Watchers Council – Conference Room – Minutes Later
As usual, Buffy sat at the head of the table. Flanking her on either side were Willow and Rowena. Kennedy and Faith filled out one side of the table, while Xander and Felix filled out the other. Kate was standing near the projection screen, a wireless remote in her hands.
Behind her on the screen was a vivid photo of a bloody crime scene. She tapped the button on the remote to advance to yet another gruesome picture. Everyone at the table grimaced at the sight. Faith, however, sat like a stone, leaning back in her chair with her arms crossed tightly.
“So far, she’s killed five people,” Kate stated. “All with the same weapon: a big knife of some kind, probably a butcher knife.”
“And you’re certain it’s a she?”Felix asked.
“Yes,” Kate replied. “We’ve recovered DNA at the scenes, so we know that the killer’s female, and we know that it’s the same killer for all five murders.”
Rowena got a puzzled look. “But I thought female serial killers were extremely rare.”
“They are,” Kate confirmed. “And most fall into two categories – those who have killed family members and those who have killed patients – with poison being their usual weapon of choice. But the premeditated and violent murders of strangers, by a single female perpetrator…not that common at all. Aileen Wuornos is probably the best example.”
“Oh yeah? We had our very own example right here in the Council,” Kennedy grumbled.
Kate nodded knowingly. “Yes. Heli Hamalainen. A very unusual case.”
“If you’ve got DNA and fingerprints, then can’t you look them up in all those databases?” Xander asked.
“We have but, unfortunately, we’ve gotten no hits, so our subject is not in the system.”
“Why is she doing this, though?” Rowena asked. “I mean, what’s tying all these murders together?”
Kate turned to the screen and clicked to a new slide. It was of a newspaper clipping featuring a photo of one of the victims. Across the person’s picture, the killer had written, in large block letters, “JUDGED.” A few more clicks revealed similar clippings for the other murders. The last was a slide of the article about Mr. Vassar’s acquittal that had been left with his body.
“It appears that the killer is murdering people who, in her mind, have escaped justice somehow,” Kate explained.
“And that’s why you think she’s after Faith?” Buffy demanded coldly. “Out of all the people it could be, you think it’s gotta be her. Are you sure this isn’t your excuse to get to Faith?”
“I don’t need an excuse!” Kate shot back at Buffy. “She’s a convicted murderer who escaped from prison about 22 years short of her minimum sentence.” Kate glared in Faith’s direction, causing the slayer to drop her gaze, but the agent didn’t linger there. She moved on to Willow, gesturing dramatically at the witch. “But, thanks to Miss Rosenberg here, I can’t prove any of that. Not yet.”
“Thanks to Miss Rosenberg?” Willow countered angrily. “You can’t prove anything about anything. It’s a fishing expedition.” she added.
There was a long moment of awkward silence before Kennedy spoke up.
“Why don’t we get back to the problem at hand?” she suggested. “You know, the crazy serial killer who may be after Faith?”
Kate sighed and said, “It’s not ‘may be after Faith’…it’s ‘is after Faith’.”
Kate went to her portfolio, pulled out an evidence bag, and tossed it on the table in front of Buffy. She picked it up, and Willow and Rowena leaned over to look at it with her.
It was a newspaper clipping, soaked in blood, but now dry. It featured a large picture of Faith on the front page of the New York Times. The headline read, “Allegations Besiege Once-Heroic Slayer.”
Willow held it up for the others to see. Kennedy grabbed it from Willow’s hand and brought it over for her and Faith to examine. Faith took it when Kennedy held it out. She glanced at it briefly, clenching her jaw as she did so. Then she slid it across the table to Xander and Felix. Everyone seemed stunned into silence as the item was passed around the group.
When everyone had seen it, Kate went on, “We found that at the last crime scene, stuck behind the clipping that went with that victim. We believe that this one was left behind by accident.”
New York City – La Guardia Airport – Same Time
Christabel stood patiently at the ticket counter as a pair of harried airline agents assisted the customer in front of her. She seemed unaffected by the din of the noisy terminal, as if she were in her own little world. She merely rocked on her heels and whisper-sang her favorite hymn.
“Pow’r in the blood…pow’r in the blood…”
V.O., Kate: “But it’s clear what this means…”
When one of the agents called her to the front of the counter, Christabel snapped back to reality and stepped forward.
“I’d like a ticket to Cleveland, Ohio, please,” she requested, a polite but cheerful smile on her face.
V.O., Kate: “…Faith’s next.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
Everyone at the table was staring at Faith, with worried expressions in their eyes.
“Stop looking at me!” Faith finally barked. “Just…stop.”
