Bureau Nine Headquarters – Kreswell Apartment – Evening
“Are you certain – he never got out of the town?” Ethan asked, projecting his thoughts.
“Yes, and I’m sorry, Ethan. I’ve been trying to reach the boy.” Lupo Orongo’s thought waves fluctuated wildly as pain washed over him. “I think something’s happened to him. I can’t get through. I’m sorry.”
“Lupo, are you sure you gave him enough?“
“What’s enough, Ethan? He’s a small, sick child. He has the heart of a lion, but he knows nothing. Enough would’ve been too dangerous. Enough mixed with that kind of innocence and blind determination would get him killed…or worse.“
Ethan rubbed his forehead. “Look, Lupo, I can’t reach him either. And if I leave here right now, it’ll cause a stir. Do you think Rimbaud could get there?“
“He could, but what do you think would happen as soon as someone spotted a chaos demon in that little backwoods town?“
“I see your point.”
“What about the Council?” Lupo suggested.
“I can’t ask the Council.”
“But he’s the son of Faith the Slayer. Won’t they want to –”
“Ethan…?” A voice came from behind Ethan in the apartment. “Ethan, what’s wrong?”
“Oh, C.K., I – just a moment,” Ethan said, turning his attention back to his telepathic conversation.
“There’s someone with me, Lupo. I’ll try to reach the Little Blue Slayer, you keep working to reach the boy.”
The two mages broke their connection.
“Ethan, you don’t look well. Is everything all right?”
“I’m fine, C.K., really. Just a bit tired,” he smiled.
“Was it the magic you did for that boy?”
Ethan did not answer the question, but his smile faded.
“Be a love and bring me a scotch, would you?” he asked.
McDermott – Abandoned Millinery Building – Evening
Norman blinked the world into focus. He lay on his side on the floor of the old McDermott Millinery. He lifted himself up onto one elbow and saw that his captors were playing poker. He also saw his book pack lying nearby. Its contents – drawing pads, pencils, erasers, ruler, inhaler, and a copy of Eragon – lay dumped unceremoniously beneath it. He began to reach for the inhaler and heard a click.
Turning his head, he saw that one of the teenage gang members held a hunting rifle trained at his head.
“Hey, vamp-boy’s awake,” the teenager said.
The card game stopped, and everyone looked at Norman.
“What’s your name, vamp-boy?” Joey said, kicking dust in Norman’s face.
Tommy grabbed him by the hair and pulled his head up. “Where’s your friends? Huh? Where are you from?”
“What’s the capital of Minnesota?” The boy with the gun, said. The gang members all laughed and hooted at the question. Even Jonny grinned and slapped the boy on the back.
“Hey, easy,” the teenager said. “You almost made me pull the trigger.”
Norman was now sitting upright and had his legs pulled up to his chest. He wheezed heavily.
“Hey…Jonny,” Nick interjected. “I don’t think this is a vampire. Vampires don’t breathe, right? And this kid, he’s-he’s trying real hard to breathe. Like he’s got asthma or somethin’. I thought I saw…”
“A puddy-tat,” the teenager with the gun said. Again the boys erupted in laughter.
“No,” Nick said. “This.” He held up the inhaler from the pile of Norman’s things. “Why would a vampire carry an inhaler?”
“Because they can’t breathe!” Tommy said, bouncing up and down.
“Jonny,” Nick put his hand on Jonny Satton’s arm. “Jonny, you’re makin’ a mistake. Look at this stuff…” He picked up some of Norman’s drawings. The boy had pencil-sketched Cheryl at the diner. He also had drawn a quick rendering of the interior of the diner, with Mack’s recognizable back at the grill. He flipped to another sheet and saw a picture of a demon that looked like a chaotic conglomeration of creatures. He quickly reshuffled that one behind the other pages.
“This isn’t a vampire, Jonny. This is just a…a kid.”
Jonny scowled at Nick, but Nick looked down at Norman, then squatted down in front of him. “What’s your name, kid?”
“Norman,” he wheezed.
The boys burst into laughter again. “Hey! Poindexter! Where’d you get a name like Norman!”
“Here…” Nick said, holding the inhaler out to him.
“Thanks,” Norman wheezed as he reached to take it.
Jonny’s hand shot out and knocked the inhaler out of Nick’s hand. He pulled the teenager up and shoved him away from Norman.
“This kid’s a vampire, you ass! And I’m stakin’ him unless he tells me where his friends are.” Jonny slowly pulled a crude wooden stake out of his jacket pocket. Two of the gang grabbed Norman by the arms and hoisted him to his feet in front of Jonny.
“Jonny! Stop it!” Nick cried. “Guys! C’mon, he’s just a little kid!”
Norman blinked his eyes as he stared dazedly at the point of the stake. He suddenly thought he heard someone call his name.
