Watchers Council – Grounds – Moments Later
Shannon ran hard, gulping down painful breaths of icy air. She crossed into the glade and made her way to the thicket. Looking around, she spotted the most recent bowl of uneaten food she had left on the ground. She picked it up and flung the contents out, then threw the bowl into the brambles. She unzipped her coat and clutched the wooden poker chip around her neck.
“Please…” she said aloud, “I have to find him.”
She struck into the thicket, passed through it quickly, and came out into the woods. Moving without hesitation, she made her way toward the familiar den she had been visiting since September.
“Please, let him be there, let him be there…”
She picked her way expertly, her feet familiar with the terrain, and in a few moments, she arrived at the den. She stood still, listening, and heard the harsh, rattling sound of troubled breathing. She got down on all fours and peered into the den. The stench of blood, urine, and infection made her turn her face and retch.
She peered back in, and slowly the shadowy form of the animal became discernable in the darkened hole. It tried to raise its head to snarl at her, but only succeeded in coughing up blood and mucus. Shannon slid in on her stomach. The animal was too weak to move.
“Listen,” she said, opening the plastic bag and removed the tender pieces of chicken, “I know you’re hurt. But you have to eat. You have to get better. They’re gonna come looking for you. You gotta eat this,” she said, carefully pushing some chicken toward the animal. “And be quiet, as quiet as you can be.”
The animal did quiet, recognizing her voice, but bared its teeth at her just the same. Shannon thought for a moment, then struggled with her coat. She unzipped it completely and, still lying on her stomach in the cramped den, she twisted her arms behind her and worked herself out of it. She shivered only a little. The den was close, and almost warm enough. Slowly she brought the coat forward. The animal snarled and tried to snap, but she waited for it to calm and then moved the coat forward, a little at a time, until she was close enough to drape it over him.
“If you’re well enough to snap at me, you’re well enough to eat,” she said firmly, pushing the rest of the chicken toward the animal. It stopped snarling, its upper lip trembling above bare, yellow teeth and black gums. Shannon hesitated, swallowed and pushed the chicken very close to its mouth. Then she slowly drew her hand away and sighed in relief.
“Look, I’ll-I’ll try to bring Ethan. He’ll know what to do. But you gotta eat. Please eat.” She looked long and hard at the animal. Slayer senses still on alert, she realized the patrol was approaching the woods. “I have to go,” she told the animal, as she started to squirm from the den. “I’ll bring Ethan.”
Suddenly, she grabbed at the cord around her neck and squirmed back toward the animal. It snarled, but did not try to snap at her this time. “It’s okay,” she said gently. “It’s okay. I’m not gonna hurt you. It’s really okay…”
Gingerly, she brought the cord with the wooden poker chip over the animal’s neck and took great care in slipping it under its head. She grazed its injured ear and the beast wailed, but it did not bite her. “I’m sorry,” she told the panting form, as she released the cord. Her grandfather’s lucky wooden poker chip was securely hung around the great animal’s neck. “I didn’t mean to hurt your head,” she said. “But you need this old poker chip a lot more than I do.” Then, without thinking, she reached out and tenderly stroked the matted fur on the animal’s neck.
He lifted his head up so fast that she didn’t have time to think. She pulled her hand back just in time and felt teeth graze the backs of her fingers.
Shannon wasted no more time in squirming out of the den and heading back to the Council, avoiding the slayer patrol that was moving toward the area.
In the den, the animal smelled the food on the ground. It opened its mouth and lapped at the chicken with its long tongue. Catching a piece, it wolfed it down without a single chew. It did this every few minutes until all of the chicken was gone. Then it shuddered and curled up under the heavy woolen coat. Hidden completely from sight, it fell into exhausted sleep.
Watchers Council – Library – A Short Time Later
Robin yawned and stretched. He rubbed his eyes and looked out the library window onto the ice-encrusted grounds, watching them glistening in the moonlight. A shadow seemed to move in the distance, and he rubbed his eyes again. The shadow was getting closer. He watched until he realized it was one of the girls. He was about to call in an alert when he recognized Shannon coming in toward the Council. As quickly as he could, he got to his feet and hurried down to the ground floor.
Watchers Council – Slayer Wing – Same Time
Shannon swiped her key-card and the corner door opened. She quickly shut it behind her and started swiftly down the hallway toward the dorms.
She stopped at the sound of Robin’s voice. She turned to face him as he limped up to her.
“What are you doing out – where’s your coat?”
Robin stepped closer, concerned. “Are you okay? You look like you’ve been in a fight or…”
Shannon looked down at her filthy clothes and absently touched her hair. “I thought I dropped something, and I went outside to look for it,” she lied. A brown, crinkled leaf fell from her hair. “Guess I forgot to put on my coat.”
“Did you forget to tell your watcher, too?”
“He isn’t here ye – oh. You mean Dawn.” She smiled and held her hands out. They were muddy and scraped.
“What’s going on, Shannon?” Robin asked quietly.
Shannon thought fast. “I-I just hate being suspended, y’know? I wanted to see where the patrol was going tonight, and I just went outside and followed them for a while. Sorta hid. But it’s cold. So I came back.”
Robin looked at her.
“You don’t believe me, do you?”
“Why don’t we go talk to Dawn. She’s –”
“She’s not my watcher,” Shannon snarled. “And neither are you! No one is. Peter is my watcher!”
“Peter’ll always be my watcher!” She turned and started down the hall.
“And I’ll always be your friend. And friends help each other.”
Shannon slowed and stopped. She half-turned, looking back at him uncertainly.
“Let me help you, Shannon.”
But Shannon set her face, turned on her heel, and walked off down the hallway and out of sight.
