Watchers Council – Kitchen – Morning
Xander and Vi came into the kitchen to find Willow fiddling around with the coffee pot. Xander picked up a box of cereal and began to dive in.
“Problem, Will?” he asked.
She turned to face him with her coffee cup in hand. She shook her head. “I hate to admit it, but I’ve gotten to like Andrew’s coffee. This closely resembles motor oil.”
Xander laughed and gently took the mug out of her hand. “I’ll make it,” he offered.
Rowena walked in. “Hey guys,” she said.
“Hey Ro,” Vi said, biting into some toast. Her nose was buried in the morning paper.
“Ro, I just got an email message from Hellmer in Orlando,” Willow reported. “He said that they should have the Grathor problem solved by tonight.”
“And the thing on the reservation?” the Head Watcher asked as she poured a cup of coffee.
“Um, he said that Andrew and Tracey are taking a look into it,” Willow said. “He requested funding authorization for their expenses.”
“What?” Rowena said, looking up from her notepad.
“Jakob said he didn’t have any spare slayers to send, so he asked them to look into it. He said it shouldn’t take more than a day, most likely just a trip to the Everglades and back.”
Rowena looked annoyed. “But it’s their vacation,” she said, and then sighed.
“Oh,” Willow said, obviously depressed.
Rowena took a drink from her cup and cringed.
“I love you, Will, but…” she walked over, tossed the contents in the sink and shook her head. “…Damn, that’s awful.”
“H-How do you know I made it?” Willow asked. Rowena just gave her a dubious look. “Fine,” the witch replied, giving up all pretense that it was someone else.
“Hey, it’ll be okay,” Xander put in helpfully. “When they get back, just give them a couple of more days off to make it up to them.”
“Then get ready to make our coffee every morning, Mister!” Willow said.
“Don’t worry, Will,” Xander said. “I promise that while Andy’s off gallivanting in the swamp, I’ll make you guys coffee.”
“Marsh,” Vi piped in.
Xander turned to her and raised an eyebrow. “God bless you?” he said cautiously.
“The Everglades,” Vi explained, still reading the paper. “It’s a marsh, not a swamp.”
Xander smiled happily. “Smart chicks are so cool!”
Hardwood Hammock – Short time Later
Osceola squatted down on his haunches near the corpse, while Andrew made notes in his steno notebook. Tracey kept glancing uneasily between what was lying on the ground and what Andrew was writing.
“Couple of old guides came across the first body a week ago,” the inspector was saying. “They found it about twenty miles from town, at an old hunting camp that hadn’t been used in years.”
“How long had the vic been there?” Andrew asked, trying to sound official.
“The coroner estimated the time of death twelve hours prior to examination,” Osceola said.
“Umm hmm,” Andrew hummed, making more notes on his pad. “Identification?”
Osceola sighed. “Body was just like this one,” he flicked a hand at the corpse. “Native American male, age between twenty and thirty, skin boiled away to muscle and bone, so there’re no tattoos or distinguishing scars. Without limbs or a head, we’ve got no prints and no teeth. All we have is DNA and we’re still waiting on the results.”
“You are?” Andrew frowned as he looked at the inspector. “What’s taking so long? This is a person’s identity…a chance to give that poor man back his face.”
“Look, Bones,” Osceola said, standing up. “Despite the big hotels and casinos, our budget does not allow for a genetic testing facility. We have to wait for the FBI’s lab.”
Andrew nodded and snapped his fingers. “Tracey…” he said, and held out his hand. She handed him a cell phone.
“What’s he doing?” Osceola asked Tracey as Andrew stepped away to speak on the phone.
She smirked. “Just watch,” she said. “If it wasn’t for that poor body lying three feet away, I’d give good odds he’d be enjoying himself.”
Osceola grunted. A few minutes later Andrew snapped the phone shut.
“Okay, our guy at J. Edgar said he’ll bump all of your samples to the top of the list and they’ll have a courier waiting at the station for this poor man,” Andrew said.
Osceola’s eyebrows rose slightly. “Impressive,” he allowed. “I’ll get my deputies out to finish up with the scene.”
