Bureau Nine – Kreswell Apartment – Early Afternoon
Ethan returned from his walk, every bit the new man. There was a spring in his step that he hadn’t had for years, his cheeks rosy. His eyes were bright, wide and alert. He almost skipped up the steps, forgoing the elevator, to the Kreswell’s apartment.
“Missus, I’m ba –” he began as he swung the door open. He stopped when he saw Cameron sitting and wiping tears from her face with a tissue.
“Here now, what’s this?” he asked. “What’s wrong?”
Cameron held up a sheet of Jason Felix’s blue stationary. Ethan took the page from her and began to read the almost illegible handwriting. The writer was definitely not Felix, and there were inkblots on the page where the writer was clearly having trouble using a fountain pen.
Ethan read, confusion evident on his face, as Cameron relayed out loud what the letter said.
“He’s gone! He’s gone, he’s been sent to some…country! I don’t even know where! I’ve called Jason. He says Zach’s on an assignment and that I shouldn’t worry and to be proud of him doing so well at such a young age! The nerve, to talk to me about my son as though…”
Ethan lowered the page, looking completely lost. “But…Zach left us a message last night and said he was now working exclusively for Felix. He said he was staying with Felix. He didn’t say anything about leaving or –”
“Of course he didn’t! He wanted to slip away without having to face the two of us! Ethan, he’s left because of us! Because of you and me. You told him you and I were in love, and now he’s left because of it.”
“No. No, he hasn’t. He’s only left on my account.”
Cameron stared at Ethan, waiting for him to continue. When he didn’t, she narrowed her eyes at him. “Oh my God. You didn’t tell him, did you?”
“C.K., I tried. But he was so bloody well out of control as soon as I said I wasn’t in love with him! He left before he would let me finish.”
“Then why has he written that he doesn’t want to see the two of us again?”
“I don’t know.”
“Well, who told him about us, if you didn’t?”
“I…C.K., honestly I-I thought we might tell him together, once he’d calmed down.”
“Do you think he knew all along? Maybe knew but…wouldn’t allow himself to believe it? Ethan, where are you going?”
Ethan was already at the door. “Maybe Felix won’t tell you where he’s gone, but he’ll tell me!”
Bureau Nine – Jason Felix’s Office – Moments Later
There was a very civil knock at the door before it opened. Felix turned to look over his shoulder to see who was entering without permission. “Ah, let me call you back. Something’s just come up,” he said into his Bluetooth headset. He ended his call and smiled ingratiatingly at Ethan.
Ethan sneered at the smile. “Oh, piss off!” he said, hotly. “Where’s he gone to?”
Felix continued to smile innocuously.
“Answer me!” Ethan barked, making Felix jump slightly.
Still, the smile remained as Felix sat down behind his desk. “I can’t tell you that, Ethan. It’s privileged information. Rest assured that no harm will come to Zach. He’s on assignment and he’s got the full resources of Bureau Nine behind him. I’ll find you another assistant. Perhaps-.”
“What did he tell you?” Ethan interrupted.
“He told me he wasn’t happy here and asked me to reassign him. Tell me, did you and he have some sort of falling out?” Ethan caught his breath at the unexpected question. “Look, Ethan, I know Zach’s side of the story, but not yours,” Felix said smoothly. “I’m actually glad you’re here. You can fill me in.”
“What do you know?” Ethan asked.
“All I know is that Zach was given an assignment to deliver an envelope with information for your review and opinion. He was rather upset about something when he returned it to me.”
Felix turned to his tea service. “Care for a drink?” he asked the mage.
Ethan stared blackly at him.
Felix poured himself a cup. “Fine…He left my office,” Felix continued. “Then, round about an hour or so later, he was back again. With suitcase in hand.” Ethan squinted at the words as Felix dropped one sugar cube in his tea and stirred it noisily. “What could I do, Ethan? He’d made up his mind not to go back to his mother’s apartment. And he was clearly upset about something. I couldn’t let him go off on his own, so he stayed the night with me. But he told me he left C.K. a phone message letting her know where he was. Please tell me he did.”
