Watchers Council – Conference Room – Afternoon
“Are you mad?” Giles said emphatically. “It’s outrageous!”
“Hear me out, okay? It’s only for the winter,” Willow said firmly. “There’s a safe-house in a small town in Pennsylvania called Shelwick, near Carlisle, where they can stay as long as they want. It’s a demon’s home, and they don’t mind vampires. In fact, Dawn says they’re actually looking forward to hosting them because of their mutual connection – although Dawn didn’t tell me who that is. Dawn says there are colleges and other small towns nearby where she can apply for work. In the spring, once the snow’s gone, they plan to get onto the AT and follow it south until they find an area they like and –”
“The AT?” Giles asked.
“Appalachian Trail. It’s close by there. Dawn and Skye are planning to hike a ways down it until they find a jump-off place to…well, set down roots, I guess.”
“Is anybody else hearing ‘Dueling Banjos’ here?” Xander said. “First of all, Dawn’s not Grizzly Adams, and Skye’s…what’s she gonna eat?”
“I imagine there’s plenty of small prey in the Appalachians, especially if you head far enough south,” Willow said.
“I meant Dawn,” Xander said. “Is she gonna spear her food or run it down to exhaustion?”
“Let me finish,” Willow said. “Dawn has money from the Council. Her room and board is covered, so over the past few years it’s added up to, well, a lot. They’re going to find a spot they like, someplace off the track, maybe not too far from a town where Dawn can find a permanent job. Then they’re gonna settle down.”
“Okay, I see two things wrong with that,” Rowena said.
“Just two?” Buffy asked.
Rowena ignored her. “First, a walk in the enchanted forest to find a cute little gingerbread house near a magic kingdom where nobody minds vampires is not a plan. That’s a fairy tale. Second, if that is the plan, it’s just a bad one.”
“No doubt,” Buffy said seriously.
“Not,” Rowena began again, “that Dawn’s not smart enough to actually pull it off – she probably can. And it will be idyllic, for a while. At least until the U.S. Forestry Service starts wondering why Bambi’s corpse is sporting fang marks.”
“I don’t think Skye and Dawn will be that dumb,” Willow said.
“They’re already that dumb!” Buffy shot back.
“Still,” Rowena said, “for the next few months or so, it may be the most logical place for them to go…especially since my promise that they’ll be safe here is pretty pointless now.”
“You don’t understand,” Buffy began, shaking her head.
“Don’t go there,” Rowena barked, cutting her off. “I gave them my word Skye would go unharmed, and you gave me yours – no harm, no foul. What I walked into the other night was far from what we agreed.”
“Dawn’s not thinking with her head right now,” Buffy countered.
“Oh, so you were when you pushed that stake into Dawn’s hand? I’ll give you this, at least you kept your word…up until the dorm fiasco,” Rowena replied. “You’re not lying if you make Dawn do it. But it just didn’t turn out that way, did it? So you thought you’d take matters into your own hands, or in this case, your own stake.”
“Hey, you gave this chair to me,” Buffy countered. “You didn’t want to make the hard decisions anymore, remember? Something has to be done here, and the sooner the better.”
Rowena began to shake her head and grin. She opened her mouth, but Willow put a hand on hers.
“Let it go,” the witch said softly, and Rowena bit her bottom lip for a moment.
“You’re such a hypocrite,” Rowena eventually said to Buffy.
“Rowena,” Willow pleaded.
“No, Will,” she continued. “Her and Faith both. Let’s kill Skye, but we’ll save the vamps we do like. It’s a big pile of B.S.”
“So what did she say to win you over, Ro?” Buffy asked. “I’ve read your reports. Is there anything there you forgot to mention, just like your trip to Bureau Nine?”
“Bureau Nine?” Willow asked.
“The job offer,” Rowena said quickly, making Willow nod. She turned back to Buffy. “She didn’t win me over, as you put it,” Rowena replied. “But unlike you, she’s not dating my sister. So I’m not looking for an excuse to stake her. I only wanted the facts.”
“Which proves nothing,” Buffy shot back.
“We have testimony from slayer witnesses saying she’s helped this Council – not unlike Angel or Spike. In fact, one slayer reports that last May she saved your life. She doesn’t have a lust for blood, and she only takes what she needs to survive. Point is, she isn’t like other vampires I’ve researched so far.”
“So what does that mean exactly? We just let her go?” Buffy asked.
“That’s the thing, Buffy,” Rowena said.
“She could have gone, at any point,” Rowena countered. “It’s not up to us to let her go. If she wanted, she could be out there somewhere in the world, doing all this evil you think she’ll do. But she’s not, she’s still here. I think that says something.”
“And what would that be, Ro?” Buffy asked in an agitated tone.
“I don’t know, yet,” Rowena answered honestly. “But if the Council stakes her, I’ll never have the answer.”
“This is ridiculous,” Buffy sighed.
Rowena brushed off the remark, instead turning to Willow. “But I have a question…why don’t they just stay in Shelnik?”
“Shelwick,” Willow corrected her. “Mainly because the area is still too densely populated for comfort. Dawn wants to get Skye as far from temptation – humans – as possible. She believes Skye won’t be a problem, but she doesn’t want to risk being wrong either…Which to me is proof she really is thinking here, guys.”
“Well,” Rowena reasoned, “if they follow the Appalachian Trail, they could easily lose themselves in four or five states’ worth of wilderness during the summer –”
“Maine to Georgia,” Willow offered.
“–probably without once being seen.”
“I know Dawn,” Buffy said, “She needs to be within fifteen minutes of take-out pizza. I don’t see her sitting on a moss bed and eating twigs with Bigfoot. Or with Skye, for that matter. I give them forty-eight hours before they catch the red-eye to Vegas.”
