Eight Years

by CN Winters

Copyright © 2006

 

Rating: PG for possible language and adult themes.

Pairing: None

Author Note: There are hints to the Season Four episode ‘Unspoken’ contained within the story.

Summary: This story is about how Althenea and Rowena met and became friends.

 

Winter 1998

 

“I realize this is much to absorb in such a short time,” Quentin Travers told Rowena as they walked side by side through the hall of the Watchers Council in London.

 

“Nothing that I’m not up to Mr. Travers, I assure you,” Rowena replied as she clutched her satchel.

 

A ghost of a smile crossed Travers’ face. “We had to make a choice of who should oversee Ipek – you or Mr. Pollan.”

 

You mean Mr. Pain-in-my-ass, Rowena thought but didn’t voice the words. “Well, I’ll do my very best with her and thank you for your trust,” she remarked instead.

 

“It’s well deserved my dear,” he replied. Another young woman walked toward the pair and he called out to her. “Ah, Althenea,” he said as he waved her toward them.

 

“Mr. Travers.” Althenea greeted them with a polite nod. “A new recruit I assume?” she remarked as she gestured to Rowena.

 

“Not a recruit any longer. A new watcher, Rowena Allister. Rowena, this is Althenea Dimmons,” he introduced. “Althenea is one of our Devon coven members. Much like yourself, she’s making quite a name for herself in the ranks of the council.”

 

Althenea blushed and offered her hand to Rowena. “Pleasure to meet you, but don’t believe everything Mr. Travers tells you about me. I’m not that special.”

 

“Nonsense,” he disputed. “She’s already a level two witch with nowhere to go except up,” he remarked to Rowena. “And there’s nothing wrong in taking pride for a job well done.” Travers paused and looked at his watch. “I must be going ladies. I’m late for a conference. I trust you can make it out on your own Rowena?”

 

“Absolutely,” she told him.

 

“Good day, then,” he said with a polite nod.

 

After Travers left, an awkward silence fell between the two women for a moment until Althenea spoke.

 

“So…when did you join the academy?”

 

“Years ago,” she replied. “When I was twelve, the council came to my parents and the next thing I knew I was on a plane to England. Yourself?”

 

“My mother practiced the craft and when I came of age at 18 I joined the coven. I spent years prior studying though,” Althenea replied. “Assigned a potential already?” she asked after another brief pause.

 

“Yes,” Rowena answered. “I’m looking forward to it.”

 

“If you don’t mind me asking…how old are you?”

 

Rowena smiled and gave a half chuckle at the question. “I’m twenty-two,” she replied.

 

“That’s so young for a watcher,” Althenea answered.

 

Rowena shrugged bashfully. “Mr. Travers says I’m the youngest actually. They must be hard up for watchers lately.”

 

“Or you could be that good. Remember there’s nothing wrong in taking pride for a job well done,” Althenea replied in a deep tone trying to sound like Travers. Rowena found herself laughing again, but didn’t reply. “Are you busy right now? Would you like to go to lunch perhaps?” Althenea asked.

 

“Certainly,” Rowena replied with a friendly smile. Althenea gave a slight grin herself and motioned Rowena to follow her.

 

XXXX

 

“You’re dating James Tyrell’s son?” Althenea asked. “The James Tyrell.”

 

Rowena nodded and took a sip of her milk. “James actually trained me, and Jordon and I are…we’re kinda sorta engaged actually.”

 

“Where’s the ring?”

 

Rowena shrugged uncomfortably. “I accepted the proposal, but not the ring yet,” she replied.

 

“You mean you’re a woman who actually turned down jewelry? Are you insane?”

 

Rowena and Althenea both chuckled. “Sometimes I wonder,” she replied.

 

“Why haven’t you taken the ring?” Althenea asked.

 

Rowena shrugged again. “I care about Jordon, I do. But there are things I want to do first before I settle down and think about starting a family.” Althenea gave a small smile but looked away. “What?” Rowena asked.

