Watchers Council – Infirmary – Moments Later
With a loud click, Norman locked the infirmary door. He turned and saw Dr. Miller by Faith’s bed examining a heart monitor. The machine beeped slowly, out of sync with the audible breaths supplied by his mother’s ventilator.
Faith’s skin was ashen and in places held a tinge of blue.
"Her fever’s gone down." Dr. Miller sounded confused by this.
"Is she going to be all right?"
Dr. Miller didn’t answer.
Norman took a step closer. He looked at Joan, who was sitting up on the bed they had placed her on. Her head was resting against the wall behind her, and her eyes were closed. Norman took another step and spoke to the room in general, his voice slightly raised. "Tell me what’s happening. What can we do?"
Dr. Miller removed his glasses and met Norman’s eye. "This is a very complicated situation."
"But you’re her doctor," Norman said, staring at Faith. "You’re supposed to help her." His voice grew very quiet. "You have to."
The room was silent for a moment.
"S’let’s talk it out," Joan suggested, her eyes still closed.
Dr. Miller frowned and moved to her side. He took out a pen light and checked her pupils. "Look straight ahead."
"I’m fine." She looked away from the light. "We need to figure this out."
"You’re not fine," Dr. Miller replied. "You have a mild concussion." He sighed. "But you’re right. We need to start looking into a cure. Now look ahead!"
Joan scowled at him, but complied. "It doesn’t make sense, but let’s start with what we know. The healthy people are the ones getting sick."
"Yeah, and shouldn’t a slayer be able to fight off a virus a lot better than me?" Norman asked. "I get sick all the time, but slayers never do, so... how did they make the bug?"
Dr. Miller clicked off the penlight. "Maybe I was wrong, and O’Mara was right at that news conference."
"Meaning?" Joan prompted.
"Didn’t she say it was mystical? Maybe they’re targeting the slayers," Norman suggested.
Joan sat up. "But everyone thinks we did this. We need help on this. We need to get out of here."
Dr. Miller put an arm on her shoulder. "You need to lie back and rest." He sighed. "I’m nearly positive that this virus is not mystical, and that means if we leave, we could risk infecting the city. We could hurt a lot of people if we go. I won’t be responsible for that."
"And what about the people in here?" Joan argued, anger etched on her face. "They need help. Will you be responsible for their deaths?"
Norman’s face fell. "We shouldn’t—"
Dr. Miller’s loud reply cut Norman off. "I’m trying to do the right thing here. We don’t know where this virus came from, and I haven’t found any way of slowing it down. At this point, leaving would be reckless – an action for the sake of action."
"So you’d rather just sit here and watch all our friends die?" Joan countered.
Dr. Miller was silent.
"Please don’t say that," Norman whispered.
The anger fell from Joan’s face when she spotted Norman. "God, Norm I’m sorry. I didn’t—"
Norman turned and moved to Faith’s bedside. He sat down in the chair he’d occupied over a day prior.
Joan hung her head. "Well, I feel like a jerk."
"We’ll blame it on the concussion," Dr. Miller assured kindly. He sat down on the bed. "We’re missing something."
Joan let her head fall against the wall. "I take it back. I don’t know how the slayers do it. This saving the day stuff kind of sucks. What I wouldn’t give to be in my office typing out one of Ms. Summers’ ‘I don’t want to micromanage but...’ memos." She looked at her wrist brace. "Well, maybe not typing. My wrist’s been killing me ever since I popped that guy in the hall."
"I’ll prescribe you—" Dr. Miller’s eyes widened.
"How long does carpal tunnel take to heal anyway?"
He ignored her and jumped up, rushing across the room to a tray of instruments. "It makes perfect sense," he mumbled to himself as he grabbed a stethoscope and moved to Faith’s bed. With a long practiced motion he listened to her heart while watching the monitor above her bed.
"What is it?" Norman asked.