Watchers Council – Ethan’s Guest Quarters – Later
Ethan stood with his back to the full-length mirror on his bedroom door. In his right hand he had a hand-held mirror, which he tilted at various angles in order to see the markings on his back that he’d brought back from Vor. He frowned at them and brought his left hand up and over his right shoulder, feeling their beveled quality.
A sudden series of knocks startled him into dropping the mirror. It landed softly on the carpet.
He called out, “Who is it?”
There was a sigh from the other side, then, “The Little Blue Slayer?”
“Oh – uh, just a minute, please.”
He put on pajamas, slippers and a long bathrobe. When he finally opened the door, Shannon was sitting on the floor with her back to the wall, picking dirt out from under her fingernails. She didn’t acknowledge Ethan.
Ethan smiled slightly and looked out across the hall. “Oh, she’s gone,” he said blandly, and began to close the door.
The slayer stopped the door’s progress with her hand. “Ha-ha, real funny,” she said, getting up and walking into the living room.
Ethan left the door open and stood by it, arms folded.
“I have to talk to you,” she said seriously. She ran her hand along the top of the couch and sat down.
“Change your mind about our agreement?” Ethan asked.
She looked over at the end table and saw the Mickey Mantle card on it. Ethan walked over to the opposite end of the couch. “You still have it?” Shannon asked him. “I thought you were gonna sell it for the money to –”
“I agreed to do the job in exchange for the card and what it could fetch me. I’ll cash it in after the work’s done. If it’s done.”
“But you said –”
“I said I would reimburse you or give you the card back if the work wasn’t done. I said I don’t take payment for things I don’t do. How on earth do you think I’ve managed to live so long in the circles I frequent? Good diet and exercise?”
Shannon looked wistfully at the card, then shook her head.
“And now that we’ve cleared all that up,” Ethan said, taking her by the arm and making her stand, “thank you for stopping by. And please, let’s not do it again.”
She pulled her arm away. “Wait! When you do it – when you bring Peter back – will he…?” She swallowed and tried again. “Will he be like…?”
“Will he be like what?” Ethan asked.
She didn’t reply.
“Samantha,” he began.
“Right. Do you know what it means to resurrect someone?”
“Yeah.” He simply looked at her. Shannon sighed heavily. “It means you bring someone back to life.”
“Back to life…now that’s an interesting turn of phrase, isn’t it? Back to life? Actually, a resurrection is more like bringing life into a dead body. Now, you might think that would be very specialized work, wouldn’t you?”
Shannon rolled her eyes.
“Good. I see you’re following me. And sometimes, Sharon –”
“Sometimes…” He knelt down in front of her until he looked directly into her eyes. His face was set and serious. “…sometimes, even the best of us get it wrong.”
“Like with –”
“Don’t,” he said sharply, bringing his hand up, “mention Buffy. Willow Rosenberg is a very adept witch, but her success in resurrecting the Slayer was beginner’s luck, and not the act of a skilled and practiced –”
“But you said before that there’s no such thing as luck – only magic.”
“True,” Ethan said, sitting back on his heels. “And there are always risks with magic. No matter how innocuous or simple a spell or charm may be.”
She looked at him, not understanding.
“Listen, you know the Wiccan Rede. It’s that sort of –”
“The Wiccan Rede.”
“So what if they read? What does that have to do with –?”
Ethan groaned. “Don’t they teach you anything besides pop-goes-the-vampire in this place? The Wiccan Rede is a…well, it’s a belief that what you impose on the universe comes back to you.”
“Oh! I know what you’re talking about. Willow was telling us something about it in class. It’s kinda like ‘what goes around comes around.’ Right?”
Ethan stared at her for a moment, then chuckled earnestly. “Couldn’t have said it better myself.”
“Do you think that’s true?” Shannon asked. “That what goes around does come around? That people really get what they have coming to them?”
“I certainly hope not.”
“But then where does luck come in?”
“Luck – there is no such –”
“Yeah. Yeah there is. That card proves it!” She pointed at the Mantle baseball card.
“Tell me,” he said smoothly, “where did you find it, anyway?”
“Didn’t find it. It was my grandfather’s. He passed it down to me when he died…this Christmas.”
“I see. And he got it…?”
“He won it from a guy in a poker game. He was wearing his lucky poker chip, and that’s how he won the card. He used to show me the card when we’d go visit him, and he said one day it would belong to me.”
“It doesn’t any more, now, does it?” Ethan asked.
Shannon turned her head away and blinked rapidly several times.
Ethan rolled his eyes. “Bugger,” he muttered, and produced something with a wave of his hand. Shannon looked over and saw him approach her holding out a gaudy handkerchief of purple, red, and gold. “Now, now,” he said flatly. “Dry your tears.”
“I’m not cry –” Shannon no sooner opened her mouth to speak than the conjured handkerchief flew up and covered her entire face. She grabbed it to remove it, but it was as though it were glued tightly to her skin.
“Hnnnff!” her muffled cry came from behind the smothering cloth. She began to tear at it, but it wouldn’t budge or rip.
“Hold on!” Ethan said, getting to his feet.
Shannon stood up and began to move about, struggling with the handkerchief. Unable to see through it, she stepped awkwardly to her right and upset an open bottle of scotch on the end table.
Ethan watched with dread as the bottle tipped over and the liquid gold spilled from it. The first splash missed the baseball card, but the scotch was now running toward it. Ethan rushed past the young slayer and scooped the card off the end table just as the scotch ran over the spot.
He slipped the card into his bathrobe pocket. “Hold still, stop mucking about!” he growled, grabbing her arm. Quickly, he waved his hand, and the handkerchief disappeared in a puff of noxious smoke.
Shannon coughed and gave him an angry glare.
“What? I told you I was no good at clothes,” he said.
“Or accessories,” Shannon shot back.
“And where was your lucky poker chip then, eh?” he smiled, having scored the last point.
Shannon looked guiltily up at him. “I…it’s…I don’t..”
