Council Van – Day
Buffy had her phone out and was talking loudly into it as Washington office buildings whisked by outside the windows of the Council van.
“We’re on our way; the DC Branch has reinforcements that might make it there before us.”
She leaned into the front seat, over Emma’s shoulder then sighed. “How long do we think?”
“Waze says ten minutes,” the slayer replied.
“Have you had the chance to think about my idea about putting sirens and stuff on our cars?” Buffy said into her phone.
“Buffy, I get it,” Grace’s voice came from the other end of the line. “But we don’t know if Shannon’s alive, or is even in trouble, or is even doing what we asked her to do.“
“That’s right,” Buffy said, “we don’t know. What we do know is slayers are dead, and these people did it.”
In the backseat, Kit’s mother looked out the window. “There’s so many homeless in the city these days. I don’t know how anyone lives here.”
“You live here, Mom,” Kit replied, without looking over.
“Not by choice!”
“You’re talking about walking into a Fortune 500 company’s headquarters and arresting the CEO,” Grace was telling Buffy. “That’s not how any of this works. We don’t even know if Tess Muller knows about any of this.”
Emma shakily lurched the van into a busy traffic circle. A car that was already in the circle had to slam on the brakes to avoid them, its horn blaring.
“Is Kennedy there?” Buffy asked. “Maybe you could ask Kennedy, she said she was on board.”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals – CEO’s Office – Same Time
A glass of cold water splashed on Shannon’s unconscious face, and her eyes fluttered open. She blinked several times, taking in her surroundings.
She was sitting in a chair in Tess Muller’s office. The CEO of Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals stood several feet away, currently looking away from Shannon out the floor-to-ceiling windows of her office. The large security guard demon who had punched out Shannon stood nearby, pouring himself another glass of water from a crystal pitcher on a side table. Shannon pulled at her hands. They were tied to the arms of the leather chair she sat in.
“Oh good, you’re up,” Tess said, still looking out the window. Then she turned back toward Shannon. “I thought about letting you rest, but we do need to talk.”
Shannon looked from the CEO to the demon, who downed his glass of water in a single gulp. “Your hospitality could be better,” she rasped.
“I’m sorry,” Tess said. “Where are my manners?” She gestured to the demon, and he walked over and tossed a small hand towel in her lap. He began to loosen the bonds on Shannon’s wrists. She pulled them free, rubbing one with her other hand.
“Would you like something to drink?” Tess continued. “We have water, coffee, a few stronger things.”
“I’m fine,” Shannon said. Using the hand towel she dabbed the water from her face and hair. “Just…get on with it.”
Tess shook her head as she sat down behind her desk. “Slayers. I should have known.” She sighed. “You were in the file room. I think maybe you understand a little bit of what we’re trying to do here.”
Shannon got to her feet, sparing a brief glance at the demon security guard as she walked forward. She licked her lips and turned back to Tess. “You’re killing friendly demons,” she said.
“Does that bother you?” Tess asked.
“And,” Shannon said, “your test subjects, former slayers, there are…more than I thought.”
Tess looked down for a moment then back up at her. “Ms. Matthewson, what do you think we are seeking to accomplish here? You yourself turn thirty in, what, fifty days? A little less? You know what that means. What it means for every slayer. I have one fundamental question here. Which is…what if it didn’t? What if, instead of your life being controlled by outside forces, you were in charge? What if you could just keep living your own life, regardless of what anyone else says or tells you? What if you didn’t have to completely reboot everything that you are just because some magic spell from thousands of years ago says so?”
“What are you saying?”
“What I’m saying,” Tess said, “is I have a serum that can make you, and every girl like you, keep being a slayer.” She held her hands out. “Sure, there have been some…setbacks the past few years. But every great thing anybody’s ever done has required sacrifices.”
“Those were slayers who died,” Shannon said quietly. “Who you killed.”
“No, they weren’t,” Tess said baldly. “Not anymore. But it doesn’t have to be that way. They knew what they were doing.”
Shannon shook her head. “No, I don’t think they did.”
Tess paused again. She got to her feet and began to walk around her desk. “Ms. Matthewson, here is what I would like to do. I would like to give you our Cure. I think you will survive it. You remind me of someone else I know that did. And when you do, I would like you to tell everyone about what we’ve done here, about the new day we’ve brought about together. When they hear it from you, a highly-respected senior slayer at the Council, it will mean much more than if it came from us. Do you think you can do that?” She held out a hand to Shannon as if to shake on it.