“Yeah,” he answered.
“Oh yeah?” Jonny asked, thinking the boy was agreeing with Nick. “Well I guess we’ll find out…”
Jonny’s voice faded away as Norman heard the deep voice of Lupo Orongo drowning everything out in his mind. “Remember what your strength is and use that first.”
“Okay,” Norman replied.
“Okay what?” Jonny snarled.
“O–okay, I – I’ll tell you where they are.”
Jonny turned a self-satisfied smile on Nick.
Nick approached the boy from the side and peered at him. “You don’t know any vampires, do you, Norman?” Nick asked.
“Tell me, you little bloodsucker!” Jonny screamed at him, making him jump. “Tell me where that runaway vamp is.”
“Okay…I’ll – I’m not sure how to direct you because…see us vampires, we…we can sense where each other is. I-I can lead you to her.”
“That’s what I wanna hear,” Jonny said triumphantly. “Everybody grab a stake. No, Mikey, take the rifle, too. We might need it. C’mon, boys, we’re goin’ vampire huntin’! Whoooooooo!”
Nick looked unconvinced.
“Good,” Lupo’s voice echoed inside Norman’s head. “Now, don’t answer me out loud again. Just think hard, and I’ll hear you…”
McDermott – Woods Near Motel – Evening
“I hear you,” Shannon said out loud. “And I just want you to know I hate your guts and get outta my head, you –”
“Who the hell are you talking to, little sis?”
“No one!” Shannon said. Despite her denial, she clearly seemed to be listening to an unseen person, her face crinkled in pain and confusion, but then changing to shock. “What? Norman! Norman did what?!”
Ethan Rayne’s exasperated sigh reached through the ether and echoed in Shannon’s head. “According to my contact, Norman is in the center of that town you just left – McDermott. He’s being held by a gang of hooligans, and they’re heading down the interstate, southerly, toward you. I don’t have a read on Dawn, but I’d venture to say she’s far safer than any of you right now.”
McDermott – Sheriff’s Office – Same Time
“Thanks, Sheriff,” Faith said, as the sheriff’s secretary led Dawn into the main office.
“Great,” Dawn said when she saw Faith standing with arms crossed. There was a mild smirk on the slayer’s lips. “I paid your bail…Samantha,” she said. “And…the sheriff here promises to be a good ol’ boy and follow my orders. So,let’s go pick up your girlfriend and Sha –”
“Jerry! Jerry!” The waitress from the diner pounded on the front door of the sheriff’s small office. Jerry let her in. She stood and gaped at the group of young girls assembled in his office. “Jerry, I –Oh man…Look, Jerry,” she began again, “you have to find – to find Jonny and the boys.”
“Why?” The secretary asked defensively. “My Jonny hasn’t done anything!”
“Not yet, you hope,” Cheryl sneered at her. “Jerry, I went home right after work, and I shoulda come here first. But I-I was scared. I gotta live in this town, y’know?”
“Thanks for your help, Sheriff,” Faith said, motioning her slayers out the door.
“Are you gals – are you…slayers?” Cheryl asked.
The group stopped, and Faith turned to her. “What’s it to you?”
“You’re…you’re her.” Faith looked mildly annoyed. “Look,” the waitress went on, “you’re gonna wanna know about this.”
McDermott – Small Clearing in Woods – Same Time
Norman fell to the ground, face forward. Jonny kicked him in the ribs.
“Leave him alone!” Nick said, helping Norman back to his feet. Norman’s face was cut and bleeding, and his breathing was so labored that even the other gang members had begun to give each other uncertain glances.
“You okay, Norman?” Nick asked.
“You lousy vamp-lover!” Jonny said, spinning Nick around by the arm.
“This is not a vampire!” Nick shouted. The sound echoed in the woods.
McDermott – Woods Near Motel – Same Time
“Did you hear that?” Shannon said, stopping abruptly. Skye looked around. “I think it came from over there,” Skye said, pointing into the gloom.
“No, it came from –”
“Look, little sis, I know what I’m talking about. Vampire, remember? I know my sounds in the dark. We’re going this way.” She picked her way carefully through the overgrowth. “And once we get your little boyfriend outta trouble, we’ll get Dawn,” she reminded Shannon.
“Okay,” Shannon said.
Skye stopped and turned abruptly to her. “I’d follow you, Shannie. If it wasn’t for Dawn right now, I really would follow you…And I didn’t mean it – about sucking you dry…”
Shannon smiled in the gloom. “I know. I trust you.”
Skye smiled back. “Well, c’mon. Let’s go save your little honey-bunch.”
McDermott – Small Clearing in Woods – Same Time
“You’re a liar!” Jonny screamed at Norman. Two of the gang members held Norman tightly by the arms. “You aren’t takin’ us anywhere. I’m staking you right now, you little bloodsucker!” Jonny rushed Norman, stake in hand.
