Watchers Council – Conference Room – Next Week – Day
December 23, 2022
Grace sat at the head of the table in the Council’s main conference room. A large video screen behind her was taken up by a couple of large faces of those attending the meeting via videoconferencing. Most of the rest of the current Council top brass sat around the table. Willow, Rowena, Shannon and Buffy were among the attendees. Emma and Liz both sat at the far end, each typing into their phones rather than noticing the other’s existence.
Grace cleared her throat before speaking. “So this is going to be what I’m gonna call the Box Lady Task Force. Feel free to workshop that. I know we’ve been both trying to have fewer formal meetings and less having all the top people working on everything.”
“Those of us with kids appreciate it,” Rowena put in. Shannon nodded.
Grace ignored her and went on, “But this seemed to me like an exception because, well, Box Lady is still out there, we can’t find her and it seems like her being here is kind of our fault?”
Liz raised her hand and lowered it before she spoke. “I mean, it was mostly the fault of the vampire cult that tried to raise her in the first place,” she put in. “Not to mention what’s-her-face slayer chick. Plus, box lady? Yeah, that does need to be workshopped because she sounds like a homeless woman bent on the world’s destruction. If anything, she’s a boxless lady, since that lancer, y’know, destroyed her box.” Then she noticed Rowena raising an eyebrow at her, while Grace just looked at her, expressionless. Liz blinked a few times. “Just saying.”
“I know you’ve all been working on this,” Grace said, “but I thought it might help to have some fresh eyes because so far we’ve been going in circles.” Grace motioned to the screen behind her. “So that’s why I’ve asked Althenea Dimmons in London and Amira Aziz in Berlin to Zoom in, see if they might see something we’ve been missing.”
Willow and Althenea exchanged an enthusiastic wave. Rowena produced a cockeyed grin at this.
“Hello,” Amira said. “Can you all hear me?”
“We can hear you,” Emma supplied helpfully.
Grace scrolled down quickly on a tablet in front of her then said, “Okay, so if we can just do a quick summary, bring the noobs up to speed? What do we know?”
“Well,” Rowena began, “we know that she is likely the oldest vampire any of us have ever met. According to what Dawn translated from those Axumite fragments, she’s the First Vampire King of Abyssinia.”
“King?” Shannon asked, one eyebrow raised.
Rowena shrugged, but Althenea commented from her screen, “It makes sense, actually. Power structures at that time were so exclusively male that there likely was not a separate word for a female ruler. Even as a vampire, that this woman was able to hold and keep power was an extraordinary feat.”
“She’s a trailblazer, really,” Emma commented. “And now there are no dudes in this room.” She turned her head to speak softly to Liz. “We need more dudes.”
“Do we?” Liz responded skeptically.
“We also know,” Buffy said, her tone indicating her desperation to get matters back on track, “that Alex set her on fire and, uh, that did not work.”
“Also I punched her, and it was kind of like punching a brick,” Emma said. “Except when I punch bricks they usually crumble.”
“All important points,” Grace said, “but I’m looking more for next steps here. Unless Box Lady got cable inside the box, it seems like she’d be pretty out of the loop here. There’s no way she’d be able to keep things this low pro. You’re telling me we haven’t heard anything?”
“There’s been all these disappearances around town,” Shannon offered. “Like way above the usual numbers. We just haven’t caught one in progress, but…I’m thinking, not a coincidence.”
“Only two things I don’t believe in, coincidence and leprechauns,” Buffy said. “I hate to say it, but the other thing that tells us is, nobody’s gotten away.”
“She’s batting a thousand,” Shannon commented.
“Assuming that means she’s a badass, then yes,” Grace agreed. “Which brings us to the other thing. When we find her, what do we do about it?”
“I know this one,” Emma said with a grin. “Slay the heck out of her.”
At this, the previously quiet Willow spoke up. “The fact that she was in the box instead of super dusty implies somebody tried that however many millennia ago and, y’know, didn’t go great. So I’m thinking our best bet is going to be to contain her again.”
Liz raised her hand again at the far end of the table. Grace just looked at her with a slight nod. “So, uh, not to be Debbie Downer here, but, again, the box she was in got pretty, y’know, smushed. She’s boxless, so how’s that gonna work, magic folks?”
“We’ll definitely need a new containment vessel,” Willow agreed, “and to know what kind, we’d need to know what spell whoever put her in there used in the first place. And since she seems to be literally older than writing, I don’t see how we’re going to do that.”
“Well,” Rowena offered, “I’ve had Liz researching the language the King was speaking at the museum, that seemed like step one.”
Liz caught Rowena’s look and swallowed. “So yeah, I think I’ve got it narrowed down to a couple of language families from the region. I’ve been over and over the video, and it’s just not that big a sample. I could probably make an educated guess based on the region where the box was found and some other factors, but it’s not only going to be some African language none of us know, it’s going to be the super-ancient version of that language.”
“I can speak all these languages,” Grace commented thoughtfully, “but none of them are African. Does that mean I’m racist?”
“Probably,” Shannon said, her face not betraying whether she was joking. “Look, it sounds like Liz knows what she’s doing here and that’s great, but it also sounds like we’re pretty screwed. Without the spell, we’re just sending slayers in and hoping for the best. I don’t like it.”
“Well, neither do I,” Grace agreed, “but we’ll jump off that bridge when we come to it. Rowena, Liz, keep on it, pull in whoever you need for this. Get more eyes on the museum photos of the box in its pre-broken state. Maybe we’ll find a clue. Willow, see what you can do about the box…”
“Like what?” Willow asked. “Last I checked, they don’t sell Ancient Vampire Trapping Boxes at Target. Not with the supply chain like it is, at least.”
Grace sighed. “I don’t know, talk to Dimmons, you guys like each other.” Willow and Althenea exchanged another wave. “We’ll get back together tomorrow at the same time.”
As she started to get up, Liz turned to Emma. “Is that it? I’ve gotta get to work.”
Emma blinked at her. “This isn’t work?”
Liz sighed. “Sadly, no.”
“I think you all froze,” Amira said from the screen on the wall. “Or maybe I froze? There’s a lady in a box?”
Watchers Council – Buffy & Xander’s Apartment – Later that Evening
Buffy opened her front door to find Emma holding up a clear glass jar filled with a swirl of red and yellow.
“I brought you more kimchi,” the girl said. “From the new batch.”
She took a step into the apartment and handed the jar to Buffy, who regarded it slightly warily. She walked back toward the kitchen with the jar and called over her shoulder, “I’ll just get this to Xander, I’m sure it’ll go great with his…spaghetti.”
