Vancouver – Hotel – Bedroom – Night
Ethan stared, preoccupied, at the ceiling. He let his hand course lightly over Gwen’s bare shoulder as he held her beside him. “You know,” he said, not looking at her, “I never thought we’d be able to…” He stopped and smiled faintly. “At the risk of sounding foolish, I’m ever so glad we can…touch.”
Gwen had her eyes shut, a very content smile gracing her face. She nuzzled down against him, her chin lying on his chest. “Me too,” she said, lifting her hand and running her nails across his bare chest.
He shut his eyes tightly and swallowed as she dragged her nails over his skin, leaving red welts in their wake. He let a low, shuddering groan escape.
He inhaled deeply and said, “But how…I mean I understand you have some device or gizmo that makes it possible, but…?”
Gwen opened her eyes and laced her fingers through his, squeezing his hand lightly. “I got a heads up on this experimental biometric device designed and created for black ops. To cut a long story short, it regulates all body chemistry, and from what I could find out about it and from what I hoped, it would short me out. Make me less freaky at a flick of a switch.” She leaned forward and kissed his chest.
“How did you get it?” Ethan asked, sounding genuinely interested.
She leaned back up and returned to his hold. “It was being stored at a mansion up in the hills. They were holding a party, and I managed to snag a couple of tickets from a shifty…” she smirked, “…lackey. I got in with the help of a friend and managed to steal it, obviously. It works like a charm and allows me to…” She slid her hand under the covers and grinned.
Ethan lay perfectly still, only one corner of his mouth quirking up at her touch. Without warning, he rolled on top of her, pinning her with every inch of his body. He grabbed both of her wrists and pinned her arms, palms up, beside her head. “Well…” he smiled. His face was so near to hers that she felt his lips brush her mouth as he spoke. “It’s nice to initiate yet another fledgling into the pleasures – and pains – of adulthood.”
The cheeky smile on Gwen’s face began to fade. “Yeah, about that…”
Ethan cocked his head sideways, still smiling, but looking puzzled. His own smile faded. When she didn’t look back at him, his face grew dark. “What?” he asked her, his hands tightening a bit around her wrists.
“It’s…Ethan I have to be honest with you.” She tried to move, but he held her down. She gave a weak smile. “I…you aren’t my first.” As she formed the words, her eyes tinged with a glassy shimmer.
Ethan glared at her and tightened his grip even more. He raised himself up until he was arched above her and looking down at her, only their hips locked together. His breath blew hot and heavy on her neck in short steady bursts. His eyes had gone round and almost black. There was silence in the room for a long moment, and then Gwen felt Ethan’s hands relax a little and saw that his eyes were a little brighter. Ethan lowered himself until he was on her again. His face still serious, he looked deeply at her. “Well, saved me the trouble, anyway.”
“Don’t…please don’t,” she said, reaching out and stroking his face with the back of her hand. “When I got the chip, I was in a situation, and one thing lead to another, and…it meant nothing.”
Ethan smirked. “As, apparently, do I.”
“Oh shut up. I don’t even consider that my first time, because it wasn’t with someone that I – She cut herself short, and they stared back at one another. She took a deep breath in through her nose, her mouth staying closed, as if to stop the words from getting out. “I didn’t feel anything for him…nothing. This…this is my first time. Please, Ethan, don’t be this way.”
“Bugger all,” he said sharply. He rolled off her smoothly and turned on his side, his back to her. “Don’t act like it’s my first time!” There was silence in the room, and he thought he heard an ever so slight sniffle. More quietly, he added, “You know, you could have come to get me. I would have – I’d have helped you get your bloody chip!”
Gwen wiped a finger under both her eyes. “You were halfway around the world last I heard from you,” she replied, sounding a little hoarse. She cleared her throat and flicked her hair over her shoulder.
“There aren’t many I would have come back for. Not from halfway ’round the world. But you –”
“There wasn’t time to wait,” she continued hastily. “The party was my only chance to get in, and the chip would’ve been gone the day after. I was desperate, and I had to act…and before you say anything, I wasn’t desperate to lay on my back with him. You can’t tell me that you haven’t ever been swept up in the moment.” He didn’t reply. “But this isn’t about you. It’s about me, and it just happened, and I’m…I’m sorry.”
Ethan turned over to face her. His eyes were cold and his face set. “Don’t be sorry,” he said flatly. “Sorry is meaningless. People run around sorry for things, but they still do them, don’t they?” He watched her blink more tears away, though she looked composed in her resolve. Finally, he reached his hand out and placed it against her face. “Sorry doesn’t matter. Just – He brought his lips to hers and kissed her, roughly, on the mouth, then pulled away. When she didn’t protest, he kissed her again, gently and deeply.
As their lips parted, Gwen pulled back to look him in the eye. “Thank you,” she said softly, “and even if it doesn’t matter, I am sorry. The last thing I want to do is to hurt you.” She caressed his face with her fingers and ran her hand through his hair, all the while gazing deep into his eyes. “Say we’ll always be together, at least in our hearts. Even a memory will do.”
Ethan stared back hard at her for a moment, his eyes narrowed and his mouth pulled back tightly. Then he smirked. “Memories?” he said, his voice quiet and low. “Memories are all I ever keep.”
He leaned into her and kissed her once again. She reciprocated the kiss, which grew into a passionate embrace and Ethan rolled her onto her back and rested on top of her.
Bureau Nine – Holding Room – Resume
Gwen’s eyes opened as she and Ethan shared their kiss. She frowned slightly, and after a moment, she brought her head back, ending the kiss.
She stared up at him pensively for a brief moment, then quickly averted her gaze to the bland wall to her right. Ethan looked back at her, mystified, as he stood back upright.
“The kiss…it’s reserved. For someone else,” Gwen said faintly.
Ethan swallowed hard. “I don’t know what gives you that –”
Her eyes darted back to his. “I hope she loves you,” she said, her voice dark. She sniffed and shook her head, her hair falling back over her shoulders. “So…you gonna tell me now why you’re here, or do I have to deduce it? I am quite the Jessica Fletcher.”
“I’m subcontracting. Been hard to find work lately. All these hacks running amuck, taking all the good jobs. Bureau Nine offered me a good salary for a little…research.”