 

Althenea shook her head. “Nothing,” she remarked. Rowena just looked at her unflinching. It seemed too much and Althenea continued. “Please don’t take offense, but I can’t help notice you said you care for Jordon.”

 

“I do,” Rowena answered.

 

“But you didn’t say you love him,” she added.

 

“Well, yeah, I mean sure, I love him.” When Althenea didn’t say more the watcher continued. “So what are you saying?”

 

“Well, like I said…nothing.” Althenea looked away, nervous again.

 

“Oh no,” Rowena said as she tsked her finger. “You opened this conversation up so you need to close it.”

 

“Okay,” Althenea relented. “Maybe the reason you haven’t taken that ring has nothing to do with you. Maybe it’s him. Maybe he’s not the right one.”

 

“Jordon…Jordon is a good man,” Rowena replied.

 

“That might be true. But perhaps he’s not good for you,” she replied. When Rowena said nothing and looked down at her plate, Althenea back peddled. “Look, I met you an hour ago so there’s no way I can possibly know everything about you, or Jordon for that matter. But…it feels like I know you.”

 

“You mean in a new age past lives kinda way?” Rowena asked.

 

Althenea paused. “Perhaps…good or bad, haven’t you met someone you felt like you knew immediately? You either can’t stand to be around them or…like now, you feel like you could tell them anything,” she asked as if changing the subject.

 

Rowena grinned. “Not until today,” she replied.

 

“As I sit here I have that feeling too,” Althenea confessed. “And with that said, I have to be honest. When you talk about this man…it doesn’t sound as if you love him – not the way love should be anyway.”

 

“And how should love be?” Rowena asked. “Hearts and flowers?”

 

“Yes,” Althenea answered. “And rockets and bombs...a feeling of wanting to be with someone no matter what, and that without them there’s a void that no one else can fill; someone that you’d be willing to sacrifice anything for if need be because you know in your heart they’d do the same for you if they could… That’s love…but that doesn’t sound like Jordon when you describe the two of you. So…are there rockets and bombs going off?” she said coyly.

 

Rowena now looked away nervously. “I don’t think love is about rockets and bombs.”

 

“I’ll take that as a ‘no’ and that you’ve never really been in love yet,” Althenea answered as she looked back down at her food, shuffling it with her fork.

 

Rowena’s jaw clinched for a moment and she looked at her watch. “Well, I really ought to get back,” she replied.

 

“Rowena,” Althenea began, “I apologize if I’ve offended you. Like I said, it just feels like I know you, as crazy as that sounds, and I think you’re a good person. So again, I’m sorry if I’ve upset you.”

 

“No, I’m fine,” Rowena answered quickly. “I just really need to get back.”

 

“Well, if I haven’t offended you then have dinner with me tonight.”

 

Rowena looked uncomfortable. “Are you asking me out on a date? I just told you I’m engaged.”

 

Althenea laughed. “Normally I might, as I do prefer the fairer sex but…you’re different.”

 

“Different how?” Rowena asked. “What? I’m not good enough for you?”

 

“Do you want me to ask you on a date?” Althenea countered.

 

“No,” Rowena answered quickly. “I’m not gay,” she whispered.

 

“Well, I am gay,” Althenea said in her normal voice, regardless of who might hear her. “But I’m not looking to date you…don’t get me wrong you are a beautiful woman but first, I know you’re straight, and second, I could use a friend, not a lover. Of course, if you’d rather not have a friend who’s gay I’d understand. Few people do in these parts.”

 

“No,” Rowena said quickly again. “I…let’s start over,” she said motioning to Althenea. “Ask again?”

 

“Would you like to have dinner tonight?” Althenea said as she smiled.

 

“Yes,” Rowena answered with a grin of her own.

 

XXXX

 

Spring 1999

 

Althenea opened her door only to have Rowena storm her way inside.

 

“Did you hear what Buffy Summers did? She blew up her high school with her friends and could have been killed in the process,” she complained. “The girl is totally insane!”

