Michelle Rodriguez as Kadin Van Helsing, Lacey Chabert as Skye Talisker, Gale Harold as Jim Pollan, Caroline Dhavernas as Grace Hatherley, Elijah Wood as Jeffrey Lindquist, Robert Picardo as Dr. Miller, Norika Fujiwara as Mia Nakata and Sarah Michelle Gellar as Buffy Summers
Gary Oldman as Mr. Jason Felix, Laura Prepon as Lori Carew and Carl Lumbly as Nicholas
Special Guest Starring:
Scarlett Johansson as Baaierdra and Hugh Jackman as Jackson Van Helsing
Watchers Council – Slayer Gym – Next Morning
Kennedy punched the bag furiously. She blinked the sweat out of her eyes as her fists pounded at the leather. The chain suspending the bag squeaked and jolted in protest from each hit.
“It’s barely 8 A.M.,” Faith said with a yawn, as she stepped up behind the other slayer. “Somebody done managed to go and piss you off already?”
Kennedy stopped in mid-punch to shoot her a hard glare.
“Whoa, easy there, Slick.” Faith took a step back and raised her hands into the air. “You look like you got a serious hate on for this poor defenseless bag here. Just thought you might like to do the whole talking about your feelings bit.”
Kennedy turned her eyes back to the bag, and her arms fell limply to her sides.
“I’m just tryin’ to do the friendly thing here, Slick,” Faith continued when Kennedy remained silent. “But if you don’t wanna…” Her voice trailed off as she turned to walk away.
“It’s Kadin,” Kennedy finally answered softly.
Faith stopped in mid-step and turned back to face her friend. “What about her?”
Kennedy continued to stare down at her shoes, eventually letting out a long sigh and leaning over to rest her forehead against the heavy bag. “I think…I think I lost her.”
“Lost?” Faith repeated instantly. “You mean…”
Kennedy pulled her head back from the bag and ran her hands back through her hair. “Lost. Gone. Dumped. Over.” She walked over to the nearby bench and picked up her water bottle. After downing a long drink, she placed it back on the bench and then began to work on the tape wrapped around her hands.
Faith let out a slow breath and reached up to scratch the back of her head.
“Damn, Slick,” she said, shaking her head. “That, uh, that…sucks.” She walked over to stand by the other end of the bench. She folded her arms across her chest and bit her lip for a second before speaking again. “Are you sure?”
Kennedy looked over at her friend with a raised brow. “Am I sure?” she repeated. “You tell me.” She sat down onto the bench as she pulled the last remnants of the tape from her hands. “What does it mean when your girlfriend tells you she wants some time off to ‘figure some stuff out,’ then growls a ‘Get out…Now‘ at you, all before shattering a beer bottle in her bare hand?”
Faith blinked. “Wow,” she breathed, as she sat down on the bench next to the other slayer. She looked over at her friend with open sincerity. “I’m really sorry, Ken, but I gotta say…I thought you two were hittin’ it pretty hot an’ heavy?”
“‘Were’ being the operative term,” Kennedy replied. She shook her head and cast her eyes down to her hands. “I don’t know. I just feel like she’s been pushin’ me away, like she doesn’t want me around anymore.” She looked back up to meet Faith’s eyes. “Y’know?”
“Hey, until Ace came along, I was the queen of ‘love ’em and leave ’em’,” the older slayer grinned. “Well, not so much love as fu –”
“I got it,” Kennedy interrupted with a light laugh.
Faith smiled back at her before shaking her head. “I don’t know, Slick,” she said slowly. “Seems like a raw deal to me.”
“Yeah,” Kennedy sighed. “But…if she doesn’t want me around, what can I really do but respect it? I mean, it’s not like she can’t take care of herself or anything.”
Faith nodded. “True.”
Kennedy turned her eyes to look out across the gym. The sunlight filtered in from the far window, casting a yellow glow against the gym floor. “I don’t wanna lose her, but I’m afraid that if I don’t give her this space…that’s exactly what’s gonna happen.” She turned her eyes back to the other slayer.
Faith reached up and put a hand on Kennedy’s shoulder in silent support. Kennedy smiled sadly back at her friend.
Kadin’s Cabin – Game Room – Same Time
Kadin’s body jerked awake with a violent shudder. She let out a groan and raised her hand to the throbbing pain in her head. A sudden flash of light caught her eye, and she lifted her head to stare down at her hand.
