Watchers Council – Junior Watchers Rec Room – Same Time
“What is this?” Grace gestured with the yellow piece of paper in her hand, but didn’t move her eyes from the TV screen.
“It’s an invitation to my party,” Jackson told her, “tomorrow night.”
Grace didn’t move. “Yeah, I’ll definitely be there.”
“Really?” Jackson’s eyebrows rose hopefully.
“No,” Grace said flatly. “Move, you’re in between me and my Cylons.”
“Oh, um, okay then.” Jackson quickly moved out of the way and looked around the room to see if he had missed anyone.
A few different groups of young watchers were hanging out around the room, just talking or playing pool. A raucous group in the far corner was clustered around another TV while they played Guitar Hero II.
“Hey, Jackson!” A slightly older, taller guy with blonde hair appeared in front of Jackson with one of the flyers in his hand.
Jackson perked up a little. “Hey, Markham, what’s up?”
“Oh, y’know. I really think Chamique’s doing great. Sorry I haven’t been around much lately, it’s just, y’know, a lot.”
“Yeah, I hear it’s like that when you get assigned a slayer,” Jackson said, a note of resignation in his voice.
Markham put an arm around Jackson’s shoulder. “So anyway, man, heard about your party tomorrow night. Any indication on what the super-powered fox count is gonna be?”
Jackson didn’t look completely comfortable. “Sorry?”
“Slayers,” Markham explained. “Are they gonna be there? Because last time…”
“Oh, yeah,” Jackson nodded eagerly. “Um, Jaye Gradkowski was really looking forward to it, and she said she’d bring some of her friends.”
“Looking forward to it?” Markham asked. “As in, you’re thinking maybe you’ll get some of that slayer lovin’?” He playfully punched Jackson in the arm, making him wince.
“What?” Jackson shook his head. “No, no…I mean, she wouldn’t go for me.”
“Why not?” Markham grinned. “She goes for everybody.”
Jackson’s brow furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Markham took his arm off Jackson’s shoulders and looked at him. “You mean you don’t know?”
Markham suddenly raised his voice. “Hey, who in here has done Jaye Gradkowski?”
Jackson looked stunned as several male hands went up around the room. Grace took time out from watching Battlestar Galactica to give Markham a disgusted look.
“Is she the cracked-out redhead?” one of the pool players asked.
“Yeah,” Markham replied.
“Then yes,” the pool player grinned, and his hand shot up, too.
Markham turned back to Jackson. “See? Dude, she’s like the Council bicycle, y’know what I mean? So maybe you do have a shot with her.”
Jackson opened and closed his mouth a couple of times and scratched his cheek nervously. “Council bicycle?”
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Later that Night
“You guys don’t know anything about me!” Jaye growled. She thrashed as hard as she could, but she couldn’t get free from the four other slayers holding her down on the hospital bed. “You hear me?! Nothing!”
Nearby, Dr. Miller was preparing a needle for a tranquilizer shot while he spoke to Casey over his shoulder. “What happened out there?”
“Nothing bloody happened,” Casey insisted.
“Get the hell off me!” Jaye shouted.
“Can we hurry?” one of the girls asked through gritted teeth.
Casey followed Dr. Miller toward the crazed girl. “We were in a fight, and then all of a sudden it was like she decided it was time to kill Denise.”
Dr. Miller plunged the needle into Jaye’s arm. “No!” she screamed. “No, you don’t get to do that. Damn…damn doctors, I’ll…I’ll rrrip your arrrmmm…” And then she lapsed into unconsciousness. Everyone around the bed breathed a sigh of relief.
Niven entered through the door of the infirmary and skirted around the group of slayers, making his way to a far corner where Denise was holding an ice pack to her neck.
“I heard what happened,” he said. “How is…”
“We don’t know what’s wrong with her,” Denise said quickly.
Niven looked at her for a moment. “I was going to ask, ‘How is your neck’?”
The corners of Denise’s mouth quirked upward. “Oh, good. I mean, it’s good.”
“Good.” Niven said awkwardly. “That’s good.”
“It is good,” Denise agreed.
Niven sighed and glanced over at the bed where Dr. Miller was still examining Jaye. “Something’s driving people crazy. At first it was demons…”
“We got attacked by some Brells tonight,” Denise offered.
