Cleveland – City Park – The Next Morning
“Here now! No one’s asked you to slip and bloody kill yourself!”
Ethan steadied Zachary Kreswell with a strong hand to the young man’s upper arm. The gray winter sky above them and the icy, snow-dusted walkway underfoot gave no promise of spring.
“S-sorry!” Zach stammered, bowing his head. “I – I’m so clumsy.”
Ethan peered at Zach; the red-faced boy looked on the verge of tears. He let go of Zach’s arm. “Who said anything about clumsiness?” Ethan asked. “You hit a bit of ice – can’t even see it under this snow. If I were walking on that side, you’d have had to rescue me.” He grinned.
Zach did not raise his head, but he did look up at Ethan out of the tops of his eyes. There was a strange affection in Ethan’s expression that made Zach blush even brighter, then look down again.
“Right,” Ethan said. “Well, let’s move on, shall we?” Ethan picked up their walk and Zach hurried – carefully – to catch up to him. They walked silently side by side.
“Zach,” Ethan said, “the other day, you said something about always being careless. And not too long before that, you mentioned that you always act foolishly.”
“Stupidly,” Zach corrected him, head still down. His hands were crammed into his ski jacket.
Ethan approached him slowly, the snow crunching quietly underfoot in the late afternoon grayness. “Zach. Who…who’s told you that you’re clumsy, careless, and-and stupid, of all the bloody stupid things to say?”
Zach said nothing but turned to look out over the frozen pond. “The park’s nearly deserted,” he said, looking all around.
“Zach, is Felix getting on you about –?”
“Jason? I mean, Mr. Felix? No…” Zach said, perplexed. Then more definitely, “No! No, Mr., um, Jason’s…been really great! Since mother joined B9, he’s been…sort of like a second father to me. If that’s anything to call someone you like.”
“What do you mean?”
Zach shrugged. “Well, if you knew my father, you wouldn’t think it was such a nice thing to say about someone.”
“So you didn’t get along with him, then?”
“My father? I hated him,” Zach huffed. He leaned over the cold iron railing, the frozen pond devoid of skaters in the harsh wind. “Oh not that it wasn’t mutual. In fact, he started it!” He let out a cold laugh. “He never really loved Mother. But at least he tolerated her. Me…he just…he…He didn’t really want me around you could say.”
Ethan walked up and slowly leaned over the railing beside Zach, looking out onto the pond also, but glancing at the boy. He grinned but turned his head quickly aside.
Zach glanced at him then stood up, hurt, and turned to leave.
“Where are you going?” Ethan grabbed his arm, stopping him.
“Don’t laugh at me!” Zach’s voice cracked. He looked aside, blinking rapidly.
Ethan’s grin faded down to a gentle smile. “Zach, I didn’t mean to…It’s patently absurd.”
“What?” Zach asked.
“Absurd for your father to have stopped loving your mother because of you…To hear you believing such nonsense and blaming yourself for your parents’ divorce…Honestly, it’s actually a bit naïve at your age, to continue thinking those things, isn’t it?”
“What would you know?” Zach shot back angrily.
Ethan’s grip tightened gently on Zach’s arm.
“I know a good man, and someone who’s been severely hurt by a loved one’s scorn, when I see one. I’m looking at both now. If you want to make your way in this world, stop believing the lies he told you in order to distance you from himself. Stop trying to rationalize what you wish he felt and what he did feel – if he felt anything at all. The man was a git. That he produced someone like you, and earned the love of a woman such as your mother, is nothing short of astounding.”
A tear slid down Zach’s wind-chapped cheeks.
“He died when you were ten, right?”
Zach nodded. “By magic. Not his own. Someone put a curse or a spell on him. We don’t know why. Or who…Maybe it makes me heartless but…I was never sorry he died. Is that wrong?”
“What’s wrong is that someone didn’t take the bastard out sooner –” Ethan cut himself off as he saw the look of horror on Zach’s face. “No,” he said with an apologetic grin at the boy. “No…he was wrong. Wrong to have thought of you and treated you in that way. He should be pitied more than anything, for not…for not having the good sense to-to enjoy and-and to –”
Ethan smiled, genuinely abashed as he struggled to find the right words. He watched as Zach swallowed and wiped away tears. “Here,” he told the boy quietly. “Your hands are red.” He took them, before he even realized it, in his own and clasped them firmly. “They’re freezing! You should have worn your gloves!”