Ethan peered at her as his smile faded. He looked at her neck and saw that the brown cord was no longer around it. Lifting his dark eyes to hers again, he asked, threateningly, “Where?” She looked down and didn’t answer. He grabbed her arm again. “What have you done with it?”
“I-I loaned it to someone. I came here to tell you that I gave it to –”
“You stupid girl!” Ethan cried, glaring at her. Shannon blinked, stunned.
Ethan let go of her arm and collected himself. “Whom,” he said, with quiet intensity, “did you give it to?”
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Evening
The emergency door to the infirmary crashed open as the stretcher, pushed by two slayers, rolled through it squeakily. Doctor Miller had turned on some of the lights, and he and the nurse were preparing for the worst.
“Hurry up!” Kennedy barked, as the slayers rolled the injured slayer quickly into the triage area.
“My god,” Doctor Miller whispered when he saw the damage to the throat of the girl on the stretcher.
“No pulse, Doctor,” the nurse said.
Doctor Miller began CPR on the injured slayer. After a few moments without success, he pulled out the paddles, and the nurse turned on the machine.
“Clear!” he called, and pressed the paddles to the girl’s chest. Her limp body jumped as the current surged through it. “Again,” he told the nurse. “Clear!” And again the body jumped.
“C’mon, Connie,” Kennedy said, as she and the others watched from the windows. “C’mon!”
But the heart monitor still showed a flat line.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Same Time
“So then I placed a charm on that old poker piece of hers,” Ethan was explaining. Giles looked over to where Shannon sat on the couch some distance away across the lobby, looking around nervously.
“You put a charm on –”
“It’ll wear off, eventually. It’s fairly harmless. But it works like this: if you have desires, it fulfills a few random ones. Makes it seem like luck. Otherwise, that poker chip is just a useless –”
“And now she’s gone and given it to the dog!” Giles glared at Ethan.
“Look, she already said she gave it to him because he’s hurt. She didn’t know the piece was charmed, and I doubt she’d have given it to him if she did know.”
“You think I’m angry with her?” Giles said.
Suddenly, Shannon stood next to them, looking pale and scared. “Do you mean anything I want to happen does because of a charm you put on my grandfather’s lucky poker chip?”
The two men turned sharply towards her. “Yes,” Ethan explained. “A random selection of the wearer’s conscious desires. All that luck you think you’ve been having is just a manifesta – uh, the ‘coming true’ of some of your simple desires.”
“When you asked to see it, that’s when you did it,” Shannon said, realizing. “You held onto it and looked at it, and that’s when you put the charm on it. But it’s mine. It only works for me, right?”
“Only as long as you wear it. Technically, it works for the wearer. So if you give it to someone else, then some of the things they desire…”
“Dammit, Ethan!” Giles said under his breath.
“I didn’t tell her she should give it away!” Ethan looked helplessly into Giles’s angry face. “Who would have thought she’d do something like that?”
Giles glared at him for a moment. “Of course, Ethan,” he hissed. “You’re right. Who would have thought. Shannon, can you lead us to the animal – to its hiding place, or right to him?”
Shannon looked down. “Yes, but –”
“Good. I’ll call Rowena and –”
“No.” Ethan’s tone was hard. “I’m not prepared to take this on tonight.”
“No one’s asking you to,” Giles said curtly. “In fact, you’d better stay out of it.”
“You can’t kill him,” Shannon said softly. “He’s hurt. He’s hungry, and he needs help. If we can just catch him and put him somewhere…maybe we could build a dog kennel for him. Then I could see him and –”
“Shannon,” Giles said, firmly, “the animal’s a killer. He’s going after bigger prey. And now that he’s got Ethan’s charm, anything his injured animal psyche desires will happen.”
“Not anything,” Ethan protested. “I charmed it so that only random desires would come to fruition. Not all.”
Giles looked at him angrily.
“I get it,” Shannon said. “Only some stuff would happen, because if all the stuff I wanted came true, it wouldn’t seem like luck.”
Giles saw Becca walking up to the group. “Shannon, why don’t you go with Becca for a while?” Giles said.
“C’mon, Shannon, let’s go look in on the baby. She’s getting big, you know…” Becca led the girl out of the lobby. Shannon looked back over her shoulder at Ethan, who gave her a reassuring look in return.
“Why?” Giles asked bluntly.
“Because…the child was forlorn, Ripper. She was alone, troubled. She reminded me a bit of y –” Giles glare cut Ethan’s remark off. “Look,” Ethan continued, “she needed to believe in that stupid poker chip. In something magical. A little bit of glimmer in that wretched slayer’s life she’s leading.”
“And thanks to you she’ll have far less glimmer and a lot more wretchedness.” Giles moved toward the intercom.
“What are you going to do?” Ethan asked.
Giles hit the button on the phone, and a vexed Rowena answered. “Rowena, Giles here. I have to ask you to call in whatever slayers you have out tonight and to call a meeting of the Council heads. I’ll explain when –”
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Office – Same Time
“Giles, I’ve already called them in,” Rowena said hurriedly. “One of them’s in emergency right now – Connie. She had her throat torn open by this thing. She’s alive, but barely. They’re going to have to airlift her to University Hospital. I’ve just been on the phone with the police and told them to give us twenty-four hours to track it and kill it before they send anyone in. Giles, I have to go. Let’s meet in the conference room in…one hour.”
Watchers Council – Lobby – Same Time
“I’ll be there,” Giles answered. He turned to Ethan. “Who would have thought,” he said disgustedly to the sorcerer.
Watchers Council – Grounds – Later that Night
The hunting party was small. Shannon, wearing a borrowed coat that hung well past her hands and knees, and Ethan were in the lead. “You can’t let them hurt him,” she said quietly. “He’s not as bad as he was before. I can talk to him and he listens and he doesn’t attack me. I can train him for you. I know I can. They don’t have to kill him…”
Giles walked not two paces behind them, grim-faced as he listened to the girl’s pleas to the sorcerer.
