Watchers Council – Waiting Area – Late Morning
Ethan turned his head minutely at the sound of his name spoken quietly from behind him.
“Well, well. The Little Blue Slay –”
“Why are you here?” The voice was clearly that of young Shannon Matthewson, but it seemed coldly adult to him as it cut him off even more quietly than before.
Ethan slowly smirked, his senses on alert, as he waited for the slayer to move against him. “I have a message for Rowena and Willow,” he answered casually.
There was no sound for a few seconds and then Shannon walked slowly and softly around from behind him. She turned and faced him. He crossed his legs and leaned back against the cushioned seat, then took an expensive, matching filigreed cigarette case and lighter from his inner coat pocket. He brought a cigarette to his lips, still smirking, as Shannon stared back at him, her face unreadable.
Shannon watched Ethan smoothly put the cigarette to his lips, bring the lighter up and flick the top open. The flame rose high, then lowered, blue-white, causing the high-polished platinum to shimmer. He was just about to touch the flame to the cigarette.
“There’s no smoking in here.” Her voice was calm, without anger. From somewhere, not far away, the sound of girlish twittering reached them both. Neither of them looked in the direction of the sound.
Ethan chuckled quietly and closed the lighter. He removed the cigarette from his lips and began to put it back into the case. “If one didn’t know better,” he baited her, “one would never know how angry you are with me.”
Shannon stared back, still calm.
“You hide it quite well…for anyone, actually, not just a slayer. But it’s still merely hidden, isn’t it? Underneath that quiet, calm and collected exterior, you’re really seething inside, aren’t you? Wondering whether or not you should take this golden opportunity life has handed you and pummel me with complete abandon.” He punctuated his comment with a tight-mouthed smile.
“You’re scared of me.”
Ethan’s smile froze and he blinked, only once. Again, there was the sound of girls giggling and Shannon quickly glanced past Ethan. Several slayers, tipped off by Casey, had gathered, half-hidden from view, to witness this confrontation between her and Ethan.
Shannon suddenly relaxed and allowed her own face to show some emotion. Her brows knit angrily and her mouth turned down in a pouting frown.
“Why did you do it?” she asked. “Everyone told me – they warned me – not to get friendly with you. They said you can’t be trusted. I told them later it was only because of the dog. And they never said anything else about it again.”
She stopped and turned away, blinking rapidly.
“But it was more than just Old Dog Rupert, wasn’t it?” Ethan asked, his voice suddenly gentle. Shannon turned her head sharply toward him. The smirk was gone and the mocking look in his eyes was now replaced by something old and knowing, almost kind. “You needed a friend – a friend who was not your age, not a slayer and not a watcher or a guardian.”
“I had plenty of friends. And I still do. And a lot of them are just regular people.”
“Like the slayer’s son, yes. But you needed someone who wielded a bit of power as well, because you had none of your own. And your slayer strength couldn’t help. You needed someone with –”
“I know witches and sorcerers –”
“–powers of a more intangible sort. Adult powers, powers to scoff at the other adults and to put the other children in their proper places. You needed –” he grinned, amused, “your mother.”
“Go ahead,” she told him, the coldness creeping back into her voice. “Make fun of me.”
“I’m not making fun,” he said, quietly. “In the infirmary. We were both recovering. You spoke to me. You made a conscious choice then. And the choice was not for mummy, nor even daddy. You chose me.” Ethan watched her face cloud in confusion as she considered his words. “And I, for one, was glad that you did,” he said.