After Osceola contacted the station, he led Andrew and Tracey to an area not far from the corpse. Near a small hut, a scorched, circular fire pit was still smoking.
Osceola pointed at the sandy scar leading away from the pit. “The same as in the other three murders.”
“Making a total of four,” Andrew nodded. “But of course, we can’t rule out other, as of yet undiscovered, victims.”
Tracey rolled her eyes. “Were all the victims Native Americans, Inspector Osceola?” she asked.
“Yes,” he answered.
“Can you tell if they were all from your tribe?” Andrew asked.
“No,” Osceola answered.
Andrew looked confused, until Tracey clarified, “No, it’s not possible to tell if they were all from the same tribe, not without a positive identification.”
Osceola nodded, and Andrew pursed his lips in thought. Finally, he waved his hand at the site. “So do you have any theories, Inspector?”
In the distance, the sound of an airboat engine could be heard approaching the hammock.
Osceola glanced at the open water beyond the cypress. “That’ll be my CSI unit,” he said with one side of his lip curled up in amusement at Andrew’s bright gaze. “Let’s go back to the station and I’ll show you something which will explain why I called Jakob Hellmer instead of Clarice Starling.”
“Ooh, a death’s-head moth?” Andrew asked the broad retreating back.
The Inspector simply continued toward the boat. Tracey slapped Andrew’s arm before following.
Indian Police Department – Hendry County, Florida – Later
Inspector Osceola led the couple into his office. He tossed his leather jacket over the back of his chair and pulled a book from the shelf behind his desk. He opened the book to a marked section and turned it around so Tracey and Andrew could look at it.
They both leaned over and saw a print of a colorful painting depicting a horrific scene with a great winged figure looming over a large black cauldron, while three quivering figures in traditional native dress watched in awe from nearby.
“That painting’s from an old myth,” Osceola explained. “Near the beginning of time, five Seminole men went in search of the Great Spirit. They traveled a long time until they came to the lodge of an old woman. They told her they were looking for the Great Spirit and she said it wasn’t time yet, but they were welcome to wait at her camp. That night, they came across a group of winged angels robed in white, playing the ball game they themselves had played at home. Two of the men wanted to stay with them and become angels, but the others decided to return home. Suddenly the Great Spirit appeared and said ‘So be it’!”
“Whoa!” Andrew whispered. Tracey remained silent, seemingly in awe at hearing the laconic Indian say so much at one time.
“A large cooking pot filled with water was placed on the fire,” Osceola continued. “And when it was boiling, the two men who wanted to stay were cooked until only the bones were left. The Great Spirit then took the bones, waved a magic wand and brought the two men back to life, but now they had beautiful wings like the other angels. The next day, the remaining Seminoles woke up safely in their homes.”
Andrew’s mouth remained open while Tracey said, “Okay, that was…ewww.”
Finally, Andrew shut his jaw with a snap and blinked his eyes. “So the bodies seem to be the results of a failed attempt to turn men into angels.”
“Yeah, but it’s probably just some wacko perverting the myth,” Tracey said. “Not exactly a job for the Council.”
“Normally, I’d agree with you, Ms. Hausser,” Osceola said. “But lately, things have been off. In the past month alone, there has been an increase in disappearances, not only on the reservation, but in the surrounding communities as well. And things have been strange around here lately.”
“Strange?” Andrew asked.
“Weird sightings, odd animal behavior,” Osceola shrugged. “Things I just can’t attribute to monthly allotment check celebrations. I know it’s vague, Mr. Wells, but it’s all I’ve got.”
Andrew sighed and thought for a moment. “Do you have a map showing the location of the sites, Inspector?”
Osceola nodded. “Over there,” he pointed to the reservation map displayed on the wall. Andrew stood up and studied the map for a few minutes.
“The other sites were also on those little tree islands?” he asked, one hand stroking his chin as he continued to study the map.
“Hammocks,” Osceola said absently. “Yes, much of the land west of here until you reach the Big Cypress is just marsh broken by the tree hammocks. And it was pretty wet last year with the storms, so the hammocks are the only sites available with land dry enough for large campfires. South is the national park and east the cities.”
“And North?” Tracey asked.
“Big corporate sugarcane plantations,” Osceola answered. “And the fields have been burning constantly, which means too many witnesses.”
