Los Angeles, June 2003
SUV – Night
Faith's eyes were closed. She sat in the passenger seat, completely relaxed, leaning back against the head rest.
"We gonna get there any time soon? I'm startin' to feel wicked retarded."
Robin smiled from the driver's seat. "Keep 'em closed. And yes we're almost there."
Faith sighed dramatically. A few seconds passed before her eyebrows lowered quickly as though an intriguing thought had suddenly popped into her head.
"This is the first time we've been together since we got out of Sunnydale. I mean like alone together."
"You know I think you're right."
The conversation halted as Robin pulled the SUV into a parking lot and turned off the engine. A bright pink light flashed off the hood, its origin a large neon sign that read "Wonders of the World Lanes."
They sat for several seconds, Faith's eyes still shut.
"Robin," Faith asked, "is this a date?" Her tone implied that she was genuinely unsure.
He took a moment to reply. "Do you want it to be?"
"I guess I'm okay with it."
Robin smiled. "In that case, open your eyes."
Faith complied, leaning forward a bit in her seat to get a better view out the windshield. Her eyes found the large neon sign and widened in awe. "Wow." She looked over at Robin. "You win. I'm surprised." Her eyes drifted back to the sign. "We're actually going bowling?"
"Up for it?"
"Yeah," she replied. "It's just so not me. It's way too normal." She smiled. "We gonna go pick out some lawn furniture after this?"
"If you want," he countered, not missing a beat. "I saw a Wal-Mart a few blocks down. I'm sure they're rolling back prices in anticipation of our arrival."
Faith eyed Robin curiously. "So why bowling? You part of a league or something?"
"Not quite," he replied. "Before I moved to Sunnydale, I worked with some youth leagues. We'd take the kids every now and then. I haven't bowled in years, though. You?"
She shook her head.
"Ever?" he asked.
"Nope. It wasn't exactly high on my list of afterschool activities. And then, you know, jail."
"Well, you're in luck then," he explained in a stiff yet cheesy tone, "because here at Wonders of the World Lanes – according to their website – you'll have the time of your life as you bowl in the midst of iconic world monuments while emperors and pharaohs alike serve you nachos and cheese fries."
"With a sales pitch like that, how can I refuse? Sign me up, Mr. Principal."
"Excellent." He opened the driver side door and climbed out. "Oh, by the way," he said, poking his head back into Faith's view, "I hope you're not going to be a poor sport when I embarrass you on the lanes." He slammed the door.
Faith's jaw dropped. She practically catapulted out her side of the car. "Excuse me?" She shut her door and rounded the front of the car. "What makes you think you're going to win?"
"Call it a hunch."
Faith scoffed and pointed back towards herself. "Slayer."
"And your point is?" Robin said as he breezed past her on his way to the entrance.
"Oh, it's on now," she called as she followed after him. "You're going down. You and the pharaohs of Europe."
"You mean the pharaohs of Egypt?"
Cleveland, Present Day
Faith and Robin's Apartment – Resume
"Faith, open your eyes." Robin had a hand on Faith's wrist, taking her pulse. He patted her skin lightly. "Babe, come on. Wake up."
Norman stood behind him looking worried. "Should I have called 911?"
"You did the right thing by getting me," Robin said in a soft tone. He retrieved a cell phone from his pocket. "Call Dr. Miller. Speed number 8. Tell him I'm bringing Faith down."
Norman nodded and took the phone. He backed up as Robin lifted Faith into his arms. Limping slightly on his prosthetic, he carried her out the door.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Moments Later
Norman pushed open the double doors, trying his best to hold them open as Robin brought Faith through.
"Over here," Dr. Miller called as he stood by a vacant bed. He went to work as soon as Robin set her down. "What happened?"
"She wouldn't wake up," Norman replied. He stood at the foot of the bed, looking extremely pale. "She was on the couch, and I thought she was sleeping, but she didn't answer."