Dr. Miller didn’t answer. He hung the stethoscope around his neck and disappeared into his office.
Norman met Joan’s eye from across the room. She shrugged in reply.
Dr. Miller reappeared carrying a ring of keys. He stopped at a large glass cabinet, fumbling to find the appropriate key.
"What’s going on?" Joan said loudly.
"Come on," Dr. Miller said to the ring of metal in his hands. "Ah, there you are." He unlocked the cabinet and slid the door open. "I have a theory," he said, finally addressing Joan’s question. He removed a small box from the case and closed the door.
"Care to enlighten us?" she replied as she watched him cross to Faith’s bed.
Dr. Miller opened the box and removed a small vial of liquid. He opened the bedside table and found an individually packaged syringe. "I slipped a disc in my back – an incredibly painful ordeal that caused a great deal of swelling around my spine. So much so that I lost feeling in my right foot." He unwrapped the syringe and began filling it with the liquid in the vial.
"What does that have to do with my mom?" Norman asked. He was now on his feet.
Dr. Miller injected the syringe into Faith’s saline IV bag. He continued, "As a treatment I was prescribed oral steroids to help decrease the inflammation."
Joan sat up at this. "You gave me a steroid injection when I came in for my wrist."
Dr. Miller nodded. "It’s the easiest method of correctly diagnosing carpal tunnel."
"Is this the common link?" Joan asked.
"I believe so," Dr. Miller replied. "Up until this point I’ve been operating under an incorrect assumption. When I first examined Faith, I assumed that her body was attempting, and failing, to fight off the virus. But now I believe I had it backwards. Her body isn’t attacking the virus; it’s attacking itself."
"How is that possible?" Norman asked.
"Well it’s not unheard of," Dr. Miller replied. "Autoimmune disorders are not so uncommon; diabetes, for example, has greatly increased in prevalence over the last ten years. No doubt due to the ever-expanding epidemic of obesity in this country. With or without trans fat, wolfing down order after order of McDonald’s French fries will kill you faster than—"
"We get it, America’s fat," Joan interjected. "Move on."
"Sorry," Dr. Miller said, concluding his diatribe. "The point is, that autoimmunity is quite common, though I’ve never heard of it stemming from contact with a virus." He shook his head in anger. "You were right, Norm. The slayers are under attack. What better way to neutralize a slayer than to attack her with her own super powered immune system."
"Okay, so you’re saying someone made a virus that makes your body kill itself?" Joan asked for clarification.
"In short, yes."
She continued, "And because we both took steroids, we’re fine? How does that work, and how does it explain Norman?"
"It’s rather simple," Dr. Miller replied. "Steroids are commonly prescribed with chemotherapy regimens. And yes, that’s why we’re all right. It wasn’t about being ill, but what was used to treat our illnesses. Most clinically used cortical steroids result in a suppression of the immune system," Dr. Miller replied with a shrug. "Our body’s defenses were too weak to do any damage."
"Well, that sucks," Joan replied. "I mean…given the circumstances it’s good, but still…lame."
"What did you give my mom?"
Dr. Miller handed him the box that the vial came from. "Cortisone, a steroid."
"It’ll make her immune system weak, too?"
"Norman, your mom is very sick," Dr. Miller’s tone was soft. "I believe the virus forced her immune system to target her heart. The area around it swelled up, and it’s making it hard for it to pump. The drug I gave her should help decrease the swelling."
"And she’ll be okay?"
"I hope so."
"Now what?" Joan asked.
Dr. Miller looked down at Faith. "Now we wait."
"So steroids really are a good thing then?" Joan asked.
"The kind used to save a life, yes," Dr. Miller said. "Now, those used to cheat at baseball…" Dr. Miller shrugged.
"Not so much," Norman added.
"Exactly," Dr. Miller said as he nodded.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Two Hours Later
Everything was pink and fuzzy.
A small black knob rolled forward. Then back. Then forward again.
