Watchers Council – Washington, DC Branch – Guest Quarters – Late Afternoon
Buffy squinted at her laptop screen. “So, okay, I thought I clicked ‘Screenshare.’ I really am trying.” She rubbed her eyes with both hands. “I’m so stupid.”
Her screen showed a video of Kennedy sitting in her living room, the background tastefully blurred. She held up a hand to stop Buffy.
“No, stop,” Kennedy said. “I can’t believe I’m the one to give this pep talk, but I’m gonna do it. You’re not stupid. You’re a great watcher. Emma’s doing great. You can’t let one bad day get to you. I say that as someone who has let a lot of bad days get to them. There is zero point, you just gotta get back on the dragon.”
Buffy gave her a dubious look. “There are bad days and then there are badder days, and then there are days where you let multiple people die and you somehow lose Shannon Matthewson.”
“And now you’re gonna fix it,” Kennedy said. “I don’t need the screenshare. I can hear you. What do we know?”
Buffy paused, swallowed, then said in a much more business-like tone, “We got a hit on the facial recognition. The girl at the Memorial’s name was Kayleigh Cromwell. She was a slayer who primarily worked private security for military contractor types in this area until she turned thirty a couple years ago. As we found out today, apparently she had a severe nut allergy that developed after she…hit the cut-off.” She took a deep breath. “Zero hits on the dead guy. He’s pretty much a ghost, and not the sexy kind.”
Kennedy blinked several times at this statement then shook her head. “So here’s my question: sure, this girl’s allergic, but how did our bad guys–” She was interrupted by Marsha’s head suddenly poking out of the background in front of her face. “No, girl, Mommy’s busy right now.”
Marsha showed no evidence of caring about this and licked Kennedy’s cheek with a long tongue.
“Faith said a couple things when we talked, and I thought maybe she was being paranoid, but now I think she might be onto something.”
This got Kennedy’s attention again, and she gently pushed Marsha’s head away as she looked back at the camera. “Faith said what now?”
“She said that she thinks these people are a pharmaceutical company because who else has the resources and doesn’t mind killing whoever gets in their way?” Buffy clarified. “I’m starting to think that maybe this whole thing is some sort of…evil clinical trial. And if you’re in one of those studies, they take all your health info, right?”
“If you’re right,” Kennedy said, “this whole thing might be more complicated than just arresting and/or beating up some people. Are we really gonna march into some mega-rich CEO’s office and haul them off to a holding cell?”
Buffy’s eyes hardened. “If Shannon gets proof that this is really what’s going on, I sure as hell am. These people are murdering slayers. I don’t care if they don’t have their powers anymore.”
“And I will back you up if it comes to that, I just want you to be ready for the shit to hit the fan,” Kennedy replied as she jerked her head to avoid Marsha’s attempt to stick her tongue inside her ear. “And that’s kind of the other thing, which is…what do we think the deal is with Shannon?”
Buffy ran a hand through her hair. “She’s out there on her own,” she said quietly. “Faith was right about that, too. I haven’t been scared enough, but now I am. That woman has a family, and I dangled her out there like bait on a…bait thing.”
Kennedy paused for a long beat then said, “Buffy, how long has it been since Shannon checked in?”
“Seven hours? Ish?” Buffy replied, looking like she was doing math in her head. “The Blooms are working to see if there’s something on the recording that can help us find her. I should be down there helping, but I honestly couldn’t listen to ‘Come On Eileen’ anymore…it’s a long story.”
“Shannon can take care of herself,” Kennedy said, “which means that if these guys think they’re gonna take her down, they’ve got their work cut out for them. But it also means that, if Shannon hasn’t checked in by now, we might need to consider that it’s on purpose.”
Buffy froze for a second. “Okay, I don’t get it.”
Kennedy sighed. “Look, what’s probably going on here is that Shannon is undercover, and she’s worried that if she contacts us, she’ll get made. But…couldn’t it also be that she wants to find out about this Cure for herself?”
“I…it’s too risky, right?” Buffy said, her mouth working as she tried to come up with the words. “She has a kid. She wouldn’t.”
“Does Shannon know how risky it is?” Kennedy asked. “I’ll tell you this, and I say this as somebody who has their own kid now. If I was twenty-nine again, I’d still sure as hell want to know more about this serum.”
Buffy considered this for a moment. Then earsplitting noises suddenly came through her speakers, startling her. They were the sounds of a baby crying.
“Kadin, can you help Vanessa?” Kennedy called over her shoulder. “I’m on a call!” When Kennedy didn’t get any response, she turned back to her camera. “I’m sorry, I swear she never cries like this.”
“Never say never,” Buffy said with a small smile.
“Yeah,” Kennedy said, clearly distracted. “I’ve gotta…”
“Oh, yeah, go. Thanks, Ken,” Buffy said, waving her off. Then her screen went blank as Kennedy cut the connection.
Buffy sat at the desk in the Council guest quarters for several more seconds, her expression unreadable.
The Stake & Crossbow – Night
The cacophony of the venue thrummed with chatter, the jukebox, the TV, the clinking of glasses, laughter, and the striking of cue tips on pool balls. Making her way through the crowd, the blond-haired woman who had killed the demon in the warehouse sulked toward the bar, persistent yet not hurried. Her eyes were full, but fixed. None of the patrons seemed to notice she was there.
She sidled through the crowd to the bar and kept walking to an empty barstool at the farthest end. There, she took a seat, her teeth showing slightly as she settled.
A female bartender came over, placed a napkin before her, then a glass and poured her a whiskey. As she went to walk away, the woman eyed the bottle, then the counter, and nodded. The bartender left the bottle and went to serve someone else.
The woman reached out, gripped the glass, and immediately knocked it back. She closed her eyes.
A hearty laugh bellowed as Lisa came through the folded back end-counter to behind the bar, carrying a tray of empty glasses with a smile. She caught sight of the woman sitting at the end. “Oh, hello, Crystal, luv. In early t’night. Ya all right?”