“Jonny!” Nick cried and grabbed him from behind. Jonny snarled and turned on him, swiping at him with the stake. “Jonny, for cryin’ out loud! He’s a kid! He’s not a vampire! Jonny!”
The two scuffled, wrestling each other to the ground as the gang watched uneasily. They rolled over icy, fallen branches and frozen twigs that broke loudly under them. Nick got the upper hand for a moment and landed a couple of hard punches to Jonny’s jaw. Then he stood and walked toward Norman. He had nearly reached him when Jonny sprang up and rushed forward again, stake drawn. Seeing the boy’s eyes grow wide, Nick turned suddenly, blocking Norman’s view.
Nick’s body stiffened, and a stifled cry of pain issued from him. Norman watched as Nick raised his hands and grasped Jonny’s arms. Then Nick slid slowly down to the ground where he rolled onto his back, his eyes fixed. Jonny’s crude stake protruded from his chest.
Norman’s breathing began to speed up as Nick’s unfocused eyes stared up at him. Norman swallowed with difficulty. He couldn’t breathe at all. He looked like he wanted to cry out and opened his mouth as tears formed in his eyes. Lupo Orongo’s deep voice rumbled in his head, but he couldn’t make out the words. They seemed muffled and droning.
Norman’s tears rolled down his face and blurred his vision. He shut his eyes tightly and tried to remember something. Something his mother, Joelle, had told him.
“Norman,” he remembered her voice. and the memory drowned out Lupo Orongo’s deep tones. “Norman, remember that the more anxious you get, the worse the asthma attack becomes. So when you start to feel afraid, just tell yourself, ‘all I have to do is relax’ and then let yourself just droop, sugar pie.”
Norman did droop, and then he fell over as the lack of oxygen made him all but pass out.
McDermott – Woods Near Small Clearing – Same Time
“Over there,” Skye said, looking in the direction of a group of figures silhouetted in the moonlight that shone between the thinning trees.
“I see them,” Shannon said. “Norm!” She gasped when she saw the boy crumple to the ground.
“Hey! Look! Over there!” Tommy said, pointing into the darkness at Shannon and Skye. “That must be them! The vampires.”
“Screw it,” Joey said in a panic. “Whatta we gonna do? What are we gonna do? Nick! Nicky! Jonny, what the hell? He’s dead! Nicky’s dead!”
“Shut up!” Jonny roared. “Gimme your stake. I’m gonna finish this little mother off.”
“Never send a boy to do a slayer’s job.”
The gang all looked at once to see a young girl, a few years older than Norman and only half as tall as Jonny, standing calmly before them.
“Get her!” Jonny cried.
McDermott – Hiking Trail In Woods – Same Time
“Faith! You’re very close to them. Turn left. Other left!” Willow’s voice came through the cell phone as Faith, Dawn and the slayer squad made their way through the woods.
“Boy,” Faith said to Dawn, “you really had that locator spell dampened, didn’t you? That’s pretty impressive.”
Dawn scowled and said nothing. Suddenly, Lorinda stopped dead in her tracks. “Over there,” she said. “Hear it?”
The sound of a skirmish reached their ears.
Dawn was already running toward the sound. “Skye! Skye, run! Skye!”
Shannon lay on the ground, her head bleeding from a long, jagged bullet wound.
Norman, only just conscious, could see her limp and bleeding form. He shut his eyes against the sight as he tried to draw air past his throat and into his burning lungs.
“Do you hear me, boy?” the deep voice said in his head.
“Shot,” his mind replied. “Shot her. Bleeding. Dead…”
His eyes fluttered.
“Find your strength, Slayer Son.”
He opened his eyes wide again. “Need my…” He looked around, disoriented, his gaze moving over his inhaler twice. On the third try, he saw it, lying on the ground beside Nick’s body. Norman concentrated hard on moving his arm. It moved a little, then stopped. He grimaced and tried again. This time his arm reached shakily forward.
Jonny stood over Norman, watching him reach for the inhaler. He waited until Norman’s fingers curled around it, then snatched it out of his hand. Grinning, Jonny knelt down, put the inhaler between Norman’s lips, and pressed the button. The familiar taste of albuterol filled Norman’s mouth.
“That good, little bloodsucker?” Jonny asked. “Here. Have another.” He pressed the button down again, and another shot of the drug reached the back of Norman’s throat. Within a moment, Norman’s eyelids fluttered a bit as he felt his airways begin to open slightly.
“Thattaboy. I want you wide awake for…this!” Jim plunged the stake downward toward Norman’s chest. The stake plummeted forcefully and – stopped. It hovered, less than an inch above Norman’s chest and would go no further. Jonny looked at his hand and arm and saw a woman’s hand gripping his own wrist. “What the –?”