A sea of small concave discs appeared, highlighted against a darker ocean of red behind them.
"Huh," Dr. Miller said as he sat back from the viewfinder of a high-tech microscope. His desk was cluttered with papers, and it struggled to hold a laptop computer, a small television monitor, and a collection of slides along with the microscope. He looked up and spotted Norman still sitting by Faith’s bed. "Norman, could you come here please?"
Across the room Joan dozed. She did not stir at Dr. Miller’s voice.
Norman hesitated for a few seconds before complying. He stopped at Dr. Miller’s side.
"I’ve been examining some samples of your mother’s blood," Dr. Miller explained as he opened his laptop and scrolled around the screen. "Take a look at the monitor. I recorded this a few hours after you brought Faith in. What do you see?"
The monitor blinked on, displaying a microscopic image of a group of sporadic pink cells. Affixed to each one was a collection of much smaller black blotches. "The black, is that the virus?"
Dr. Miller nodded. "It’s really quite ingenious. It used the blood like a transit system to lead back to the heart, ignoring all other body systems along the way. The engineer of this virus certainly knew what they were doing."
"Who would make a virus if they knew it was going to hurt other people?"
"Unfortunately, Norman, a lot of people will do truly horrible things when given the chance." Dr. Miller sighed. "But there is some good news." He plugged a small cable into the base of the monitor in front of him. An image instantly appeared on the screen. "I took this sample ten minutes ago."
The monitor displayed a line of pink cells. There was not a single black blotch among them.
"There’s nothing there." Norman looked at Dr. Miller. "Did the drug you gave her kill the virus?"
"I don’t think so," he replied with a shake of his head. "Not this quickly. It’s possible that the virus was simply programmed to terminate itself after a certain amount of time had passed, possibly to avoid a large scale contamination if it were to reach the general public." He paused to change the slide on the microscope. "I’ve tested my own blood as well." The monitor displayed an image similar to the previous. There were no signs of black blotches. He continued, "I dare say that the entire building is probably virus free. It might have been before the CDC ever got inside."
"So the bowling lady knew it was safe," Norman concluded. "The slayers would still have the symptoms, but not be able to transfer the virus anymore. But in order to save them now, we need to treat the symptoms."
"Right. The threat of spreading the virus has certainly passed," Dr. Miller replied. "However, its effects are ongoing. The rest of the Council will need treatment very soon. I would seek out help within the building, though I feel our friends in the hazmat suits would be far from accommodating."
"Could we contact another Council?" Norman asked. "One of the other branches nearby maybe? Have them bring steroids?"
"We’d need to get out of here first," Dr. Miller replied. "As for how, I’m open to suggestions."
Suddenly, a small crumpled piece of paper bounced off the side of the monitor and landed on the keyboard of Dr. Miller’s laptop. They both stared at the paper. Standing up, Dr. Miller leaned over the table and peered onto the floor where a small pile of crumpled pieces of paper had amassed.
Another piece of paper collided with his head.
"Mom!" Norman raced from his seat.
Dr. Miller looked up to see Faith staring back at him. She was already taking aim with another ball of paper. Rushing over, the doctor looked astonished. "I didn’t expect results so soon. How do you feel?"
Faith stared at him, her brow lowered. She indicated the intubation tube in her mouth.
"Oh, of course," Dr. Miller grabbed a pair of gloves from a nearby medical tray and set about removing the tube. Once it was out, Faith coughed forcefully.
"W-What happened?" she managed to say, her voice raspy.
"What’s the last thing you remember?" Dr. Miller asked as he removed his gloves.
"Feeling pretty crappy," Faith answered as she rubbed her sore throat. "I crashed on my couch. Why? How long have I been here?"
"It’s a long story," Dr. Miller began.
Onramp for Exit 170B, Interstate 90 East – Same Time
Two police cars sat parked, completely blocking the ramp for exit 170B. Few cars passed, and the road was all but empty. Inside one of the squad vehicles, two officers sat looking bored.
