Lacey Chabert as Skye Talisker, Gale Harold as Jim Pollan, Caroline Dhavernas as Grace Hatherley, Elijah Woods as Jeff Lindquist, Steffani Brass as Shannon Matthewson, Helen Shaver as Becca Giles, Robert Picardo as Dr. Albert Miller, Michael Shanks as Dr. Millenti, Robin Sachs as Ethan Rayne, Alexa Davalos as Gwen Raiden, Laura Prepon as Lori Carew and Gary Oldman as Mr. Jason Felix
Tracy-Ann Oberman as Cameron Rayne, Kyle Gallner as Zachary Kreswell, Ron Rifkin as Curtis Daniels and Dame Helen Mirren as Emily Hoffman
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Night
Ethan entered the infirmary, his Italian loafers tap-tap-tapping as he quickly strode through the doors of the emergency room. Buffy sat beside Becca, who rocked slightly back and forth, her brow etched with worry.
They both looked up when they saw Ethan approach. “Thank God you’re here,” Becca said, as Buffy frowned. “Willow and Rupert are in the examination room…”
Becca’s voice faded behind him as Ethan kept moving through the double doors into the exam room, where little Elizabeth Giles was kicking and thrashing on the hospital bed, as best she could manage with her arms and legs strapped down.
Giles and Dr. Miller both looked up, and Willow moved aside to let Ethan come up alongside the bed. Elizabeth’s screams filled the room.
“We thought it was chicken pox at first,” Dr. Miller said, “but these marks are moving. It’s like they’re alive!”
“I thought it was a simple glamour,” Willow said, “or a-a-a vengeance spell. I’ve tried everything I can think of, but I can’t reverse it!”
Ethan looked down at the writhing child. The angry, red pockmarks were vibrating and crawling this way and that over the child’s body and face. Ethan stared down grimly for a moment.
“Get out of the way.”
The three adults moved off, and Ethan towered over Elizabeth. Giles heard him begin a quiet chant.
Willow frowned. “Giles, I tried that, but it –”
“Shhhh…” Giles shook his head gently.
Ethan’s chant grew louder, and he raised his hands up to hip-height, palms skyward. Soon his head was tilted back, and he shut his eyes as he arched his back.
“Giles…I think we’d better back up before –”
Willow had no time to finish. A silent, but percussive energy blast knocked her, Giles, and Dr. Miller onto the floor and blew open the exam room door.
Becca and Buffy ran to see what had happened and found Giles helping Willow and Dr. Miller to their feet. Ethan was on his knees beside the bed, hunched over and breathing with some difficulty. Elizabeth lay whimpering and exhausted, no longer struggling against the restraints.
“Liz!” Becca ran to her daughter and looked down. The child’s face and arms were clear of the pox and, although shaking, Elizabeth was breathing normally. The color began to rise in her pale cheeks.
Becca clasped her own hand to her mouth and let out a sob as she smiled. “It’s all right, baby, you’re gonna feel better now…”
Giles stood by Becca’s side and pressed his hand to Elizabeth’s forehead. “She feels cooler,” he said. Meanwhile, Dr. Miller placed a stethoscope against the child’s chest and a temperature strip on her forehead.
Willow knelt beside Ethan, one arm over his trembling shoulders. “Giles! Giles, we need some help here!”
Giles came around the other side of the bed and knelt down in front of Ethan. Giles pushed back on the mage’s shoulders, and Ethan’s head lolled back. There on Ethan’s face were the angry red pockmarks, dancing and shifting across his skin. The mage was still chanting, as though in a trance.
“Ethan! Ethan, what can we do? Eth –” Giles caught his breath as he saw the pock marks re-align themselves into what looked like a word across Ethan’s forehead.
“Extractum!” Ethan cried with effort. Suddenly he gasped, and his eyes rolled back in his head. He fell back against Willow’s small frame, almost toppling her, but Giles grabbed him quickly and held him upright. Dr. Miller was there in an instant, but the pockmarks that had transferred from Elizabeth to Ethan were gone.
“I’ll watch him,” Giles said. “Please continue to take care of Elizabeth.”