Andrew nodded. “Then the hammocks are the perfect place to experiment.”
“Experiment?” the inspector asked.
“Someone is trying to perfect the art of making your men-angels, Inspector,” Andrew proclaimed. He pulled his pen from his shirt pocket and pointed to the map. “Notice the pattern of the known murders,” he said, as Tracey and Osceola moved closer.
“Almost circular,” Tracey said.
“Correct, my dear,” Andrew said, his tone reaching full pomposity. “I’m assuming this map is accurate, Inspector?”
“Call me Jimmy,” Osceola absently said. “Yes, the islands migrate through the ‘glades, so their locations change from year to year, but we had a landsat survey done not that long ago.”
“Excellent,” Andrew beamed. “Therefore, based on the pattern, I predict your deputies will find similar sites here and here.”
Osceola looked at where Andrew was pointing. “Makes sense.”
“And!” Andrew said triumphantly. “I also predict that the next attempt will be…” After pausing for dramatic effect, Andrew stabbed his pen on the map. “Here!”
Osceola nodded. “All right,” he finally said. “I’ll check it out. In the meantime, why don’t you two get something to eat? There’s a halfway decent diner down the road. Tell Mary Jumper I sent you and she’ll set you up good.”
“Oooh, sounds great,” Andrew said. “Are there any exotic Seminole delicacies?”
“The gator’s always good, as is the turtle soup,” Osceola smirked at Andrew’s horrified expression. “I don’t care for their sofkee, so I’d say a burger and the fry bread with honey is probably your safest bet.”
Tracey laughed. “Come on Andy, I’m starved. Thanks, Jimmy.”
Everglades Diner – Later
Andrew eyed Tracey’s plate dubiously. “I can’t believe you’re gonna eat that,” he said. “It’s a reptile!”
Tracey looked down at the breaded and fried medallions of tail meat smothered in onions and gravy. She cut off a hunk, swirled it in the gravy and finally put it in her mouth. She chewed hungrily and swallowed. “Yum!”
Andrew was aghast. “Let me guess…tastes like chicken,” he said.
Tracey laughed. “Nope,” she said, taking another bite. “The taste is similar to sea scallops, but with the texture of veal. I’ve had smothered chops before, but this is fabulous. Try some!” She held out a morsel on a fork.
“No thanks,” Andrew said and turned toward his own plate. “But at least this is good.” He took another bite from the fried cylinder of dough surrounding the succulent ground meat. “They should call it something more exciting than Indian Burger though.”
“You should have gotten the venison instead of beef,” Tracey said, pulling a hunk off of the fry bread sitting in a basket between them. She dunked it in her gravy.
“I don’t know,” Andrew said. “Ever since Bambi II came out with Patrick Stewart as the Great Stag, just the thought of eating deer does not have the appeal it once did.”
They ate in silence for a few minutes. The busy diner’s patrons, mostly tourists, but a good number of locals, were carrying on their own conversations around them. Finally Andrew said, “I’m sorry this isn’t Emeril’s.”
“Andy,” Tracey started then paused as a sly smirk came over her face. “You know what you can do to make it up to me?” she asked.
“What?” he eagerly asked.
She half stood up from her chair and leaned over the table to whisper in his ear. Andrew’s mouth dropped open and his face turned bright red. Finally, Tracey sat back in her chair with a satisfied smile. “Okay?” she asked.
“Uh…yes?” Andrew answered, as if unsure if she was questioning his state of health or asking for his agreement to her request.
Just as they were finishing their meals, the tall figure of Inspector Osceola approached and sat at an empty chair.
“Well, Mr. Wells,” he said, picking up the last piece of fry bread. “Your hunch was right. We found two more bodies.”
Tracey managed a proud look at her boyfriend while Andrew asked, “Same M.O.?”
Osceola nodded. “I’m going to stake out the hammock you fingered. Will you come along?”
“Both of us?” Andrew asked, looking worriedly at Tracey.
“Yes, both of us,” Tracey retorted, with a glare at him and then with a firm look at the Inspector.
Osceola wisely nodded. “If this is supernatural, your magic might come in handy,” he told Andrew. “Hellmer also said you…both of you…were very experienced.”
