Summers House Living Room – Moments Later
Willow muttered an incantation in Latin and waved her fingers over the small fire. A bluish sphere formed around the flames, but almost immediately destabilized, and the flames flared upwards again.
“Where’s that fire extinguisher?” she demanded, tension thick in her voice.
“I’m looking for it!” Jessica yelled back, as she frantically dug through a cardboard box. Two other boxes next to her had their contents emptied out on the floor.
“Do you like the curtains?” Xander asked frantically.
“What?” Jessica asked.
“The curtains, do you like them?” he repeated, striding over to the large picture window that opened on the front yard.
“I – uh, we hadn’t really decided…” Jessica stammered.
Without waiting for her to finish, Xander reached up and tore the large curtains free from their anchors. He ran over to the building fire in front of Willow and spread the curtain out over the flames, smothering them.
The two stood looking at the covered remains of the laptop for a moment before Xander gingerly reached down and lifted the curtain from the smoldering remains of the computer.
“I take it we’re not calling this a power surge,” he said, looking at the melted, twisted remains of the machine.
Willow looked at him with a slight smile. “That was very brave. I’m sure that valiant move is just the kind of bravery Buffy’s looking for in a man,” she said, her voice deadpan.
Buffy shot her an incredulous look, while Xander asked, “Really?” perhaps a little too eagerly.
Willow, Skye and Dawn all giggled slightly.
“She’s kidding, Xander. Cool your jets,” Buffy told him.
“Just what the hell is going on here?” A new voice called from the doorway. “And is that my laptop?” it demanded.
“Hi, Dad,” Buffy said levelly, without turning to face the doorway. “How have you been?”
“What have you done with my…”
“Relax, it’s not your laptop,” Buffy told him, still refusing to face him.
“…drapes?” Hank Summers finished.
Buffy winced. “Well, you were planning on replacing them anyway, weren’t you?”
“Wait a second, whose laptop is that?” Hank asked.
“Mine,” Willow replied.
He looked at her for a moment, scanning his memory. “Maple?”
“I’m Willow,” she corrected him.
“No, I mean the wood of the coffee table. It smells like burnt maple.”
“Oh. Yeah. Sorry.” Willow’s cheeks reddened slightly.
“Look, are you sure you’re…qualified for this kind of work?” Hank asked.
“Let’s start again,” Skye said, stepping in front of him. “Your daughter asked how you’ve been. Even if you don’t give a damn about her, at least answer her question, you worth –”
“Skye,” Dawn stepped up interrupting. “Hey Dad, long time, no see,” she said.
“Literally,” Willow muttered to Xander.
“I’m sorry, Dawn,” he told her. “I apologize…I-I..You look so grown up.”
“Probably older than his new wife,” Xander said quietly to Willow, who tried not to smile.
“And Buffy,” Hank continued, “it’s-it’s good to see you.”
Buffy took a deep breath. She opened her mouth to speak, but then closed it. “Look, Dad, getting back to business, we do this for a living.” She sounded annoyed. “For nearly twelve years now,” she continued. “I’m sure we’re qualified.”
“I didn’t mean to offend you. I’m just saying that maybe someone a little more…”
“Willow,” Buffy interrupted him.
“Yes, Councilwoman Summers?” Willow answered formally.
Buffy grinned slightly and took a step closer to whisper in her ear. “Thanks for making me sound like a big shot.”
“But you are,” Willow said in a normal tone.
Buffy smiled. In a normal voice, she announced, “Just do your witchy stuff. Xander and I will go to the local library, see if we can find anything on the history of this place.”
“Wait,” Dawn piped up. “You’re going to the library? Voluntarily?”
“Hey, I spent my entire high school years stationed in the library, I’ll have you know,” Buffy replied, indignantly.
Willow and Xander both gave her a harrumph.
“Name five books that you read while you were there.” Dawn crossed her arms in front of her.
Buffy hesitated a moment. “That’s not the point…Just bond with Dad for a while. It’s a loooong time coming.”
