Giles & Becca’s Home – Living Room – Morning
“It’s not any one thing, Giles,” Buffy said from her seat on the couch. “I could say I’m tired and I’ve had enough or that Xander and I are ready to start a family or that I think it’s time for someone younger to take over, and it’s all of those things and none of those things. Do you get it?”
Giles’s eyes had gone a little glassy. “A family?” he asked. “Really?”
Buffy smiled. “Yeah,” she said. “Can’t let Willow and Ro have all the fun. Looking forward to being a grandpa again?”
Giles seemed to come to himself as he realized what Buffy had said. “Well, you, Willow and Xander were like my children long before I had a son and daughter, so yes, I suppose I am. However, do you think this is the right time for such a drastic change within the Council?”
“Giles, there’s always going to be some apocalypse or catastrophe looming on the horizon, so there’s never going to be a right time. Look, I’m not going anywhere. I plan on making the transition as smooth as possible for the new chairperson, and I’ll be here after it’s done. Xander and I are tied to the Council forever…which sounds sorta scarytastic when I put it like that, but it’s actually kinda awesome. I just think it’s time I stepped back. Let someone else do the big picture thing for a while. I’d be happy focusing on a little picture…like maybe work with my own slayer instead of all the slayers. I like slayers, and I like kids, so why not?”
“But still…” he started.
“Look! I know it’s not all PC-y and girl-powery to give up an important and powerful position to have a family, but I don’t give a crap. Giles, it’s my turn to breed with my husband!”
Giles closed his eyes and pinched the bridge of his nose with a sigh. “I do ‘get it,’ Buffy,” he said. “But it’s a very big step.”
“I know, and it’ll take time to find someone who’s qualified and crazy enough to want the job, hence the not happening tomorrow.”
“Do you have any potential candidates in mind?” Giles asked.
“Other than you?” she smirked.
“Oh no!” Giles quickly said, holding his hands up in defense. “As you used to say, ‘been there, done that.’ Besides, Becca would kill me.”
Grinning, Buffy replied, “I figured as much. Well, Ro’s a good choice, too, since she’s got all that experience, but with the kids, I can’t see her agreeing to it. My ultimate choice would be Willow, but again, doubtful. Same reason.”
Giles nodded. “Willow would make an excellent chairperson, but even without her family obligations, I doubt she’d do it. Willow has never been comfortable in leadership roles, her duties as Coven high priestess being the only exception.”
“Yeah,” Buffy said. “I’ll have Joan put out a memo and start setting up interviews.”
“I have to ask once again, Buffy…” he said and gave her deep look. “Are you sure?”
She nodded. “I’m sure. Besides, if I never have to wear another one of these stupid Bluetooth receivers in my life, I’ll die happy…again.”
Giles joined her in laughing.
London Council HQ – Althenea’s Office – Night
Althenea looked up to see Lorinda breeze into her office. Her “Lick a Witch” coffee cup paused in front of her face as she stared at the intruder. The room itself was decked out in earth tones and natural fabrics. Rough-hewn sculpture pieces, many of them vaguely human shaped, rested in various nooks and crannies. A small shrine with lit candles was set up on top of a cabinet.
“Whattaya got for me?” Lorinda asked. She settled into a well-stuffed chair and leaned forward eagerly.
Althenea blinked and began to recover. She set down the coffee cup. “Tell me, Miss Sheparton, do you own what the rest of us would refer to as casual clothing?”
Lorinda looked down at her clubbing outfit and made a “Pfft” noise. “Really, Dimmons, you’re questioning my fashion sense?”
Althenea rubbed a hand across her brow and leaned her office chair back. “What do you want, Miss Sheparton?”
“Funny you should ask,” Lorinda replied, with all the friendly she could manage. “I was just really hoping you had some unspeakable evil that needed to be de-eviled right this second. You know, one of those really annoying assignments you love so much.”
Althenea eyed her for a moment. “If I may ask, what miraculous event has caused you to take such a healthy interest in your actual job? Perhaps something involving a young man?”
Lorinda closed her mouth then opened it again. “No,” she said finally.
Althenea sighed and leaned forward to rummage through a stack of files on her desk. She picked up several pages of printouts. “Right then, we have this just in from, ooh, Cleveland, your favorite I believe. Asking for two of our slayers. Special Assignment to sort out some kind of –”
“Where is it?” Lorinda interrupted.
Althenea looked down at the paper. “Ah, let’s see. Thailand, actually.”
“Perfect!” Lorinda exclaimed. She was immediately on her feet, snatching the paper from a startled Althenea. She turned and headed for the door.
“They’re asking for two slayers, you know,” Althenea called to her retreating form.
“I’ll take care of it,” Lorinda tossed over her shoulder without looking back. Then the door closed behind her, and Althenea was once again alone in her office.
London – Flat – Night
A young man and woman collapsed onto the bed side-by-side, happy smiles on their faces and sheets rolled around their bodies. She was Aileen Murdoch, slayer, and he was well-muscled with sharp features and hair painstakingly styled to look like he had just woken up.
“Nice then?” she asked in her Scottish brogue.