“Buffy, this isn’t a weekend getaway,” Willow said. “It’s a run for their lives.”
“What lives? Skye’s a vampire! One that murdered people, by the way, in case anybody’s forgotten. And my love-struck baby sister is –”
“Stop it, Buffy!” Willow said, raising her voice. “Look, I don’t want to lose my temper here. Yes, Dawn may be love-struck – okay, yeah, she is. But Dawn is not a baby. Not anymore. And if you keep thinking about her like that, you’re gonna lose her for good!”
“Hello? Already lost,” Buffy answered bitterly.
“Have you tried talking to her?” Willow asked.
“I mean really talking to her, not at her? Have you actually listened to what she has to say about it?”
“Willow, she can talk to me about it all she wants. I knew Skye from the beginning, and I feel bad about it, horrible in fact. But Skye’s gone and in the end, the vampire has to go, too. Giles? Back me up here, would you?”
Everyone looked at Giles. At first he said nothing. “Everyone here makes convincing arguments,” he replied.
When he didn’t say anything else, Buffy asked, “That’s it?”
“What should I say?” Giles replied. “I’m not Dawn’s father a-and I’m no longer a Division Head within the Council. This is something you will all have to work out for yourselves.”
Buffy released a heavy sigh and continued, “Skye’s like a jungle cat, guys. One day, she’s gonna go feral, and Dawn won’t be able to stop it from happening. The demon’ll win out. And that’s why I need to protect her, and anyone else who gets in Skye’s way.”
“But even if that does happen, I have faith the spell will activate,” Willow said. “Plus, Skye can’t really hurt Dawn – Dawn’s more than immortal, she’s indestructible.”
Buffy looked squarely at her friend. “Her heart’s not,” she answered.
Watchers Council – Dawn’s Apartment – Early Evening
“We want a hit! We want a hit!” the crowd called out as the batter stepped into the box. She dug her toe into the dirt at home plate and settled into her batting stance. The pitch came right down the middle. She swung hard and ran as fast as she could and her hat came off. The crowd roared as the announcer said “And there it is! Shannon Mathewson of the Women’s National Fast Pitch Softball League has just broken her own history-making record with her 25th home run! And the season’s not even half over folks!” As she rounded third base, her hair flew out behind her like a flag flying in the wind. ‘Shan-non! Shan-non! Shan-non,’ the crowd chanted as she neared home plate.
“Shannon…Shannon…Shannon!” Dawn called over the typing.
“Huh?” Shannon looked up from the laptop. “Oh. Sorry.”
“Shannon,” Dawn sat down at the kitchen table and looked at her slayer. “We need to talk.”
Shannon looked back at Dawn, her hands still on the keyboard. Dawn glanced at the laptop, and Shannon quickly saved her story and powered the laptop down, then looked back at Dawn.
“If it’s about my hanging out in Skye’s room, I told you I’m signing a visitor log now.”
“No,” Dawn said. “It’s not about that. Shannon, there’s something I need to tell you…”
Watchers Council – Slayer Dorm – Evening
Shannon lifted the jar onto her mattress. It was so heavy it sank down a bit on the bed. She unscrewed the cover and reached deeply into her jeans pockets, pulling out a fist-full of small, white stones. Shannon dumped the stones on the bed. Then, one by one, she began pitching them into the jar, each one striking the others sharply.
Lorinda walked in, pulling a hair band out of her long ponytail. She saw Shannon from behind, kneeling on the floor in front of the bed, pitching the white rocks into her strange stone jar.
“I just had the best lesson ever!” Lorinda announced.
Shannon paid no attention.
“Jeff is the best teacher the Council has.”
The stones seemed to be striking a little harder.
“He’s the best watcher the Council has.”
The stones were now being pitched in harder and slower.
“Nobody has a watcher like mine,” Lorinda said quietly, smiling. She walked leisurely to the foot of Shannon’s bed and looked over her shoulder at the girl. Lorinda saw Shannon’s tear-streaked face as the girl continued to shoot the white stones into the jar.
Lorinda stopped, gaping at the upset girl. “What’s up?” she asked seriously.
Shannon stopped throwing the stones in the jar and looked up at Lorinda, her mouth trembling slightly.
“One o’ your pet rocks die?” Lorinda smirked and crossed the floor.
There was silence in the room as Lorinda walked to the large mirror. A small white stone, flung with slayer strength, whizzed past her and struck the mirror at eye level, just a fraction of an inch to Lorinda’s right. The stone lodged in the mirror, cracking it in a circular spider web pattern.
Lorinda spun on Shannon, hair flying about her face, her eyes full of rage.
“You nut job! You little…Vamp-Lover!” Lorinda spat.
Shannon stared at her detachedly.
“You love vampires so much, you should become one! Have Skye bite you and then I can stake you both!”
Shannon kept staring silently at Lorinda.
“And I hope she bites your stupid watcher, too!”
Shannon smiled very slightly and shook her head no. “She already has,” she said calmly.
Lorinda looked unsure of herself as she regarded the cold expression on Shannon’s face. “You’re warped!” she sneered. But she quickly left the room, giving Shannon as wide a berth as possible as she passed.
The door closed behind Lorinda and Shannon’s smile faded. Then she began pitching more stones into the jar.
Watchers Council – Delivery Entrance – Sundown
The Next Night
Dawn carefully lifted her suitcases into the minivan as Skye walked around to the passenger side and slid the door open. She hopped in and flashed a smile to their driver, purposely morphing and exposing her fangs.