“Really? A consultant?” She sounded intrigued, though with a hint of sarcasm. “Cushy job, cushy pad, nice paycheck? Who’d have ever thought that you’d be doing a Dolly and be nine-to-five-ing it? Hey, you got an office, too?”
“No.” Ethan smiled. “Something better.” Gwen raised a brow. “And you?” he picked up brightly. “Working from a rubber room these days?”
Gwen snorted a laugh. “No, Tahiti. I finally relocated permanently. L.A.’s so three years ago. Still freelance. Someone puts out the call, and I come a-running…for the right price.”
They looked at one another, neither one pushing the point.
“Right then,” Ethan said quickly. “Let’s get you out of here before this glamour gives out.”
Ethan took her left hand in his and slid a catch up that released the metal band that bound her wrist to the shackles. He did the same for her right hand.
Gwen stood up, rubbing her wrists. “Thanks.” She gave him a nod. “C’mon.”
They made their way to the door, and he opened it, looking around. The hallway was clear, the glamour wavering. She walked past him, and as she did, he grabbed her by the arm, the rubber squeaking in his hands. “Gwen…” She turned and looked at him. “How’s your memory?” he asked, and kissed her gently.
She returned his kiss, and when they broke away, she gazed up at him with an arched brow and a sly smile. “As good as ever.” She looked out into the hallway and took a step outside. “This is your place, you lead the way.”
They exited just as the glamour winked out.
Watchers Council – Command Center – Night
“We know that the Bureau Nine offices are located downtown on Public Square,” Robin said to the large group of slayers standing around the command center. “Again going with the ‘nothing to hide, we do this for the public’ vibe, corroborating the GPRS coordinates from the last transmission of the tracking device inside the sphere.”
Faith and Kennedy stood on either side of Robin at the front of the room, with a wall of plasma screen monitors behind them displaying various schematics and satellite surveillance shots.
“Marissa has confirmed to us that there are several sub-basements directly beneath their public offices,” Faith said. “She has also confirmed that the heart of their operation is in these sub-basements and that Gwen would be down there in one of their holding rooms or cells, located in the fourth sub-basement.”
“Certainly putting a lot of faith into what she says, Faith,” Marie pointed out, her arms folded against her chest.
Robin stepped forward. “She’s not a slayer anymore. I believe her when she says she has nothing left, nothing to live for, but she does have one thing going for her – she’s got power over Bureau Nine because of what she knows.”
“Yeah, but she’s also got power over us too,” Marie replied. “She’s got the goods, and she knows that we want what she’s got. All she has to do to get what she wants is to hold back intel, and you’ll willingly give it to her!”
“Marie. Enough,” Faith said calmly. “We could go around in circles about this, but there comes a time when you have to decide to play the game with the pieces you have.” Marie backed down. “Kennedy?” Faith glanced at her fellow slayer.
“We now know three points of entry,” Kennedy began, turning to the screens behind her. “Here, here and here.” She pointed them out and turned back to the group. “The first point is obviously the front door. Self explanatory, really.”
“The second point of entry is actually their emergency exit,” Robin added. “It’s an old service tunnel that runs under Tower City Center. The tunnel can be accessed via the basement under the Avenue food court.”
“And the final point of entry is another of their emergency exits, down in the sewers,” Faith finished. “Marissa’s already confirmed that there are security measures in place at points two and three.”
“And that’s where Willow and the Coven come into play and we get our glamour on,” Kennedy said. “Black Ops units one, three and four are prepping as we speak. There will be three teams of slayers, comprised of seven girls each. Each team will be accompanied by a Black Ops unit. Not to step on anyone’s toes, but the Black Ops have more experience in extraction.”
“So they’re gonna storm in first and the rest of us will follow up their rear?” Chamique asked, leaning casually against a desk. A few snickers ran through the group.
“Yep,” Kennedy replied.
“So, they’re cannon fodder?” Chamique arched her brow.
“Noooo…you’ll both be going in at the same time, but they’ll be taking point. When we give the signal, all teams will simultaneously break into Bureau Nine.” Kennedy cocked her head to one side with a sarcastic grin. Chamique gave a nod and quieted down. “Any more questions?”
“Yeah, just one, gov,” Casey asked, raising her hand.
Kennedy nodded, “Go ahead.”
“Umm…we’re going in to save a thief?” Casey questioned. “Just, this isn’t Sherwood Forest, and they’re not all the Robin Hood type.”
“An ally,” Faith corrected. “She’s a valuable ally of ours, and she risked her butt coming to us. Have some of you forgotten what she did for us in Vor?” The room fell silent. “‘Cause I know I did,” she quietly muttered under her breath, standing back in line with Robin and Kennedy.
“Remember girls,” Robin told the group, “this is an extraction operation. Non-lethal force. That means restraint when it comes to hand-to-hand, but go all out with the tasers if you must. Though this operation is at night, it’s still in a public area, so be careful. If the media pounces, ignore them the best you can and get on with your job. Mr. Pollan is working on a press release should this go public, but chances are Bureau Nine won’t say anything.”
“Suit up, ladies. We leave in an hour and a half,” Faith said, and the slayers started to shuffle out of the command center.
Los Angeles – Warehouse – Late Night
April 28, 2002
Gwen clutched the staff, grimacing as pain shot through her shoulders and down into her arms. The staff crackled and radiated bolts of electricity all along its length. These then spewed from the top, lighting the warehouse with an eye-burning brightness. Ethan squinted and continued his loud, deep chanting, all but drowned out by the sound of the sizzling, popping current.
Ethan held his hands apart in front of him, tipped his head back and spread his arms wide, his back and shoulders arched. He stopped chanting and with a pained look on his face said, “Now!”
Gwen lifted the rod and held it out from her hip. It almost leapt from her hands as the current grew and electrical bolts shot from the tip of it. “Wooo!” she shouted, grinning. “Is this what it’s like for you guys?”
But Ethan only saw her grinning, as his chanting reached a fevered pitch. A small pinpoint of light appeared, as though miles away, from the tip of the staff. It held for a moment, then blinked out. Suddenly, it appeared again and widened, narrowed, then widened again. Ethan’s chanting became inaudible in a maelstrom of electricity and light.