Zach laughed. “You sound like Mother.”
“Better that than your father!” Ethan laughed, letting go of the boy’s hands. “In fact, I think I feel rather put out by ‘Jason.’ I thought certainly I was the one you see as a second father.”
Zach’s smile faded as he stared back at Ethan. “No,” he said seriously. “That isn’t how I see you at all…I see you, Ethan. I do see you.” Ethan watched as the serious youth closed the space between them. “I see you like this…”
Ethan felt his face go slack as Zach’s cold fingers cupped his jaw. Zach’s body pressed against his, the boy’s taut right thigh pushing against his left. Ethan stepped away from the advance, but was stopped almost instantly as the iron railing at the pond’s edge dug into his lower back.
Ethan’s mouth dropped open, as if in protest, and he caught his breath. But before he could say anything, the curve of Zachary Kreswell’s lips pressed against his own.
Regaining his senses, Ethan brought his arms up and gripped the young, strong shoulders. Then he slowly pushed Zach away until the two of them stood at arms’ length from each other, Ethan’s hands still gripping Zach’s shoulders.
Zach breathed heavily, his breath coming out in thick, steamy puffs. He looked desperately into Ethan’s eyes. “What…?” he asked the older man, breathlessly. “What have I done wro –?”
Ethan slowly raised his arms up and encircled the boy’s shoulders with one, and with the other hand, clasped the back of Zach neck and pulled the boy in, gently, until he had Zach locked in a quiet embrace.
Zach remained still in Ethan’s arms. “Your father was a fool,” he said quietly. “To have had so much,” he held the boy apart from him a bit and smiled, “and to have thought so little of it…”
“What do you think, Ethan?”
“I think I would have been very proud to have been your father. I would have been very happy, and very…comforted…to have a son like you. But I didn’t. So I ask that you…that you not be in such a rush to…just take things a bit slowly in your life?”
Zach’s eyes flickered down. “I – I apologize…I-I thought…I mean, I understand if you want to go slo –”
“I want to go –” Ethan hesitated, uncertain how to handle the situation. “I want to go back to the apartment,” he said quickly. “It’s cold. And I’m certain your mother will have something hot and spiked to drink, waiting for us when we arrive. What do you say?”
Zach smiled at him. “Okay…’Pops’.” He took a step back from Ethan and grinned mischievously at him.
“Oh,” Ethan said, trying to smirk but grinning very openly. “Droll. Very, very droll…” They walked along, slipping a couple of times and laughing along the way back home.
Island — Condo – Master Suite – Same Time
Willow stretched as she woke up, keeping her eyes mostly closed. A sleepy smile spread across her face as she recalled the previous night’s events. When she looked in Rowena’s direction, she found Xander instead. Rowena was on the far side, snuggling comfortably in Xander’s arms. With her eyes now wide open, Willow abruptly sat up.
The jostling of the bed caused Xander to rouse slightly, and he pulled the blonde closer against him. As Rowena moved closer into Xander’s embrace, Willow’s eyes narrowed, and she frowned.
“Hey,” she said, trying to wake them.
Rowena scrunched her eyes tight and moaned in protest against being woken up. Xander just slept on.
Willow clutched the sheet against herself. “Hey, you guys…wake up.” She shook Xander’s naked shoulder, causing the sleeping couple to rock.
Rowena pried her eyes open and looked up at the man holding her close. She smiled in remembrance and turned to look at Willow. “Morning,” she said.
As Xander finally showed some signs of rousing, Rowena pulled herself from Xander’s embrace. She leaned over to Willow and gave the redhead a kiss. “I thought you were hard to wake up,” she told Willow, “especially after a night like last night.” She chuckled, then leaned over to kiss Xander until he opened his eyes.