The ‘VH’ centered in her right palm glowed with a faint white light. Kadin shook her head, as if to drive away the drowsiness.
“There’s my little firefly.”
Kadin’s body grew rigid at the sound of the voice. She quickly flipped over, eyes wide.
The image of her father stood in front of her.
“It’s about time.” Jackson Van Helsing smiled. “I was beginning to think you didn’t want to see me.”
“F…Father?” The word slipped through Kadin’s lips in a barely audible whisper. The image of her father smiled and unfolded his arms as he took a seat on the barstool closest to him.
“In the flesh,” the man smiled. “Well, not so much the flesh as an incorporeal figment of your obviously delusional imagination…but close enough.”
Funeral Home – Same Time
The parlor had been designed to hold dozens. It held at least that, and seemed to hold more. Mourners did not avoid the closed casket in front. Rather, they treated it with respect. Several faces in the room were famous. Others were merely known. Lori reacted to virtually none of them as she entered. Like the rest, her clothes sheathed her in darkness. Most of the other mourners were in black. She wore dark gray. Her face was pale and motionless.
She made her way to the front of the room. Rather than walking in a straight line, she wove. She very nearly bumped into several of the others. Not once did her expression change. Nor did she change her deliberate pace until she was two feet from the casket.
Then, she did stop.
For an endless minute and a half she stood there, her unblinking eyes fixed on the casket. She did not look at the photograph mounted on an easel beside the casket, showing a man of about thirty. He smiled at the camera. Upon the lapel of his suit was a pin bearing the CNN logo. Around Lori, various whispers wandered in and out of her hearing. Those speaking all wore dark suits. Nearly every single one wore a tie.
“…died a hero…”
“…never heard of them, myself…”
“…evidently, they’re only dangerous during the new moon…”
“…I heard he’d stumbled across a nest, accidentally set them off…”
“…cameraman’s still in ICU…”
“…why couldn’t a slayer have been with him?”
“…sure seems to be enough of them…”
“…so where was one?”
“…of course they had to have a sealed casket, had to after what…”
“…he deserved better…”
“…indeed he did…”
“…wasn’t he going out with one of them? A slayer?”
“…didn’t know that…”
“…he was, definitely…”
“…where was she?”
“…makes you wonder, doesn’t it…”
“…what good are they really…”
Lori put her hand against her lips, shutting her eyes. She turned around. Head down, she made for the exit. This time, she did bump into several people. A few huffs and words of indignation followed her…until she came to the door. A form stepped in front of her so quickly that she wasn’t able to avoid him. She didn’t bump into him, but actually collided. Arms reached up and took her by the shoulders.
She looked up.
“You shouldn’t be alone,” said Jason Felix.
Kadin’s Cabin – Game Room – Moments Later
Kadin kept her eyes locked on the figure of her father as she slowly pushed herself to her feet. A long moment of silence passed between them.
“How’s the hand?” her father finally asked, breaking the silence.
Kadin glanced down at her right hand. Dried blood covered most of her palm, but the deep gash that had run down the center had completely healed.
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Jackson asked again.
The hunter looked up at her father with a deeply confused expression.
“The power,” he clarified. “You have no idea what it’s capable of. What you are capable of, Kadin.” He nodded down to her previously injured hand. “That?” He paused to smile widely. “Is only the beginning.”
Kadin looked at her hand and flexed her fingers. After a long beat, she pulled her eyes back up to meet her father’s. “The beginning of what?”
“Your new life,” Jackson answered instantly. “Your true life.”
“I like my life just fine,” she shot back. “I don’t want another life or a true life or any other kinda life. I’m perfectly happy with it the way it is.”
Jackson slid off the barstool and slowly approached her. Kadin took a cautious step back, but moved no further.
“There is no other way,” he told her when he finally met her face-to-face. “You have already chosen.”
“Chosen what?” Kadin asked, with a frustrated huff. “You’re talkin’ in riddles, and it’s really startin’ to make my brain hurt.” She lifted her hands to rub at her temples as she took a step back and away.
“Sharp tingles running down your spine?” Jackson called out to his daughter’s back with a light sense of amusement in his voice. “Throbbing in your temples that won’t go away? Your heart suddenly begins racing and then comes to an abrupt and almost complete stop?”
