Watchers Council – Hallway – Next Morning
January 2, 2023
Willow walked next to Giles as she spoke, “Thank you for taking us up on the offer to see the videos.”
“Happy to help, if I can.” As Giles continued to follow Willow to the conference room, he asked, “Was it really that bad?”
She nodded. “That’s why I’d like you to see it and maybe offer some tips as to what we did wrong. We’ve all been over it these last two weeks. Maybe the kids are still too green? Maybe there wasn’t anything we could have done differently? Because, hello, shit happens. But you’ll see for yourself. It was a cluster –”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Moments Later
“Fuck,” Faith giggled as she watched the comedy of errors that was playing out on the screen. “Wait.” Grace stopped the video of the botched heist. “No one got seriously hurt or died, right?” Faith asked quickly.
“Correct,” Grace replied. “Not at this fight. Last night, on the other hand –”
“– is a different story,” Willow cut her off. “A member of my Coven nearly got drained last night.”
“Oh shit,” Faith remarked.
“Yeah, not pretty,” Willow agreed, still not looking in Grace’s direction. “Good news is, she’ll recover. She’s already up and around this morning.”
“Last night?” Ken asked curiously. “I thought the incident yesterday happened during the day.” She looked at Shannon. “You sent a team at night?”
“Stopping this vamp is the highest priority,” Shannon defended and swallowed hard. “We had a lead on her location.”
“Keeping our people alive is the highest priority, regardless of the enemy’s location,” Kennedy countered. “First rule of slaying – stay alive. That’s why we tail, we observe and we form a plan.” She turned to Faith. “You taught me that, actually.”
Faith grinned. “And B taught me.”
Buffy turned to Kennedy. “Now you pass it on. Slayer line and all that.”
“Did you guys ever destroy a school building while trying to slay one vampire?” Shannon asked. “I think the line might be drooping a little.”
Buffy patted her on the back. “Do you have any idea how many school buildings I destroyed while slaying?” Shannon just looked at her. “It was a surprising amount,” Buffy assured her.
“A-and sometimes,” Willow added, “it wasn’t just a building but the entire school.”
“Two,” Faith said.
“What?” Willow asked.
“Two schools. If you count when all of Sunnydale got destroyed.”
“I forgot about that one!” Willow said. “Yes! Two entire schools!”
“See,” Buffy told Shannon, “Surprising amount.”
Kennedy smiled at this briefly then looked over at Grace. “Where is last night’s video?” she asked.
“Still being compiled,” she replied.
“AV?” Kennedy asked as she picked up the phone on the conference table. Grace nodded and she hit three numbers. “Hey, it’s Kennedy…I am on leave which explains why I’m here because…ya know, Council. Anyway, can I get that garage video from last night?…Three p.m.? No, I need it by noon…I don’t care about the recruitment advertisement deadline. I care about this. Get this done please…If that’s what you need to do, fine…Thank you.”
“We did what we felt was best,” Grace said defensively.
“I don’t doubt that,” Kennedy answered. “I don’t think for a moment you’d intentionally put any Council member in harm’s way unnecessarily. I just think that, in your pursuit of this enemy, everyone jumped the gun a little.”
“Not everyone,” Rowena remarked.
Kennedy grinned. “Leave it to Allister to be the voice of re –”
“It was Willow,” Rowena stopped her. “I voted with Grace to go in because I underestimated the threat. Willow did not.”
Willow gave Rowena a small grin, almost in thanks.
“In the end,” Willow offered, “everyone survived. That’s what matters.”
“Good,” Faith answered, “No one got hurt on this one too bad either though, right?” she asked as she pointed to the museum video again.
“Alex got a shiner,” Willow replied. “But nothing too terrible in the way of human tragedy. The art, again, is a different story, as you’ll see as the video progresses.”
“Okay,” Faith added, “I don’t feel bad for laughing then, and fair warning, I’m going to laugh more if this continues.”
“Ohhh, it continues,” Shannon said. “The museum is just a shitshow, and it’s sad…and…” She turned to Willow. “My apologies. I said they could handle the museum…and the garage. Evidently, I was wrong.”
“Thank you,” Willow replied. “Honestly. I appreciate that. And for what it’s worth, you were right about a second museum team. If we’d sent another team there, that night would’ve been an even bigger disaster. So I-I’m glad you didn’t agree.”
Jim groaned and then flashed his hands up like he was creating a banner. “Extra! Extra! ‘Countless Slayers lay hostile siege upon helpless, renowned Museum.’ Yes, the headlines could have been far worse that night.”
Shannon sighed, “And really, it makes me fear for humanity if this is the best we have to offer.”
“Ha!” Dawn barked. “You weren’t always perfect, Ms. Sunshine,” she reminded her former slayer. “You weren’t without your mishaps.”
Skye, seated next to Dawn, coughed into her hand and at the same time muttered, “Special Assignment,” making Dawn giggle.
The vampire smiled at Shannon, who gave her a small grin.
“Hey,” Shannon started to argue good-naturedly, “it’s true that I lost the Scythe and would have died if not for, of all people, Lorinda, but we did save the world. That has to count for something.”
“Can I trade Lorinda for the Scythe?” Buffy muttered to no one in particular.
Faith and Kennedy both heard it and smiled.
“Now, now,” Kennedy chimed in, her smile not fading in the least. “Let’s not be catty, ladies.”
“Is she still, you know…?” Faith let the sentence hang.
“Lorinda-y?” Buffy asked. Faith nodded. “Yeah,” she sighed. “Not as bad as fifteen years ago, mostly because she left Cleveland and I don’t have to deal with her anymore, but yeah. Lorinda is…Lorinda.”
“Isn’t she thirty yet?” Faith asked.
“No, but we’re counting the days,” Kennedy replied.
Faith snorted. “Now who’s catty? Saucer of milk for one.”
“Meow,” Kennedy teased, with a smile and a claw motion.