She set the tray down, shaking her head as her laugh wound down in ever diminishing fits and starts. Then, she stood up straight and turned to Crystal, the smile gone replaced with concern.
Crystal’s hand holding the drink began to shake, her lip trembling. Then a tear fell down her cheek.
Lisa’s face grew stern. Her brow twinged. She reached out and took Crystal’s other hand. Without taking her eyes off of her, Lisa slightly turned her head to the side, “Tina, darlin’, watch the bar.” Still holding her hand, Lisa came around the bar and wrapped her arm around her shoulder as she lightly pulled her to her feet. “Come on, come on, sweet’art.”
The Stake & Crossbow – Barrel Store – Moments Later
Her eyes fixed straight ahead, Crystal carefully reached into her pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes and a lighter. As she brought the cigarette up to her lips, the light caught the blood on the back of her hand. She lit up, took a long, hard drag, held her breath and then released a steady stream of smoke.
Lisa closed the door and turned to Crystal, who was perched on a keg, still holding it together save for the tears.
“Crystal, my luv,” Lisa bent down in front of her, “What’s happened? Are you all right?”
“I’m tired is all. So tired,” she replied, monotone.
“Is it still that insidious shit you’re working for?”
Crystal nodded, slowly.
“Jog the twat on, he needs you a lot more than you ‘im.”
Her lips briefly curled and, before she took another drag on her cigarette, she said, “If only.”
Lisa’s lips pursed. Then, “No…no, there’s sumthin’ more than ‘im workin’ you t’bone.” She looked at Crystal’s bloodied knuckles. “What’s he got on you?”
She didn’t answer.
“Crystal, I won’t ask again. What has he got on you?”
She lifted her head to meet Lisa’s fierce gaze, her own distant. “My boy.”
Lisa recoiled, stumbling back, gripping the shelves, raising a hand to her head, “Jesus fuck! How…how on earth did this happen?”
Crystal blew out, “Man wants somethin’, man gets it. And he’s got me,” she flicked the end of the cigarette.
“‘Cause I’m a woman who dared to say no to him. So he took him, right from fuckin’ under me. From school. While I’m workin’ days. So now, I’m workin’ all the livelong fuckin’ day. For him…for him.”
Lisa stared at her and then licked her lips and clasped her hands. “Right, so we round up girls, find ‘im and get ‘im back.”
Crystal shook her head. “No, he has eyes on this place. The others. Some of ’em are in his pocket, but too fuckin’ pussy to do some of the shit I gotta do.” She rubbed her eyes. “I turn thirty in the fall. He knows. And ’cause I hafta jump when he says how high, bastard’s got me until then so I haven’t, y’know, got the time for all…this.”
“Seems you had ‘nough time to open up, though.”
Crystal did not answer.
“And you really think he’d give your boy back once you’re done?”
Crystal stopped drawing on the cigarette and held in the smoke, her eyes darting off to the side at nothing in particular.
Lisa paced, running her hand along the rim of a nearby keg. “Council,” she said shortly. It was a suggestion.
“No,” Crystal immediately gave back, exhaling.
“Hear me out, I know…”
“I said no.”
“Can you really guarantee that your son is safe? That he’ll come back t’ya?”
“I get sent photos of him after each job, him holding the day’s paper.”
“Let’s see, then.” Lisa gestured to Crystal’s jacket then rested her hands on her hips. “You’re done for the night, so let’s see.”
“I…” Crystal blinked and took another drag. “I haven’t received it. Yet.”
Lisa sighed. “They have more resources, the Council. His eyes ain’t on ’em. Maddie went to ’em about that Todd bloke, and if she went…you afraid they’ll shop you to the police? Is that it?”
“No, and I’m not scared of bein’ recruited either. I’m afraid they’ll fuck it up and get him killed. They blew up a goddamn museum end of last year. Not exactly big on the subtle, and I ain’t doin’ nothin’ that puts him in any more harm’s way.”
“This stuff…there’re bits you can’t do on your own.”
“Been doing it on my own most of my life,” Crystal said. “I got this. I have to.”
“Even if it destroys you? Him? Look at ‘ya, this ain’t you, my luv.”
Crystal took a deep breath, “I have killed innocents. Humans and demons alike. Devastated families. Broken so many. They all borrowed from him, all owed him somethin’ or the other. I am destroyed. I’ve done what I’ve needed to, to get my son back. What judgment they or others’ll have, I’ve got plenty enough of my own. When I’ve got him back, got him raised, then I’ll face justice, happily. I’ll turn myself in.”
Lisa blinked, rocking her head back slightly. “Who does that benefit, in the end?”
Crystal looked to the right and stubbed the cigarette out on an empty box. “Maybe no one, but he will be safe, and he will be mine again.” She looked back and caught sight of the clock above the barrel store room door. She got to her feet, much to Lisa’s surprise, “I gotta go, only came in to take the edge off.”
“Before you do something else for ‘im?”
“Before I do.”
Lisa bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes, tilting her head to the side.
Crystal stared at her, and when Lisa opened her eyes, she nodded at the old woman before slowly walking towards the door.
“Crystal…” Lisa looked over her shoulder, “you need anything, anything, you come to me, all right?”
Gripping the door handle, Crystal half-turned her head back towards Lisa. She gave the slightest of nods. Then the door was open, and she was gone.
Lisa stared as the door lightly swung ajar. She sighed and rolled her eyes to the ceiling.
Las Vegas – Day
Beneath a half-scale replica of the Statue of Liberty, a tarp in the shape of a human body lay in the blasting sun. A blonde woman wearing reflective aviator sunglasses leaned down over the tarp and pulled up one edge, revealing the pale face of a beautiful woman’s corpse. She had two small holes on one side of her neck.
The woman looked up at a man standing next to her, wearing a Council jacket. “Give it to me.”
“Kaitlin Moreno, here to celebrate her wedding anniversary. And guess what? Turns out her husband’s a vampire.”
The woman looked back down at the corpse. “I guess what they say is true.” She pulled off her sunglasses. “In Vegas, the spouse always wins.”