He laughed, leaned over, and kissed her on the forehead. “Brilliant. I mean that.”
She pulled herself up on one elbow and quirked a sly eyebrow. “We could ‘ave another go, if ye like.”
The man, however, was still out of breath and gave her a dubious look. Her grin widened but then disappeared at the sound of her phone vibrating on the bedside table.
“Maybe not,” she said with a sigh before reaching over to check the text message. When she read it, she said, “Ruddy wonderful. It’s me boss. Thought we were both off tonight. Guess that’s off.”
She slid out of bed and began rooting around on the floor for her clothes. The young man sat up in bed to watch her.
“So when can I see you again?” he asked.
“Dinno,” she replied as she slipped her bra straps over her shoulders. “Maybe next week? I’ll give ye a ring.”
“I don’t know if I can wait that long, Luv,” he said, giving her a mock pouty face.
She rolled her eyes as she shimmied back into her jeans. “So very sweet, you are.” Then it was his phone’s turn to ring, causing frowns from them both.
He picked it up. “Cheers. Yes, Honey, we’re having a wonderful time. Be home soon, though. Darryl’s looking like he might…Well, if you don’t want details, you shouldn’t ask, should you? I’ll be home by midnight, right? Yes, love you, too.” He hung up to see Aileen glaring at him.
“Ye told me ye would break up with ‘er, Marcus,” she said quietly.
“And I will, I promise,” he told her, now on his feet and pulling on his own pants. “You’ve just got to give me some time, all right?”
Aileen just looked away and shook her head. She grabbed her shirt and pulled it hurriedly over her head.
“C’mon, Luv, wait,” Marcus prodded, also attempting to get dressed as quickly as possible. “Listen, it’s just until this gig on Friday. After that –”
Now fully clothed, Aileen grabbed her purse from the chair where she had flung it and stalked out of the room.
Council HQ – Library – Day
Dawn glanced up from her book when the door to the library shot open. It flew all the way around and cracked against the doorstop. Kennedy stood in the threshold, looking mortified. Dawn gave her a half-grin. The other few watchers in the room went back to work, with some grumbles.
Kennedy walked over to Dawn. “Sorry about that. I’m still trying to figure some things out.”
“Like doors?” Dawn ventured.
“Yeah,” Kennedy nodded. “What are you doing here, anyway?” She slid into the chair opposite Dawn. “Thought you’d be getting ready for your big Special Assignment. Wow, that just sounds really dorky, doesn’t it?”
“Indeed it does,” Dawn agreed. “And actually, I am. Trying to prepare a couple of spells before we head out on the quest.” She chuckled nervously.
Kennedy raised an eyebrow. “Okay, now that was dorky. I stand corrected. So whatcha got?”
“Well,” Dawn said, “this is a book we just got in from Prague, so it’s got all sorts of great stuff in it.” She pointed to a spot on the page. “This spell here, um, I think makes weapons go haywire. But it might just be swords and stuff…This book is from, like, pre-indoor plumbing. Which may be why it kinda smells funky.” She looked up at Kennedy, eyes narrowing. “Hey, what are you doing here?”
Kennedy looked down at the table for a moment then back up. “Look, don’t tell Willow, I don’t want to bother her, but I’ve been studying magic again. A lot, actually. Hoping it’ll help…with stuff.”
“That’s great!” Dawn said. “I could help, you know.”
Kennedy nodded. “Yeah, maybe. I mean, I don’t care about taking you away from your family.”
“Gee thanks,” Dawn sniped. “What are you studying?”
“Well, um, sort of everything,” Kennedy told her. “I’ve been working my way through the M’s.”
“A lot of good stuff in M,” Dawn nodded. “Monsters. Mummies. The Maroonriffer Report.”
“Yep,” Kennedy said. “I’m gonna…” She pitched a thumb toward the nearest catalog computer.
“Oh, yeah, don’t let me stop you,” Dawn assured her. Kennedy pushed her chair back and got to her feet. Dawn watched her for a few moments before turning back to her book.
Council HQ – Buffy’s Office – Night
Shannon sat in the guest’s chair in Buffy’s office. She lightly wrung her hands, and within a few seconds crossed, uncrossed, and re-crossed her legs.
Buffy looked almost as uncomfortable. She tapped a pencil on her desk a few times. “So I guess you’ll be leaving soon for Bangkok,” she said.
“Yeah,” Shannon said, her eyes focused down on where she was picking at her jeans with one hand. “I’ve, um, I’ve never been.”
“I have,” Buffy told her. “Twice. It’s, um…interesting? I guess that’s what you’d say.” She took a deep breath and leaned forward, elbows on her desk. “Shannon, I wanted to talk to you about something, and I guess it’s at least as much about me as it is about you. I haven’t been a slayer for a few years now.”
“Sure you have,” Shannon said quietly. She still wasn’t looking at Buffy.
Buffy tried to suppress a smile. “No, I mean, since I turned thirty –”
Their eyes finally caught. “Slaying’s not just punching people in the face,” Shannon said. “It’s lots of things. I’ll still be a slayer when I’m thirty, that’s for damn sure.”