“Mmmm, Ro,” Xander mumbled, kissing her back, causing Willow’s frown to deepen. Suddenly, his eyes popped open, and his head shot up in full alertness. “…And Willow.” He rolled away from Rowena and peeked under the sheet covering him. “And nakedness!” He looked rapidly between all three of them.
Willow leaned over the bed to grab something from the floor and then tossed him his boxers. With a quick move under the covers, he donned the garment and jumped from bed.
“Oh god, we…” he said, pointing at the couple still in the bed and then back at himself. “And I…and we all…oh god.”
“Are you freaked?” Rowena asked with a frown.
“No, he always panics when he wakes up in bed with two women,” Willow said, a snide edge to her voice.
“No, I don’t!” Xander said. “I mean, I never…not with two women…not at the same time…”
“Coulda fooled me,” Rowena purred and stretched her body languorously under the covers. “God, that was amazing!”
“Yeah,” Willow agreed, sounding as if she totally didn’t.
“I’m gonna go…uh, make breakfast,” Xander said, pointing over his shoulder in the general direction of the door. “Yeah, breakfast! Nutritional goodness is needed all around.”
As he rushed from the room, Rowena turned to Willow, confused. “He’s freaked, isn’t he? You should talk to him, Will.”
Willow merely scowled and crossed her arms tightly, a gesture that did not go unnoticed by Rowena.
Island – Condo – Kitchen – Minutes Later
When Faith came in, Buffy and Xander were on the kitchen side of the bar, fixing their breakfast. Xander was cutting up fruit, while Buffy was toasting a bagel. Willow and Rowena sat on the other side, eating their cereal.
Faith gave the others a nod of greeting, then gave Buffy a smile. “Hey,” she said amiably.
Barely meeting Faith’s eyes, Buffy gave a flat “Hey” in return.
Faith stared at Buffy for a moment, then made a small huff. She snatched up a banana and moved to the end of the bar to eat it.
Just then, Kennedy came into the kitchen. She stretched as she stood in front of the refrigerator. When the silence in the room became noticeable, she looked more closely.
Willow and Rowena weren’t chit-chatting. Buffy’s eyes darted back and forth between Faith and Xander, while Xander refused to look at anyone. Faith just rolled her eyes in annoyance. Kadin, who was seated in the adjoining great room, didn’t seem to notice. She was too wrapped up in her handheld video game.
Kennedy raised a curious eyebrow and then went about getting a juice glass down from the cabinet. “So,” she began casually, “what did you guys do last night?”
Willow, Rowena, Xander and Buffy all blurted simultaneously, “Nothing!”
Kennedy looked at Faith, then back at the four, but they completely avoided all eye contact. “Why are you all so jumpy?”
Xander and Buffy adamantly shook their heads.
“Jumpy?” Buffy said, “Who’s jumpy? I’m not jumpy. Are you jumpy?” she asked Xander.
“I’m not jumpy. I don’t know what she means. What do you mean?” he asked Kennedy.
Kennedy just shook her head. “Never mind,” she sighed, as she poured some juice into her glass.
“Well, I’m gonna go swing – sit!” Buffy said, backing out of the kitchen. “I’m gonna go sit on the front porch. I think.” Just as Buffy cleared the bar and turned around, her bagel popped up in the toaster.
“Hey!” Kennedy said loudly. Buffy stopped in her tracks and was slow to turn around. When she did turn, she watched Kennedy pull the bagel from the toaster. “Forgetting something?” Kennedy asked, as she dropped it on a plate and held it out.
As Buffy came back to take the plate, Kennedy glanced over at Xander. He put some of the fruit in a bowl and speared one of the uncut apples with the paring knife.
“You guys can have the rest,” he said in a rush. Then he left in the opposite direction Buffy was heading.
Once they were gone, Kennedy looked over the bar at Faith and asked, “What’s up with them? Did they get freaky last night or something?”
A sudden snort and strangled cough came from Rowena, who had been drinking a glass of milk. She quickly put down her glass and raised a napkin to her face. She began to wipe her mouth and her nose. When Kennedy looked in her direction, Willow just gave a weak laugh and started patting Rowena on the back.
When Kennedy turned back to her, Faith just grumbled in a perturbed voice, “I’ll go see what’s up.”