Kadin turned to face her father, dropping her hands back to her sides. She eyed the man carefully. “How did you know that?”
“I too once felt the thrall of the power,” Jackson answered. “I loved the feel of it as it coursed through my veins. It made me feel as though nothing and no one could touch me.” His eyes clouded over. “I was invincible.”
“Gotta tell ya,” Kadin replied, motioning to herself with one hand, “not feelin’ very invincible right now.”
Her father laughed out loud and shook his head. “No, you wouldn’t be.” He let out a long, slow breath and watched as Kadin made her way over to slump against the bar. “Unlike you,” he continued, “I chose the power over love…and it consumed me.”
Kadin looked up at the admission. “Consumed…?”
“I hid it well.” His eyes once again took on a glazed look. “From everyone.”
“You mean…?” Kadin let the question hang in the air between them.
Her father nodded once, all trace of amusement gone from his face. “Your mother,” he answered in a low whisper. “I couldn’t control my rage…my thirst for vengeance.” He looked over at Kadin. “I let it consume me from the inside out, and I became the one thing that I had devoted my life to destroying.”
“I thought this power was supposed to be a good thing?” Kadin interjected. “I thought it was supposed to help in the fight against evil?”
“It is,” he stated bluntly. “And it will.” He took a few steps to reach his daughter. He cautiously reached up to place a hand against her cheek, but pulled it back just before making contact. He looked into her eyes and gave her a hopeful smile. “Through you.”
“Me?” Kadin repeated.
“Yes,” Jackson nodded. “You are the only one who can save them now.”
“Save them?” Her brow furrowed and she shook her head. “Save who?”
“Everyone,” her father replied cryptically. “It’s time for me to go.” He sighed, but his face quickly gained a soft smile. “But don’t you worry, I’ll have a front row seat, even if you can’t see me.”
“Wait,” Kadin protested. “I don’t understand. Who am I supposed to save everyone from? And what are you gonna have a front row seat for?”
Jackson just continued to smile, studying his daughter’s face. “You look so much like her. I only pray that you inherited her strength, as well.” His smile faltered just a bit. “I was too weak. I couldn’t control it, but I know that you can. You have to.”
“Control what?!” Kadin nearly screamed into her father’s face.
“You will understand everything soon enough,” he replied. “But now…I must go.” He took one last moment to gaze at his daughter. “I have so many regrets, Firefly. Don’t make the same mistakes that I did. Embrace your love, don’t run from it.”
Kadin’s features softened. She watched as the image of her father began to fade.
“Remember this, Firefly,” Jackson’s voice could be heard to say as he faded away. “The true measure of a human being is not the strength of their hand, but the strength of their heart.”
“I…” Kadin choked back the desperate need in her throat as she watched her father give her one last smile before fading away completely. “Love you,” she finished in a low whisper just as he vanished from sight.
Kadin let out a long and steady breath as she lifted her blood stained hand to run it back through her hair. She stopped and pulled it away at the last moment.
“Sometimes,” Kadin sighed, shaking her head, “living on the Hellmouth can be a real bitch.”
Cleveland Lakefront Train Station – Platform 3 – Same Time
Train Number 48 came to a screeching halt beside the platform. The sounds of air and steam filled the crowded station as the passenger train finally came to a complete stop.
The doors opened, and the passengers began filing out. The station filled with the sounds of various chatter and laughter.
A man dressed in an impeccable navy blue conductor suit smiled and tipped his hat to the passengers as they exited the train.
A perfectly shaped leg peeked out from beneath a long red dress as it stepped onto the first step. The shiny red high heel clicked as it made contact with the hard metal. An elegant hand rose up from beneath a long, flowing red overcoat to accept the conductor’s offered hand. Flawlessly sculpted red nails lay easily against his palm.
“Ma’am.” The conductor smiled at her and tipped his hat. “Welcome to Cleveland.”
A set of shining blue eyes sparkled at him as the woman’s soft ruby lips quirked up into a smile. “Thank you,” the woman said sweetly, as she reached up with her free hand to adjust the red hat sitting atop her long, flowing blonde curls.
The conductor smiled politely as he released her hand and turned his attention to help the next passenger from the train.
The woman stepped away from the train and bent down to place her matching red suitcase onto the ground.
Her blue eyes scanned through the crowd of people, watching them in silent amusement. After a few short moments, she adjusted the coat over her shoulders and reached down to pick up her bag.