The flabby skinned demon grinned at her and waved. “Hi there!” he said.
“Dawnie…” Willow’s voice carried to them from outside. “Are you sure you have everything you need?”
“Here comes the touching goodbye,” Skye smirked, before returning her face to normal.
“Dawn’s had a lot of those. And some pretty gruesome ones, too.”
“So, what’s your story?” Skye asked. “Dawn says you used to baby-sit her.”
“I’ve known Dawn for ages,” the demon replied. “Name’s Clem, by the way.”
“Skye,” she nodded. “How long to your friend’s place?”
“‘Bout six or seven hours,” he said, as he put on a hunting hat with earflaps, then added a pair of dark sunglasses.
Skye gave him a look. “You gotta be kidding.”
“Helps with the highway patrol. Less chance of getting stopped if I look like all the other rednecks.”
The front passenger door opened, and Dawn got into the van. She knelt on the seat and looked back at Skye. “Ready?”
“You don’t know how ready,” Skye said quietly.
Dawn turned around in her seat, and both she and Skye shut their doors on the world outside the vehicle. “Okay,” Dawn said, looking straight ahead. “Let’s go.”
Clem looked at her and smiled, then turned the key in the ignition. The engine started and purred, and the van slowly began to roll forward and down the long service driveway.
Willow, Rowena, Giles and Xander stood watching it as it turned the bend and disappeared into the deepening night.
Willow sighed. “Good luck, Dawnie,” she said.
Xander looked sideways at Willow for a moment, then at the departing van. “Yeah,” he said softly. “Good luck…both of you…”
Willow turned her head up at him and smiled.
Giles frowned and gave them both a sour look as he turned on his heel and walked, unhurriedly, back inside.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – 11:30 a.m.
The Next Day
“Well, now at least we know who this Felix guy is, I guess,” muttered Buffy, as she leafed through a printout file.
Rowena, Xander, Willow, Faith, Kennedy and Robin sat around the table with her. Each had several files with them.
“And it is impressive,” agreed Rowena.
“I’ll say!” added Willow. “His doctoral thesis in college theorized a new universal field that would impart potential for radical realignment of properties to individual particles, and drew a parallel between wavelengths within that field and certain patterns in neurological readings.” She sounded impressed.
Kennedy raised her hand. “Did anyone understand that?”
“He used physics to predict the existence of magic,” Robin said.
“Ya see,” said Faith to Kennedy, “this is part of what makes us such a great team. He gets this stuff. It’s great.”
“I also acted on a hunch,” said Rowena, “and cross-referenced the name ‘Jason Felix’ in the old Council archives. Turns out he’s a watcher.”
“Whoa,” said Buffy. “You mean, he quit?”
“No, I mean he was never recruited. But he was identified by the Coven as a chosen watcher twenty-something years ago. When they looked him up, he was gone. Somebody had gone head-hunting and hired him first.”
“Bureau Nine,” Robin finished for her. Rowena nodded. “And now he’s the head of it.”
“Although,” Rowena pointed out, “it wasn’t called Bureau Nine then. Still, he’s been in charge for almost five years now. And,” she indicated the file before her, “if this is accurate, he’s done good work.”
“I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel about this,” said Faith. “We’ve saved the world how many times?”
“Um…ten?” That was Kennedy’s guess.
“Fourteen. Maybe fifteen,” said Buffy.
“I thought it was more like twelve,” Willow put in.
Faith shrugged. “Call it an even dozen. The point is, it’s kinda creepy to find out we missed a few almost-doomsdays.”
“But it’s nice to know someone else was picking up the slack,” said Robin. “And it’s also interesting to learn the real reason for the tsunami last year.”
“Yeah,” agreed Kennedy, glancing at her file. “If this is right, it looks like things could have been even worse.”
“That’s the question, though,” said Buffy. “Is it right? Can we trust what these files tell us?”
“So far,” said Rowena, “everything we’ve checked seems to match up. Of course we’ve only scratched the surface so far…”
“And I’ve found something kind of worrisome, maybe,” said Willow. Everyone looked at her. “There is a reference here and there to something called the Oversight Committee, so I searched all the disks for reference to it. If I’m right, then this Oversight Committee might be the guys who originally funded the Initiative.”
Buffy rolled her eyes. “Just what we need,” she breathed.
Watchers Council – Front Desk – Moments Later
“I said I want to speak to someone in charge!” a thirty-ish man bellowed at the front desk of the Council.
The receptionist kept her finger on the security button just under her desk as the man ranted and raged. In less than fifteen seconds, several slayers were at the front desk, and about two seconds after that, Buffy and Faith broke through the group to the distraught man and his wife.
“Are you in charge?!” the red-faced man asked Faith and Buffy. Before either could reply, he slammed his hand down on the reception counter. “I want my daughter, and I want her now!”
“Sir – ” Buffy began.
“Don’t ‘sir’ me, you little – what are you, the den mother?”
Faith cracked a grin and turned her head to hide it. “I got it, B,” she said, snickering.
When she turned to face the man, however, she was all business and gave him a cold stare. “Look, buddy –”
Everyone assembled turned and looked at Connie, who stood at the outer edge of the group, a horrified look in her eyes.
“Daddy! Mom, what are you guys doing he –?”
“Connie!” the man said, relieved, as his wife ran to her and put her arms around her. He spun on Faith and stuck his finger in her face. “I’m taking my daughter out of here. She puts her life on the line every minute of the day for you. She could die fighting vampires and demons! And you let one go! One that’s killed one of your own! That’s aiding and abetting, and I’m writing my congressman! I’m gonna shut this school down and –”
“Daddy! You can’t do that! I live here! I – I have classes! Mom! Mom, tell him to stop it!”