Niven shook his head in disgust. “And now it’s making its way into the Council…I feel like we’re missing something.”
“You’ll figure it out,” Denise assured him. “It’s like in poker, right…only without the cards.”
“I’m just one of the guys on the cleanup crew,” he said, looking down at his hands briefly. “I don’t know what I’m doing. Did you talk to your bosses, ask them about…?”
“Yeah, I did,” Denise replied sadly. “It’s a no-go. Faith says we’ve got enough problems without messing around in demon gang wars.”
“Volek wasn’t in a gang!” Niven insisted. “Look, we’ll just have to –”
Casey appeared in the corner with them, giving Denise a tap on the shoulder. “Hey, um, Denise, can I talk to you?” The English slayer shot Niven an unreadable glance, but that was all she said.
He got the hint. “Right, I’ll…see you later, huh?”
Denise watched as Niven walked out of the infirmary, then turned to Casey. “Yeah, what is it?”
“Listen, I wanted to ask you, has Jaye been acting maybe a bit different lately? I mean, you bunk with her and all.”
“Maybe. I dunno,” Denise said, trying to think. “I mean, she’s always been kinda not together, but lately…I think there’s been more drugs lately.”
Casey sighed. “Thought as much. And the way she’s been acting…you’ve probably noticed it. I try to let her know I’m here, y’know, but…”
“She really looks up to you,” Denise told the older girl. “She does. And I think if you weren’t here, she might have been a lot worse.”
“Worse than this?” Casey asked doubtfully. She motioned over her shoulder. Denise gave her a sympathetic look. “It’s the soddin’ stress, is what it is. Job like this, we all deal with it differently. And every once in a while, it sends somebody ’round the bend.”
Watchers Council – Underground Parking Garage – Morning
Hope ran through a set of keys one by one, trying to figure out which one fit the lock on the little blue Taurus she was standing next to. She looked up at the sound of her name being shouted across the parking lot.
“Hey!” Jackson waved from across the aisle, where he stood next to his beaten-up gray Corolla.
Hope looked a little startled. “Hi, Jackson.”
“Spend the night?” Jackson asked, his manner off-hand but his eyes showing a little too much interest.
“Yeah,” Hope nodded slowly. “Yeah, I did.”
“Right, yes, with Jeff.”
Jackson’s eyes wandered back to his Corolla’s bald tires. “Um, okay. That’s, uh, that’s Jeff’s car, too, isn’t it?”
“Oh, yeah.” Hope’s gestures were perhaps a little too expansive, and her smile was unnecessarily wide. “He just, y’know, let me borrow it…for some errands.” She tried to lean her elbow on the roof of the car, but the positioning was awkward, and she nearly fell over.
“That’s cool,” Jackson said.
“So, um, so where are you going?” Hope asked, desperately trying to sound as interested as possible.
Jackson gave her a deer-in-the-headlights look for about two seconds. Then: “Errands, y’know, errands.”
“Right,” Hope agreed quickly. “Always have those. So…see ya!” She slipped another key into the car door, and it turned out to be the right one. She immediately pulled the door open and jumped into Jeff’s car.
“See ya!” Jackson called out, as he watched the Taurus pull out of its parking space and drive away. “See ya,” he repeated, quieter this time. He pulled open the door of his own car and got in.
Bureau Nine – Lobby – Later
Hope was so busy taking in the sweeping glass architecture of Bureau Nine’s front lobby that she didn’t notice Lori walking up to greet her.
“Hope Lehane?” The former slayer extended her hand in greeting, and after a brief moment, Hope reached out and took it in her own.
“That’s me,” she said sheepishly. “Mr. Felix wanted to see me?”
“That’s right,” Lori nodded. “He’s expecting you.” She pointed to her own chest. “I’m Lori, by the way.”
Bureau Nine – Hallway – Moments Later
Hope continued to take in the sights as she and Lori walked down a long, busy hallway.
“This place is pretty…big,” Hope said. “What exactly is it you guys do here again?”
A tight smile appeared on Lori’s face. “We provide protection services, supernatural control, research, stuff like that. Personally, I mostly help out Mr. Felix.”
“You’re his assistant?” Hope asked without really paying attention.
Lori appeared to think about the question. “Sometimes. But he and I are closer than that. Sometimes, I feel like he’s my dad.”