The opening credits music kicked in. “YEAAAAAAAAHHHH!!!!”
Washington, DC – Motel Room – Night
Shannon wasn’t really paying attention to the opening credits of a rerun of Watchers Council Black Ops: Vegas playing on the small, flickering TV screen of her motel room. The blinds were drawn, but a few of the slats were missing. The carpet and walls featured several stains of unidentified origin. Shannon herself lay on the bed, leaning on a pillow propped against the wall. She leaned over and picked up her phone. The notifications featured several increasingly desperate text messages from Buffy, and a double-digit number of missed calls.
As Shannon looked at the phone, it started vibrating again. She sighed, accepted the call and put the phone to her ear.
“Stop calling me,” she said flatly.
Watchers Council – Washington, DC Branch – Guest Quarters – Same Time
Buffy paced around her guest room at the Council’s DC Branch, which was much nicer in just about every way than Shannon’s motel room.
“Shannon, thank God!” she exclaimed. “I’ve been trying to–”
“Don’t say anything,” Shannon cut her off. “You don’t know who’s listening.”
Buffy paused, her hand on a marble-topped kitchen island. Finally, she said, “Are you safe?”
Motel Room – Same Time
“I’m fine,” Shannon said. She got to her feet, the phone still to her ear, and took a few steps to the window. She peered through the blinds, the streetlights beyond shining in bars onto her face. “Don’t ask me where I am.” She bit her lip. “This whole thing is…it’s bigger than you think.”
Watchers Council – Washington, DC Branch – Guest Quarters – Same Time
Buffy ran a hand over her face. “I know. Look, I…I’m sorry for getting you into this. I am. And I know what you’re going through.”
“No.” Shannon’s voice betrayed little emotion over the phone, but Buffy froze at her words. “You don’t. It’s not the same for us now as it was for you.”
“Okay,” Buffy said quietly. She took a deep breath in then out. “I don’t know what to tell you, but I need your help. I really need it. Slayers need it. If you’re able to find something, to prove something…please, just think about what all of this means.”
She waited as silence ensued for two seconds on the other end of the line. Then Shannon said, “Don’t call me again.”
Buffy’s phone beeped as the call ended. She stayed with the phone to her ear for another beat, blinking a few times. Then she put the phone in her back pocket and walked toward the front door of the guest quarters.
Watchers Council – Washington, DC Branch – Computer Lab – Same Time
“Poor old Johnnie Ray/Sounded sad upon the radio.”
Hannah sat at a computer in a large computer lab, a pair of bulky headphones covering both ears. On the screen, green peaks and valleys on a black background were following the recording she was listening to as it continued.
“No, I mean, you got the look, is all,” the recording continued. “Old Fashioned.” Then another voice, slightly further away, said, “You got it, kid.” “Come On Eileen” continued unabated over all of it.
Hannah clicked her mouse to stop the recording. She opened a menu and made a change to the audio track, dropping out some areas, enhancing others. She leaned forward, squinting through her thick glasses as she clicked again. “You got it, kid,” the recording repeated, the vocals slightly more in the foreground.
Hannah groaned and sat back in her seat as the recording continued to play in her headphones.
“Too-ra-loo-ra/Too-ra-loo-rye-ay/And we can sing just like our fathers.”
She paused the recording again then picked up her phone from next to the keyboard. She opened her text messages and typed, “Looks like this might be an all-nighter. I just got more frozen dinners, they’re in the freezer.”
She waited for a moment, watching the three dots indicating Asher was typing. Then the message “sounds good” appeared.
Hannah bit her lip for a second then sent a heart emoji. She put her phone down then restarted the recording.
“Come on, Eileen…”
Allister-Rosenberg House – Bedroom – Same Time
Rowena stood in front of the bathroom mirror, wiping makeup off her face, when she noticed Willow had entered the adjoining bedroom. She turned back to the mirror before she called out, “I take it you talked to Jen?”
“Yeah, we talked,” Willow said. She pulled her phone out of her pocket and plugged it into the wall, then started removing her earrings.
A moment later, Rowena appeared in the bathroom doorway. “So, when does the Jen Rosenberg Experience go on tour? Or do I want to know?”
Willow sighed and shook her head. “It doesn’t. She’s not doing the interviews. Though there was some talk about starting a YouTube channel about dirt bikes, so you’re not out of the woods yet.”
“Ah yes,” Rowena said. She walked over and took a seat on the bed in her nightgown. “I will always remember the day we learned that our daughter was destined to save the world through her powers as an extreme sports influencer.”
Willow looked over at her wife. “I really don’t want to get into all this again–”
“Neither do I!” Rowena said emphatically.
“But I do think you should give her some credit. She made what you thought was the right decision, on her own.” Willow walked over to her dresser and started unbuttoning her pants. A moment later, she paused and looked back up at her wife. “I think we sort of went down the wrong road earlier. I’m sorry for minimizing what you went through or what that bastard did to you. I was serious though about what I said. I think we’re getting too paternalistic about this whole thing, as a Council. Buffy, Xander and I used to save Sunnydale every Tuesday in between history tests.” As she spoke, she kept pulling off clothing. “So did Cordelia, by the way, who you never met, but I’ll tell ya, she was hardly the paragon of human morality and achievement.”
“You know what we thought of the Watchers Council back then? We hated you guys! And, newsflash, we were right!” Willow pulled her shirt over her head. “They nearly killed Buffy and they fired Giles.”
Rowena held up a hand. “First off, it’s not like I was in charge of the place, either. But guess what, you won! You got to build your own Council. We did. And I think we did a pretty great job with it.”
“I just…” Willow sighed. “I also meant what I said about Grace. I don’t feel like it’s mine anymore.” She walked over to the bed and sat down next to Rowena, now in her underwear. “You know, when I said I used to think Hannah Gilroy was gonna run this place, I was serious. And somewhere along the way, she…she went to DC, I guess because there was a promotion there for Asher? When was the last time before this week you heard about her on anything work-related? She went from the future Chairwoman to, what, Asher’s little wife?”