Emma rolled her eyes behind Buffy’s back. “You guys don’t have to eat it if you’re too, y’know, white,” she said as she followed her into the apartment. “I just figured, y’know, I hang out here a lot, and Cindy was complaining that I’m taking up the whole top of the fridge with these things.”
“Yeah, roommates are hard,” Buffy agreed. She put the jar down on the kitchen island. “Did I ever tell you about the time my college roommate tried to suck my soul out in my sleep?”
“I’m sure you have,” Xander said, turning from the large pot of spaghetti that he had been stirring on top of the stove. “And some of us like kimchi.”
“I like kimchi!” Buffy said defensively. “I just, y’know…I’m still learning what it goes with.”
“Everything,” Emma told her. “You eat it with everything.”
Xander spun the spice rack on the counter, absent-mindedly looking for something specific. As he did so, he asked, “So, I heard you debuted a new creation the other week. How’d that go?” He pulled out the paprika triumphantly.
“You mean Jung Kook?” Emma replied. She opened a cabinet and began rummaging. “Yeah, he’s good. Took out several vamps in his debut. Big success all around.” After a moment, she pulled out a bag of sweet chili flavored potato chips, but Buffy intercepted this almost immediately.
“You’ll ruin your dinner,” she said. Emma rolled her eyes, her mouth already full of chips.
“Jung Kook?” Buffy continued as she put the bag back in the cabinet. “That’s what you named your bat thing?”
Emma nodded absently as she sank onto one of the stools surrounding the kitchen island.
“Does that mean something in Korean?” Buffy asked seriously.
Emma raised an incredulous eyebrow then burst out laughing. “He’s from BTS,” she eventually managed. “You know, the cute one.”
Xander turned to his wife, gesturing with the large spoon in one of his hands. “Yeah, Buff, I mean…it’s obvious.” His tone indicated that he hadn’t known who that was, either.
Buffy shot him a look, but then seemed confused as she turned back to Emma. “Wait, I thought you hated BTS?”
“I do,” Emma told her. “It’s ironic. Obvi.”
“Obvi, Buff,” Xander agreed. The look she gave him threatened to melt the spoon he was holding, so he turned back to the spaghetti. “You know, Em, I’ve seen you in the shop, working on stuff. I’d be happy to show you a few things, if you want.” He didn’t get a response and looked back over his shoulder.
“Yeah, sounds good,” Emma said, but she was looking at her phone, her tone indicating she wasn’t really listening. She looked up at Buffy after a second. “Hey, we still on for our usual Thursday night?”
“Wouldn’t miss it,” Buffy said, smiling. Xander looked over at her but said nothing.
Emma put both her elbows on the island and used her hands to support her chin, her phone temporarily forgotten. “You were talking about your college roommate?”
“Oh, yeah,” Buffy said, “I was having these crazy dreams with, like, scorpions and blood, and my roommate, Kathy, she wrote her name on each individual egg in the refrigerator. Who does that?”
“You may be picking up on some residual loss-of-soul issues,” Xander commented from his position over the spaghetti.
“She was literally a demon!” Buffy protested. “If you guys had just let me slay her…”
“I thought she was just running away from her demon dad or whatever,” Emma commented. “Not really a slay-worthy offense.”
Buffy put her hands on her hips. “You have heard this one before.”
Emma just shrugged sheepishly. “Yeah, kinda. You know I just like to hear your stories. They’re so much cooler than mine.” She sighed and just ran a hand through her multi-colored hair. “The worst thing that Cindy ever does is bring guys home when I have an exam in the morning. She is loud. I mean, it’s not like I’ve never…but she must be doing something different, because some of the noises she makes –”
That was when the baby monitor sitting in the center of the kitchen island sputtered to life with what quickly became the piercing sound of crying.
“Saved by the Joyce.” Xander put the spoon down and started to wipe his hands off on a kitchen towel, but Buffy put her hand up and said, “I’ve got it, you’re busy.”
Emma watched her go, an unreadable look on her face, then went back to her phone.
Watchers Council – Buffy & Xander’s Apartment – Later that Evening
“I’m just not happy with the last part of that move,” Emma said as she walked toward the front door of the apartment.
Buffy followed behind her, holding baby Joyce against her shoulder. “We’ll work on it in the morning,” she said. “The power comes from the foot plant.”
“Yeah, okay,” Emma said. She turned around to look at her watcher, then extended an arm to half-hug Buffy on the side away from Joyce. Buffy leaned into the hug awkwardly. A moment later, she squeaked, squeezed a little too much by Emma’s casual embrace.
“Sorry,” Emma told her sheepishly. She gave a small wave. “See you in the morning, Summers.” Then she exited, closing the front door behind her.
“Watching you on the receiving end of slayer hugs just never gets old.”
Buffy turned around to see Xander standing in the doorway to their dining room, arms folded across his chest.
“So glad I can entertain you,” she said, rocking Joyce softly in her arms.
“You know, I told you that I’m overseeing spot checks on Thursday night, so I need you to watch Joyce,” he said flatly.
Buffy walked over to their couch, still cradling the baby. “And you know that Thursdays are when Emma and I patrol together. It’s important,” she replied casually. “And we live in, like, the land of the babysitters.”
“Buff!” Xander raised his voice a little, and she snapped her head up toward him. “I don’t want our daughter getting raised by other people.”
She blinked. “How did we get from one thing to the other thing there?”
“I just…” he sighed and sank down on the couch next to Buffy and Joyce. “You know that my parents – how should I put this? – did a spectacularly crappy job, pretty much full time. And now, here I am, kid of my own, and it’s like I’ve got a chance to, y’know, break the cycle.”
“Xan,” she said quietly, “that is very sweet, but one, you’re not your dad. You’ll never be your dad. Two, you’ve gotta remember, this isn’t my first rodeo. I took care of Dawn for a long time after our mom died, and what I learned is that there is such a thing as holding on too tight.”
“Buff, Dawn was –”
“If you say ‘not really my sister,’ I swear to God, I won’t need slayer strength to rip –”
“I was going to say ‘a teenager’,” Xander finished, holding up his hands defensively. “Not, y’know, a baby. I just…I don’t want us to just go on with business as usual, and at some point, that’s going to conflict with the slaying and the watching.”
Buffy looked at him for a long moment. “Xander, I have a duty here. I’ve had a duty most of my life. I’ve been balancing my duty and my family that whole time.”
“I just want you to remember,” he said quietly, “which one of those Emma falls under.”
She scoffed. “I know Emma isn’t my daughter.”
“Tell that to her, Buff,” he replied. “I mean, the girl came back early from winter break, as far as I can tell, because she’d rather hang with you than her own family. You know better than I do that watcher/slayer stuff is…at some point, you guys have gotta figure some stuff out.”