The group looked away and directed their attention back to Kate, who went on with her report.
“Even if we hadn’t discovered this,” she said, as she pointed to the evidence bag now resting in the center of the table, “I probably would have stopped by your headquarters anyway.”
“Why?” Felix asked.
“Our killer seems to have supernatural abilities,” Kate said. “She’s almost like a ghost. She can enter a building in plain sight of witnesses, and yet no one ever remembers seeing her. We got a few descriptions from witnesses a little further from the scenes, but nothing useful. All they saw was a plain, ordinary-looking woman. And video surveillance images were too grainy to be of any use.”
Willow got an inspired look on her face. “She didn’t look like a nun, did she?” she asked.
“Thinking Sister Sin?” Rowena inquired.
Willow nodded. “She was all about the judging and punishing.”
Kate shook her head and said, “Sorry, no nun sightings.”
After mulling it over, Willow added, “Well, now that I think about it, Sister Sin wasn’t that selective, anyway. She was basically torching everyone she came across.”
“Even if she had somehow come back from her vanquishing, it’s doubtful that she’d take the time to cut out newspaper clippings and leave them at the scenes,” Rowena pointed out.
“But from what you describe,” Willow said to Kate, “the killer could very well be a magic user, and if that’s the case, we may be able to track her.”
“Can’t we use this and do a locator spell?” Kennedy suggested. She reached for the bagged newspaper clipping and held it up.
“Maybe,” Willow said. “It’s not necessarily a personal object, but it’s very important to her, obviously. It might work.”
“Good, that’s a start, then,” Buffy said to Willow. “Get the Coven on that right away.”
“You got it,” Willow replied.
Buffy turned to Rowena. “Ro, you get the Watchers Division aiding the Coven on research on this one.”
“Will do,” Rowena answered.
“Now, before we go any further, I want to talk about Faith’s security,” Buffy said.
“Clearly, she’ll need a slayer escort,” Felix said.
“Agreed,” Kennedy said. “Twenty-four, seven.”
“A-A-And a witch,” Willow added. “If this killer can do magic, Faith will need the extra protection.”
“Even inside the Council?” Xander asked.
“Absolutely,” Buffy said. “If she can put the whammy on witnesses, then she could sneak into anywhere, even the Council.”
Faith watched with increasing aggravation as her friends and colleagues discussed her fate as if she weren’t even there.
“We should put the Council on lockdown, then,” Xander said.
“Better yet, we should put Faith on the detention level,” Kennedy suggested. “Besides the Vault, that’s our most secure area.”
“And somebody should call Robin,” Buffy said. “Let him know what’s –”
The loud voice followed by an angry slap on the table made everyone jump. They turned to look at Faith, who now stood, clenching her fists over and over and glaring around the table.
When she had everyone’s full attention, she sternly announced, “I am not going to be locked away for my own safety. I am not going to have some contingent of secret-service slayers and witches following me everywhere I go…and no one is going to call Robin and tell him anything. Ya got that?”
She stared at each person, daring them to counter her command, but with the amount of fury they were seeing in Faith’s eyes, everyone at the table wisely chose to look away and remain quiet.
Everyone except Buffy, that is, who crossed her arms and said, “Fine. We’ll table the issue of security. For now.”
The two slayers locked eyes for a long moment, until Buffy finally redirected the meeting to final questions and comments.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Minutes Later
As soon as she had ended the meeting, Buffy pulled out her cell phone and called her office, all while keeping an eye on Faith, who was trying her best to get out of the room quickly.
An efficient and slightly snooty voice answered on the other end. “Watchers Council, Miss Summers’ Office. This is Maxine. How may I help you?”
Buffy smiled through gritted-teeth and said, “Maxine, how are you?”
“Well, I’d be much better if you hadn’t skipped all of your morning appointments without so much as a word,” Maxine complained.
“Yeah…sorry ’bout that, but I had other pressing matters,” Buffy told her, as she noticed Faith nearing the conference room door. “Look, Maxine, cancel all my appointments for today and tomorrow, and we’ll see about the day after that.”
“What? You can’t just…but…” Maxine blustered.
“Just do it, Maxine,” Buffy ordered. “And hold down the fort, because I’ll be unavailable until…well, until I say so. I have my cell. Bye.”
Buffy hurried toward the door.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Moments Later
As Faith stomped down the hallway, she suddenly found Buffy right by her side, mirroring her every move. Faith abruptly halted and turned to face the blonde.
“I said I didn’t want any tag-alongs,” she said gruffly.
Buffy held out her hands and said, “It’s either a security team or me. Take your pick.”