“Will…” Rowena licked her lips and looked down at her hands. “A lot of people don’t want to be the most successful, the most famous, the richest. They just want to find their people, to start families. Just…be happy. I love our family, what we’ve made. What I want is more of that. You know what I bet? I bet that Hannah looked at us and thought, that’s what I want. I mean, don’t you?”
She looked back up, into Willow’s eyes. But Willow couldn’t quite hold her gaze. “Yeah,” Willow said. “Yeah.” Then she did look back into Rowena’s eyes, a small, slightly devious smile on her face. “You know what I want right now…”
She scootched toward Rowena on the bed, bringing her face a few inches from her wife’s. Her fingers played with the hem of Rowena’s robe and caressed the skin around her neck. “I’ll give you three guesses,” her lips whispered.
Rowena’s eyes flitted down toward her half-naked wife’s body for just a moment, but then she shook her head. “It’s been such a long day, and Sophie’s got a dental appointment at eight tomorrow.”
Willow blinked a few times then sat back. “Yeah,” she said quietly. She pulled her hand back over her hair. “Yeah, that makes sense.” She got up and walked over to a drawer, where she started pulling out some PJs.
“Rain check?” Rowena said, a small smile on her face as she watched Willow.
“Sure,” Willow said, without looking back at her.
Watchers Council – Washington, DC Branch — Computer Lab — Same Time
Hannah’s eyes were trained on the computer screen, the headphones still covering her ears. She didn’t notice Buffy behind her right up until the moment Buffy tapped her on her shoulder. Then she nearly fell out of her chair.
“I’m sorry!” Buffy exclaimed, seeing Hannah looking at her with her headphones now very askew over her face. “I didn’t mean to–”
“No, no,” Hannah said, catching her breath, “I was just…I feel like I’m missing something here.” She pulled off the headphones and adjusted her hair and glasses. “Shannon is counting on me.”
Buffy took a breath and sat down in the chair at the computer next to Hannah. “I just got off the phone with Kennedy, and she said something that got me thinking a little. That maybe Shannon…that maybe she’s doing this for her own reasons.”
Hannah blinked a few times behind her glasses and leaned over toward Buffy. “Meaning, what? That Shannon’s not on our side? No, she wouldn’t. Shannon wouldn’t–”
“That’s what I said,” Buffy agreed with a nod, “but…the whole reason I got her into this was that I heard she was having a hard time with the transition and I thought, I dunno, maybe we could use that. I’m going after these people so hard because I’m worried they’re using slayers. What if I’m doing that, too?”
Hannah reached out a hand and put it on Buffy’s. “You did the right thing. And so will Shannon.”
Buffy shook her head. “I don’t know, maybe I’m old fashioned, but my knee-jerk reaction when a girl turns thirty is to celebrate, you know, ’cause they made it. It’s not…what?”
She had noticed that Hannah had hurriedly turned back to her computer, scrolling through the green and black forms of her audio file.
“There was something…” Hannah pointed to a spot on the screen. “Hah! The Old Fashioned!”
“No, I’m not…” Buffy began to protest, but Hannah waved her off. She pulled her headphones out of the jack on the computer tower then pressed the spacebar to restart the playback.
“No, I mean, you got the look is all,” the former slayer from the bar said, “Come On Eileen” blaring in the background. Then, “Old Fashioned.”
“You got it, kid,” the bartender replied.
“So she ordered a drink,” Buffy said, “What’s…”
“Wait,” Hannah said urgently then clicked her mouse to restart the playback.
“You got it, Kit,” the bartender said.
Hannah turned back to Buffy, a grin on her face. “He didn’t say ‘kid,’ he said ‘Kit.'” Buffy’s forehead knit, and Hannah made a slightly annoyed noise in her throat. “It’s her name!”
Watchers Council – Washington, DC Branch — Computer Lab — Minutes Later
Buffy paced impatiently behind Hannah as the younger watcher made a call on her cell. “Well, I’m sorry, Allie, but it’s urgent, and we both know that if I texted, you would just’ve answered when you felt like it…You were in the bar, I’m sending you a pic now, I need you to tell me if that’s the girl Shannon left with.” She made a few swipes on her screen then put the phone back to her ear. “Yes, that’s her?”
This got Buffy’s attention, and she walked up behind Hannah to look at a picture of the dirty-blonde woman who had given Shannon a scooter ride earlier that day. Information on the screen next to her identified the woman as “Kit Godell.” Below that, the screen listed her address.
“Okay,” Hannah said into her phone, “Go back to sleep, dipshit…Well, that sounds like a you problem.” She ended the call and gave Buffy a little bit of an embarrassed smile. “Allie, she’s great, you just gotta know how to–”
“This the address?” Buffy asked, pointing at the screen. When Hannah nodded, she said, “What are we waiting for?”
“Miss Summers, if I could suggest…” Hannah sighed. She stood up out of her chair. “I just think maybe we could all use a few hours sleep before we start charging into God knows what. You don’t want to spook this girl. Showing up at her house at three A.M. is pretty guaranteed to spook her.” Buffy raised an eyebrow, unconvinced, and Hannah swallowed. “Back in Sunnydale, if the Council had shown up at your house in the middle of the night, what would you have done?”
Buffy ran a hand over her face then said, “I would’ve climbed out the window. Yeah, okay, you’re right.” She gave Hannah a small, tired smile. “You’re a pretty good watcher, you know that? You remind me of somebody sometimes. Might be the glasses.” She turned around and walked back toward the door, but after several steps she stopped and faced Hannah again. “How did you know about Sunnydale and my old house?”
“Are you kidding?” Hannah replied with a grin. “I’ve read everything about you. You’re, like, my hero, you know that right? You’re a lot of people’s hero around here.”
Buffy briefly looked down at her feet then said, “I honestly have no idea what to say to that, so I’m just gonna go.” A moment later, she disappeared into the darkened hallway.
Living Room — Time Unknown
“Chamique?” Grace asked, prior to blowing on the top of her tea to take a drink.