Buffy seemed to relax when she heard this. She settled back in her chair, a small smile on her face.
Shannon was puzzled by this. “What?”
Buffy shook her head. “Nothing. Just…I remember that. Makes this easier, I guess.” She leaned down beneath her desk and grabbed something. “Stand up,” she said.
Shannon did, brushing off her jeans as she rose. Buffy walked around her desk, and Shannon could see what she was carrying now. The red blade of the Scythe.
Buffy brought up the weapon and held it in two hands. She looked down at it for a second then displayed it to Shannon. “This shouldn’t be stuck in here,” she said. “It’s supposed to be about hope, and power, and sisters doing it for themselves. It should be out fighting for all that good stuff. I want you to have it. And someday I want you to give it to the next girl. Ya got me?”
Shannon blinked several times. “I-I got you.”
“Well then,” Buffy said, and she held out the Scythe with both hands.
After a few seconds of hesitation, Shannon reached out and took it. She weighed the weapon in her hands, testing, feeling it out. She swallowed loudly.
“Wow,” she said softly. Buffy grinned, walked back behind her desk, and sat down. Suddenly, Shannon looked up from her reverie. “So, does this mean you like me now?”
Buffy waved her off. “Pff. Who said I didn’t like you?”
“Well, Dawn sort of said…” Shannon began. She trailed off when one of Buffy’s eyebrows went sky-high. “Also, I did shoot you with an arrow that one time.”
Buffy looked over at something suddenly important on her computer screen. “Really? I, uh, I don’t remember that at all.”
After a few seconds of being ignored, Shannon went back to her new Scythe. She tried out a few swings with it, a grin appearing on her face.
“It might be better to take it outside first,” Buffy noted without looking up. “Trust me on this.”
Council HQ – Jeff & Grace’s Apartment – Night
Jeff set a red duffel bag down by the door of the apartment he shared with Grace. She followed behind him.
“And you’re sure you have everything?”
He grabbed his windbreaker off the coat rack and pulled it on. “Yes.”
“Do you have –?”
“Yes!” he sighed and looked at the worry lines on her face. “I’ve done this before, you know.”
“I just…I have a bad feeling.” Grace placed a hand on his cheek. “You don’t have to go, you know.”
Jeff brought his hand up to hers. “Grace, I need to go save the world. I still need to do that, okay?”
Frowning, Grace pulled her hand down. “Lots of people can save the world, Jeff. Why does it have to be us?”
Jeff shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe I’ll figure that out. Heck, maybe you will.”
He picked up his bag and slung it over his shoulder then opened the door.
“Did I mention the million dollars a year?” Grace asked. “We wouldn’t have to eat Kraft dinners.”
“But we would eat Kraft dinner,” Jeff said with a small grin, one hand on the doorknob. “We’d just eat more. Love ya.” Then he exited, leaving Grace still frowning.
“Did we seriously just quote Barenaked Ladies to each other?” she asked the room before sighing. “I hope he comes back. Those would be terrible last words.”
Council HQ – Rowena & Willow’s Apartment – Kitchen – Night
Buffy was holding baby Jake and making the child laugh with funny faces as Rowena bustled around the kitchen.
“Thanks again for the day care center, Buffy,” she said. “It’s already a big help.”
“Oh, no need to thank me, Ro,” Buffy said with a smile, which turned into a frown when Jake started to nuzzle into her chest. “Uh oh,” Buffy said. “I think this little guy is hungry.”
“Good thing the milk machine is here, then,” Willow said, entering the kitchen. “Here, let me have him.”
Buffy handed the warm bundle over and watched as Willow sat across from her and opened her blouse. Within moments, Jake was sucking away contentedly.
Willow looked over at Buffy, who was staring at the nursing baby with rapt attention. “Uh, Buff…you okay over there?”
“Does it hurt?” Buffy asked without answering Willow’s question.
“Not if he does it right,” Willow said. “It did in the beginning, but once he got the hang of it, he does fine.”
“Buffy, are you…?” Rowena asked.
Buffy shook her head and finally tore her gaze away from the mother and child. “No…not yet.”
“But maybe soon?” Willow asked with a big, hopeful grin.
“Yeah, maybe,” Buffy said with a shy smile. “Thinking about it. And that brings me to why I came over.”
Rowena poured herself some more coffee and then joined the others at the table. “What’s up?”
“I’m sending out a memo announcing I’m stepping down from the Council chair and will be interviewing applicants for my replacement. Which is an official way of saying ‘I quit’.”
Willow stared at her while Rowena nodded knowingly. “I thought it might be time for that, Buffy. It’s a hard job. Are you gonna try out being a watcher?
“I’d like to,” she said. “I’d like to think I learned enough over the years to be able to help a young slayer. They won’t be able to talk back to me in a way I haven’t tried before.”
Willow nodded. “Guiding a slayer can be very rewarding, Buffy, but also heartbreaking.” Rowena only nodded in agreement.
“I know,” Buffy said. “Every day for years I’ve been sending girls out, and sometimes they don’t come back. Going forward, I just want to concentrate on one girl…while also, y’know, starting a family with Xander.”