“Yes,” Andrew said. “We’ll come.”
Tracey gave him a firm nod.
Everglades Wetlands – Dusk
Andrew huddled in the front of the canoe, his body hunched almost into a ball, as if to minimize his center of gravity. The task was made that much harder by the bulky life vest he was wearing. Behind him, Osceola paddled the craft silently. After a quick glance over to the other canoe containing Tracey and one of Osceola’s deputies, he hunkered down again.
A short time later, the two canoes pulled up on the shallow bank of a hammock. Andrew stumbled out of the craft to quickly go help Tracey out of hers.
“You should have worn a life jacket,” he whispered as he started to unfasten his while the two officers secured the boats.
“Andy, Officer Billie told me that the water isn’t more than a couple of feet deep,” Tracey said, also in a low voice. “Unless you fall in a gator hole, it’s kinda hard to drown.”
“Still, I worry about you,” he pouted.
Tracey leaned in to kiss the pout away. “I know,” she said. “And I think it’s sweet.”
Inspector Osceola approached the couple. “We better get going,” he said. “If anyone’s here, I want to keep out of sight before the moon gets too bright.”
Andrew glanced at the full moon just rising on the horizon in the east. He nodded and the four of them set out into the trees. with Osceola in the lead and the deputy bringing up the rear.
Watchers Council – Kitchen – Night
Buffy walked into the Council kitchen and seemed surprised to find Dawn already there. The younger girl was leaning on the counter, dressed in her pajamas, eating Froot Loops directly from the box.
“Good to see you’ve emerged from the cave of depression,” the slayer noted. “That’s progress.”
“Ran out of milk,” Dawn said with a full mouth, gesturing with the box.
“But you seem better,” Buffy said.
“Yeah, I guess,” Dawn agreed, swallowing her mouthful of cereal. “I think…there’s only so much you can cry about something.”
Buffy smiled a little. “Yeah, I know.” There was silence in the kitchen for a moment. The slayer strode over to the refrigerator and opened it. “Is there no food back-up system around here?” she exclaimed when confronted with an empty fridge. “God forbid something ever happens to Andrew. The whole Council would die of starvation.”
“What do you think she’s doing now?” Dawn asked suddenly, without looking at her sister.
“What?” Buffy closed the refrigerator door.
“She could be killing somebody right now, and I wouldn’t even know.” Dawn’s voice was even, though it trembled a little.
“Dawn,” Buffy said quietly. “You need to understand something, something that took me too long to learn for myself. The thing that’s out there, the thing that’s killing people…that’s not Skye. I’m sorry. Skye is dead.”
“Maybe,” Dawn began slowly. “Maybe that’s not Skye. But maybe it isn’t not her, either. You know what I mean?”
“She remembers being Skye,” Dawn continued. “Skye’s still in there…somewhere.”
“It’s possible,” Buffy said, “but Skye would never kill anyone, Dawnie. You have to remember that.”
“I can’t stop thinking about it,” Dawn admitted. “I mean, we fight vampires every day, but how much do we really know about what happens to somebody…y’know, like Skye?”
“I don’t know,” Buffy answered. “But maybe we don’t want to know. They say ignorance is bliss.”
“Yeah,” Dawn replied, “but I’m not sure that’s really true. I mean, is ignorance bliss? You would know, right?”
Buffy grinned. “You must be feeling better if you’re making fun of me.”
Dawn remained sober.
“Buffy, we have to find her.”
Hardwood Hammock – Minutes Later
The clearing was lit by a bright glow from the bonfire. Shadowy figures could be seen moving between the cauldron and the hut. Osceola silently motioned the others to follow as he led them around the limit of the firelight.
Crouching down behind a large cypress knee, Osceola whispered in his deputy’s ear for a moment, then the other man slipped silently off and seemed to disappear in the shadows. The Inspector gestured Andrew and Tracey closer and the couple squatted next to him behind the knee.
“Billie’s gone around to the other side,” Osceola whispered in a barely audible voice, the roar of the fire nearly drowning out the sound.
“What now?” Andrew whispered.