“You listen to me young lady,” her father said.
“No.” Connie spoke quietly, suddenly the slayer. “No, you listen to me. This is where I belong. This is who I am and what I do. You can’t take me home. I am home.”
“Wooooo-hoooo! You tell ’em, Connie. Atta girl, Con,” her friends said.
“What is going on?” Rowena said, approaching the group. She stood, arms crossed.
“Rowena, this is my mom and dad,” Connnie said sullenly.
“We’re taking our daughter home! And –”
“Okay, okay,” Rowena said, holding her hands up in front of her. “She’s your daughter and that’s fine.”
“Rowena!” Connie cried.
“Connie, why don’t you go to your room and start packing some things. Let me talk to them,” Rowena said gently. “Maybe some of you could help?” she turned and winked at the group of slayers. One of them nudged another.
“Sure,” the girl said. “C’mon Connie. Come with us.”
Connie gave Rowena an uncertain look then walked off with the group of slayers toward the dorms.
Rowena turned to Connie’s parents. “While Connie’s getting her things together, why don’t you come with me and get something to eat and drink? You must be tired from the drive here.”
Connie’s mother and father traded a look, and suddenly the man’s entire body seemed to go slack, his shoulders drooping wearily. He nodded. “I have to turn off my car,” he muttered.
“Oh, no problem, Dad,” Faith said, gesturing at Buffy, “the den mother’ll take care of it!”
Watchers Council – Dining Hall – Noon
“How many others, I wonder,” Willow said softly as she, Rowena, Buffy, Faith and Jim Pollan sat at a table not far from where Connie and her parents were talking over a hot meal. “How many other slayers have told their parents that we’ve been allowing a vampire – a murderer – to stay inside the Council walls? And now we’ve let her go? How many are going to be coming here wanting to take their daughters away because of all that?”
“And can we keep a lid on it?” Jim added. “Someone’s bound to go to the press, or the press’ll find them and…damn it! Why didn’t someone stake her after you were done testing her?”
“First, I’m not done,” Rowena said, “and second, I have to talk Connie’s folks into letting her stay and convince them she wasn’t in any danger from Skye.”
“Yeah, well, polish that speech up nice,” Faith said. “Something tells me you’re gonna be using it a lot.”
“Something tells me we both will,” Jim said.
“Hey, you guys! Hey!” Casey ran into the dining hall. Everyone, including Connie and her parents, stopped talking and looked at the excited girl. “You better check this out! C’mon, before it goes off the air…”
Jim was on his feet first and nearly tripping over Casey as she led the way to the TV room.
“And CNN has just gotten confirmation from its London Bureau that five slayers in that city’s Watchers Council have staged a sit-down strike. The five girls are occupying the Branch Head’s Office and say they won’t leave until the Cleveland Branch hunts the missing vampire down and stakes it, publicly. Unconfirmed reports say that slayers from the Council’s Barcelona Branch are refusing to go on patrol and that slayers in Rio de Janeiro Council are refusing to eat until the vampire is found and destroyed.”
At about that point Jim Pollan’s cell phone began chiming and didn’t seem like it was about to stop. “There goes the lid,” he said quietly. “Got that speech yet?” he asked Rowena.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Afternoon
“Okay,” Rowena said, as Xander and Robin took their seats at the conference table. “Let’s get started.”
Willow, Faith, Buffy and Andrew looked back at her seriously. None of them spoke.
Xander and Robin sat at the far end of the conference table, looking on.
“Let’s open the debate,” Rowena said.
“There’s nothing to debate,” Buffy countered. “We have slayers on strike and watchers taking vamps for rides in the country.”
“Buffy, what Dawn and Skye are doing is not a ride in the –”
“I’ll tell you what they’re doing!” Buffy shot back. “They’re making sure that Skye gets away with murder.”
“Regardless,” Rowena said, sitting back, “cards are on the table.”
“If we bring them back,” Willow offered, “we’re doing two things: we’re caving to public opinion and we’re giving the slayers a different kind of power. Why does even saying that make me feel really uncomfortable?”
“Because,” Andrew said quietly, “slayers are supposed to be on duty no matter what. They’re not supposed to be all…political.”
“Oh yeah? Where’s it say that, stud?” Faith challenged.
“Look, if we meet the strikers’ demands,” Robin rejoined, “it’ll certainly send a message that I think has extremely dangerous implications.” Buffy and Faith looked as if they were going to argue. “But…they have a point. Now…Willow, I admit, I was a bit swayed by the fact that you were supportive of their plan. But for the slayers to not only come up with a strike, but to actually implement it, due to our actions….”
“Your point?” Willow asked.
“Well, I think we made a mistake in letting Skye go.”
“This is simple,” Buffy said. “Skye’s a vampire. She’s killed people. She needs to be punished. All real slayers get that. And they’re the ones on strike.”
“But Skye’s helped us, Buffy,” Willow countered. “She’s proven that she can be a-a productive member of the Council. And she hasn’t bitten anyone and–”
“Whatever happened to justice?”
“Buffy, if I had been brought to justice for killing Warren, where would we be?”
“Excuse me,” Rowena cut in, “but you actually were brought to justice. Just not in the legal system is all. The Coven brought you to justi –”
“The Coven brought me to peace, Ro. Internal, spiritual peace. But not justice…I was never punished for what I did.”
Faith smirked. “I was. And I can tell you, there’s no justice in punishment. Eye for an eye – that’s just revenge. But sittin’ in that prison…that made me face some stuff about myself that I had to change.”