“Well, I can’t say I blame you for wanting that, Buff,” Willow said. “You’ve been a great chairperson, and the Council will miss your leadership, but I understand you wanting to step down. Any idea on who should replace you? Not that you’re replaceable…”
Buffy smiled. “Thanks, O Best Friend of Mine,” she quipped, and Willow smiled back. “Honestly? I’d like you.”
“Me?” Willow’s smile turned into an expression of shock. “Oh no…no thank you, but no. I must respectfully decline, refuse, deny and every other expression meaning no. Okay?”
Buffy laughed. “Okay. I didn’t think you would accept, but I had to try at least.”
Willow breathed a sigh of relief, but then her eyes widened. “And you can’t have Ro either!” she exclaimed. “She’s been there, done that, got the pension plan.”
“Relax, Will,” Buffy replied. “I figured as much since she’s the reason I got the job…Like I said, I’ll start interviewing people soon. We’ll find someone crazy enough to want it.”
“Good luck,” Rowena said. “It’s not going to be easy.”
“Of course,” Buffy said to Rowena, sounding hopeful, “if I’m wrong and you’ve changed your mind –”
“No!” Willow and Rowena both replied firmly, making Buffy grin.
Cleveland – Hopkins International Airport – Night
Spring winds whipped the wide, flat asphalt of the airport tarmac. The group from the Watchers Council looked small under the gray sky. Dawn and Shannon stood with Skye and Jeff several yards away from the plane. Behind them, Jeff and Rowena climbed the stairs into the Council’s sleek jet. Dawn and Skye hugged each other while Shannon and Norman stood by shooting awkward glances at each other.
“Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do,” Skye said as she released her grip.
“And you, don’t go eating anyone,” Dawn said with a smile.
“No promises,” Skye replied, also with a grin. “Nah.” She reached over and tousled Norman’s hair. “The brat here will keep me in line.”
“You realize I’m old enough to buy alcohol, right?” Norman said with a sigh.
“Oh yeah,” Skye said, as if just remembering. “Now that was a party.”
Dawn subtly nudged Shannon forward with one arm, causing the slayer to shoot her a look. Shannon and Norman looked into each other’s eyes. She sighed, running a hand through her hair.
“Look, be safe, all right?” Norman said.
“Yeah,” Shannon said quietly.
“You two are the lamest lovebirds ev –” Skye began, but then Norman took a step forward, and he and Shannon were kissing. It lasted at least five seconds. It was a little awkward, and the two of them didn’t move around much, but the sentiment was there. “Oh,” Skye said, one eyebrow raised. “That’s better.”
Shannon finally broke the kiss and pulled back. Her forehead creased, and she blinked several times. “We, um, we should go.”
“Okay,” Norman said, a similar look of confusion on his face. Shannon picked up a large black duffel, turned, and walked towards the stairs.
“Love you,” Dawn said to Skye, and then she was off as well.
Skye and Norman watched them go for a few moments then turned to get off the tarmac. Skye put an arm around Norman’s shoulders. “Hey, how ’bout we go out, you and I. Onion rings are on me.”
Norman gave her a wan smile. “Long as you don’t eat anybody.”
Bangkok – Imperial Hotel – Evening
A sleek, high-rise hotel rose into the Bangkok night sky. It stood directly next to the wide, flat expanse of the largest of the city’s myriad waterways, the Chao Phraya River. The reflections of the great city’s many lights glittered in both the face of the building and the river.
Bangkok – Imperial Hotel – Lobby – Evening
Rowena, Shannon, Jeff, and Dawn entered the hotel lobby through revolving doors. A couple of uniformed bellhops followed with their bags, though Shannon carried a single duffel herself. The lobby’s décor was a mix of oriental and modern styles, with elaborate plant arrangements and much-scrubbed tile floors.
Shannon suddenly stopped and dropped the bag with a muffled clang. Her voice immediately took on a dangerous quality. “What is she doing here?”
Lorinda sat in a wicker chair near the elevators. She had a cell phone to her ear. “No, Sweetie Baby, it’s just for a few days. This is what I do…yes, for now. I’m sure it’s no – Oh my God, I’ve got to go!”
She ended the call and jumped to her feet. With a huge grin on her face and her arms outstretched, she rushed forward.
Shannon’s eyes widened, and her shoulders tensed. When Lorinda swept right past her, she slumped, visibly relieved.
Lorinda leapt onto Jeff, her arms ending up around his neck and her feet briefly off the ground. “Jeff!” she exclaimed. He smiled and gave her a much lower key hug. Rowena and Dawn exchanged smirks.
Her feet back on the ground, Lorinda took a second to settle down and brush the hair out of her eyes. “My God, how long has it been?”
“A few years, I guess,” Jeff shrugged. “You seem to have done well for yourself in the meantime.”
Lorinda’s smile turned impish. “I know, right? And you…Grace, huh?”
Jeff glanced down at the floor in embarrassment. “Yeah.”
“What did I tell you?” she poked him in the shoulder. Shannon rolled her eyes.
“I know, I know.”
Rowena looked a little confused, so Dawn leaned in her direction. “Facebook friends.”