“I’ll bet you were!” she shot back. “You got away clean with…my grandfather left that card to me! He left it to me because he wanted me to have something worth a lot. Because he wanted me to have something that I could use for-for, like, college tuition and stuff! Because he wanted me to have a good life and –”
Ethan rolled his eyes. “Oh come now, do you think your grandfather really knew the actual value of that card? Do you think if he’d had any idea at all what it might be worth, he’d have kept it in a–a…what was it then…a cigar box? Cheap cigars, I’ll wager…”
“My grandfather knew everything! My grandfather –”
“Your grandfather was a dirt farmer’s son who went off to war, saw the world and decided he’d be better off as a backwoods dirt farmer! Maybe he did know the card was worth something. But I can’t believe he actually made it his business to find out how much. Nor that he even had any interest in finding out. I think it was just a beloved trinket to him, or he would have had a crate full of baseball cards or some other legitimate collectible that would have afforded him the chance to improve his own lot. as well as that of his children and grandchildren. Your grandfather was a fool or an idiot. Most likely both.”
Shannon glared at Ethan. “Take it back!” she hissed. “Take it back or I’ll –”
A couple of the girls in the small group of slayers began to move into the open, ready to take the sorcerer on to protect Shannon.
“It’s tragic that you lost the financial gain that card would have brought you,” Ethan cut Shannon off. “But the real worth of that card was not monetary. Your grandfather left you that card, probably without knowing its market value, but knowing the full value it would carry in your heart…”
Shannon blinked and breathed hard, looking as if she was deciding whether or not to lunge at Ethan.
“…because it came from him. He was the one person in your family you felt truly loved you, unconditionally. And I suppose that’s because it was quite true. Now let’s say, for a moment, that I did the job. The card would have remained with me. It was payment, after all. I never take payment for a job I don’t –”
Shannon growled at him and balled her hands into fists. Ethan raised his hands in a “calm down” gesture.
“I never take payment for an unfinished job. But I never refuse or give payment back for work I have done. So don’t go thinking I’d have been soft and gooey and given you your card back. I’d have exchanged it for a lovely sum right away. But I didn’t do the job. And so I did return your card. I left that, and a note, with your watcher, Dawn Summers. Somehow, you got the message, but not the one I intended, because the one thing critical to understanding that message went missing.”
“Dawn would never steal –”
“I’m not saying she did! Good lord, do you slayers learn English in school? Of course she didn’t steal it. But something happened to it between my handing the envelope to Dawn and you receiving it. And it happened without Dawn’s knowledge. She would have told you right off if something happened to the card. Call it that damn upstanding trait of Summers women.”
Shannon looked at him scornfully. “You’re just trying to throw me off the trail.”
“I’m trying to tell you the truth,” Ethan said quietly.
Rowena came around the corner and the slayers that had gathered there began to disperse slowly. She stopped for a moment and listened to Ethan and Shannon’s exchange.
“I didn’t take your card, Shannon.” Ethan looked deeply into her blue eyes and smiled faintly. “I–I wish I had, honestly. Because if I had, I could retrieve it, if not by magic then by coercion – or even just by buying it back, I suppose – and then exact payment some other way.”
Shannon stared open-mouthed at him for a long moment. Then she abruptly huffed at him and smirked. “You’re real good,” she said, sarcastically. “You almost had me for a minute.” She watched as Ethan’s smile faded. His face looked instantly sad and old.
“You’re – ” Shannon stood defiantly, searching Ethan’s face, holding his stare with an unblinking and unwavering one of her own. Slowly, her own face began to soften and she seemed less certain of herself. “You’re…you’re really telling the truth…” she said, not willing to believe her own words.
He held his hands apart. “You have no reason to believe me, and every reason not to,” he said. “So I guess you’re once more faced with a choice about me. And about what you’ll do to me, if you choose to believe that I’m lying.”
Shannon looked hard at him. “I…maybe I do believe you,” she said finally, surprised at herself.
“Oh blessed day. No beating.”
“I wouldn’t beat you,” she told him, sourly. “Even if it turns out you are lying.”
“Oh? Well, now I guess it’s my turn to believe you. Odd though, a slayer who won’t resort to a good thrashing to drive her point home,” he said, a slight smile playing on his lips.
Shannon looked earnestly at him. He was smiling at her, amused by her discomfort and chagrin. She seemed about to give him a sharp reply, then, suddenly, she relaxed, letting her expression soften.
“So…tell me, what has inspired you not to resort to your natural slayer instincts to fisticuffs?”