“We wait,” Osceola said, glancing around the knee to view the scene. “But I don’t think we’ll have to wait long. Something’s going on at the chickee.”
The couple peered around the knee and saw that, while two of the figures remained by the cauldron, two others were leading a third toward the hut. They threw the bound man to the ground and one kneeled on the man’s back, stilling his struggling, as a final man approached with a machete.
“I’ve got a bad feeling about this,” Andrew whispered.
“Me too,” Osceola said. “You two stay here.”
“Wait…” Andrew began, but before he could stop him, the Inspector had disappeared.
“Andy?” Tracey said.
Andrew took a deep breath. “Okay, I can do this,” he muttered. “Willow did it when she was only a kid, so I know I can do this.” With that, his forehead crinkled in concentration.
Tracey looked away from her boyfriend and back at the drama playing itself out in front of them. The man on the ground tried desperately to break free, but was unsuccessful. Tracey gasped as the machete rose into the air.
Andrew grunted in effort and slowly the cauldron over the fire began to tip off its base of coral rocks. One of the men standing near it shouted in surprise, causing the man with the machete to pause. All three men in the chickee looked around in astonishment as the cauldron completed its journey, the boiling water splashing over the rim and over the ground. The two men screamed as the scalding water burned them. One of the men stumbled into the fire, his wet clothing sizzling from the flames, and his screams intensified.
Inspector Osceola emerged from the darkness, his service revolver drawn as he shouted, “Police! Freeze!”
The man on the back of the prisoner jumped up and started to run, only to be tackled by Officer Billie, both men falling to the ground. The man with the machete, his weapon still raised, turned toward the officer.
“Mitchell?” Osceola said in astonishment, his revolver lowering a fraction. “What in God’s name do you think you are doing?”
“God’s work, brother,” the man said. “The time has come for everyone to choose sides. Make sure you choose right.”
“Drop your weapon, Mitchell,” Osceola ordered.
The man smiled. “We’re almost there, Jimmy,” he replied. “Soon the Great Spirit will reward us as men-angels, and we’ll fight bravely with the forces of good. Come fight by my side, brother.”
“This is madness,” Osceola said. “Drop it now!”
Andrew and Tracey stood to help, but suddenly both were grabbed from behind.
“Umpf!” Andrew grunted and tried to grab his assailant without success. The arm around his neck tightened. Tracey had better luck. She slammed her heel into her attacker’s foot and he loosened his grip. Turning quickly, she rammed her knee into his groin and quickly followed with an elbow to the back of his neck as he doubled over in pain.
She bent down and picked up a fallen cypress branch, then smashed it over the head of Andrew’s attacker. The wood splintered, but the man crumpled to the ground, stunned from the blow. Andrew also fell to his knees, gasping for breath. A shout from the clearing caused her to look up and see three more men running towards them.
“Come on,” she said, helping him to his feet. Still choking, he stumbled as they both ran.
They quickly put distance between themselves and the chasing men, but before long they came to the canoes.
“Help me get this in the water and then get in,” Tracey said.
“What?” Andrew protested. “No!”
“Get in, Andrew,” Tracey repeated.
Andrew looked around frantically, seeking an escape. He pulled out his cell phone, but the indicator flashed “No signal” at him. “There’s gotta be something else we can do besides getting in that boat.”
Tracey grabbed both of his hands in hers, forcing him to look at her. “Andrew! Calm down,” she said soothingly. “You can do this. I know you can. Just think about what your heroes would do. Like Xander or Willow.”
Andrew looked at her, his eyes still showing his desperation. “I…I can’t think, Trace,” he said. “I feel like we’re in some kind of weird alternate universe where Xander’s chasing giraffes and Willow’s speaking Portuguese.”
“Willow sucks at Latin-based languages, remember?” Tracey said with a joke in her voice. “And Xander’s too busy with Vi to play on the Serengeti. You’re just as strong as they are, Andy. Would I have come all the way to Florida with you if you weren’t?”
Andrew’s eyes bore deep into hers, his expression finally firming. He pulled her close and planted a passionate kiss on her lips. A shout from the woods indicated their pursuers were close.