Kennedy watched Faith leave in the direction Buffy had gone moments before. Then she saw Willow following after Xander. Kennedy sighed and then went and plopped down next to Rowena at the bar.
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Office – Same Time
Sitting in Rowena’s chair at her desk, Grace held the telephone to her ear, her PDA in her other hand.
“…Yeah, I’d like to book an appointment for a bridal and bridesmaids dress fitting?… No, it’s not for my wedding…” She snorted sarcastically, “Yeah, always the bridesmaid. Actually, this is my first time…Next Friday at four?” She flicked through Rowena’s appointments on the PDA. “Nah, Friday’s no good. Can do the following Wednesday anytime after two…” Grace rested the phone on her shoulder and started to type on her PDA. “Next Wednesday it is.” A knock at the door made Grace look up. It was Dianna, with a brown paper bag in her hands. Grace waved her mother in and she took a seat opposite the desk.
“…Do you need the deposit before the appointment, or is it okay if we bring it along on the day?… Okay, thanks, you’ve been a help… Yeah, okay, bye.”
“Busy?” Dianna asked.
Grace put the phone back down in its cradle. “I’d prefer to use ‘hectic’ to describe my morning so far. Had to make an appointment for Ro’s dress fitting,” Dianna frowned slightly. “Not sure what Willow’s gonna wear, probably something Earth-mothery, but I’m guessing it’ll be pretty. I hope what I’m wearing’s gonna be pretty. Maybe I might see a bit of action…” Grace saw her mother’s frown. “What? The wedding? Their wedding?”
“Oh…” was all Dianna said.
“You’ve been here, what, weeks now? And you haven’t felt the wedding buzz?”
“Can’t say that I have, but…good for them. They seem like a nice couple,” Dianna said. Then she pursed her lips and added, “So Rowena’s got you making her appointments?”
“Well, I am her assistant.”
“And she couldn’t sort out her affairs before she swanned off on her hols?”
“‘Ass-sis-tant’,” Grace exaggerated her enunciation. “Is that word in The Meddling Mother’s Dictionary?”
Dianna smirked and folded her arms. “All I’m saying, dear, is that you’re better than an assistant. You’re a watcher, and while I’ve been here, the only thing I’ve seen you watch is that infernal science-fiction program.”
“How dare you! Battlestar is the god of all sci-fi shows!” Grace barked in defense.
“So you’re content with being nothing more than a glorified assistant? A self-confessed donut runner?”
The look on Grace’s face showed that Dianna’s words stung.
“If your question is, am I happy with my life? Then yes, I’m very happy.” The venom started to ebb from Grace’s mouth slightly. “Though I gotta say, I was happier before you came and stuck –” She stopped and raised a finger in correction. “No, shoved your oar in as you always do.”
Dianna rolled her tongue around her teeth. “I only want what’s best for you.”
Grace grunted with a mocking smile on her face. “Do you? Do you really?” She leaned forward onto the table.
“You’re stupid for even thinking otherwise.”
“Calling your daughter stupid…nice way of patching things up, Ma.” She gave her mother two sarcastic thumbs up.
“You can’t say that I haven’t tried. It’s you. It’s always been you. This…this attitude you have towards me. I’m your mother…and…and…”
“…Mother knows best?” Grace threw in.
“Obviously I do, or otherwise you’d be dead not far off a year now!” That took Grace aback. There was a momentary silence, until Dianna continued. “If I hadn’t taught you most of what you know, you and your father would be dead, and you know it!” Dianna’s eyes glossed over slightly. “Now tell me that all the times I made you sit down and learn were for nothing. Tell me, Grace!” she shouted.
Grace found herself lost for words for a few moments. She looked down to her hands and clasped them. “Not…all of it was for nothing…” She looked up to her mother, tears obviously in her eyes, but she held them back behind a stern glare. “But you tell me this. When I called you from Dad’s basement, with five or six demons clawing their way through the door, coming to rip our – my – throat out…before I hung up, I said I loved you. Why didn’t you?”
“I did,” Dianna responded almost immediately.
“You…” she raised her voice, and then softened it, “…didn’t.”