Shannon was thoughtful for a moment before answering. “Something a vampire told me,” she said simply.
“Ethan Rayne,” Rowena’s voice carried to them. She stepped up to Ethan and Shannon. “You’re here to see me.”
“Yes,” Ethan said rising. “You and the Little Red Witch.”
Rowena stared hard at him for a moment. “Alright. This way, please.” She motioned him down the corridor. He cast a quick look at Shannon, who stared balefully at him. Then he smiled slightly and began to walk in the direction indicated.
Rowena turned and smiled at Shannon. “I’m very proud of you,” she said. “The way you just acted. But don’t give him so much credit.”
Shannon looked up at Rowena and smiled faintly. “I’ll come with you, just in case he –”
“No,” Rowena shook her off. “I’ll be fine. Go on, your friends are worried about you…”
Shannon nodded and took off at a quick trot to catch up to the small group of slayers who still hovered nearby. Rowena stepped out quickly to catch up to the smirking mage.
Bureau Nine Headquarters – Jason Felix’s Office – Same Time
“Ah, Zach, come in,” Jason Felix smiled warmly. “How are you liking your new post?” he asked.
“I like it fine…” Zachary smiled back good-naturedly. “Although I’ve only been on the job a couple of hours.”
“And you’re doing splendidly,” Felix joked. “Ready for your first liaison?”
Zachary nodded and Felix walked behind the desk, sat and pulled together several documents of varying lengths. Zachary could see that they were peppered with notes in Felix’s angular handwriting, all in red ink. Felix put the papers into an envelope, sealed it with tape and turned it over. The words “Eyes Only” were stamped across the envelope in ominous block letters. Felix wrote Ethan’s name above them.
“Here you are,” he told Zachary, holding the folder out to him. Zachary took it from him. “Ask Ethan to read those immediately and give me his opinion. I’d rather he write down what his thoughts are, so that I can refer to them at will.”
“I’ll tell him,” Zachary said. “But he’s out at the moment, and I’m not sure just when he’ll be back.”
“Oh? Out where?” Felix’s good mood seemed to fade.
“Oh, he often goes for walks.”
“I see. And…you don’t know where these walks take him, by any chance? Do you?”
Zachary blinked, suddenly unsure of what to say.
“Well, that is to say, if you know where he’s gone, that will give me some idea of when to expect his reply. Wouldn’t it?”
Zachary let his breath out. “Y-yes. Yes. It would. Well…I don’t know specifically where he’s gone. but he often goes to the park by himself. He walks around a lot,” he smiled, “with his hands in his coat pockets and frowns down at the walk or at the children playing. Sometimes he leans over the railing and stares down at the water, as though no one else in the world existed but hi –” Zachary cut himself off as he noticed Felix’s curious look. “I…uh…I’ve had to go and collect him sometimes,” he explained. “For dinner. You know how mother is about being on time for dinner. I-I wasn’t following him.”
Felix’s mouth twitched and he turned and looked out the window. “Of course not,” he said jovially. “Ethan is a strange sort, isn’t he…?”
“Ethan’s not strange at all!” Zachary said, too quickly. “I mean…he…uh, well…I don’t think he’s understood, is all I mean to say. Some people do things that are a bit off the mark on the face of it, but when you understand what they’re about, they don’t seem so strange at all.”
“A bit ‘off the mark’…?” Felix turned, smiling. “I don’t understand. Ethan is a very sensible person. What has he done that is ‘off the mark?’ ”
Felix’s intercom buzzed and a visitor to his office was announced. He didn’t respond, but continued to smile at the stuttering boy. The intercom buzzed again.
“Well, we’ll finish our chat some other time,” he told Zachary. “Take those and have Ethan look at them as soon as possible and bring them right back to me when he’s done with them, no matter the hour. You can come to my apartment, if it’s that late. Just call ahead.”
“Yes, sir.” Zachary turned to leave.
The boy turned back around.