Ethan blinked rapidly. “Yes…” he replied absently.
“As it happened,” Felix said, stopping to sip his tea, “there’s a job we needed done, and Zach was actually suited to the task. It provided him a chance to put some space between himself and his troubles and to further his career all at once. But I am very concerned about whatever it is that is going on between Zach and…you…?” Felix held his hands apart, teacup in one, inviting Ethan to respond.
Ethan looked across the room, his eyes meeting Felix’s. “We-we didn’t know he was…”
“Didn’t know he was what?”
Ethan’s eyes shifted left and right quickly. “Unhappy. Didn’t know he was…unhappy with the arrangement,” he covered quickly.
“Well, not to worry. I’ll find you another assistant. One you’ll have no fears over losing. In fact…the acorn never falls far from the tree…so why not use C.K.?”
Ethan turned an incredulous look on Felix.
“Oh, come now,” Felix said turning to drop a second sugar cube in his tea. “Like mother, like son. Who do you think taught Zach everything he knows? Cameron would be a marvelous replacement for your lost toy – er…boy.”
When he got no reaction, Felix straightened and turned to look at Ethan. But Ethan was gone and the door stood wide open.
Bureau Nine – Kreswell Apartment – Later
Ethan entered the apartment quietly and sat down on the couch. He could hear Cameron fussing in the kitchen a little more noisily than usual. Realizing she was probably trying to distract herself, he took a deep breath.
“C.K…Cee? Come in here, would you?”
Cameron appeared in the doorway. “I’ve got a pot on. Would you like some tea?”
“No,” Ethan said quietly. “Come and sit by me. Come on.”
She sat beside him on the couch and leaned against him and he looked down at her. “Cee…Felix doesn’t seem to know much of anything – about you and I and about Zach’s feelings. But he did tell me one thing. He told me that about an hour or so after Zach left the apartment, he actually returned here. He then went back to Felix, with his bags packed and asking for reassignment.”
“Well, that’s not very much to go on,” Cameron said.
Ethan waited. After a long moment, she stiffened and drew sharp breath. “Oh my God. Ethan. He came back here! An hour later, he returned…” She sat up and looked deeply into his eyes.
“I’m sorry, Cameron. I – I’m so bloody sorry.” Ethan bowed his head and brought one hand up to his forehead. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell him about us the first time you asked me to. And I’m sorry I kept you from telling him yourself. If I had only spoken to him properly…right away…”
“Don’t blame yourself,” Cameron said. “He’s my son. It was my responsibility.”
“No. He was in love with me. It had to come from me…If I could just get hold of him, we could sort this whole thing out.” Ethan thought for a moment. “Hold on!” He suddenly got up and walked briskly toward the bedrooms.
Cameron wiped her eyes and Ethan suddenly appeared with a small, desktop globe belonging to Zachary. He set it on the coffee table and walked quickly back to his bedroom again.
“What are you going to do?” she called irritably, “spin the globe and pick a spot to go look for him?”
He reappeared in the living room and Cameron saw, through teary eyes, that he was alert and edgy. “In a manner of speaking, yes!”
“Ethan, what…” She let her question trail off as she took stock of some other items he held in his hands: a mortar, and nestled within it a pestle and a plastic bag of some substance she didn’t recognize. In the other hand, he held string and candles.
“You’re not…Ethan, you’re not doing magic! Not here, not now!”
“Do you want to find him?”
“Of course, I –”
“This is the way.” He walked toward the coffee table.
“Don’t you dare put those things down on that –”
“I’ll do a locator spell. I’ll find him. In minutes, we’ll know where he is. And I can teleport to him, bring him back!”