“Let’s go,” Andrew glanced at the moonlit woods and then helped Tracey push the canoe toward the bank. He clumsily climbed in the front, nearly tipping the craft over, but Tracey managed to steady it as she gave it the final push away. She nimbly jumped into the boat and paddled them away from the bank.
Watchers Council – Kennedy’s Apartment – Night
At the sound of a knock at the door, Kennedy looked up from the many papers strewn across her desk. She got up and answered the door.
Finding Buffy waiting in the hallway, Kennedy sighed. “Tell her no,” she said without preamble.
The blond slayer looked confused. “I’m sorry?”
“Faith sent you, right?” Kennedy asked. Her body language was more closed off than usual and her arms were crossed over her chest. “Tell her I’m too busy doing her job to think about whether I really want to play nice. And also tell her that I have issues with people who beat the crap out of me while I’m just trying to help them. It’s just this weird thing with me.”
“Kennedy, I don’t know what’s going on with Faith,” Buffy explained. “She certainly didn’t send me. I’m here to talk about something else.”
“Oh,” Kennedy said. “I guess you can come in then.” She walked back towards her desk. Buffy followed and closed the door behind her. “Thought you two were tight these days,” Kennedy tossed over her shoulder.
“You’re not the first person Faith’s hurt, you know,” Buffy offered.
Kennedy looked up at the older girl. “Yeah. Turns out the girl has what one would call a pattern. Guess I shoulda seen this coming.”
“You’re lucky all she did was smack you around,” Buffy told her, sitting down in a chair next to the window. “She tied me up and tried to torture me. Shot my boyfriend with a poisoned arrow. Got into a fight to the death with me. Stole my body and had sex with my boyfriend, different boyfriend this time…”
“I get it,” Kennedy said, holding up a hand to stop her. “The girl can be a real bitch.”
“You’re missing the point,” Buffy said. “All that, and now we’re ‘tight,’ as you kids say these days. So maybe, eventually…you should give her a chance?”
Kennedy frowned. “Didn’t you want something?”
“Yeah,” Buffy sighed. “Dawn asked me to talk to you…she wants to go after Skye.”
“We all do,” Kennedy said, “but I doubt she’d still be in the city. She knows this is Slayer Central.”
Buffy rubbed her eyes with one hand. “Dawn says… she says that when Angel turned into Angelus, he could have left, but he didn’t. He made it his mission to make my life a living hell. He tried to kill everybody around me until…” She trailed off.
“You don’t think that’s what Skye wants, do you?” Kennedy asked. “She seemed more pragmatic than that.”
“Can we really take the chance?” Buffy replied. Kennedy hesitated, then nodded.
“If Skye’s still around,” the dark-haired girl said after a moment, “I think I know how to find her.”
McDonald’s – Night
Willow looked dubiously over the menu above the counter. “When you said you wanted to go out for American food, I didn’t think this was what you meant.”
Althenea smiled. “What can I say, I have my weaknesses. Did you seriously expect me to come all the way across the pond and not indulge myself in some genuine, down-home, greasy processed meat?” The pair were standing in line at a fluorescent-lit McDonald’s.
“First of all,” Willow answered, rapid fire, “you’re not doing a very good job of making it sound appetizing. Second of all, I’ve had a thing about these places ever since Buffy worked at the Doublemeat Palace. Third of all, you can’t say ‘down-home’ with a British accent. It’s against the rules. Fourth, McDonald’s is in England too.”
“It doesn’t taste the same at home, not really,” Althenea replied.
“Are you guys ready to order?” asked the bored-looking teenage boy behind the counter, with little enthusiasm.
“I am,” Althenea told him. “I’ll have a Double Quarter Pounder with Cheese, a large fry, and a large coke. And you can super-size that, too.”
Willow looked horrified. “I’ll just have a vanilla milkshake. It’d be hard for that to be made out of people, right?” Althenea just looked confused. After Willow paid for the meal, the pair moved over to the side to await their food.
“So,” Althenea began, almost off-hand, “how have you been?”