Rowena took the opportunity to clear her throat and take a step forward. “Lorinda.” She extended a hand. “Your branch has been doing good work.”
“So’s yours,” Lorinda said as she took Rowena’s hand and shook.
Shannon’s arms were folded across her chest, and her mouth was open. Dawn slung a comforting arm around her shoulder. “It’s been a long flight. We should check in –”
Lorinda waved her off. “Oh, Aileen’s got it all taken care of.”
And then Aileen Murdoch was in the middle of the group, two bags slung on her back and several key cards in one hand. “All right, so we’re on the nineteenth floor.” She passed out the cards, nodding to the various members of the Cleveland contingent. “It’s a right honor to meet you all, really, but the ‘copter’s leaving a wee bit early in the morning, so shut eye’s my advice.” She glanced over at Lorinda then at the floor. “You’ll be needing anything else, Miss Sheparton?”
“Just my bag taken up, thanks,” Lorinda told her.
“Aye, Ma’am,” Aileen nodded, and she hurried off toward the bank of elevators. Shannon watched the girl go then turned her head back to face Lorinda. The two caught each other’s eyes and stared for a long moment. It wasn’t a glare, but it wasn’t friendly.
After about three seconds, Shannon slung her duffel bag over her shoulder and walked away.
Bangkok – Imperial Hotel – Upstairs Hallway – Night
Dawn once again found herself chasing down a hallway after Shannon.
“Shannon!” she called.
Shannon did not turn around. “What is she doing here?”
“We asked London for two slayers. We didn’t think she’d come herself,” Dawn replied. “Maybe she just wanted to see Jeff. Did you think about that?”
Shannon stopped at one of the doors lining the hallway, and after a moment, Dawn caught up with her. She huffed and put her hands on her knees. Shannon tried to run her key card through the reader, but it didn’t work on the first try.
“You’re going to have to talk to her at some point,” Dawn insisted.
Shannon rounded on her watcher. “About what, Dawn?”
“I dunno, how about, ‘look behind you, there’s a vampire’?” Dawn said.
Shannon ran her key card again, and this time the light on the reader turned green. She opened the door to her room. “See you in the morning,” she said pointedly. Then she entered and closed the door behind her.
Bangkok – Imperial Hotel – Shannon’s Room – Moments Later
It turned out that Shannon had an entire mini-suite to herself, with a large bed, a tidy breakfast nook, and small lounge area with a couple of low-slung chairs. Her other bags were already piled by the door when she arrived. She sighed and threw her duffel bag down on the bed. She unzipped it briefly to reveal its contents. The Scythe.
After checking to make sure it had not been damaged in transit, she closed up the bag again and stuffed it under the bed.
She sat for a moment on the edge of her bed. The room seemed very empty.
Bangkok – Imperial Hotel – Shannon’s Balcony – Night
Shannon took a step out onto her balcony. Bangkok spread out below her, a landscape of black crystal. She raised a cigarette to her lips then flicked a cheap airport lighter. After pocketing the lighter, she took a long drag on her cigarette and leaned her elbows on the railing.
“Not in Nebraska anymore,” she commented to no one in particular.
Bangkok – Imperial Hotel – Shannon’s Room – Night
Shannon threw herself down on her bed, landing on her stomach. She grabbed the remote for her TV and turned it on. An advertisement for the many amenities of the Bangkok Imperial Hotel began to run on the screen.
“The pool area is open to guests twenty-four hours a day…”
Bangkok – Imperial Hotel – Hallway – Night
Dressed in a bathrobe and flip-flops, Shannon exited her room and closed the door behind her.
Bangkok – Imperial Hotel – Pool Deck – Night
Shannon walked across the tile floor of the pool deck, her flip-flops thwacking with each step. Lights from beneath the surface of the pool refracted in strange patterns on the darkened walls. She untied her bathrobe and slipped it off her shoulders, folding it neatly next to the edge, then stepped out of her sandals. Beneath she wore a blue bathing suit, two-piece but relatively modest.
With a deep breath, Shannon leaned forward, arms above her head, and slipped beneath the bright blue water. She took several clean, smooth strokes, cutting through the water almost silently until she reached the far end. At the far wall, she stopped and pushed her wet hair out of her face.
“Well, this is just like old times, isn’t it?”
Shannon spun in the water, creating a miniature wave in the pool. Lorinda was behind her, leaning with both elbows on the edge of the pool and wearing a skimpy floral bikini.
Shannon’s eyes flared momentarily; then she set her jaw and spoke in an even voice. “Hello Lorinda.”
“Hi,” Lorinda chirped. She eased off the wall and began stroking lazily on her back. “Huh, this is nice.”
Shannon bit her lip and took a few deep breaths through her nose. Then she attempted to force, if not a smile, then at least a vaguely pleasant expression. “So! A princess, huh?”
Lorinda craned her neck, looking up at the ceiling. “Welllll, not yet.” She twisted to face Shannon, and her voice took a conspiratorial turn. “That’s actually why I came on this mission.”
Shannon’s forehead wrinkled. She was farther out from the wall now, treading water. “You’re looking for a bargain on tiaras?”