Buffy said nothing, instead staring down at Joyce as she rocked her in her arms.
Suburban Home – Living Room – Night
December 31, 2022
The lights in the home weren’t overpoweringly bright, but it wasn’t so dim that you couldn’t clearly see. It was a casual setting, with music playing continuously through each area of the home. At the moment, the system played what sounded like a young woman doing a cover of Taylor Swift’s “Anti-Hero”. The smallish crowd was mostly human in nature, but there were a few friendly demons as well.
In the living room, Buffy stood in a circle with her slayer Emma, her husband Xander, her former watcher Giles and his wife Becca, along with her best friend Willow and her wife Rowena. They weren’t in formal wear, but were wearing what looked like more business casual attire.
“And you won’t believe what this one said just before she left.” Buffy pitched a thumb toward Emma, who just grinned and shrugged. “‘If the apocalypse comes, text me.’ Can you believe that?”
In the small circle near the foyer, no one said a word for three full seconds. Then Xander and Willow burst out laughing, but Giles’s chuckle was the loudest of the trio by far. Becca and Rowena looked at each other, missing the humor.
“How is that funny?” Buffy asked them.
“Buffy, you said the same thing to Giles when he was your watcher,” Willow giggled.
“I did not,” she countered.
“You did so,” Willow shot back. She turned to Xander. “We were there. She said, ‘If the apocalypse comes, text me’ or something like that. Remember? She wanted to go out with that guy…uh…Ollie?”
“Owen,” Xander answered, and Willow snapped her fingers and pointed. “But Buff’s right,” Xander told the circle. “She didn’t tell him to text her.”
“Thank you,” Buffy replied as she wrapped her arm around his.
“It was ‘beep,'” he finished.
“What?” Buffy asked, dropping Xander’s arm like it was on fire.
“There was no texting then. You told Giles to beep you and showed him your pager.”
“You’re so old, Summers.” Now it was Emma’s turn to laugh, and when Buffy waved her finger and said, “You hush,” it only made Emma laugh more.
Giles put his arm around Emma, letting his hand rest on her shoulder. “Yes you can believe in instant Karma,” Giles told the gathering. “But you always wonder if you’ll live long enough to witness it. Thank you, Emma. It took six years of Buffy being your watcher, but thank you very much.”
“Okay, I gotta ask,” Buffy said, turning to Giles, “how did stuffy old Rupert Giles reach this teen slayer extraordinaire? I need your secrets.”
He chuckled again. “Old Rupert Giles, is it? You do realize I was only one year older than you are now when we first met?”
“That’s not true!” Buffy looked around the group, who were busy looking anywhere but the two of them. For her part, Willow was moving her fingers and lips silently, as if doing math in her head.
“He’s right,” Willow laughed after a moment. “You’re practically the same age as…well, Giles…y’know, back in the day.”
“Looks like you’re the stuffy old watcher now,” Emma remarked.
Giles Home – Outside Front Door – Night – Same Time
From the lights and the sounds, the party was in full swing. From the other side of the door, a muffled cover of “Bad Guy” by Billie Eilish could be heard. A well-manicured woman’s hand reached up and hesitated before pressing the doorbell.
Giles Home – Living Room – Same Time
The gathering chuckled and, although she grinned, Buffy said, “You’re not funny. None of you are funny.” The doorbell rang, and Buffy raised her finger and began to walk to the door. “I’ll get that while you all laugh at my expense.”
“They will,” Becca and Rowena both said at the same time. Then they both started to chuckle.
Giles Home – Front Door – Night – Moments Later
When Buffy opened the front door and saw who was outside, her face lit up in a genuine smile.
“Hey, B,” Faith greeted her from the other side of the threshold. “How’ve you been?”
“Good. I’m glad you made it. You look great,” Buffy said sincerely. “Come in.”
Buffy opened the door wider and motioned for Faith to come inside and close the door behind her. Faith did as she was instructed, but her face still conveyed some reservation.
Buffy had already begun to walk deeper into the home as she spoke, “Becca said she didn’t get an RSVP from you, so we weren’t sure if you were going to make it or not. But we’re glad you’re here.”
“Angel keeps me pretty busy,” Faith remarked as she followed. “But the world doesn’t appear to be ending this week, so I figured, what the heck. Besides, I’m just trying to keep the promise we made years ago. Y’know, always making sure to return to Cleveland for New Year’s Eve? I wish I got back here more often, to be honest.”
“You’re here now, so that’s all that matters,” Buffy said with a smile. A caterer walked by with a silver serving platter of champagne glasses. Buffy took two of them and motioned to see if Faith would like one.
“Thank you,” the dark-haired woman said as she took the offered beverage.
Buffy raised her glass and said, “Here’s to 2023.” They clinked their glasses together before taking a drink.
Unseen by them, Kadin Van Helsing moved around the gathering of people. In her hand, she held two champagne flutes as she made her way to another small gathering in an alcove in the den.
As she moved through the human traffic, Kadin approached Robin Wood, along with a very pregnant Kennedy, who were talking amongst themselves with slight smiles on their faces. She extended the right glass to Kennedy and said, “Sparkling cider for you.”
Before Kennedy had a chance to thank her wife for the drink, Kadin took the champagne glass and held it out for Robin.
“No thank you. I’ll pass,” he said.
After a beat, Kadin, glass still extended toward him, simply said, “Faith just got here.”
He paused for a moment, then, without saying a word, took the glass from Kadin and immediately downed it.
Both women grinned.
Kennedy motioned to the empty glass. “Would you like her to get you another one?” she asked. “Actually, have another one for me since I can’t drink right now.”
Robin grinned and said, “I would, but I have to drive Nikki home. Someone has to be the responsible parent at this party.”
“True,” Kennedy commended him. “A little responsibility goes a long way. So few people realize that today.”
Kadin waved her hands for a brief moment. “Now, now. In the spirit of the holidays, we’re all going to get along.”
“She left us,” Kennedy remarked. “Not the other way around.”
“She moved,” Kadin countered. “She just doesn’t live here, but we do see her.”
Kennedy shook her head. “Sure. When it fits her schedule and it’s convenient for her. It’s always about her.”
“Well,” Robin began, trying to sound neutral, “even if it feels tense now and then, I am grateful she shows up.” Kennedy started to roll her eyes, but then stopped herself. “Seriously,” he continued, “I’m glad she wants to see Nikki and acknowledges her. Same with Norman and his little boy, Kelvin.”