As if on cue, Ethan’s eyes fluttered open. He stared, unseeing, at Giles for a moment, then gasped, startled, as he realized Giles was staring back at him.
“So expecting to see C.K…” he said, breathless. “But if you’re all I’ve got to work with…give us a kiss.”
Giles let out a small laugh, pulled Ethan into a hug and kissed the top of his head. “Thank you for saving her,” he said.
Ethan rested his forehead against Giles’s shoulder. “Right. I’ll bill you for services rendered.”
“I don’t understand…” Willow said. “I tried that. I tried to take it onto myself. But it wouldn’t transfer.”
“Because you weren’t the curse’s intended target,” Ethan told her.
“Okay. But then why were you able to transfer it from Liz to you?” Willow asked.
“Could you please talk shop somewhere else for now?” Becca asked.
“She’s right,” Buffy said to Giles, as she reached down and grabbed Ethan under one arm. “I’ll take Mr. Unlikely Hero wherever he wants to go. You stay.”
Giles nodded and rose, and together he and Buffy helped Ethan to his feet. Willow put her arm about Ethan’s back. “Lean on me,” she told him. “Let’s get you somewhere where there’s a nice bottle of scotch.”
Ethan grinned crookedly at her. The witch and the slayer helped him out of the infirmary.
Becca sat on the hospital bed and rocked the exhausted Elizabeth in her arms, singing quietly to her. Giles bent over them both and kissed them gently, in turn, on the head.
Becca looked up at him. “What aren’t you telling me?”
Watchers Council – Ethan’s Apartment – Early Next Morning
Ethan was sitting in his study with several books laid open in front of him, when a knock at the front door distracted him. He rubbed his eyes wearily and sighed at the bottle of scotch on the desk. He reached for it as Cameron’s voice floated to his ears from the living room. He opened the bottle and poured himself another drink, reached for the second of three scotch glasses on the silver tray and righted it. He had begun pouring the second glass when Rupert Giles tapped lightly on his door. The door opened quietly.
Ethan turned around in his chair and looked over his shoulder at Giles.
“Ripper,” he acknowledged. “Just in time for breakfast.” He held the second scotch glass out to Giles. Giles closed the study door and approached him. “How’s daddy’s little girl?” Ethan asked.
“Judging from your appearance, I’d say she’s a lot better than you right now.”
Ethan let out a soft laugh, but his smile faded as fast as it appeared.
“She’s still in the infirmary,” Giles continued, “but all her vitals are normal, and she seems fine. Dr. Miller tells us we can take her home at noon if there’s no change.” Ethan nodded, distracted, and took a drink. “Ethan, we need to talk,” Giles continued.
“Yes. Ripper, we do. We do indeed…”
“Do you have any idea what happened last night?”
“Turnabout.” Giles remained silent while Ethan drained his glass and set it on the desk. “Ripper, come and look at this.”
Giles followed Ethan to one bare place along the wall. Ethan waved his hand subtly and the wall suddenly morphed, revealing a narrow door. The door opened soundlessly, and Ethan and Giles entered a secret inner office off the study. The room was equipped with magic stores and accouterments of all types. A small table was set off to one side.
Ethan closed and sealed the door magically behind them, as Giles approached the table. What Giles saw there made him quirk an eyebrow in puzzlement. A baseball, a woman’s hairbrush and a bell jar stood neatly on the table.
Ethan walked up beside Giles. “Watch closely,” he said, smirking. “Nothing up my sleeve…” Ethan lifted the baseball. “This was the baseball Shannon and Norman were playing with when Shannon broke Norman’s thumb last October,” he said. As he held the baseball in his hand, the seams began to move, crawling over the surface of the scuffed baseball, the red stitching writhing until Giles saw the threads reshape themselves into a single word: “Turnabout.”
“Bloody hell…” Giles muttered. He looked Ethan straight in the eye. “Ethan, last night, when you took the vengeance curse onto yourself, I saw the pock marks on your face move. They changed. They appeared to be trying to form a word, I’m sure of it. At the time. I thought I was seeing things.”