Cameron stood up tall and pulled her shoulders back. “You gave it up, Ethan! You’ve given magic up! You haven’t used magic in months! Well…maybe you did, for that little electric tart you got mixed up with, but I’m still not sure about –”
“Let’s not bring Gwen into this,” he said, “haven’t we enough to do with Zach –”
“You gave me your word, Ethan! You promised me – you pledged to me –”
“Yes, yes, a pledge is a promise, is a vow, is a –”
“That you would not do magic again! And I believed you.”
“– but this is different, C.K.!”
“Yes! I’m not using it for me! I’m not even using it for Zach…”
“Then why would you do –”
“For you! Cameron, for you. I’ll find him. And I’ll bring him back to you.”
“Ethan, even if you could find him, you’re in no…magical…shape to do a spell, or a teleportation. You’d get hurt, or worse.”
He ignored her, turning to set the things down on the coffee table.
“And I would leave you. Ethan, I’ll leave you if you do any magic at all, regardless of the reason.”
“No…” He turned back to her. “I’ll be leaving you. I’ll go and fetch Zach. I’ll bring him back to you. And then I’ll get out of both your lives. Forever.” He saw her staring back at him, open-mouthed. “I won’t hurt either of you any further,” he finished, and looked away. “It was foolish to think…”
“Two peas in a pod,” she said, affection creeping into her expression. “My lover and my son. Two of a kind, both running away. Like little boys. At least Zach’s excuse is that he’s only twenty. What’s yours?”
Ethan said nothing, but shifted uneasily on his feet.
“Ethan, Zach operates in a world full of wishful thinking. You said yourself, he wasn’t just upset, he was hysterical and uncontrollable. Nothing short of witnessing us together would have driven the point home to him, Ethan.”
Ethan groaned and looked aside.
“I know that about him,” Cameron continued. “Zach needs so much – much more than anyone could provide. That’s the mark his father left on him. His need goes so deep, but he never finds what he wants, because it really doesn’t exist in the way he wants it to. So he winds up running away, literally and figuratively, from the very thing he so desperately needs.” She stopped and waited for Ethan to look at her. He did, searching her eyes. “Just like you,” she said simply.
Ethan swayed under her gentle gaze and the weight of her understanding. He opened his mouth, but nothing came out. Cameron began to blur before his eyes. Breathing shallowly, and fighting tears, Ethan slowly relaxed the fingers of both hands until the mortar and pestle and candles and string slipped down and away, hitting the cushioned rug almost soundlessly at his feet.
His mouth worked again, silently forming her name. He closed the distance between them, pulling her into him. They leaned into each other, closed their eyes, and stood locked together in silence for a moment.
“He’ll come back when he’s ready,” Cameron said softly. “I know that he will. And when he does, we’ll both be here to welcome him back home.”
Cleveland – Downtown – Parking Lot – Later that night
Willow walked off of the busy main street into the parking lot next to her restaurant. As the fresh night’s air caught up to her, she looped her long, fuzzy, multi-colored scarf around her neck, wrinkling her nose at the fibers’ tickling. In her right hand she carried a large brown paper bag, containing various silver to-go packages.
Now beside her car, she reached into her pocket and pulled out her car keys. She pulled open the door and frowned as the light didn’t come on. Willow stepped inside and rested the food on the passenger seat before slamming the door shut behind her. She flicked the light switch on: nothing. She flicked it off and then on again: nothing.
“Don’t tell me it’s the battery…” she grumbled with a small pout.
“It’s not the battery.” Willow jumped in her seat and arched around to look at the back seat; a ball of energy starting to swirl in her clenched hand. “Damn woman! Okay, it’s not the battery! Sheesh!”
“Gwen?” Willow gasped, and with a sigh, she hung her head and closed her hand; the ball of energy dissipating. She looked back up at the thief with a small, relieved smile. “What are you doing here? Umm…sorry, how are you?”
Gwen shrugged her shoulders. “Meh, I’m okay. As well as could be, all things considered.”
“And yourself? I heard about the terrorist situation at the Council. I would have come, but I –”
“Couldn’t ‘cause of your cover, I know.”
“That, and I didn’t want to make things worse. I have that skill kinda down to a fine art.”