“I’ll give you that,” Kennedy replied, “and truth be told, I wish…” She paused, thinking about what she wanted to say next. “I wish we were enough for her and that she’d stay.”
“Ken,” Kadin sighed sympathetically.
“I concur,” Robin agreed. “Not for my benefit, but for Nikki. It’s like you said, though, this is about her, Kennedy; not us. There’s nothing we can do. We did nothing wrong.” He took a deep breath and blew it out slowly before handing his glass to Kadin. “I’m going to bite the bullet and find her first.” He gave them a nod and departed with a polite “Ladies.”
They watched him walk away, and then Kadin turned to Kennedy. “Try not to get upset,” she said as she began to run a hand over Kennedy’s protruding belly. “Especially now.”
“It hurts to see her,” Kennedy said without reservation. “Can I admit that?”
“Absolutely. You can always tell me anything.”
“She’s usually here long enough to grow on me again, and then…she’s gone. I think about what was and what it could be, you know? Her grandson Kelvin is just a little older than this one will be,” Kennedy said, putting her hand over Kadin’s as it rested on her stomach. “Maybe they could grow up together, be best friends, like she and I used to be. We’d drink iced tea in the summer and watch them playing in the backyard kiddy pool with Marsha.”
“That dragon does like the pool,” Kadin offered.
“Right? But I know that will never happen. And I know I got this stupid image of besties hanging out in suburban bliss in my head – okay, I know we still live in a cabin in the woods and not in the ‘burbs, but you know what I mean.”
“I do. But if Norm and Shannon stay,” Kadin said, “and there’s nothing to indicate they plan to leave, it very well could still happen.”
“Yeah,” Kennedy said, considering Kadin’s words. “Yeah, it could.”
She didn’t appear convinced, so Kadin gave her a sympathetic grin and added, “But it’s just not the same, is it?”
Kennedy, seemingly not trusting her voice, only nodded. Kadin cupped her cheeks and gave her a soft kiss.
Giles Home – Basement – Same Time
“How do you pull out a uterus with your thumbs?” Liz asked. She then proceeded to hold her hands up and make a motion like she was trying to do just that.
The third generation of the new Council laughed as they sat in the basement. A cover of Imagine Dragons’ “Bones” played in the background. One area was constructed as a living area, where they were all seated, and the other side was walled off as a recording studio. Jen and Alex were seated next to their siblings, eight-year-old Jake and seven-year-old Sophie. Across from them were Liz, her brother Martin at sixteen, and thirteen-year-old Nikki Wood.
“I don’t know why I said it – it was nonsense,” Jen replied with a chuckle. “I was angry, okay? Don’t be a c…see you next Tuesday,” she added, trying to censor herself in front of the younger kids.
“What’s a uterus?” Sophie asked. The seven-year-old blushed when the others in the room began to chuckle, including her only slightly older brother, Jake. She turned to him and proclaimed in an annoyed tone, “If you’re so smart, tell me what it is.”
Jake stopped smiling and looked worried.
“It’s, uh,” Liz began and then stopped. It seemed as though she was thinking of the best way to try to explain it so the youngest Rosenbergs could understand. “It’s like a sac in a woman’s belly area where babies grow.”
“So Aunt Ken’s baby is in her uterus and not her stomach?” Sophie asked.
“Yep,” Liz replied.
Sophie turned to her sister with genuine curiosity. “You were so mad you were gonna rip out someone’s baby sac?”
Everybody roared with laughter.
“What?” Sophie complained, “You said it was a sac that grows babies. A baby sac!”
“And you’re exactly right,” Liz commended her. She turned to Jen. “Don’t laugh at her, you baby sac ripper!”
Everyone laughed again, including Jen, but Jake asked, “Did she have a baby in the sac that Jen wanted to rip out? ‘Cause that’s mean.”
Jen held up her hands and said, “I didn’t rip sacs or babies or babies in sacs, sheesh.”
“How do babies get in the sacs?” Sophie asked. The teenagers all looked at each other. At the end of the sofa, Nikki blushed but stayed silent. The teens all slowly turned to Liz as if hoping she’d field that question. The eldest and de facto leader squared her shoulders and took a deep breath.
“Let’s see, umm, well, when a girl and a boy love each other…or just want to have fun…” She then started to mumble, “which is way more fun for the guy than the girl from my experience…” Liz shook her head to get back on track. “Anyway, the point is they…share a special hug…and then nine months later a baby arrives.”
Sophie and Jake seemed to consider her words. Sophie asked, “Do they cut the sac to get the baby out?” Jake nodded as if that was a good question, and they both looked to Liz for an answer.
Again, four sets of eyes fell on Liz. She rolled her shoulders again and asked, “Anyone else wanna jump in here…anybody…any second now –”
“Sometimes they do, and sometimes they don’t,” Martin said. “But here’s an idea,” he said quickly, trying to change the subject. “Have you two been practicing that Eurythmics song that my mom likes?”
“We have!” Jake said excitedly.
“Yes!” Liz said, half in relief and half in genuine excitement.
Jen lightly slapped Alex on the side of his arm. “When Becca said she had a Eurythmics tune, I’m thinkin’, ‘Cool. Synth-pop. Something for the keyboardist’.” She pointed both thumbs at herself. “Boy, was I mistaken.”
“Stop,” Liz told her. “There are keyboards in this one.”
Jen harrumphed and rolled her eyes.
“They’re not red button worthy yet,” Alex warned Martin as he waved to his younger siblings, “but they sound better and better every week. Jake’s further along on the trumpet. Maybe a couple more weeks and then we’re all ready for studio time.”
“How ’bout this?” Liz suggested. “We practice a few times and then do it live for the fogies upstairs?”
“I’m in,” Jen answered. “While I do like hearing some of our better covers over the home system tonight, a live broadcast could be…kickass.”
Liz smiled and asked, “Should we go up on the roof and play ‘Get Back’ too?” Jen looked excited at the prospect. “I’m kidding.” The slayer then gave her a fake pout as the group started to fracture and make their way to the instruments.
“It was good enough for Paul and John,” Jen countered.
“You’re not Paul. I’m not John.” Liz looked over at Martin getting his drum set in order. “He’s not Ringo,” she said, with a wave toward her brother. Almost as if on cue, he dropped his sticks, making a cymbal crash. “Okay, maybe he’s Ringo, but still…no rooftops. You know I hate heights.”
“Are we going to play in front of everyone?” Sophie asked the two teens nervously as she pulled out her alto sax.
“I’m with short stuff here,” Nikki added. “I’m not really musical, and I don’t play an instrument. So I’ll tell you straight up, no one’s gonna wanna see me.”