Ethan nodded and set the baseball down, and the seams quickly went back to their normal pattern. “Then this won’t make you feel any better,” he said. He picked up the hairbrush, pulling familiar red strands of hair from it. “This brush belongs to Willow. She brought it to me after she had what she hoped was nothing more than a stress-induced hallucination. She asked me to examine it, to see if I could detect anything mystical. She was afraid to handle it any further herself.”
Ethan released the clump of red hair, and it drifted lightly to the table. Giles watched, fascinated, as the strands began to turn jet black and to twitch and crawl until they, too, formed the unmistakable pattern of the singular word: “Turnabout.”
“Neither Shannon nor Willow saw the word form,” Ethan said. “They only had their terrible experiences with the baseball and the hairbrush and brought them here to me.”
“And when you told them about Turnabout?”
“I haven’t,” Ethan replied. Giles narrowed his eyes at Ethan. “And now the final denouement,” Ethan said dourly. He raised the bell jar, and Giles could see that it was full of dead bees. “There were only four or five of them at first,” Ethan said. “I kept them in a small envelope to start, but they keep increasing in number. Every time I come into this room, there are more of them that come to life and attack.”
He chanted a hasty protection spell and opened the jar. The bees came suddenly to life with an angry buzz. They flew out of the jar, attacking the two men, but were held in check by the protection spell. Even as they attacked, they kept formation in the pattern of the word: “Turnabout.”
Giles watched the bees as they continued to fly in an undulating wave of anger at both himself and Ethan, trying desperately to break through the protection. Giles breathed heavily, staring at the onslaught. Finally, he turned and looked at the grim-faced mage. “What should we do?”
“First, we get all these blasted bees back into the jar,” Ethan groused.
Giles rolled his eyes.
Watchers Council – Playing Field – Same Time
A dozen or so young slayers-in-training were just finishing up yet another set of wind sprints, followed by immediate hand-to-hand sparring sessions. All of them were panting and wheezing as Kennedy watched and Faith walked among them, lecturing.
“You think the monsters are just gonna drop right in front of you all the time?” Faith asked. “No. Sometimes you gotta run. A lot. And then you gotta fight the monster. So you need to build up your endurance. Slayer powers are great, but they’re not all you need. The rest is just hard work.”
Faith glanced over at Kennedy to see if she had more to add, but Kennedy just smiled and shook her head. Faith turned back to the girls.
“Okay, that’ll do it,” Faith announced. “Time to get cleaned up and off to class.”
As the girls let out a collective groan of relief and headed for the bleachers to pick up their belongings, Kennedy and Faith followed along. While the girls gathered up their jackets and backpacks, the two senior slayers leaned their backs against the railing in front of the first row and waited.
A few rows up, a girl lost her grip on her bag and dropped it, sending several items tumbling down the metal steps toward her instructors. She quickly recovered a hairbrush and a pack of gum, but froze when she saw Faith bend down and pick up one of the items that had landed at her feet.
It was a paperback book. It had a black cover with red letters and a title Faith had grown to hate: Blood and Darkness: The Real Story of Superstar Slayer Faith Lehane. Faith’s expression grew hard, and she looked up at the now terrified teen.
“Is this yours?” she demanded harshly, holding up the book. “Are you really reading this crap?”
In the heat of Faith’s furious glare, the young girl was too scared to even speak. She just silently opened and closed her mouth several times while her eyes darted around, looking for a path of escape.
“Faith –” Kennedy began, before being cut off.
“Don’t ‘Faith’ me,” she warned over her shoulder, before turning back to the young slayer.
She gave the girl a disgusted look and then flung the book at her. The slayer caught it, but still didn’t budge from her spot. She just clutched the book tightly to her chest.
Faith narrowed her eyes and growled, “Get out of here.”
The young slayer wasted no time scurrying down the aisle and then down the side stairs.
As Faith fumed, Kennedy eased over to stand next to her friend.
“Stressed much?” Kennedy asked with a slight grin, trying to ease the tension. Faith didn’t look amused and Kennedy’s expression dropped. “Look, you’ve had a helluva month, okay? I get that.”