The portal to Quor’toth was opening. It got larger and larger before Gwen’s frightened eyes, her dark, military-issue goggles offering little protection against the glare. The portal was nearly man-sized when Ethan squinted at it.
“Now, Wesley,” Ethan sent out as a thought to the ex-watcher.
And then darkness overtook the portal. It looked as though it had blinked out, but Ethan could still feel the pulses of dark energy pouring out of it from Quor’toth – and something more.
He turned his head to the side, trying to see better in the glare of the electrical storm. Without warning, a sharp, painful burn seared his neck and jawline. He was tumbling to his right, and his feet came off the ground as Gwen cried out in surprise.
“Ethan!” Gwen yelled, still gripping the staff tightly to hold the portal open.
Ethan, lying on his side on the floor, lifted his head to see what was happening. Darkness loomed over him as a feral growl and a hot, horrible stench reached him. He nearly wretched from it before another blow drove his face down into the floor.
Wesley threw open the door to the warehouse and was immediately blinded by the light. He covered his face with his arms as the wall of heat and horrible stench drove him back a step.
“Shut that damned door!” Ethan shouted, scrambling to his feet.
Wesley turned, unseeing, toward the door. As he reached out to close it, a huge, clawed hand swiped at him, delivering a sharp stinging blow that pierced the skin at the back of his head. Wesley swayed, then fell heavily to the floor. He lay bleeding, face-down and unconscious.
Ethan shot a bolt of energy at the towering demon. It hit the creature squarely in the chest.
“Dammit, Ethan!” Gwen shouted as the energy in the room surged at Ethan’s blast. The staff began to wobble violently in her hands.
The demon, still standing, looked down at its chest where the blast had hit it. Then it looked up at Ethan.
“Bugger. I think I’ve annoyed it.” Ethan wound up for another blast as the demon charged him.
“Ethan! Mooove!” Gwen cried.
But a second, stronger blast was already slamming into the demon, knocking it back a few steps.
The greater surge of energy tore through the room like a tidal wave. The staff, nearly out of control, began to slip out of Gwen’s hands toward the portal. “Ethan! I can’t hold on!”
The enraged beast charged Ethan again. Just as Ethan raised his hand, he felt the creature’s claws rake diagonally up his body from his left hip to his right collarbone. He screamed as he reeled back and fell over.
Gwen’s eyes widened as the demon turned toward her. “Ohhhhhhhh no,” she said to it, its hot, putrid breath making her cringe. “You don’t want a piece of me, Stinky!” She began to turn in toward it, ready to touch it and scorch it to death, when she realized she’d have to let go of the wobbling staff. “Oh, shi –”
Bureau Nine – Hallway – Later
Ethan came out of the security office and closed the door behind him.
“Gwen?” he whispered, “Gwen?” She dropped down from above him with a smile, and he stifled a smirk. “I put the security guard to sleep,” he said, meaningfully flexing his bruised right hand, “and switched the live feed to loop, as you said.”
“My hero.” Both shared a smirk. “You get my stuff?” she asked, and Ethan handed over her belt. “You really are a keeper.” She winked as she locked it around her waist.
He looked both ways and nodded for them to go right. He carefully led Gwen through the empty back hallways of Bureau Nine’s underbelly. Both of them were vigilant, their eyes constantly shifting. They stopped as the hallways branched off and stood with their backs to the wall, peering around the corners.
“The emergency exit is a disused train tunnel under the Tower City Center,” Ethan said, as they once again continued down the halls. He stopped to get his bearings as the hallways forked. After a moment he pointed to the left hallway and picked up the pace again.
“The tunnel runs for about a mile, and there’s a set of stairs that lead up into the basement of The Avenue food court. There’s security in place, but then again you’re my little spark-plug.” Gwen blushed with a small grin. “The exit is right around…” As they turned the corner into another empty hallway, they heard the sound of heavy footsteps.
Quickly, they doubled back to the adjacent hallway. Gwen warily peered round the corner and saw eight guards decked out with armor and weapons approaching at a march from the opposite end of the hallway.
She veered back around and glared at Ethan. “I thought you said we’d miss this section’s guard patrol?!” Gwen said quietly, although loud enough to tell that she wasn’t pleased.
“Jason must have issued more patrols, especially by the exits. He knows what you’re capable of and wouldn’t put it past you to find some way of escaping. You’re like MacGyver, but less rugged. Remember what you said about cautious men?” he huffed.
“Yeah, only I don’t like this one,” she replied. The footsteps grew louder as they neared Ethan and Gwen, shadows appearing on the wall behind them. “Pulling one of those party tricks from outta your sleeves wouldn’t be amiss right about now.”
Ethan stared at Gwen for a moment. “Oh bugger!” he said and dove out into the hallway, startling the guards. He opened his hands and sent an erratic wave of energy into them, causing them to tumble back and Ethan to be flung back hard into the wall behind him.
Gwen spun around the corner with her arm extended and clothes-lined one of the guards, smashing him down to the floor on his back.
“Ethan…?” Gwen asked as she brought her fists up, readying her stance.
“I…” Ethan got to his feet, his hands shaking. “I’m fine,” he said, grimly staring down at them.
Gwen glanced over her shoulders, noticing his quaking limbs. He clasped his hands together and took a deep breath.
Gwen looked back and saw the guards getting to their feet. “They’re up. You good?”
“Yes.” Ethan’s voice sounded weak.
She nodded. “Stay close.”
The guards split and came at Ethan and Gwen. One raised his weapon and fired at Ethan. Gwen roundhouse-kicked one of the guards into the path of the bullets. The guard slammed into Ethan’s side, the bullets barely scratching his armor, but the force was enough to knock the wind out of him.
Gwen got in close with two of the guards so that they could not raise their weapons on her. One tried to butt her with the handle of his machine gun, but she whipped it out of his hands and slammed it into his stomach, before spinning around and throwing it into the other guard’s face. She dropped to the floor and swept her leg around, flooring the two guards.