Skye held his wrist in a vise-like grip and growled menacingly at him, her face morphed and eyes glowing.
“It’s a vamp! Get her!” Jonny cried. The gang of teenagers set upon her, stakes drawn. She pulled the stake from Jonny’s hand and turned to face the charge.
“Help her. Help her, please,” Norman thought as the group descended on Skye.
“It is up to you,” came the telepathic reply.
Norman sat up quickly as Skye prepared to fight back. He saw the boys reach Skye. He raised his hands and opened his mouth to scream at them. But instead of a scream there was a raspy, wheezing hiss. There was also something no one expected: a bolt of pale green energy that arched off his palms and struck into the center of the group, lifting the boys up into the air and dropping them down in all directions.
When the slayers arrived, they saw a group of unconscious teenage boys lying in a circular pattern on the ground. Another boy lay dead, a stake through his heart. Not far from there, Norman was wheezing and kneeling near Shannon, who lay bloody and cradled in Skye’s arms.
“No!” Faith cried.
“Shannon! Shannon!” Dawn raced toward the vampire and the slayer, but Faith shot past her, stake drawn.
“Skye!” Dawn screamed. “Skye, look out!”
“No! Mom!” Norman stood up quickly and directly blocked Skye from Faith’s charge. But momentum hurtled the stake-wielding slayer forward into the boy. Faith came to a stop on her knees against the trembling and delicate body of her son.
Norman looked into her scared eyes, his own wide with shock and horror. They stared, stunned, at each other.
“Oh, nice shot,” Skye said disgustedly. Faith’s stake, re-directed at the last second, was embedded solidly in the crook of Skye’s neck and left shoulder. “That’s gonna leave a scar,” Skye groused as Dawn reached them.
“Skye!” Dawn cried. She took the vampire into her arms.
“Hey, knock it off,” Skye said irritably. “Lemme get this thing out, it hurts!”
Faith regained her feet quickly. “Not as much as this will –”
“Mom, don’t! She saved us! Skye saved me and Shannon!”
Faith paused and looked down. Shannon looked bad, but not dead. Faith got down on one knee and felt for a pulse and looked at the deep graze wound left by the bullet. “She’ll be okay,” she announced to the slayer squad assembled about them. “She’ll live.”
“But she won’t!” Lorinda cried and ran with a drawn stake at Skye’s back. Dawn grabbed her lover, opening her mouth to scream as she saw Lorinda’s strike coming.
But before Dawn could utter a sound, Lorinda dropped out of Dawn’s sight, and the stake hit the frozen ground and rolled away.
Everyone stood gaping as Norman, who once again stood between Skye and her attacker, rapidly shook his hand in front of him. “Ow-ow-ow! That really hurt,” he rasped, flexing his fingers back into the fist that had knocked Lorinda down.
Lorinda sat up, rubbing her jaw, more stunned than hurt. Faith looked at the other dumbstruck slayers.
“Leave Skye alone!” she barked. “Or my kid’ll really teach you all a lesson.” She grinned proudly.
Watchers Council – Buffy’s Office – Late Night
Rowena stopped short of Buffy’s door and turned to Willow, who was following behind her.
“Are you ready?” Rowena asked, then took a deep breath.
Willow nodded nervously. “Someone has to look out for them.”
Rowena nodded, with just as much anxiety. She took Willow’s hand and pulled her down for a gentle kiss. She rested her forehead briefly upon Willow’s and softly said, “Let’s do this.”
Willow nodded again, and Rowena turned, opening the door.
Buffy and Faith both sat in the office together and turned at the sound of Rowena and Willow entering.
“Ladies,” Rowena began politely. “Since all of the heads of the Council are here, I’d like to propose what we do with Skye.”
“Go on,” Buffy prompted. “Have a seat.”
“I’d rather stand, thank you,” she replied. “I realize at this point that Skye is in danger in her own residence. With that in mind, I propose that she come live with me, well, us,” she said, motioning back toward Willow. “At least until we feel her existence is no longer in danger of ending.”
“No,” Buffy answered without pause.
Rowena nodded. “Fine. Willow, how do you vote?”
“The Coven votes yes,” she replied firmly.
All eyes fell to Faith.
“Aww, Jeez,” the slayer sighed. “I really hate it when it comes down to me.”
“Faith,” Rowena prompted. “How do you vote?”
Watchers Council – Buffy’s Office – Midday
The Next Day
“I’m sorry, Dawn,” Buffy said. “I just didn’t want to see you get hurt like I did.”
“Why couldn’t you have just said that?”
“I did.” Dawn gave her a look. “I guess I just didn’t say it very well.”
“So now what?” Dawn asked. “You gonna go back to trying to stake my girlfriend?”