“Oh, you get it?” Faith asked defensively. Kennedy’s expression showed that she immediately regretted her choice of words. “Well, you tell me, what’s it like, huh? What’s it like to bury your sister, get run through the media gutter and then top it off with killing a carbon copy of your fiancé? How’d you handle it all?”
Kennedy didn’t reply initially. She seemed to plot her retort for a moment. “I’m just saying…try not to let it get to you,” she said eventually. “Or, at the very least, don’t take it out on everyone around you.”
“Save it, all right?” Faith said, holding up her hand to stave off any more unwelcome advice. “When you’ve got your life splattered all over the media, then you can give me some advice. Otherwise, just –”
Faith stopped herself from saying any more. Then she just stomped down the side stairs and strode angrily away.
Watchers Council – Edge of Playing Field – Same Time
“I’m telling you, Will, I know what I saw. And Giles saw it, too! We were both facing Ethan when it happened last night.”
Willow and Buffy slowed in their walk at the sound of Faith’s angry voice.
“Wonder what that’s all about?” Willow considered out loud.
“Who knows?” Buffy shrugged. “Maybe Kennedy’s got laryngitis today, so Faith’s yelling for her. Anyway, I know what I saw on his face.”
“But you didn’t actually see what the word was,” Willow pointed out.
“It was something like ‘burnout’ or ‘turnout.’ I don’t know. It happened fast, and I didn’t get a good look at it.”
Willow stopped and blinked at Buffy. “Do you remember the Mary Bennett case?”
“Yeah, during the Slayer Games…the college student who got spelled and turned all demon-y against our slayers and –”
“And the note that was left behind,” Willow interrupted. “Turnabout is fair play.”
It was Buffy’s turn to blink. “Not ‘turnout’…” she said, realizing. “‘Turnabout’!”
Across the field, the slayers began toward the locker room. Buffy let her eyes roam over to the group, but didn’t really see them. “Ethan’s behind this!” she said suddenly.
“Ethan,” Buffy said with certainty. “When that ‘turnabout’ message was left, Giles said something to Ethan about it in the conference room. And now it’s happened again. Only this time, it wasn’t a demon. This time it was Liz! And who comes running to the rescue – both times? Ethan! He’s behind it!”
“Buffy, that’s ridiculous. Ethan wouldn’t do anything to hurt Liz, and he’s actually done a good job working with Shannon.”
“Okay, who are you, and what have you done with Willow?” Willow smiled in spite of herself. “We’re talking Ethan Rayne here. Mark of Eyghon-Man, Foreman at Willy Wonka’s Evil Chocolate Factory, The Man Who Put the Fyar back in Fyarl. The man collected babies to feed to a sewer-snake!”
“I know,” Willow replied. “I flayed someone, beat you and Giles to a meaty pulp and almost killed the world.”
“Okay, one sec. You didn’t beat me to a meaty pulp.”
Willow ignored the retort. “Point is, I’ve done some horrible things, a-and I know people can change…I think Ethan’s changed.” Buffy looked dubiously back at Willow. “Honestly, he risked his life to try to bring me out of a magic-induced coma.”
“Because he was suffering, too.”
“A-and just recently he helped hide Rowena from a psychopathic…well, me, from a parallel dimension. He’s –”
“A kinder, gentler threat to humanity?” Buffy asked.
Willow chuckled. “I think he’s only a threat to his liver at this point. The man drinks like a fish.”
“I think you’re wrong. And I think Giles is letting his friendship blind him. I think you might be a bit visually impaired, too.”
“Show me the proof that Ethan is behind what happened to Liz.” Buffy didn’t have a response, so Willow continued. “Besides, what would be in it for him? Where’s the payoff? He’s got a wife now. He’s got a well paying job that he’s really good at, a-and one he really seems to like, despite the bitching and moaning. Plus, he gets to do magic and advise the coven, a-and he’s in the middle of all the action. I’m willing to say that, for the first time in his life, he’s actually happy. So, really, why would he mess with that?”
“Because it’s too perfect. Because it’s too happy. And because it’s too…pat. Because Ethan needs chaos in his life just like I need a good vamp staking and you need to do a good spell every once in a while. It’s not something anyone can change, Will. Not even a chaos mage.”