Ethan’s breathing was labored as he continued to ward off his attackers. Holding the medallion high and casting his hand across his body, he created a glowing, but shaky, barrier each time they tried to hit him. With each arc of his hands, Ethan’s face grew paler. He licked his dry lips.
“Gwe…” He could barely form her name, and with the next barrage, his barrier fell. “No…”
Ethan stumbled back, nearly tripping over his own feet, to avoid the attacks from the two guards advancing on him. As he was pushed back, another guard appeared behind him. The guard swung his gun at Ethan’s head. The mage crashed to the floor on his hip.
Gwen grabbed a guard’s outstretched arm and brought her knee up, snapping his bone at the elbow. He cried out in pain, and as he went down on his knees, she twirled around and thrust her palm into his nose.
Another guard tried to hit her, but she scissor-kicked him in the chin, and he fell backwards, colliding with another guard.
She turned on the spot, her hair flowing behind her. Her eyes filled with horror at the sight of Ethan on the floor and three guards standing over him with their weapons aimed.
“Ethan!” she screamed out.
When she went to move toward him, a guard came up behind her and rammed her hard in the small of her back with the end of his gun. She fell forward and hit the wall, still on her feet. She pushed off the wall and turned to the guard with her fists clenched. It was then her eyes went wide in utter terror and realization. Gwen reached around to her back and pulled away the sharp, shattered pieces of her control chip.
Los Angeles – Warehouse – Resume
April 28, 2002
“Let it go, Gwen. Let it go into the portal!” Ethan cried from the floor.
“I’d love to,” she yelled irritably. “But I think it wants one dance first.”
“Not the demon! The staff! Let the staff go! Now!”
Gwen looked down at the staff and opened her hands. The staff shot into the portal and stopped, dead center in the opening, floating in midair. The portal remained open and glowing.
The demon slashed out with one clawed hand as Gwen leaned quickly back, avoiding the strike. She reached up and grabbed the creature’s head between her hands.
Wesley began to stir, and Ethan clambered to his feet, shooting an energy blast at the ex-watcher and knocking him unconscious again.
The demon let out a blood-curdling scream as its head fried in the electric grip of Gwen’s hands. Its entire body shook in its death throes, but suddenly it was yanked out of Gwen’s grasp and sucked back into the portal, impaled on the staff that still hovered there. The portal immediately closed in on itself and the demon. The staff fell to the floor in charred and skeletal pieces.
The room was silent and dim. Ethan and Gwen looked at one another, both out of breath.
Gwen disgustedly rubbed demon goo off her hands.
“So,” she said, walking casually over to Ethan, “what do you do for fun around here?”
He smirked at her. “Go. I’ll clean up this mess.”
“What about him?” she nodded at the unconscious Wesley. “I can’t have him talking to people about –”
“We’ve been through this already,” Ethan told her impatiently. “I’ll erase his memory if it comes to it. But he didn’t see you. He didn’t see anything, I’ll wager.”
“Go on, I haven’t got enough energy to knock him out again,” Ethan said.
“Been a blast…literally,” Gwen said before carefully picking her way over the prone ex-watcher and out the door.
Wesley sat up, heaving deep breaths. He put his hand to his neck and came away with blood-soaked fingers. He looked at his hand, then at Ethan, and finally at the spot where the portal had been. On the floor lay the remains of the staff.
Ethan watched as Wesley crawled on hands and knees to the charred remnants.
“Why?!” he shouted in anguish.
Ethan looked soberly at him, saying nothing.
Wesley picked up the largest of the pieces of the destroyed staff. “I don’t suppose,” he said through clenched teeth, “that there are any more of these?”
“No,” Ethan said truthfully. “I had to call in quite a few favors to get it. If there’s another, it doesn’t exist in this world.”
Wesley snarled, demon-like, and hurled the charred stick at the far wall where it shattered into many pieces. Then he sat, head down, breathing raggedly.
“Come on, then,” Ethan said, standing and offering Wesley his hand. Wesley took it, allowing Ethan to help him to his feet. “Nothing that a bit of scotch can’t, well, deaden.”
Wesley squinted at him, his face haggard and lined. “How do you deaden the dead, Mr. Rayne?” he asked bitterly. When Ethan didn’t reply, Wesley looked grimly aside and half-staggered from the room.
Los Angeles – Wesley’s Apartment – Night
“You can’t be serious,” Ethan said, smirking. “I didn’t do the job.”
“You and your assistant did the work. I hope he escaped any harm.”
“You didn’t see him, then?” Ethan asked.
“I didn’t see a bloody thing,” Wesley replied. “I only remember feeling the size of that…whatever it was. And smelling it. Did you see it?”
“Sorry, but even I couldn’t quite make it out in the glare.”
Wesley held the book out to Ethan. “This is yours.”
Ethan looked longingly at the Asurian Anthologies. “Regrettably, I never take payment for a job I haven’t done, he said. “And I actually guaranteed the results on this one. Silly me,” he muttered. “I failed to do what I said I would.”
“There’s a lot of that going around these days.” Wesley lowered the book and ran one hand over the embossed cover. “Why?”
“I keep asking myself why. Why did you hit me with that blast? I was there, the portal was open. The demon was your problem. Not mine. I could have gotten through the portal while you held the beast off. But you hit me with that energy blast. So I’ve been asking myself why.” Wesley looked up at Ethan, his eyes hard. “But you knew that the portal would close once I went through it, especially if the demon was still here in this dimension. A trade-off…the balance restored, one coming out and another going in. The portal would’ve closed and I’d have been trapped. In Quor’toth.”
Ethan said nothing, waiting.
“I just want to say,” Wesley’s serious tone grew quiet, “I wish you had let me go in.”
Ethan’s expression remained calm and unchanging. But he blinked once.
Wesley smirked. “I do, however, appreciate the gesture of keeping me around. Although,” he added bitterly, “my ‘friends’ probably wouldn’t, if they knew. Take the book.” He held it out again.
Ethan looked sternly at him. “The world does not turn on right or wrong, Wesley. Friends don’t gather us to their bosoms on our best intentions. We all do what we must to survive. I saved your neck merely to escape being blamed for your death. Now then, if you’re certain…” Ethan waited a brief second and took the book quickly out of Wesley’s hand. He looked down at it, smiling in satisfaction. Silkily, he said, “It’s been nice doing business with you, Wesley.” He turned and walked to the door.