“It-it was a tense time…”
“Tense time or not, that could have been the last time you ever spoke to me, and you never said you loved me.”
Dianna went to place a hand on her daughter’s, but Grace shifted back in her seat.
“Please, Mum, why?”
Dianna bit her bottom lip and stared back at Grace steadfastly. “The truth hurts, dear. Do you really want to know? Because if I tell you, you’ll tell me to get out, to gather my things and get out and never come back, and I don’t want to lose you completely.”
“If you don’t tell me why, I’ll say the same exact thing, because if there’s one thing I won’t tolerate, it’s secrets and lies. I can’t know you knowing that you’ve got something against me.”
“Okay,” Dianna sighed and sat forward, her face devoid of emotion. “The cold hard truth is that I am green with envy.” Grace’s face was a mixture of surprise and utter bewilderment. “You don’t deserve to sit where you are now. You aren’t deserving of having the life you now lead. You don’t deserve this destiny. You don’t deserve to be Chosen. And I resent you for it.”
Grace blinked, her mouth poised, ready to conjure her next words, but nothing came. Not at first. “You…you resent me?”
“Yes. I do. Though not completely. It wasn’t your fault you were Chosen. It’s Magic’s fault…and you have…made me proud, for what it’s worth.”
“You…you resent me? Why?”
“Put yourself in my shoes. I worked day and night being a watcher. I put blood, sweat, and tears into my job. I went above the call of duty, and I wasn’t even a chosen watcher. I was so dedicated, so loyal to the cause that they’d tell me to jump and I’d say how high. Then, when you were old enough, I wanted to give you what I had. I wanted you to have my life. Being a watcher was all I knew, and it was the best, and that’s what I wanted for you – the best. I’ll give it to you, as a child you enjoyed learning about monsters and witches and spells, and the prospect of being like me. Then, as you got older, you started to get bored…you didn’t care anymore. Your father certainly didn’t help matters.”
Grace’s eyes narrowed. “Don’t you dare bring him into this!”
“Oh, but I must. He never much liked the fact that I was grooming you to be a watcher. He wanted you to choose your own life, but the life I knew was better, more rewarding and safer. You made your choice that you didn’t want my life, and then, out of the blue, you were Chosen.”
“I can’t believe I’m hearing this.”
“I couldn’t believe – still can’t – how some little, ungrateful whining bitch who didn’t want to be a watcher was suddenly called and someone like me who was utterly devoted was passed over.”
Grace flew out of her chair, knocking it back against the wall behind her. “Get out! Get out!”
Dianna stood up, their eyes still locked on one another.
“Believe it or not, Grace, I am proud of you. I’m proud that you did the right thing and didn’t ignore your calling. And I’m proud of how you saved your father’s life and your own.”
“If you think we’re ever going to be okay after this, you’ve got something wrong in the head. Now get out,” Grace said, almost too calmly. Not a single tear had fallen from her eyes yet.
Stealing a moment, Dianna stared back at Grace and then took a step back. She turned and opened the door and went to step out, but she looked back over her shoulder.
“All I’ve ever done has been for you, and I’ve always had your best interests at heart. I still do. I will make this right, you’ll see. I love you, Grace.” Her eyes fell to the floor and she left, shutting the door behind her.
Grace stood above Rowena’s desk, her breathing shallow and her bottom lip beginning to tremble. Reaching a crescendo, she burst into tears and fell back into the chair.
Bureau Nine – Felix’s Office – Same Time
The phone was on its second ring when Felix picked it up, lifting the receiver to his ear.
“Yes?” From his tone, he knew precisely who was on the other end of the line. “Yes, begin monitoring at once. Call back when you have confirmation.”
As he hung up the phone, Felix looked at Lori, sitting across from him. Neither cracked even a hint of a smile.
The door slid open, and the same well-dressed African-American who had been at the briefing a few days before entered. “Mr. Felix, I…” He paused, sensing the atmosphere in the room. But he didn’t look at all puzzled. “Has it…?”
“Begun? Yes. Yes, it has.”
He nodded. “I’ll get ready.”
Island – Condo – Front Porch – Same Time
Faith walked onto the front porch to see Buffy on the steps, chewing on her bagel. Buffy turned to look at her briefly, then turned away. Faith’s expression hardened.