“I’ve been thinking of you –” Gwen arched a brow, and in reply Willow blushed hotly and started to shake her head, “…no-no-no. Not like that, I-I’m engaged, and…no. I mean…thinking about if you were alright. About your…your condition.”
Gwen softly smiled. “Golly, that’s sweet. Can’t say I’m well versed in having friends. Is there like a card I’ve got to get you or something? Flowers? Friend stuff?”
“I don’t want to get your hopes up, but I’ve been looking into recreating your control chip. Granted, I’ve got no schematics to go by or-or notes. Cliff notes, even. But back in the day I was Sunnydale’s big bad computer wiz.”
“Seriously, I appreciate it. And, no slight. Willow, but if I can’t recreate the goddamn chip, I can’t see you doing it. I’ve gone down every possible avenue. Hooked myself up to a large capacitor and tried to drain the electricity outta me, tried magic…nothing worked bar that chip. I lived long enough without it. Those years of being normal were a luxury, and now they’re a memory and I’ve gotta be grateful that I have them.”
Willow sighed. “I don’t know. It’s just…I kinda feel responsible. You put your butt on the line for us. You didn’t have to, but you did…and the universe pays you back like this?!”
Gwen kissed her teeth. “You got nothing to feel responsible about. Me, on the other hand…”
“Huh?” she deadpanned.
“Bureau Nine has the Sphere.”
Fashioning a confounded look, Willow said. “Yeah, the fake Sphere.”
Gwen shook her head in disagreement. “Things are about to get a whole lot more twisted, my friend. I don’t know how, and neither does my contact, but Bureau Nine have their mitts on the real Sphere.”
“What?” Willow asked, aghast. “Who’s your contact?”
“I’d rather not say. Not for my sake, but for his.”
“Can he be trusted?”
Gwen nodded. “Yeah, I trust him. He brushes shoulders with the higher-ups and works closely with Felix. His position could be key for whatever we plan to do.”
“I understand. Kinda. How did this happen? I mean, the Sphere is in our vault and only senior personnel have access…and you saw our security measures!”
“24-esque terrorist situation last week, hello?”
“Down in the vault, I mean. Why did Bureau Nine hire you to steal the Sphere, if they could do it themselves?”
“I doubt they did it themselves. And again, I don’t know how they pulled it off, but you’ve gotta listen now. I’ve stayed longer than I should have. There are some things you need to know. My contact found out that Bureau Nine was transporting the Sphere to their storage facility. He managed to get a copy of the transportation schedule and security manifest. Hear the storm early late last night?”
“That was you?”
“Cool, huh? Storms follow me, that and I can accelerate the thunder and lightning by chucking a couple of bolts up into the clouds. Bureau Nine was moving the Sphere last night, and I intercepted. Things didn’t go well. The plans had changed…the security was beefed up with a team of slayers.”
“Your contact sold you out?”
Gwen immediately shook her head. “No, he wouldn’t do that. Jason Felix is a very cautious man, but, surprisingly, not to a fault. I can handle a couple of slayers, but a team of them with armed guards flanking me from all corners…yeah, not so much a walk in the park as it is a walk down some seedy back alley late at night, with people who have those adorable love and hate tattoos on their fingers. Oh, and the crack whore shooting up behind the garbage cans.” She smirked.
“Can’t forget the crack whore,” Willow said, one edge of her mouth quirking upward.
Gwen’s smile soon began to erode. “I got to the Sphere, but got blindsided and…my hand brushed against it.”
“So…” Willow raised an eyebrow.
“Seems Bureau Nine didn’t know when they hired me, but the Sphere is inert until it’s activated by an immense natural bio-electrical current.”
“The Sphere is active. I’ve got no idea what that means, but I’m guessing that, if B9 wanted it so badly, it’s not a good thing. It started to glow and turned gold, and there were these carvings. I’m not sure if me attempting another stunt will be helpful, but I’m going to try and find out where the hell this now puts us in this game.”