Willow frowned. “Will you talk to Giles about it?”
“I don’t think he’ll listen.”
“What if we both talk to him?”
“Great. So you can both tell me how great Ethan is?”
Willow smirked for a moment, but then appeared serious. “Look…I-I didn’t tell anyone this because I felt, well, kind of crazy, actually. But a few weeks ago, I had a-a hallucination that Ro was Warren.”
“What?” Buffy asked.
Willow nodded. “We had just put the twins to bed, and everything was nice and quiet. It felt so good to have her there all to myself for a moment. I was watching her in the mirror brushing my hair and…” Willow stopped, and Buffy put a hand on her arm.
“Anyway,” Willow said with a deep breath, “the next morning I got up, and when I put my hand on the brush, I had a terrible feeling. So I scooped it into a plastic bag and brought it to Ethan. He said he’d look at it, see if he could discover any black magic in it.”
“What did he find out?”
“Are you sure? Maybe he’s the one that –”
“Buffy, even you have to admit that fear for the sake of fear was never Ethan’s style…ever. He got his real kicks from the mayhem his spells caused. What I felt was terror, and that’s not Ethan.”
The slayer sighed. “Well, I’m still bringing this up in the next meeting. I think your hairbrush and Liz’s ‘chicken pox’ are both connected to Ethan Rayne. I don’t know how, but I’m certain he’s somehow a part of it all.”
Watchers Council – Dr. Millenti’s Office – Later that Morning
“I really don’t know why this is necessary,” Kennedy said.
“Everyone who was –”Millenti began.
“In the conflict last week has to have their chart signed off, right,” Kennedy replied, as if she’d heard it multiple times before. Dr. Millenti sat on one side of the desk, while Kennedy sat on the other. “What I mean,” Kennedy continued, “it’s not like I killed Shannon. Had it been her, the real her, then yeah, it would bother me…a lot. But that other little bitch…”
“What about her?”
“She had it coming,” Kennedy replied. “She came into our Council to kill our people. Besides, like I said, it wasn’t her – not the Shannon I know anyway. Just some demonic carbon copy.”
“From what I understand she was a human, just from another dimension.”
“You know what I mean.”
“I’m not sure I do. Why don’t you explain?”
Kennedy paused. “The Shannon I ran through didn’t act very human. In fact, she seemed downright evil.”
At first Dr. Millenti said nothing. Finally, he asked, “Did it bother you at any point? Killing her, I mean.”
“It was freaky on some level, yeah,” Kennedy admitted. “It was bizarre for all of us actually. She looked like the Shannon I’ve helped train…and there was a split second during the battle that I remembered Heli. But living in the past, especially in a battle during the present, well…it can cut your future real short if you’re distracted. You’ve got to stay focused if you’re going to survive.”
“So you put it out of your mind, then?”
“Yeah, I told myself these people – they’re not the people I know and love. They might look the same, but their purpose for being there was to kill the people I do really care about. Truth is, I hadn’t really thought of Heli again until you just asked. So, does that make me a sociopath?” she asked.
Dr. Millenti smiled and shook his head. “No, your actions were motivated because you care about others. A sociopath is a bit like a vampire – they have no sense of sympathy or empathy, or many of the feelings associated with caring, for that matter.”
“I do – I mean, I care,” Kennedy replied. She paused and licked her lips. “And if I had it all to do over again…I do it exactly the same way and keep as many people I love as safe as possible.” Dr. Millenti simply nodded. “So yeah, I’m…I’m okay. Truth is, I’m more worried about Faith than me. Sure, I killed Shannon, but she…” Kennedy shook her head. “I don’t know how I’d feel if I killed Kadin, in any form. I don’t think I could have done it. Hell, I’ve been faced with it and I couldn’t do it.” When Dr. Millenti didn’t offer anything further, Kennedy asked, “How’s Faith doing? Is she okay?”
“You know I can’t talk about other patients,” Dr. Millenti answered.
Kennedy nodded in understanding. “No, that’s cool. I just…worry about her. ‘Specially right now. She’s got a lot of crap to deal with right now and…she isn’t saying much to me, or anyone really. At least, not that I know of.”