“I’m playing hard to get,” Lorinda explained, a small, proud smile on her face.
Shannon snorted. “Really? You think that’s the way to go right now?”
“I know what I’m doing,” Lorinda told her airily as she leaned back in the water. “I’ve been with a lot of guys.”
One side of Shannon’s mouth quirked upward at this. “I guess you have.” She shook her head and sighed, relaxing a little for the first time in Lorinda’s presence. “Well, I’ll give you one thing. You’ve certainly landed on your feet.”
Lorinda was still looking at the ceiling. “You mean after you had me exiled?” Shannon’s eyes widened at this. Still on her back, Lorinda turned her head towards Shannon and grinned.
“Look, that was never the idea,” Shannon said. “London needed somebody to –”
“London needed somebody, Shannon. It didn’t need me.” With a swirl of water, Lorinda righted herself again. “Or I should say, you didn’t know it needed me.”
Shannon rolled her eyes. “Uh-huh.”
“Oh, loosen up girl,” Lorinda said with a sigh. “You got rid of me, and it worked out well for everyone. It doesn’t need to be a Shakespearean tragedy every time we’re in the same room.”
Shannon looked down for a moment, thinking about this. Then she took a few strokes away from the wall. She and Lorinda began circling each other subconsciously.
“So, you gonna quit? Go be all royaltastic?” Shannon asked.
“Hell yes,” Lorinda replied without hesitation. “I’m not you. I don’t get off on this stuff. Either I can risk my life every night and live in an apartment, or I can live in a huge mansion and have 24/7 taxpayer-funded security details. Hmm…that’s hard.”
“I don’t get off on it,” Shannon protested. “And what about, you know, saving the world? Destiny and all that.”
Lorinda scoffed at this. “Destiny? Fate? It’s all bullshit. You think there’s some nice future out there waiting for us, never changing? That’s not how it works. You make your own future. And the future I want is to be famous and pampered.”
“I would have thought you’d learned during the first decade and a half of your life when you did live in a mansion that money can’t really buy you happiness,” Shannon pressed.
“Actually, that’s just something rich people tell poor people to make them feel better about themselves,” Lorinda said. “Money can definitely buy happiness. It’s just sometimes other people can ruin said happiness after you buy it. Like my parents, for instance.”
Shannon tried to suppress a smirk. “I’m not sure you’ve learned the right lesson here.”
“And, of course, there’s always a lesson,” Lorinda groaned. “Listen, I’m glad it works for you. And you’ve got a guy who gets it, which is nice.” Shannon looked down at the water at this, and Lorinda noticed. “Oh, don’t tell me you and Norm aren’t together yet?”
“We are,” Shannon said, though she did not look happy. “He, um, asked me to marry him, actually.”
“And you said…no?” Lorinda asked, confusion showing through in her voice.
“No!” Shannon exclaimed but then gave it a moment’s consideration. “Well, maybe. I definitely didn’t say yes. It’s…confusing.”
“Why?” Lorinda asked. “I mean, you should go for it. Unless he’s terrible in the sack or something.”
Shannon licked her lips. “Well, um, I think that maybe other things…I don’t think that should be a determining factor.”
Lorinda’s eyes widened. “Oh my God! You two…you haven’t even done it yet, have you?”
“What?!” Shannon looked like a bird that had just seen a cat coming its way.
“What planet are you guys from?” Lorinda wondered. “No wonder you’re so twitchy.”
“Okay, that’s it,” Shannon sighed. She started swimming towards the door.
“That’s right, girl,” Lorinda called after her with a grin on her face. “Go do somebody! We’re in Bangkok, for Pete’s sake. It’s the prosti-dude capital of the world. You’ll thank me later, trust me!”
Shannon lifted herself out of the pool and put her bathrobe back on without turning around.
Thailand – Jengar’s Camp – Night
Jengar sat alone by a fire. He examined a short knife as it glinted in the light. Then he set to work with it, skinning a thick root. Another demon appeared in the firelight.
“Sir, there’s news…over the radio.” The inferior’s tone was grave. He hesitated when Jengar did not look up, but then he pressed on. “The Council has come to the capital.”
“The Council is always in the capital,” Jengar said. He sliced off a piece of root and popped it into his mouth. He chewed on one side of his mouth.
“Not the local constables, sir,” said the demon. “Westerners. The elite, perhaps. They intend to find us.”
Jengar extended a hand. “Have a seat.” The other demon glanced around uneasily; then he sat across the fire from his leader. Jengar went back to his root, seemingly content with his work. Several long moments passed.
The other demon shifted uneasily on his log. “Sir, was there –”
Jengar raised a finger on his knife hand, silencing his inferior. “Do you hear that?”
The demon listened. There was a high chirping, several sets of chirping, actually, somewhere in the distance.
“Bats,” said Jengar. “Sacred to our ancestors. So much of that is lost now. So much is lost.” He trailed off without looking up. He carved his root and occasionally took small nibbles from the blade of his knife. “Wonderful creatures. Bats always capture their prey, even in the dark night of the forest. How do they do that?”
“Isn’t it because of echo…something?” his inferior guessed.
