Watchers Council – Dining Hall – Evening
Lori sat alone in the large room. Before her lay a tea service, and she deliberately poured herself a single cup. Beside her lay her cane, with its simple handle. From the inner pocket of her coat, she pulled out a tiny case. She lay the case on the table beside the cooling teacup. She waited nearly a full minute before opening the tiny, round case, revealing several white caplets cut in half.
The door opened. Lori looked up and reached over to shut the case.
Hope stepped inside the room, saw Lori and gave a little smile. Lori relaxed. Hope walked over to her.
“You could say that,” said Lori. She took a single half-caplet from her case, then picked up the cup of tea. “Do you want some?” Hope shook her head. Lori popped the pill onto her tongue and took a long sip of tea. “It is very nice tea, you know. Trace of orange.”
Hope sat at the table, across from her. “You still have to take Vicodin?”
Lori made a gesture halfway between a shrug and a nod. “I try to hold off as long as I can. Some days are better than others. The cold…doesn’t help.”
“You’re like me, then?”
“What do you mean?”
“I was just wishing I could have gone to the Caribbean.”
“Well, yeah, but you and Jeff have a whole…”
“For the warmth, I meant.”
“Oh. Right. Maybe next time.”
“Honestly…no, never mind.”
Lori raised an eyebrow over her cup of tea. “Go ahead. Say it.”
Hope paused. “You should have gone with them. You should.”
“Maybe next time.”
“Don’t think people didn’t notice. Something big is going on and they made sure only the Council people went to check it out. You, Siobhan, Angelica, Morgan – nobody from Bureau Nine.”
“Well, Jeff is almost an honorary one of us.” Lori grinned. “Because of you. He’s almost a bridge between the two these days. Still, I imagine he would have preferred you with him. In fact, I’m sure of it.”
“Maybe next time.”
“Yeah. Maybe. Let’s hope, anyway.”
Watchers Council – Command Center – Same Time
“To an outside observer,” Mr. Nogura said, “you seem to have lost contact with your team on the island of St. David.”
“For now,” agreed Buffy. She was staring into space, waiting beside the phone.
“Micromanagement,” said Giles, pacing behind her, “we’ve found is not terribly effective. As a rule.”
“Very true,” said Robin, seated to Buffy’s right.
“What they said,” said Faith, to Buffy’s left.
Nogura, standing across from them, took this in without saying anything. He just waited.
Davey Jones’s Locker Room – Same
What had once been an almost seedy tavern now looked more like a minor train wreck. Hardly a single piece of furniture was unbroken.There wasn’t a window that remained un-shattered. A pair of paramedics hovered over a man gasping in pain. They managed to get him onto a gurney and wheel him out of the wrecked tavern. A middle-aged black man in a constable’s uniform watched them go. Then he looked down at the corpse at his feet, shaking his head.
She was pretty. And young. Barely in her twenties, with chestnut brown hair and pale blue eyes – eyes without focus or light in them now. What looked like an antique cutlass protruded from her chest, where it had pinned her to the ground, through her heart.
“Who were you, then?” he said to himself.
The voice of a young girl cried out, as she pushed her way through a pair of constables. She seemed to have little trouble doing so, as if she were much stronger than she looked. Now she ran over in his direction, taking something out of her pocket as she moved. The chief constable almost reached for his gun until he saw her wallet. And then the wallet was open and he saw the strange-but-familiar shield – a sleeping lion, a bell and three ravens. He nodded in understanding, and relaxed.
“Watchers Council,” said Shannon, as she reached the chief constable’s vicinity. She stared at the body.
He smiled in welcome, and sympathy. “A friend of yours, Miss?”
Shannon stared. “Why isn’t she getting up?”
Now he blinked, and looked nervous again. His hand rested on the handle of his pistol. Just in case. “She cannot,” he said as gently as possible. “I think, maybe you need to go outside…”
But she didn’t listen. Instead, she reached over and grabbed the handle of the cutlass. She gave it a good, solid pull, yanking it out of the poor young woman on the floor. Then the chief constable nearly had a heart attack.
The ‘dead’ girl gulped a deep breath of fresh air, blinked, and looked around her. Then she calmly sat up.