“Okay,” Faith said, with a wave toward the large monitor, “back to the sleeper comedy hit of the holiday season. Roll tape.”
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Minutes Later
When the lights came back up in the conference room, Buffy asked Giles, “Sooo, what did you think?”
“Bloody hell,” he sighed.
“I second that,” Jim said, “and I’ll raise you an ‘oh Christ’.”
Faith chuckled. “I gotta ask, how can the offspring of so many ‘Council greats’ perform so…blowfully.”
Giles scratched his head. “I-I-I don’t know where to start. I mean, t-to their credit, Emma and her team performed wonderfully. Really Buffy. Kudos to you.”
“Well, it helps that I had a great watcher,” she told him and blew him an air kiss.
He smiled at the compliment and continued. “I-I have to say, the operation seemed to be going smoothly until the other slayer came in. W-who is she? I recognize everyone else.”
“She’s a lancer,” Buffy replied.
“She’s a-a what?” Giles asked.
Robin pointed to the screen. “She’s a freelance slayer – lancer, we call them. She slays for pay, but she doesn’t do it for the Council. Her name is Maddie Allen, and she works for other people who pay her.”
Shannon shrugged. “I’m not sure how ethical that is. Using your talents, but not for the Council? It doesn’t seem right to me.”
Buffy and Kennedy nodded in agreement, but Faith started to rub the back of her neck.
“Not to open old wounds,” she interjected, “but you just described me. I’ve worked for clients who needed a little slayer muscle back in the day, and I still use my experience for jobs, so I see no problem with subcontracting. I’ve met a bunch of these girls, and they’ve all been good people.”
“No offense, Faith,” Kennedy said, “but of course you like them. They love you. Why do you think there’s so many of them now? The most famous slayer in the world told the Council where to stick it, so that means they can too.”
“That’s not…” Faith looked down then back up at Kennedy again. “Look, Slick, you know it wasn’t like that, right?”
Kennedy just crossed her arms over her large stomach and studied a spot on her shirt.
Grace sighed and scratched her forehead. “In the interests of diplomacy, I’ll grant you that it wasn’t like that for you, Faith. But you have to know that wasn’t how all these girls saw it.”
“Well, regardless of this girl’s status,” Giles said, gesturing back to the screen, “was she working with someone who was trying t-to thwart your efforts?”
“We don’t know,” Rowena replied. “All she said is she doesn’t disclose her clients.”
“Do you disclose your clients?” Shannon asked her mother-in-law.
Faith shrugged. “I don’t have to worry about that because my main client tries to save the world, not end it. And not to brag, but I never got caught, unlike that clown we just watched,” she said with a wave toward the monitor. “But I agree with Giles – seemed like things were going good until Miss Oops-a-daisy came into the picture.”
“Perhaps,” Giles considered, “you could send the kids through more simulation training?”
“Right,” Faith said to Giles. “You mean like something you walk through or have a task to do with lots of jump scares?”
“Correct.” Giles nodded. “Make the reactions more…muscle memory. You don’t want them crossbowing a small child, or even one of these lancers, but a vampire, yes. This way if an unexpected element comes up, like this slayer, they can react from memory training. Speaking of…perhaps you could tail her movements – the unknown slayer, I mean?”
“Good idea,” Shannon agreed. “And already done, but no reports of unusual movements, and no correspondence outside of personal ones on her devices. I’m sure she’s got a burner phone for business, so calls can’t be traced.”
“What did she say when you asked why she was there?” Faith asked.
Willow cleared her throat. “‘None of your business, Fascists.’ That’s a direct quote.”
Faith chuckled. “So, you guys are fascists now, huh? I didn’t read that in last month’s newsletter. Is it a new thing you’re tryin’?”
“We’re fascists according to folks like that lancer, proving ignorance isn’t bliss. In fact, it’s frustrating,” Robin replied with a slight grin. “They don’t care that we pay our slayers a respectable living wage, housing, full benefits that include physical and mental health, for them and their families, plus a retirement plan…not to mention access to the archives and a watcher to oversee research, battle tactics and so on.”
Buffy spoke up. “I never wanted any slayer to have to choose between putting food on the table and a roof over their head, all while still having to save the world. Been there, done that, and it totally sucked. And as crazy as we thought Anya’s idea was to have people pay me, well, in today’s world paying our staff real money – our entire staff and not just watchers – seemed like a no-brainer.” A thoughtful look came over her face. “I really do owe Anya an apology. Or, you know, I would if she hadn’t…” She stopped and sighed.
“You’re right,” Robin remarked. “I remember my mom having to do both. I had no problem seconding Buffy’s original motion. However, some see the fact that we require certain operating procedures as a threat to their freedom. They’d rather do things ‘on their own’ than join the Council. While it’s true that we probably could stop them if we wanted…”
“You’d be fascists for real then?” Faith finished.
Robin just shrugged. “Are we going to order around young women with superpowers by telling them what they can or can’t do with their bodies?”
“You already do that,” Faith pointed out.
“No,” Rowena countered. “We don’t expect anything that another employer wouldn’t require. It’s the basics that could impact their job: no drugs when they are or might be on duty, no domestic abuse charges and so on.”
“No OnlyFans accounts?” Faith teased.
“OnlyFans?” Buffy asked.
“Within reason,” Jim replied to Faith. “Cooking classes, exercise videos, no problem. ‘Adults only’ content – no go. Slayers, watchers and witches are Council ambassadors. Some private things should be kept private. Besides, first responders, like police and fire, have the same rules and code of ethics for employment.”
Willow turned to Buffy, “OnlyFans is a site that…how do I explain…it’s got…”
“Paid content. A bit like Patreon,” Giles offered.
“Okay,” Buffy held up her hands. “What’s Patreon, and how does Giles know about all this and not me?”
Ignoring the remark, he continued, “OnlyFans is a way to monetize videos, as Jim mentioned which, unlike Patreon, often includes kink or-or pornography that people pay to see via a subscription.”