“The sound system plays throughout the house when we flip the switch,” Liz replied with a hand motion. “But no one will see you play.” Noticing they still appeared reluctant, she asked, “Have you ever heard someone say, ‘A coward dies a thousand deaths, but a brave person dies only once’?” Sophie shook her head. “It means you need to be brave, even if you’re scared, because if not, you’ll miss out on a lot in life. So, I say to myself, ‘Liz, are you going to get hurt or hurt someone if you do something?’ If I’m not hurting anyone, and I’m scared, I’ll do the thing I’m nervous about. I’ll take the chance, and I’m glad most times. That sardine and peanut butter sandwich Martin dared me to eat when we were eleven and ten…not so much. So ask yourself, will you hurt yourself or someone else by making music with us tonight? If the answer is no, then ask yourself, do you want to miss out on possible fun by saying no?” Liz leaned closer and spoke just above a whisper, almost conspiratorially, “I like to do the fun stuff even if I get butterflies, but that’s me. You do what you feel is right for you two, no matter what anyone else thinks or says. Okay?”
Sophie smiled and held up her reed before putting it in her mouth, showing she was getting ready to play.
“Fire!” Liz told her.
Nikki didn’t seem entirely convinced, her eyes still shifting around the room. Jen noticed.
“Hey, Nikki,” she said, “I need help with backing vocals. I’ll program the words, so it comes up like karaoke. You sing the words – honestly, there’s not much to remember. If you want to do it with me, I’d appreciate your help, but like Liz said, only if you’re comfortable. You can say no thanks at any time, so if you try and then change your mind, no worries. It’s a no pressure zone down here – it’s a place to de-stress, not create more.”
“So, you’ll show me first?” Nikki asked tentatively.
“Facts,” Jen told her. She motioned her over and pulled out some headphones. “Give the song a listen and tell us what you think. I think it’s a banger. Don’t tell anybody, but I’m glad Aunt Becca makes us learn a new song from every Rock Hall inductee each year. On this one, the backup singers actually open the song, so the first part will just be us singing.” As Nikkie put on the headphones, Jen tapped a few things on her smartphone. After a few seconds, the song started, and Nikki began to bob her head.
Giles Home – Kitchen – Same Time
PR Director Jim Pollan was standing next to his husband, pouring more wine into his glass. He looked over and noticed a man and woman smiling and did a double take. Immediately, he smiled.
“Hey,” Jim said to the pair. He motioned his husband to follow as he moved closer.
“Hey, Jim,” Andrew said. “Hey, Ricardo,” he added warmly. Tracey smiled and just waved.
“How’ve you been?” Jim asked with a grin. “Hollywood’s keeping you busy, it seems.” Not waiting for his reply, Jim leaned over and gave Tracey a kiss on the cheek. “Beautiful as ever,” he told her. She promptly blushed at the compliment.
“Always the spin doctor,” Tracey remarked with a smile.
Andrew grinned. “We both have remarkably beautiful spouses, don’t we?” he said to Jim, with a motion to Ricardo. “What do you say, Ric? You could be in pictures, as we say.”
“La La Land isn’t for me,” Ricardo answered with a grin. “But thanks for the offer. I’m happy chasing a kindergartener around and keeping this guy out of trouble.”
“He succeeds splendidly at one of these tasks,” Jim replied. “As for which one, I’ll say that trouble seems to find me at every turn.”
“Yeah, we heard about the museum,” Tracey said sympathetically.
“Yes, we made national news,” Jim replied. “Unfortunately.”
“You handled it with finesse,” she assured him. “I’m just glad everyone was okay in the end.”
“So how are your days spent? Still teaching?” Ricardo asked Tracey.
“Yep, still teaching at the LA Council Branch, where Mr. Head Priest here looks after the Coven, when he’s not on set.”
“I’m telling you, Ric,” Andrew remarked. “You could be a sexy Latin vampire king.” The three of them chuckled, but Andrew didn’t. “I’m dead serious. Look at him. Who wouldn’t want to get bit by him?”
“I’ll second that,” Jim said as Ric leaned over and sucked on his neck. “Honey, save the cosplay for home,” he teased.
All four of them laughed.
“Hey, if you guys are feeling bold, I say we go down to the basement,” Andrew suggested.
Jim raised an eyebrow. “Are you coming on to us? I have to be honest, after seeing Tracey tonight…nobody’s that gay.”
Tracey laughed and blushed harder than before.
“Nooooo,” Andrew replied. “Welllll,” he looked upward, as if contemplating the idea before shaking it off. “No. I suggested that because rumor has it it’s an AV paradise down there. I’d love to play…I mean check out that system the mini-Gileses created.”
“Sorry, Dear,” Tracey told her husband. “You need to stay up here with the grownups.”
“Adulting sucks. I wanna play,” he whined.
Everyone chuckled as Andrew grinned.
Giles Home – Basement – Same Time
Liz was tuning her guitar as she asked Jen and Alex, “You’re gonna keep me company Monday, right?”
Jen thought for a moment. “Sure, I don’t see why not. I’m not on patrol. We could take the bikes up.”
Alex seemed concerned. “I don’t know about that. They’re not street legal, and Mom said –”
Jen started to mimic her brother, “‘Mom said, mom said, mom said.’ He’ll throw a fireball at an ancient vamp, but he’s afraid of a five-foot-three woman.”
Liz chuckled while Alex paused. “I don’t have to live with the vamp,” he finally said.
“Ha! He’s got a point,” Liz replied.
Jen just shook her head. “Don’t worry. We’ll be there,” she told her.
“I just –” Alex started to say, but Jen cut him off with a stern look.
“I’ll be there,” she said again. “Him too, if he can get his tighty-whities unclenched enough.”
“You’re not bullying me into going,” Alex asserted.
Jen started to make a chicken noise.
“Real mature, Sis,” he said, walking away.
Liz and Jen just smiled at each other.
Giles Home – Living Room – Same Time
The sound system began to play a song, and Rowena suddenly went white as a sheet, swallowing hard. She could hear her daughter singing, of that she was certain.
Smash Cut To:
Endless Sound Karaoke – May 2007
An MC in a flashy suit stood on the stage, speaking into a microphone.
“Gesuto bi tokobetsu ga Amerika-jin desu.”
Subtitle: “And now, all the way from America, we have a special guest.”
“Anata wa kanojo o shirai ni naru, to mo imasu.”
Subtitle: “I think some of you may recognize her.”
“Hakusu suatte ni Rowena!”
Subtitle: “Put your hands together for Rowena!”
Rowena strode out and sat on a stool in the center of the stage. She picked up the microphone and looked briefly like she was inspecting it. Then she looked up at the TV screen in front of her.