Shannon looked down at Tess’s hand. Without shaking it, she turned and walked over to the water pitcher on the side table. She turned to the demon and asked, “May I?” He nodded. Shannon picked up a small brass shovel and dipped it into a tub of ice, then poured several of the cubes into a crystal glass. She picked up the pitcher and poured water over the ice, then picked up the glass and took a sip.
“You wanna know why losing my powers really freaks me out?” Her eyes stayed on the cubes in the glass. “It’s not about the strength, or the healing, or what might happen once it’s gone. Sure, I mean, it gives you nightmares, but…it’s because being a slayer is who I am. Somebody said to me that all those women we all look up to…Buffy Summers, Faith Lehane, Kennedy Calendar…they all got through it, so we can too. Hell, Buffy Summers herself tried to tell me that.”
She sighed and took another drink.
“Buffy’s wrong. All those girls were people before they were slayers. Faith had a freakin’ kid before she ever got her powers. Who I married, somehow.” Shannon laughed, once, then took another sip. “But I…I’ve never been anything else. If I’m not a slayer…I’m nothing. I’m just fucking…nothing.”
Shannon downed the rest of the glass, then she turned back to Tess and said, “So yeah, okay. I’m in. “
Street Outside Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals – Same Time
The Council van screeched to a halt outside Wellfresh headquarters, double-parking on Connecticut Avenue behind several other similar vans, the only difference being that the others were marked with the Council coat of arms.
“I don’t see any spaces,” Emma pointed out.
“Let ’em give us a ticket,” Buffy said as she pulled open the van’s sliding door. She hopped out and waved briefly to Hannah and Allie, who stood some distance away on the sidewalk, then looked up at the all-glass office building with a large Wellfresh logo on one upper corner. She put her cellphone back to her ear. “We’re here. I need an answer.”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals – CEO’s Office – Same Time
Shannon set her glass back down on the side table. “Just let me text my husband to let him know I’ll be a few more days, then we can do whatever we need to do.” She fished for her phone in her back pocket but came up empty. She looked back up at Tess. “Can I have my phone back?”
“M’brakhnik here can let him know,” Tess said, motioning to the demon.
“No.” Shannon shook her head. “He’ll know it’s not me, he’s good at that. He’ll set off all the alarm bells. You gotta let me do it. And anyway, aren’t we partners now?”
Tess looked at her for a second, then shrugged and nodded to M’brakhnik. He held out Shannon’s phone to her with a clawed hand. She took it and made several quick keystrokes, sighed, then stuck it in her back pocket.
“Y’know,” she said, sitting back down in her chair and casually crossing her legs, “you guys checked me up and down for magic when I walked in here, but you let me keep my phone. I could have been recording you this whole time. You should fix that.”
“Good point,” Tess agreed. She sat down behind her own desk. “So, the next thing is to get you started with your treatment plan. Understandably, Dr. Pakula would prefer not to interact with you personally going forward, so what I’m thinking is–”
“Tess…” Shannon interrupted. “I’m gonna call you Tess, by the way.”
Tess held her hands wide in acceptance then motioned for Shannon to continue.
“I did see your files. I know that a lot of the slayers who took this died. You know that, right?”
“It’s true,” Tess admitted. “There have been many unfortunate casualties during the process. That’s why we couldn’t work with the Council on this, or seek any kind of official approval. But we believe we’ve made great strides because of their sacrifices, so you should have peace of mind regarding your own safety.”
“But it wasn’t just from this Cure, was it?” Shannon asked. “I saw what happened to those girls. You weren’t just covering up that they died from side effects. Some of them were taken out. Like Lucia.”
“If we hadn’t maintained secrecy until we had a working product,” Tess replied smoothly, “this entire process would have been upended by unnecessary government regulation. What happened to those girls was sad, but necessary for the greater good.”
Shannon held up her hands. “I’m not judging. I just want to make absolutely sure I know how to avoid ending up like Lucia. What did she do?”
“We were forced to neutralize Lucia Dominguez because she threatened to go public regarding the program and its side effects,” Tess said. “We are asking you for public statements about the success of our product. Our attorneys will handle the rest. You don’t need to worry about it.”