“I’ll get onto it as soon as I get home.”
Gwen smiled. “No, you’ve got dinner, so go enjoy that with your honey.”
Willow returned the smile. “How do I contact you?”
“You don’t. I’ll contact you, and it’ll be something like this. Can’t afford blacking out the city again to come to the Council.”
Gwen opened the car door and stepped outside. She walked to the driver’s side window. “Take care. I’ll be in touch.” She gave Willow a small wave and then walked off into the darkness, in the opposite direction of the main road.
Willow tried to make out where Gwen had gone, but sighed and turned back in her seat, her hands on the wheel. Then, suddenly, the car came to life. She smiled.
Giles Residence – Bedroom – Later that Night
The phone rang loudly.
“Bloody hell!” Giles hissed in the darkness. “Why does it always sound twice as loud at night!” He reached over and snatched the handset.
“This better be good!” he snapped, in a whisper, so as not to wake Becca. He glanced at her. She was sleeping peacefully.
“Giles? Giles, it’s Willow.”
“What a surprise,” he muttered sarcastically.
“Someone’s a mumbly-grumbly tonight,” she chided. “Oh…I didn’t wake you, did I?”
“No…no, I’ve been awake. In fact, we turned in a bit early. Martin’s been colicky and Elizabeth has had a beastly bout of crankiness…”
“Hmm…sounds like they could use a visit from their Auntie Willow tomorrow.”
Giles smiled. “That would be marvelous.”
“Even more marvelous if it gets you and Becca out of the house for a while, right?”
“Thank you, Willow. That would be lovely. Becca, especially, would appreciate the break.”
“All right, then. I’ll come by tomorrow. See you th –”
“Hold on! What did you call for?”
“Oh. Well…not to make you any crankier, but…Ethan stopped by the Council yesterday.”
“Oh,” Giles groaned. “Now what?”
“Well, I wish I could tell you. But Ethan couldn’t tell us himself why he was there.”
“I don’t follow you…”
“He came to us, and admitted working for Bureau Nine.”
“Why am I not surprised?”
“But then he said that the good Bureau was up to something. His words. He said it was something big, ‘with possible worldwide implications’.”
“And that was it. He doesn’t know – or so he says – what B9’s up to. But he wanted to warn us, so we could be on the lookout for…something.”
“You’re telling me that Ethan came to warn the Council that his current employer is planning or doing something, but he doesn’t know what.”
“And it’s something big.”
“And what’s his price for the rest of the information?”
“That’s the point…there was no price. And no hard info. Just a warning, a heads up.”
Giles sighed and rubbed his forehead.
“He was talking all end-of-the-worldy. But…he really didn’t seem to be working any angle. He was really being kinda…”
“Un-Ethany,” Giles supplied.
“You’re speakin’ my language,” Willow grinned. “But what do you make of it, Giles?”
“I…I don’t know, honestly.”
“Well, Ro’s probably told you by now that the Sphere was accidentally activated by Gwen, right?”
“Yes, she has.”
“Well…” Willow began.
“You’re wondering if it has something to do with that,” Giles guessed.
“Yeah. But Buffy, Ro and Faith think Ethan’s just trying to distract us from something else.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.”
“Giles,” Willow said, as a thought occurred to her, “have you…are you still…’connected?’ You and Ethan, I mean.”
Giles frowned before answering. “The ‘connection’ we share seems to be faint to the point of…non-existence. I don’t know what’s happened to it. Nor do I want to know. If it’s gone, so much the better.”
“So…you couldn’t sense whether or not he was telling us the truth, or if there’s something more to what he says than –”
“Look, Willow, our…’link,’ for lack of a better word…never quite worked that way. And nowadays, it doesn’t seem to be working at all. Seems to have faded down to nothing, really.”
“But that’s significant, isn’t it?”
“Yes, significantly better! Really, Willow, it’s of no consequence to anyone but Ethan and me. As for his visit to the Council and this warning he seems to have given, I don’t know what he’s up to. I gave up trying to figure out Ethan Rayne a long time ago. If you want to get a good night’s sleep, you will, too.”