“Well,” she said matter-of-factly, “that kinda hurt.”
“I think this must be magic,” said Shannon, lifting the cutlass.
“You’re not kidding,” the chief constable muttered, still in disbelief at what he had just witnessed.
“You should’ve just pulled the thing out of your own chest, right?” Shannon asked Dawn.
“Should, yeah,” she said, examining the cut over her heart and blood stains now marring her shirt. “I hate having to try and explain these.” She looked around. “Okay, Jeff and Xander and Lorinda – all gone.”
“A trap. Evil old watcher guy brought in a pack of zombie pirates. He packed one hell of a magical wallop, by the way. I don’t see any of our guys around, do you?”
Shannon shook her head. “Any idea where they are?”
“My guess? The Lorinda’s Kiss. From what we were able to gather, it’s still around. Not that we didn’t already kinda know that, but still.”
“Excuse me,” said the chief constable. “I just want to know…am I dreaming?”
Dawn and Shannon looked at each other. “Probably not,” said Shannon.
“Oh. Too bad.” He sat down on what was left of a chair.
Groaning from one part of the wrecked tavern got their attention. The returning paramedics made their way, along with Shannon and Dawn, to the bloodied form of Underwood. His face was covered with bruises. One hand moved feebly. The paramedics began examining him.
“Underwood. Said he and some friends found a perfectly preserved pirate ship underwater last summer. Then they saw it rise out of the water.”
“Last summer?” Shannon blinked. “Like around the time of the wedding? When all the magic went bye-bye?”
Dawn slapped her forehead. “Yep. That sounds about right.”
“The…” Underwood was trying to talk. He could barely whisper. “…Jagged…” was all he managed to say.
“Not real useful,” said Dawn under her breath.
“Actually, it might be,” said Shannon, whipping out her cell phone.
Pirate Ship Cabin – Night
Lorinda opened her eyes. In less than a second, she rose up and looked around her to get her bearings. One whole side of the room she was in consisted of a window. The design looked right out of a Horatio Hornblower movie. She was lying on a four-poster bed, not exactly brand-new, but in generally very good condition. And then she looked at herself. Her clothes were not her own. She wore a dress, more like a costume, like something from the Eighteenth century.
“I am sorry,” said a voice from the corner.
Lorinda looked in that direction. Emerging from the shadows of the candle-lit cabin, a young woman appeared. She looked like a near-double of Lorinda herself, save for being a little older and with deep red hair instead of Lorinda’s blonde.
Plus, she was transparent.
After blinking a time or two, Lorinda said, “Right. You’re the ghost of the first slayer Lorinda. Am I right?”
“I am not quite a ghost,” she said. “Would that I were, for then I might be free. Merrick does not intend for me to ever be free of him.” She looked as if she’d cried herself out years ago.
“That’s too bad,” Lorinda said, “but first things first. What is going on?”
The other Lorinda sighed sadly. “Robert Merrick was my watcher. More, he had arranged to become my legal guardian. It became clear to me his desires were not those of a parent or teacher, and I began to seek a means of escape from his influence. But he was crafty, as well as more experienced than I. Only by the greatest and most unlikely of good fortunes did I meet Harry Fitz-Wolf. And although our worlds, our pasts were so very different…”
“Yeah,” said Lorinda, interrupting. “Romeo and Juliet. Got it. You ran away together, I got that. Merrick chased you?”
She nodded. “And the combat of their sorceries ended in a stalemate. This ship was congealed, in between life and death, nor in any time, for long weary centuries. Until suddenly, the eldritch powers that imprisoned us vanished. We emerged from the sea into a world none of us understood. My Captain had his crew confine Merrick in irons, while we made sense of what had transpired. Alas, it was Merrick who first realized when his powers had returned. He slew my Captain, and when I sought to end my life, he trapped my spirit herein.”
Lorinda nodded. “Okay. A bit wordy, but I get what happened now. Hell, I can even see why more Lorindas became slayers now. You weren’t really dead. Still aren’t. But…what does he want with me? And why do I think I’m not going to like the answer?”