Dawn opened her mouth to speak, but no sound emerged. “You owe me,” she said finally.
“Come on, Xander,” Buffy announced. “Dawn, Skye, you two…just behave.”
“Betcha that throw rug idea sounds awfully good now, doesn’t it?” Skye whispered from Dawn’s left.
Watchers Council – Willow and Rowena’s Apartment – Same Time
“You know,” Kennedy said, holding a chess piece in her hand. “This game’s not so tough after all.”
Rowena grinned as she moved her piece. “Checkmate.”
“And it’s obvious why I’m not the tactical planner of the Council battle squad.”
Rowena chuckled. “Nah, it just takes practice. You had a couple of good moves. You’re getting the hang of it…but I have to admit, I’m feeling a bit guilty.”
Kennedy wiggled her eyebrows. “Playing chess with another woman. You’re so naughty,” she said in a sexy voice, before chuckling.
“The gods themselves are shocked, I’m sure,” Rowena replied. “I meant Kadin. You could be spending time with her, or at least inviting her over. I might be hormonal, but it’s not like I’ll try to take her head off…again,” she added sheepishly.
“Yeah, you’re walkin’ proof of what a crazy weekend that was.” Kennedy motioned to Rowena’s stomach.
She blushed. “Why don’t you invite her over?”
“I would, but it would take awhile to get here from Eastern Europe,” Kennedy told her. Rowena’s expression showed that she needed more explanation. “She’s trying to uncover more information about her birthright and the sporadic blueness – not depression but actual, honest-to-god, blueness.”
“Are you guys…doing okay?” Rowena asked.
“All things considered, crazy lives we lead and all that…yeah, we’re good.”
“And what about you?” Rowena asked.
“It’s been a pretty…stressful year. Vi, Heli…”
“It’s nothing that other people haven’t gone through. I mean, losing someone you love and…”
“Taking a life?” Rowena offered. Kennedy said nothing and began to play with the chess piece in front of her. “I’m sorry,” Rowena said. “I didn’t mean to stir up old trouble. I…I just want you to know you’re not the only one who’s taken a life. And sometimes people have to do that in order to save more lives. It’s not an easy call to make. Ever.”
“Well, the world’s a safer place without her,” Kennedy finally replied.
“I’ll second that,” Rowena said firmly. “And it’s good to know she’ll never hurt anyone else again,” she added.
Marsha whimpered and they both looked over to see Marsha lying on her back, sound asleep and dreaming. Marco and Polo lay curled up on her stomach.
“I think your dragon stole my cats’ affection,” Rowena told her.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Same Time
Faith and Giles, both dressed in business attire, walked side-by-side down the hallway, each carrying folders in their hands.
“All set for the upcoming Slayer Games?” Giles asked.
Faith harrumphed. “Are you kidding? I’m buried in paperwork. I swear I’ve never had more paper cuts in my life since the B-Niners got here,” she complained.
Giles grinned. “Yes, Mr. Felix has certainly killed his share of trees, and then some.”
“Initial here, notarize there, duplicates, triplicates. You know my head is swimming. Oh, and last night, get this, I had a dream about me and Robin. Was it something sexy on a tropical island? Was it a hot rendezvous in a beautiful penthouse suite? No, we were in my office, being attacked by manila folders.” Giles grinned. “I’m not making that up,” Faith insisted. “I really had a dream about manila folders coming to life and trying to kill us.”
“Once things calm down and we establish a routine –”
“You’ll be dead and buried,” Faith told him. “I’ll officially be retired. Hell, even I might be dead and your kid’ll be retired. I’m not seein’ the light at the end of the tunnel here, Giles. And while I’m at it, why am I filling out another report about Jocelyn? I don’t know anything more than what I’ve already written the last three times.”
“Oh, speaking of which, hold this,” he said, handing her his files.
“I can’t hold much more,” she told him. as she tried to balance them on her stack. “Slayer strength or not, I think I’m gettin’ carpal tunnel from all these reports.”