“Remember what we spoke about?” Ethan asked her quietly. “That sometimes a resurrection doesn’t work out right?”
“Well, I lied to you. It practically never does.”
Giles, surprised, listened more intently.
“But he’s just scared,” Shannon said. “He’s not evil.”
“Oh, it’s nothing to do with good or evil. Nor with what you or I want.”
Shannon drew a sharp breath. “Please, Ethan. Don’t let them hurt him.”
He looked down at her, into her blue eyes. “Don’t worry,” he said. “I won’t. I’ll not let them touch a hair.”
A worried look crossed Giles’s face as they walked down the far side of the rise.
Willow, Xander, and Vi followed a few yards behind.
“So,” Xander said, “in addition to the lucky charm around its neck, the dog’s got Ethan’s protection spells on him?”
“You got it,” Willow said.
“Great. Say, can you put your protections around us?” He indicated himself and Vi.
“Nope.” Willow smiled. “Already did.”
A small contingent of Black Ops, led by Kennedy and Faith, followed no more than a few steps behind them. Kennedy led the way, followed by Faith, her head on a swivel. The Black Ops team chattered behind her.
“…right through the heart. That way, the head’s intact.”
“Why do you want the head intact?”
“So I can mount it in my room, dummy…” Marissa replied.
“Hey,” Faith said, getting their attention. “We’ve already got a girl in the hospital because of this thing. Cut the jokes and look sharp.”
Watchers Council – Grounds – Moments Later
The group now stood around an empty the beasts’s empty den, watching Kennedy fish out a dirt-covered coat from inside. “This yours?” she asked Shannon sternly, holding up the garment.
“I thought you said it was hurt and sick,” Vi said.
“He is – or he was. I mean, he couldn’t move or breathe very well. I gave him some food. Some chicken…”
They were all staring at her, except for Ethan. He looked in all directions. “It’s the charm,” he said. “The desire for wellness. Probably brought about a speedy recovery. Or at least, enough of one so that he could regain his mobility.”
“That doesn’t make me happy,” Faith said. “All right, fan out. The first sign of him, you blow the whistle if you’re not carrying.” She looked at Ethan and Shannon, the only members of the party, besides Willow, who didn’t have any firearms.
“I’ll be with them,” Giles said.
“You know how to use one of those things?” Kennedy nodded skeptically toward the hunting rifle in Giles’s hands.
“He’s a crack shot,” Ethan said absently. “About as good as any of them,” he motioned his head toward the Black Ops slayers. Kennedy made a face at him, but he wasn’t paying any attention to her.
“All right,” Faith said, “let’s move.”
The Black Ops broke up into groups of three: one led by Kennedy and Faith, one by Vi and Xander and two others led by senior members of the unit. Willow struck out on her own.
Giles, Ethan and Shannon soon found themselves standing alone near the den. Ethan looked around at the ground and then sat down against a large tree.
“What are you doing?” Shannon asked.
“He’s not gonna come out. Not with everyone looking for him.”
“He will. You’ll see. He’ll come to me.”
Giles looked down at him, her face unreadable.
“Put the gun down, mate.”
“I’ll do no such thing. If you can’t manage him magically, you’ll feel damn fortunate that I’ve got –” He cut himself off. “Did you hear that?”
Ethan stood back up. “Rupert?” There was no other sound in the dark woods. “This could take a while,” Ethan then said, resuming his place at the base of the tree.
Watchers Council —Elsewhere on the Grounds – Same Time
“There!” a slayer cried, as another pulled her rifle into position. The animal stood, head down low and teeth bared, about twenty feet from them. The slayer took careful aim and fired.
Watchers Council —Rupert’s Den – Same Time
The sound of the shot cut through the night, and Shannon, huddled against the tree with Ethan, stood up quickly, her face grim. Sounds of yelling and then a whistle pierced the air from the northeast point of the woods. Shannon began to run toward the sounds, but Giles had already moved to her and caught her by the back of the over-large coat.
She turned to him. “You can’t keep me here,” she said.
“And you can’t help me with him if you leave,” Ethan said from where he sat. “Do you really think there’d be all that caterwauling if they’d killed him?”
In a few moments, the yelling died down, and several shots were fired from the north. More shrill whistles and more excited voices pierced the cold, night air. Kennedy’s voice crackled on Giles’s radio. “Giles!”
“Yes, go ahead.”
“He’s north of your position and heading your way. He’s been fired on twice, just a few minutes ago at close range. But we can’t hit him. He bit and dragged Jenna about thirty yards before he let go. And Karen’s leg’s been chewed pretty bad. I’ve sent them back, with a couple of the others.”
“It’s the charm or the protection spell,” Giles said. “That’s why you can’t hit him. How fast do you think he’s moving?”
“Ken!” Faith’s voice cut in, “I’m on my way, but you’re closer!”
“Almost there!” Kennedy responded.
Giles could hear the sounds of branches breaking as Kennedy raced through the woods.
Rowena’s voice cut in from the Council. “Giles, get you and your team out of there now!”
Giles looked up. “Too late,” he said quietly.
Before them stood the hairy, black beast. Its dark eyes were wild with rage and pain, its infected ear swollen and deformed and its black, heavy coat ragged and matted. Saliva drooled in long strands from its mouth, and it rocked back and forth a little as it heaved with the effort of breathing.
Ethan stood slowly. Shannon began to move toward the animal.
It lunged forward as Giles raised his gun.
Ethan put his hand out, and Giles hesitated as the animal stopped in its tracks and snarled viciously at the three of them. It bounced forward a few feet on stiff legs, half barking-half wheezing, its hackles up and madness in its eyes.