Wesley did not watch Ethan depart, but instead stared down at the floor, his face grim.
Ethan stopped at the door, his hand resting on the doorknob. “You’ll come to find,” Ethan said seriously, his back to Wesley, “a certain comfort in being despised by your ‘friends’.” One corner of his mouth quirked up, but his face remained somber. “It’s when they no longer give a damn enough to feel even that…” Ethan smiled fully then. “Embrace their contempt, Wesley. Revel in your own despicability! You’ll find there are worse things to be or to hold onto in life. Although I must admit, you are languishing down around the bottom of the fish barrel…” He let out a quick laugh. “Well…so long.”
Wesley heard the door open and shut. Ethan Rayne was gone. The ex-watcher stood for a moment longer. Then he slowly sat down on his bed, letting his shoulders sag and laying his arms limply on his legs. Wesley quietly lowered his head and shut his eyes.
Los Angeles – Restaurant – Evening
April 29, 2002
The waitress looked suspiciously at the older man and the much-younger woman seated at the window-side table. They had the best seat in the house, overlooking the beautiful pond and landscape, yet they only had eyes for each other.
“So…” Gwen smiled, “you got what you wanted after all.”
“Hm? Oh, the Asurian Anthologies?”
“Big dusty books to me. I’m an e-Book kinda gal myself.”
Ethan smiled back pleasantly. “Yes, but…”
“You’re not happy?”
“Quite happy. But it’s not all that I want…” He looked back at her seductively.
Gwen blinked and blushed.
“How becoming…” Ethan mused.
“Uh…” She turned and laughed, suddenly even more abashed. “Ethan, you’re…well…you’re…”
“Old enough to be your father?” he supplied.
She nodded her head and smiled apologetically.
“Then,” he said, charmed by her embarrassment, “I’m also old enough to know just how to pleasure you.”
Gwen caught her breath and looked down at her water glass.
“Oh. Sorry,” Ethan said. “A bit too direct. Let’s try that again. Old enough to be your father…old enough to…?”
“Yes!” Her gaze shot up to meet his. There was want in her eyes. “Yes, but I-I don’t think I am…old enough, I mean…just yet.” She smiled weakly and looked down at her hands and let out a deep sigh. “But that’s not it,” she added.
Ethan sat back in his chair, smiling softly, but crestfallen.
Gwen brought her hands up and held them, palms-up, I’m front of him. “Literally, sparks would fly,” she said meekly, with a sad expression.
“But what a way to go,” Ethan said, then chuckled lightly, bringing the smile back to her face. “Another time then?” he asked.
She said nothing, but Ethan saw her own smile widen and her eyes glow back at him.
Giles and Becca’s House – Bedroom – Same Time
“Rupert! Rupert!” Becca sat up in bed, with one arm around Giles’s back, peering into his pained face. “Jesus Christ, not another one!” She reached across him for the phone on his bedside table.
Giles put his hand on her arm. “It’s not a-a heart attack.” He carefully propped himself up against the headboard, and Becca clambered for a pillow that she stuffed behind his neck.
She looked skeptically at him.
“Just a rather sudden pain in my hip, is all,” he told her, “and a bit of nausea. And weakness…” He frowned and looked away toward the bedroom window. “Look, not to alarm you any further,” he turned back to her, “but I’m not bleeding, am I?”
Becca’s heart skipped a beat, and her eyes darted across his body.
“No…” she said, peering closely at him. “No bloody Englishmen here,” she quipped, causing him to grimace at her. “Nothing but a bloody worried wife! What just happened? That’s the second time you’ve been weird tonight!”
“I-I don’t know. Just felt a bit sick all of a sudden. Then when I rolled over, my hip felt like it was on fire. I guess I must have slept crookedly.”
“Right…” Becca said skeptically.
Giles looked thoughtful for a moment. Something seemed to occur to him. “Well…a walk about will help,” he said, as he began to get out of bed.
“Oh no! You stay right where you are. I’ll get you something for the pain.” She quickly got out of bed and put on her robe. “And I’m calling Dr. Miller,” she said as she left the room.
“No need,” Giles said flatly. “He’ll survive.”
Becca blinked. “Who’ll survive?”
“Hm? Oh, I-I-I mean, I’ll survive.” He smiled unconvincingly at her. “Truly.”
Becca frowned in doubt.
“The painkiller, love?” he reminded her. She peered at him searchingly, then left to get the pills.
He watched her leave, then put his hand to his hip and breathed heavily. “Bloody hell, Ethan…” he whispered.
Bureau Nine – Hallway – Same Time
Gwen panted heavily as she looked down at her destroyed control chip in her hand. Her eyes welled up with tears.
“Do you have any idea…” she seethed as she slowly looked up at the guard who had hit her, “…any idea at all what you’ve done?!”
The guard couldn’t care less and rushed at her. She ripped off her gloves, flung her hand out and grabbed his face. The guard howled out as bolts of electricity surged from her palm into his face. His entire body convulsed and steam erupted from beneath Gwen’s palm. At the height of his scream she released him, and he fell to the floor dead.
She couldn’t control herself. The rage built up on her face, and her breathing became even more shallow and rapid. She threw her head back and screamed; her hands curled into fists as streams of electricity leapt from every inch of her body.
The arcs lashed the area surrounding her, scorching the walls and floors. The security cameras and lights exploded, showering the hallway with pieces of metal and glass.
Larger streams of lightning shot out of Gwen, glowing with greater intensity as they darted for the remaining guards and struck them.
Ethan lowered his hands from his face and watched in amazement as the men above him violently convulsed, practically lifted off their feet. He shuffled back on the floor for fear of a stray bolt of lightning, but, oddly, none of the many arcs of lightning found their way to him. The air was prickly and made all of the hairs on his arm stand on end. He shielded his eyes from the light, and his ears popped from the immense rumbling sound of the thunderous waves.
Gwen continued to scream as the power ebbed from her. By now the guards were long dead, their bodies blistering from the sheer current flowing through them.