"How much longer is the quarantine in effect?" asked the man in the passenger seat.
"Till we hear otherwise," his partner answered without looking over from the driver’s seat. He’d clearly been asked this question already.
"Think they did it?" the first asked. "I mean what the TV is saying. That they made the virus?"
The second looked annoyed. "Who knows?"
"I hope they didn’t," the first replied with a frown. "My niece loves the Watchers Council. If they had trading cards, she’d own every one of ’em." He thought for a moment. "I wonder if they make acti—"
"We’ve got company," the driver said as he pushed open his door.
Outside a long yellow school bus approached. It stopped in front of the police car.
The officers reached the bus just as the sliding door opened. Wibberley stuck his head out. "Officers? Is there a problem with the road?"
"Sir, we’re going to need you to turn around," one of the officers said. "We’ve set up a u-turn at the next exit."
Wibberley looked exasperated. "B-But you don’t understand. We’ve got a meet this afternoon." He indicated the girls in the bus, who were all staring at the officers through a line of rectangular windows. "It’s the track and field state qualifier."
The other officer held up his hands in a calming gesture. "Sir, there is a biohazard situation within the city. No one is allowed in. Your ‘meet’ will have to wait."
"I-I, uh. I need to make a call." Wibberley pulled out a cell phone and retreated to the first seat. The bus driver closed the door in the officer’s faces.
The officers exchanged a look. One of them knocked on the glass of the bus door. "You can’t be here!"
Wibberley looked out his window and held up a finger indicating that he needed a moment.
Washington, DC – L’Enfant Plaza Hotel – Same Time
Rowena answered her phone on the second ring. "Yeah?" Her tone was akin to a bark. She listened to the voice on the phone. "What do you mean a blockade? How many cars?"
Rubbing her eyes, she sighed. "You won’t be able to get by without attracting unwanted attention." She checked her watch. "I’ll check in with other team. Stall Cleveland’s finest. I’ll call you back."
She hung up and dialed.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Minutes Later
Faith watched the wall-mounted television as an anchor reported on her death. "Just to clarify," she began, "I didn’t die again, did I?"
"Not this time," Dr. Miller informed her. "You were very lucky."
"I don’t doubt that," she replied, sitting up. She immediately grabbed her head. "Whoa, head rush."
Norman steadied her shoulder to keep her from falling back.
"Your body is going to need some time," Dr. Miller said. "You’ve been unconscious for over 48 hours."
"Then I must be well rested." She moved to leave the bed, but was held back by an IV cable. "Unplug me so I can get out of here."
"I’ll do no such thing," he replied. "You’re in no condition—"
"I’m fine," she insisted just before a loud pounding sounded throughout the infirmary.
The noise startled Joan awake. "No Frollo’s evil!" She rubbed her head and looked at the others. "She’s conscious," she said, pointing at Faith. "What’d I miss?"
The pounding returned.
Dr. Miller approached the infirmary door tentatively. "Uh, who’s there?" he called to the person on the other side.
"Who do you think?" a male voice replied. "Come on let me in. The boss wants an update."
Dr. Miller quickly grabbed one of the hazmat masks and pulled it over his head. "Just a minute." His nervous breathing fogged up the clear plastic of the mask. "The, uh, the lock is stuck. Maybe if you come back—"
"Are you crazy? Just let me in."
Dr. Miller looked around the room. The other three had disappeared from view.
With a brief hesitation he unlocked the door.
The other man pushed it open, knocking the doctor out of the way. He paused in the middle of the room.
"Right here," Faith said from the man’s left. She leaned against a wall near the medicine cabinet Dr. Miller had liberated her Cortisone from.
"But…" The man’s expression jumped from confusion to fear when Faith took a step forward.