Shannon pulled out her phone again. “Sorry, one sec, I’m getting a call.” She pressed a couple buttons then put it to her ear. “Yeah, it’s me. Did you get it?…Yeah?…Yeah, okay.”
She stood up and walked over to Tess’s desk. She held the phone out to the other woman. “It’s for you,” she said.
Tess blinked twice. Shannon made a small, insistent gesture with the phone. Then Tess took the device, put it down on her desk, and hit the “Speaker” button. “This is Tess Muller, how can I help you?”
“Hi,” Grace said over the phone. “This is Grace Hatherley, Chairwoman of the Watchers Council.”
“Grace,” Tess said amicably, “it’s good to hear from you, but I’m not sure I really understand–”
“I have Buffy Summers on the line as well,” Grace continued.
“Uh, hi,” Buffy’s voice put in awkwardly.
Watchers Council — Chairwoman’s Office — Same Time
Grace sat alone in her office, morning light streaming in through the windows. “I’ve received several images earlier and I just received a recording that I think you’ll find interesting. I haven’t listened to it yet. I was thinking maybe we could review it together?”
Grace clicked a button on her cell phone and held it up to the speaker.
Shannon’s voice came over the recording. “Y’know, you guys checked me up and down for magic when I walked in here, but you let me keep my phone. I could just have been recording you this whole time. You should fix that.“
The other end of the line remained silent as the conversation Tess and Shannon had just finished played. At Tess’s admission to having had Lucia killed, Grace raised one eyebrow slightly. When the recording finished, there was a moment of silence in Grace’s office and over the phone line.
“You still there?” Grace finally asked.
“Yes,” Tess said tersely.
Grace leaned back in her office chair and spun to one side. “I’m just gonna say it,” she continued after another beat. “What the fuck, Tess?”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — CEO’s Office — Same Time
Tess Muller looked up at Shannon, who sat in the chair across from her with her legs crossed and a stony expression on her face. Then she said, “I’ve only done what I had to do.”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — Outside HQ — Same Time
“Everybody’s just doing what they have to!” Buffy growled into her phone out on the sidewalk. “Nobody’s responsible, and people are dead. Slayers are dead.”
She started as Kit Godell ran past her, but then relaxed slightly as she saw Kit stop nearby next to her mother. The elderly woman stood in front of a taco truck, its sales window open and the proprietor watching the proceedings with interest.
“Look, Kitty, they’re selling Spanish food on the sidewalk,” the older woman said.
“No, Mom,” Kit replied, “you don’t want that. It’s too spicy for you. Let’s go back to the van.”
“Oh, is it spicy?” her mother asked as Kit slowly led her away.
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — CEO’ Office — Same Time
Tess Muller bowed her head in her office, then raised it again and said, “Here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to put you in touch with our legal department, and they’ll discuss with your legal department the details of any possible custodial arrangement regarding me personally, as well as a time, location, and other circumstances if I were to turn myself over to you. Then we’ll–”
“No, Tess,” Grace said, quietly but firmly. “Here’s what’s actually going to happen. Senior Watcher Buffy Summers and a team that includes at least a dozen slayers is outside of your building at this moment. They are going to enter your facility and take you into custody pursuant to Article 12 of the Supernatural Defense Act as revised in 2014. If they meet any resistance, they will respond with all necessary force, and any charges that may be brought against you will be altered accordingly. Are you hearing me here?“
Tess looked over at her horned security guard and blinked a few times. Shannon’s face remained hard and motionless. Tess swiveled her chair to look out the window. On the street below, she could see the Council vans lined up and the personnel on the sidewalk. A spring breeze rustled the leaves of the trees lining the street.
Without turning around, she said, “I have another idea. You keep me and my kids and my husband as safe as you can. Without me in a cell.”
“And why would I do that?” Grace asked.
“I have information you need,” Tess said. “I don’t mean about the program with the former slayers, you can get that from our files, and you will. I’m talking about a much bigger threat.”
“This is ridiculous,” Buffy said. “She doesn’t have anything. She just wants–”
Tess spun her chair back around and spoke directly into the phone. “Her name starts with Z. Am I ringing any bells here?”
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — Outside HQ — Same Time
Emma watched Buffy pacing back and forth on the sidewalk. “Maybe you’re not getting it,” Buffy said. “You murdered slayers. Just because you know stuff doesn’t mean…well, except for that one time with Skye, but there were circumstances then. You have no circumstances, do you get me?”