Below this on the screen, numbers were counting down: “5, 4, 3…”
Rowena noticed a barely perceptible line on the stage. It was a circle, completely surrounding the stool she was sitting in. She opened her mouth and looked back up at the screen. But the lyrics didn’t come up.
Instead, the screen now read, “Hello, Rowena. It’s Heli. As you’re probably realizing, this was a trap. I don’t particularly want to kill you, but I will if I have to.” The words slowly changed from yellow to white in sequence.
The room was quiet except for the chords blaring from the speaker. The bar watched as Rowena sat under a spotlight, her mouth open.
“Now that’s what I call choking,” Skye called from the bar.
The words continued to play across the screen. “You might see a circle on the stage surrounding your chair. If you cross that line, you will receive a powerful, fatal electric shock. You just sit tight until further notice.”
“Guys, um…problem!” Rowena said into the microphone. Nozomi immediately ran up onto the stage, but Rowena motioned for her to stay back. “No!” Nozomi came up short when she saw the message on the screen.
“And by the way,” the screen continued, “I just want to thank you, Rowena, for having such predictable taste in music. Bland without fail, I’m sure.”
Nozomi started yelling in Japanese. The customers of the club began to murmur at the scene. Several other girls emerged from other parts of the club. Nozomi herself hopped off the stage and ran over to the bartender.
As Skye watched Rowena sitting shocked on the stage, as well as the animated conversation between Nozomi and the bartender, she sighed.
“I knew karaoke was evil,” she said to no one in particular.
Smash Cut To:
Giles Home – Living Room – Present Day
“You okay?” Willow asked.
Rowena turned quickly toward her, as if she didn’t know how much time had just passed.
“Uhh, yeah. I-I was just trying to remember the name of this song,” she lied.
The dark-haired Skye, still looking young as ever, cast her a knowing glance and walked over as she began to sing along. “When darkness turns to light. It ends tonight. It ends tonight…All-American Rejects,” she added. “Your daughter is good, but you sang it much better, Ro.”
Willow looked between the two women in confusion. “What?”
“I don’t know what you mean,” Rowena replied, looking annoyed with Skye.
“Oh I’m mistaken then? It wasn’t the song you sang to kill time when that psycho Heli trapped you with a bomb on a karaoke stage in Tokyo? Must have been some other watcher. It’s hard to tell you guys apart.”
“Nobody likes a smartass, Sweetheart,” Dawn said, as she walked up catching the tail end of the conversation. She also still looked as if she was in her early twenties.
“You didn’t even hear what I said,” Skye challenged.
“Was she being a smartass?” Dawn asked.
“Yes,” Rowena and Willow answered at the same time.
Skye just laughed. “You know me so well,” she complimented Dawn.
“Behave, or they might stake your vamp ass,” Dawn warned.
“You’d protect me,” Skye told her girlfriend.
“You seem pretty confident,” Willow remarked to the vampire.
“Of course,” she said, then turned back to Dawn, “Where are you going to find another immortal this hot to spend eternity with you?”
“She is pretty hot,” Dawn admitted.
“Damn right,” Skye replied.
Becca walked up and teased, “The things you lesbians will put up with for a fine piece of ass is beyond me.”
As the older woman smiled, the four of them all seemed to shrug and nod in agreement at the same time.
“But I’m not a lesbian,” Rowena countered.
They all chuckled, especially Willow. “You sure fooled me the last two decades,” she said.
“Men have their appeal,” Rowena answered.
Becca raised her glass and motioned it toward Rowena. “I’ll drink to that,” she toasted.
Giles Home – Living Room – Same Time
“I have to admit, Xander Harris, you make beautiful children,” Faith said as she handed back Xander his phone.
“I think their moms can take most of the credit.”
“B showed me a picture of little Joyce last month. How’s fatherhood treating you?”
“I didn’t think I could enjoy something this much. Sure, I’ve been around babies for pretty much the last sixteen years in some capacity. But this time it’s different.”
“I can understand that.”
“It’s not that I don’t love the other kids. Because I adore them and I’ll always look out for their well-being. But this time, it feels like she’s…”
“Yours,” Faith finished. He grinned and nodded. “I felt the same way about Norman and Nikki – love them both to pieces, but it’s a different love. Not better or worse, more or less, just different.”
Faith felt someone put their hands on her upper arms, and she turned slightly to see the man behind her. “Nice to know Mom loves me.”
Faith smiled and turned so she could give Norman a hug. Just behind him stood Shannon, and Faith moved over to hug her as well.
“Just get in?” Shannon asked.
“Yeah, I’ll be here for a few days, at least. Where’s that grandbaby?”
“Kelvin’s at the slayer dorms. Safest place on the planet,” Shannon said.
Norman nodded. “Nikki is downstairs if you want to see her.”
“Later,” she said, “I wanted to find Robin first and –”
“Look no further,” she heard from the side. She turned and watched him approach.
“Hey, Ace,” she said as she walked over and pulled him into a hug. She briefly closed her eyes and tightened her hold for just a second before she pulled away.
Xander motioned for Norman and Shannon to quietly follow him, leaving the pair alone. The sound system started to play an acoustic version of “Stitches,” featuring Liz and Alex on vocals.
“How’ve you been?” Faith asked her ex-husband.
“Can’t complain. You?” he asked diplomatically.
“Okay. I’m looking forward to spending a little more time on this trip if I can. I’d like to take Nikki for a few days, if you’re okay with that.”
“That’s up to her,” Robin replied. “But I don’t have an issue if she doesn’t.”
Faith nodded. “How’s she doing?”
Robin had a melancholy grin. “Aside from teenage angst and growing hormones, she’s good most days.”
“I miss her,” Faith confessed. “I miss…this.” She motioned slightly around them. At first, Robin didn’t seem to know how to respond to the admission, so he said nothing and let the uncomfortable silence fill the space. “I’d like to see her tonight, but I don’t want to bother her,” Faith added after the brief pause.
“I think she’d be more hurt if you didn’t see her tonight,” Robin finally replied. “She’s downstairs with the kids, if you want to go.”
Giles Home – Basement – Moments Later
“I’m frustrated,” Liz remarked to the twins. “I’ve been researching languages the last two weeks, and I still don’t know if I’m anywhere near being able to communicate with Vamp Dude Looks Like a Lady or not.”
The sound of the basement door opening made everyone look up to see who was approaching. Nikki was standing next to Jen at the keyboard and microphone when she looked up to see her mom and dad making their way down the stairs.
“Hey gang,” Robin greeted as they descended the stairs. “Sorry to interrupt.”
Faith and Nikki both took their time as they approached each other.