“I’ve got to find my clearance card into Jocelyn’s holding area. I hope Althenea finds something we can do soon.”
“Look at you,” Faith teased. “Mr. Big Stuff with his pass card and everything.”
“I am the man,” Giles remarked.
“Is that a fact?” Faith chuckled. “All I know is I can’t wait for Buffy to come back so she can take care of some of this sh…stuff. It’s annoying.”
“Well, it’s important t-that she sees her father,” he replied.
“Giles,” Faith began with a sigh, “that guy in Illinois? He’s nobody. I’m lookin’ at the best father she’s ever had. Truth is…best dad I ever had, too.”
“Please, rakish uncle,” he told her with a grin, as he pulled out his card.
“Well, here Uncle Rup,” she told him, as she gave him his files back. “I’ve got enough of these of my own.”
Watchers Council – Kitchen – Same Time
“I love you,” Andrew said in a sing-song voice into his cell phone. “Nuh-uh, I love you more…Nuh-uh…”
Robin stood pouring himself a cup of coffee as he shook his head.
“Thank god I’m not a diabetic. All the sugary sweetness in this room would kill me,” he muttered.
Andrew hung up the phone. “I miss my girlfriend, okay? She needs reassurance that I haven’t forgotten about her.”
“That display of overwhelming mush should do the trick,” Robin replied.
At that point Faith walked in, making her way over.
“Hey Ace, lay a wet one on me,” she said, tilting her head back for a kiss. Robin leaned over and kissed her gently while stroking her face. When he turned to pick up his coffee, he saw Andrew staring at him with his arms crossed.
“You were saying, Mr. Wood?” Andrew said pointedly.
“She’s my snuggly wuggly slayer. Aren’t you, babe?” Robin asked Faith. She looked at him like he’d lost his mind. “See?” he told Andrew. “We we do…not sugar.”
“What?” Faith asked, looking between the two of them. “Did I miss something?”
“Just Andrew’s tenth of the thirty calls a day to Tracey.”
“Ahh, I see,” Faith replied. “So, between all the ‘love yous,’ did he find out how she’s liking school?”
“Yes, she likes it very much,” Andrew spoke up.
“So no chance of her coming back home then?” Robin asked.
“None,” Andrew said, disappointed. “I’m trying to be Mr. Supportive Boyfriend Guy here. I am.”
“But…” Robin prodded.
“But she doesn’t need to go to school,” Andrew replied. “I’d take care of her. She can work here.”
“As your glorified kitchen help?” Faith asked.
“Well, when you put it that way, sure. It sounds stupid,” Andrew said with a sigh.
Faith and Robin looked at each other and smiled.
Illinois Library – Later that Day
“So,” Xander looked up from a heavy book resting on his lap, “Jessica seems…nice.”
“Oh, sure, in a bottle-blondy, press-on naily, short skirty, hair extensiony, dumber than dirt kinda way,” Buffy said, without looking up from the volume resting in her own lap.
“Nope, no hostility there at all,” Xander replied with a smile.
“Well, I think a little hostility towards daddy-o’s latest trophy wife is warranted. I mean, what mail-order magazine did he pick her out of, anyway?” Buffy griped.
“This isn’t just about your dad’s trophy wife, is it?” Xander told her.
“What makes you say that?” Buffy demanded, her tone guarded.
“Well, I’ll admit that Jessica is a little…simple, but not in a way that deserves quite this much hostility,” he prodded her gently. “Are you sure that you’re not just having trouble dealing with your own…?”
“I’m a hot chick with superpowers! Or so I’ve been told!” Buffy exclaimed. “Why don’t I have guys beating down my door?”
“Maybe because, since we went public, they now know that you can squeeze them like a tube of toothpaste?” Xander asked gingerly.
“Faith’s engaged, Willow’s married, at least according to the Great White North, and I’m pretty sure you’re having sex with someone,” Buffy ranted. “What is it about me that even you’re getting more action than I am!?”