"I know," she commiserated at his befuddled reaction, "you’re just some lackey, and this whole situation is difficult to grasp. Allow me to simplify. The virus your boss infected us with, it didn’t work." She took another step forward. "I’m fine. Kinda pissed though. And you bein’ the only villain in the room, I’m inclined to take it out on you."
"Please I-I didn’t know." He stepped back, nearly tripping on a fallen medical tray. "I just did what they told me."
"You’re not really earning my sympathy vote." She was now only a few feet away from him. "Take off the hat."
"But the virus—" His tone was one of panic.
"—is gone," she replied. "Helmet off. It’s not a suggestion."
Reluctantly, the man complied. The mask came off rather easily, revealing a head of messy brown hat hair.
Faith continued when the man looked up. "So here’s the deal. You’re going to tell me where everyone else is being kept, and in return I won’t knock you unconscious. I think it’s pretty fair. Doc?"
Dr. Miller stepped forward his mask now gone. "More than fair." His tone was just as threatening as Faith’s. "You’ve done enough damage here. And I have the cure…so where are they?"
The man looked back and forth between them several times before settling his gaze on Faith. "The cafeteria. That’s where we brought them all."
Faith nodded. "Thanks." She looked over the man’s shoulder. "Go ahead, Norm."
Before the man could turn, Norman appeared behind him and brought a metal bedpan across the side of his head, knocking him unconscious.
Faith fell back suddenly, caught only by Dr. Miller’s quick movement. She looked exhausted but managed to quip, "I didn’t lie. I said that I wouldn’t knock him out."
"I’ll remind him of that when he wakes up," Dr. Miller replied as he steered Faith to the nearest bed. She sat but refused to lie down. She looked at Dr. Miller. "You got enough juice to treat everyone?"
"It’s not ‘juice’ – that’s a different type of steroid," he replied with a roll of his eyes. "And no. We’re going to need a lot more, but at least I can get started with what I have."
Joan appeared from behind an adjacent bed and moved to stand next to Norman. "We should head for the cafeteria and treat whoever we can."
Faith shook her head. "We’ve got to get out. I can get a hold of Giles, maybe - tell him the supplies we'll need and let the other branches know what’s up."
"A few problems with that idea," Joan began. "One, we can’t call out. Two, no one's cell phone in here is working. Three, this place is crawling with Snidelina’s henchpeople. And four, no offense, but you couldn't fight your way out of a paper bag right now, much less this building."
Faith looked ready to object, but Norman spoke first. "I have an idea." They all looked at him. "Everyone thinks mom’s dead, right? If we could show them that she isn’t…"
Joan moved to the window. "There are a few news vans about a block down the street behind the quarantine tape."
Norman turned to Faith. "I know you hate reporters, but do you feel like making the evening news?"
She smiled at him. "It wouldn’t be the first time."
Watchers Council – Hallway – Moments Later
Faith, Norman, Dr. Miller, and Joan moved away from the infirmary. All of them were dressed in the hazmat suits they had previously re-appropriated. Dr. Miller carried a handful of small boxes and wrapped syringes.
They reached a stairwell and stopped.
"Good luck," Joan said, patting Norman on the shoulder.
"You too," Norman replied as he pushed opened the stairwell door for Faith.
Dr. Miller nodded to the pair and continued down the hall with Joan in the direction of the cafeteria.
Together Faith and Norman descended several flights of stairs, the latter helping the former along the way.
"I feel old," Faith said as they finally reached the bottom.
"No comment," Norman replied as he pushed open a door that led to the main lobby.
Watchers Council – Main Lobby – Seconds Later
"So far so good," Faith whispered as they passed a pair of people in identical suits.
They moved quickly, weaving around another intruder. Five feet from the front door a loud voice called them back.
"Keep walking," Faith said.
A hand grabbed Norman’s shoulder and pulled him back toward the reception desk. Faith went as well, as her son’s support was a big reason she was still upright. She lowered her head so that the mask hid a majority of her face.