“Look at you with the tech talk,” Willow complimented Giles.
“I have teenagers that I want to keep safe,” he said. “Not all monsters crawl out of the hellmouth. Besides, Stoned Platypus has a Patreon. Becca and I started it for them since Liz is still seventeen and you need to be over eighteen.”
“Stoned Platypus?” Faith asked.
“It’s the name of the kids’ band,” he replied with a grin.
“Stoned Platypus,” Faith giggled. “That’s what Liz said on New Year’s. I didn’t quite hear it. That’s hilarious.”
“And before you ask,” he continued, holding up a finger, “I-I have no idea where the name came from. People pay them a membership fee to their Patreon page, and those subscribers get videos, songs and other works n-not found elsewhere. They can’t retire on what they earn, but they’ve got a growing following.”
“Are they earning money for their music?” Faith asked. “That’s pretty cool.”
“It is,” Giles said proudly. “But they still need more income if they want to buy more equipment. Oh, they also have a SoundCloud next plan.”
“A sound-plan, what?” Buffy asked.
“SoundCloud is a kind of streaming platform,” Giles explained to a now slack-jawed Buffy, “It’s a-available online, on smartphones, Sonos home systems like ours you heard yesterday, oh and Xbox One. They have three plans – free, next and next pro. The kids are using the cheaper plan, a couple dollars a month, so it’s a low monthly fee, b-but it lets them distribute to Spotify, Apple Music, TikTok and even lets them promote and pitch their music to Sirius XM.”
Buffy started to shake her hands and her head, her jaw still open. “Okay…when…when did I become old?”
“About fifteen years ago, B,” Faith offered. “Right around the time I watched you struggle with setting your presets into your car’s satellite radio.”
Everyone laughed. Even Buffy had to grin before saying, “It’s hard, okay?”
“Sure it is,” Grace deadpanned. “Moving on…we’ve had an influx of odd demons lately. By lately, I mean since this autumn, and by odd I don’t mean dangerous or malicious – just out of the ordinary. The only common thread we have is that they are coming from Vor.”
At the mention of the Vor dimension, Willow looked up suddenly.
Vor Dream Arena – 2004
Faith whirled around in horror as Marsha’s shrill, panicked scream filled the Arena. Willow’s young slayer slipped slowly into the ground. Already her feet had vanished, then her calves. She fell over and clutched at the sand, trying to drag herself free. Serpentine shapes moved beneath the sand around her.
“What do we do?” Vi screamed frantically, heaving on Marsha’s arm with all her might. Mia held the other, Faith, bruised and battered, joined them in trying to get Marsha free of her sandy prison, trying to dig Marsha’s legs free.
The young girl still sank inexorably downward, her knees now vanishing. A chain slithered across the sand between the slayers and burrowed down toward Marsha’s trapped legs. She let out another piercing scream, this time one of agony.
Suddenly the whole Arena seemed to lurch. With an anguished cry, Marsha sank deeper into the sand, which itself was draining away, revealing patches of oily, writhing chains beneath it. Slayers and guards alike lost their footing as the true face of the Arena was revealed – jagged metal and barbed chains, slick with blood, tatters of flesh still hanging from them. In seconds, the battle was reduced to humans and demons alike struggling to stay upright, to keep themselves from falling into the writhing mass of iron.
“F-faith,” Marsha sobbed, “don’t…please…”
“I won’t let go, kid,” Faith assured her. Vi yelled as her leg slipped through a gap, a thrashing chain cutting her thigh before she could pull it free.
“Let go,” Marsha pleaded, “just…it hurts, please let go –”
“No!” Faith yelled as Marsha let go of her wrist. “Willow’s here. We’re almost home, so hang on!” She and Vi both redoubled their grip on the young slayer’s arms, struggling to pull her out of the mass of metal trapping her. “Willow!” the elder slayer yelled. “Hurry up!”
Willow was engaged in her own intense battle with a hulking, metal-helmeted figure. She held a hand out, shielding herself. She glanced quickly back at the struggle to save Marsha, then returned her attention to her opponent.
“Die, you son of a bitch!” Willow snarled. She leaned forward, as if into a gale, gritting her teeth against the storm of power being directed against her by Imbethit, the leader of the Presidium’s assassins. Around the two of them, the Arena was disintegrating, its walls crumbling. Great chunks of stone and iron crashed down, forcing the slayers to retreat into the center of the lurching Arena floor as the periphery collapsed. Imbethit fell back a step, driven back by Willow’s attack.
With a deafening groan of tearing metal, the Arena floor erupted at the center, sending slayers sprawling in all directions. Faith lost her grip on Marsha and fell away down the sudden slope as the floor moved. She rolled to a halt with a pained cry, lifting her hand to find her palm sliced open. Looking down, she saw Imbethit’s dagger, her blood on its blade.
Above, the twisted mass of chain fell in on itself, swallowing Marsha and threatening to take Vi with her, her arm vanishing into the mass. Vi screamed in agony and fell backwards, clutching at her bleeding, mangled hand in shock.
Faith grabbed at the dagger, stood and scrambled up the side of the mountain of broken iron growing from the center of the Arena. She spotted Imbethit, locked in his duel with Willow, and hurled the blade at the demon.
Imbethit’s faceless head turned for a fraction of a second to see the weapon flying toward him, and in that moment Willow’s assault broke his defenses. Her magic crushed him, his armor twisting and crushing, smoke billowing from beneath it. The knife buried itself to the hilt in his shadowed face. Great rifts opened up in the Arena, revealing a black nothingness beyond, and then–
Old Council Building – Coven Room – Same Time (2004)
Willow and Kennedy both darted up from their positions on the Coven Room floor and looked at each other. The rest of the room closed in around them.
“Are you all right?” Giles asked. “The girls…?”