“Um, ouch?” Xander said tentatively. “Lay off a little.”
Buffy winced. “Point taken,” she admitted. Her expression brightened again. “But see? I’m not knocking your head off of your shoulders.”
“I think we may be zeroing in on why you’re still single,” Xander pointed out.
“And I can’t help but notice a total lack of denial on your part that you’re making the beast with two backs with someone out there,” Buffy accused him.
“Well, let’s see, either I’m sleeping with someone or I’m not. If I’m not, and I say I’m not, you’ll automatically assume I’m lying. If I am, and I say that I am, you’ll pester me until I give you a name. The same is true if I lie in either case, so I figure my best option is just not to say anything.” He shrugged.
Buffy’s brow furrowed as she contemplated the logic of the statement. “Dammit,” she muttered, “that does make sense.”
“Is that what this is all about? The fact that you’re not gettin’ any?” Xander’s voice was incredulous.
“Yes, dammit!” Buffy announced. “Five years of voluntary and involuntary celibacy is getting to me. I have had a dozen dinners with Jim and he hasn’t tried to grope me once, and I like to think that I have a world-class, highly grope-able…” she trailed off. “You know last week, I caught myself ogling Joan in a way that I’m not sure was appropriate given our working relationship because I figured, “Hey, if it works for Willow, why the hell not?”
“Well, I’m not –” Xander tried to say something, but Buffy continued to rant.
“Oh, and I’m jealous, get this: jealous, that my sister is sleeping with a vampire. And exactly one quarter of my annual budget is specifically allotted to the purchase of double-A batteries. Sweet squatting Shiva, I miss sex, Xander. Do you have the faintest clue how big my annual budget is, and how many batteries I’d have to use to spend a quarter of it? I am practically keeping Duracell in business single-handedly. And you, don’t get me started on you.”
“How do you justify spending a quarter of your budget on batteries?” Xander asked. “I mean, what expense category do you even put that under?”
“Stress management,” Buffy said, with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Not the point, Xander. I mean, it’s not like you’re helping matters.”
“I’m not telling you if I’m having…”
“That’s not what I’m talking about,” Buffy insisted.
“Okay, now I’m completely confused,” Xander admitted. “How am I not helping?”
“Oh, so you didn’t have Willow extol the virtues of your physical endowments?” Buffy’s voice was thick with sarcasm. “Poor little Buffy’s so starved for intimacy that she’ll jump on anybody…”
“What exactly did Willow say?” Xander asked with a growing smile.
“Don’t look so smug, okay?” Buffy told him.
Xander chuckled. “Well, I think we’ve already established that you prefer battery-operated companionship, and I think I’d pale by comparison.” Xander smiled. “For the record, though, I didn’t have Willow say anything. I can honestly say it was an unsolicited opinion.”
“Sure. You know, sometimes I wish you’d just get it over with.”
“Get what over with exactly?” Xander asked.
“All this sexual tension between us.”
“Yes, just get it over with so we would be done with it and we can both move on.” Buffy’s attention shifted back to the book in front of her.
“Get it over with?” Xander asked. “Gee, romance really is dead, isn’t it?”
“Well, let’s face it, it’s been there since high school,” Buffy pointed out.
“You know, I don’t think I was your type back then. I had a pulse,” Xander quipped.
“Oh, and you’re telling me you’ve never had a thing for slayers?” Buffy countered.
“Okay, I gotta give you that one,” Xander admitted. “But we’re friends. We have been for a long time, and I’m not gonna do anything to jeopardize that. Especially not since all you want to do is get your ya-ya’s satisfied.”
“Says the man who impregnated his best friend’s gay girlfriend, and slept with the aforementioned best friend,” Buffy said, with a slight smile.
“That I cannot deny,” Xander admitted.
“Actually, when you come down to it, I’m probably the only one of your friends that you haven’t slept with at some point or another,” Buffy pointed out.
“Feeling left out?” Xander asked.