With the knuckles of his right hand, Dr. Miller pushed forcefully against Faith's sternum. "Faith?" he called loudly. When she still didn't respond, he tilted her head back slightly and watched her breathing. Her breaths were slow but steady.
"How long has she been like this?" he finally asked.
"We're not exactly sure," Robin replied.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Moments Later
Faith was now lying under the covers with an IV in place at the back of her hand. Norman sat in a chair not far away, his eyes gazing back and forth between Faith and a wall mounted television that Robin had suggested he turn on.
Across the room Dr. Miller and Robin spoke in whispered tones with Buffy and Kennedy.
"What do we know?" Buffy asked, looking at Faith in concern.
"Not a lot," Dr. Miller sighed. "She has a moderately high fever and relatively steady vitals. I'm concerned about her pulse, though. It's climbed from 80 to 90 since Robin brought her in."
"That's not that high, is it?" Kennedy asked. "I thought between 80 and 100 was normal."
"For a normal person yes," Dr. Miller explained, "but not a slayer. I'd expect a number in the low fifties."
"Could this be a side effect of Christabel's poison?" Robin asked.
Dr. Miller shook his head. "I doubt it. I detected no paralysis. Her body is responding to stimuli. She just won't wake up." He paused. "I'm tempted to suspect some kind of vi –"
"Robin!" Norman called loudly.
The four adults flooded over to Faith's bedside.
"What is it, Norm?" Robin asked quickly, his eyes never leaving his fiancée.
"Look," Norman replied. He pointed up at the television, on which a local news syndicate had interrupted with breaking news. The scrolling text at the bottom of the screen read: "Mystical virus infects Watchers Council."
Buffy's eyes widened. "Turn it up."
"…new information as soon as it becomes available," the news anchor droned. "To repeat, earlier this morning the Center for Disease Control was tipped off to a mystical virus present at the Watchers Council home office in Cleveland, Ohio. The CDC has since confirmed that the virus is currently uncontained and that dozens within the Council have been infected. We go now to Washington, DC, where Congresswoman O'Mara is about to speak on this incident."
The image cut to the sunny white steps of the Capitol Building, where O'Mara stood before a cadre of reporters, her speech already in progress. "…Council has been an icon of hope for many people. There is no disputing the good that they have done for the United States," O'Mara looked thoroughly disgusted by the words she spoke, "and the rest of the world. However, recent events force us to take pause and reevaluate our trust in this organization. No individual person, corporation, or governmental…"
Giles and Becca's House – Same Time
With Elizabeth napping in Giles' lap, he watched the news feed.
"…institution is above the laws of this country. At approximately 9:36 this morning, the Cleveland field office of the CDC was alerted to what they have termed a 'mystical pathogen.' It is a deadly virus that is believed to have been created by the Watchers Council."
Giles sat up as much as he could without disturbing Elizabeth. "What the…?"
"It is suspected that the Council had planned terrorist actions in order to liberate Council founder Willow Rosenberg, who is currently incarcerated on charges of cyber crimes against the federal government." O'Mara paused briefly as the group of reporters in front of her reacted to the news. "Two hours ago I was informed that the Cleveland Branch of the Watchers Council has been infected and that there has been at…"
Federal Detention Center – Willow's Cell – Same Time
Willow stared past the light green field at a television monitor that was mounted high on the wall opposite her cell. Several guards watched as well.
"…least one fatality. It is with great sorrow that I report the death of Faith Lehane." O'Mara pauses again as the reporters began barraging her with questions. She held up her hands to quiet them.
Willow sat back onto her cot, her eyes wide with shock and grief.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Same Time
Norman looked like he was going to be sick. He touched Faith's arm as if to confirm that she was still alive.
"But she's not, is she?" Norman asked.
"No, buddy. I don't know what she's talking about," Robin replied.
Buffy and Robin exchanged a meaningful glance.
"Or how she would even know she's sick," Buffy added.