Norman’s eyes widened when he saw it was Amanda Long, sans mask, who had stopped them. He avoided her eye, instead staring down at a cup filled with cheaply made Watchers Council pens.
Long spoke harshly. "We’ve moved decon to the other side of the building. Fox News wanted a segment on decontamination procedure, and there was more room for the lights over there."
"Our mistake." The rasp still present in Faith’s voice helped disguise the fact that she was the most recognizable person in the city.
Long stared at them for a few seconds. "I haven’t seen either of you two before. What are your names?"
With as much speed as she could muster, Faith brought her knee hard into Long’s abdomen. She went down hard, emitting a loud groan of pain that drew all attention to the spot. In the process Faith might have fallen too, but Norman steadied her. He moved quickly, pulling Faith to the front entrance. He pushed the glass double door open and came to a halt in front of a wall of plastic.
Faith let go of Norman and turned to close the door they’d just passed threw.
"We’re sealed in," Faith gasped through labored breaths as she struggled to hold the door in place.
"Not for long," Norman said as he uncapped a Council pen and attacked the barrier, puncturing a hole about five feet above the ground. He dropped the pen and ripped the plastic apart.
"Don’t," yelled one of the hazmat behind the glass door. "You’ll expose everyone."
"That’s the idea," Faith said as she let go of the door and followed Norman through the hole into the daylight.
Washington, DC – L’Enfant Plaza Hotel – Same Time
Rowena closed her phone and threw it on her bed with enough force to send it flying to the floor.
"More bad news?" Grace said as she retrieved the phone.
Rowena quickly took it back. "The Detroit team’s near Lorain." She pinched the bridge of her nose. "Wibberley’s closer, but stuck at a blockade fifteen minutes outside the city."
"What are you going to do?" Grace asked as she sat down on the bed, pinning the television remote between the cheap velure of the comforter and her left butt cheek.
The volume on the formerly muted TV blared through the room. Grace quickly adjusted the sound to a reasonable level.
"—now take you to Cleveland, where contamination has been broken on the Watchers Council building." The picture changed to a live handheld view of the street outside the Council.
Rowena and Grace both watched with rapt attention as two figures, both wearing white hazmat suits, struggled toward a police barrier. It looked as though one of them was supporting the other.
"Stop where you are!" called a man with a bullhorn. Behind him, several officers stood with their service revolvers drawn. The figures kept moving, prompting the man to shout, "Stop or you will be fired upon!"
Watchers Council – Street Outside HQ – Same Time
"Norman," Faith warned as she pulled on his arm until he stopped moving. "This is close enough."
They stood less than twenty feet from the police barrier, all law enforcement and media personnel staring directly at them.
"Go ahead," Faith said, releasing herself from Norman’s grasp. There was a collective gasp as she dropped to one knee. Norman moved to help, but she shrugged him off. "It’s your show now, kiddo."
Norman hesitated before facing the crowd. Quickly, he removed his mask, eliciting another gasp from the crowd. He licked his lips and spoke, "My name is Norman Hansen." His voice was too soft to be heard.
"Speak up, buddy," Faith said.
He tried again, much louder this time. "M-My name is Norman Hansen." There were a few whispers in the crowd. "Faith Lehane’s my birth-mom." A lot more whispers. If it hadn’t been daytime, the flashbulbs would have been blinding.
"The Council didn’t do anything wrong." He paused and reworded. "They didn’t make the virus. I-It was a lie." No one moved. "It’s gone. We aren’t contagious anymore, but people are still sick, and Dr. Miller needs steroids like I got when I had cancer. No one is being treated, and the ones in the suits aren’t helping. They’re going to let people die." Still nothing. "You have to listen to me! You’ve been lied to, and I have proof. Faith Lehane’s still alive."
There was a brief silence until the man with the bullhorn spoke, "Son, stay where you are. Someone will come and take you back inside."