“Of course not,” Buffy said. After a moment, she added, “But I can’t help but wonder, what’s wrong with me? Why am I sooo unappealing?”
“Okay, fine, let’s get this over with,” Xander said, standing up.
Xander gripped the front of her blouse and pulled her to her feet. Then he pressed his lips passionately against hers.
Buffy’s body stiffened slightly as Xander deepened the kiss. Her hands rested on his broad chest; not pushing away, exactly, but not drawing him any closer either. Her lips pressed tightly closed as her eyes widened. But as Xander’s hand worked its way to her neck and cheek her eyes closed and her lips parted slightly.
Finally, the kiss broke and Buffy slowly opened her eyes to see Xander standing there expectantly. The two friends looked at each other, and an awkward silence hung in the air between them. Buffy looked across at Xander, her expression unreadable.
He waved his hands, as if asking for a critique.
Buffy shrugged, her expression still unreadable. “What?”
“Fine,” Xander said, giving up, “I’m going to go look through the periodicals. See if someone wrote about any weird goings on at daddy-o’s new house.”
“Yeah, I’ll, um, stay here and finish up,” Buffy answered, businesslike. She watched as Xander turned and disappeared into the stacks of books. When he was suitably out of sight, she sagged into the chair she had been sitting in. She fanned herself off, trying to get her breathing under control.
“Wow,” she whispered.
Summers’ House – Same Time
“So, you’re a witch,” Jessica said politely. “How’s that working for you?”
“Um, it’s. Um, that is…I mean, it’s good?” Willow stammered.
“And, I hear you just got married,” Hank said. “Congratulations.”
“Oh, yeah, thanks.”
“Well, it was all over the news for two weeks last spring. They called it the wedding of the decade,” he continued. “A gay marriage between two of the most eligible bachelorettes in the country? It made quite a splash over the media.”
“So, gay, huh?” Jessica asked brightly. “You know, I tried that whole girl-girl thing when I was in college.”
“What?” Hank asked.
“It was an experimental time…” Jessica rationalized with a shrug.
“And this is a little awkward,” Willow spoke up.
“…but if you ever want me to be with a woman, you know, it could be arranged,” Jessica told Hank.
“And now we’ve gone straight into disturbing.” Willow shook her head sharply, as if trying to rattle an image free from behind her eyelids.
“Um, guys?” Dawn’s voice called from the top of the stairs.
“Oh, thank God,” Willow whispered. “What is it, Dawn?”
“Something’s happening up here,” she called back.
“Define ‘something’,” Willow called, as she and the Summers couple raced up the stairs.
Upstairs Bedroom – Same Time
“It’s kinda hard to explain,” Skye announced as they arrived in the upstairs bedroom. “The walls are…changing.”
“They’re becoming floors?” Jessica asked.
“Dear God, woman, what line were you waiting in when they were handing out brains?” Skye asked. She then looked Jessica’s body up and down. “Never mind.” Jessica looked at her blankly. “Just…look.” Skye gestured at the far wall.
On the wall the faded, worn, water-stained wallpaper was shifting. The faded colors became more vivid, more alive. The effect spread to the adjoining walls as the colors, faded by over a hundred years of neglect, took on a new luster, as though they had been painted the previous day.
“What…” Willow automatically took a step back from the expanding effect.
In front of them, the simple double bed began to change to a beautiful, ornate canopy bed.
“I’m thinking we want to get out of here,” Skye pointed out. “Like, now.”
“Um, yeah,” Willow agreed as they ran from the room.
The quintet ran to the stairwell and into the living room. Willow reached out, ripping the door open, but before they could depart, it ripped itself free from her hands, slamming shut. The next thing they heard was the sound of the deadbolt sliding.
“Now that was simply impolite,” a woman’s voice called to them.
The five individuals spun around to face a tall figure. Her face was completely hidden behind a black hood. A shapeless black cloak was draped over her shoulders.
“Do we have a plan B?” Skye asked.
End of Act Two