“It’s okay,” Shannon said shakily. Ethan looked down at her, then back at the animal. “It’s okay,” she said again, more calmly. “I – I brought you some more food.”
The animal held its ground, snarling, but no longer about to charge. Shannon reached into her oversized coat pocket and brought out a Pop Tart, the only thing she could lay her hands on quickly before they came out to the woods.
“Here,” she said, moving forward to offer it to him.
Giles’s eyes grew wide, but Shannon, with practiced moves, took a dainty step forward and laid the Pop Tart on the ground. Then she backed up to stand beside Ethan.
“Giles! Are you there?” Rowena’s voice sounded from the radio. The animal turned and growled deeply at Giles, then began to move menacingly in toward him.
Giles looked to his right at Ethan, but realized the mage was calling the dog, not him. The animal stopped for a second or two, then moved toward Giles again.
“Rupert. Stay.” Ethan’s voice was calm, almost serene.
“Ro,” Kennedy’s voice carried, both on the intercom and from within the trees nearby. “I’m here with them – oh, damn.”
Xander and Vi, along with their company, also arrived, while Rowena demanded to know what was happening over the radio.
“Ro, shut up,” Kennedy whispered. “You’re not helping. Just be quiet, okay?” The radio went immediately silent.
The animal backed up, away from the semi-circle of hunters. One of the Black Ops slayers took aim from the side. Shannon opened her mouth to cry out, but Ethan flicked a finger in the girl’s direction, and the rifle was knocked from the surprised slayer’s hands.
The animal snarled and snapped at the suddenness of it.
“Hold your fire,” Kennedy ordered quietly, as Faith arrived in the clearing and walked cautiously over to the group.
The animal continued to back up. Suddenly, Willow appeared just behind it. She raised her hands.
“NO!” Ethan cried and sent a blast of energy over the animal’s head. It hit Willow squarely in the chest and knocked her completely off her feet. She landed hard and flat on her back.
“Will!” Xander yelled and ran to her aid. Shannon began to run to the dog, but Giles grabbed Shannon by the arm, holding her back. The dog charged wildly at her.
“Bring him down!” Faith cried. The Black Ops slayers raised their weapons just as Shannon broke free of Giles and ran into the middle of the fray.
The guns fired almost in unison.
Ethan took one step forward, his hand high. The bullets all stopped in mid-air around Shannon and suddenly dropped to the ground, thudding and inert.
But the beast had leapt.
“Ru –” But Shannon’s cry was cut off, as the great beast’s teeth sank quickly into her throat.
Ethan motioned sharply with his entire arm, but nothing happened other than blood spurting from Shannon’s throat. The animal dragged her down and away from the others.
Ethan tried again to fling energy toward the animal. Again, he failed, his powers drained. Shannon gurgled while the dog pinned her to the ground and began to dance wildly around her, his teeth still clenching her throat.
A look of horror on his face, Ethan charged forward, before the others could move, and grabbed the animal from behind, grappling with it. Finally, he managed to slip his arm around the animal’s shaggy throat and pulled it back in a chokehold. Slayer hands joined the effort as the Black Ops abandoned their rifles, opting for brute strength against the beast. Ethan took advantage of the help and pried the animal’s mouth open, releasing Shannon. She rolled on the ground, clutching her throat.
“Get her home!” Kennedy shouted, and two of the girls began to lift her up. She punched one of them and elbowed the other hard, then gained her feet.
“Get out! Get out!” Ethan yelled at the Black Ops, and they backed off. He pulled back hard on the animal, and it turned on him savagely, knocking him off his feet and onto his back. He wrestled with it as it bit and squirmed, in a vain attempt to keep it away from the base of his throat.
Giles, aiming with great care, began to squeeze the trigger on his rifle, then stopped. The animal had stopped fighting. It seemed to have lapsed into exhaustion. Ethan took it by either side of the head.
Shannon, still holding her throat, tried to call out, “Ruper –”
A sudden crack cut her off. Rupert the Dog went limp in Ethan Rayne’s arms.
“No,” Shannon rasped once.
All was still as Ethan lifted himself into a sitting position, the dog cradled in his arms.
Shannon looked at him, disbelieving.
“Take her home,” Faith said softly to Kennedy.
“All right,” Kennedy said to the slayers, “let’s go. We’re done.” She walked up to Shannon and put a hand on the girl’s shoulder. “C’mon, you’re hurt.”
Shannon ignored her and walked over to Ethan. He held the dog’s muzzle tightly against his chest. The dog’s slack jaw and tongue hung oddly down, and its matted fur looked dead and straw-like.
Shannon stared at the sorcerer as he rocked the dead dog back and forth in his arms.
“You said,” she choked out, “you said you wouldn’t let anyone hurt him. You said. You promised.”
“I said they won’t hurt him. And I’ve kept my promise,” Ethan answered quietly. He stared vacantly into the distance.
Shannon shook her head, stunned.
“C’mon,” Kennedy said gently, putting her hand on the girl’s shoulder again. “Let’s go home. C’mon, little maggot…”
Shannon looked back searchingly into the elder slayer’s eyes. Kennedy slipped her arm around Shannon’s shoulders and led her and the rest of the team back to the Council.
“Willow? Answer me!” Rowena’s voice called faintly over the radio.
Faith, Xander and a slightly woozy Willow, leaning on him for support, watched as Giles knelt down close beside Ethan and the dog. Giles leaned slowly in until his arm rested against Ethan’s. He looked down at the limp dog and said nothing.
“I’m okay,” Willow replied blearily to Rowena. “We’re heading back now.”
Ethan, eyes still vacant, said quietly, “Kept my promise. My hands before all others.”
Giles looked at him then and put an arm around his shoulders.
Watchers Council – Slayer Dorms – Day
Shannon lat on her stomach across her bed, typing an e-mail on her laptop. She had a bandage around her neck where the dog had bitten her.