She stopped, realizing that Grace still hadn’t said anything. “You’re not considering this, right? You can’t be. She’s lying.”
Watchers Council — Grace’s Office — Same Time
Alone in her office, Grace looked over at a picture on the corner of her desk of her and Casey, their arms around each other. Then she took a deep breath.
Wellfresh Pharmaceuticals — CEO’s Office — Same Time
Tess turned back to her window quickly enough to see Buffy throwing her cellphone down hard to the sidewalk in frustration, shattering the screen. Emma took a few steps toward her watcher but was unable to reach her before she stalked off.
Shannon’s face still hadn’t moved.
Watchers Council — Shannon & Norman’s Apartment — Evening
Behind her, the background had changed from an office to the light blues of a little boy’s bedroom. Shannon now stood over toddler Kelvin’s race car bed, watching him sleep. She seemed to feel, rather than see, someone behind her, as she looked up and then over her shoulder. There, leaning against the doorway, stood Norman, watching the two of them.
She turned back to Kelvin, still sleeping, and softly asked Norman, “Why did you fall for me?”
Norman grinned. “How much time ya got?” he replied.
Shannon smiled but didn’t move. He moved inside the room and stepped up next to her. They watched their son sleeping for a moment and then Norman put his arm around Shannon and led her from the room.
Watchers Council — Shannon & Norman’s Apartment — Moments Later
“What’s with the love nostalgia tonight?” he asked as he and Shannon reached the living room. “Not that I’m complaining, mind you.”
“Did you fall for me because I was a slayer?” she asked. Her voice broke on the word “slayer.”
Norman recognized the weepiness in her voice immediately. “Oh Shannie. Is this because of your birthday coming up?”
She didn’t say anything at first as silent tears began to fall down her face. “You didn’t answer my question.”
He ushered her toward the sofa and took a seat beside her.
“The answer is no. You know how I felt about the Sheenas.” Norman looked serious at first, but then he began to grin.
Shannon found herself grinning as well. “That’s a nickname I have not heard in a long, long time.”
“Seriously, when I would visit my mom, all those other slayers were so full of themselves, or at least it seemed that way to me. I was either treated like a dork or some sickly kid, so I called them Sheenas. But you never treated me that way. You saw me as a person. And I saw you as a friend. And then a best friend. And then the love of my life. My only complaint is I wish you would have said yes sooner.”
“You didn’t even date anybody else before you asked me to marry you. I just wanted you to be sure.”
“Sure of what?”
“That I was enough,” Shannon’s voice broke and she started to look weepy again.
“You’ve always been enough – heck, more than enough. More than I could dream of.”
“I was always a slayer then,” she whimpered. “And soon I won’t be.”
“Of course you will,” Norman challenged her.
“Did you forget the thirty year rule?”
“Thirty is when your powers leave,” Norman told her. “But you’ll always be a slayer.”
Shannon did not appear convinced.
“You think physical strength is the only thing that makes you a slayer?” he continued. “Sure, I’ll miss having someone to open the pesky pickle jar now and then, but I can survive without that. You can too. Besides, I hear they have these little gripper things you fasten at the top…” He began trying to mimic opening a jar.
Shannon bumped shoulders with him and grinned, before looking serious again. “Being a slayer means being strong.”
“You’re right, but that’s just one part. Being a slayer also means being someone who is mentally strong, who is brave, who is intelligent, who is compassionate, who is dedicated, who is you. Yes, you’ll have to work harder to be physically strong and quick and, yes, maybe you won’t be quite as coordinated. But that’s okay. I didn’t fall in love with you for those reasons. The Council needs you here for more than your muscles, too.”
Shannon paused for a moment and, in a quiet voice, she confessed, “I’m scared.”
“Of what?” Norman asked without judgment. “Let’s break it down.”
Shannon sighed. “I’m worried about what might happen with us. I’m worried about what might physically happen to me. I’ve taken some knocks, and I see what some of the gals go through. I see Casey, and I wonder if some illness is just sitting there on the sidelines.”
“That is scary,” he answered.
She shook her head. “Yes, look at me lecturing you about how rough it might be to get something like leukemia…to the guy who had leukemia growing up. See? I’m terrible.”
Norman grinned and shook his head. He took Shannon’s flapping hands and held them tight.