“What’s got your cork so tight?” the dark haired slayer asked.
“Nothing.” Buffy took another bite, not adding more.
“Typical,” Faith grumbled.
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Buffy Summers, the same ole tight ass you’ve always been…always got your panties in a wad about something.”
“Don’t start acting like you’ve got me figured out after one night, Faith. You don’t know me, okay?”
“I know you’ve been a pain in my ass ever since we met. The perfect blonde girl with the perfect friends. La-de-friggin’-da, B.”
“How could I possibly be that perfect when you continually manage to steal my friends away? You tried to do it in Sunnydale, and you’ve succeeded in Cleveland.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“Oh, come on!” Buffy tossed her plate aside and stood up. “You’ve been Single White Female-ing me for years.”
“You left, B. Had to go see the world or some crap like that. What was I supposed to do? Not associate with anyone because they’re your friends?”
“You act like you run the place, just like you’re doing now,” Buffy replied.
“That’s because I do run the place. Every slayer, every team, every day for four years now. And I do it alongside my friends – friends that stayed behind and did the work so that tight-ass you could travel the world. Hell, even your little sis has given us more help these past few years than you have!”
Island – Condo – Screened-In Side Porch – Moments Later
On the screened-in side porch, Willow walked over to where Xander sat on a lounge chair. He was eating slivers of apple from the paring knife in his hand.
“Are you okay, Xan?” she inquired gently.
“Okay?” Xander asked incredulously. “I just woke up from a night of sex with my best friend and her girlfriend…at the same time. Is it possible to be ‘okay’ after that?”
“It wasn’t bad, was it?” Willow asked, a worried frown creasing her face. “I mean, i-i-it’s not like any of us had ever done anything like that before or –”
“No, no, I didn’t mean it like that at all,” Xander interrupted. “Last night was…wow…really…just completely…wow.” He sighed heavily and set his half-eaten apple aside. “But, as much as I enjoyed it, I know there was nothing to it, it was just –”
“Well, there wasn’t nothing to it…” Willow countered. “I mean, Ro and I…we do care about you, Xander…we do love you.”
“I know,” he replied with a small smile. “But it’s not love love. It’s not like what…” He trailed off and looked down, fiddling with the small knife in his hands.
“…what you and Vi had,” Willow finished for him.
Xander nodded sadly. Willow nodded back, but then she seemed to get a little nervous.
“I don’t know,” she said, directing her gaze at her hands, “you and Ro looked pretty snuggly this morning. Made me kinda –”
The sound of a commotion and loud voices from the front porch stopped Willow mid-sentence.
“Is that Faith?” Xander asked.
Willow didn’t wait for a response, darting out the screen door and down the steps. Xander followed behind her, tucking his knife into his back pocket.
Cleveland – Ritz-Carlton Hotel – Executive Suite – Same Time
Tyrell sat on the chair as if it were a throne. Before him were over three dozen television monitors. Most merely showed tropical vistas or well-appointed rooms, empty for the moment of any activity. A few were different. They showed various individuals, including Buffy and Faith in an argument on a porch. In another, Willow could be seen talking to Xander. In still another, Kennedy and Rowena were in the kitchen, while Kadin played a video game in the great room.
With a sneer, Tyrell activated the digital recorder on the desk to his right.
“We at Bureau Nine,” he began dictating, “feel nothing but regret at the tragic events involving the Watchers Council leadership. Although further investigation is of course warranted, and Bureau Nine itself has no specific evidence in the matter, we remain hopeful that the damage reported is, to some extent. an exaggeration. Theories as to the cause of this disaster must await further investigation. We remain confident, however, that personal character issues will prove to be a minor factor in recent events. Any attempt to portray the victims as in any way responsible for their own demise is to be rejected –”
A finger pressed the “Stop” button of the recorder, causing Tyrell to suddenly turn around and face the person who cut off his dictation.
“James,” said Jason Felix, “might I ask what precisely is going on here?”
Tyrell’s eyes blazed at Felix, who met them without flinching. But then, as figures entered the room behind Felix, Tyrell broke eye contact.