Back on the television, O'Mara had regained order. "Please. As a nation we must put our grief aside and move forward. The Council's virus poses an immediate health threat to the people of Cleveland. As stipulated by the O'Mara-Holton Disease Control and Prevention Act, the Center for Disease Control has direct authorization to quarantine the Cleveland branch of the Watchers Council. They have advised all residents of the Lake Erie area to stay…"
Buffy didn't wait for O'Mara to finish her speech. "What the hell is going on?"
"We've got company," Kennedy said from her spot by the window. Looking down, she saw a half dozen white vans pull up to the street in front of the building.
"Robin," Buffy commanded as she reached for her cell phone. "Seal the building. Until we figure this out, no one gets in this building."
"Are you sure that's wise?" Dr. Miller asked tentatively. "If this is some kind of virus…"
"If it is mystical, and that's a big if, then the last thing we need is guys in white suits running around telling us what to do." Buffy looked back to Robin. "Have Jeff start working on some kind of shielding spell. I have a feeling we're going to need it."
Robin nodded, cast one final glance at Faith's unconscious form, and sped out of the room.
Buffy's phone rang. Before she answered it, she turned to Dr. Miller and barked, "Find out what's wrong with Faith." Looking down at her cell's caller ID, she opened the phone. "She's not dead, Giles." Buffy summoned Kennedy to follow and headed toward the door still talking into her phone. "We're working on it…"
Once the slayers were gone, Dr. Miller retreated to his office leaving Norman alone with Faith. He glanced back up at the television where O'Mara was now fielding questions from the press. He turned it off.
Giles and Becca's House – Moments Later
After exhaling a deep breath, Giles closed his cell phone and quickly reopened it. He pressed several buttons and waited, glancing down at his daughter's sleeping form. After two rings the call connected.
"Giles?" Rowena said.
"Faith's alive," Giles blurted.
Washington, DC – L'Enfant Plaza Hotel – Same Time
Rowena scratched her head as she held her cell phone to her ear. "Is something wrong?"
"Ro, are you near a television?"
Rowena sat down on the edge of her stiff hotel room bed and clicked on the TV. Congresswoman O'Mara appeared before her, talking animatedly while text scrolled below her face. Rowena's eyes widened, and she jumped to her feet. "I've got to get back."
"No, stay put," Giles ordered. "I've spoken with Buffy. We're not sure what O'Mara thinks she's doing, but if there is a virus, you and the twins need to stay away." He paused. "Extend your trip until it's safe to return."
Rowena's eyes darted to the adjoining room's door. She hesitated for only a second. "Yeah, you're right." She was quiet for a few seconds. "Is Faith okay?"
"She is ill," Giles replied. "But according to Buffy they made no announcement of her illness and certainly nothing stating she was dead."
"I should head back – tell Willow that Faith is really alive," Rowena told him.
Giles and Becca's House – Moments Later
"I'll go to Willow and explain what's going on," Giles assured. His phone beeped, and he looked down at the number. "Listen, Becca's calling me from her bookshop. You stay in Washington for now. I'll call in a few hours or if there's any change with Faith."
Washington, DC – L'Enfant Plaza Hotel – Same Time
"Thanks, Giles." Rowena closed her phone and sat back down on the bed, her shoulders heavy with the weight of the situation.
Just then Grace and Andrew entered through the adjoining door, each with a twin in their arms. Grace spoke, "Ro, your kids poop like my cousin Sam did after he ate a whole tub of Crisco when he was five. What are you feeding…?" She trailed off when her eyes fell on the TV screen.
Andrew's voice was quiet as he read the screen. "Council virus attack goes awry? When did this happen?"
Rowena looked toward the floor lost in thought. She raised her head and announced in a soft voice, "She wouldn't touch us."
Grace looked confused. "Who touched huh?" she asked.
"O'Mara. Remember when we saw her today?" Rowena asked. "She avoided us like we had the plague."
"You're thinking maybe she knew we had the plague?" Grace asked.