“Listen. You’re not terrible. But what you just described could happen to anyone. No one is promised a healthy tomorrow. And yes, you could end up like Casey. But you could also end up like my mom, or Buffy, or Kennedy. Heck, Kennedy told me she was even paralyzed at one point when she was active, and she seems fine now. Slayer powers or not, nobody knows what will happen from one minute to the next.”
“You know, I had a choice this week. I could have taken that serum to keep my powers. It might have killed me. It might have let me keep my slayer strength.”
“Why didn’t you?” Norman asked.
Shannon squeezed his hand and motioned toward their son’s room. “The benefits didn’t outweigh the risks. I had a lot more to lose by doing it…so thank you for reassuring me that I made the right choice.”
“And that’s why you and I are going to be okay. You’re stuck with me,” he teased.
Shannon giggled and then kissed Norman lightly. “You’re stuck with me, too.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said as he kissed her in return. Then he pulled his head back, “So, like, you know, before your birthday, there is this one jar at the back of the cupbo–”
That was as far as he got as Shannon play-punched him on his bicep, causing him to recoil and furiously rub his arm. Shannon’s smile widened into a chuckle, which then became a laugh.
Norman laughed too, but added, “Oww! Now, that really hurt – I won’t miss stuff like that! But seriously, the pickles…”
Shannon grabbed a sofa pillow and playfully beat him with it, forcing him to defend himself with a pillow of his own.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Evening
Buffy, dark circles under her eyes, walked alone down an empty hallway in the Council headquarters at night, her phone to her ear.
“Sorry we had to bail so fast,” she said. “I had to get back here and…deal with this nonsense. I’m on the way to her office now.”
“You did everything you could,” Hannah said over the phone line. “And you shut down the program. No more dead girls.”
“Yeah,” Buffy said quietly. “And I know Grace has a lot on her plate, but…sometimes I wonder, y’know, if we’ve compromised too much.” She sighed. “You know, I used to feel so overwhelmed when I was the one who had to make all the calls in Sunnydale. Letting someone else make the calls is almost worse.”
“Well, you were barely in your twenties then,” Hannah pointed out. “If that.”
“True,” Buffy agreed. “Also a factor.”
Watchers Council – Washington, DC Branch – Same Time
Hannah, wearing patterned pajamas, paced in the small hallway of the apartment she and her husband shared, speaking into her own cell. “Whatever happens, Buffy, it was good to work with you again. Really.”
“You too,” Buffy replied. “You’re doing great with Allie, but I’m sure you know that.”
Hannah stopped pacing and bit her lip for a moment. Then she said, “Thank you. You can’t know what it means to hear you say that. Maybe…maybe we can work together again soon. On something not quite so dire.”
“That would be good,” Buffy agreed, “but I wouldn’t count on the non-dire.”
“Yeah, I know,” Hannah said, a small smile on her face. “Good luck and take care.”
“Thanks. You too,” Buffy said, and then the call ended.
The small smile still on her face, she turned and pushed open a nearby door, entering the bedroom. She found Asher there, climbing into bed already.
“Everything good with the original Chosen One?” he asked as he pulled his pillow up to lean against the headboard.
“She’ll be okay,” Hannah said. She walked over to her own side of the bed, pulled down the covers, and hopped in. “God, I’m so tired. All this without sleeping…I don’t know how slayers do it.”
“They have superpowers,” Asher pointed out. He flashed her a sideways grin. “Fortunately for you, so do I, the kind that don’t expire.”
He leaned over and kissed her. Their lips lingered on each other for a long moment, Hannah melting into him. Then the two of them pulled away slightly with a smack and she said, “I needed that.”
“Yeah,” she nodded. The two of them kissed again.
Watchers Council – Waiting Room Outside Chairwoman’s Office – Moments Later
Buffy sat in a leather chair in the small waiting room outside Grace’s office, her right foot tapping impatiently. She and the secretary exchanged small, awkward smiles.
Her phone buzzed, and she picked it up from her lap. On the screen, a text message from Xander read, “Will you be here for a late dinner?”
“Yes, just a few more min,” Buffy typed back.
“We miss you,” came the reply a moment later.
Buffy smiled and was still looking down at her phone when the door to Grace’s office opened and Tess Muller stepped out, closely followed by the Chairwoman.
“I’ll assign a couple girls to your detail,” Grace was saying to the other woman. “Get some sleep, we’ll meet again in the morning. Set up the specifics with Carolyn here.” She nodded to her assistant.