“Nah.” After a gulp, Casey shook her head. “Don’t get me wrong, she’s a good girl, but it’d be seen as nepotism giving the dying woman’s patrol wife the top job.”
They sat at opposite ends of the sofa, Casey with her legs on Grace’s lap, both under a blanket.
“Aww, you jealous?” Casey nudged her with her foot and blew her a kiss. “You know you’re my one and only.”
“Don’t say that. Please.” Grace’s eyes glassed over.
Casey rolled her eyes as she raised her mug and took a sip. She coughed as she swallowed and cleared her throat.
Shifting her weight, Grace began to move, lifting Casey’s legs, but when Casey raised her spare hand, Grace stopped. Casey’s hand curled into a thumbs up, and she swallowed again, hard.
After a laden beat of silence, Grace sniffed. “So, ugh, you know the candidates better than anyone, it really is your choice. And then not, ’cause, you know, vetting and interviews and bureaucracy.”
“All the things you love nowadays.”
“Seriously, who am I, right?” The inflection in Grace’s voice was not entirely jovial.
“You’re a stone-cold bitch with a heart of gold enough to make a whore blush. You’re one of life’s good’uns.”
Casey took another sip and then, “Shannon.”
Her mug halfway raised to her lips, Grace stopped in pensive thought. Her eyes then moved to meet Casey’s. “Oh…oh, good choice.”
“Yeah, she ain’t half come a long way. Plus, she’s younger so, you know, more time before the dreaded three-oh, but she’s got a good head on her chip-less shoulders—”
They both looked at each other and in unison said dryly, “Lorinda.”
“—dependable like a lab, isn’t intimidated by the sitch so, you know, you’d get on well, plus, bravery? ‘Cor, off the chart.” She swirled her mug and downed the last of the tea. “Having Faith as a mum-in-law? Talk about lady-balls. Another?” She held her mug out to Grace.
With a small smile, she said, “Sure thing.”
Casey lifted her legs, swinging them to one side allowing Grace to get up.
“Shannon it is,” Grace proclaimed. “I’m not sure she’ll take it.”
“Want her to say yes? Tell her it’s either her or Lorinda as head slayer.”
Grace smiled. “You’re devious.”
“And you love the idea,” Casey smiled back confidently.
Kitchen — Same Time
Both mugs in hand, Grace walked to the counter and placed the mugs in the sink, reached over and picked up and filled the electric kettle. As she turned the faucet off, she heard Casey coughing from the living room.
She paused. The coughing subsided.
She leaned over, placed the kettle on the dock and pushed down the switch. Grace opened the overhead cupboard, took out two clean mugs and then opened the caddy for the tea bags.
She heard more coughing, worse this time.
As she was standing there, expression vacant, Casey’s coughing grew in intensity, alongside the ever boiling kettle that rattled and shook on the dock.
Eyes forward, gazing into the space between the atoms of the kitchen backsplash, Grace just stared forward as the wracking cough and the clashing kettle melded into one all-encompassing din and…
Watchers Council — Staff Room — Present — Morning
…the kettle clicked.
Grace blinked. Then she blinked again, and again. She pushed herself off of the counter she had been gripping, reached for the kettle and poured the boiling water into her single mug.
“You okay?” she heard from behind her. She turned to see Xander reach into the refrigerator and pull out a bottled water.
“Yeah, just thinking of slayer assignments,” she replied. It wasn’t a lie. It wasn’t the entire truth either. “How are you today?”
“Looking over plans for possible weapons for Emma before she gets back,” he replied.
Grace smiled. “Buffy’s done a wonderful job. You should be proud of her.”
“Every day since 1997. Even if we might not always see eye-to-eye.” He smiled back.
Washington, DC — Street — Morning
Buffy and Emma walked down a cracked sidewalk, the former’s hands deep in the pockets of her jacket against a chill spring wind. The sun was rising behind a row of brick duplexes in various states of disrepair that stretched all the way down the block.
“Looks like this is it,” Emma said, stopping in front of one of the duplexes. A chain-link fence surrounded a small lawn that hadn’t been mowed in a little too long. She nodded to the red motorized scooter parked in front of the place.
Front Steps — Moments Later
Buffy knocked on the metal of the screen door, and she and Emma waited. Emma had a small folding crossbow holstered in her belt. Buffy’s eyes nervously flitted over to her slayer, noticing the slayer’s hand waiting just next to the holster, like an Old West gunfighter ready to draw. Buffy opened her mouth to say something, but before she could, the door opened a crack, held to only a few inches by a brass chain.
“Yes?” A wizened old lady’s face could be seen through the opening, her hair gray and wispy.
Emma relaxed, more out of surprise than anything. It took Buffy a few tries to get her words out. “Is-is this Kit Godell’s residence?”
“Why yes,” the woman said, smiling at them. “May I tell her who’s here to see her?”
Buffy and Emma blinked at each other for a moment. Then Buffy produced her badge and said, “Um, we’re from the Watchers Council. We just want to ask her a few questions about an investigation.”
“Oh, Ms. Summers of the Watchers Council! I knew you looked familiar!” exclaimed the old woman. “She should definitely talk to you then.” The woman closed the door briefly, long enough to unhook the chain, then opened it wider to allow the pair entry. “Well, come in, come in!”
Buffy and Emma entered the house and found a small, tattered living room, dog-eared paperback novels piled high in three of the corners.
“Kitty, you have visitors!” the old woman called up a steep flight of stairs.
A moment later, Kit Godell appeared at the top of the stairs, clearly having just crawled out of bed. She wore a loose t-shirt and a pair of flannel pants. Her eyes went wide when she saw Buffy and Emma looking up at her. “Oh God. Summers,” she said softly.
“Look who’s here,” the old woman said. “Are you still not dressed? It’s almost seven.”
Kit said nothing. She and Buffy were having an angry staring contest.
The old woman turned to Buffy and Emma and asked, “I’m making coffee, would you like some?”
“That would be great!” Emma replied.