She threw down her arms and collapsed to the floor exhausted, her lightning bolts dissipating into the ether. Her body shook under the weight of her tears, and large beads of sweat ran down her forehead.
Ethan tried to move to her, but his hip and exhaustion got the better of him. “Gw-Gwen,” he called out.
She shot him a look, the tears streaming down her face. “Ethan,” she clambered to her feet, and it was only then that she realized what she had done. “Oh my…” Her wide eyes stared at the sight of the dead bodies of the eight guards.
“Gwen…” Ethan said again, only this time his voice rose as he moved awkwardly, the pain from his hip crippling him.
His cry broke her out of her catatonic state, and she rushed over to him. She reached down to help him up, but he jerked away, his eyes widening in agony at his hip. “Gwen,” he stopped her. “No…”
“Go. Go on. Before they call in the…whatever the bloody hell they have for troops in this place,” Ethan wheezed.
She shook her head. “No. No, you’re coming with me!”
“I don’t think I can walk,” he grimaced. “Besides…I want to stick around a while. I still have an interest in things around here.”
Gwen’s sobs began to dry up, and only her heavy breathing filled the air with sound. “In someone around here, you mean,” she said, looking straight in his eyes.
Ethan opened his mouth for a witty comeback, but he didn’t have one. He closed his mouth and just looked at her.
“Ethan, I’m…I’m scared,” she admitted.
As Ethan tried to talk, they heard the sound of heavy footsteps running toward them in the distance.
Gwen turned away and looked down to the other end of the hall. A sign on the wall pointed an arrow to the left and read: “Emergency Exit.”
She turned back to Ethan, who had propped himself up against the wall. They looked at each other for a moment, and then a gentle smile crossed Ethan’s face.
“Make it look good, love.”
Gwen’s gasps for air became more regulated. She swallowed hard and looked back at him to find he was still smiling. The slightest of smiles emerged on her tiny face, and then she quickly spun round and slammed the heel of her boot into the center of his face, knocking him out.
She broke down into tears and stood over his unconscious body for a moment. Then she backed away and fully turned to run for the emergency exit, not once looking back.
Vor Hell Dimension – Council Quarters
Ethan stood at the furthest point of the allocated Council Quarters, away from the rest of the groups, all of whom were far too busy to realize or care that he wasn’t helping with their preparations for the impending battle. His companion, Rupert the dog, sat by his master’s leg, with his head laid on the floor between his paws.
The dark mage stared out at the harsh amalgam landscape of Vor. Heavy, treading footsteps from chunky boots crushed the gravel underfoot, as Gwen approached Ethan slowly from behind.
Ethan half-turned his head and smirked, but the dog by his side began to turn with his head hung low and a snarl building in his throat. Ethan waved his hand over the animal, and it quieted. “Miss Raiden,” he said, echoing their first encounter.
“Mr. Rayne.” She tried to sound and look serious, but a small smile cracked through. “And friend,” she said, looking at the dog. “Familiar?”
“Not as much as we were.” Ethan grinned. His smile faded a bit as he looked at her. “How are you, Gwen?”
She nodded solemnly. “Yeah. I’m good.” Gwen managed a meager smile. “I’ve…I’ve missed you.”
Ethan began to say something, then stopped and smiled sadly at her. “So…you’re in on this, too.”
“I suppose it might be too much to expect that we’ll see each other when it’s done.” His smile faded, and she could see the age lines in his face.
“Let’s say we will,” she said boldly. “What we need right now is hope. Without it, what are we fighting for?” A slight, warm smile managed to peek through her melancholy exterior.
“I don’t know what you’re fighting for,” he said distantly. “I’m fighting for…” He looked at her, then down at the dog by his side. When he looked back up, his expression was sad, but he managed a smile. “I’m fighting for a second chance at…anything, I suppose. Maybe,” he added, his eyes sparkling as he took a step closer, “for another kiss?”
“I guess in a way, I am too.” She softly smiled.
He reached his hand out, stopped, and looked at her.
Gwen shook her head regretfully. “Ethan, no,” She took a step back. “My control chip isn’t working here. None of our technologies are. Guess the Energizer Bunny’s finally run its course. At least here, anyway,” she said with a short smirk.
“Right…” he said softly, and dropped his hand.
“Ethan, I don’t do promises, not with the lifestyle we have, but I don’t want this to be our last memory. We’ll have more, right?”
He merely smiled at her, closed-mouthed. Finally, he drew a breath to speak, but then he saw Willow rushing over. He quickly smiled at Gwen, and when he sharply turned away, she did too, both of them acting like they hadn’t been talking, or even noticed the other.
Ethan moved away and looked toward Willow, and Gwen started a slow walk back to her own quarters.
“Ethan! I’ve been looking all over for you,” Willow shouted, nearly out of breath.
“Not hard, considering we’re in one big cave,” he said with his usual smart-aleck tone.
Willow skidded to halt with a large stone tablet in her arms, which she thrust into Ethan’s. “We need your help translating this. We scanned what we thought we’d need from our library into the laptops, but they won’t work here.”
She walked around to Ethan’s side and pointed to the passage that they needed help with. He peered down at the tablet. The glyphs were hard to read, and the dingy bio-luminescent rocks didn’t offer much light.
As Willow talked to him, he looked up to see Gwen walking away. She looked over her shoulder as she continued walking, and, just for a second, their eyes locked on each other. They shared a final, small smile before Ethan returned his attention to Willow. Gwen turned around and made her way toward the center of the Council Quarters.
Bureau Nine – Hallway – Night
Ethan’s own groan sounded in his ears, bringing him fully back to consciousness. He blinked hard a few times and saw, past the swollen lump of his left cheek, that he was lying on the floor. When he inhaled, a sharp pain coursed through his nose, and clotted blood ran down his throat, gagging him. He wretched as he rolled onto his stomach. Then he heaved up some of the blood and groaned heavily.
Breathing through his mouth, with his nose and head throbbing, Ethan raised his arm up and laid it against the uneven wall. He pulled himself up into a sitting position and allowed his arm to drop back down to his side.
The sound of hurried footsteps reached his ears.
“Ethan!” A whispering, worried cry carried from a short distance away. “I told you!” a youthful voice said, “I told you he was down he –”
“Shush!” a second voice said impatiently.