“And then you got out of jail free,” Willow shot back. “You got a second chance without serving your full sentence – punishment – without ‘justice’ being served. At least not completely. And me too…” Willow bowed her head. “If I had been brought to justice, I would have been locked away with no way to do any magic ever again.”
“That’s just punishment,” Robin threw in. “And it would have robbed the world of all the good you’ve done since.”
“So what are we saying?” Faith asked. “That it’s okay to let Skye go because Red and I got a break?”
“We all got a break,” Andrew said. “Me, you Faith, Giles, Willow…we all killed someone – murdered people – and we’ve all gotten off free, in a way.”
“That’s not the point. The point is,” Faith looked around at the group, “Buffy’s right. We can’t let Skye go free. We gotta bring her back. To punishment or to justice or to just plain captivity. It will be a helluva lot easier to stake her.”
“But people change,” Andrew said.
“She’s not a person,” Buffy replied. “She’s a demon.”
“Demon or not, we’ve killed,” Andrew went on, “but it doesn’t mean we’ll do it again. We-we learned. We got better. We’re better than we were when we did those things.” He looked around at everyone. “Aren’t we?”
At first no one said anything. “People,” Robin began, “all we do know is that she’s controlling herself because she’s under the threat of the spell. She’s no better than Spike and his damn chip.”
“I don’t think that’s a fair comparison,” Willow said. “Sure, Skye’s a vampire. She’s got natural instincts to hunt and kill like any vampire does. But she’s fighting those instincts. Ro’s work with her shows –”
“Shows that a vamp’s a vamp’s a vamp,” Faith cut her off.
“Well put,” Buffy said, shooting Faith a smile.
“Will you two knock it off!” Willow barked. “Look, we have to ask ourselves one thing: Should vampires be treated the same as humans? Well? Think about it. If Skye did this as a human being – killed Dana, Bonnie and a co-ed – what would we do with her? We’d make her pay her debt to society?”
“Yeah, unless she’s a kick-ass slayer named Faith,” Andrew said snottily. Faith shot him a dangerous glare.
Willow ignored them both. “But she’s not human. No vampire is. Sure, they have human traits, but the demon is always there. And they’re living on predatory instinct. We don’t punish a lion because it hunts a gazelle, do we?”
“Willow, that’s a very nice philosophy,” Robin said. “But if we allow lions to run free, a lot of people are going to be killed – and worse, turned into more vampires.”
“And lions kill for food and that’s it. Vampires don’t have to kill,” Buffy said. “There’s ways to get blood without the killing. The killing is for sport. And without a soul goes the feeling that it’s wrong.”
“I’m not saying vamps are good. I’m just saying that maybe Skye isn’t all bad,” Willow replied.
“Then why didn’t she come clean right from the start?” Faith asked Willow. “All she had to do was say, ‘Yo, vamped now. Need help’.”
“Oh,” Willow said, “I see. So she should have come up to you or one of your sensitivity-trained slayers and said ‘excuse me, I’m a vampire now’ and then what? You guys woulda been all ‘Would you like fries with that stake?’ Sorry, but Skye’s a vampire. We’re the Council. We kill vampires. So, we’d kill Skye. Even if she’d gone to Dawnie with the truth from the start, she’d have had to plead her case. And then she’d have had to blend in somehow. She knew what her chances were, so she took the only chance she had – to keep it a secret and do her best not to be discovered. Dana and Bonnie were a threat to her because they knew her secret.”
Willow sat back and sighed heavily. “Don’t you get it? Skye didn’t kill them for sport or blood or a murderous streak. She killed them because they threatened her relationship with Dawn.”
“Please tell me I didn’t just hear her say that,” Buffy said, looking at the silent, frowning Xander. He shrugged ruefully at her.
“Yup, you heard it,” Faith said.
“But again, this is more than just a Skye issue,” Robin suggested. “This is a Council issue – Ro’s experiments, the AA vampires – these all point to something we have to finally take a look at. Are we selling the vampires short? We know they have the capacity for love, passion, loyalty…What if they have the capacity for compassion, remorse, and guilt? Or the desire to be good?”
“I haven’t been this moved since ET went home,” Faith said, rolling her eyes.
“Look,” Buffy said, annoyed. “We can talk around this all day. The fact is, vampires do not feel sorry for what they do. It’s not in their nature. They play with their food, for crying out loud! And then they feast. And when they’re done feasting, it’s on to the next juicy meal.”
“But the AA vamps –” Willow protested.
“The AA vamps are insane, Will! They’re crazy because they don’t kill.”
“But you don’t think that Skye feels bad about what happened to Bonnie and Dana?” Rowena asked.
“And so what if she does?” Xander said, speaking for the first time. “They’re dead. You want to explain to their families or friends why they’re six feet under while their murderer is in the woods communing with nature?”
“Listen,” Willow answered, “all I’m saying is that if we have a reasonable doubt, shouldn’t we give Skye the chance that all of us had?”
“No. Everyone here is human. There’s sorrow. And you’ve worked to redeem yourselves, and have,” Xander said.
“Because everyone around us gave us a chance,” Willow replied.
“Because we had the capacity to do so,” Xander countered.
“Call me crazy, but I think Skye does, too,” Willow replied.
“Crazy,” Buffy and Faith both said at the same time.
“I’m calling the vote,” Rowena broke in. “We have a very practical problem that we need to deal with – the slayer strike. I want the slayers back on the job. We can argue the fine points once we know that all our slayers – worldwide – are back at their posts. Agreed?”
Everyone nodded or said ‘yes’ except Willow. “It isn’t as simple as –”
“Yes, Will, it is,” Rowena cut her off. “Do I have a motion?”