 

“Please, come in,” Althenea said to no one since Rowena had already walked past her going toward her kitchen. Althenea shut the door and began to follow.

 

Rowena already had her head in Althenea’s refrigerator, looking around, as Althenea walked into the room.

 

“I can’t believe that Travers just doesn’t step in and take care of this. First, Faith Lehane starts working with our enemies and now this. The council has two slayers, but they can’t control either one of them. How messed up is that?” Rowena ranted as she pulled various food items out of Althenea’s fridge.

 

Althenea smiled as she watched Rowena return for two cans of soda. “It’s my understanding that Mr. Giles no longer works for the council and as a result Buffy cut all ties with them. There’s something to be said for that,” Althenea offered.

 

“Yes, that she’s undisciplined,” Rowena replied.

 

“No, she’s loyal to people who look out for her…you can’t deny, she’s shaping up to be the oldest slayer in history and maybe that’s part of the reason.”

 

“Because she has authority issues?” Rowena put her hand on her hip. “I came over here so you could make me feel better. You’re not helping.”

 

“What has you so upset? Buffy isn’t your charge,” Althenea countered.

 

“But Ipek is,” Rowena answered.

 

“And…” Althenea prompted when Rowena didn’t continue.

 

Rowena put the lunchmeat down that she was holding. “If Buffy gets herself killed…”

 

“Then Ipek might be called,” Althenea said finally understanding.

 

Rowena nodded. “She still has so much to learn. She’s simply not ready to be the slayer and…”

 

“You’ve grown fond of her and you don’t want to see her in harm’s way.”

 

Rowena grinned and shook her head. “It’s ironic Al… Watchers spend our entire lives studying to train the one girl in all the world. On one hand it’s a privilege when your girl is called, but on the other…well, at least for me, it’s the last thing in the world I want for her.”

 

“Regardless of what happens,” Althenea began, “you’re a good watcher. I’ve seen you train with her and she can protect herself. You don’t have anything to worry about. Trust me.”

 

“I hope you’re right,” Rowena said softly. She looked over Althenea’s shoulder in surprise to see another blonde woman standing there in a nightshirt.

 

“Hello,” the woman said in a gentle voice and walked over to weave her arm through Althenea’s.

 

“Oh, hi, I-uh,” Rowena said stumbling over her words. “I didn’t know you had company.”

 

“That’s okay,” Althenea told her. “Did we wake you?” she asked the woman.

 

“No, I awoke when you left the bed.”

 

“Oh I’m sorry,” Althenea said quickly. “This is my friend Rowena I’ve told you about. Rowena, this is Vicki.”

 

“Nice to meet you,” Vicki said to Rowena.

 

“You too,” she said quickly as she picked up the food items and tried to get them back to the refrigerator as fast as she could. “I’m so sorry. I’m gonna…go.”

 

“You don’t have to run off,” Vicki told her.

 

“No,” Rowena answered. “Really, I should have called first and –.”

 

“She’s right,” Althenea added. “You don’t have to rush out of here like a bat out of hell.”

 

“Really Al, I’m sorry I interrupted. I’ll let you guys get back to…whatever.”

 

Before Althenea could issue another argument Rowena already had her coat in her hand and was out the door.

 

XXXX

 

Winter 2001

 

“So,” Althenea said as she spoke into a speakerphone in the coven room. “How are you and Ipek?”

 

“Not bad,” Rowena replied. “I’m teaching her balance exercises and she’s attempting to teach me how to belly dance.”

 

Althenea chuckled. “And how’s that working out for you?”

 

“I’m giving it the ole college try, but I can’t say I’m ready for a public performance by any means.”

 

“You could give me a private performance,” Althenea said with a sexy tone in her voice.

 

Rowena smiled. “Stop it. Besides I don’t think Frannie would like that very much,” she commented.

 

“Frannie, much like Ann, Lori and Vicki, is history.”