Lori wore a simple field suit, ordinary enough for the street but allowing her maximum movement. The Teflon armor mesh was not immediately obvious, but the pistol in her right hand was. Behind and to the left of her stood the African-American man who had reported to Felix earlier. In his hand was another kind of weapon, a glowing sphere the size of a baseball.
“Afraid to confront me alone, is that it?” Tyrell almost purred.
Felix ignored him and swept his eyes over the television screens and computer equipment.
“That’s your problem, Felix, did you know that? You’re always afraid. Afraid to face the real decisions, the difficult ones, the hard realities of our common mission.”
“This has nothing to do with protecting anyone.” Felix’s voice was soft, but his eyes were steely.
“How naïve. The Council is a –”
“The Council humiliated you,” Felix interrupted. “They won. You have clearly never forgiven them. My mistake was in not realizing how diseased a soul you possess.”
“While you have ignored the single greatest threat we face, I have acted!”
“I am unconcerned with your excuses.” Felix nodded to his team. “Bring in security.”
“Threat level?” Lori asked.
“Maximum. This man’s pride is more important to him than any life.”
She nodded, then pressed a single button on her belt. When Tyrell stood, she raised her gun instantly and aimed it at his head. Tyrell ignored it.
“The Council,” he said, satisfaction dripping in every word, “is broken. Like a piece of cheap crockery. Shattered.”
He kept the smile on his face as four men in security uniforms entered and began to shackle him.
Island – Condo – Front Porch – Moments Later
When Willow and Xander got to the front porch, they found a table and chairs overturned, and Buffy and Faith grabbing each other by the shirt fronts and raising their fists.
“Separate!” Willow shouted.
The two slayers were jolted away from each other as if they had received an electrical shock.
“What is going on?” Willow asked them in an angry tone.
Island – Condo – Kitchen – Same Time
Meanwhile, in the kitchen, Kennedy and Rowena were oblivious to what was happening outside. They were talking softly at the bar that separated the kitchen and the eating area. Rowena began to giggle, and Kennedy put her finger over her own lips as her other hand rested on Rowena’s knee.
Kadin looked up from her video game in the adjoining room just in time to see Kennedy’s hand settle onto Rowena’s leg. She continued to watch as Kennedy and Rowena moved even closer into each other’s personal space, laughing at a private joke. Kennedy leaned over and started whispering something into Rowena’s ear, which made the blonde giggle even more.
Kadin’s eyes narrowed and she squeezed the handheld game so hard that it started to crack.
Island – Condo – Front Porch – Same Time
Back on the front porch, Willow pulled Faith aside, and Xander did the same for Buffy.
“Okay, Slayerlady, march!” Xander pointed to the beach. Buffy put her hands on her hips defiantly. “Okay, can we please go down to the nice, calm beach and talk? Friend to friend?” he asked, changing tactics.
“See? You still got friends, B. What are you worried about?” Faith said.
Buffy tried to charge around Willow to get to Faith, but she didn’t get far before Xander grabbed her by the waist.
“Just let it go, Buff,” he said. “Come with me, okay?”
Buffy pushed him off and stomped down the steps and toward the beach. He looked at Willow and nodded her toward Faith. He then jogged to catch up to Buffy, who was walking briskly.
Willow led Faith around to the far end of the front porch where a swing hung.
“Care for a swing?” Willow tried to ask diplomatically, gesturing toward the seat.
“I don’t get her,” Faith said, choosing to pace instead. “Last night it was all drinks and smiles, and now the bug up her ass is back. Why does she do that?”
“Well, I don’t think Buffy has a bug up her butt,” Willow remarked, trying to stay neutral.
“Of course you wouldn’t,” Faith said snidely, “because you’re perfect too. The perfect witch with the perfect watcher girlfriend and the perfect slayer best friend.”
“I’m far from perfect, Faith,” Willow answered.
“I suppose you’re right,” Faith said, acting as if she were conceding the argument. “We should ask Marly how perfect you are. I bet she could tell us. Oh wait, she got blown to chunks because of you. Not only that, she got tortured and then she got blown to chunks.”