“So moved,” said Robin.
“Do I have a second?”
“Seconded,” Faith and Buffy said together.
“All in favor of bringing the vampire known as Skye back to the Council by any means necessary, say ‘Aye’.”
All said ‘aye’ or ‘yeah’ except Willow. She looked at them all and said, “No.”
Andrew sighed and looked across at her. “You know, Willow, I do agree with you, but…it’s kinda like it was with Warren. He knew they were wrong, the things that he did. And sometimes he’d even stop himself. But he never really got why it was wrong. Skye just feels like that to me. And Ro’s right, we need to get the slayers back on the job. I don’t think bringing Skye back is such a bad trade-off.”
“And that’s the problem,” Willow said. “You know it’s a trade-off. And it’s not right. Two wrongs.” Willow’s mouth set hard, and she looked around the room sharply at everyone. “Fine. We bring Skye back. But sooner or later, we’re going to have to deal with the issue of whether or not she’s sorry. If Skye’s sorry for killing Bonnie and Dana, then how is she any different from us? And how would we justify keeping her here, knowing it’s inevitable that she’ll be staked by one of our own slayers – that it’s a death sentence?”
Watchers Council – Broom Closet – Same Time
Shannon’s mouth hung open as she listened from the small janitor’s closet adjacent to the conference room. She got up slowly and turned to the door, as though in a daze. Then she quickly opened it and exited the room, scooting down the hallway as softly as she could before someone could see her.
Hope’s Apartment – Afternoon
Hope had curled herself into an upright ball on the sofa. Still, she was erect. And from that erect stance she watched the television screen. Watched, and listened.
“There is always,” said the commentator looking directly out from the television screen, “a need for justice. Not revenge, not retribution, not even prevention, but justice. What our society, what ourselves as individuals, do in response to murder defines our most basic values. Are we a people who see human life as sacred? As something beyond value? Or is the breath of life, the uniqueness of each individual person, nothing more than a commodity? Events at the Watchers Council bring this question to the forefront perhaps more than any other. It is said that the vampire Skye Talisker has helped save the world in the past, that she materially aided in the salvation of millions if not billions of lives. Such might even be true. But cannot the same be said for the fugitive slayer Heli Hamalainen? For that matter, cannot the same be said for any veteran who has faithfully served his country, but then kills his wife or brother for the insurance money? In my opinion, the one cannot cancel out the other. Either way. Virtue is not some kind of metaphysical white-out that covers up past crimes. It is a value in and of itself, one that demands balance – and, sometimes, sacrifice.”
“Thank you, Jim,” the local anchor’s face returned to the screen. “We’ll be right back with more about the latest crisis at the Watchers Council, right after this.”
A commercial began to play.
Hope lifted the remote and pressed a button. The sound vanished, but the screen itself remained on. Cute little animated bubbles danced their way across a dirty floor, leaving everything gleaming white. The logo of the cleanser being advertised flashed across the screen, with CGI stars highlighting the edges.
Hope watched, unblinking, her outstretched hand still holding the remote.
Shelwick, Pennsylvania – Safe House – Same Time
“Why is this happening?” Dawn asked. She was watching the same news report with her host family.
“The search continues for the vampire that was allowed to leave the confines of the Cleveland Council. Citizens are forming vampire hunter squads and in many communities are roaming city streets across the U.S., causing havoc among law-abiding demons and inadvertently interfering with slayers who have chosen to remain on the job. In a related development, slayers at the New York Council are voting at three o’clock today on whether to resign as slayers completely, whether the vampire is brought back or not. A source close to the Watchers Council released this picture to the press today of Skye Talisker…”
“No!” Dawn cried, as Skye’s high school yearbook picture flashed on the TV screen.
“Anyone who sees this person should get away as quickly as possible – find a sunny area or, if it’s night, seek entrance to a residence – anyone’s will do – and do not invite, I repeat, do not invite the vampire in.”
“It’s okay,” Bob, their demon-host, said. “No one saw you come here. We’re the only ones that –”
“Authorities believe the vampire may be traveling east toward New Jersey with a woman named Dawn. No picture is available of the traveling companion at this moment, but the authorities are working with the Cleveland Council to try to get…”
Watchers Council – Slayer Dorm – Afternoon
Shannon quickly stuffed some clothes down into a gym bag and zipped it up noisily. She stole a look at the open jar of white stones that sat atop her bed. A few stones lay on the mattress, waiting to be tossed inside. She knocked the jar over and the stones spilled out across her blanket.
She shouldered her gym bag and looked at her bed one more time. The extra pillows and clothes she had bunched under the blankets made it look as though she was sleeping beneath the covers.
She went into the bathroom, shut the door and walked to the bathroom window. She slid it open quietly and looked down at the grounds, two stories below. She quickly threw the gym bag out of the window as the nearest security camera panned away. It landed with a tremendous thud and Shannon drew her breath, expecting someone to come and see what had fallen. But classes were in session and no one was around to see. She lifted herself into the window frame, and when the cameras panned away again, she jumped.
She twisted her ankle as she hit the ground and stifled a pained cry. She got up awkwardly, put a little pressure on it, grit her teeth against the pain and limped off, careful to avoid the roving eyes of the security cameras.
Atlanta – Hansen Residence – Night
“Norman…Norman, Sugar, wake up,” Joelle Hansen gently shook her son’s shoulder.
“Hm? Wha…Mom? What’s –”
“Norman, wake up.”
Norman Hansen sat up in bed and looked, bleary-eyed, at his mother, Joelle, who sat on the edge of the bed. His father, Michael, was standing right by her.