“Merrick has lusted after me for long years. But I am mere spirit. He means to house my soul in a new body, that he might take his pleasure.”
After a moment, Lorinda said, “Why did we both have to be so damn gorgeous?”
Watchers Command Center – Night
Rowena’s fingers flew over the keyboard. “Jagged Bay,” she asked into her headset. “Or just Jagged, in relation to all pirates, or just Henry Fitz-Wolf?”
“I think,” said Dawn, her voice on the other side of the connection, “we’d better go with all of the above.”
“Oh good,” Rowena grumbled, “anything to narrow it down.”
Beside her, Willow was also at her computer. “I’ll take pirates in general,” she said. Rowena nodded.
From behind them, Nogura stood with his arms crossed, watching. Giles entered the room with a book in hand. “I’ve been re-reading the journals kept by Robert Merrick,” he said, “and it seems likely to me that his accounts are, at best, incomplete. At worst, they appear to be hiding things.”
“Like, him learning all kinds of dark magic?” This was from Robin, standing near Nogura.
“More or less.”
“Got it!” yelled Willow. She grabbed a tiny microphone and began reading aloud. “Devil’s Mouth Island, also known as Kraken’s Mouth and for a short time as Jagged Bay, is an uninhabited island in the Caribbean believed by many to have served as a haven for pirates during the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.”
“You hear that?” asked Rowena into her headset. “I’m downloading the longitude and latitude to your iPhone now.”
Boat – Same Time
“Got it,” said Dawn into her cell phone, looking at the screen. She looked at Shannon, at the controls of their boat, and showed her the screen.
“We’ll need an hour.”
“Pedal to the metal then.” Shannon looked at Dawn. “Or whatever. You know what I mean!”
The boat made a slight course correction and picked up speed. “I don’t suppose your dream gave any nice hints about what to do when we get there?” Dawn almost yelled over the engine.
“Strategy is your department!” Shannon called back.
“Thanks!” Dawn thought for a second. “I figure we improvise based on the situation as we find it.”
“Make things up as we go along?”
“Works for me!”
Pirate Ship Cabin – Same Time
Merrick entered the cabin. He still wore an elegant three-piece suit, but his appearance was radically altered in one respect – the eyes. Now, they had gone pitch black, like ebony marbles. Yet, at their center, they glowed like red embers.
“Ah, such a vision of loveliness. Twin such, in fact.” He smiled. Both Lorindas, the living and the dead, looked at him. “Pardon me while I savor the moment.”
The living Lorinda walked up to him, staring at his eyes. “Cute,” she said. “Seen it before, though. And you’re in trouble.”
“Indeed?” He looked amused.
“Oh yeah.” She nodded and began pacing, keeping her eyes on Merrick. “My namesake filled me in on the backstory. Her version, anyway. I’m sure your version would be a little different. Not that it matters. Your problem is here and now.”
Merrick stared at her. “I think I’ve already demonstrated you’re little threat to my powers.”
Lorinda waved that away. “Not me, stupid! Oh, if we were in a fistfight, I’d clean your clock and good, but like I said, I’m not your problem. The Watchers Council is what’ll track you down.”
“An organization with which I am rather familiar.”
She gave him a baleful look, then kept pacing. “No, you’re not. You knew the old Council. Things have changed. A lot. And you aren’t taking that into account even a little bit, not really.”
“Yes, I know – there are many more slayers now. One more will, frankly, not be so missed.”
“Not the point. How did all those potentials get activated? Ever think about that? One witch did that. One. Her name’s Willow Rosenberg, and she turned every single potential on Earth into a slayer all by her lonesome. Could you have done that? Could you have tried? Would you have even bothered?” Lorinda stopped pacing and looked directly at Merrick, whose smile was fading. “Even if you think taking her on is possible, what about her with backup? As in, the rest of the Council’s magic users, plus the watchers themselves – lots with modern weapons – and who knows how many slayers. You think you can defeat all of them?”
“She’s right,” said the other Lorinda, suddenly smiling. “Your only real hope is to disappear. To vanish. You need to begin hiding, and without delay.”
“No, he doesn’t,” said Lorinda, with an exasperated sigh. “He’s on their radar now. Er…they’ve noticed him.”