That got Hope’s attention. “Your dad?”
Lori’s freckled cheeks blushed. “It sounds so corny, I know. It’s just that, sometimes I feel like I can talk to him, and that maybe he’s…”
“Maybe he’s got all the answers?” Hope finished.
“Yeah, exactly,” Lori agreed. She noticed the stricken look that just appeared on Hope’s face. “Is something wrong?”
“No, nothing,” Hope said quickly. “I just, um, I’m just nervous, is all. Is there a bathroom somewhere around here?”
“Oh, yeah, sure.” Lori pointed a little ways down the hall to a door marked “Stairs.” “One floor down, third door on your left.” She leaned forward, as if to speak confidentially. “There aren’t nearly enough ladies’ rooms in this building.”
Bureau Nine – Underground Hallway – Moments Later
When Hope closed the stairway door behind her, she found herself in a far more nondescript, far less busy underground hallway. Absent-mindedly, she only walked two doors down on her left, to a door marked with a large number “07.”
Halfway through pushing the door open, Hope came up short. There was a large bed in the center of the room, surrounded by clear plastic sheeting on which “QUARANTINE” was clearly written in red block letters. On the bed lay an especially thin teenage girl with dark hair and big eyes.
“Um, sorry, wrong room,” Hope said, but before she had fully turned to leave, the girl sat up in her bed and looked directly at Hope.
“Por favor,” the girl said, despair in her voice, “ayúdame.”
As Hope opened her mouth to reply, Lori appeared suddenly in the doorway behind her. “Get lost?” she asked, apparently good-naturedly.
“I, uh –” Hope stammered.
“Don’t worry about it,” Lori said, gently taking Hope by the arm and leading her out of the room. “C’mon, he’s waiting for you.”
Watchers Council – Denise and Jaye’s Dorm Room – Day
Denise stood silently in the center of the tiny room she and Jaye shared. She took a few steps toward Jaye’s dresser and picked up a small picture frame sitting on top of it. The photograph it held featured Jaye in the center of a group of several other slayers, a huge grin on her face. Denise ran a hand over the picture.
“What happened to you?” she asked quietly.
It was then that Denise noticed Heli staring back at her from the edge of the group in the picture, her expression blank. Quickly, she drew her hand back and placed the picture frame back on top of the dresser.
She opened the top drawer of Jaye’s dresser and quickly rifled through it. After a moment, Denise held up a pair of thong underpants and frowned, but she placed them back in the drawer and moved on. She rummaged through the rest of the dresser, growing increasingly frustrated at its apparent ordinariness. Then, in the bottom drawer, her hand struck something odd amidst Jaye’s various make-up accessories.
“Found you,” she said.
Denise held up a small, orangish vial containing a dark, syrupy liquid. The vial looked like it might have been medical issue, though any label had since been removed. The only marking on the container was a large “V” scrawled hurriedly on the side in what looked like Sharpie marker. She unscrewed the plastic cap and found that it had a small dropper attached to it. She set this on the top of the dresser and sniffed the bottle in her hand. Denise immediately pulled back at the strength of the smell and put a hand over her nose and mouth.
“Whoa,” she managed, as she awkwardly tried to screw the container’s cap back on with one hand. “What the hell?”
Bureau Nine – Outside Mr. Felix’s Office – Same Time
As Hope and Lori approached the door to Mr. Felix’s office, Lori called out a greeting to the raven-haired girl who was exiting. “Hey, Marissa!”
Marissa stopped and smiled. “Hey, Lori.”
“Haven’t seen you since you got back from Spain,” Lori noted. “You feeling okay?”
Marissa gestured dismissively. “Oh, yeah, you know, I’m fine. The docs tell me everything’s still intact, so…”
“Faith just got back from Spain,” Hope supplied helpfully. Marissa turned to stare at the girl.
“Marissa, this is Hope,” Lori explained, “Faith Lehane’s sister.”
Marissa sized the girl up. “Guess I can see the resemblance. Hey, can you do something for me?” Hope nodded. “Tell Miss ‘Look at me I got brought back from the dead so I’m suddenly too cool to visit or even call’ that I’m doing better, okay?”
Hope raised an eyebrow. “Um…okay.”
Marissa pointed at Lori. “We should catch up. I hear Subway’s catering in the cafeteria, you should show before it’s gone.”