Willow looked up at Rowena for a moment. “Marsha,” Willow mumbled. Quickly, she moved to her feet and dashed from the room to check on her slayer.
Old Council Building – Library – Later that Day (2004)
Rowena stood with the phone to her ear. “That’s wonderful news, Robson…Yes. I’ll be sure to inform Mr. Giles. I’ll have Willow’s Coven look immediately for a protection spell we can cast to guard the slayers. If Al finds it first, let me know, ‘kay?…You too, Robson. Bye.”
Rowena hung up with a smile and was startled to find Willow standing silently in the doorway, watching her.
“Willow…?” Rowena asked.
The witch paused for nearly three seconds, saying nothing.
“Marsha’s dead,” she finally answered in a monotone.
“Oh God,” Rowena mumbled. She quickly closed the distance between them and pulled Willow into an embrace.
Silent tears rolled down Rowena’s cheeks as she rested her chin on Willow’s shoulder. The witch, however, showed no expression as she returned the hug.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Resume
“Willow?” Grace called over. Getting no reaction, Grace looked at Rowena, who was seated next to the witch.
“Will,” Rowena said softly, gently touching her arm.
The High Priestess seemed slightly startled. “Sorry. What did you say? I missed that,” she told Grace.
“Are you okay?” Rowena asked.
“Uh, yeah. You were saying…” she pressed Grace again.
“The new demons seem to be coming from Vor.”
“Why now?” Jim asked.
“No idea,” Grace replied. “I could speculate, but that would be pointless. All I do know is that…we know nothing.”
“I have an old friend,” Giles mentioned. “We’re overdue for a day out. If you like, I-I’ll see if I can find out anything.”
“That would be wonderful,” Grace told him. “The other issue, which may or may not be related, is a number of strange disappearances over the last couple of weeks. These are not people we usually find going AWOL, like young clubbers who get too tipsy and become a vamp snack, for instance. They are happening night AND day, which is the oddest part. And yes, Cleveland is a big town, but even for us, these numbers are over the top. Other hellmouths aren’t seeing an issue, so I think it’s just related to us. That’s all I currently have. Anyone else?”
“I have a meeting this afternoon with Dr. Tamara Goldman,” Willow mentioned.
“My doctor?” Kennedy asked.
“Making another baby with the Missus?” Kennedy asked. She pointed to Rowena who smiled.
“Although we’ve discussed making the clan larger, no, not yet,” Willow said, with a smile as well. “Based on her DNA research work, I thought she might have some ideas about this odd demon virus that seems to be popping up more frequently with new dimensional arrivals.”
Kennedy shrugged. “Not sure if she can help with your virus problem, but she’s super nice. Kadin and I both like her a lot. Very personable. You’ll like her, too.”
“Let us know if you learn anything?” Grace asked.
“You betcha,” Willow replied. Her words were optimistic but contradicted by her flat tone.
“Okay,” Grace said, ignoring the venom, “is there any other Council business to address today?” No one spoke up, so she banged her gavel. “Meeting adjourned.”
Faith turned to Buffy. “Actually, B, if this is breaking up, can I talk to you?”
Buffy looked around the conference room, slight confusion on her face. “Um…what are we doing now?”
“I meant…” Faith sighed. “I meant, y’know, Chosen One to Chosen One.”
Buffy looked at Faith for a moment then nodded. Robin looked away from the screen briefly to watch the two women file out of the room.
Watchers Council – Lobby Waiting Area – Moments Later
Buffy and Faith stood in the empty corner of the lobby with couches and chairs set up for waiting visitors. Buffy crossed her arms and waited for several moments for Faith to say something. Then she waited a few more moments.
Finally, she said, “Faith, if you want to talk, generally that would involve talking. Do you want to tell me what’s up?”
Faith let out a long breath and ran a hand through her hair. “Okay, look, you and I…” she trailed off. “C’mon, Faith,” she coached herself quietly. “You’ve faced way scarier monsters than this.” Buffy raised an eyebrow, still waiting. Faith averted her eyes, and her words finally came out in a rush. “Do you ever think weird thoughts? Feel weird things? Like, since you turned thirty?”
Buffy blinked and uncrossed her arms. Faith furtively met her eyes, just briefly, then looked away again.
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said, “I’m not – I guess? I’m gonna need some context here.”
Faith looked up at the ceiling then back at Buffy. “We both knew, for a while, that our powers came with an expiration date. We turn thirty, and they turn off. It’s the same for every girl. But what we maybe didn’t know, I sure as hell didn’t know, is that when those powers turn off, the slayer healing goes away, and all that wear and tear just comes rushing back. Look at Casey, she had like this bomb ticking inside her, and she didn’t know it.”
“But we didn’t, Faith,” Buffy said. “I get how it’s scary for a girl like Shannon who’s about to turn thirty and doesn’t know what’ll happen, but we already dodged the bullet. We both lost our powers years ago, and we’re both fine.” She put a hand out and touched Faith on the arm. “We’re both fine…right?”
Faith looked down at Buffy’s hand then back up at her face. “See, that’s the thing, B. Are we? Because I feel like…do you ever feel like you’re doing things that aren’t you, having thoughts that aren’t yours, like you’re just being pulled along by, I dunno, a brain you’re not in control of?”
Buffy pulled her hand back. “What are you saying?”
“B, the two of us were slayers longer than anybody pretty much ever. I got punched in the head so many times over the years. I mean, so many. We both have.”
“A lot of that was us punching each other,” Buffy put in.
“True,” Faith agreed.
Buffy bit her lip, thinking. “So, what is this, you’re saying, what, you think maybe we have brain damage? I don’t feel like I have brain damage.”
Faith shrugged and put both her arms out from her sides, palms up. “I dunno, I mean, I thought maybe it could be. I thought that if you were feeling the same way, that maybe it wasn’t just me, that maybe it was something I could, I dunno, fix? But it sounds like maybe not?”