Ethan opened his eyes and looked out toward the sound. There stood Zachary and Cameron Kreswell. “C.K.,” Ethan breathed.
“Mother, help me!” Zachary called, as he rushed in and knelt down in front of the sorcerer. He reached his hand out and touched Ethan’s face along the jawline, his other hand coming to rest on Ethan’s stomach. “We’re here,” he said. “We’re here and it’s all right…”
Ethan tried to train his eyes on the young man’s face, but his eyelids fluttered. “C.K….” he breathed again.
“Zach, hush,” C.K. told her son. They helped Ethan to his feet and half-carried, half-dragged him between them and out of the hallway.
Watchers Council – Lobby – Night
The slayers and Black Ops stood in their respective groups, ready to go. They all faced the reception desk, where Willow, Andrew, Jeff and Jocelyn finished their preparations for the glamour spell.
With a skillful hand, Andrew crushed various dried leaves and sprigs under a pestle in his mortar. Each of them held open a plastic sandwich bag, which he poured the sparkling dust into, saving some in the mortar for himself.
“Okay guys, you know the drill. Do the chant and then sprinkle your pixie dust over ’em like you’re Tinkerbelle,” Willow said, with a nod and smile.
“I, umm, don’t know if I can do this,” Jocelyn said shyly. “I’m nervous, y’know. I turned a stunt man into a Turok-Han for no reason. What if I unintentionally make the slayers invisible for good? Or shift them out of phase with this dimension? Or what if –?” She was starting to get worked up.
“Whoa, Jocelyn, just calm down, okay?” Willow said, raising her hands. “Last thing we need right now is a fire on our hands. Remember your training, and what I said. Tap into your inner Vulcan and block out all of your unnecessary emotions. Believe that things’ll be okay, and they will be!”
Jocelyn took in a deep breath, her hands motioning up her body as the air filled her lungs. She calmly breathed out and brought her hands back down to her side. And repeat.
Willow placed a comforting hand on her shoulder. “I believe in you. We all do. Now, you good to go?” Jocelyn nodded. “Good. C’mon guys.”
The four of them walked across the lobby to the teams.
“Everything cool?” Faith asked, standing at the front of her team.
“Peachy, dandy and shiny,” Willow assured her with a smile. Then she looked to her Coven, who had spread out among the teams. “Ready?” At their nods, she closed her eyes, took a breath and started to chant. The others followed suit.
Abruptly, the power went out, casting the lobby into darkness. Out of the windows, it could be seen that the surrounding area had also fallen dark.
“I didn’t do it!” Jocelyn squeaked.
“No, I did,” Gwen’s voice sounded from the shadows.
“Gwen, you’re okay?” Willow said. She squinted as she tried to make out where the woman was.
Gwen stepped out of the shadows in front of Willow. “Yeah,” she said flatly, her eyes red and watery. The slight light revealed a heavy bruise on her left cheek.
Willow shot Faith a look and hurried towards Gwen. “Oh my goddess, what happened?”
“No!” Gwen shouted and backed away as Willow came forward, her hand outstretched.
Faith stepped forward. “What’s wrong?”
“My…my control chip was…” Gwen averted her tearful gaze to the floor.
“Oh no…” Willow closed her eyes and sighed quietly, “Gwen, I’m so sor –”
“I don’t want your sympathy!” she snapped back, surprising Willow and Faith. “I can’t take it right now.” She shook her head and looked back up to Willow and Faith with a furious look in her eyes.
“You don’t want our sympathy, and we were about to come spring your ass?” Faith glared at her.
“I know…I knew you would, and thanks, I appreciate it, but…that’s why I came back here. To tell you not to bother, and to tell you that Bureau Nine doesn’t know that you were involved.” Gwen stopped and swallowed, then went on. “And to tell you not to find me. I’ve got to go dark for a while, and it would be dangerous for us both. I’ll make myself known when the time is right.” She stared back at Willow, who was glassy-eyed herself. “I need to leave now.” Gwen turned back to the shadows.
“You don’t need to be alone in this. We can help you,” Willow called out desperately.
“No, you can’t,” Gwen said, as she continued to walk away. “I’m a freak.” With that, her figure was lost in darkness.
Faith stared after her for a moment, then looked at Willow. “Hey Will, you okay?” she said, putting a hand on her arm.
Willow nodded. “Yeah. It’s just…she opened up earlier, and I never realized what her life must be like. How lonely she must be. Just makes me sad, and makes me realize how lucky we are that we’re…normal. No one should ever be alone.”
Giles and Becca’s House – Living Room – Same Time
“Rupert?” Becca called from the doorway. “Rupert, are you all right now? Is the painkiller working?”
“There’s no answer.”
Becca looked at her husband and saw him sitting with the phone in his hand, looking very anxious.
“Rupert, who are you calling at this hour of the night?”
He merely stared back at her.
She sighed heavily. “Willow was right,” she muttered.
Then, more loudly, she asked, “Is there something wrong with him? With Ethan? Is that what all this has been about lately?”
Giles just sighed. “I believe so.”
Becca sat down beside him on the couch and looked deeply into his worried face. The clock ticked several seconds before she suggested, “Maybe someone’s playing games with the two of you?”
He smiled at her. “Doesn’t work that way. But whatever it is…I think he’s found himself in a spot of trouble.”
“You always said trouble follows him, but hasn’t caught him,” Becca reminded him. Giles only nodded. She put her hand over his on the phone. “Come to bed and try him again in the morning. Knowing Ethan, he’s doing it just to get your goat.” She stood up.
“You knew then…that I’ve been getting some sense of him recently?”
Becca took her seat again. “Not at first. But earlier you said ‘he’ll survive’ when I went to get you the pain pills. I was worried, so I called Willow. She told me a little more than I already knew.”
“It’s nothing we asked for,” he told her. “Nothing either of us wanted. The link was residual. It happened.”
Becca put her arm around him and leaned against him, her head on his shoulder. “I’m not blaming you, Rupert. And if you haven’t reached him by phone after tomorrow afternoon, maybe you can stop by the council, have Willow do a locator spell?”