“I’ll be there,” Lori told her. “I just have a few things to take care of first.” As Marissa nodded and left, Lori turned to talk to Hope. “You can head on in.”
Bureau Nine – Mr. Felix’s Office – Moments Later
Hope tentatively peeked her head through the open crack of Mr. Felix’s door. From behind his desk, the executive looked up from a report to welcome the new arrival. “Ah, Hope!” he smiled. “Do come in! Please!”
“Nice place you’ve got here,” Hope said as she entered. She plopped herself down comfortably in a large padded chair opposite Mr. Felix. “A little rich for my blood, maybe, but this works for you.”
“Oh believe me, that isn’t quite true. Either one,” Felix said, lifting an eyebrow.
“This place. It only barely works, as you put it. Just a means to an end. Comfortable, yes. But not…well, certainly not good enough for either one of us. Not really.” He said it lightly, with a smile, but somehow sounded sad.
Hope shrugged. “I’m not special. Just another tough kid from Southie.”
“Ah. How many ‘tough kids from Southie’ are sitting where you are today?” Felix asked.
Hope thought about that. “They,” she grinned, “don’t have the sugar daddy I do.”
Felix barked a laugh, but then raised a finger. “Now, now. That is how rumors get started.”
“And here I was thinking it was the rumor fairy,” Hope said. “So…why am I sitting here today anyway?”
Felix stared at Hope for several moments. “I do always enjoy seeing you, Hope. And I want us to be honest with one other.”
“Honesty is good,” Hope agreed, voice neutral.
“You’ve seen Bureau Nine now, seen what it is we do. I think we manage to achieve much, and that what we do is worthwhile. Do you agree?”
Hope hesitated before answering. “Um, yeah, I guess so. Yes, I do.”
“There is a favor I would ask of you,” Felix said, “and I would like to ask you not to think yourself at all obligated to fulfill it.”
“What?” Hope asked.
Felix rose from behind his desk. He walked around and sat in the chair beside Hope. He crossed his legs and looked directly into her eyes. “Bureau Nine is starting some negotiations with the Council soon. A pooling of information that, quite frankly, will aid us both.”
“Kind of a nice way to treat the competition.”
He shrugged. “We can be rivals. We can be enemies. I’m very much hoping for us to be allies. However,” his eyes twinkled slightly, “I’m not above trying for what might seem like an unfair advantage. Frankly, there’s a great deal at stake.”
Hope looked down for a second, unsure. “You want me to bring you some secret files.”
“Yes. And, no.” Felix sighed. “The truth is, there are some files in the Council’s database, files that may prove vital to an extremely important project. One that will do a truly enormous amount of good. What I’m asking for you to do is to copy the equivalent of the Council’s library index. That way, we will know whether what we’re looking for is, in fact, there.”
Hope furrowed her brow. “But isn’t that just another way of saying…”
A knock on the door interrupted her, closely followed by Lori entering the room.
“Sorry to interrupt,” she said. “You wanted me to tell you as soon as the analysis was finished on that new…”
“Of course,” Felix nodded, rising. “Hope, if you would excuse me for a moment…”
Hope gave a small, absent-minded nod. She watched as Felix lightly placed his hand on Lori’s shoulder, as well as the way the red-headed girl smiled up at the man leaning over her and the file she opened on the desk.
“The antidote should be relatively simple,” Lori said, voice low. “A combination of Citric Acid, Thiamin Hydrochloride, Sodium Benzoate and various sugars. Basically, a glass of Sunny Delight, and anybody afflicted should be right as rain.”
“Exceptional work,” Felix said, “thank you.”
She blushed. “Oh, well, I just wrote the report.”
“And I failed to notice a single misspelling,” Felix commended with a grin. Lori smiled, nodded, and headed back out of the office. “Let me know if we make any progress on the source of the product,” he called after her before turning his attention back to Hope. “Now, Hope–”
“I’ll do it,” Hope said suddenly. Mr. Felix blinked a couple of times behind his spectacles.
Watchers Council – Hallway Outside Faith’s Office – Day
Denise had one hand poised to knock on Faith’s office door and the other holding Jaye’s bottle. She was about to lower her hand when the sound of Faith’s booming voice coming from inside the room stopped her.