Buffy was very quiet for a few seconds. She sat down on one of the couches, looked up at Faith, and sighed. “Faith, I feel like me. Slower, weaker, older, but still me. I’m sorry if you were looking for a different answer. But I also think that the old guys who thought up the whole slayer deal in the first place didn’t really think this far ahead. They could never have imagined so many slayers would live long enough for this to be a thing, or that there would be so many slayers at all. They sucked at imagining, basically.”
“The arc of history may not bend toward justice, but it sure is long as fuck,” Faith said.
Buffy stared at her for a long moment. “Yeah, sure. The point is, we don’t know. You want to have tests done or whatever, go for it. But y’know, Faith, I feel like I should say, speaking of punching each other, it’s not as if you have a perfect and unbroken history of mental stability here. You’ve got your issues like everyone. Even I have them.”
Faith’s body language went all the way closed off in a split-second.
“Uh-huh.” She shook her head, her hands balling into fists. “I knew this was a mistake.” She turned to walk away, but as she did so, Buffy reached out and grabbed one of her wrists.
“I’m sorry,” Buffy said, “I said that all wrong. I –”
“Get your hand off me,” Faith said, her voice low and dangerous.
“I said get your hand off me!” Faith screamed.
Buffy pulled her arm back in shock. The receptionist’s head at the far end of the lobby swiveled toward the noise.
Faith stormed across the lobby and out the Council’s revolving front door, fists still at her sides. Buffy watched her silently as she went.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Same Time
“Hey,” Rowena said softly. “You okay?’ she asked Willow as they walked side-by-side.
“What?” Willow asked.
“That – right there. You seem…distracted. Ever since the end of the meeting.”
“This is the part where I lie and say I’m fine, right?” Willow teased.
“Look, I didn’t expect that everything between us would be perfect after a night alone, but I hope you still talk to me.”
“That was fun,” Willow said. She smiled with a far-off look in her eyes, as Rowena blushed.
“That should happen more often,” Rowena admitted. “But my point is, you seemed distracted. And I did tell the others that you didn’t want to go last night. Did you see that? I wanted everyone to know you were right and –”
Willow grinned and held up her hand to stop the ramble. “We’re good. You made me feel like…my opinion mattered today. I appreciate it. A-and I’m-I’m getting better with Shannon. She did apologize. Grace on the other hand?” Willow simply sighed.
“She’s got a lot going on right now – Casey, Jeff – even if she doesn’t say anything about it.”
“If she’s got that much woe, maybe she needs a leave of absence.”
“You are a Chosen watcher, you could run for the position,” Rowena suggested. Willow seemed to flinch, and Rowena cocked her head. “You’re a watcher,” she repeated. Again, Willow looked uncomfortable. “That’s what’s distracting you, isn’t it?”
Willow smiled. “I’ve been with you too damn long,” she teased. “It’s not the watcher part. It…it was when Grace mentioned Vor. It reminded me of…Marsha. Not the dragon…”
“The slayer you lost,” Rowena remarked.
“They took her and they hurt her and…I couldn’t stop it. I failed her. And here we are nearly two decades later and it’s still with me.”
“Yeah, it’s hard when those times come out of nowhere and just…haunt you, isn’t it?”
Willow nodded. “What’s your haunt?” she asked.
Rowena took a deep breath. “When Istanbul comes up in any conversation, my mind goes to Ipek. So if I just heard that the First was back in town, I can see how my mind would go back to her. I lost her to the First. You lost Marsha to Vor. It makes sense.”
“Well, sense or not, it really sucks. Sometimes I see Shannon and I think that could be Marsha. Oh, not that I’d trade them or anything,” Willow said quickly. “Just that they were around the same age, so I see Shannon and Norm building their life and…”
“Sometimes you get sad.”
“Yep, and sometimes it’s sad and stressful. Pretty dumb, I know.”
“Not dumb. It sounds like you’re human – sure, a super powerful, mega mega sexy witch, who any lesbian and even some straight folks would love to have, but still…human.”
“Mega sexy, huh?”
“Mega mega sexy,” Rowena said, wiggling her eyebrows.
Willow chuckled. “You’re still trying to butter me up.”
“Is it working?” Rowena giggled.
Willow stopped and turned to face Rowena and gave her a slow burning kiss on the lips. “You’re not the only one who’s got a mega mega sexy wife. My wife, on the other hand…”
Rowena smiled but then she started to look serious again as she stroked Willow’s face. “Really, Will…if you need me, I’m here. Okay?”
“Thank you,” Willow replied sincerely.
“You’re welcome,” Rowena told her. “Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got young minds to mold into the next generation to save humanity.” She paused. “That sounds much less boring than watching tweens reading tweedy old men’s diaries.”
Watchers Council – Library – That Afternoon
Liz was surrounded by about seven books at a table in the depths of the Council library. She referred back and forth to a tablet next to her, which had a large picture of the Box of Nakodok on the screen. She bopped her head slightly to the rock music playing over her earbuds.
Thus she did not hear three people sit down at the table across from her, but she seemed to sense their presence. She looked up and pulled out her earbuds with a sigh.
She was met with three young men who looked to be about her age, mid-to-late teens. The one in the middle seemed a little embarrassed, looking down nervously at the table, but two others sandwiched him in, making it difficult for him to move away. For her part, Liz gave the guy in the center a disapproving look.
“What?” she asked, imbuing the word with all the annoyance she could muster.
The interlopers ignored this. The guy on the left pointed to the one in the middle. “Spencer says he rocked your world. I call bullshit. What’s the truth?”
Liz did not answer immediately. She just looked at the three of them. “That’s a pretty personal question to interrupt my day with, don’t you think?”
The two other boys began to slap Spencer on the back in congratulation. “She didn’t say no, so that means yes,” one of them cheered.
Liz began to grin deviously. “Wow. A lot to unpack there. First, if a girl or guy doesn’t say no, that doesn’t automatically mean yes. This advice might save you from a lengthy prison sentence someday. Second…he told you that he rocked my world?”