“No. In fact, Rowena is writing a statement that’s going out to all the Councils and to the press. It’s a statement that we’re keeping Skye with us under ‘house arrest,’ and that she’s considered a ward of the Council, under Rowena and Willow’s care. That we’re increasing the security on her and that we’re using her in an attempt to discover whether vampires are able to be rehabilitated. And that if it fails, Willow and Rowena both know their reputations will be ruined, and Skye will be brought to justice.”
“You think that’ll end the controversy?”
“No, but at least it gives the striking slayers a way to come back to work and save face, and it gives the Council a way to redeem itself in the public’s eyes – we’re willing to stick our necks out in the hope of gaining knowledge.”
“Knowledge is power… And it gives Jim Pollan more air time,” Dawn smirked.
“Not Jim. I’m gonna make the statement. We figure if I make the statement, it might smooth things over with the slayers – especially the striking ones. And with the public. But I don’t really care about any of that. Dawn…I just care about you.”
“Then prove it.”
Dawn looked at her sister searchingly. “I don’t know…” she said quietly. “You’ll have to figure that one out yourself.” She turned and walked to the door. “No rush,” she said in a quiet, almost offhand way. “I have all the time in the world.” She walked out the door, leaving Buffy standing alone in the office.
Watchers Council – Library – Same Afternoon
“So who’s this, Champ?” Robin Wood asked, he held up a pencil drawing.
“Oh, that’s Rimbaud. He’s a chaos demon.”
Robin handed the picture to Giles, who cast an appreciative eye over it.
“You’re getting quite good, Norman,” Giles said. “Your drawings are better than ever.”
“How’d you meet a chaos demon?” Robin asked.
“He was my contact on my first teleport – in Pittsburgh.”
“How’d you like teleporting?”
“Made me real sick.”
“You felt sick from one of Ethan’s teleportations?” Giles asked, pointedly.
“Is that bad?”
“No, just…unusual. Ethan’s very smooth at teleportation. Never known him to cause anyone anything but a slight headiness. Like when an elevator first moves…”
“Yeah, well, I felt like I was gonna hurl when he teleported me. And he did it twice!”
Giles frowned, while Robin asked, “And who is this?” Giles looked at the next picture. It was done in colored pencil and showed a large, muscular man with gray eyes. A cape was slung over his left shoulder, and his avatar towered behind him. “Lupo…” Giles whispered grimly.
“You know him?” Norman smiled.
Giles looked at him, troubled. “Apparently you do.”
“Yeah. Lupo Orongo. He was my second contact. He gave me the loaned magic –”
“Borrowed magic,” Giles kindly corrected.
“Right. Borrowed magic that I used to knock those guys away from Skye.”
“What else did Mr. Orongo provide you with?” Giles asked. “Did he say anything to you o-o-or perhaps suggest something to you?”
“Well…he did, sorta…”
The look of alarm in Giles’s eyes made Robin sit forward more in his seat as they listened to Norman.
“He told me I’m strong, but not like Faith,” Norman said. “He said my strength is here.” He tapped his head in the very spot Lupo Orongo had while they had sat talking in Wally’s Diner. Robin and Giles stared at him. Norman rolled his eyes. “Like, my strength is my brains. Get it?”
Giles sat back suddenly and let out a held breath. “Is that all?” he asked. “Are you certain that’s all Mr. Orongo gave you? No trinkets or toys?”
“That, and he got me to eat a rare steak…”
“Hm.” Giles frowned.
“Hey!” Robin said, as he flipped to another picture. “I know who this is. You really got him down –”
“That’s not finished!” Norman said, taking the page from Robin and putting it away quickly. “And it’s only for one person…”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Day
“The good news is,” Willow said, “nothing is missing.”
“Really?” Buffy all-but-blinked. “Nothing?”
“Nope. Whoever did this went in, copied a whole lot of stuff, then left. There’s another whole level of security to keep folks from deleting data, and it wasn’t even touched. We found the way they got in. They left the computer equivalent of footprints. But they – whichever ‘they’ they happen to be – didn’t even try to erase a thing.”
“Oh,” said Rowena, voice low, “I think we’ve got a pretty good idea who’s behind this.”
“Not Heli,” said Kennedy. “She had all the opportunity in the world to copy anything she wanted, for months. Years even.”
“That isn’t who I meant,” Rowena replied.
“Bureau Nine?” said Buffy.
“Makes sense,” Robin nodded. “We even had one of them in the building just a couple of days ago.”
“Lori, you mean?” asked Rowena.
“We didn’t keep a watch on her or anything,” said Willow.
“Not exactly,” Robin offered. “But no more than anyone else, anyway.”
“Yeah,” Willow replied. “She said hi to some folks, and visited Vi’s grave. Lorinda asked her some rude questions. Andrew made her a cup of coffee. Mia and Nicola gave her a quick tour, but not into any sensitive areas.”