Giles grinned. “You know, there aren’t too many woman who would be this understanding?”
“Yeah, ya got damn lucky when you found me, Pal,” she teased. “But really, I know the score…Our magic comes from our love. Not the other way around…So please,” she said, kissing him long and soft on the lips. “Come to bed. I promise to make it worth your while.”
Giles grinned. “An offer I’m unable to resist,” he said as he returned the kiss with one of his own.
Bureau Nine – Mr. Felix’s Office – Morning
“Yes, Miss Raiden escaped,” Mr. Felix said grudgingly into his earpiece. “I’ve personally reviewed the surveillance feed from the cameras around the holding room, and she doesn’t show up on any of them except when she was first brought in by the guards. We don’t have a clue how she broke out of her shackles, they were lined with…Sir, believe me, I am not giving you excuses.” He sighed deeply.
“Mr. Rayne? Yes, he’s fine. A little worse for wear, but far better off than the entire squad of my security officers lying in the morgue.” He walked around his office to get a better look at the work being done below. “C.K. found him on the floor with a broken nose. My best guess is that Miss Raiden broke free, and she used him to escape. That could explain why she didn’t show up on the camera leaving holding – she could have threatened Mr. Rayne to conceal them with a glamour. Though one would have thought the old mage might have hurled a fire ball or ice ball or something remotely magical her way. Then again, Miss Raiden is potentially the most deadly woman alive.”
Felix paused for a brief moment, then went on.
“Yes, after speaking to him in the infirmary, he’s told me that Miss Raiden’s powers are neither mystical nor magical, nor in any way, shape or form supernatural. Her powers are purely the result of a natural occurrence. Our science department can only deduce that her powers are a result of a chemical imbalance in her DNA, or due to some rogue gene. I try not to believe in fate, but I can’t help it. I chose Miss Raiden for the task of procuring the Sphere because of her professional ability and finesse, and it wasn’t until her attempt to swindle more money from us that we translated the passage in the Codex and discovered that she is, in fact, the only person in the entire world with the means to activate the sphere…” He paced his office, stopping by the window and looking down to the maintenance teams scurrying about the floor. “But that’s irony for you.”
Mr. Felix circled back along the wrap-round window, dragging his finger along the railing behind him. “Miss Raiden played us, and she played us good. The Sphere she delivered is a fake, and to add insult to injury, inside was a secure wi-fi device. She bugged us,” he enunciated with emphasis. “I wouldn’t put it past her to sell us out to the Watchers Council, but I believe she played us for her own gain, I really do. I.T. figured out that the remote hack into our database only resulted in a two to five percent download of our information. Thankfully, our most sensitive information was untouched. As to what was downloaded, we do not know, and she made it impossible for us to track the download source.” He sighed once again.
“Miss Raiden has gone dark, and there is no way to track her down. We have no Sphere, and now, no way of activating it, and therefore have no endgame.” He came to a stop and slammed his fist down onto the railing, making the glass panes in the windows shudder slightly.
“I think I can help with that,” a British woman’s voice called out.
As he turned round, Mr. Felix’s eyes fell upon a petite woman in her late fifties standing in his doorway, her shoulder length dark brown hair flicked up at the tips. She carried her handbag over her shoulder and wore her brown coat fastened up, all but one button, to the neck.
“Well, at least with acquiring the genuine artifact,” she continued.
“You’ve arrived,” Mr. Felix said, somewhat surprised, a slight smile beginning to crack through his glum demeanor.
“Only just.” She fashioned her own demure smile.
Caught off guard, Mr. Felix stuttered into his earpiece, “Sir, I apologize. I must go. Our overseas partner has arrived. Yes, I’ll send my regards. Goodbye.” With that he pressed his earpiece, ending the call.
He walked over to greet her and took her outreached hand. “I trust you had a safe journey?” he asked.
“Oh yes. I could get used to flying in the company jet. So many free miniatures, a decent movie, oh, and piping hot tea with no sugar and just a little bit of milk on demand.” She sized her thumb and forefinger as she said “little.” “I think that was the highlight for me,” she chuckled, “that and the male totty.”
The delight on Mr. Felix’s face soon began to fade. “Have you been filled in on the latest developments?”
The woman’s expression followed suit and changed to one of disappointment. “Yes, I heard. It’s unfortunate. To say it’s a cock up is putting it lightly, especially when you consider that we had the power source to the Sphere under our noses and within our grasp.” She shrugged her shoulders and walked over to Mr. Felix’s desk, putting down her handbag. “Miss Raiden governs an incredible amount of natural bio-electric energy that no other human has or probably ever will attain. Have I told you I’ve met her, on occasion?”
Mr. Felix looked confused. “No. I knew she worked for the Old Guard, though.”
She nodded. “Yes, back when we higher-ups hired her to do, well, the obvious. Interesting woman. I don’t consider Miss Raiden to be a freak of nature. I consider her to be unique, and without her, we really are lost. It’s just a shame that the passage in the Codex wasn’t translated sooner.”
“Do you think she’s affiliated with the New Council?” Mr. Felix asked.
“That I don’t know. But one battle at a time, I always say. Let’s focus on what we can do in the here and now. I think I just might be able to get the Sphere,” she said, a smile creeping across her face.
Watchers Council – Grace’s Dorm Room – Later that Day
Grace sat up at the small kitchen counter on her laptop, her fingers skillfully gliding across the keyboard as she typed out her latest blog entry. In the background, the low sound of the Arctic Monkeys played from her iPod sitting in a speaker dock.
Her phone began to ring. She moved the cursor over to the ‘save’ button and left-clicked.
“Hello?” she asked, putting the phone to her ear. The tone of her voice equaled the annoyed look on her face at being interrupted.
“Hello my darling…” came the voice over the phone.
Bureau Nine – Mr. Felix’s Office – Same Time
“…it’s Mummy,” the British woman said, as she glanced at Mr. Felix with a sly smile.
Special Guest Starring:
Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndham-Pryce and Elisabeth Sladen as Dianna Earl
End of Meiyo
Next on Watchers…
A pair of demons bent on the destruction of the world are watching the Council, but our gang has no idea they’re even there. Meanwhile, Grace deals with a surprise visit from her mother.