“A-actually, Mom,” Kit stammered, “they were just leaving.” But her mother was already tottering away toward the kitchen. Kit swallowed hard and began to walk down the stairs.
“We just want to talk,” Emma said, doing her best to sound reassuring.
“I can’t talk to you,” Kit said as she reached the bottom of the stairs. She lowered her voice to an angry hiss. “Do you have any idea what you’ve done? It’s not just me and you who are in danger. They’ll hurt my mom. Do you understand?”
“You put her in danger when you got into whatever it is you’re into now,” Buffy growled back. She made no attempt to sound reassuring.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about!” Kit shot back.
Emma’s eyes went back and forth between the two of them, looking increasingly nervous.
“I need to know where Shannon Matthewson is,” Buffy said evenly. “And I’ll bet Mr. Pointy that you know.”
“What are you girls standing around for?” Kit’s mom admonished, returning from the kitchen with two large cups of coffee on a tray. It shook slightly in her thin, papery hands. “Please, have a seat!” She placed the tray down on a coffee table. When Buffy and Emma made no move to comply, she removed a copy of the Washington Times from the couch and placed it on the table. “Please,” she repeated.
After a moment’s further hesitation, Buffy and Emma followed her over to the couch and sat down. Kit crossed her arms defiantly, but after her mother glanced balefully at her, she dropped into an overstuffed recliner across from the couch.
Emma picked up her cup and sniffed it. She looked up at Kit’s mother. “Do you maybe have some cream somewhere?”
“Of course, dear,” the old woman replied, tottering off again in the direction of the kitchen.
“No, Mom…” Kit again attempted ineffectually, but her mother ignored her.
“Thanks!” Emma called after the woman. Buffy ignored this exchange, and her coffee, instead continuing to stare at Kit. Emma smiled awkwardly at the former slayer. “I like your PJs.”
Kit swallowed and looked down at the coffee table. “I know what you think of me. I probably deserve it. I dunno.”
Buffy sighed. “I know you’re not evil. I know evil slayers. I just…I don’t get why you’d set other slayers up like this.”
“You’re more of an expert on evil slayers than late stage capitalism slayers,” Emma pointed out.
“I’m just doing what I have to do,” Kit said. She briefly glanced over at the kitchen, where her mother could still be heard puttering around in a cupboard. “Look, if I helped you, they would know it was me. They would…”
She stopped when her mother walked back into the room with a small cup of cream, which she set in front of Emma.
“Thanks again,” Emma said.
“Well, I’ll leave you to it,” the old woman said. She disappeared back into the kitchen.
Emma spoke as she poured her cream into her coffee. “Here’s the thing, though. They will anyway. We don’t know who they are, yet, but we know what they do.” She paused to stir the cream into her coffee and saw both Buffy and Kit looking at her as she did so. “You’re here talking to us now. It doesn’t matter if you tell us where she is or not, you’d have to be an idiot not to think these people are going to come after you.” She picked up her cup and took a small sip. “So really, you’ve got two options here. Don’t help us and hope you don’t get murdered, or help us and let us protect you. You and your mom.”
Kit stared, wide-eyed, at Emma. Buffy had a small smile on her face as she also looked at her slayer.
“You haven’t done a great job protecting anybody from these people so far,” Kit finally said.
Emma shrugged. “Knowledge is power, and we’re learning more every minute. And right now, we’re all you’ve got. So…what’s it gonna be?”
She took a much longer slurp of her coffee.
Street — Minutes Later
“We know where Shannon is,” Buffy half-shouted into her cellphone as she hopped into the backseat of the Council van around the corner from Kit’s duplex. “But there’s more. How big a force can you get together in twenty minutes?” She paused for a moment to listen to the person on the other end of the line. “We’ll figure out the plan when we all get there. If we let these people plan things out, I think they might slip away for good. I think we gotta take our shot here.”
She looked over her shoulder at Kit and her mother, who were already sitting in the row behind her.
“This is exciting,” commented the elder Godell.
Emma rolled the side door of the van shot with a bang, and ran around to the driver’s side. She turned around to talk to Buffy before pulling out.
“So we’re about to take a little old lady on a raid?” she asked.
“I want them in my sight,” Buffy replied, “at least for the next hour or so.” She turned around to speak to Kit. “Once we start arresting people, this is all out in the open, and I think they’ll be a lot less likely to come after you both, but we’ll still put protections in place, okay?”
Kit hesitated for a beat then nodded. The van pulled out of its parking spot with a screech.
Office Building – Morning
Shannon entered the building through an automated revolving glass door, big enough to fit several people at once. She stopped once inside and looked around the lobby. She pulled Dr. Pakula’s business card out of her back pocket then looked back up at her surroundings. One wall was actually a solid video screen, currently covered in oversized images of growing vines and flowers. One of the flowers opened and the words “Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals” appeared at wall-spanning size, closely followed by the phrase, “We keep your wellness…fresh.”
“Huh,” she said.
Shannon walked across the marble floor to a glass reception desk, behind which sat a young man in a suit.
“I, um, I have an appointment to see Dr. Pakula?” she said.
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — Laboratory – Later that Morning
Shannon walked a few steps behind Dr. Pakula, in his white lab coat, through another all-white room.
“As you can see,” the doctor was saying, “we aren’t some fly-by-night operation. This is one of the most sophisticated laboratory facilities in the world, with several labs around the country — Cleveland included, of course.”
A variety of ingredients had been carefully sorted on a table. Several individuals wearing clean suits and masks picked up individual ingredients with tweezers and combined them in flasks.
“We are attempting to bring magic into the twenty-first century,” Dr. Pakula continued. “We don’t just control the temperature in this room. The ambient magic in this room is kept at a constant forty-seven merlins, not to mention the temperature, moisture–”
“Yeah, I don’t care,” Shannon said flatly. “I want to know two things: what’s in it and is it safe? What happened to the girls who took it before?” She paused. “I guess that’s three things.”
Dr. Pakula looked at her for a beat then said, “Follow me.”