Faith pulled off her own mask.
"No one touch him," she shouted, her voice strained. "As you can see…reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated. The Watchers Council is under attack by the CDC." Each word was a struggle. "You have to listen to us."
To this the crowd responded.
Washington, DC – L’Enfant Plaza Hotel – Same Time
Rowena was yelling into her phone. "Take the exit and then have the girls run the rest of the way to the Council so they can get Miller the meds he needs…Look, they can outrun Rogits Demons so they can certainly outrun the Cleveland Police Department for Pete’s sake! Just get them there now!"
On the television, police and paramedics swarmed to Norman and Faith, the quarantine tape ignored.
Fade To Black.
One Week Later
Faith and Robin’s Apartment – Living Room – Day
Faith lounged on the couch staring at the ceiling. She looked better, though her skin was still a bit pale.
Norman entered from the kitchen with two sodas. He handed one to Faith and then fell back onto black leather recliner. Both cans were opened, bringing on two metallic clinks followed shortly by simultaneous slurps.
Faith set her drink down between an empty pizza box and an uneaten plate of sandwiches.
"Sorry. I remembered those things tasting a lot better."
"It’s okay," Norman assured as he hung his legs over the side of the chair and took another loud slip of his drink. "You just need to perfect the recipe. A little relish might nail down the fabled condiment trifecta."
Faith rolled her eyes. "Cheez Whiz is not a condiment." She thought for a moment. "Or is it? Whatever, I’ll make sure I get your input before I write my long awaited cookbook."
They were quiet for a moment.
Faith grinned. "So…Robin stopped by the newsstand this morning."
Norman groaned and let his head fall back against the arm of his chair. He hung his arm over his eyes.
Faith’s grin increased as she produced a hidden issue of Newsweek from behind one of the sofa cushions. She examined the cover on which a week old photo of Norman, clad in a hazmat suit, stared up at her. The headline above the picture read: "Like Mother Like Son: A Family of Heroes."
"Your first Newsweek," she teased. "I’m so proud. When I was your age..." She paused then said, "Well, when I was your age, I was having you." She looked at him quickly. "I know you’re tryin’ to be like me, but please don’t make me a grandma before I’m thirty."
"I’ll do my best. Besides, the girl I like thinks I’m a kid," he replied sarcastically as he snatched the magazine away from her.
"After this she might not," Faith replied. "But like I said…no babies. Just remember – no glove, no love."
Norman looked through the magazine, trying to ignore her. "I really don’t want sex advice, okay?"
"Okay, I just want you to get an education first – a good job. Then have kids," Faith conceded. "I’ve had lots of regrets…but one of my biggest was you."
"No, that came out wrong," Faith said quickly. "I mean I’m sorry I wasn’t able to keep you, to give you the life you deserved…I don’t want you to go through that, so like I said. No glove—"
Norman covered his ears. "I get it. I get it," he said. "Please stop."
Faith grinned. "By the way, you can keep that," she said, motioning to the magazine. "I’ve got more, you know," she replied as he stashed it in a duffle bag near the chair. "Gonna frame ’em."
"Argh, please don’t."
"Aw, come on. It’s my given right to tease you about this." When he didn’t look up, she frowned. "I thought you’d be thrilled. Weren’t you telling me a week ago about how ‘cool’ being famous is?"
"That was before it happened," Norman sighed. "I didn’t really do anything."
"Bullsh—" Faith censored herself. "You saved a lot of people, kiddo, myself included." She sat up when he didn’t reply. "Norm, do me a favor? Enjoy this for a little while. And, wait till you’re my age to be as cynical as me." She stood up, grabbed the pizza box, and headed for the kitchen. She stopped and turned around. "Actually, never be as cynical as me," she added before continuing on her way.
Norman grabbed his now empty soda can and followed her into the kitchen. He placed it on the counter as she was gracelessly shoving the pizza box into an undersized trashcan. When she finished, she looked up to see him grinning.