Rowena gave a short nod. "Yeah, I thought she was just a mega-bitch, spouting about 'what we did' and how Willow erased Faith's record…but…maybe there was more to it all."
Rowena looked back up at Grace and Andrew. "Are you guys feeling okay?"
Grace and Andrew now looked at each other with concern.
"Yeah," they both replied.
"I guess so," Andrew added. "Of course, now that you mention it, my throat feels scratchy." He began to rub his neck.
"It's all in your head," Grace told him. "It's like when someone mentions lice, and you automatically scratch your head. We're all fine, but the Council obviously is not." As Andrew began to scratch his head subconsciously, Rowena seemed to be staring again, not listening. "What are you thinking?" Grace asked her.
Rowena looked up again. "The Council never contacted the government according to Giles, so how did they know?" Grace didn't have an answer. "Still believing Occam's razor?" Rowena asked skeptically when she didn't reply.
Grace still didn't have an answer.
Fifteen Hours Later
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Early Morning
Once more, Buffy, Robin, Kennedy, Jason, and Lori sat at various points of the too-large conference table; however, this time Faith's chair was occupied by Dr. Miller. The group looked tired, though none more so than Dr. Miller, who had dark circles beneath his eyes.
Buffy spoke, her tone grave. "Jeff's shielding spell is holding for now," she sighed, "but he can't keep O'Mara's lackeys out forever."
"How long do you plan on keeping them out?" Lori asked from her place beside Jason. He looked over at her, an eyebrow raised at her question.
"For as long as I'm still standing," Buffy replied irritably.
"You're serious?" Lori shot back just as irritably. "It's the CDC, not some invading army. The longer we keep them out, the guiltier we look to the public. It's all over the news."
"Lori," Jason warned.
"No, Jason. Don't tell me you're on her side about this." Lori stood up. "Those people outside are here to help us, but she's so set on keeping control of the situation that she's going to put us all in danger."
"Sit down," Kennedy ordered.
Lori hesitated for a moment before acquiescing.
Buffy looked at her wearily. "Those people outside, the ones you think are here to help, seem to know an awful lot about what's happening to us. According to O'Mara, they knew it before we did. Now I may just be a control freak of a slayer, but that tells me that they could be responsible. So excuse me if I don't go downstairs and greet them with open arms. Don't ever doubt for a second that my first priority is the safety of everyone in the building. Even yours." Buffy's eyes found Kennedy's. "What's the tally at?"
"Ten," the dark haired slayer replied. "So far."
"What about our non-slayer personnel?" Robin asked. "Do we know if this is isolated to slayers?"
"It's not," Buffy replied, rubbing her eyes. "Jason?"
Lori, still looking annoyed, slid a piece of paper over to Jason, who took it and read. "Ethan and Cam Rayne, three secretaries, and a janitor from the custodial staff have reported symptoms within the last three hours."
Dr. Miller took up the thread. "All of them are exhibiting the same symptoms: high fevers, elevated pulses, and a few had developed nose bleeds. Nothing life threatening, but en masse this is certainly cause for concern." He paused and removed his glasses. "Faith's condition has begun to deteriorate."
"How bad?" Kennedy asked quickly. Next to her Robin didn't react, his expression grim as if he already knew the answer.
"She's having trouble breathing," Dr. Miller replied. "Unless I can find an effective treatment, I may need to put her on a ventilator."
There was a moment of silence before Buffy spoke. "Doc, you've been working on this all night. What is it?"
"A pathogen," he replied.
"So the Congresswoman is right. It is a virus," Jason concluded.
"I believe so," Dr. Miller continued, "though I doubt it's mystical. All my testing leads me to believe that this is biological. I've been in contact with a few ex-colleagues at the University of Maryland medical school. They've helped me refine a theory."
The group looked on expectantly.