“You are an evil bitch,” Willow said between clenched teeth.
“Evil or just honest, Miss I’m-Always-Right?” Faith asked. “Let’s not fool ourselves, Red. Your evil streak is much wider than mine.”
Willow took an unsteady breath. Her eyes began to turn black, and her hands began to shake.
“You better run, Faith,” Willow warned her. “And I mean now.”
“I heard you took B on and practically kicked her ass. Maybe now’s the time to find out who’s really the top slayer around here.”
“You don’t want to screw with me, Faith,” Willow replied. “I’m warning you.”
Faith grinned. “Gimme your best shot.”
Island – Beach – Same Time
“Buffy, slow down,” Xander yelled as he tried to catch up.
“Why does she think she’s got this tough life, huh?” Buffy said, stopping and turning to face him. “We’ve all had it rough. My life isn’t all that peachy, you know? I’ve had so much loss to deal with. My mom, Angel, Spike. Who the hell does she think she is?”
“Faith has lost people she loves, too,” Xander replied.
“Like who? An alcoholic father and a psychotic mayor?”
“It isn’t always about you, Buff,” Xander said. “Other people have had loss too, including Faith…including me.”
“You never had to kill your own girlfriend, Xander.”
“No, but I had to watch her die in my arms and couldn’t stop it. I never found Anya’s body to lay it to rest. Hell, I had to watch them stuff Tara into a body bag because you and Dawn couldn’t handle it.”
“I don’t need to hear this crap,” Buffy said, and she started to walk away. Xander grabbed her by the arm and swung her around to face him.
“And let’s not forget…Angel came back,” he continued hotly. “In fact, with the exception of your mom, they all came back – Angel, Spike, you, Faith, every single one of you. But Tara didn’t come back. Anya didn’t come back. Vi didn’t come back, or her sister for that matter,” he said in a rush. “So don’t stand there and act like ‘woe is you,’ Buffy. We’ve all had woe. In fact, some of us have had it worse.” His voice became a little husky. “Some of us still wonder why we get up every day.”
Buffy didn’t say anything. She just stalked away with her arms folded across her chest.
Xander watched her walk away, his anger gradually giving way more and more to despair. Soon he began to sob, dropping to his knees in the sand. He covered his face with his hands and just cried.
After a few moments, he wiped his eyes with his fingers and then rubbed his hands on his shirt to dry them. He paused and raised his arms, gazing at the backs of his hands. He flipped them over and stared at his palms. His eyes focused on his left hand, following the crease of his life line down to his wrist.
Slowly, he pulled the knife out of his back pocket.
Island – Condo – Great Room – Same Time
Rowena was in the middle of smiling and whispering something to Kennedy when she was suddenly yanked from her bar stool from behind. When she turned, she found Kadin in front of her with her arm cocked.
Before Kadin’s fist could connect with Rowena’s face, Kennedy jumped in and caught the punch in her hand. Rowena took her chance to slip away.
Kennedy pushed her girlfriend backward and said, “What the hell’s wrong with you, Kadin?”
“What’s wrong with me? What’s wrong with you?” Kadin countered. “Are you or are you not my girlfriend? You were practically in that bitch’s lap!”
Kadin took a breath to add more, but the steep point of a sword blade pressed against her windpipe. Rowena stood calmly at the other end of the blade. Kadin lifted her hands, but otherwise didn’t move.
“Okay, ladies,” Kennedy said softly. “Let’s chill here and put down the medieval weaponry.”
Rowena pushed the blade a little closer, not taking her eyes off Kadin. A small trickle of blood appeared under Kadin’s chin. “You tell her the bitch took that threatening crap last year after Alex’s big speech…but I’m not taking it now. If she’s got a problem, it ends here.”
In a flash, Kadin pushed the blade away and ran toward the hearth, where the remaining sword still hung. She pulled it from the wall and charged toward Rowena, who did the same.
“Kadin, no!” Kennedy shouted.
She ran to intervene, but Kadin used her free hand to grab Kennedy’s face and then shove her forcefully over the sofa. With Kennedy out of the way, Kadin began to engage Rowena. The sound of steel against steel filled the room.
End of Act Three