 

“Already?” Rowena asked. “And this from a woman who convinced me that leaving Jordon was a good idea. Maybe you’re just a commitment-phobe?”

 

“Tell me that giving Jordon the heave-ho wasn’t the greatest thing you ever did? Come on now, lie to me.”

 

Rowena snorted. “Yes it was for the best, but I worry about you. You’ve had a parade of women in and out of your life in the last two years.”

 

“And what about you?” Althenea asked.

 

“I haven’t had a parade of women,” Rowena countered.

 

“Very funny,” Althenea replied. “But I’m worried about you too. I don’t want to see you end up like one of the crazy ladies living with ten cats because you’re scared of letting a guy get close.”

 

“I’m fine. Besides, Ipek keeps me so busy that finding a man, or even a one-night-stand, isn’t anything high on my list at the moment. I…I like where I’m at right now so I don’t need any complications.” There was a pause and Rowena asked, “Still there?”

 

“Sorry, just thinking,” she replied.

 

“About?”

 

Althenea paused again for a few seconds. “Have you ever seen anyone, about the attack? Talked to anyone.”

 

“I’ve told you. Isn’t that enough?”

 

“I mean professionally, Ro.”

 

“Like I’ve told you before, it was a long time ago. There’s no sense in digging all that up. Really, just because I don’t have a guy on my arm doesn’t mean I’m crazy or anything.”

 

“Fair enough,” Althenea replied letting it go. “But if you decide you want to talk to someone, but don’t want to go alone, I’m here for you.”

 

Rowena smiled. “Thank you, but I’m good. Oh, hey, did you hear the news about Mr. Giles?”

 

“The reinstatement? Yes,” she answered. “It’s about bloody time. I think the council realized that Buffy wasn’t coming back unless it was on her terms. I hear he’s getting his pay retro’ed. He stands to become a very wealthy man if that’s the case. Maybe you could move Ipek out to Sunnydale and get yourself a watcher sugar daddy.”

 

Rowena chuckled. “He probably already has somebody.”

 

“Don’t be too sure,” Althenea remarked. “You watcher types are hard to pin down. You’d have a lot in common, well, aside from the thirty-some year difference in age and experience…but still.”

 

“You’re something else.” Rowena smiled.

 

“I try,” Althenea said with a grin.

 

“Oh, hey, Ipek’s here so I’ve gotta run but I’ll give you a call next week.”

 

“Sounds good, take care Hun.”

 

“You too,” Rowena replied. Althenea could hear the smile in her voice and smiled as well.

 

XXXX

 

Late Summer 2002

 

“Where have you been?” Rowena said into her cell phone as she stood in an Istanbul Marketplace. “I’ve been trying to reach you for days now. Hold on,” she said as she put the phone down and gave Ipek a disapproving look as the potential stepped out of a stall wearing a low cut outfit. “If I let you buy that your parents will kill me,” she told Ipek. “Try again.” Rowena then turned back to the conversation. “I’m sorry,” she said.

 

“That’s okay. Remember how I said our coven inherited Willow Rosenberg?” Althenea sighed.

 

“Yeah, did she relapse or something?”

 

“No but I’ve discovered that being a level five witch now is great, but there are drawbacks. The coven’s spent the last three days straight trying to drain the dark magic from her again. She hasn’t been practicing the black arts, but it’s still there.”

 

“Any luck?” Rowena asked.

 

“Depends on if she survives,” Althenea replied. “There are some things we can’t fix or change but…we’re hoping the lightness we’ve instilled in her will sustain her. The poor girl’s a mess – emotionally, physically – and my heart just breaks for her because she’s…delicate, warm.”

 

“Don’t tell me you’re falling for her,” Rowena chastised. Ipek stepped out of a stall in her new outfit and twirled for Rowena. The watcher grinned and gave her a thumbs up sign.