Dr. Millenti cleared his throat. “Like I said, I can’t discuss her, but I can discuss you. That said…just keep trying to be there for her, even if you get resistance. I think it would be beneficial to both of you.”
Queens, New York – Zachary’s Apartment – Later That Morning
The shades were all drawn, giving the effect of twilight, even though it was mid-morning and sunny outside. On the coffee table lay an open book with a tintype of a golden-haired girl sitting at a spinning wheel, her hand outstretched to the razor-sharp needle. Resting near the book were two slippered feet, their legs crossed at the ankles.
“Yes, that’s right. That’s exactly what I want. Don’t try to back out on your agreement! You owe my father, and you said you’d pay me in full! I’ll decide what full payment is!”
Zachary Kreswell removed his feet from the coffee table and sat up as he listened to the voice on the other end of his phone. “You Sclerog mages are all alike! I have friends in very high places. Jason Felix, for one. I can make life miserable for all of your kind in a heartbeat.”
Zachary tapped his fingers on the open book as he listened to the Sclerog mage’s reply. “Don’t try me, Piltok,” he cut him off. “My father died for your sorry ass. You said you were indebted to me because of it. I know you can give me a little more ‘juice.’ In fact, I’d wager you could give me a lot more.”
He listened to the earnest appeal of Piltok on the other end of the phone.
“Shut up!” Zachary said. “Meet me at Hoover and Durning tonight at nine o’clock. I want as much as you can give me. And don’t try to con me into thinking I’ll O.D. I’ve handled much more black magic from sources more powerful than you, my ugly friend. If you don’t show up…well, remember, I know a lot of other people besides Jason Felix who would just love a little piece of you and your friends.”
A beep tone cut into Piltok’s reply, and Zachary pulled the phone away from his ear to see a name highlighted on his caller ID: “Jason Felix.” Piltok’s protest bled, unheeded, from the receiver. Zachary smiled at the name he saw and quickly brought the phone back to his ear. “That’s nice, Pil,” he tossed off. “See you at nine.”
Zachary hit a key, and Piltok was silenced in mid-sentence. “Hello! Jason! How are you?”
Watchers Council – Jason Felix’s Office – Same Time
“Hello, Zach! I’m fine, son. How are you?”
Queens, New York – Zachary’s Apartment – Same Time
“I’m great! Jason, I just returned from the best time I’ve ever had. Vienna! So tired of those third-world gigs…Vienna was a welcome change. Took in a couple of concerts, attended a score of swanky parties –”
“Slow down, slow down…” Felix’s chuckle crackled in Zachary’s ear. “Sounds like you’re living the highlife! Tell me, did you do any work there?”
“Only as much as I had to!” Zachary grinned back. “I could get used to this life, Jason.”
“Well, I’m very proud of you. We need more young people like you, helping to keep evil in check and to promote the best things magic has to offer.”
“Jason! Did I just hear you right? The best magic has to offer…?”
Watchers Council – Jason Felix’s Office – Same Time
“Never thought I’d hear myself say that…” he replied. “I told Cameron I’d be calling you. She sends her regards.”
“Please, Jason, give her my love, will you? I do miss Mother a great deal. I can’t wait to…connect with her again. Her…and Ethan…”
“Ah…tell me you are quite over it, Zach.”
“Oh, to be sure! In fact, I’ve spoken to Ethan a few times on the phone already. Hasn’t he or Mum mentioned it?”
Jason’s smile quirked oddly. “A-as a matter of fact, no.”
“Well, they probably feel they’re protecting my privacy,” Zachary said in a conciliatory tone. “Let’s not mention it, eh?”
“Oh, of course not.”
“Everything all right, Jason? You sound…troubled.”
“Hmm…oh, no…I – I’m fine. And I’m so glad you’ve hit your stride! When will I see you, son? It’s been quite a long time.”
“Soon, I hope…very, very soon.”
“Well, my calendar is a bit freer next month. Why don’t we make a date to meet. Hold on while I get –”
“Uh, Jason, so sorry, but someone’s at the door. I have to go now, but I’ll give you a call back as soon as I can and we can set a time!”