“Would you two come off it? We all know why Will got a slap on the wrist. She’s your best friend and your…best lay.” Denise could hear the voice through the door easily.
“That’s a cheap shot.”
“Oh, is it, B? Then tell me this: Why was she suspended for only two weeks?” Faith countered.
“Look, Althenea will be arriving shortly,” Denise heard Rowena reply.
“To what? Erase all our memories?”
The sound of something slamming on a table made Denise jump slightly and move away from the door a little bit, but after a moment she tiptoed closer again.
“Consider this, Faith,” Denise heard Rowena begin, “if we had suspended Willow longer, it’s quite possible you would be dead now. Like it or not, and regardless of our relationship with her, this Council needs her active.”
Denise looked nervously at either end of the hallway but saw no one around. In spite of her anxiety, she stayed put.
“Hey!” Faith said sharply. “I love Will, okay?…Don’t roll your eyes at me, B. When I came back to help fight the First, she was the first one willing to speak to me like a real person. You sure as hell didn’t.”
“Fine. As head of the Watchers Division, what do you suggest I do, Faith? Suspend her indefinitely so the media can have a field day at the Council’s expense, and weaken the Coven in the process?”
“Indefinitely, no. But something a little more serious,” Faith replied. “The media doesn’t need to know everyone we discipline here or for how long – that’s just an excuse.”
“All right, let’s talk about discipline then,” Buffy replied. “Why aren’t you back in prison yet?”
“You want my job, B? Is that it?” Faith asked.
“No, that’s not it,” Buffy said. “I’m just saying it’s a bit of the pot calling the kettle black.”
Denise leaned in closer to the door when she couldn’t make out Faith’s reply. She then heard heavy footsteps and Buffy and Rowena both shout, “Don’t.”
“Don’t what?” The eavesdropping slayer heard a slamming phone and Faith continue. “You’re right, B. Maybe I should turn myself in again.”
“We need you here, too,” Rowena’s voice replied. “Just like we need Willow. The girls look up to you, Faith.”
“The same girls who’ve got rumors flying rampant, saying that beating a slayer is acceptable ’round here? The sad part is, if someone asks, I don’t have a leg to stand on because…yeah…apparently it is okay to let vampires knock around our slayers if we tell them to.”
“Jesus, you sound like Jim,” Rowena sighed.
“Yeah, you hate the guy, but maybe he’s right!”
“Willow did what she thought she had to do!” Rowena shouted.
“But she was wrong!” Faith yelled back. “And while I’m at it…why is Skye still alive anyway, huh? My second suggestion is to stake her, since she’s no longer a part of this Council and can’t be suspended.”
“I can’t argue with you there,” Buffy supplied.
“You want to stake her because she’s a vampire that’s done evil things?” Rowena asked.
“The concept had occurred to me, yeah,” Faith answered sarcastically.
“Okay, great! Let’s make that a new policy! Oh, but before you kill Skye, make sure you do Angel first!” Denise heard the room go quiet. “Now that’s a different story, isn’t it?”
“Nobody’s killing Angel,” Faith replied.
“And why’s that? Because of a soul? Or because he’s your friend?” Rowena continued. “Now it’s my turn to say, ‘you two come off it’!” Rowena spat. “If we’re going to have a rule, it should be across the board, shouldn’t it? Isn’t that what you’re saying about Willow and Skye, after all?”
“Look, just drop it,” Buffy said.
“No,” Rowena countered. “And furthermore, I gave Skye my word that she would be safe as long as she cooperates with us. So if anyone touches so much as a hair on her head, I’ll –”
“What?” Faith asked. “Talk us to death?”
“I’ll leave,” Rowena replied.
Denise’s eyes went wide, and the room went quiet for a moment.
Faith chuckled. “And go where, Watcher Lady?”
“Mr. Felix made me an offer that, if necessary, I won’t refuse,” Rowena told her.
“That wasn’t in your report, was it? How did I miss that?” Buffy asked acerbically.
“Because I didn’t list it. It wasn’t about the Council. It was personal, and quite frankly, not anything I would have even entertained…until now.”
“So more secrets?” Faith asked rhetorically. “That’s just great.”