Tess nodded and took a step out into the waiting area, then came up short when she found Buffy standing in front of her, arms crossed over her chest.
“Can I help you?” Tess asked.
“I sure as hell hope so,” Buffy said tersely. “But I want you to know, you’re not going to get away with what you did to those women. I’m going to make sure of it.”
Tess sighed. “Yeah, here’s the thing.” She spared a sidelong glance toward Grace behind her, then stepped forward to speak softly in Buffy’s ear. “I have what the hot lesbian on Ted Lasso called ‘Get Away With Murder Money’ the other week. I threw my company under the bus to get here, but I’ve got a golden parachute in my contract that’ll make you wet your panties, and in the unlikely event that we all survive the next several months, I’m pretty sure I’m gonna be just fine.”
Buffy turned her head and looked at this woman. “I…don’t watch Ted Lasso.”
“Really?” It was Carolyn the secretary who had spoken. “It’s really good.”
“Right?” Tess agreed, back at normal volume. “I don’t even like soccer, but it’s not really about the soccer, y’know?”
“I can’t get Apple TV to work right!” Buffy protested. “It’s like it hates me.”
Tess sighed. “Well, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go meet up with my slayer escort so I can pick up my son at the airport and explain to him why he’s going to miss baseball practice tomorrow. You all have a good night.”
As she left, Buffy turned back to Grace. She shook her head in frustration. “I-I can’t believe you’re doing this. After everything she’s done, everything she’s admitted to doing…what is it?” She had noticed the anxious expression on Grace’s face. “Did she tell you something? What did…what did she say?”
“You should come in,” the Chairwoman said. “We have some very big problems.”
“Okay,” Buffy said with a sigh. As she moved past Grace and into her office, she continued, “If it’s the end of the world, at least that’s something I know how to deal with.”
Vor Hell Dimension – Portal Room – Evening
The steps of Zorgy’s sneakers echoed as she walked across the black marble floor. The walls and ceiling of the room were made of the same stuff, and on the far wall, a complete circle of gold, only millimeters thick, had been inlaid. She stopped several yards from this circle, hands on hips. She had abandoned her Oodie for an elaborate robe with a large collar.
Tapping her foot, Zorgy sighed impatiently. She pulled up one sleeve and looked at the time on her smartwatch, then back up at the circle on the wall.
A moment later, a wash of blue energy appeared in the gold ring, soon becoming a pulsating circle of light. A few seconds after that, two security guards, wearing suits, mirrored sunglasses and small wired earpieces, stepped through what had been the wall and took up positions on either side of the newly-formed portal.
Then a balding, beefy middle-aged man stepped through, adjusting his slightly-rumpled suit after his arrival.
“Interesting way to travel,” he muttered.
“Mr. Clark,” Zorgy said with a big smile, arms wide in welcome. “So good to see you. Welcome to Vor.”
The man finished adjusting his tie and looked at her. “Yes, well, I normally wouldn’t take a meeting like this. When Mr. Greenbaum at Stellar Capital told me it would be worth my time, I was skeptical. I still am, frankly.
“Of course,” Zorgy said. “Can we get you anything? I just got in this carafe of panda blood, excellent vintage, it really–”
“Empress, you should take a look at this.” Zorgy turned around to see Krog standing in the door to the portal room, holding a tablet computer in one clawed hand.
“I’m a little busy now, Kroggy,” she hissed quietly through her teeth. “Can it wait?”
The demon walked over and handed her the tablet. It was open to a social media post by a TV news network, with a video on autoplay. Zorgy sighed and unmuted the video.
“—corporate world was rocked this morning by allegations against pharma giant Wellfresh. The Watchers Council is accusing the corporation of conducting unethical human testing on former slayers of a drug meant to allow slayers to keep their powers past age thirty, a drug that Wellfresh could never get to work. It is believed that numerous former slayers may have died as a result of taking the drug, which was being tested without government oversight.” The video cut to file footage of Tess waving to a crowd at a corporate event. “Wellfresh CEO Tess Muller released a written statement that she is resigning from her position and cooperating fully with the Council’s investigation.”
Zorgy stopped the video and sighed. “They flipped her,” she said to Krog. “That was sooner than I expected.”
“Should we not prevent her from revealing anything else to them, Empress?” Krog asked, bowing his head.
“I’m sorry, what’s going on?” Mr. Clark asked impatiently.