She began to make her way toward the exit and soon disappeared into the crowd.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Moments Later
“Any idea what this is about?” Faith asked Buffy, as they walked along the contemporary black and gray hallway toward the windowed reception area outside of the conference room.
Buffy shook her head, clutching a file close to her chest. “Nope. Joan and I were reviewing my schedule when Willow called.”
“Ah yes, Joan.”
“Clear something up for me, would you? She does exist, right?”
Buffy stopped and cast a frown over her face. “What?”
“It’s just…I’ve never seen the woman. Fact is, no one has.”
“Sure you have…”
“Well, maybe she’s just too busy catering to my every need?” Buffy said, resting her spare hand on her hip and looking up at Faith.
Now Faith wore a frown. “You know that sounds wrong, right? In fact, I think there are laws against that. But like I said, nobody’s seen her, so I think you’re safe.”
As she began to snicker, Buffy shook her head. “Wait, what are you getting at?” Faith shrugged her shoulders. “You think I’m crazy?” Buffy asked, aghast, her mouth hung open.
Faith batted away the allegation. “No, course not.”
“‘Cause I did go crazy that one time…when some icky demon poked me with his rod-thingy.” Faith’s eyes widened, but Buffy didn’t seem to notice. “Faith, you’ve heard her voice!”
“Hey guys,” Xander said, turning out of the adjacent hallway. “You got the call, too?”
Buffy glanced over her shoulder and turned toward him. “Yeah.”
“Everything okay?” he asked curiously.
“Peachy,” Buffy huffed in Faith’s direction before walking ahead into the conference room.
Both Xander and Faith watched her walk away. Then he moved over to talk to her. “Anything?”
“Nada,” she answered, looking at Xander. “How’s the pool going?”
He nodded. “The kitty’s pretty full. Most are betting that Joan is Buffy’s alter-ego, although Grace and Andrew are betting that she’s actually a mouse.” Faith raised a brow. “Don’t ask.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
Willow stood at the end of the table, her hands clasped, looking more than a little uneasy. Seated were Rowena, Robin, Jim, Andrew, and now, Buffy.
“Everything okay, Will?” Kennedy asked.
She nodded. “I’d rather have everyone here before I start.”
Jim leaned over to Rowena. “You got –?”
“No idea, and don’t start,” she interrupted him, with a slight smirk.
Xander and Faith entered and took their seats.
“Good, now that everyone’s here…” Willow cleared her throat and said, “Umm…last night Gwen visited me.”
Everyone sat up.
“Is she okay?” Andrew asked.
“Why didn’t you bring her in?” Faith piped up.
“When did this happen?” Rowena said.
Willow raised her hands, curbing the conversation. “She’s fine, but it wasn’t safe for her to come directly to the Council, or to contact us by any other means. She met me when I went for takeout. She was waiting in my car. Very creepy, very Alias-y, but off point.” She took a breath and announced, “Bureau Nine has the Sphere.”
“Yeah, we know,” Xander said.
Willow shook her head. “No, not the fake one. The real one.”
Jim sat forward. “Sorry, say that again.”
“I don’t think I need to,” Willow replied. She glanced out of the glass wall to see Grace approaching the conference room door with the Sphere in her hands.
She pushed open the door with her back and walked over to Willow.
“Here you go, one dull, yet coveted, piece of crappy ancient craft.” Grace handed over the Sphere to Willow and then looked at the others in the room, giving them a bleak, nervous smile.
“Thank you, Grace,” Willow said. Then, in a swift motion she lifted the Sphere above her head and threw it to the floor. On impact, the Sphere shattered and splintered into pieces.
Stunned silence ensued.
Then each person stood up to see the fragments strewn across the white marble flooring.
As they sat back down, Xander said, “Well, that was dramatic.”
Grace held her hands to her chest and glanced over her shoulder at Willow with an exaggerated smile. “Can I go now?”
“Mmm-hmm,” Willow replied with a nod.
Her smile widened. “Thank you.” With that, Grace quickly left.
“Okay, how?” Buffy asked.
“Gwen said she’s got a contact inside Bureau Nine, but they don’t know how they came to get it.”
“This all sounds very much like a play to me,” Robin said.
“Yeah, I’m with Ace on this one,” Faith added in support.
“No, Gwen wouldn’t do that,” Willow said.