The two slayers engaged in another stare-down until Faith growled and resumed her stomping gait, clearly having chosen Buffy over a security team.
Buffy grinned and followed right after, rushing to catch up. Once beside Faith again, she asked, “Where’re we going?”
“The armory,” Faith answered curtly.
“Oh, goody!” Buffy chirped cheerfully. “Weapons!”
Faith just groaned.
Watchers Council – Armory – Moments Later
After tucking a small stake into her back pocket and snapping a pair of sheathed throwing knives onto her belt, Faith pulled out a tranquilizer pistol and checked its chamber for a dart.
Buffy did much the same, but pulled out a small taser instead of a tranq gun. When she test-fired it, causing sparks to jump between the prongs, she laughed and said, “I feel like Dog the Bounty Hunter or something.”
Faith didn’t return the laugh, so Buffy stifled the merriment, and the two slayers finished their work in silence. When they were ready to go, Faith started to walk off, but Buffy stopped her.
Her tone now completely serious, Buffy said, “Faith, I just wanted to say thanks.”
Faith was confused. “For what?”
“For saving Angel,” Buffy replied. “Back in L.A.”
It took a few seconds for Faith to respond. When she did, she shrugged and said, “I owed him, y’know? He’s the only one who never gave up on me.”
Buffy hung her head at that. “Yeah,” she mumbled softly. After a brief pause, she looked back up and said, “Anyway, I just wanted to say that. I don’t think I ever told you when we were in Sunnydale.”
Faith’s expression curled into a teasing smirk. “Nah, you were too busy spazzing over the fact that I had been in Angel’s head. What was it you didn’t want me to see, huh?” Faith waggled her eyebrows suggestively.
“Nothing!” Buffy insisted. “Angel and I were very…not like that.”
“Bet you and Spike were,” Faith said. “Now that woulda been a mind trip! Hear him tell it, you got really down and dirty in your post-resurrection days.”
Buffy groaned. “Uggghh…don’t remind me…”
“Aw, come on…it wasn’t all bad, was it?”
Buffy couldn’t help but grin a little. But she quickly shook it off. “How did we get on the topic of my ancient sex life, anyway?”
The levity in Faith’s expression fell away. “Well, it’s better than thinking about the alternative,” she said grimly.
Buffy reached out and gave Faith’s arm a reassuring squeeze. “We’ll get her,” she promised.
Faith sighed. “Yeah, sure,” she agreed, although not very convincingly. Then she hitched her thumb over her shoulder and said, “Look, I need to take care of a few things in my office, so…”
“Sooooo, lead the way,” Buffy said, not allowing Faith to wiggle out of an escort.
Faith rolled her eyes and walked away. “Talk about having your boss on your ass all day…” she grumbled, making Buffy grin.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Same Time
Dawn and Skye sat on the edge of the table, as a watchers team brought in various pieces of equipment.
“Thanks,” Jackson told the team, as they put the items they were holding on the table and then exited.
“So this is it, huh?” Skye asked, motioning to the surveillance equipment.
Jackson nodded as he held up one of the items. “This is the microphone, otherwise known as the wire. We’ll put this on your…chest area,” he said, bashfully looking at her bust. “Everything that’s said will be sent to this baby here,” he said, tapping a metallic box. “We’ll digitally record the conversation. You’ve got your safe word, right?”
“Yeah, but I don’t know how I can say the word ‘Rumpelstiltskin’ in a sentence that makes sense,” Skye replied.
Jackson shrugged. “Well, if it gets intense, just say the word. If you’ve got time to buy, then tell someone there you feel like Rumpelstiltskin – that the Council expects people to hand over their first-born children or something.” Skye rolled her eyes. “Hey, we needed a word you wouldn’t say out of the blue, okay?”
“Fine,” Skye sighed. “But Dawn’s still going to be in the field, right?”
“Right,” Rowena called from the doorway, making them look over toward her. “She’s your handler.”
“I like the sound of that. Wanna handle me, baby?” Skye asked Dawn.
“Get serious,” Rowena told her as she walked over. “We need information on the VOH, but we also need you to come out alive.”
“But I’m already dead,” Skye pointed out.
“You know what I mean,” Rowena replied. “If there are any problems, Dawn can protect you better than anyone. She’s impervious to anything they might do.”
“Again, advantages of immortality,” Dawn replied.
“Exactly,” Rowena told her. “But we’ll have a slayer squad on standby that Hadley will run. So that doesn’t mean you go all John Wayne and charge in on your own, all right?” Dawn just shrugged, and Rowena repeated, “All right?”
“Yes, all right,” Dawn agreed.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
Joan sat patiently in Dr. Miller’s consultation office while he retrieved the last of her test results. As he sat down, he groaned and grimaced noticeably while touching his back.