“Is it true?” the one on the left asked again.
“No.” Liz replied.
“Hey,” Spencer exclaimed, earning himself a “shhh” from the librarian. In a quieter voice, he continued. “We smashed after the Spring Formal when you got back from New York. Don’t lie.”
“I didn’t lie. I answered the question. He asked if you rocked my world. The answer is no. You definitely did not. Did we have sex? Yeah. Was I carried up the stairway to heaven in complete ecstasy? Absolutely not. Hell, it wasn’t enough to get me to the second level of this library.”
Spencer looked really annoyed, but his friends laughed so loud it turned heads throughout the library and made the librarian “shhh” them again.
“So, a word of advice, Spence,” Liz continued, “get yourself some skills before the next girl. Oh, and don’t go bragging about it to other people, and maybe you won’t be embarrassed about your performance, or lack thereof. Now, if you don’t mind, I’m really busy, so you all can help me with my research or go away. Your choice.” All three boys, especially Spencer, left the table quickly. “That’s what I expected,” she grumbled.
Liz hadn’t quite gotten the earbuds back in her ears when she heard a voice from behind her. “And you’re the one always calling me a slut.”
Liz face-planted into the nearest book. “Trina Cunningham,” she said, her voice slightly muffled. “Just what I needed.”
Trina strode toward Liz. The redhead’s makeup was particularly well-manicured, and she wore large, prominent earrings and a fashionable jacket over her top. “I’m surprised you had time to suck Spencer’s dick, between following Allister around like a yappy chihuahua and getting all the plum assignments because of who your dad is.”
Liz shot to her feet, one fist clenched, her chair clattering as she pushed it back. Trina just raised an eyebrow at her. Then, very slowly and with great effort, Liz unclenched her fingers.
Trina took a step forward. “Please, Giles, take a shot at me in the middle of the Council library. I can’t wait to see how your daddy gets you out of that one.” She momentarily looked down at Liz’s research. “More fallout from your recent assignments, I take it? I mean, I gotta hand it to you, when you fuck things up, you really fuck things up. A museum and a parking garage? Damn. What do you have against architecture?”
Liz took a few breaths through her nose. Then she said, very evenly, “First, I didn’t call you a slut, Trina, I called you a whore. There’s a difference. Still, I’m busy now, and I’m sure you need to get back to your endless schedule of sucking at everything ever.”
Trina looked down her nose at Liz for a long moment. “Actually, I do have to get back to working with Jackson on why all these demon refugees are suddenly showing up from Vor. You know, an actual problem that I didn’t cause.”
Trina spun on her heel and walked away, disappearing into the stacks after a moment.
“Yeah, well,” Liz hissed after her, “at least I’m in the field to…fuck things up.” She sighed and ran a hand through her hair in frustration.
“Don’t listen to her.” Liz looked up to see Nikki Wood leaning on the end of the nearest bookshelf, clutching a book that seemed a little too large for her to her chest. “She’s just mad because she’s not goals like you.”
Liz sat back down with another sigh. “While I appreciate that, Nik, I sure as hell don’t feel like goals right now. She’s right, the museum was a disaster, last night was a disaster, and we can’t stop this vampire lady, and now Rowena’s having me try figure out what spell they used to put her in the box in the first place, and I said, ‘that’s impossible,’ and she said, ‘I believe in you,’ and, y’know, that’s great, but Trina and everybody else think I’m just a nepo baby, and…” She lowered her voice to nearly a whisper. “What if they’re right?”
Nikki sat down next to Liz and said, “Well, speaking as a fellow nepo baby, we can’t help who our parents are. But that’s not who we are, right? It’s the stuff we do that makes us us, y’know?”
Liz looked at her for a long beat. “Very wise, Nik. The funny part is, what Trina’s basic ass doesn’t know is that all my parents do is make things harder. You know, in the middle of this stuff with Ro, I’ve got a shift at the Doublemeat? My parents think it ‘builds character.’ I have so much character already, it’s about to come out of my nose. And if I didn’t, cleaning out a grease trap doesn’t strike me as a great way to get more.”
Nikki smiled then leaned in conspiratorially to Liz. “Did you really…with Spencer? Because…” Her nose wrinkled.
Liz sighed then reached out and put a hand on Nikki’s elbow. “See? Not goals.”
“I gotta ask…why him?”
“Why not?” Liz replied in a bored tone.
“I mean, what made him so special?”
“Truthfully?” Liz asked. Nikki nodded. “Nothing. He’s not remarkable in any way, shape or form.”
“Then why him? I don’t understand.”
“After a few near-arrests this year for petty theft and vandalism – oh, and almost getting killed by an Archangel, let’s not forget that – I, uh…I went looking for somebody because…sex is supposed to be this great thing. They use it to sell everything from movies to bubble gum. Since it seemed like such a big deal, and it seems like I have such a dangerous road ahead, what with being Chosen, I…after New York, I didn’t want to die a virgin. Long story short: I was curious and he was willing. That’s it.”
Nikki seemed to pause, as if unsure of what to say next. Finally, she asked, “It wasn’t what you expected then?”
Liz shrugged. “I’m holding out hope that when I meet somebody I love, they will take the time to make sure all those fireworks I hear so much about will happen for me. So, some advice you never asked for? Wait. Don’t be in a rush. I learned something from the experience – bad sex is worse than no sex. Guys might disagree, but as a human on the receiving end of an unwanted pregnancy, it’s not worth the risk.” Nikki began to open her mouth, and Liz held up a finger. “Yes, we were safe. I didn’t get pregnant.”
“How did you know that’s what I was gonna ask?”
“Because that’s a smart question to ask, and you’re not dumb.” Nikki beamed at the compliment. “You and I both know that I can be reckless. And yes, I might not know exactly where I want my life to go. But I’m not that ignorant.” Liz started to grin and then said in an annoying nasally voice, “This has been my premarital sex TED talk.”