“But what if Bureau Nine got to her with the promise of a shiny new control chip?” Faith countered.
Silently, Willow shook her head. “No.”
“Will…Why do you believe her so emphatically?” Rowena asked.
“Because in the end, if you don’t have faith…” Willow turned and looked at Faith. “…then what have you got?”
Faith sighed and leaned back in her seat. “I mean, am I supposed to argue with that? ‘Cause I’m not gonna.”
“Okay, so how do we think they got the Sphere?” Jim looked around the table. “Only the senior personnel have access, and if there was a breach of security, it would flag on the computer system…not to mention the magic system with the wind-chimes and amulets.”
No one said anything at first. Then Rowena said, “The terrorist situation.”
“They’d be smart enough to hack the system,” Andrew noted, “but with the anti-magic spells in place…”
“It’s the only plausible explanation,” Buffy said with a sigh.
“Highly unlikely,” Robin answered, shaking his head.
“Why?” Buffy asked.
“I watched the security feeds from that day. A lot. I’ll go over the vault footage again, but no one was down there,” he explained.
“You’ve got everything on film?” Willow asked, a pained expression on her face.
Robin looked reluctant to say anything at first. “Yeah,” he said quietly. “And I have to commend you, Willow. You have an exceptional resolve and spirit.”
For a moment, no one said anything. Rowena reached out and touched Willow’s hand.
“I’ll help review the security feed, if you guys want,” Andrew put in.
“Good,” Willow said, after clearing her throat. “But that’s not all.”
“You mean there’s more?” Rowena asked.
Willow nodded. “Gwen made a play to steal the Sphere back from Bureau Nine. Her contact told her that they were transporting the sphere to one of their storage facilities. The intel was correct, and she doesn’t believe that her contact sold her out, but her plan was anticipated, and the security detail was beefed up with a battalion of B9’s finest slayers. She made it to the Sphere, but she got sidelined, and her hand touched it. Gwen’s…ability activated the Sphere,” Willow told the group.
“Two birds, one stone,” Faith noted.
“So it seems,” Willow replied.
“So Bureau Nine knew that Gwen’s power is the only way to activate the Sphere,” Rowena said.
Willow nodded once more. “My guess is that, once she stole it for them, they’d…I don’t know, make her touch it…electrically, I mean.”
“So where do we go from here then?” Rowena asked. “I mean, we don’t know what the Sphere is or what it does. What do we do?”
“Since you’re the watcher lady, I was kind of hoping you would know,” Buffy replied.
Rowena shrugged helplessly, then looked at Jim.
“Actually,” Jim began, “the Sphere comes down from a tribe of Incan Gods and…” He paused and saw the shocked expression Rowena wore. He began to grin. “Sorry, I really have no idea what it does, either. I just wanted to see the look on Rowena’s face when she thought I was upstaging her.” His grin widened.
“Guys?” Buffy admonished, frustration evident in her tone.
“Don’t worry,” Rowena told her. “We’ll get on it.”
Watchers Council – Slayer Gym – Later that Day
Faith held the dummy against her chest as Kennedy pounded it with punch after punch.
“Easy there, Slick,” Faith groaned at a particularly hard punch. “I’d really like to keep most of my internal organs intact.”
Kennedy took a break from the furious punching and took a step back. She breathed heavily, the sweat dripping down into her eyes.
“We’ve been goin’ at this for the last two hours,” Faith complained. “Even with slayer stamina, you should’ve gotten it all out by now.”
Kennedy bent over at the waist and placed her hands against her knees. Her chest rose and fell rapidly with each heavy breath. She finally recovered herself enough to stand upright and make her way over to the bench.
“Finally,” Faith sighed, before dropping the dummy to the floor and moving to take a seat next to the other slayer. She watched Kennedy pick up her full water bottle and down the contents in one gulp.
“Y’know, Slick,” Faith said, as she began to work at the tape on her hands, “if I didn’t know better, I’d said you were tryin’ to work out some serious physical frustration.” Her mouth upturned into a slight grin. “Wouldn’t you say there’s a better way to do that besides tryin’ to pound my ribs in?”
Kennedy scoffed and began to pull the tape from her own hands. “Like what?” She looked over at Faith with a raised brow. “Sex?”
“You know me so well,” Faith answered with a laugh. “Which isn’t so hard. With me, it’s either food or fu –”
“What’s with the one track mind this morning?” Kennedy broke in with a laugh of her own. “Feeling a little…frustrated yourself there, Faith?”