“You’ve been doing that all day,” Joan noted. “Have you been to see a doctor, Doctor?”
“As a matter of fact, I have,” he told his patient, “and it appears that I have a herniated disk. I will probably need surgery, but until then, I’ll have to make do with pain medication and the occasional steroid injection.”
“Shouldn’t you be in bed or something?”
“Actually, too much bed rest can be even more harmful than being up and about,” he explained. “As long as I move carefully, I can go about my normal duties.” He held up Joan’s chart. “Now…enough about me. Let’s see what these test results have to say, shall we?”
Ethan’s Apartment – Living Room – Afternoon
The ice cube in the glass of scotch had become nothing more than a sliver – bobbing, trying to stay afloat in the russet liquid.
Ethan stared vacantly out of the window. His eyes were not fixed on one particular point. It was gray outside. One could be forgiven for thinking it was much later than what it was, forgiven for thinking it later in the year than spring.
A heavy sigh escaped his lips, and without looking, he swirled the scotch only once and downed it, wincing as his throat warmed.
“Knock, knock,” a gentle, female voice echoed from behind.
The voice roused Ethan from his catatonic stupor. He shifted in his chair and glanced over his shoulder to find a very different Gwen standing in the doorway, wearing a demure smile.
“Gwen…I…” Ethan stood and placed the glass down on the table.
She seemed tiny without her ‘superhero costume.’ In its stead, she wore a simple white lace top and a pair of stone washed jeans. Her hair, while still bearing the punctuated red and cream stripes, was still wavy, but off her face, tied back in a long ponytail. Overall, she just looked softer.
“You look…I-I heard…that you…” He waved his hand at Gwen, at a loss for words.
“Oh, yeah, cool, huh?” she smiled as she flexed her muscles.
“Are you still…?” he asked, with a slight inclined brow.
Gwen nodded. “Yeah, but at will, thanks to…Will.” She rolled her eyes. “The Energizer Bunny’s been upgraded. Better. Stronger. Faster. Ya know, well, kinda,” she grinned. “I wanted to see you before, but Buffy said that you had taken some leave.”
“Yes,” Ethan’s smile faded. “I…I had to get away.”
“Yeah, no, totally,” Gwen agreed, before scanning the apartment and then raising a finger to point around the place. “Is Cameron…?”
After a beat, Ethan blinked. “No. No she’s…she’s out.”
Gwen bit her lip and tipped her head. “May I?”
“Yes, of course. Come in,” Ethan motioned her in and headed to the kitchen. “Can I get you anything?”
“No, I’m good, thanks,” she said as she closed the door behind her. “More of a fleeting visit. I’m working with Kennedy in Security while Robin’s Down Under. Plus, I’m avoiding that Kate Lockley chick who’s sniffing around. Let’s just say that we’re not the best of friends.”
She moved over to the window that Ethan had been staring out of previously. The light of the day made the view less than impressive. She turned and looked at the empty glass on the table beside the armchair. Gwen picked it up and lifted it to her nose before placing it back down with a sigh.
“I must say…” Ethan commented after putting the kettle on in the kitchen, “…you look,” he smiled rakishly, “…incredible.”
“I try to make an effort.” She patted her hair with a smirk.
“Well, you don’t need to. I’m thrilled for you, Gwen. I truly am…” He trailed off.
An awkward silence fell between them, and after a moment Gwen pouted and took a couple of steps forward. “Thanks, but…I didn’t come up here to show off my new look. I came to see how you are.”
“I’m…I’m all right.”
“Oh c’mon, Ethan. I know you.” She stopped in front of him and stared up at his eyes. “It’s Zachary, isn’t it?” He didn’t answer. “I read the report. To be honest, not what I was expecting. Did you…?”
“Kill him?” he asked with a nervous grin. “Now whatever made you think that?”
“Well, you,” Gwen said, her brow puckered in worry. “In the lab? You said you would.”
“So you think that I did. You read the report. You tell me.”
Gwen looked at him hard. He returned her look with an innocent smile. “You really loved him, didn’t you?” she asked.
“Despite everything, despite it all, he was like a son to me.” Ethan’s smile faded as he reached for the glass and the bottle of scotch. “But I-I couldn’t stop him, couldn’t change him. In the end, his own stupid incompetence and arrogance was what killed him.”
“Not to speak ill of the dead, but it’s what he deserved. He got his.”
He huffed out a laugh. “Ah. Someone as tactless as me. How refreshing.” He grinned at her.
“I’m sorry, Ethan. For you. I know you truly did love him.”