V.O., Shannon: “To: Slayerson@yahoo.com. From: Sheena2@clevelandcouncil.org. Subject: Can’t Wait.
“Hi, Norm! I can’t wait to get down to Atlanta. I don’t know why they’re even letting me come down to visit you after everything that happened, but they are.”
She stopped and touched the bandage around her neck, then continued typing.
Voiceover, Shannon typing: “Dawn found my grandfather’s lucky poker chip. Robin said she looked for it every day all this week out on her hands and knees. She finally found it under the leaves and stuff where Ethan killed Rupert. If I ever see Ethan again, I’ll kill him. But not before he does the job I asked him to. Anyway, Robin says I should thank Dawn, watcher or not, for finding my grandfather’s chip. So, I guess I’ll go and do that tonight. Talk to you later.”
Shannon clicked Send and waited a moment. Satisfied the e-mail was on its way, she closed her laptop and got up off the bed. As she turned to leave her dorm room, Lorinda and a few of the other slayers came in. Some of the girls cast nervous glances at one another when they saw Shannon. One of them shyly called out, “Hey, Shannon.” She merely stared at them, as though they were of no more importance to her than insects.
“What are you looking at, dog-girl?” Lorinda smiled, meanly.
Shannon took a step forward, calmly.
“Oh…” Lorinda whined, “please don’t kill my dog. He’s the only friend I have in the world.” She laughed, not noticing Shannon continuing to approach, slowly and quietly.
“Hey Lorinda, let it go, ‘kay?” one of the girls said, almost inaudibly. A couple of the girls glanced nervously at Shannon, then looked back at Lorinda.
Lorinda spun on the girl. “You a dog-girl, too?” she demanded. She grabbed the girl’s book and held it up. “Wanna play fetch?” She brought her arm back in order to throw the book. Just as she was about to bring her arm forward, someone’s hand grasped her wrist. Lorinda turned and found herself staring straight into Shannon’s eyes.
Shannon’s face was calm, her steady gaze unemotional. Lorinda blinked in surprise; there was no fear in Shannon’s eyes. Shannon took the book out of Lorinda’s hand and gave it back to the quiet little slayer who had stood up for her. The girl came forward and took her book back, but instead of returning to the group, she stood beside Shannon. Shannon, her other hand still around Lorinda’s wrist, continued to stare at the bully.
Then Shannon said quietly, “You’re going to be late for class, ‘Rindy.’ Better get going.” A couple of the girls snickered and echoed, “Rindy!,” but quieted when Shannon turned her gaze on them.
Another of the slayers stepped forward. “Hey, Shannon, um, I’m sorry about what happened to your dog – I mean, Ethan’s dog, or – anyway… sorry.”
“Yeah, me too,” said another and another and another, as Lorinda looked on in disbelief.
“Well, I’m not!” Lorinda spat. “He got what he deserved.” She stared back hatefully at Shannon.
Shannon looked blandly at her. “And someday, so will you,” she said, smiling very faintly, as though she’d already seen it happen. “Thanks, guys,” Shannon said to the slayers who now rallied around her.
“You going to class?” one of the girls asked.
“Yeah,” Shannon replied.
“Well, come on with us, we’re on our way, too.”
Shannon nodded and went to pick up her books and laptop from her bed. Lorinda began to move toward Shannon, her hand balled in a fist, and suddenly found herself tripping over one of the other slayer’s feet. She fell to the ground hard, the wind knocked out of her. The slayer who had tripped her said, “Oops.”
The other girls laughed at Lorinda as Shannon approached again. Lorinda found herself being pulled up by someone. She stood, facing Shannon again, and pulled her arm out of Shannon’s grasp.
“You oughta watch your step, ‘Rindy,” one of the girls mocked.
Shannon sighed. “She’s okay,” she said quietly, and the girls’ laughter quickly faded. “You coming to class?” she asked Lorinda, inviting her.
Lorinda looked around angrily at all the girls. Some were smirking at her. A couple looked at her in disgust. One or two even seemed sorry for her. Lorinda’s face turned beet red, then she pushed her way through the group and out the door. It swung hard and bounced against the wall.
“Don’t mind her, Shannie,” one of the slayers said. “Hey, did anybody do that essay for Monahan’s class yet…”
Shannon left the dorm with the others, as they chattered about the pressing issues of the school day.
Giles and Becca’s House – Elizabeth’s Room – Day
The baby was quiet and looking up at the ceiling, as dancing lights sparkled and glowed all about her in the room. Long strands of color, like wisps of smoke – blue, green, red and violet – undulated in and out of her crib. She made delighted sounds at them.
“If you go out in the woods today,” Ethan sang to her, unsmiling, slowly and barely above a whisper. “You’d better not go alone. It’s lovely out in the woods today, but safer to stay at home…”
The baby drooled at him from her crib.
“Oh!” Becca said from the doorway. “What on earth…?” Her voice trailed off as she watched the rainbow lights. They shifted and radiated throughout her daughter’s nursery like an aurora borealis.
The corners of Ethan’s mouth curled just a little, a shade of a smile. “It’s something I used to do for Ripper. It used to cheer him up. And calm him down. Most times, made him randy as hell.” He smiled slightly.
“Then you’ll have to teach it to me,” she said, smiling gently back at him. Ethan said nothing and waved his hand. The colored lights dimmed slowly and went out. “Rupert is in the living room,” Becca told him, “waiting for you.”
Giles and Becca’s House – Living Room – Moments Later
Ethan walked quietly into the living room, where he found Giles sitting on the couch. Two glasses of scotch were set out on the coffee table. Ethan sat down across from Giles, ignoring the drinks.
“You’re leaving soon.”
“You don’t have to go, you know?”
Ethan looked over at Giles and smiled sadly.
“Yes. Yes I do,” he said. “For a while. Until you get too comfortable without me.” His voice faded, along with his smile.