“Norman, look at me.”
“I am looking at you.”
“Norman, have you heard from Shannon lately?”
“Have you been in touch with Shannon Mathewson, son?” his father asked.
Norman shrugged. “I guess so.” He looked into his parents’ anxious faces. “Maybe. Who wants to know?”
“Norman, I have Robin Wood on the phone,” Joelle held the wireless up. “He wants to talk to you.”
Norman blinked at the receiver, his jaw slack. He took it tentatively from his mother’s hand and brought it slowly to his ear. Swallowing once, he said quietly, “H-hello…”
“Norm, how ya doin’, Champ?”
Norman did not respond. He began to wheeze a bit, his chest tightening. His mother handed him his inhaler, but he waved her off. “Is – is – Shannon’s not –”
“Hey! Champ, it’s okay. Shannon’s all right. At least, we think she is.”
“What? I don’t get it.”
“Look, Norman, you heard about the vampire we let go from the Council, right?”
“Yeah. Skye. Dawn’s girlfriend. Shannon told me all about her.”
“Norm, listen to me. Shannon said she didn’t feel well and we let her stay in from classes. We thought she was sleeping, but she ran away from the Council. We did a locator spell on her, and we think she’s with Skye and Dawn. Now, we don’t want them to come to any harm, Norm. So I’d like to ask a favor of you – a favor for Shannon.”
“I want you to give Shannon a call on her cell phone. I want you to ask her to ask Dawn to bring her back home to the Council. Can you do that, Norm?”
“I…Shannon’s run off with them?”
“Yes. She probably went to warn them that we were coming to get them to bring Skye back to the Council.”
“So, Shannon’s runnin’ from you guys, too?”
“Norm, that’s not –”
“Shannon didn’t do anything wrong.”
“No, no, she didn’t. But I don’t want to see her or Dawn – or even Skye – get hurt. And Faith doesn’t want anything bad to happen, either.”
“Faith? What’s Faith got to do with it?”
“She’s leading the slayer team to bring them all back.”
Norman’s face grew pale. “That’s not good.”
“Well, it could be worse. Look, Norm…all I want you to do is to contact Shannon and see if you can convince her to stop Dawn from running any farther. All I’m asking is that you try. Whattaya say, Big Guy?”
“I’m not a Big Guy.”
Watchers Council – Robin & Faith’s Apartment – Same Time
Robin blinked at the sudden coldness in the boy’s voice. “Norm…”
“If Shannon went to warn Dawn and Skye, then she has a good reason. Are you guys gonna stake Skye? Shannon told me that Dawn and Skye just wanna be left alone. So why are you guys all over ’em, huh? You talk to Shannon. I got nothin’ to say.”
Robin heard Joelle Hansen begin to reprimand her son for his rudeness.
“Norm –” he began, but was cut off as the boy hung up on him.
“Dammit,” he sighed.
Shelwick – Safe House – Early Morning
“I can’t believe you made it here on that,” Dawn said, as she finished wrapping Shannon’s ankle.
“Ow!” Shannon said when Dawn pinned the bandage.
“Sorry. We’ll get you some new shoes this afternoon,” she added, looking at Shannon’s beaten and ruined trainers.
“I don’t have any money left,” Shannon said. “I spent it all on the bus.”
“I don’t believe they let you on the bus without an adult.”
“I had an adult.”
Dawn looked at her in confusion.
“I paid this old guy sittin’ outside the station to ride with me to Pittsburgh, then had him pretend to put me on a bus here. I think he was homeless ’cause he kinda smelled bad and needed new clothes and a shave. Everyone thought he was like my grandfather or something.”
“That’s resourceful,” Skye said. “And a public service. She put a homeless man to work, got him out of the slums, and made him feel like family. What a great kid!”
“Yeah, and the rest was easy.” Shannon grinned. “I just followed my slayer nose to the vampire and walked from town to here. But the thing is, I paid for two bus tickets outta Cleveland. So now I’m broke.”
“Okay, the van’s completely loaded and gassed up,” Bob, the demon, told them. “You need to drive about twenty miles south and jump off here,” he pointed on a map as Dawn followed his finger. “My brother-in-law’s expecting you. He’ll meet you at the way-station there and give you a car. He’ll ditch your minivan, or hide it where no one’ll ever think to look for it.”
“Bob, they have to leave now…” Bob’s wife said from the living room, where she was listening to the news. “The Council’s denying it, but the newscaster says there’s a group of slayers looking for them.”
Shannon huffed. “Told ya.”
“Yeah, well, you could’ve done that with a phone call!” Dawn said angrily.
“You need someone on your side,” Shannon said. “Someone with slayer strength.”
“That’s right, little sis,” Skye grinned. “Fight fire with fire.”
“Bob! They really need to leave now!”
“Okay,” Bob said, “save the argument for the road. C’mon, I’ll help you get your things in the van.”
Bureau Nine Headquarters – Kreswell Apartment – Morning
Ethan rubbed his eyes with his hand and sighed as he placed his fork down on the dining room table in front of him.
“You still look exhausted. Would you like some tea?”
He looked across at Cameron Kreswell. She was smiling gently at him. “That would be wonderful, Missus,” he said. “Although two fingers of scotch would be even more wonderful. And two aspirin.”
Cameron got up quietly and left Ethan and her son, Zachary, alone in the dining room. They resumed their breakfast quietly for a few seconds, Ethan’s cell phone began to ring. Ethan glanced at his briefcase, leaning in one corner of the room.
Zach sprang from his chair. “I’ll get it!” He quickly crossed the room and opened the briefcase. He was about to flip the phone open when Ethan called briskly, “No, no. Give it here.”