"You need to visit more often," she said. "Preferably when we’re not under attack." There was a nice moment of silence before Faith spoke again. "We should get ready to go if you want to say goodbye to everyone."
"Yeah," he nodded, biting his lip as though he wanted to say something else. Faith was almost out of the kitchen before he spoke, "I was thinking…I mean if it’s okay with my folks…" She turned to listen as he continued slowly. "...about asking Buf—" He caught himself. "—Ms. Summers if I could enroll in watcher training in the fall."
Faith’s face would have been unreadable had the corner of her mouth not twitched upward ever so slightly. She cleared her throat trying to hide her smile. "Well, I suppose I could put in a good word for you with Ms. Summers." Her pronunciation of Buffy’s surname name could only be described as overly professional. Faith paused. "Are you sure about this?"
"I am," he replied with a smile.
"Good." She pulled him into an embrace. "I’m glad."
Norman pulled back after a few seconds. "We better get going."
"Yeah," Faith agreed. She ushered him into the living room where he grabbed his duffle bag from its place by the couch.
"Norm," Faith said as Norman swung the bag onto his shoulder. She waited for him to meet her eye. "Thank you," she said sincerely.
"For being you." Faith smiled and shook her head. She steered him to the door. "One more thing, when you see Shannon, show her this." She opened the bag on his shoulder and retrieved the Newsweek. She placed it in his hand. "Fame beats wheels any day of the week."
Washington, DC – National Mall – Later
The dome of the Capitol rose high in the distance behind Autumn O’Mara. A bank of multi-colored microphones rose in front of her.
"The investigation into the virus outbreak at Watchers Council headquarters is now closed," she said as a barrage of flashbulbs burst. "Investigators have determined that a local woman, Amanda Long, was solely responsible for the outbreak. Her motivations at this time are… unknown."
O’Mara paused, looking out over the press corps. "Obviously this and other developments contradict previous statements made by myself and other members of this office. I was given inaccurate information, but I take responsibility for that and apologize for any undue confusion or concern. However, I do not want that oversight on my part to distract from the real truth of this matter."
"The truth is that this is just another in a long string of incidents involving the Watchers Council. They say they’re keeping us safe. I respectfully disagree. I think the events of this past week are one more example amid a score that all lead me to the same conclusion…the public would be safer, our children would be safer, if the Watchers Council did not exist. They cannot protect us if they cannot even protect themselves."
O’Mara’s hair blew in the wind over the green expanse of the National Mall. Flashbulbs popped, and she straightened her posture. "With that in mind, I will be introducing legislation in the House of Representatives that will force the Watchers Council to close down…forever."
Watchers Council – Buffy’s Office – Same Time
With a blink of light O’Mara’s face disappeared from a large wall mounted flat screen. Buffy set down her remote control and looked to Rowena, who was occupying one of the two chairs opposite her desk.
"I hate politicians," Buffy sighed. "According to Jim, Amanda Long has already been convicted and sentenced."
Rowena sat up. "After just one week? Willow’s been—"
"I know," Buffy cut in. "Ms. Long confessed. She pled guilty to all the charges." She paused. "It was all very convenient."
Rowena’s face was unreadable. "What are we going to do?"
"I know about your suspicions," the blonde slayer replied with a frown. "Right now we have no proof that O’Mara was involved in what happened."
"But…" Rowena led.
"But I trust her about as far as I can throw her." Buffy made a face. "That’s probably a bad example, though a fun mental image."
Rowena cracked a ghost of a smile. "We need to be ready. She’s shown what she’s prepared to do."
Buffy nodded and leaned back in her chair, her gaze reaching the window. The sun was high in the sky, illuminating a picturesque day. "Summer’s coming."
Rowena followed her eyes. "‘Once more unto the breach.’"
Fade to Black
End of Unlikely Heroes
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