hell not gonna be anybody’s lapdog.”
She and Dr. Wagner looked into each other’s eyes for several seconds. Without saying anything further, Skye got up and began to walk from the room.
“We can take away the glamour,” Dr. Wagner mentioned casually. “She would find out then. In fact, they all will, eventually. And then what?”
Skye turned around. “At this point, lady, I don’t give a damn. Do what you think you have to, because nobody owns me.” She had turned back to the door when Dr. Wagner called out again.
“We can take Dawn away, then,” she added.
Skye’s angry face morphed in vamp form for a moment, but she took a deep breath and returned to her human form. She slowly turned around and walked back to Dr. Wagner’s desk, putting both palms flat against it.
“If you, or anyone you know, so much as touches a hair on her head…”
“Yes?” Dr. Wagner asked smugly.
Without warning, Skye picked up a pencil from the desk and hurled it at the man standing at the edge of the desk. The projectile pierced his heart and, instantly, her sire turned to dust. Dr. Wagner’s eyes went wide, and Skye reached over the desk and pulled the doctor’s face inches away from hers. “You’ll meet the same fate as him,” Skye growled, “but it won’t be near as quick. Do we understand each other?”
Dr. Wagner didn’t answer. Skye pushed her back down into her chair and turned away once more.
“This is your last chance. They’ll never let you stay once I remove the glamour,” Dr. Wagner warned in a faltering voice. “What will you do then?”
Skye continued to walk but spoke over her shoulder. “Then I’d better make my departure worth it.”
End of Act One