“Damn,” muttered Buffy. Nobody said anything for several moments. “Well, no beating around the bush – what did they get?”
“That part is what’s so odd,” said Willow. “Nothing really sensitive, or current. They went after a specific block of files in the archives, the stuff leftover from the old Council, leaving everything else alone. Lots of field reports, scholarly papers, cross-references, transcribed prophecies, a handful of watchers’ diaries.”
“You sure that’s all they did?”
“Andrew and I double-checked everything. That is the proverbial It.”
“Which was what Lori asked for,” said Rowena.
“Come again?” Kennedy asked.
“When she delivered the disks. It was all general information, a lot of it historical stuff. She specifically asked for something similar in return. Looks like they wanted it a lot more than they let on.”
“Enough to put some really top-level effort into this,” added Willow. “I mean, to pull this off they must have used top people in the field, with the kind of support NASA uses to send spacecraft to Mars. We designed these systems to be as invader-proof as we could manage, and they managed to penetrate it all.”
“Without erasing a single thing?” asked Kennedy.
“And now the ten-million-dollar question,” said Buffy. “Why?”
She looked at Rowena, who looked at Willow, who looked at Kennedy, who in turn looked at Robin and then back at Buffy. No one said anything. No one looked like they were going to say anything.
Watchers Council – Slayer Dorm – Early Evening
Two Days Later
“Can I come in?”
Shannon looked at Norman standing in the doorway. “Yeah. Sure.”
Norman entered the dorm room and sat down on the chair. Shannon stopped typing on her laptop and set it beside her, where she sat cross-legged on top of her neatly made bed.
“Not supposed to be in here, y’know?”
“And you don’t want to be, right? Here at the Council I mean.”
Shannon shrugged. “It’s home.”
“No, it’s not. It’s school.”
“Not for me. It’s my home now. My mom doesn’t…she’s got my cousin and my brothers. She doesn’t want me.”
“Well, when is she gonna come up? My mom wants to meet her and –”
“That’s the point. She isn’t. No one’s coming here to see me. The Council called my parents as soon as they found out I ran away. And my parents said to have me call them when I got found.”
“So what’d your mom say when you called?”
“I didn’t. And she didn’t call me, either. My brother Kyle called, and my brother Cody’s been emailing me.”
“Well, why don’t you invite them to come and visit you here? Your brothers, I mean?”
Shannon shrugged and said nothing.
“Shannon, I think your mom’s all weird about you being a slayer because you are. Weird about it, I mean. I think you hate being a slayer.”
Shannon looked at him earnestly and thought about his remark. “I do and I don’t. I told you before…I gotta be a slayer. Just something I have to do. Doesn’t mean I always like it. Always killing-killing-killing. I’ve been thinking, Norm…What if the things we’re killing aren’t the way we think they are? I mean, maybe to them we seem like the bad ones…I don’t know…”
“Perspective. I think that’s what you mean. Everyone has their own way of seeing things. But Skye really is a vampire. And she really did kill those women and the other slayer.”
“Yeah. She did. And she’d kill again. She said something to me that…really scared me, Norm. She said she’d suck me dry if I pushed her too hard.”
“You believe her?”
Shannon sighed. “Yeah. Yeah I do. I think that maybe there’s a point where, I dunno, vampires may be able to keep from hurting people, but that there’s another point where they just can’t help it – they just have to. She said she just told me that to scare me. It worked but…maybe she really might…”
“Then I guess that’s why the other slayers want to kill her so bad. Maybe they just know instinctively that vampires, no matter how much they want to change, are gonna follow their instincts. And slayer instinct is to protect people from that. It’s nobody’s fault, maybe. It’s just the way it is. Sorta like cockroaches. Nobody thinks about the moral implications of killing a cockroach. And most people would say you’re crazy if you brought it up.”
“Moral implications? God, Norman, you talk so weird sometimes! But…what about my instincts? I mean, if slayers just instinctively want to kill vamps, then why don’t I instinctively want to kill Skye?”
One corner of Norman’s mouth turned down as he thought about that for a moment. “Well…maybe you and Skye are just a little different. I mean, you and her are friends, right? Shouldn’t be. Right? Maybe you guys aren’t the same as all the other slayers and vampires…Hey! Maybe you’re evolving. Y’know, like the X-Men!”
Shannon rolled her eyes.
“They’re really human, but they have a little something extra,” Norman continued. “Maybe you and Skye have a little something extra that the other slayers and vampires don’t.”
“Then maybe we’re not the only ones?”
Norman shrugged and looked aside. Then he saw a large empty jar on top of Shannon’s dresser. Next to it, in a deep, chipped bowl, were hundreds of white stones, the kind found on drives and paths.
“What’s that for? Some kinda spell?”
“Huh? Oh, no…I gotta chuck those stones out. And that old jar.”