Willow sighed. “It’s been rough, Al. Ro’s just been feeling really overwhelmed by everything, and we’re often on opposite sides of the fence on most things, so that takes a toll on her, I think. Dawn’s freaking, understandably. Faith’s in big trouble, and I’m scared she’s gonna lose everything over one little mistake. Kennedy’s still really angry and I’m afraid she’s going to lose her best friend right after she lost her only known relative from her mother’ s side. Xander had to stab Vi in the arm, and who knows if they’ll ever recover. There’s some sort of super-powered demon woman loose in the city, and we can’t do squat. Andrew and Tracey have to investigate murders during their vacation time. And Skye…” Willow caught her breath.
“Here ya go,” the kid behind the counter interrupted, putting a tray down on the counter with Althenea’s meal and Willow’s milkshake.
“Thanks,” Althenea told him, picking up the tray. She spoke to Willow as the pair looked for an open table. “So, it seems like the Council’s been busy. But I didn’t ask how everyone else was doing. I asked about you.” The two women slid into a small, plastic-lined booth, sitting on opposite sides of the table.
Althenea immediately tore into her burger. Willow looked thoughtful as she sipped her milkshake. “I…don’t know. Everything’s just been so crazy, I haven’t had much time to myself.”
“More crazy than leading an army into Hell?” Althenea asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Well…no,” Willow conceded. “It’s just…everything’s harder without Giles around. He was always a-a kind of buffer. I’m not sure if that makes sense or not.”
“He cared for everyone but he wasn’t bedding any of them,” Althenea remarked.
Willow grinned. “Well, not that I know about, anyway,” she teased.
Althenea returned the smile. “It will get better,” she assured Willow between bites. “You’re the best in the world, the lot of you. And you’ll catch a break soon.”
“How do you know that?” Willow asked.
“I’m a witch, I know things,” Althenea answered and smiled. “So, how has it been with you and Rowena? Is this opposing sides thing you mentioned the reason I haven’t been getting my regular emails?”
“Well, she’s busy,” Willow said, as Althenea took another huge bite. “I don’t know, I feel like…things haven’t been the same since she took the Council Chair job. We had that problem with the reporter I told you about, then we made up, but…we still disagree. And we don’t talk about it. Whenever we’re together…it’s like this big purple elephant in the room, and nobody’s talking about it.”
“Willow, all couples disagree,” Althenea replied, despite her mouth being full. “That doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong going on.”
“Most couples don’t have the fate of the world resting on their decisions,” Willow countered.
“True,” Althenea conceded, “but most couples aren’t as sweet and pretty as you two, either.”
Willow smiled. “I’m glad you came, Al.”
Watchers Council – Lobby – Night
“Absolutely not!” Buffy yelled. She was following behind Kennedy and Dawn, and a group of Black Ops girls. Dawn was now dressed, though her bright clothes still stood out among the group of slayers clad for stealth. “I’m not gonna let you do this!”
Kennedy stopped and turned towards the older slayer. “C’mon, Buffy, we both know this is the best plan.”
“Since when is using my little sister as bait a plan?” Buffy scoffed. “She’s not a slayer, she shouldn’t even be out there!”
“Buffy, I’ve been trained for two years to handle things like this,” Dawn argued. “I’m a professional monster hunter. And now, Skye’s one of the monsters.”
“I’m still your sister,” Buffy said. “I won’t let you. I’m putting my foot down.”
“I hate to say it,” Kennedy interjected, “but you’re not the foot-putting-downer around here. Dawn’s a legal adult, and she can do this if that’s what she wants. We’ll have several slayers watching her at all times, so Skye won’t get a chance to pull anything if she shows.”
Buffy and Kennedy locked eyes for a moment. “Is this why you voted the way you did about Faith?” Buffy asked. “So you could be the new head cheese?”
“Do you think Faith would do something different than what I am right now?” Kennedy replied. Getting no response from Buffy, she signaled to Marissa, the leader of the Black Ops unit, and continued towards the Council’s front door.
“You’re coming with?” Dawn asked, as the group began to leave.
Buffy groaned. “Can’t let my little sis get killed without my help, can I?” she asked.
“I’m not going to get…” Dawn suddenly stopped when she opened the door, her eyes wide. Kennedy had a similar shocked look on her face.
“What…?” Buffy began, before she too came to a halt.
Skye was standing on the Council’s front doorstep.
“Hey, guys,” she said, giving a small wave.
End of Act Three