Nikki laughed out loud and, yet again, the librarian shushed them. Only this time, she started to make her way over.
“Oh shit,” Liz sighed.
Once at the table, the woman folded her arms across her chest. “If you cannot be quiet, Ms. Giles and Ms. Wood, I will have to ask you to leave.”
“Why did you only come over here when my black friend is sitting here?” Liz challenged her.
The librarian seemed flustered and didn’t quite know how to answer at first. “Look, if you’re insinuating I only came over here when Ms. Wood –”
“She’s right,” Nikki added. “When Spencer’s crew harassed her, you stayed put. When Trina harassed her, you stayed put. Now here comes the gal with the afro and suddenly here you are.”
The Librarian didn’t know what to say at first. “I’m…I’m not a racist.”
“Fine. You’re not a racist,” Nikki sighed in a bored tone.
“I’m not. You just happened to be the third interruption. Three strikes and you’re out.”
Liz put up her hands. “Fine. We’ll leave. Can I take the books with me?” she asked.
“No, those are restricted and must not leave.”
“Yeah, because that would be convenient for everyone’s sake,” Liz muttered. She turned to Nikki and said, “Can you believe my dad was one of these people?” She pointed to the woman standing beside them with a scowl.
“A librarian?” Nikki asked.
“A tight ass…and a librarian, now that you mention it.”
Nikki’s jaw dropped first, and then she started to laugh.
The librarian fumed. “Both of you! Out! Now!”
Other people in the library looked their way, including Trina, who poked her head through the stacks.
“Shhhh,” Liz teased her, putting her finger over her lips. “You’re disturbing people,” she whispered. “It was just a joke. I’m sure your ass is very loose.”
“Out,” the woman practically growled.
“Can I just take this one?” Liz asked, pointing to the book in front of her.
The librarian slammed the book shut and started to pick it up along with the others. “Go!” she ordered.
Liz turned to Nikki. “See? Not goals.”
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Classroom – Moments Later
“Okay,” Rowena said, directing a class of young students from behind her desk, “open Chapter Thirteen on your tablets and –”
She turned to the closed door to see Liz wave at her through the window, then motion her toward the door. Rowena sighed and then looked at the boy seated in front of her. “Ben, start reading to the class and continue until I return. Excuse me.”
As Ben read, Rowena walked outside to meet Liz, closing the classroom door behind her.
“Why aren’t you researching?”
“Slight problem. Nepo Baby needs your help to get these seven restricted books from the library,” Liz said, handing her a piece of paper.
“Just read them in the library. You’re supposed to be there now.”
“I was. And I still would be if I wasn’t interrupted by five different people – no lie.”
“Really. That and…I might have slightly insinuated that Ms. Washington’s ass is tight. Oh, and she may or may not be a racist.”
“She kicked you out of the library.” It was a statement, not a question.
“She kicked me out of the library,” Liz parroted.
“See if Aunt Will can get them.”
“Isn’t she meeting Dr. Goldberg today?”
“Goldman,” Rowena corrected.
“Whatever. That doc who’s helping Aunts K and K have a kid. Speaking of…do you think the baby will turn blue?”
“What?” Rowena asked.
“I mean, Kadin turns blue and fangy, right? Imagine trying to breastfeed something like that.” Liz made a scary face and claw hands.
Rowena sighed, “Don’t be sorry.”
“Just improve,” they finished together.
“Fine,” Liz said.
“Just go to your normal class, and I’ll pull the books at my next break.”
Liz smiled. “You’re the best, Aunt Ro.”
“You’re a pain in my ass, but I love you. Now go to class.”
Liz gave a salute and then went down the hallway as Rowena went back into her class. The watcher-in-training got a few steps down the hallway, then snapped her fingers as if a thought had gone off in her head.
Watchers Council – Library – Moments Later
Liz walked into the library, and the librarian immediately began to shake her head no.
“Okay,” Liz began, holding her hands up. “First, I’m sorry I insinuated that you were a tight ass, and maybe sorta kinda a racist, Ms. Washington. That was very rude and, in the spirit of trying to be a better person, I apologize. I was wrong.”
“Thank you, but you’re not coming back today,” she told her.
Liz was already going to the stack of books she’d been looking at that were still resting on the checkout desk, waiting to be reshelved. Liz grabbed one and then another.
“Understood. I just need these two,” she said, as she pulled the books into her arms. “I don’t need to find the exact spell per se. I just need to read the instructions on the box.”
“Those are restricted,” Ms. Washington insisted, pointing to the books.
“They are, and I hate to name drop, but I swear Rowena Allister-Rosenberg knows about this and after class she’s going to see you. I promise.” Liz said this as, all the while, she continued to slowly back out of the library.
Ms. Washington was starting to argue again, but Liz quickly ducked out the door, books in hand.
Watchers Council – Rowena’s Classroom – Moments Later
Ben had just finished reading when Rowena’s watch went off and she saw a text from Liz: “Took 2 of 6 books. Ms. Washington will see you.”
Rowena’s sigh was audible to the class. “Sorry,” she apologized to them before focusing again. “Okay, so what did you think Rupert Giles meant when he said –”
Watchers Council – Slayer Rec Room – Afternoon
Liz sat on a couch in the Slayer Rec Room, one of the books from the library open on her lap. She squinted at it then held up her phone to show a somewhat grainy snapshot of a still-intact Box of Nakodok. Then she looked back at the book, the crease in her forehead growing deeper.
She looked up, somewhat startled, when Kennedy sat down in the seat next to her with a loud groan. The two coexisted next to each other for several seconds, Kennedy holding her large stomach and taking deep breaths, while Liz looked around and shifted awkwardly. Finally, she leaned over toward Kennedy and asked, “You want me to move?”