“Who? Me?” Faith asked with a laugh. “Hardly. Can’t see how poor Ace is even gonna be able to stand up this morning.”
“Uhh, okay,” Kennedy said with a grimace, raising a hand toward her friend. “I’m willing to pretend I didn’t just hear that, as long as you promise never ever to say anything like that again.”
“What?” Faith turned to shoot her friend a knowing grin. “You mean…”
“Daaah, no!” Kennedy waved her hand in the other slayer’s face and shot up to her feet. “There’s no need to go into detail, really.”
Faith shook her head and chuckled to herself.
“I’m not interrupting some sorta ritual best-friend bonding, am I?”
Both slayers turned their eyes to the door at the sound of the voice.
Kadin was leaning against the doorway with her hands tucked into the pockets of her track pants.
“Kadin.” Kennedy said the name in surprise, both at seeing the other woman and at her choice of attire. It was a rare occasion that the hunter wasn’t sporting her patented black vest or leather duster. “Umm, w-what are you doing here?” She asked when she managed to regain some of her senses.
Kadin’s eyes floated from Kennedy, to Faith, and then back to Kennedy again. “I wanted to talk,” she answered slowly. “About last night.”
“And that’s my cue to leave,” Faith said, as she gathered up her towel and water bottle. She quickly made her way by the other slayer and towards the exit.
Faith stopped in the doorway to shoot Kadin a warning glance. Kadin casually turned her head just slightly to meet Faith’s eyes as the slayer passed her by. When Faith left the room, the hunter turned back to face Kennedy.
“Should I sleep with one eye open from now on?” she asked.
Kennedy didn’t reply as she turned away and made her way back over to the bench. She reached down and picked up her towel to wipe the sweat on her face.
“Or maybe it should be both,” Kadin finally added when she received no answer.
“What exactly is it that you came here for, Kadin?” Kennedy turned back to face her as she threw the towel back onto the bench. “You were pretty adamant about how you felt last night.”
Kadin was silent as she stared at the slayer from across the room. “I’m not really sure,” she finally answered. “But for some reason, whenever I can’t figure something out, I always wind up here.” She took a few steps into the room and then let out a long, slow sigh.
“I thought you hated it here,” Kennedy shot back. “I thought there was nothing here for you and that this would be the last place on earth you’d be caught dead in.”
“I never said that,” Kadin snapped back. She took a few deep breaths, letting them out slowly. “Look,” she said calmly. “I don’t really know why I came here, but to be honest, I don’t have anywhere else to go.”
Kennedy watched in silence as Kadin dropped her eyes to the floor.
“I’m scared,” Kadin admitted in a low whisper. “For the first time in my life, I’m scared.”
Kennedy’s features instantly softened with the admission. “Scared?” she repeated, taking a few steps closer to the other woman. “Of what?”
Kadin reached down to the hem of her jacket and slowly pulled it up.
Kennedy’s eyes dropped down to the hunter’s stomach, and what she saw shocked her. “Kadin? What happened?” she asked in a rush.
The hunter looked down at the pale blue flesh covering most of her stomach. “It started in the shower,” she explained. “I wanted to wash the blood off…” She trailed off and lifted her eyes back up to meet Kennedy’s.
It took a moment longer for the slayer to tear her gaze away from Kadin’s stomach. “I think we better tell the others.”
Kadin slowly dropped her jacket down to cover her stomach and nodded once.
Kennedy grabbed her water bottle and towel from the bench before walking over to take Kadin by the hand.
“Don’t worry,” the slayer assured her. “We’re gonna get through this. Together.”
A small smile appeared on Kadin’s lips as she allowed the slayer to lead her from the room.
Bureau Nine HQ — Lori’s Apartment – Same Time
“I should have stayed.”
Lori’s voice was flat. She sat on her sofa, eyes dull and unfocused. Then she took a deep breath, as if to say something more. But nothing came.
Felix placed a tray on the coffee table in front of her. Upon it sat a mug containing a thick liquid, in which floated chunks of beef and vegetables. Several shredded pieces of white cheese had started to melt atop the soup.
“My wife and I had a name for this,” he said. “We called it ‘Carb Comfort’.”