“Don’t leave that envelope lying about. I don’t want those papers to ever leave your sight. You’re to stay with Ethan until he’s done with them and then take them from him directly.”
“I understand,” Zachary said.
“At this rate, you’ll have a promotion by noon,” Felix grinned. Zachary grinned back at him, then turned and exited Felix’s office, closing the door quietly behind him.
The intercom buzzed once more and Felix reached over and hit the button. “Yes, yes, send her up.” He released the button and looked at the spot where Zachary had stood.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
“You haven’t told us anything,” Willow said angrily. “And you have a hell of a nerve coming here and asking to speak to any of us anyway, especially me and Ro. I have the power to turn you into the rat you are, Ethan. You do realize that, right? You do know how much restraint I’m using at the moment.”
“How was I to know Tyrell was working against you?!” Ethan countered. “He hired me to protect his boy and I did. I’m a mage, my dear, not psychic.”
“And had you known, would you still have taken the job?” Buffy asked.
“Well, I am a businessman,” Ethan conceded. “Or at least I was.”
“You’re really not helping your case here, Ethan,” Willow replied.
“But I’m being truthful. Listen, I’m telling you all I know, as accurately as I can. And you’ve a bit of cheek yourself, for someone who’s gone and tried to destroy the entire world! And it isn’t my fault about your girlfriend and ex-girlfriend’s near-demise. As I told you, I didn’t have any idea that Rowena and that beastly slayer were running headlong into harm’s way in Siber –”
“Enough!” Rowena said. “Look, maybe you are telling the truth –”
“Ha!” Buffy snorted.
“– but probably not,” Rowena continued. “And so what? Even if you were telling the truth, you haven’t really told us anything. ‘Something’s going to happen’…?” Rowena laughed and shook her head. “You give us a warning about nothing and expect us to jump up and run around preparing for…what?”
“You’re not listening,” Ethan hissed. “I’m telling you I don’t know what. All I know is that B9 is up to something likely having serious ramifications for the entire –”
“Yeah, yeah, we get it, Grandpa,” Faith said. “Apocalypse, death, destruction…and maybe a little chaos a la Ethan Rayne?” she said accusingly.
“It’s nothing to do with me!” Ethan half-shouted.
“Oh yeah, like Ro and Ken being shot had nothing to do with you, either!” Willow spat.
“Will you please put your mind to the problem at hand!” he snapped back at her. “The only organization capable of countering a group like B9 is the Council! The only organization capable of understanding what B9 does, or is about to do, is the Council!”
“And the only organization,” Buffy interrupted, “keeping me from ripping you a new one is –”
“Oh! Oh! I know!” Faith bubbled. “The Council?”
Buffy flashed her a grin.
“Will everyone please shut up!” Rowena said sharply. “What’s in this for you, Ethan? Playing the ends against the middle is a typical shell game for you. The stakes must be high, and you must be raising them, somehow.”
“Bloody hell,” Ethan said, resigned. “I’ll tell you once more, and then I’m done!”
“You were done before you walked in here, but go ahead,” Rowena replied.
“I work for B9 now. As a consultant.”
“You said that already. We believe that part. It’s the idea that a so-called do-gooder organization like B9 would actually hire someone like you that’s so incredible. Poor deluded souls.”
“And I’m privy to some highly confidential information,” he continued, trying to ignore Rowena’s comments. “But…”
“You overheard a conversation, blah-blah-blah…” Willow said. “But you can’t tell us what they’re supposedly planning or why it could be in any way harmful. In fact, you can’t even tell us who was having the conversation with Jason Felix! All you know is you think something bad is going to happen. And you want to warn us. Why? What’s in it for you, Ethan?”
“Survival, for one thing!”
Buffy laughed and Faith rolled her eyes. Even Willow smirked and shook her head. Rowena sat back and looked skeptically at Ethan.
Buffy spoke up, quietly. “Faith called it right,” she said, smugly. “Grandpa. You are getting old. You’re losing your touch, Ethan. We’re seeing right through you, not that we didn’t always. But you’re really not fooling anyone this time.”