“Yeah…” Willow said. “With the magical job market drying up for old pros like him, maybe he’s just bored and needs to cause a little chaos for fun.”
Giles yawned. “Yes, yes, that’s probably it. The less attention paid to him, the better off we’ll all be, I suppose…”
“Thanks, Giles. See you and the little munchkins tomorrow.”
“Right. Goodnight.” Giles hung up the phone, casting a glance at Becca, still sleeping peacefully beside him. He laid back against the pillows and stared up at the ceiling, frowning.
Bureau Nine Headquarters – Ethan’s Bedroom – Continuous
Cameron turned restlessly in her sleep. Ethan stopped reading Zachary’s letter and watched her worriedly, but she settled and seemed peaceful again. Ethan looked once more at the blue paper, scrawled with Zachary’s messy handwriting. Frowning, he folded the letter and placed it back in the nightstand drawer. Then he turned off the lamp and laid back down, staring uneasily at the ceiling.
Kennedy’s Apartment – Night
Kennedy squinted at the screen of her laptop. It was the only source of illumination in the room.
“No results found,” said the W.I.L.L.O.W. avatar on the screen, in a particularly chipper voice. Kennedy sighed and sat back in her chair.
“I still say that computer thing is creepy as hell.” Kadin was silhouetted in the doorway, leaning against the frame.
“You think that’s creepy, you should see this case I’m working on,” Kennedy said. “This girl in India…I can’t remember, I think I might have met her once…she just got torn apart.”
“Ouch,” Kadin said sympathetically.
“Yeah. The thing is, it doesn’t match any of the bad guys in the database.”
“You should come to bed,” Kadin said. “Things will look better in the morning.”
“I can’t remember the last time that was actually true,” Kennedy replied. Kadin said nothing. When Kennedy looked over her shoulder, she had disappeared from the doorway and the lights in the other room had been turned off.
“You have mail!” chirped W.I.L.L.O.W.
Kennedy turned back to her laptop and clicked on the mail icon. She mumbled the words as she read them.
“Kennedy, it has been some time since we’ve seen each other. It seemed like it was time to catch up. How have you been? Well I hope. For me, it’s been an interesting couple of weeks.”
The sound of Kennedy’s voice began to change until it was that of another woman, its precisely chosen syllables the only trace of its original accent.
“I spent some time in the Middle East. Some friends of mine asked for advice. They wanted to meet you, and of course I was eager to help.”
Flash: A group of masked gunmen run down a hallway.
Flash: Kennedy, Marissa and Mia watch from the closet as Willow screams.
“I moved on to India, where I met another slayer. I tried to help her learn about herself, but she just refused to cooperate.”
Flash: Willow showing Kennedy gruesome crime scene photos.
Flash: The dark-skinned girl from the photographs screams in terror.
“I think eventually she learned not to wait quite so long before beginning to cut off her own arm. It’s just too bad she won’t have the chance to apply it.”
Kennedy’s breath began to quicken, and her eyes moved swiftly across the rest of the text.
“Last night I found myself in Hong Kong. It’s a beautiful city. I had to leave after I ran into a friend of yours. She proved very disappointing. What kind of slayer walks right into a simple trap, I ask you? Anyway, I figured I’d give you a heads up. Think of it as a courtesy between friends. Sincerely, HH.”
Kennedy noticed an attachment at the bottom of the e-mail. Her finger trembled as it clicked the mouse button.
It was a digital photo. Chao-Ahn lay spread-eagled on cement, her head resting in a pool of dark red liquid. A large metal crossbow bolt protruded directly from the center of her forehead.
Kennedy roughly slammed her laptop shut, and darkness fell.
End of Alluvion
Next on Watchers…
Kadin has to make a choice as to whether to accept a great, dark power inherent to her family, but is forced to risk losing herself completely to fight an ancient demon.