“Hey, Jellybean,” Faith said softly.
“Yeah, it’s just Nik or Nikki now,” she remarked matter-of-factly, taking off her hat.
“Duly noted,” Faith said. She closed the distance and brought Nikki into a hug. Although Nikki returned the hug, it wasn’t one that seemed based on deep affection. It was more of a formality.
“Dad said you decided to join the watcher training program,” Faith mentioned, trying to sound casual.
“It was Liz’s idea.” Nikki motioned over to the older girl, who raised her hand and waved. “She thinks I’d be good at it.”
“She is good at it,” Liz said, speaking up. “How ya doin’, Aunt Faith?”
“I’m okay, How about you, Sweetie?” she replied.
“It changes day to day,” Liz replied.
Faith smiled. “I hear ya. You all look so grown up,” she said, looking around the room. “All of you.” Her eyes settled on Nikki again. “I didn’t want to interrupt. I plan to stick around town, and I’d like to spend a few days with you. You don’t need to answer now. Just think about it and get back with me?” she asked gently.
Nikki nodded, and Faith cupped her cheek. Nikki didn’t pull away. Faith removed her hand and waved again to the group; then she and Robin made their way back upstairs.
After she was gone, Jen asked, “You okay?”
“Yeah,” Nikki replied. Her voice conveyed no emotion one way or another. “It’s just weird that she just…shows up. I didn’t know she was coming.”
“Maybe she didn’t know if she could,” Liz offered. “Rather than let you down by not being here, she figured it’s best to surprise you with a visit instead?”
“She still could have given us a heads-up that she was coming. Actually, maybe she did, but my dad just didn’t say anything. I don’t know, and honestly I don’t care. We’ve got a song to do, right?” Nikki asked.
Liz seemed to realize that Nikki was looking for an escape from the conversation and nodded. “You’re right. Let’s play this music beloved by the retirement home community.”
Giles Home – Living Area Upstairs – Moments Later
“How’ve you been, Slick?”
Kennedy eyed Faith warily for a moment as the other woman walked up to where she sat on the sofa with Kadin. Then she took a deep breath and said, “For about the past week or so, pretty miserable. I’m not comfortable when I sit, sleep or stand, so my patience with all of this is running out.”
“I hear ya. The homestretch is no picnic,” Faith replied. “So when are you due?”
“Literally any day now. Maternity leave started a few weeks ago.”
Faith turned to Kadin. “Be honest. What’s she been like to live with?”
“Surprisingly very mellow and no, that’s not a complaint,” Kadin answered.
“Apparently pregnancy hormones agree with me. Who woulda thunk it?” For the first time since their conversation began, Kennedy began to grin a little bit.
“You’ll make a great mother,” Faith told her. “Both of you will.”
“What makes you so sure about that?” Kennedy asked, with a bit of challenge in her voice.
“I’ve watched you with the Slayerettes. And I know what a great job you’ve done with Shannon. She’s a wonderful wife and mother, and that didn’t happen by accident. She had a lot of positive influences around here. Including you. I’m certain you both will do a wonderful job. And yes, I know my opinion on this subject does not matter very much to you. And that’s okay.” Faith held up her hands for a brief moment and said, “I’m not tryin’ to pick a fight. I just know that this child will be very lucky to have you both. That’s all I’m trying to say.”
Before Kennedy could reply, Kadin said, “Thank you, Faith. We appreciate that.”
“Yes, thank you,” Kennedy added.
Kadin then nodded toward her wife. “See? Mellow.”
All three of them grinned.
Giles Home – Basement Recording Studio – Same Time
The teens’ cover of “Circles” cut off abruptly mid-chorus, and Liz’s voice came over the sound system. “Attention, party humans and other species! We interrupt our regularly scheduled broadcast to bring you a live performance. Coming to you from the Giles basement on lead guitar and vocals is Elizabeth W. Giles, on drums Martin Giles and our horn section is brought to you to by the Allisters, including Sophie and Jake. Twins Alex and Jen Rosenberg are on bass and keyboards respectively and, making her debut tonight, the one and only Nikki Wood on backing vocals with Jen Rosenberg. Let’s hear it for the Stoned Platypus lineup tonight.”
The kids downstairs could hear everyone upstairs cheering even through the walls, and they started to laugh.
Liz turned the mic back on. “As Jen likes to say, this one is a banger. Mom always makes us learn something from each Rock Hall inductee every year. This one’s from the Eurythmics, so if you don’t like it…blame Becca Giles. Nah, I’m sure you’ll enjoy it as much as we have. Count us down, Marty.
“One two three four…”
Giles Home – Upstairs – Same Time
Giles and Becca looked at each other and nodded in approval.
When the horns kicked in, Willow and Rowena smiled and also began to nod at the performance.
“They hit all the notes,” Becca complimented the pair of women. “They have been practicing. It shows.”
“It’s nice to hear it completed,” Willow said.
“All the random trumpeting at home makes sense now,” Rowena added with a smile.
“Right? Context!” Willow agreed.
The next noises they heard were Jen and Nikki singing, “Would I lie to you,” and Liz’s soulful “Oh no no no.” Then Jen and Nikki both sang, “Now would I say something that wasn’t true? I’m asking you Sugar, would I lie-i-i to you.”
Faith laughed and gently slapped Robin’s arm, “She’s singing. That’s cool.”
Robin shifted his weight and took a drink.
The upstairs group listened as the song continued to play. Some of the older partygoers sang along, while others seemed to be hearing it for the first time. As the song came to a finish, the upstairs listeners gave the band a roar of approval.
Becca went over to a panel on the wall and pressed a small button. When she spoke, her voice carried over the PA system. “It’s not what I expected,” she told them. “It was even better. Can’t wait to hear you guys do it in the studio.”
Jeff Lindquist, still looking remarkably youthful for his age despite the hints of a mustache and beard on his face, walked over to Tracey and tapped her on the shoulder. She turned and pulled him into a tight hug.
“Hey, how’s Chicago treating you?” she asked.
“Coldly. Very coldly. And I thought Cleveland was cold,” he countered with a smile. Jeff saw Andrew’s face light up at his arrival. He pulled his friend into a hug without an invitation. “I miss you guys. A lot,” he said as he pulled away. “I think I’m going to request a transfer to the LA Coven next.”
“We’d love to have you,” Andrew told him. “I’m not sure if Grace would approve, though. Speaking of, where is the Missus tonight?” he asked innocently.
Jeff didn’t reply immediately. He seemed to be formulating a reply. “I’m flying solo. She already had plans for a smaller, more intimate gathering tonight.”