The ghostly Lorinda blinked in puzzlement. “Then…” she hesitated, “He must surrender, and place himself at their mercy. Plead that his wits have been addled by our long sojourn between life and death – ”
“Won’t work,” interrupted Lorinda.
“But – ”
“Didn’t you learn anything about tactics or strategy?” She looked at Merrick. “How was she supposed to be an effective slayer if her planning was this bad?”
“That,” harrumphed Merrick, “was my specialty.”
Lorinda rolled her eyes. “Whatever. The thing is, you need a plan that makes everyone think that you’re already gone. Once the Council believes you’re dead, or banished, or whatever, they don’t bother trying to look for you.”
“What are you saying?” The ghostly Lorinda looked shocked, then appalled. Then both shocked and appalled. “You mustn’t render him assistance!”
“My dear,” said Merrick, “your cleverness is as deep as it is, to be frank, unwelcome in one so fair. And you forget the purpose of all my actions. Namely, your beauty.” He reached over and stroked her cheek with two fingers. “Or perhaps I should say, my Lorinda’s beauty.”
Lorinda didn’t even blink. “I appreciate the compliment. But still…hunted down, destroyed, no chance of survival? Hardly seems worth it.”
“To you, perhaps.”
She shrugged. “Tell ya what. I’ve got about two or maybe three dozen cousins, roughly my age and female. A couple of them even have red hair and are, well, more buxom than yours truly. Plus, I can’t think of a single one I wouldn’t mind getting possessed by Casparella over there.”
Merrick frowned. “Casparella?” The ghost also looked puzzled.
“Never mind. The point is, you can get what you want, and keep it. And in the process I get to keep being me, coupled with a little bit of revenge on the side. I don’t really like my family much,” she finished with a shrug and a smile. “What do you say?”
“Desist this at once!” said the ghostly Lorinda. “Your morals are every bit as reprehensible as…”
At that, Merrick made a gesture and the ghost shuddered, falling silent. He looked at the living girl before him. “Very well. I am listening.”
Ship’s Hold – Later
A single lamp was the only source of light for Xander and Jeff, both of them hogtied and gagged. They had given up trying to struggle when they heard some movement coming in their direction. Both looked up, anything but pleased.
Until Lorinda turned the corner around some rigging, with a lamp and a knife.
“At last,” she hissed. “I have been looking all over for you two.” She bent down and pulled out Jeff’s gag, then started hacking at the bonds holding him in place. Her voice was a whisper. “Good thing the zombies don’t do anything pretty much other than just stand there and stink up the place. Not that you could really tell. This ship is filthy! I think I’m gonna have to get deloused when we get back!”
Xander made sounds.
“He wants you to ungag and untie him,” said Jeff.
“First things first,” she said. Then she cut the final cord. Jeff stretched his limbs with a groan. “Your turn,” she said to Xander.
“How did you get free?” Jeff asked. “And…why are you dressed like that?” He noticed the Eighteenth century gown.
“Do you like it? Doesn’t quite fit, though. I think it belonged to the first Lorinda.”
As Xander’s hands came free, he pulled the gag out of his mouth. “Blech! I don’t even want to think about what that was used for before.” He looked at Lorinda. “Not that I’m not real glad to see you and all, but what happened?”
Lorinda rolled her eyes. “Oldest story in the world. Big Bad Merrick likes pretty girls. He especially likes pretty girls who look like this,” she pointed to herself. “Turns out that’s what this is all about. Once I figured that out, it wasn’t too hard to distract him.”
“But…!” Jeff looked appalled. “He’s old enough to be your grandfather. Or your great grandfather. Come to think of it, your great great great grandfather.”
“Yeah, but he’s kept his figure. Give him credit.” Jeff was rendered speechless. “Anyway,” she continued, “I found out where he got all that super-magic he’s been tossing around – a power center.”
Jeff looked suddenly a lot more alert. “Really? If that’s true, and we can get to it…”
“Way ahead of you,” she said with a grin. She pulled a ring out of her cleavage. It was gold, ornate, and ugly. A sapphire was surrounded by several small diamonds. “Voila!” She handed it to Jeff. “We destroy that and all his spells go poof, right?”