“Ethan, you did what you had to. He had her by the throat, he’d have killed her.”
“Yes,” Ethan agreed, then he went silent.
“Have you spoken to Shannon at all?” Giles asked.
Becca came out of the nursery and stood in the doorway, unnoticed by the two men.
“She isn’t listening to anything I have to say. She threatened to kill me. Said we’d see if magic trumps slayer’s strength one day.”
“She’s just a child, Ethan. She’ll realize soon enough that you saved her life, and that you had to kill the dog.”
“Ripper…” Ethan looked at him, surprised and amused, even through his sadness. “Are you actually defending me?”
Giles smiled and bowed his head. “It’s a dirty job,” he said, looking back up at Ethan. “But one of us has to do it. And since you won’t…Besides, hating you has become rather tedious. Shannon’s got more energy for that than I do these days.”
“You know, Ripper, she doesn’t hate me because I killed Rupert. She hates me because I deceived her. Not once, but twice. First, I charmed her poker chip. And then I told her I wouldn’t let anyone touch the dog. I took away what little faith she had in –”
“You took away her delusion that luck would see her through her life. And you brought the animal peace, with mercy that could only have come from you.”
“Is that what you tell yourself about Randall?”
Giles caught his breath. Becca watched them intently from the doorway.
“Would you like to know how I got the markings on my back?” Ethan asked suddenly.
Giles nodded and waited silently for Ethan to continue.
“In Vor,” he began slowly, “they…they made me relive my life. All of it. Then, they told me I could change it all, every last minute of it, for a price, if I wanted. I agreed. So they sent me back to relive it again.” He trembled a little.
“And I did change it, mate. I changed everything. I left home sooner, found you earlier on, stopped us both from doing some of the awful, hurtful things we did.”
“And Eyghon…never happened. Never. Randall was still alive, and Diedre and Philip and Charles. And you and I, we never parted. And you had your slayer, and I had the Little Red Witch, and we were a team like no other. And there was Rupert, too, when that Christmas came round, and I made sure that I found him once again. He was alive and whole, and he never met the Fire Eater.”
“I’m not certain I understand,” Giles said.
Ethan swallowed hard, and his mouth worked a little before he spoke again. “And then they asked me to do the thing they wanted in return. I did it, according to our agreement. As soon as I’d finished, they showed me that everything had been a lie.” He shuddered. “They lied to get what they wanted from me. I hadn’t changed anything about my life at all. And they made me relive it as it truly happened, all over again. That’s when the marks started appearing, one by one, after each of the things I’d done that I was sorry for and that I –” Ethan’s voice broke, “would never be able to change.”
Giles peered at him, but Ethan was looking straight ahead.
“You know…when I pulled Rupert off of Shannon,” he said hoarsely, “when he was on me and about to rip my throat open, he breathed in and…I think he caught the scent of me, fully.”
Giles saw Ethan’s eyes fill with tears.
“And I-I think he remembered who I was, then, because he-he stopped fighting. I felt him relax as though – before I..snapped his–” Ethan broke off and shuddered, tears beginning to run down his face. “I think he…knew who I was,” he said, allowing sobs to shake him.
“I think you’re right, Ethan. I think he knew that you’d make all the pain disappear. I think he knew you’d make everything all right again.”
“It was my one chance to set something right…” Ethan’s breath escaped on silent sobs, and his shoulders shook. He opened his mouth a couple of times, struggling for words. Finally he said, in a worn and weary tone, “I’m sorry, Rupert. I’m sorry for all of it. All of it…”
“I’m sorry, too, mate,” Giles said raggedly, tears forming in his own eyes.
Becca watched as Giles brought his arm up and slung it around Ethan’s neck. Then he brought his other hand up and clasped Ethan’s shoulder. They sat that way for some minutes, as Ethan fought to gain his composure.
Finally, Ethan said, “Bloody hell.” He laughed ruefully through his sobs as he stood up. “Why do I suddenly feel like I’m seventeen sodding years old again?”
Giles smiled at him gently. “I think because that was the last time you cried in my arms,” he said, pulling Ethan in against his shoulder and resting his forehead against his friend’s.
Watchers Council – Dining Hall – Mid-Morning
Dawn blew her nose into a napkin. Her head cold was no better than it had been since the day before when she finally found Shannon’s lucky poker chip in the woods. She blinked her itchy eyes as one of the junior slayers walked past her table in the dining hall. “Lorinda?”
“What? I have a pass!” Lorinda said, holding up a wooden pass from study hall. Dawn nodded, too miserable to inquire further.
Lorinda sat heavily down and leafed angrily through one of her textbooks. A few other slayers,all seniors, sat at various tables around the dining hall, studying quietly.
Lorinda looked at them all in turn, then noticed that Ethan Rayne had come in and was joining Dawn at her table. She squinted at them, heard Shannon’s name and saw Ethan hold an envelope out to Dawn.
He said something else to Dawn, who nodded seriously as he put the envelope on the table in front of her. Then he quietly left. A fit of coughing seized Dawn, and she got up and shuffled miserably into the serving area, leaving the envelope unattended.
Lorinda looked quickly around and saw her chance. She too walked toward the serving area. But as she reached Dawn’s table, she let her pencil fall to the floor. She bent down to pick it up, and as she did, she put her hand on the envelope and slipped it from the table.
When Dawn returned from the serving area with a steamy cup of tea with honey, she found the envelope right where she had left it. She picked it up and looked at it as she sipped her tea. Shannon’s name was written on it in Ethan’s neat script, and the flap had not been sealed. She opened the flap, about to look inside to see what Ethan had left Shannon, but then closed it up.