“Yes, well, fine, fine. Take care of yourse –”
There was a click and a dial tone. Jason Felix brought the phone from his ear and looked at it, troubled.
Queens, New York – Zachary’s Apartment – Same Time
Zachary lowered the phone from his own face, his smile gone and his eyes hard and cold. Then he smirked, picked up the book and stared at Sleeping Beauty about to prick her finger and fall into a deep sleep.
His mouth curled until he was grinning very broadly.
Watchers Council – Ethan’s Apartment – Late Morning
Ethan sealed the secret room as Giles walked to the bottle of scotch on the desk and poured himself a drink. Ethan turned and smirked at him.
“That’s the everyday. I keep the good stuff in here.”
Before Ethan could move to the liquor cabinet, Giles downed the ‘everyday’ scotch in one swallow.
“And apparently still do…” Ethan said, turning back from the direction of the liquor cabinet.
“You know who’s behind it, don’t you?” Giles asked.
“Don’t you?” Ethan returned seriously.
“Sorry. You’ve so many enemies I’ve lost track.”
“I only ever count the most recent ones.”
Giles let out a laugh. “As I said, so many…” Ethan smiled wanly at him. “But I’m guessing this one is less of a mystical enemy and more of a personal one.”
“How so?” Ethan asked.
“His…well now, couldn’t it be a woman?” Ethan baited.
“No. No, you’re too smooth with the ladies. The lads, on the other hand, you’ve always managed to annoy.”
“You would know.”
“Prat. But this one is coming at you via people you obviously care about, hurting them to hurt you. Am I right so far?”
“And he’s someone with a lot of power at his disposal, but not necessarily his own. Hired help. Or perhaps, borrowed magic.”
“Now how did you figure that out so quickly?”
Giles looked squarely at Ethan. “There’s no finesse to his work. It’s all very direct and obvious. No art, all message. Whoever it is, he is inexperienced, but very adept. And very angry.” Giles looked knowingly at the mage. “Just what was your relationship with Zachary Kreswell, Ethan?”
Ethan’s smug smile faded, and he looked away.
“No. You don’t.”
“I loved that boy. I still do, but not as you’re suggesting. His entire purpose in life was to please everyone about him. Before that, it was to please his father, who didn’t have the time of day for him.” Ethan poured himself a drink and another for Giles. “But his father’s death left everything unfinished. Including Zach. C.K. did a good job, considering. But the damage was already done, long before Zach’s father died.”
“And along comes Ethan Rayne,” Giles surmised, “bestowing the love and affection the boy had been craving all those years…”
“Aaand it begins – the sarcasm,” Ethan smirked. “But essentially, you’re correct, Ripper. I wanted to build a father-son relationship. Zach, however, had other desires.”
“So that’s how it started?” Giles asked.
Ethan took a drink and nodded. “I loved his mother. I wasn’t in the market for a pup.”
“I hope you didn’t express it to him that way.”
“No. No, I was very…I did my best not to hurt the boy any further.”
“So you were a father-figure, love interest and cold-hearted bastard all rolled into one. Is that it?” Ethan stared at his drink. “Well, the Council will have to bring him in. I don’t know if it would help for you to –”
“No. You can’t. You can’t send the Council after him.”
“Ethan…something’s got to be done!”
“I know. I’ve been trying for months now. Each time, he begs my forgiveness, promises, makes me believe he’ll truly stop. And then, another thing happens…”
“Ethan, it’s quite clear he will not stop! He needs to be taken –” Giles stopped short of saying ‘down.’ “– into custody. The Coven can help. Willow and Althenea would be of enormous assistance. I know that C.K. would approve –”
“No, Ripper! She doesn’t know, and I’m not about to tell her. You’ve no idea what that would do to her, telling her that her son is using black magic against the people we live and work with. Against her, even.”
“She’s going to find out when we bring him in.”
“No! We can’t risk it.”
“Can’t risk? Ethan, we can’t risk not bringing him in! He’s out of control. More to the point, he’s out of your control.”
“I’ll get him under control.”