 

“No, it’s not like that. Besides, she has way too much grief,” Althenea answered. “But we do have quite a bit in common – witches, gay, the usual.” Rowena could hear the smile in Althenea’s voice. “Anyway, she’s staying with Mr. Giles for the time being, but Travers wants to send her back to Sunnydale in a few weeks to help the slayer. And that’s even if the slayer will let her – she burned a lot of bridges after her lover died.”

 

“Is that wise, do you think?” Rowena asked. “If she’s still a danger…”

 

“I know,” Althenea answered. “But Travers is concerned something major is coming, as you know. Something that might be more dangerous than Willow Rosenberg.”

 

“Yes, hurry up and wait for information. I’d like to have some idea what it might be. I’ve got a meeting with him next week so I’m assuming I’ll learn more then. He mentioned something about sending me away for a private assignment. I just wish I knew what it was.”

 

“Well, be careful,” Althenea replied. “Something is out there, the coven has felt it, but we can’t pinpoint it.”

 

“Keep me in the loop if you can and I’ll let you know what I learn.”

 

Althenea chuckled. “Wish everyone in all the branches got on as well as we do. Perhaps we’d actually start communicating to solve problems instead of creating more.”

 

Rowena laughed.

 

XXXX

 

Late November 2002

 

Althenea opened her door and her jaw immediately dropped. Almost as quickly she began to cry and stepped out to pull Rowena into her arms.

 

“My goddess, I thought you were dead,” she whispered through her tears as she continued to hold the watcher.

 

“I need to get inside,” Rowena replied unflinching.

 

“Of course, come in,” Althenea said pulling her inside and closing the door behind them before wiping her eyes. “How long have you been in England?”

 

“I just got back today,” she replied. “I assume you heard about the council explosion.”

 

“I did,” Althenea replied solemnly.

 

“I…I need a favor.”

 

“Anything,” Althenea told her.

 

Rowena reached inside her satchel and pulled out a large book. “Here it is.”

 

“The Opus?” Althenea said as she examined the cover, her hands running over it. “You did it,” she said proudly.

 

“But the council doesn’t know I have it…I told them I failed when I called. I don’t want them to know I have it.”

 

“Ro?” Althenea began to ask. Rowena, however, didn’t seem to be listening as she went on.

 

“And in truth, I’m hoping I’m not the one who keeps it.”

 

“I’m not sure I understand,” Althenea replied.

 

“I don’t know who’s left and I know there’s only one person in this entire council I trust anymore…that’s you. You’ve got the skills and-and the power to keep this safe. Whatever is inside this book, people were willing to kill and die for - even the people they send after it. It needs to be somewhere that it can be protected and you gotta admit, right now we’re not protected. I know your coven can keep this book hidden and out of the wrong hands.”

 

“I will,” Althenea said firmly. For a long moment neither woman said anything.

 

“So…was Ipek’s service nice?” Rowena asked.

 

Althenea recognized the look of guilt on Rowena’s face.

 

“It’s not your fault Ro. If you were here when it happened you would have died too. We all know why you couldn’t come back, Ipek knew too, so perhaps with this,” she said holding up the book, “maybe we can save more girls. She would have wanted that.”

 

Rowena’s stony demeanor suddenly dropped and she began to cry hard. Althenea set the book down for a moment and pulled her into a tight embrace.

 

XXXX

 

Summer 2006

 

Althenea stood in Heathrow Airport looking at all the passengers as they came toward the luggage carousel. Suddenly she began to smile and move forward as she waved.

 

She opened her arms and Rowena did the same as both women embraced for a moment. When they pulled away Rowena asked, “Where’s Roberta?” Instead of replying Althenea just gave her a shrug. “Again?” Rowena asked.

 

“Yes, again,” Althenea replied. “Just save the speech that the right gal’s out there for me somewhere.”

 

“She is,” Rowena said optimistically.

 

“Well, what about you? How are you and Willow doing?”

 

Rowena smiled. “Hearts and flowers. Rockets and bombs,” she answered with a bashful grin.

 

Althenea took her by the hand and led her away with a smile.

 

~ The End ~

 

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