Watchers Council – Girls’ Bathroom – Continuous
Lorinda scoped out the girls’ bathroom. No one was there, even though a cloud of cigarette smoke hung in the air. She entered one of the stalls, closed the door and reached into her pocket for the thing she had taken from the envelope Ethan left for Shannon. It was a baseball card, encased in a protective plastic cover. She looked at the picture and the name: Mickey Mantle.
She removed the plastic cover and tossed it on the bathroom floor. Then, reaching into her pocket, Lorinda pulled out a cigarette lighter. She hesitated for a moment, thinking.
Then she held the card above the toilet, flicked her cigarette lighter, and slowly lowered the card to the flame. She watched, unsmiling, as Mickey Mantle blackened and burned, turning to ash before her eyes. One pristine corner of the card was all that remained, and that she dropped into the toilet, watching it swirl and spiral downward as it flushed away.
Watchers Council – Living Room – Night
Dawn sat on her couch, bundled in pajamas and a bathrobe. She sneezed at the T.V. set and blew her red nose into yet another tissue. Then someone knocked on her door. She got up and shuffled over, in fluffy pink slippers, to answer it.
“Can I – are you busy? I can come back later, if you don’t feel well…”
“No,” Dawn said, “come in. I have something for you.”
Shannon followed her in. “But, Robin brought my grandfather’s poker chip to me and…I-I just wanted to…to say – ”
Dawn waited, but Shannon said nothing more. She looked at the girl.
“I, uh, thank you. For finding it.”
There was a momentary silence.
“Here,” Dawn said, and she walked to the coffee table. She picked up the envelope Ethan had given her in the cafeteria. “Ethan asked me–” She stopped when she saw Shannon’s face grow dark. “He asked me to give this to you. He said it was important for you to have it.”
Shannon looked away at first. as though she wouldn’t take the envelope. Then she raised her hand and took it. She didn’t open it. “Guess I’ll go,” she said quietly.
Dawn watched her as she began to leave the room. Then, Shannon turned and asked, “Hey, uh, do you, like, have any of that anchovy pizza left?”
Dawn’s eyes opened wide. “No…” she said. “Gross if I did.”
“Oh. Okay, well, I guess I’d better –”
“But we can order one,” Dawn said uncertainly. Shannon did not look at her. “They deliver if we get a large,” she continued.
Shannon looked away.
“But,” Dawn said offhandedly, “if you have to be somewhere…”
“No. I mean. Okay. So…can we, like, get some Coke, too?”
Dawn smiled and nodded. As she got the phone book and called the pizza place, Shannon sat off to the side and opened the envelope. While she placed the pizza order, Dawn saw Shannon reading the note Ethan had left in the envelope.
Shannon still sat, re-reading the note, when Dawn finally hung up the phone. “Okay,” Dawn said, “I ordered a large with extra ‘chovies and cheese. Think you can handle it?”
Shannon blinked and gave Dawn a strange look. Then she answered, quietly, “I’m a slayer. I can handle…any–”
All at once, Shannon’s eyes filled with tears, and her mouth curved down.
Before Dawn knew it, Shannon was sitting with the note crunched up in her fist, sobbing inconsolably. Dawn walked to the girl and knelt down in front of her. She put her arms around Shannon and laid her head next to the slayer’s. She stroked Shannon’s hair gently. “It’s all right,” she crooned. “It’s all right now…”
Giles and Becca’s House – Living Room – Later that Night
“Dawn, what a surprise. And at this hour…” Giles said, as he opened his front door wider. Becca came up behind him, yawning, and looked out the door at Dawn.
“Yeah, sorry about that,” she said, taking off her coat, “but I need to talk to you about Shannon and Ethan.”
“Dear lord, is Shannon all right?”
“She’s fine. She’s in my apartment, sound asleep.”
“She is?” Becca said, surprised.
“Yeah, she came to see me tonight. She…she got a little upset. She was crying. This whole thing with Ethan and the dog.”
“She came to you?” Giles asked.
“And cried right in front of you?”
“Yeah, but I–”
“But that’s wonderful!” Giles grinned at her. “That is, it’s a good start, it shows she’s accepting you.”
“Well, that’s not what’s bothering me. It’s…Ethan left this for her.” She handed Giles the envelope with Shannon’s name on it.
“And I gave it to her tonight. She read it and started crying and asked me if this was all Ethan left, and I told her yes. Then she said that he lied about ‘Mickey’ – whoever that is – and had a good laugh at her expense. She’s really upset, says she’ll kill him if he ever comes back.”
“I doubt very seriously that she would ever carry out such a threat,” Giles said. “And who in heaven’s name is Mickey?”
“Maybe it was her name for Rupert? Anyway, I couldn’t get anything else out of her. But she’s completely wiped, and I’m worried about her. So I took that when she fell asleep, and I don’t want her to have it back. I’ll tell her I threw it out with the empty pizza box. Why have a bad reminder hanging around?”
“Yes. I see your point,” Giles said, still looking down at the envelope. “I’ll keep it in confidence. It may be of importance in the future.”
“You know, I knew Ethan was a…jerk. But this just kinda takes the cake. You know?”
Giles frowned and nodded silently.
“Well, sorry to bother you so late. I gotta go. Gotta get back…to my slayer.” She smiled as she slipped her coat back on.
Giles smiled back at her and bid her goodnight.
“What did Ethan leave for Shannon?” Becca asked, coming up alongside him as he read the note. He looked sadly at her, pulled her to him and kissed her head as she quietly read:
Bide the Wiccan Law ye must,
In perfect love and perfect trust.
Eight words the Wiccan Rede fulfill:
An’ ye harm none, do what ye will.
What ye send forth comes back to thee,
So ever mind the law of three.
Follow this with mind and heart;
Merry ye meet and merry ye part.
Fade to Black
End of Rule of Three
Next on Watchers…
When Vi is cursed after a fight with a necromancer, it is only the start of one wild and unexpected night that will shake the Watchers Council to its very core.