He nodded and cast his eyes to the floor.
Gwen held her stare and reached out, lacing her fingers through his. Ethan frowned and moved his eyes to their joined hands. He replied with a light squeeze and looked up to Gwen.
“If you need to talk, you know where I am.” Gwen gave him a bright smile and then tip-toed up and kissed him on the cheek.
She stepped back down and squeezed Ethan’s hand once more before walking away. When she had opened the door, she glanced back and gave Ethan another smile. He nodded and curled his lips. Once Gwen closed the door and left the apartment, his smile immediately vanished.
Watchers Council – Library – Same Time
Later that day, Buffy and Faith reported to the library where a research station and temporary command center of sorts had been set up. Rowena and Willow were in the back, working with several watchers and Coven members. Kate was near them, talking on her cell phone. Kennedy was at a long table, conferring with Mia and Casey over a set of floor plans of Council HQ.
“So, what’s the sitch?” Buffy called out to the group, drawing the others over.
“I’ve put the building on high alert, with extra measures being taken at all entrances and exits,” Kennedy answered. “And I’ve put a security team near Faith’s apartment.”
Before Faith could protest the latter, Willow walked up with a charm in her hands. It was a tiny, herb-filled bag with a leather string, designed to be worn like a necklace. She started to put it around Faith’s neck, but the brunette backed away.
“Oh no, I’m not wearing any of your smelly accessories,” Faith said.
“My charms do not smell!” Willow objected. “Not bad, anyway.” She gave it a sniff and held it out. “See?”
Faith took a reluctant whiff and, satisfied that its smell wasn’t offensive, she took it from Willow’s outstretched hand. “What’s it supposed to do?”
“It’ll protect you from most mind control spells,” Willow said.
“Oh.” Faith nodded in approval and put the charm around her neck.
“We’re also working on setting some special wards around the Council that are designed to do the same thing,” Willow went on. “Hopefully, they’ll short-circuit any magical sneakiness.”
“What about the locator spell?” Buffy asked. “Any luck?”
Willow shook her head. “Nope. Dead end.” She cringed at her own choice of words and glanced at Faith. “Sorry.” Faith shrugged it off.
Just then, Rowena walked up and joined the group. “Kate’s provided us with a full set of case files, and I’ve got a team of watchers going over them right now, hoping to see a pattern, a clue, something.”
“Good, that’s good,” Buffy said.
Faith hadn’t been listening closely to Rowena’s report. Instead, she’d been staring at Kate a few yards away. When Kate closed up her cell phone and started walking toward the group, Faith stepped over to meet her.
“I wanna see the last crime scene,” Faith told her.
“What?” Willow said in alarm.
“No way,” Kennedy added. “Unh-unh.”
Buffy looked intently at Faith as the brunette waited for Kate’s response.
“It might help,” Kate admitted. “Maybe you’ll see something we missed.”
“Or maybe you’ll be leading Faith right to the killer!” Kennedy objected.
“Now, just a damn minute…” Kate angrily responded, pointing a finger.
“Guys! Cool it!” Buffy yelled, as she snapped her cell phone closed. “We’re going. End of discussion.” She turned to Faith and Kate. “The jet’s being prepped. Let’s go.”
“Thanks,” Faith said simply.
As Willow and Kennedy stood there with their mouths hanging open in shock, Buffy gestured Faith and Kate on ahead and then followed behind them. After a few steps, she turned back to the now-pouting pair.
“Well? Are you coming?” she asked them.
Now realizing that they had been meant to go along, Willow and Kennedy hurried to join them. A loud throat-clearing from Rowena stopped Willow in her tracks. She turned and looked at her wife.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?” Rowena asked pointedly.
Willow smiled sheepishly, then rushed over to give Rowena a fervent kiss.
“That was, um…” Rowena cleared her throat again, this time out of necessity. “…good…great actually, but I was thinking of these.” She held up four of the charms.
Willow looked a bit embarrassed as she took the necklaces from Rowena’s hand. “Oh. Right. Good idea.”
Before Willow could dash away, Rowena pulled her in for another kiss. Then she told her, “Be careful.”
“I will,” the redhead promised. After a quick kiss to Rowena’s palm, Willow hurried away to rejoin the others. “Kiss the twins for me!”
Cleveland Hopkins International Airport – Day
Just as the Council Jet was roaring off the runway on its way to New York, Christabel was walking out of the terminal. As she stepped past the security check-in, she looked up and saw a huge sign spanning the top of the hallway.
It read, “Welcome to Cleveland, Home of the Watchers Council.”
A wicked smile crept slowly onto Christabel’s face.
End of Act Two