The pair exited through a hermetically sealed door into another room, this one containing high-tech refrigerators lining two of the walls, each containing row after row of small vials containing a clear, yellowish liquid. In another corner, a female scientist in a lab coat peered through a microscope.
“As you know,” the doctor said, gesturing at the vials surrounding them, “this product is still at the trial stage. I can’t guarantee a lack of…side effects. Our specific mix of ingredients is proprietary, but–”
“Doc, let me stop you right there,” Shannon said again. “I’m pretty sure you’re here showing me around personally because you all want me involved in this pretty bad. Honestly, I don’t care why. But if you don’t answer my questions, I’m gonna walk.”
As she spoke, she watched out of one eye as another scientist came out of a door that had heretofore been an undifferentiated stretch of white wall. He brought a folder to the scientist in the corner, who thanked him and opened it to show what looked like patient records.
“Ms. Matthewson, I–”
“Let’s do this,” Shannon said abruptly. “Oil of Reproxin, that’s what they were adding in that last room, right?”
Dr. Pakula blinked at her several times. “How could you possibly know–?”
“You think they don’t train slayers in magical ingredients at the Council?” Shannon waved her hand dismissively. “Where did you get it?”
The doctor took a short breath then said, “We are able to harvest them from Reproxin demons who pass away from natural causes. We offer substantial financial incentives to cause demons to sign pre-mortem releases.”
Shannon looked from him to the woman in the corner and then back at Dr. Pakula, but her face betrayed nothing of what was going on behind it. “Okay, I’ve got another question. Does Tess Muller know about this?”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals – CEO’s Office — Same Time
Tess Muller sat behind her desk in front of a window that took up a full wall behind her, overlooking a wide Washington, DC avenue. She adjusted her collar and smoothed down her blouse, then took a deep breath. She leaned forward and clicked her mouse on the button on her desktop that read “Enter Meeting.”
Empress Zorgy’s face popped up on the screen. Her horns poked out from beneath a pink hooded blanket with cartoon dachshunds on it. “Tess, hi! Can you hear me?” The background behind her was only darkness.
“Yes, Empress Zorgy.” Tess bowed her head slightly behind her desk. “Thank you for sending me the invitation.”
“Oh, it’s no problem,” Zorgy said. “Just wanted to check on a couple things. How’s the weather there in DC?”
Tess blinked a few times. “It’s, um, it’s good. Still chilly. Um, what about where you are, Empress? I like your…Snuggie?”
“It’s an Oodie, it’s totally different,” Zorgy told her.
“Of course,” Tess said, with practiced diplomacy. “I take it it’s cold there, too?”
Zorgy sighed on the screen. “Yeah, y’know, I know it’s rain of fire season around here, but I just can’t get used to this thing where it, like, rains fire every day. And then, somehow, it’s still freezing?” She shivered under her blanket then shook her head. “How’s the kids?”
Tess’s breath caught slightly at this one, but she tried to cover it up. “They’re doing great. Kyle just started baseball practice today.”
“Oh shit,” Zorgy exclaimed, seemingly in excitement, “what position? I used to play third base.” She scratched idly at the base of one of her horns. “But, um, it was hard keeping a batting helmet on.”
“I…honestly can’t tell when you’re joking, Empress Zorgy.”
“Yeah, that’s kind of the point,” Zorgy said. “Look, let’s get down to business, I – wait, what happened?”
The video on Tess’s monitor had blinked out, and now just had the words “Zorgy, the Queen of Ashes, the Mistress of Shadows, the Grand Duke of the Seventh and Twenty-First Hells, and the Twelfth Scion of the Thirty-Eighth House of Ralkess” printed over a black screen.
“Krog, the video’s out again!” Tess could hear Zorgy yell. “What do you mean they say they aren’t really virgins? Sacrifice them anyway, you won’t know until you try.”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — Laboratory — Same Time
Shannon’s eyes briefly roamed the room again, lingering for a moment on the file lying open next to the scientist in the corner. Then they came to rest on a large, empty glass beaker sitting on a table nearby.
“Tess Muller is a true visionary. She has been deeply involved in our project since its inception,” Dr. Pakula said. Then he turned and moved toward another door on the far wall of the room. “Now, if you’ll come with me, we can prepare your–”
Shannon grabbed the beaker and smashed him over the back of the head with it, and the doctor collapsed, unconscious, to the tile floor. The scientist in the corner barely had time to turn and look around at the noise before Shannon was on her. She wrapped her arm around the woman’s throat from behind and squeezed, just enough. The scientist opened her mouth, trying to scream, but no sound came out.
“Shh, shh,” Shannon whispered as the woman’s eyes closed. Then Shannon released her, and she slumped down on the floor. At that moment, Shannon’s eyes caught the red light of the security camera hanging above the woman’s desk. “Oh.”
She looked down at the file on the woman’s desk. The name at the top of the page was “Lucia Dominguez.” Shannon grabbed the file and ran over to the section of wall that had opened a minute earlier. She pressed on it lightly with both hands, and it popped open.
Vor Hell Dimension – Zorgy’s Palace – Same Time
Zorgy sat on a red throne in the center of a darkened chamber, lit solely by a blue flame in a cauldron in front of her. A moment later, a wavering vision of Tess’s face appeared just above the flame.
“Never mind,” Zorgy called, “It’s back!” She took a deep breath and turned to the image of Tess in front of her. “Look, let’s talk about how it’s going with this Cure of yours.”
“Well, unfortunately,” Tess’s voice came from her shimmering face, “we’re having to look for more candidates. The death rate has been even higher than we anticipated.”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — File Room — Same Time
Shannon found herself in a room filled with row after row of metal filing cabinets. Next to an open drawer stood the scientist who had brought his colleague the file a few moments earlier. He stared at Shannon for a long moment. She slowly curled her fingers into a fist.
Then she said, “You should probably run and get help.”