Zorgy held up a finger. “Sorry, one sec. Unless you want that panda blood?” The man just looked at her. “Yeah, okay.” She turned back to Krog. “I appreciate the thought, but nah. The Council cutting a deal with Tess Muller with this out there’ll be almost as good at driving the slayers away from the watchers as the original plan. Grace Hatherley took a meeting today with a slayer killer. Not a great look.” She laughed then handed the tablet back to him. “It’s not like the Council’s gonna be in any condition to stop us when I’m through with ’em, anyway.”
She replaced the grin on her lips then faced Mr. Clark again. “Okay, sorry about that.”
“Do you have any idea how much my time is worth?” said Mr. Clark, annoyed.
“A lot, I’m thinking,” Zorgy said as she walked over to him and put an arm around his shoulders. He looked over at her hand somewhat uncomfortably, but she trundled on. “Look, I just want to show you something. You think we’re not a good investment after this, well, no hard feelings, okay?”
Zorgy walked the man toward the door, followed by his security. Krog watched them go with a small smirk.
Vor Hell Dimension – Outside Zorgy’s Palace – Moments Later
Zorgy and Mr. Clark emerged onto a balcony of her palace, which appeared to have been hewn from solid rock. The sky above them was dark and rent by lightning, but that wasn’t what drew Mr. Clark’s attention. He stood stock still, his mouth agape.
On the plain below, row after row after row of small huts and tents were arranged. Between these stood demons of every shape, size and color. Large ones stood taller than a house. Many lugged weapons of every description. This horde extended as far as Mr. Clark could see, in every direction. There were many, many thousands of them. Perhaps hundreds of thousands, or more. It was a force beyond counting. In the far distance, shapes the size of mountains moved in the mist.
Zorgy gestured expansively. “So, consider this my Shark Tank pitch. Whaddaya think?”
Rosenberg-Allister House – Kitchen – Evening
“I can see you look shocked,” Willow said.
“You don’t say?” Rowena answered as she dried her hands off with a dish towel. The pair stood alone in their kitchen, the last of the dishes now cleaned out of the sink.
When her wife didn’t say anything more, Willow added, “It’s not like I haven’t done something like this before with other people.”
Rowena paused and didn’t say anything at first. She appeared to be deep in thought as if formulating a response in her mind. Finally, she said, “Those times were different. You’re not talking about a Wiccan ritual. It’s not like conceiving our kids, building Xander a new eye or-or even a Hail Mary pass to try to save Casey. You know what I’m saying…this is different.”
“You’re right,” Willow said. “It’s not part of my religion. But it is informed by my religion, just like everything else in my life. Wicca taught me that physical love isn’t something to be ashamed about, it’s beautiful, and that holding back because of fear is just a waste. All I’m asking is that you think it over.”
“And if I say no? Will you do it anyway? Be honest. You’ve been honest up to this point, so please don’t stop now.”
Willow didn’t speak immediately. Then she said, “Honestly? I don’t know.”
There was another lull and a growing silence between them.
“So, you’re not really giving me an option here then,” Rowena replied. “You just expect me to stay home and watch the kids while you do…what, exactly? Go have a liaison with this woman?”
Willow shook her head. “No, that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying we should be clear about the freedom we’re giving each other. We would each be free to…explore with however many people we want. It would be…a new adventure, for both of us.”
Rowena put her hands on the counter and shook her head. “An open marriage?” she said quietly. Willow nodded encouragingly. Rowena looked back up at her. “I have to be completely truthful: when I mentioned that meeting Dr. Goldman could be a brand-new start for you, this was not what I had in mind. Not even a little bit.”
“I can’t explain it, not in a way that will make sense. I just feel like this is something that I-I need to do right now.”
“No. It’s someone you want to do, and that’s the difference.”
Willow took a deep breath. “Look, just forget that I mentioned it.”
Rowena laughed. “No, it’s out there now, Will.” She paused again and then said, “Ignoring this isn’t going to make it go away. But you still never answered my question. What do you expect from me?”
“Well, things would be open, so that means that if you had someone that you were interested in, you could pursue that.”
Rowena chuckled sarcastically. “And when do I have time to find ‘an interest to pursue’ – sometime between teaching a bunch of tweens and taking our kids to orthodontic appointments or sporting events? I’ve got about a fifteen-minute window each week where I can woo someone. Your open marriage isn’t nearly as open as you think it is, if that’s the case.”