They were both quiet for a moment, and Norman blushed. “I better go,” he said. “Before anyone sees me here.”
“Yeah,” she answered, suddenly as embarrassed as he was.
Norman nodded and started toward the door.
“Hey!” Shannon called to him. He stopped, and she walked up to him. “Thanks, Norm. Thanks for…”
Norman shook his head. “You’re my friend, Shannon. I-I take care of my friends. Even if they’re older and taller and stronger than me.” He smirked. “And…and especially if it’s…my best friend.” Norman looked up at her and bit his lower lip, waiting for her to laugh or say something sharp.
Suddenly, he felt something soft and velvety on his cheek. It was there, and in an instant, was gone. He put his hand up to the spot. It was slightly wet. His mouth hung open for a moment as he realized the blushing slayer had just kissed him.
Then he smiled and stood up on his toes and pursed his lips. Shannon leaned down a bit and did the same, and they both met in the middle, puckered lips to puckered lips. They broke after only a second or two. Then Norman gave a bashful laugh. He began to say something, stopped and smiled. Then he left the room and walked down the hall.
“Yes!” he said softly to himself as he happily sauntered along.
Suddenly, Lorinda appeared in the doorway. “You are soooooo busted!” She told Shannon. “You can’t have a boy in here! Especially that one!”
“Shut up, ‘rinda! Or I’ll –”
“You’ll what? I saw what you two did! You could be bounced off the patrol for that, Shannie! Once you’re off suspension. And if I tell…”
“Go ‘head. Go tell!”
“No. No, I don’t think so. I wouldn’t want to do anything to hurt you, Shannie. You’ve suffered soooo much already. But…” Lorinda smiled ingenuously. “I hope I don’t forget and let it slip. Someday. Well, gotta go.” She flashed Shannon a grin, then flounced out of the dorm room.
Shannon huffed angrily and walked to her dresser. She stood and looked at the white stones in the bowl and the jar from which they had all been emptied. Slowly, she picked up one of the stones and quietly dropped it in the jar. It clattered on the bottom and spun just a little. “That’s one, ‘rinda,” Shannon whispered.
Bureau Nine Headquarters – Felix’s Office – Same Time
“I’m sorry,” said Felix.
Hope stared at him, eyes red from crying. No one else was in the room. She sat on the sofa, and he watched her from the same sofa.
“That isn’t enough, I know,” continued Felix. He steadily met her glare. “Nor can it be. I can tell you that the need was extreme, which is true. I can tell you that time was vital, also true. And that we approached the Council in good faith. But we also knew that one option was always to act unilaterally – to break into their system and copy the information we needed. I knew that. I didn’t tell you. And honestly, I’m more sorry for that than anything else.”
“Did you…?” She stopped.
“You arranged for me to be denied at the university, didn’t you?”
“No, as a matter of fact. But I found out about it, and took advantage. My goal was to build a bridge between Bureau Nine and the Council. I was hoping for us to become allies, partners even. We could have helped each other in so many ways. But random events wrecked that idea, alas. Mostly a certain sociopath among the Council’s slayers. And time. We ran out of time.”
“Why,” said Hope, after a time, “did you need to do it?”
“I cannot give you details. But, maybe…this much I can say. Remember my mentioning my daughter?”
“My daughter died. She was not alone. My wife was killed, as well. During the crisis last summer, vampires attacked our home. A rather large number of them. What amounted to a small army. Later we discovered they were minions to a rather clever demon who’d purchased the mortgage on our house. He gave them permission to enter. Quite clever, really.” He wasn’t looking at Hope anymore. He didn’t seem to be looking at anything, not in the room, anyway. “I had always insisted my family know how to protect themselves. We had weapons that we all knew precisely how to use. But there were so very, very many. And the rescue team arrived precisely too late. I saw my beloved lady, and my little girl….” His voice, rarely loud, had now sunk to a whisper. He swallowed. “They…mutilated…their bodies. I was going to say horribly, but really is there any other kind of mutilation? Before my eyes. And I tried with everything I had in me to stop it. Broke my arm in the process. Did things, things I’d never imagined I could. And yet…failed.”
He lifted his hand, turning his face away for a moment. “I wasn’t the only one. Not the first. Not the last. The horror has been going on literally for ages. Death piled on death. Innocent blood shed by the ocean. Atrocity heaped on atrocity.” Now he looked back at her. For a moment, he looked much older than before. “There might be a way to stop it, Hope. Maybe. We’ll have to see. For that end, I’m willing to break some rules. To sacrifice some of my own integrity. But…I shouldn’t have asked you to do the same. I had no right. At the very least, I should have been more honest.”
The silence between them stretched on, until Hope whispered, “What do I do now?”
“A word of advice?”
“Go and tell Jeff, tell Miss Allister and Miss Summers and everyone at the Council, tell them everything you know. Hold nothing back. I’m the villain here. I’m the one who deceived you.”