Zach walked the phone to him. “Bloody technology…” Ethan muttered, the loud chime making his head hurt even more. Zach handed the phone to him. Ethan looked at the number. He raised an eyebrow when he didn’t recognize the number. Frowning, he hit the button to pick up the call.
“Yes?” he said.
“Uh…uh…h-hello?” It was young-sounding voice.
“Yes?” Ethan said again.
“Um…is this…E-Ethan Rayne?”
“I’m…I’m calling about…about the…Little Blue Slayer.”
Ethan blinked and sat back slowly.
“Who is this?”
“Are you Ethan Rayne?”
“Yes. This is he. Whom am I addressing?” he asked curtly.
“I – uh…wait a minute. I have to ask you a question first: ‘What’s the name of your dog?’ I mean, ‘what was the name of your dog?'”
Ethan’s brows knit. “Rupert. Now tell me your name, or you’ll very likely wake up as a dog yourself tomorrow morning.”
There was a soft gasp on the other end, and the child quickly answered, “I’m Norman. Norman Hansen. I’m a friend of Shannon Matthewson.”
“I see. Why are you calling me, Norman Hansen, friend of Shannon Matthewson, and how did you get my number?”
“Shannon gave it to me. She said if I was ever in a jam and no one else could help me that I should call you and say that I knew the ‘Little Blue Slayer.’ I thought up the question about the dog myself.”
“Shannon Matthewson hates me for some reason,” Ethan replied. “I find it highly suspect that she’d ask you to call me for anything.”
“She hates you because you took her Mickey Mantle card! I hate you, too, for doing that! But right now, I need your help, so I guess I can hate you later.”
“That bloody baseball card again? I gave that back to – Look, Norton –”
“Right. What is it you need help with? If you’re a friend of Shannon, why don’t you just call the Watchers Council and get their help?”
“Because I have to find Shannon before they do.”
Ethan sat back and frowned. “Does this have anything to do with the slayer strike?”
“No. Shannon ran away. I have to find her. I can’t ask Willow or those guys to help. They want me to convince her to come back. But it ain’t so simple – ‘specially if you know Shannon. I gotta find her. I–I want you to do a…finder spell on her.”
“You mean a locator spell.”
Norman remained silent.
“I’ll take that for a yes. And what exactly do I get out of this?”
There was a long silence on the other end. “I–I don’t have much except my allowance,” the boy said, crestfallen. “But I can…pay you whatever you want in installations.”
“Installments. And bloody hell! You’d be paying me for the rest of your life and Shannon’s. You must have something of value that would make it worthwhile for me to –”
“Shannon’s worthwhile! You owe her! You took her Mantle card! That was worth over a hundred thousand, easy! Uh-huh, I know what they’re worth! So if you ask me, you should be beggin’ me to let you help find her!”
Ethan could hear the labored, anxious breathing on the other end of the phone, as well as the intense loyalty in the boy’s voice. He chuckled quietly into the receiver. “Look, I don’t know why you’re going on about that card. I gave it back. Gave it to her watcher – Dawn Summers. Why don’t you ask her where it, and Shannon, went off to?”
“I can’t do that when they’re both gone, can I?”
Ethan glanced quickly down at the newspaper announcing the slayer strike due to the disappearance of the vampire Skye and a watcher.
“Do you mean to tell me she’s gone with Dawn and the vampire?”
“Well duh! Look who just caught up!” Norman said. “That’s what I’m sayin’ – that’s why I need you to help me find her!”
“All right, we’ll discuss payment later. I need some information from you. And I need to know just how good a friend you’re willing to be before I start setting things in motion. So…”
Atlanta – Hansen Residence – Morning
Joelle Hansen knocked again on her son’s bedroom door. “Norman! Hurry up, lazy-bones. The school bus is gonna be here in fifteen minutes. Norman?”
Joelle gently opened the door to Norman’s bedroom. Norman’s bed sheets lay rumpled in a heap. “What the…” she murmured, smiling at the thought that the boy had been up all this time. She went back into the house and began searching for him, but when she realized he wasn’t there, she went back quickly to his bedroom and surveyed it anxiously.
Then she saw the hastily scribbled note on the nightstand. “Oh…God. Michael!” she called her husband.
Pittsburgh – Myth & Magic Store – Mid-morning
“Now, don’t panic,” came Ethan’s voice over Norman’s phone. “I’ve got you this far, and I can get you almost to their exact location. Someone – probably Dawn – has done a counterspell so that locator spells won’t be as effective, but I’ve got them within a five-mile radius. I will have another contact person waiting there to help you. Do you think you can stand teleporting one more time? Good…”
A few moments later, Norman clicked his cell phone off, sighed, and looked at the creature whose magic shop he had materialized in, somewhere in Pittsburgh.
“Well, young Slayer’s Son, what did Ethan say?” The chaos demon looked down at the pale, wide-eyed boy. who seemed to gulp each time the demon asked him a question. The demon smiled kindly.
“He says I have to teleport again later today. This time it’s a place called McDermott. He said to wait for his signal, and he said you’d know what it is.”
“Yes, I do. And will someone meet you in McDermott?”
“Yeah, a Mr. Wrongo.”
“Orongo” the chaos demon corrected. “Mr. Lupo Orongo. Very good! Very good indeed. You will be in excellent company!” The chaos demon grinned broadly, trying to put the nervous boy at ease. Instead, Norman Hansen, Slayer’s Son, just swallowed harder and blinked at the big, frightening creature.
“Cool…” he said, smiling back uneasily.
End of Act Two