Jeff examined the ring. “Yeah, that would be how it would work. If he’s using this as a power center, then the ring alone is keeping the zombie pirates active, this ship afloat, who knows what else.”
“But,” said Xander. “I heard a ‘but’ in your voice.”
“Here’s my plan,” said Lorinda. “This whole ship will probably go bye-bye once Jeff destroys the ring. We need to use one of the boats to get to land before doing that. Make sense?”
Xander nodded. “Okay. But how far is land? And where is this Merrick guy now?”
“He’s asleep,” said Lorinda. At seeing the look on their faces she rolled her eyes again. “Oh will the pair of you grow up? What, did you think I was a virgin?”
“W-w-w-well, I n-n-n-never really…”
“This isn’t something I think…”
“Anyway,” she continued, “I looked out a porthole. We’re about fifty yards from what looks like an island. Once we’re on shore, Jeff can destroy the ring, and we can watch the pirate ship go to wherever dead pirate ships go.” She got up and headed back the way she came. Then turned to look back at them. “Are you coming?”
Pirate Ship Deck – Night
All around the ship stood half-decomposed pirates. The only thing indicating they weren’t, in fact, dead was the fact they did stand. Lorinda, Xander and Jeff each wove their way through the currently quiescent crew of the ship.
“They must have brought us on board with a boat,” said Lorinda, under her breath. “One we can presumably use to get away.”
“Okay,” said Xander, passing by a pirate who swayed with the deck. His face had worms crawling through a hole. “This is creepier than usual.”
Jeff suddenly looked up from his examination of the ring. “Wait a minute.”
The other two stopped. “What?” asked Lorinda.
He held up the ring. “You’ve been fooled. This isn’t a power center. It’s like a dead circuit that’s still connected to a power source. Yeah, it feels like a power center, all loaded with magic and everything. But the magic isn’t doing anything. It’s just there.”
As one, the zombie pirates all turned in the direction of the three.
“You couldn’t have waited till we were out of earshot to say that?” said Xander.
“Damn it,” said Lorinda.
From below deck, Merrick emerged. “This is something of a repeat performance,” he was saying. “Although, this time my cast of players is somewhat larger.” He made a gesture and still more zombie pirates began coming out on deck.
Lorinda, in a quick move, pulled a pair of swords from the scabbards of the two nearest zombies. She tossed one to Xander.
“And you made a mistake letting me have this,” said Jeff, lifting the ring. Suddenly, his eyes blazed with bright blue light. He held out one hand. From it shot forth a stream of eldritch power the same cobalt as his eyes. Merrick, brow furrowed in concentration, blocked the stream with one hand. “Power is power,” said Jeff.
“I have plenty more,” growled Merrick.
The zombies, meanwhile, were attacking Xander and Lorinda. The latter was under attack by more of them, but they were trying to capture, rather than kill. Fewer in number, the zombie pirates going after Xander had no such compunctions. Still, he was holding his own.
Lorinda was muttering as she hacked and slashed. “He couldn’t’ve waited, could he?” Parry, thrust, slash. “He would have thought he was home free.” Hack, hack, hack and more slash. “We could’ve lured him into a trap with Willow then – but noooooo…” Thrust, slash, parry and hack. “Just had to shoot off his mouth. He just had to, didn’t he?” Slash, parry, parry, thrust.
Amid the sound of swords clashing, the noise level rose a notch as Merrick’s hands began emitting dark purple bolts of energy. The bolts shot out like jagged lightning, and wherever they entwined with Jeff’s blue beams, there were sparks and crackling noises. Sheet lightning seemed to fill the air, as did the smell of ozone.
Moreover, the dark power of Merrick began to push back Jeff’s blue streams. Grinning, his white hair whipping in the backlash, Merrick began to step forward. Jeff braced himself and also took a step forward, his face grim.
If anything, the noise and tumult increased.