“It is because they know every inch of their territory, as I know the inside of my tent. And it is because they come upon their prey at a time when it is not prepared for a fight.”
Jengar met the gaze of the demon across the fire. Several long moments passed. Then Jengar went back to his root. “So much has been lost,” he mumbled to himself.
Council HQ – Buffy’s Office – Day
Buffy walked past Joan’s desk on her way to her own office.
“Hey,” Buffy said absently-mindedly. When she opened her door, she saw a tall stack of papers waiting on her desk. She blinked twice, her hand still on the doorknob. She poked her head back outside.
“Joan? What is this on my desk?”
“Those would be résumés, Ms. Summers,” Joan replied.
Buffy stared at her blankly. “Résumés for what?”
“For your job, Ma’am,” Joan replied. “You asked for candidates to –”
“Okay, I get it.” Buffy sighed and disappeared into her office. After a few moments, she called back out to Joan. “And don’t call me Ma’am!”
Council HQ – Buffy’s Office – Day
Lori slid a professionally bound report, about forty pages with a clear plastic cover, toward Buffy across her desk.
Buffy looked down at it then back at the woman across from her. “I already have your résumé, Lori.” She leaned over the desk. “Were you seriously Student Council President at Carnegie Mellon?”
Lori nodded. She was dressed in her snappiest pantsuit. “I’m also almost certainly the only member of my graduating class to later gouge out a Sirathi demon’s eyes with my thumbs.” She pointed to the report on the table. “I’m a planner, in case you hadn’t noticed. This is the plan.”
Buffy picked it up and leafed through it. “When did you have time to do this?”
“Well, some of it I had already. Also I have an understanding with the folks at the Kinko’s on East Ninth.”
“Lori,” Buffy said, “you could’ve done anything you wanted. What made you give that up?”
“Same reason you came back,” Lori said. “It’s hard to argue with stopping bad guys. And your next question, probably, is what makes me want to be the Chair.”
“It was, actually,” Buffy said. She looked back at the report. “Boy, you really like pie charts.”
“When I lost my powers, you guys screwed me over,” Lori said bluntly.
Buffy looked up at her, surprised. “I’m not sure that’s a great reason.”
“No, I mean…I’m not a snowflake. There are other girls out there like me. Guys, for that matter, who will give anything for this fight. And it’s not fair to them to not to use them to the best of their ability.”
“Okay, still sorta harsh,” Buffy pointed out. “I am technically supposed to be the one interviewing you.”
“Sorry, I come on a little strong,” Lori said. “You’ve…saved the world many, many times. That is pretty much the whole point of the job. But we can do better. Did you know we have extraneous members running three shifts at this branch but not enough to run two shifts in Stockholm, Caracas, or Lagos?”
Buffy sat back in her chair and opened the report. She propped up her head with one arm, trying her best to follow along.
“If you look on page seventeen,” Lori continued, “there’s a chart of a reorganizational plan I’d like to try involving personnel transfers on a volunteer basis…”
Bangkok – Helipad – Morning
Rowena led the Council team onto the roof of one of the taller buildings in Bangkok. They carried their own gear, though Aileen seemed to be carrying triple her share. Shannon gripped the Scythe in one hand. The helicopter’s panels were several different shades of brown, looking like they had been taken from multiple sources.
Dawn looked skeptical. “Is that thing…safe?”
“Well, for you it is,” Jeff said with a smile on his face.
“For all of you,” said the pilot. He strode up to the group, wearing jeans, a bomber jacket, and sunglasses. “Jack Shinawatra, I’ll be doing your flying today.”
Rowena stuck out her hand. “Rowena Allister.” They shook.
“So, is this, like, the discount helicopter service?” Lorinda asked, shading her eyes with one hand.
“You’re flying into the wilderness to some place you can’t even pinpoint,” Jack told her. “And you’re doing it to go after some unspeakable evil. I’m the only pilot you could find.” He pulled off his sunglasses. “Lucky for you, I’m the best.”
Lorinda stared at him for a moment then burst out giggling. She slapped Aileen on the shoulder, making the over-burdened slayer stumble forward. “I like this guy,” she proclaimed.
Sky Over Thailand – Morning
The helicopter lifted off into the sky, flying over skyscrapers and the boat-filled Chao Phraya shining in the morning sun.
“Here we go, folks,” Jack announced into his radio. The group was piled into the back of the helicopter, sitting on benches attached to the sides. Their gear was under their seats, over their heads, and elsewhere on the floor, all tied down. Everyone was wearing their own radio sets. “We got the bearing?”
Jeff looked a little sick, and Rowena had to elbow him in the side before he answered. “Uh, still the same, basically north by northwest.” He gulped, turning to face Rowena. “I can never get used to this kinda stuff. How do you do it?”
Rowena shrugged. “My ancestors have been fishing the Grand Banks in nor’easters for generations. This ain’t nothin’.”
“Tell that to my stomach,” Jeff groaned.
“You seem fine, too,” Dawn commented to Aileen, who seemed downright chipper now that she wasn’t carrying all the supplies on her back. Aileen looked up at her with wide eyes.