The scientist did not need to be told twice, running past her and out of the room. Once he was gone, Shannon immediately strode forward to the cabinet he had left open, which was marked “Candidates” in small type. She began to rifle through the files. The first few had familiar names. Kelly Whitecloud. Leah Friedman. These had “DECEASED” stamped over the bio pages in large red letters. Then Shannon kept looking and found a dozen more files. Then another dozen. Several of them had the same “DECEASED” marking.
Then she pulled out a final file, marked with the name “Casey Pierce.” It had the same large red stamp. Shannon’s eyes swept the page.
She hurriedly pulled out her phone and started snapping photos of the pages.
Vor Hell Dimension – Zorgy’s Palace – Same Time
“I don’t care about that,” Zorgy said quickly. “Has it gotten out yet? That there’s a drug that can give slayers their powers back?”
Tess shook her head. “There are plenty of rumors online, but nothing solid. We’ve continued to keep the facts about the treatment under wraps, as well as any unfortunate side effects, as you requested. If you’d prefer, we could work more publicly, but–”
Zorgy held up a hand, and Tess immediately closed her mouth. “I know about the rumors, I put them there. Look, all we need is one good YouTube video of this working on some girl, and the Council is fucked.”
“I-I was very clear, Empress, that the Cure has over a ninety percent catastrophic failure rate…” Tess hesitated. “I don’t understand why you would want it to work.”
Zorgy leaned forward. “No, honestly, it’s kind of perfect, we just need to be patient. See, here’s the thing, Tess. We don’t want it to actually work. I don’t think it’s possible to actually ‘cure’ this thing with slayers, anyway. Magic is just that way sometimes. What we need is it to work maybe once or twice on some girl who will tell everybody, okay? And then the Council will have to sit there and say, ‘you guys can’t have it, you’ll probably die, it would be wrong.’ They’ll have to.” She sat back on her throne, hands behind her head. “I can’t think of a quicker way to get the slayers to completely stop paying attention to anything the Council says than there being a drug out there that they know could give them their powers back, and the Council says they can’t have it.”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — File Room — Same Time
The next filing cabinet over was marked “Reproxin Acquisition Program.” Shannon pulled one of the drawers open and rifled through it. She pulled out a heavily-typed piece of paper.
“The efficacy of the Oil declines exponentially within minutes after death,” she read under her breath. She put the paper back and pulled out another, marked “Disposal Request for Remains.” In a box below marked “Total Requests,” the number “125” had been scrawled in blue pen. Shannon took a picture of this page, too.
Vor Hell Dimension – Zorgy’s Palace – Same Time
The image of Tess bowed slightly again. “I am glad to be of service, Empress. Soon our victory will be at hand.”
Something changed behind Zorgy’s eyes, but her head stayed leaned back on her hands. “My victory.”
“Yes, your victory, Empress,” Tess said hurriedly.
Zorgy stood up, pulled her hood down and took a few steps toward the fiery cauldron. “Listen, Tess. We both know you’re not doing this because you love me or believe in my cause or whatever. If this gets out, your company’s shares will end up in the tank.”
Her voice took on a dangerous edge. “You know that there are terrible legions beyond your imagination, awaiting only my command to ravage your world. We are only a few months from that moment, the moment your entire fucking species will be bled dry, and you know that this so-called Cure is the only thing keeping you and your little shortstop on the list of those lucky few who won’t have their intestines slowly pulled out of them and used as dental floss.”
Zorgy’s expression changed drastically then, and she flashed a smile. “So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t fuck this up. See ya later, Tess.” She pulled her pink, patterned hood back up over her head, reached down and grasped a shiny black lid on the floor, which she proceeded to place over the flame.
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals – File Room – Same Time
Shannon looked up from the files at the sound of footsteps. The scientist she had sent scurrying away had returned, along with three hulking demons. Their skin was blue-black, with deep red eyes and thick horns spiraling over their ears like a ram. All three wore security guard uniforms.
“Stop!” called out one of the demons in an incredibly deep, but very clear, voice. “That information is confidential, and you are on private property. Please step towards us calmly, with your hands up.”
Shannon did not move. She looked at the group dispassionately. Then she said, “No.”
“Step away from the–” the demon began again.
Shannon launched herself at the nearest demon and kicked him in the sternum. The primary effect of this was that Shannon bounced off, but she rolled backwards onto her feet. All three demons charged her.
At the last moment, Shannon dropped to the floor, sliding between the legs of the middle demon. She popped up to her feet and kicked him in the back, sending him sprawling. She grabbed the next closest demon by the shoulders and flipped completely upside-down, her feet banging against the drop ceiling. She wrapped her arms around his neck and then swung her body down like a pendulum, sending the demon flipping over her into a row of cabinets. Several of them toppled into each other in a row, like dominos.
By this time, the other two demons had returned, and Shannon punched each hard in the face in succession. As they staggered, she grabbed one and yanked him toward her, then kneed him in the solar plexus. As he wheezed, she grabbed him by the horns and pulled him forward as she opened the drawer of the nearest cabinet with her other hand. She pulled the demon’s head into the open drawer then slammed it shut. The impact was enough to send him slumping to the ground.
Shannon turned to face her lone remaining attacker, assuming a fighting stance and bouncing on the balls of her feet. “I think maybe you guys are used to dealing with girls who don’t have their powers anymore,” she said. “Surprise!”
“I don’t understand,” growled the demon. “Who are you?”
“I’m a slayer,” Shannon said, and then she attacked again. She rained punches and kicks on the other demon, who blocked the first few but soon found himself the subject of a slayer-strength pummeling. Shannon pulled back her fist to deliver a knockout punch.
Then she stopped at the distinct sound of a pistol cocking. She turned her head to see Dr. Pakula, now bleeding from a gash on his head, pointing a handgun in her direction.
“Not for long,” he said.
A stony expression on her face, Shannon slowly raised both hands.
“What, no snarky quip?” Dr. Pakula asked.
“I don’t quip,” Shannon said.
A moment later, the demon whose behind she had been kicking punched her hard in the temple. Blind-sided, Shannon’s head flung sideways into the nearest filing cabinet, her temple striking against a metal handle.
Everything went dark.
End of Act Five. Unto the final act…