Willow frowned in thought. “Well…we could call Giles in, I suppose, and see what he thinks.”
Ethan huffed out a rueful laugh. “What, as a litmus test? The human lie detector? I think not.”
“So you admit you’re lying,” Rowena said, seriously.
“I’m not lying! I’m telling you the truth!”
“Then why are you afraid of Giles’s presence?” she asked.
Ethan looked at her sternly. “I’m not. Call the git, if you like.” He stood up abruptly, his chair scraping backwards. The entire group sat up, startled. “I’m not afraid of his presence, nor anyone else’s. Set up a meeting time with him, if you like. But now, I’m quite finished,” he said. He turned and strode to the door. He stopped, his hand poised to open it.
“Here it comes,” Willow muttered to the group. “The dramatic exit line.”
Ethan, back to the room, winced at the words. “Just make sure, before anything does happen, that you’re all safe. I won’t be able to help anyone once whatever it is occurs. And I don’t doubt that you’ll wish I could.”
Buffy looked at Willow. “You were right,” she told the witch brightly.
“Nice call, Red,” Faith grinned.
Ethan straightened stiffly, opened the door, and left the room.
Watchers Council – Skye’s Room – Same Time
Shannon and Skye sat on Skye’s bed, playing cards in their hands and three piles of gourmet jelly-beans between them.
“And I told her what Ethan said about the card,” Shannon was saying. “So she thought about it and said she was sure that she hadn’t looked inside the envelope before she gave it to me because it was my personal business. But she didn’t remember the envelope being sealed, either. She thought maybe the card could’ve fallen out without her noticing. Then she said…”
Flashback – Watchers Council – Dining Hall
“So I thought maybe I should retrace my steps,” Dawn said, “even though it’s not the same dining hall.”
Shannon walked into the dining room next to her. “It’s worth a shot, I guess.”
The two of them sat down at one of the tables.
V.O., Shannon: “So we go down there and Dawn sits down at a table about the same place as when she was in the old dining hall. And she shows me where Ethan sat next to her and how he put the envelope on the table and told me exactly what he said and how, when he left, she was feeling really sick.”
Her voice faded back into Dawn’s. “It was early,” Dawn said, “it wasn’t even lunch time yet, but I had a really bad cold and just wanted to go to bed. But first, I got up to get some tea. And then…then I came back and drank it, then I took the envelope and went straight to my apartment.”
Flashback – Watchers Council – Hallways
Dawn and Shannon walked down a hallway, discussing something inaudibly.
V.O., Shannon: “The only thing we could think of was that the card must have fallen out of the envelope on her way to the apartment. Maybe someone found it, but I don’t think anyone would have kept it. Everyone knows how much I like baseball, so they probably would have asked me about the card.”
“Maybe it got trashed when the cleaning crew cleaned the halls,” Shannon theorized to Dawn in the hallway, “or maybe it just fell where no one saw it and got destroyed with the old building…”
Flashback – Watchers Council – Dining Hall
Shannon and Dawn entered the Dining Hall again, looking considerably more tired. They went back over to one of the tables and sat down.
“I’m really sorry, Shannon,” Dawn said. She sounded exhausted. “I don’t know you to make it up to you, but I swear it was an accident and –”
Shannon reached out an arm. “I know it’s not your fault. And I’m really okay about it.” She sighed and sat back in her chair “I mean, I’m sorry it got lost, sure. But you got sick because you went out to find my grandfather’s lucky poker chip for me in the woods. And…and that’s worth more than any old baseball card. I know he gave it to me because he…he really loved me. For me. And that’s worth more than having the card, too. I’m okay with it.”
Watchers Council – Skye’s Room – Present Day
“I swear, Dawn was gonna cry right then, but all of a sudden Joanne comes into the dining hall and walks right by our table. Dawn asked her if she was taking a break from studying and she gave Dawn a real smartass answer. Dawn shook her head.