“We’re both in the same boat here, Ro. But the option would be there.”
Rowena paused again for a moment. “I think what you’re failing to grasp, Willow, is that it’s not an option I want. I’m happy with you and our life. Or at least I was, until five minutes ago.”
“I’m not trying to make you unhappy,” Willow replied.
“You’re not succeeding…and right now, my head is just spinning.”
“I just want you to think about it,” Willow said.
She took a step toward Rowena, only to watch her wife take a step back. Again, Rowena was quiet for a moment.
“Did you know that the seven-year itch is actually real?” Rowena began. “It’s true, but it turns out it’s not seven years. It’s more like five years. So, at the half decade mark in every relationship, couples reassess their relationship and where it’s heading. For me, I want to make our family bigger because there’s nobody else in this world that I want. Obviously, you don’t feel the same way.”
“Wanting to pursue this has nothing to do with a lack of love for you. You’re my wife. I want to spend my life with you.”
“Then why her, too? I don’t get it.”
“I don’t completely get it either,” Willow agreed. “I’m just…I’m not ready to just step back and live vicariously through my kids.”
“You think that’s what I’m doing?”
“I-I’m saying this wrong.” Willow sighed and tried again. “I still need to know that there are new things to look forward to. I mean, don’t you? We have to be able to move forward, or we’ll suffocate. Kinda like a shark, I guess.”
“So now I’m suffocating you?”
Rowena cleared her throat and squared her shoulders. “If that’s the case, it looks like I have a choice to make.” She paused again and then asked, “Have you spoken to Dr. Goldman, and has anything happened so far? Again, I need you to be honest with me.”
Willow immediately answered. “I have not spoken to her, a-and nothing has happened. That’s the truth. I don’t even know if this is something that she would even want, or even something that I would do. I just get the vibe that she and I connect on a different level, it’s more than a vibe, really, and–”
Rowena held up her hand, and Willow immediately quit talking. “I don’t wanna know how you feel about her or what you do with her. You answered my question, and that’s all I need for the moment.”
“Okay,” Willow relented.
Another silence passed between them. Rowena then asked, “Have you mentioned this to anyone else?”
“No,” Willow answered. “Well, I did talk to Buffy about Dr. Goldman and how I was feeling, but we didn’t talk about…my idea. I wanted to speak with you first to see what you thought about opening the marriage, you know, for both of us. Ro, this is only a bad thing if you want it to be.”
Rowena smiled, although it was not an expression of happiness. It seemed to be more one of disbelief as she started to shake her head. “I can’t promise you how I’m going to feel about something. And I can’t promise you that I won’t tell people because I need to process all of this.”
“I know this feels like it’s coming at you sideways,” Willow offered.
“You picked up on that, eh? You are a real genius. You and Dr. Goldman.”
“I don’t wanna fight.”
“I don’t wanna fight, either. But I also don’t wanna lose my wife.”
“You’re not going to lose me,” Willow stressed. “That’s the whole point!”
“Fine. Let me rephrase that. I wish I was as important to you as you are to me,” Rowena countered.
“You’re the most important thing to me, more than anything else,” Willow stressed. “I told you how I feel, what I need. That’s how this is supposed to work. A-and I know that I may not have your support, but we always promised that we would be honest about how we’re feeling and what we’re going through. And this is something that I want to explore.”
“So you can leave?”
“No. I don’t want to leave, and I don’t want you to leave. A-and I told you, I wouldn’t expect you to sit at home. Like I said, you would have the same option of exploring other relationships, too.”
“What’s good for the gander is good for the gander?”
“Absolutely. As I said, nothing has happened at this point. I’m just talking to you because we promised we’d always discuss what we’re thinking and feeling, about everything. Even if it’s uncomfortable.”
Rowena nodded. “Well, with that in mind, I really don’t want to talk about this anymore right now because I’m not sure how I feel. I want to process all of this, and I can’t do that here. So I’m actually gonna leave right now, and I will be back later.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t know.”
“When will you be back?”
“I don’t know.”
She cut her off. “I just need to be someplace other than here right now.”
Rowena looked like she was on the verge of tearing up as she tossed the dish towel at the sink behind her. Willow watched wordlessly as her wife left the room. Several seconds later, the front door of the house opened quickly and then slammed shut.
End of The Slayer Syndrome
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