Lorinda, spotting how the two sorcerers were nearing each other, and how Merrick’s bolts seemed to be overwhelming Jeff, went a little bit berserk. She hacked off the arms of the zombie she was facing, grabbing a second sword from one of them. With a kick, she knocked over another and used it as a stepping-stone. After one leap, she was atop a cannon. She took aim, and threw the new sword directly at Merrick. It spun in the air, rapidly headed for its target…
He noticed at the last moment and made a slapping gesture with one hand. The sword’s course changed in mid-air. It embedded itself up to the hilt into one of the zombies, which looked very confused as it fell over. On the deck, it started to try and pull the sword out of its chest.
On either side of the cannon, zombies grabbed Lorinda’s ankles. Snarling, she swept her sword down on either side, severing zombie hands at the wrists.
Merrick’s eyes went dark, and he sent a powerful blast of magic towards Jeff – as if a sudden lightning storm of dark purple had erupted from his fingers and enveloped the young man. Jeff screamed in pain. As the smoke cleared, his clothes were clearly singed, and he appeared exhausted. “That should do it,” said Merrick. But before he could do anything else, a red bolt of power struck him from behind. Merrick staggered against a barrel and looked around.
Dawn stood next to a piece of rigging. Beside her was Shannon. “Help Lorinda,” she said.
“Do I have to?”
“Alright!” Shannon grabbed a piece of rigging and swung over to where Lorinda and Xander were fighting zombies.
Merrick stared at Dawn. “Didn’t I kill you already?”
She grinned. “I’m a quick healer.” She held out her hands and red lightning shot from both.
Merrick easily met hers with dark purple bolts of his own. And he walked forward, his own powers clearly starting to overwhelm her own. Dawn stood her ground.
“So far,” said Merrick, “I’m not too impressed with the modern Council, or its witches.”
Rather than reply, Dawn strained herself, pushing every inch of magical might she could into attacking Merrick. She didn’t even slow him down. He continued to approach, steadily.
“Frankly, if I weren’t already tired,” Merrick said as he got within a couple of yards, “you wouldn’t have lasted this long.”
He got closer. Five feet. Purple swelled, smothering the red. Four feet. Dawn shook with the effort. Merrick didn’t let up. Three feet. She began to sway, while her red energies started to sputter. Two feet. Merrick smiled an ugly smile of triumph. Dawn collapsed on the deck, gasping, while her opponent started to chuckle.
A chuckle that suddenly stopped. Dawn looked up. Merrick’s head was rolling along the deck, coming to rest by a bucket and a thick coil of rope. The face somehow looked startled. His headless body simply fell over, revealing Jeff behind him. In Jeff’s hand was a cutlass. “You okay?”
Still gasping, Dawn nodded. Jeff looked over to where Lorinda leaned against a mast, her hand holding a wounded arm. He saluted her with the sword. “Thanks!”
Lorinda gave a weary smile.
All around them, the zombies were motionless, silent. With Merrick gone, they no longer did any fighting. One by one, they began to fall over. Hitting the deck, their forms shattered into dust, leaving fragments of bone in ragged clothes and rusty weapons.
“I think,” said Xander, “we need to get off this ship. Like, pronto.” The ship lurched suddenly.
“This way to the boat!” yelled Shannon.
Everyone followed her, avoiding rotten rope from the rigging as it fell to the deck. The wood of the ship all around them seemed to be rotting away, hundreds, then thousands, of wormholes appearing out of nowhere. Cannons began falling through the rotten wood of the deck.
Shannon and Xander led the way. Dawn and Jeff, helping Lorinda who was still bleeding from her wound, followed. Each step was a challenge. With groans and crashes, the entire ship was literally coming apart around them. First one, then the second mast broke and fell. Pulleys and marlinspikes, rusting and rotting, rained down. The ship began to visibly sink beneath them. They were headed to starboard, the very direction in which the ship began to list. Water began pouring over the side moments before the five of them reached it, and the waiting motorboat dipped. It had been tied to the ship, and was pulled down with it.
The motorboat was sucked into the water. Shannon, Xander, Dawn, Jeff and Lorinda swam toward it, through the still-disintegrating wreckage of the ship. But they were too late. The motorboat went under the water and vanished.
For several moments, the five of them treaded water.