“But listen! Here’s the important part. Dawn was gonna say something back to Joanne, but instead she just watched her sit down at another table. Then Dawn gets this weird look on her face. So I asked her…”
Flashback – Watchers Council – Dining Hall
“What’s wrong?” Shannon asked.
“Hm? Oh…uh, nothing. Just, feel a little tired is all,” Dawn replied.
Shannon, V.O.: “I asked her again when we got back to her place why she looked so weird when Joanne walked by us in the dining hall. And all she said was, “Was I weird? Sorry.”
Flashback – Watchers Council – Outside Dawn’s Apartment
“Sorry. Sorry Shannon,” Dawn apologized. “I’ve got a lot on my mind lately with Skye and all. And I’m sorry I-I…about the card.”
“Forget it. I know that Ethan didn’t steal my card. At least, I believe him when he says he didn’t. And even if he did, that’s all he took. I told you, I got what’s really important. You, for a watcher. And I know that my grandfather cared about me more than any of the rest of his grandchildren. I’m cool. Really.”
Watchers Council – Skye’s Room – Present Day
“And that’s all I know,” Shannon said, shrugging. She discarded a card and picked one up. “I’ll raise you two mangos and one cotton candy,” she said, carefully picking through her jelly beans and adding them to the “pot.”
“And you want me to find out why Dawn suddenly got so weirded out by Joanne?”
“I don’t think it had anything to do with Joanne in particular,” Shannon said. “But I think that when she sat down in the cafeteria it made Dawn remember something.”
Skye smiled and looked down at her own cards. “And you wouldn’t mind if I pumped her for a little info, right?”
Shannon shrugged and smiled back as Skye put two cards down and picked two up. “I’ll see you,” the vampire said, “and raise you a cherry and a pineapple.”
“That’s a lemon.”
“No, it’s pineapple.”
“Is too a lemon.”
“Is not, you little brat! The lemons are pale yellow. This one’s more like –”
Shannon plucked the jelly bean up off the bed, popped it in her mouth and chewed it. “Oh. Yeah, you’re right, it’s pineapple.”
Skye pulled her lips back and showed Shannon her fangs in a mock snarl.
“So will ya? Find out, I mean.”
“No sweat, Li’l Sis. Skye Talisker, Vampire Inquisitor, at your service.”
Shannon looked at her wrist watch. “Lunch is almost over. I gotta get to class. I’m callin’.”
The vampire smiled innocently as Shannon laid her cards down: three of a kind and a pair.
Skye laid her own cards down: a full house. Shannon groaned as the vampire grinned broadly, pulling all the jellybeans toward her.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
The four women looked for a long moment at the half-opened door. Faith finally snickered. “Well, he’s lost his charm,” she said.
Rowena smiled in agreement. “I think he’s lost his mind.”
“Don’t sell him short,” Buffy cautioned. “He’s got something up his sleeve. He may be trying to distract us from something else.”
“Then why be so obvious about it?” Faith asked.
“I think you’re right,” Willow cut in. “You said it before, Faith: Grandpa. He’s getting old. Don’t tell me no one noticed just how old he looks. And well, maybe he’s just losing it.” She tapped her head.
“I don’t think so,” Buffy replied. “Giles is practically as old as Ethan, and he hasn’t lost it yet.”
“Maybe not,” Willow said. “But Giles is retired. He is tired. And Ethan must be tired too, but he’s not settling back, he’s still working.”
“So wouldn’t that mean he’d keep his edge?”
“Maybe…or maybe he’s just worn out and losing his touch or his grip on reality and doesn’t even know it himself.”
“Oh god,” Rowena laughed. “Ethan Rayne with Alzheimer’s! Now that would be cause for alarm!”
“Look,” Buffy said, “I don’t trust him as far as…Rowena can toss him. But it wouldn’t hurt to stay sharp for a while.”
“You’re right,” Rowena agreed. “It never hurts to be a little vigilant. But about what he said…”
“How can we be vigilant,” Willow asked, “especially when he didn’t really say anything?”
End of Act Two