Casey’s Bedroom – Same Time
Grace stood in a dimly lit room in front of a television, flipping the channels. “It’s not the same, you know? Seacrest is okay, but he’s no Dick Clark.”
Propped up in bed and fitted with a “2023!” bedazzled eye patch, nasal cannula, IV bags and analgesics, Casey’s head lazily turned toward her. Her already pale complexion was now decidedly more so, her auburn hair dull and lank. She smiled. “Better door than a window there, luv.”
“Hey I’m the one doing all the work finding something for us to ring in the new year,” Grace replied, but she moved aside nonetheless so Casey could see the TV.
“‘Course you do the work. Imma proper lady of leisure these days,” Casey joked, laying her head back on the pillow.
Grace walked over to her bedside and threw a small brown paper bag on the overbed table.
“You shouldn’t have.”
“No, I really shouldn’t,” Grace returned, about to take a seat.
“Ugh, excuse me? Two meters away, thank you very much.”
Grace waved her off. “I tested, calm thy tits, lady.”
“I don’t need you giving me a new terminal illness to compete with my current terminal illness. That would be…overkill.”
“Not funny,” Grace muttered.
Casey softly smiled and then turned her attention to the gift. Carefully, she reached forward, her fingers grazed the crumpled bag. Slowly she pulled it towards her. It fell off the side of the table, onto her duvet covered legs. Using her index and middle fingers, she opened the rolled-over top and barked a coarse laugh.
“Grapes? You cow!”
Grace raised a brow, “Oh, ’cause you’d have preferred flowers, right?”
“I swear, if you have a bottle of –”
Before she could finish, Grace took a bottle of Orange Lucozade out of her bag and put it on the overbed table, much to Casey’s delight.
“English cure for everything,” Grace remarked.
Casey burst out laughing, but the levity was fleeting, as it turned into a wracking cough that had her doubled over.
Grace pounced forward and gently patted Casey on the back. The weak former slayer, unable to speak, tried to reach for her glass of water. She managed to wrap her fingers around it, shakily, but Grace placed her hand over Casey’s and helped her to bring the glass to her mouth.
With small sips, her cough subsided. Grace took the glass from Casey and placed it down, and then sat on the edge of her bed, rubbing her back.
Casey took a considered breath and slowly blew out as she lay back once again. Grace repositioned herself and put her legs up, lying beside her friend. They rested their heads against each other, their arms locked.
Silence ensued, except for the low sound of the TV.
“I’m sorry,” Casey said, quietly.
“For that. For this.”
“Oh, stop it, I bought you traditional British medicine, you’re gonna be fine.”
“We both know that’s not true,” Casey replied. Another silence settled between them, though it didn’t feel uncomfortable. Their expressions seemed to be of quiet acceptance. Casey lightly giggled, a small smile on her face that began to fade. “We did good, didn’t we?”
After a moment, Grace replied, “Hell yeah.”
“Watcher and slayer pairings ain’t got nuffin’ on us…Grace?”
“You-you are the best mate…best friend…that I have ever, ever had…thank you.”
Grace just stared forward, her jaw clenched, her eyes brimming with tears. She gulped.
“…but you were a shit watcher.”
Grace laughed, her tension breaking.
“I mean, you weren’t stuffy, you didn’t wear glasses, no tweed…Christ, woman, what a letdown. I wanted a bit of fantasy. Oh, I ain’t gonna get any better.”
“Stop it. Please.”
“Sorry. I’m sorry I’ll be bailing before the final song of the set…did love our gigs.”
Grace looked out of the corner of her eye at Casey. She sniffed and said, “I know it’s hard, I know it’s selfish but…”
Casey’s eyes were tired, but she rolled them towards Grace and lightly raised her eyebrows, a slight spark remaining. “You? Selfish? Never,” she smirked, then sincerely said, “Never.”
With a gulp, Grace asked, “Keep fighting. Okay? Please? Don’t…don’t leave me…”
Grace tightened her grip on Casey, and with what little strength she had left, so too did Casey. They both smiled at each other before returning their gazes toward the TV.
“You should be with him tonight, y’know? He’s in town, I hear.”
“You hear?” Grace said knowingly.
“Fine. I know ’cause he came here earlier before going to the Giles shindig. You should be with him there, having fun.”
“I’m where I want to be. I’d rather ring in the new year with you.”
Casey paused for a moment. “I’m grateful. I am. And…I’m not going to tell you how to live your life…”
“You’ll find a way, I’m sure,” Grace teased.
“He loves you.”
“And here it comes.”
“Lemme finish. He loves you but hates the walls. Can’t say I blame ‘im, ’cause you don’t need ’em as much as you think you do. So do me a favor, yeah? Call it grantin’ a dyin’ woman a final wish, ‘ay?”
“I hate it when you say stuff like that,” Grace said, again near tears.
“Find a way to let your fear go, luv. Trust me, aside from it being too short, life ain’t half bloody tough to do it alone, and you ain’t…ever. Let yourself be loved, ’cause you are.” Casey squeezed her hand with as much strength as she could muster. “Forgive yourself. There’s nothing wrong with you. So, when you…you are ready, Grace, be kind to yourself. Let it go, alright?” Casey’s eyes were heavy.
Grace gulped, but couldn’t quite bring herself to say anything. She managed a slight tilt of her head. Multicolored lights flickered across their faces as their eyes stayed on each other. The countdown had started. Together, they both looked over at the TV.
“Ten!” Casey and Grace smiled at each other and started to count along.
Giles Home – Basement – Same Time
“Nine!” All the kids in the basement were yelling along with the countdown.
Giles Home – Upstairs – Same Time
“Eight!” Buffy said, putting one arm around Xander and the other around Emma.
“Seven!” Jeff, Andrew and Tracey chanted
“Six!” Willow said as Rowena nuzzled her neck.
“Five!” Faith, Giles and Becca counted.
“Four!” Shannon said, wrapped in Norman’s arms.
“Three!” Robin, Kennedy and Kadin yelled.
“Two!” Skye and Dawn shouted.
“One!” All the kids in the basement squawked and jumped around, before breaking into a rendition of “Auld Lang Syne” on their instruments.
Casey’s Bedroom – Same Time
“Happy New Year!” The announcers and party goers were celebrating and yelling on the TV as “Auld Lang Syne” began to play from the speakers, too.
Casey turned to Grace and said, “Kept my promise of being here to ring in another year. Now…go get Jeff and make it a happy new year together.”
“I can’t promise that,” Grace said, “but I can promise that I will speak to him before he leaves.”
“I’ll take it. Happy New Year, Watcher.”
“Happy New Year, Slayer.”
Fade to Black
End of Act Two