“I think,” said Shannon, “the island is that way,” she indicated with her chin.
Xander looked around. “I can’t see it. Can anybody?”
They all looked around.
“Uh…no,” said Dawn.
“My plan was so much better than this,” said Lorinda between clenched teeth.
That was when a beam of bright white light suddenly illuminated them all from above.
Watchers Council – Command Center – Next Day
“Yeah,” Lori said, “they probably would have been fine anyway. Jeff and Xander are fairly strong, while Shannon and Lorinda are slayers. Dawn, of course, was in no real danger even if she’d drowned. But I don’t think any of them are going to complain about the Coast Guard showing up when it did.”
“That’s not exactly the point,” said Faith.
“Honestly, I don’t see what I did wrong.”
“Nobody saying you did anything wrong,” began Buffy. Then, seeing Lori’s face, she amended. “Well, I’m not saying. Neither is Giles, are you?”
“Absolutely not,” said Giles.
“Neither am I, for the record,” said Robin.
“I’m still a little unsure about what happened, though,” said Willow. “With the Coast Guard and the helicopter, I mean.”
Rowena looked at Lori. “Go on with your report, please.”
Lori sighed. “I’ve worked with Nogura a few times. He knows me. The only thing that had him a little worried was the lack of a backup team. For the most part, he was real impressed about how you – we – handled the whole business. But he eventually asked if I believed a little bit of backup was a good idea. My answer was yes, because…well, it is.”
“Quite right,” said Giles. “The fact is, we still don’t always plan as if we actually possess the vast resources we, in fact, do. It is a question of scale, more than anything else.”
“But why didn’t you tell any of us?” Faith asked.
“It was a general question,” said Lori. “He also asked me what I thought of the Watchers Coat of Arms. I didn’t feel the need to report that, either. Look, if you wanted me to repeat every single word he said in my presence to you, then the thing you should’ve done was to tell me!” She very nearly yelled this last.
Jeff and Hope’s Apartment – Same
Curled up in bed, Jeff smiled as he felt Hope’s arms. “Glad to be back here,” he said drowsily.
“Even with the cold?” Her voice was a whisper.
“Cold? What cold? Right now, I feel warmer than I’ve ever been.”
Hope hugged him tighter. “Don’t go. Don’t ever go.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” he said in her ear.
Watchers Council – Lori’s Apartment – Night
Lori opened the door, and nearly did a double take.
“Can I come in?” asked Xander, his hands behind his back.
“Yeah, sure. Oh, and welcome back.”
Xander stepped inside the apartment and glanced around. It looked simple, comfortable. A photograph of an Asian man, about thirty with glasses and a big grin, was nearly the only decoration. He was wearing a t-shirt with the CNN logo.
“I brought you something,” said Xander. He brought his hands from around his back. In them was the cane he’d been working on, the one with the falcon head. “Thought you might like to start a collection. And I put in something special.” With a quick twist, he revealed the blade. “You like?” He swung the blade around a little, making a whistling sound. Then closed it again with a snick.
“Nice.” She took it in hand and looked at the pale silver head for a moment. Then, she slipped it into an antique umbrella stand. It joined two other canes of different styles.
“Oh. Already started a collection.”
They stood in silence for a few moments.
“Lori,” said Xander, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to say. And, well, it is pretty awkward. Here it goes. I’ve been using you.”
“Likewise,” she answered with a shrug.
“But…” he began. Then, started again. “The thing is, I don’t want to use you. I don’t want to use people. Not as a habit. And truth be told, neither do you. We just…” Again, his words faltered. “This isn’t what either one of us had, and lost. It isn’t what we want. It isn’t what either one of us deserve.”
For an eternal sixty seconds, she said nothing at all. She didn’t even blink. “You’ve made your point,” she said finally, giving each word equal weight.
“Yeah, well…then, I’ll see you.”
Xander left her apartment. He didn’t slam the door, but in the silence the sound of the door shutting sounded louder than it was.
End of Lorinda’s Kiss
Next on Watchers…
The Guardian knowledge left in Giles’s head leads the Council to a hidden temple in the Bermuda Triangle, where they learn that some lost things shouldn’t be found.