“I won’t stand by and let you two put Willow through the wringer on this,” Rowena raised her voice again. “She’s woken up most nights crying. Our lunch hours are spent going over what we did that day, analyzing it, instead of enjoying planning our wedding. So don’t act like it’s out of sight, out of mind, or-or that she hasn’t paid, because she has. We both have!”
“Ro –” Faith began.
“So that means if she goes, then I go too.”
Again, all Denise heard was silence.
“If it means making my girls feel secure, there’s the door, Blondie,” Faith said after a long pause.
When Denise heard footsteps approaching her, she took off down the hall, and only heard Buffy yell out, “Stop right there, Ro!”
Abandoned Elementary School – Day
Jackson parked his car in the street in front of a sprawling, dirty brick complex. A large sign with illegible black graffiti scrawled across it stood next to the entrance. He pulled the small slip of paper Jaye had given him out of his jacket pocket, glanced at it, and slid it back into his pocket.
“Check out the urban decay,” he mumbled, before walking into the building.
Abandoned Elementary School – Moments Later
Upon entering, Jackson found himself face-to-face with a burly demon with dappled red and yellow skin. “Whaddaya want?” he asked gruffly.
The demon’s nostrils flared when Jackson held up his Council badge. “Jackson App, Watchers Council.”
“Ain’t nothin’ here,” the demon said quickly, glancing around nervously. “In fact, I was just…”
“Jaye Gradkowski sent me,” Jackson interrupted. The demon stayed still long enough to hear him out. “I’m throwing a party tonight, and I was told you guys could hook me up.”
The red and yellow demon relaxed. “Oh, yeah, we got the hook-up. Were you looking for something specific, or…”
“Jaye just told me where to go,” Jackson said. “She wasn’t real…y’know, she didn’t say much about what happens here.”
The demon put a beefy, clawed hand around Jackson’s shoulder. “Tell you what, I think I’ll take you to see the boss.”
Former Elementary Classroom – Moments Later
Volek’s hulking figure stood over a pile of boxes in the center of what had once been a classroom. Ugly brown chalkboards still dominated two of the walls. The large demon was supervising a pair of small demons moving the boxes when the red and yellow demon entered with Jackson in tow.
“What is it?” Volek barked.
“This is Jackson App,” the red and yellow demon replied, his gracious tone seeming strange coming from his sharp-toothed mouth. “He is representing the Watchers Council.”
“And you bring him here?!” Volek asked, a threat in his voice.
“I was told that you were the people to see for something cool for the party I’m throwing tonight,” Jackson said, unable to hide his unease. “But maybe I should just…” He found the red and yellow demon blocking his way out of the room. Slowly, Jackson turned back around to face Volek.
“A party…for the Watchers Council folks?” Volek seemed intrigued.
“Yeah,” Jackson nodded. “A lot of the slayers are going to be there, some of the junior watchers…I really don’t want a repeat of last time, and Jaye said you guys could help.”
“Jaye Gradkowski?” Volek asked, bringing his claws together under his chin. “And how is our mutual slayer friend?”
“Uh…not so good, actually,” Jackson admitted. “She’s…feeling kinda sick right now.”
“A pity,” Volek said. “Still, she has not steered you wrong. I think maybe I have what you need.” The demon gestured expansively to a large, round metal keg sitting in the corner of the room.
Jackson perked up at this. “A beer keg? Yeah, that’d be awesome. It’s like Markham says, sometimes, all a slayer wants is to get good and…” He stopped himself before going any further. “How much?”
“Oh, there’s no need to worry about that,” Volek told him. “We always love to help out our good friends at the Watchers Council. It’s on the house.” He made a clicking noise through his teeth, getting the attention of the smaller demons moving the boxes. “My friends here will help you get the merchandise to your car.”
“Thanks!” Jackson grinned. As he and the smaller demons left the room with the keg, the red and yellow demon walked over to talk to Volek.
“Are you sure that was a good idea?” it asked.
“You want the damn Council to come in here and shut us down?” Volek growled. “We have to do something.”
“Yeah, but I don’t see how…”
“That Heli girl got it wrong, you know,” Volek said, as he idly ran his claws down one of the chalkboards, making an awful screeching sound. “You can’t take out a couple of bigwigs and expect to make a dent in the Watchers Council.” He looked up to see the red and yellow demon grimacing at the noise. “You have to do it from the bottom up.”
End of Act Three