Giles placed his scotch glass down firmly on the desk. “I’m sorry, Ethan. It’s plain that you care about him. But he’s destroyed the life of that young woman, Bennett, wasn’t it? He’s responsible for her death, and possibly others. Not to mention what he’s done to our families and friends. I’ve got to go to the Council with this now.”
“Ripper…you’ve given me a second chance – several, over the past few years. And each time, I’ve lived up to or exceeded your hopes. I’m asking for one more.” Ethan shook his head and looked irritably at Giles. “Do you realize just how humiliating it is to seek the ‘permission’ of someone my junior?”
Giles blinked. “I’m not that much younger than you.”
“That doesn’t say much for either of us, then.”
Giles licked his lips. “One chance, Ethan. Just one. You have…forty-eight hours.”
“And only as long as something else doesn’t occur. If it does, all bets, as the Yanks say, are off.”
“When did you get to be in charge again?” Ethan whined.
“I mean it, Ethan!”
Ethan drew a breath to reply, then closed his mouth again and sighed resignedly.
“Now then,” Giles said, “how can I help?”
Watchers Council – Science Department – Main Lab – Later
Gwen lifted a glass beaker up to her eye level. A dubious yellow fluid was inside. She turned her nose up at it and placed it back on the work surface. Then she wiped her gloved hands on her PVC pants.
“Okay.” Willow looked up from her laptop. “Remember that scan we did a couple of weeks back?”
“The one where we sent Cleveland back to the dark ages?”
“Yeah, that’s the one,” Willow nodded. “Well, looks like it wasn’t all in vain. W.I.L.L.O.W.’s just finished processing the results for erroneous data, and it’s all good. It worked.”
“Cool,” Gwen sauntered over to the table where Willow sat.
“Oh, a-and your improvements to the programming? Talk about streamlining and the new features!”
Gwen shrugged and then leaned in a little over Willow’s shoulder. “I do what I do, and I do it well. So, what am I looking at here?”
“The scan picked up that your body’s production of electrical impulses are off the scale. What’s incredible is that your nervous system and organs don’t seem affected at all. I can’t find a single thing wrong with you,” Willow said.
“So I am a superhero, then?”
“Looks like.” Willow sat up, still looking at the monitor. “The scan also indicates that you have an electrical current in your bones. It even picked up a current in your hair.”
“Electrifying,” Gwen tossed her hair back over her shoulder. “Not that I don’t appreciate it, but anything we don’t know already?”
Willow looked over her shoulder. “Well…this. At least the bone thing. That and from your bloodwork – how that’s healing up, by the way?”
Gwen rolled down her long velvet glove on her right arm, revealing a bandage just below her elbow joint. “Yeah, good. Melted my knife, though.”
“Yeah, slicing your arm, not the best way to take blood,” Willow stifled a smirk. “Well, we also know that your blood carries a current. Kinda like Alien, but, well, not. Volts instead of…” Willow sheepishly coughed. “…acid…” She trailed off and managed a grin.
“So…square one?” Gwen asked. “Did we even leave it?”
Willow raised a finger. “Yes.” That perked Gwen up. “We’re on to square two. I needed all this data and all this double-checking ’cause I’ve kinda got an ingenious idea.”
“Ingenious, you say?” Gwen arched a curious brow.
Still seated, Willow spun around on the stool and looked at Gwen face-to-face. “I’ve been going over the research notes on your old L.I.S.A. control chip, a-and, you’re right. Not so replicable after all. ‘Sides, having a wafer thin piece of metal stuck to your back equals practical how? Even if I used my witchy-poo powers in conjunction with the tech…”
“Drift caught,” Gwen said.
“However…” Willow spun back to her laptop, and her fingers began to furiously glide across the keys. “I started thinking about alternatives to your old control chip. Then I stumbled upon something interesting in Bureau Nine’s old R&D files.”
Willow hit the enter key, and with an electronic beep, a window popped up on the laptop displaying a rotating 3D image of a metallic hexagonal orb with six prongs coming out of it. Behind it, smaller and grayed out, were hundreds more, also spinning.
The eyes in Gwen’s head nearly popped. “Are they…?”
“Yep,” Willow said, looking at Gwen over her shoulder. “Nanites.”
Fade to Black
End of Act One