“Me Da was a pilot,” she said, “used to take me up all the time. Bein’ in the air…reminds me of him. An’ bein’ here with you, all of you, it’s a bit unbelievable. I mean, you’re Dawn Summers. She’s Rowena Allister…she’s been on the telly since I were a lass. Feel like I’ve been capped by Rangers.”
Dawn just smiled, completely befuddled. “Uh-huh!”
“Don’t get cocky,” Lorinda said from the other side of Aileen. “I brought you because you seriously need to get better in the field for when I…” She trailed off to see the rest of the group looking at her.
“For when you what?” Rowena asked. Shannon gave Lorinda a significant look but said nothing.
Lorinda’s eyes lit up when she found a way to change the subject. “What I want to know is, is that what I think it is?” Lorinda nodded towards Shannon. She held the Scythe firmly in her lap, the only weapon not safely packed away.
“Depends on what you think it is,” Shannon replied.
Lorinda smirked. “Summers is letting you carry the big bad Scythe now. Guess that makes you the Chosen Chosen One. I’ll have to watch my tongue.”
“Girls,” Rowena said with a put-upon sigh, “I can’t believe I have to say this, but please, behave.”
“Hey, Allister, I’m pretty sure I at least technically outrank you…” Lorinda began, but Rowena just kept talking over her.
“And Shannon, be careful with that. We still don’t fully understand the Scythe’s relationship to the Slayer line. Were it to be…destroyed, somehow, for all we know all the slayers might lose their powers.” Lorinda was shocked into silence by this prospect, and Shannon tightened her grip on the Scythe.
“Can…can I hold it?” Aileen asked quietly.
Shannon gave her a once-over. “Maybe later.”
Sky Over Thailand – Day
The helicopter now found itself flying above a vast, wide wilderness. Rolling hills were completely covered in the high green canopy of the rainforest. It was a spectacular vista, the forest broken only by occasional rocky outcroppings and the blue courses of the rivers and streams flowing from the high mountains in the North to the overheated ocean in the South. The helicopter swept past a high, thin, waterfall, so tall that by the bottom its stream had turned to mist.
In the helicopter, Jeff’s eyes were closed, and he was taking long, deep breaths. After a few moments, his eyes snapped open. “West of here,” he said. “We need to make a left.”
“That’ll take us awfully close to the border with Myanmar,” Jack said from the cockpit. “We don’t have clearance for their airspace. Nobody does.”
“Get as close as you can,” Rowena told him. “If we don’t find what we’re looking for, then we’ll turn around.”
“You got it,” Jack said, and the helicopter made a hard left.
“This’ll be our fourth course change,” Dawn pointed out. “At some point we should call home, let them know where we are.”
“I can do that,” Aileen offered. She unbuckled herself and started rooting through the gear.
“Well, I’m impressed,” Lorinda said with a smile. “Look at you, Jeff, one with Gaia or whatever. I mean, you used to be good, but now…”
“It can be pretty annoying,” Jeff said. “I’m always getting these feelings, but I have no clue what they even mean most of the time.”
Rowena turned to him with a small smile on her face, the landscape running by in the window behind her. “Willow says you’re better than she is, at least at some things.” A strange smoke trail appeared behind her in the window. “You know, we’ve joked about ‘magichlorians’, but we definitely need to do some research.” It became clear that whatever was making the smoke trail was headed towards the helicopter. It was moving very fast. “You know, Jeff, I’ve been looking for a new project. If you’d be willing to –”
Then there was a very loud noise, and the world flipped sideways. The tail of the helicopter was suddenly no longer there, and the cabin was open to the sky. Aileen was desperately hanging onto a metal strut to keep from flying out the back. Jeff cried out in pain. He had a piece of shrapnel stuck in his chest just below his left shoulder. There was already a lot of blood.
“Oh God, Jeff!” Dawn screamed.
“We’re hit!” Jack announced, desperately wrangling with the controls.
“Hit!” Lorinda shouted, panicked. “Hit with what?!”
It was impossible to get their bearings. The helicopter started to go into an uncontrolled downward spiral.
Jack pulled up as hard as he could on the throttle. “I can’t hold –” With a sharp thwack, a bullet smashed through the windshield and hit Jack in the forehead. He slumped in his chair. What had been a spiral became a nosedive.
“Shiiiiiit!” Lorinda screamed.
Bullets began to strike all around them. Most dented the outer shell of the helicopter, but a few made it through windows to hit inside. Aileen still hung on, despite being slammed repeatedly into the wall. Shannon tried to reach out a hand for her but kept one hand holding onto the Scythe.
“They’re shooting at us!” Jeff groaned through teeth gritted with pain. Rowena tried to help him, but there wasn’t much she could do at that moment. He wasn’t looking too good. “That seems like overkill.”‘
Lorinda’s eyes were huge. “What. Is. Happening?!”
“Brace for impact!” Shannon shouted at the top of her lungs.
The tailless helicopter fell like a rock toward a swift-flowing river running between tall trees. It crashed into the trees along one bank, sending great branches flying. It ricocheted back towards the river and hit in the center of the stream with a huge splash.
End of Act Three