“I know. But this isn’t about hunger.” He unfolded a napkin and put it in Lori’s lap. “This is about warmth, and calories, and something that tastes good way back in the reptile brain. Besides, shock uses up resources.”
“Eat.” His voice was soft, but filled with authority. “You need it.”
She hesitated. “He…”
For several moments, Lori said nothing. Then she picked up the mug, taking a sip. “You don’t expect me to chug this, do you?”
“Only if you want to. Otherwise, sipping is permitted.” He waited while she took another sip. Then another.
“You were lucky.” Her voice was barely audible.
“In many ways. How do you mean?”
“When it happened. To you.” She looked up. “Last year.”
Silence. Then, “Go on.”
“You were with them.”
Felix nodded. “Ah.”
“I know it must have been horrible at the time…worse than horrible. But…but at least you were there. With them.”
“And you weren’t.”
She didn’t say anything.
“Lori,” he said after a moment, “I only met Paul twice, but I’ve no doubt whatsoever how very much he cared for you. How much you cared for each other. Now, this is what you need to hear: Paul didn’t want you to see him die.”
“Not the point.”
“Yes, it is, actually. Beyond any shadow of doubt. He didn’t want to die. And if he did die, he didn’t want you to see it. You know how I know this?”
She shook her head.
“Because that is how the rest of us feel. More, that is how you feel. We all know that because it is a measure of how much we care. You. Me. Paul. Hope. Nicholas. Even Isabel, by now.” He kept staring at her. She finally looked up and met his gaze. “We cannot choose how we leave this world, Lori. Not even for ourselves.” His eyes were gentle and deep as he spoke. “But we can choose how we live. And the greatest tragedy is not an early death, but a lonely life.”
Nothing was said for the longest time. Lori sipped her soup. “The project.”
“This is what it’s all about.”
“I had my doubts.”
She almost snorted. “They’re gone.”
“When you’re ready, invite them back.”
Now she stared. “Why?”
Felix waited a moment before replying. “When we act, we change everything. Not only our own lives but every single thing in the entirety of creation. From the largest galaxy to the tiniest particle, all of it is connected. Maybe that is why love is so overwhelming and intoxicating. It lets us feel that connection, embodied in another life. Before we take something away from the universe, we need to be careful. Doubt is the sibling, if not the parent, of wisdom.” He sighed. “We need to be wise, Lori. Need to be.”
Lori shook her head. “That’s not what I feel.”
“Not now, no. But later – think about it. For the moment, drink your soup.”
In half an hour of steady sipping, Lori finished her soup. She and Felix didn’t say very much more to each other.
They didn’t need to.
Cleveland Yellow Cab – Same Time
The cab driver glanced up into the rearview mirror, then trained his eyes back onto the road.
The lady dressed all in red sat quietly in the back seat, staring out of the window. Her hands were folded neatly in her lap, and a small smile was plastered across her lips.
“This your first time in Cleveland?” the cabbie asked conversationally.
The woman’s eyes slowly drifted from the window to the front of the cab. Her smile widened just slightly as she shook her head. “No,” she answered sweetly. “I was here once before.”
“Got family here or something?” he asked.
“My family has been gone for centuries.”
He laughed, his large belly shaking with the force. “Centuries, huh? Excuse me for sayin’ so, but you don’t exactly look like you been alive for a very long time.” The man glanced up into his rearview mirror as he turned down the woman’s desired street. “What are you? 22? 23?”
The woman smiled graciously and shook her head. “Oh my, heavens no,” she finally answered. Her eyes met the cabbie’s in the rearview mirror. The blue hue started to darken as her features slowly began to transform.
“I haven’t been twenty-three for a long time,” she continued, her voice transforming into a deeper tone. Her flawless white skin morphed into a thick, brownish hide. Her blue eyes were now solid black.
The cab driver’s eyes widened, and just as he was about to scream, a brown spotted hand with long sharp fingernails shot up from the back seat, shattered the glass divider, and covered his mouth in a forceful grip. His jaw broke and his teeth cracked under the force of the demon’s hand.
The demon leaned over the seat to hiss into his ear. “You should feel lucky. Your spilled blood will signal the beginning of the end.” She let out a growl and then sank her teeth into his throat.
Blood splattered against the driver’s side window as the cab shook back and forth. A blood-soaked hand slapped against the glass and then slid away helplessly as the dying man’s body was dragged into the back seat.
End of Act One