“I don’t think I can do that.”
“Yes, you can. There is steel in your soul, Hope Lehane. I’ve seen it. And there is a rather large, even tender heart. Super-strength and freakish intelligence may be useful, but they’re hardly as worthy as those. Not even in the same league. Use the strengths you possess, Hope.”
“But…there is…I can’t.”
“You would survive, you know. More than survive. You would emerge even stronger than before, tempered by experience. Besides, it is what you want.”
She gave an unhappy bark of laughter at that.
“It’s true. You know how I know? The way you say Jeff’s name. I used to say my wife’s name exactly the same way.” He stared at her. “Go back. Tell everything. From that moment, you could go forward.”
Hope stared into space. She said nothing. She continued to say nothing for a long time.
Bureau Nine Headquarters – Kreswell Apartment – Afternoon
A Week Later
Ethan Rayne opened the large, flat package and slid something covered in corrugated cardboard out onto the dining table where he sat with Zach and Cameron Kreswell. The gilt edges of a simple frame were visible to the mother and son as they watched Ethan remove the cardboard packaging.
“I hope it’s not poker-playing dogs,” Cameron quipped. “That’ll never work with my decor.”
“Mother…” Zach chided her.
Ethan smiled thinly as he removed the cardboard casings and turned the picture frame over.
Zach blinked, then looked at his mother. “Well, you were close…” he said.
Ethan looked down at the colored pencil drawing and said nothing, taking in the carefully rendered artwork.
“Well, still, it’s lovely,” Cameron said. She and her son both watched Ethan’s unreadable face.
“It’s bloody unbelievable,” Ethan said quietly. He tilted the picture in front of him, and a snapshot dropped from the backing. Zach picked it up. “This was a commissioned work?” the young man asked. “Done from this photo?”
His mother looked at the photograph of Ethan sitting beside a very handsome dog with deep and intelligent brown eyes. She smiled at her son and said, “This must be Rupert.”
“Well,” Zach said, “the artist has really captured him!”
Ethan lowered the picture, a strange grin on his face. He blinked a few times before answering, hoarsely, “Yes.”
“How much did he – or she – charge you for this?” Zach asked. “A pretty penny, I’d wager.”
“No. Actually, this is payment itself. Payment for my services. I’m afraid I may have unknowingly overcharged…” He looked at mother and son, swallowed, and smiled again. “Then again, that’s the last magic I’ll ever do, so…”
Ethan suddenly looked very old to Zach. He watched as Ethan got up quietly and took the picture into the guest bedroom. Zach got up to follow Ethan.
Cameron stopped her son with a hand to his arm. “Let him be,” she said.
“But he’s upse –”
“It isn’t always good to close in around those we care about. Sometimes, we have to give them enough room to go and come back on their own. He’ll come out in a little while, or maybe tomorrow morning…whenever. I think we can manage without him till then.” She smiled gently at her son.
Zach sighed. “I hate it when you’re right.” He smiled back at her. Cameron patted her son’s arm and got up to clear the table. As she walked into the kitchen, Zach’s smile faded quickly, and he looked resentfully after her.
“Hello…?” A purple-skinned demon poked its head in the office door. The young woman looked up from her desk. “Are you…?” the demon hesitated. “Are you the – the slayer?” The young woman smiled. “I used to be. But now, as you can see, I’m a civil servant. How can I help you?”
“I – I’m having a problem with my new neighbors. They’re human and…well, they just don’t seem to understand that I’m not much different from them once you get past the skin and the horns and the protruding fangs. Oh, and the cloven feet, but you can’t tell with the boots on.”
“Well, I think I can help you. A lot of demons have this problem, it’s very common. Usually, all it takes is time, getting to know each other. People usually come around. I’ve had a lot of success at this, so let’s see what I can do to help you, too,” she said as she ran her hand through her long tresses of hair, glimmering like the lights on the office Christmas tr–
The phone in the dorm room rang abruptly. Shannon ignored and continued typing her stormy, but one of the other girls picked it up.
“Hey, Shannon, it’s for you. It’s your mom.”
Shannon blinked. Slowly, she got off the bed and went to the phone.
“H-hello? Yeah. Hi. Hi mom. Yeah, I’m–I’m okay. No, I don’t have to go back to that town for a trial or anything. The kids all confessed about the boy that got killed and – what? No, Norm’s gone back home with his folks. You are? When? Are Kyle and Cody coming with you? Really? That’ll be so cool! I can’t wait! What? No, I was just writing a story. Huh? No, no, I can talk. No, it’s not a story for school. It’s one I can finish later…”
Fade to Black
End of Trinity
Next on Watchers…
Rowena, Giles, Andrew and Faith find themselves stranded on New Year’s Eve and swap stories of their most memorable past New Years.