Kennedy looked up, as if noticing Liz was there for the first time. “Oh no, it’s fine. I just, uh, needed to sit down for a minute.”
“Aren’t you, like, super-pregnant?” Liz asked. Kennedy looked over at her with a raised eyebrow. “No, I just meant, like, you’re off from work,” Liz said quickly. “Shouldn’t you be, y’know, not at work?”
Kennedy smirked. “Yeah, well, there’s something about this job where not being at work turns out to be easier said than done. I was just reviewing the video from last night. I go away for a few weeks, and things went full-on horror movie real quick.”
Liz nodded. “I think I peed myself a little.” At Kennedy’s look, she said, “Sorry, TMI, I’m still getting used to the whole battle –”
“You did good, Liz, really,” Kennedy said with a knowing smile. “Kind of as good as anyone. And anyway, I could ask you the same question.”
Liz wrinkled her nose. “What do you mean?”
“This is the Slayer Rec Room,” Kennedy replied. “Given that you are not a slayer, I figured…”
“I let her in,” Cindy Loomis said, leaning over and grabbing Liz very lightly around the neck. The look in Liz’s eyes indicated that she was extremely uneasy with this situation. “This girl basically saved my life last night. So I say she’s an honorary slayer.”
Liz shot Kennedy an extremely uncomfortable smile as Cindy let go. “I, uh, got kicked out of the library. Because of racism. Maybe. Maybe not.”
Cindy leaned over Liz’s shoulders and said, “Hey, I heard about you and Spencer.”
Liz looked over her shoulder. “Uh, you did? He-heard what?” Her eyes shifted quickly over to Kennedy, then back to the looming red-haired slayer.
Cindy grinned conspiratorially. “Hey, I have been there, some guys are just not up to it, y’know what I mean, but eventually I figured out the solution.”
Liz and Kennedy both looked at her expectantly.
Cindy rose up and proudly pulled her hands apart in front of herself, as if creating a banner. “Dick pics.”
Kennedy’s eyes widened considerably.
Liz pulled a stray hair behind her ear, clearly embarrassed. “I mean, I don’t –”
“No, seriously,” Cindy said. “You make them send you a pic before you let ’em, y’know, jam your clam, and then you know if they’re up to snuff.”
As Liz mouthed the words “jam your clam,” Kennedy sat up very slightly. “Cindy, I gotta say, I’m not sure this is really great advice.”
“Oh, how would you know?” Cindy replied. Kennedy’s mouth dropped open.
“I think I’m just gonna take some time off,” Liz said. “From the…sex.”
“Sound policy,” Kennedy agreed.
“Nah, c’mon, girl!” Cindy slapped Liz playfully on the shoulder, sending the younger girl nearly doubling over. “Sometimes you just gotta clean the cobwebs outta the womb room. You gotta get your eggs scrambled a little bit. Other penises are available, is what I’m saying.”
As Kennedy continued to stare at this girl, a far-off look briefly appeared in Liz’s eyes.
“Wait!” Liz said suddenly, raising a finger. She started leafing through the book in her lap. “I saw that, I saw it…” She rammed a finger down on a page. “Egg! Yes.” She read the page again quickly, a smile growing on her face.
Then she clutched her book to her chest, grabbed the other library book next to her, and bolted up from the couch. “Thanks!” she called over her shoulder.
Cindy turned to Kennedy. “See? I helped.”
Watchers Council – Library – Moments Later
Liz stuck her head, and only her head, just inside the library doors. She looked around the room and saw Ms. Washington just walking into the stacks across the room. She also saw Jackson standing nearby, working with several young watchers, including Trina, at a set of tables.
“Jackson!” Liz stage whispered over to him, without taking another step into the library. “Psst! Jackson!” He did not look up. “Jackson!” she tried again, raising her voice slightly, making every single person in that section of the library look over.
“We’re busy,” Trina called to her. “And you’re not allowed in the library.”
“I’m not in the library,” Liz shot back. “My feet are entirely in the hallway.”
“It’s not based on the feet,” Trina claimed. “It’s any part of your body.”
“Okay,” Jackson said, “as fun as this is…” He walked over to the doorway to meet Liz. “I take it you need something?”
“I think I figured out the spell for putting the Vampire King back in her box, but…I can’t take this to the Coven without confirmation from a senior watcher.”
She awkwardly handed him the book through the door, open to the page she had found. As he looked at it, she explained nervously, “There’s an incantation, I think, but there’s also a bunch of ingredients that you’ve gotta kinda smoosh together.” She started counting off on her fingers. “Um, dried dates, a mixture with khat, fenugreek, ajwan seeds, oh, and it looks like an ostrich egg? That might be hard to get, but maybe the zoo has got, like, some extras? Some ostrich teenagers who just aren’t ready –”
“This is great work, Liz!” Jackson looked back up at her. Trina frowned.
Liz’s eyebrows went up. “Oh, so you think this is ready to take up to –”
“There’s just one thing,” Jackson said, “this isn’t an ostrich egg. I’m not a hundred percent on the translation, but it says the eggs were from a “giant bird from over the sea, with tree-trunk legs.” He thought for a second then said, “In ancient Africa, there aren’t that many islands they could have been trading with, so I’m thinking we’re probably talking, what, Madagascar?” He sighed, handing the book back to Liz through the crack in the door. “The spell won’t work without an elephant bird egg.”
“I-I’m sorry,” Liz said as she took the book back with a grunt. “What’s an…elephant bird?”
“Largest bird alive in modern times,” he told her. “Well, sort of modern. They went extinct some time in the 1600s.”
Liz blinked. “So, are there any eggs still around anywhere, or…?”
“Well, there are probably still a few in museums,” Jackson said. “But that won’t help. You need the yolk.”
Liz ran a hand over her face. “So, you’re telling me that the only spell that will put the unkillable vampire lady back in her box is useless?”
“Way to go, Giles, you ruined everything!” Trina called over.
End of Act Four