Atomic Lanes – Lane 30 – Night
Faith took off Norman's cap and tousled his hair quickly before stuffing it back on again. Norm tried to get away from the onslaught but failed. Faith then pulled on her left bowling shoe.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "Faith was ground zero. She was the first to be infected."
Faith still smiled at the boy. "If you're gonna fall for a slayer, though, just remember they're good at every-OUCH."
She pulled off the bowling shoe. "I think there's a rock or something in here." She shook it upside down in hope of dislodging the offending pebble. Nothing came out.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "The virus would need time to incubate before becoming contagious."
Faith and Robin's Apartment – Bedroom – Early Morning
With a large yawn Faith blinked the sleep from her eyes as she stretched beneath the covers over her bed.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "A few hours, given the rapid progression of Faith's symptoms."
Slowly, and with her eyes half closed, she rolled over to Robin's side of the bed and gave him a quick peck on the lips. His skin glowed gold at the spot of the kiss.
Watchers Council – Buffy's Office – Late Morning
Buffy sat at her desk, a look of intense concentration upon her face as she studied a pale gray piece of paper. A knock on the door made her look up.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "From there the process continues."
Buffy hid the crossword in her desk drawer and said, "Come in."
Robin entered and marched over to the desk. He handed her a folder, their hands momentarily touching. Buffy's hand glowed.
Watchers Council – Joan's Office – Early Afternoon
Buffy walked into Joan's office without knocking. Joan sat at her desk with a pair of headphones on. The music was loud enough for Buffy to hear. She tapped Joan's shoulder.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "And continues…"
Buffy handed Joan the same folder that Robin had given her. She raised an eyebrow. "Little Mermaid?"
Joan looked offended and shook her head. "Cinderella."
Joan's shoulder luminesced.
Watchers Council – Cafeteria – Late Afternoon
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "And continues…"
Joan moved into line at the dinner counter. She grabbed an orange plastic tray and slid it down to a rack of pre-made sandwiches. Kennedy stepped next to her. They both reached for the same sandwich, bumping elbows.
A wave of light passed from Joan to Kennedy.
Watchers Council – Slayer Gym – Early Evening
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "And, well, you get the idea…"
Kennedy supervised a sparring session, watching as the slayers paired off and began low-contact fighting. She walked from group to group, correcting techniques and applauding successful tactics. Soon the whole room glowed brightly, all inside it infected.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Resume
"Can we stop it?" Buffy asked, looking more tired than she did when the meeting started.
Dr. Miller shook his head. "I don't think so."
Faith and Robin's Apartment – Bathroom – Later
Robin stood in front of the bathroom mirror. He rubbed his exhausted eyes.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "It's likely that everyone in this room, possibly the entire building, has already been infected."
A small trickle of blood trailed from his nose and dripped into the sink.
Buffy's Apartment – Living Room – Later
With her eyes closed, Buffy sat on the floor with her back to the front of the sofa. Xander sat beside her and pressed a moist cloth to her forehead. He coughed into the arm of his tee-shirt.
"This sucks," Buffy concluded. "If we get out of this, I promise I'll never make fun of you for getting sick when you ate that ham cake."
"It was chocolate, shaped like ham, and I didn't really get sick."
"Yes, you did." She smiled.
Unseen by Buffy, Xander opened his mouth as if to say something and then closed it again. He closed his eyes for a brief moment and took a deep breath as he opened them again.
"How 'bout this instead?" Xander countered. His nerve seemed to falter for a moment.
"What?" Buffy asked when he said nothing.
Xander licked his lips and pressed on. "If we get out of this, you let me take you out on a date – a real date." She looked up at him. "Just one, and I swear I'll never ask again."
"Xander," she whined. "I thought we were over this…like a decade ago."
"Hey, you're delirious," he told her. "This is my one shot to get you to agree." He gave her a teasing grin, which she soon mimicked.
"I think you're the one who's delirious," she snorted.
"You have nothing to lose and everything to gain," he told her as he waved at himself, up and down. Buffy smacked his knee playfully. "You are sick – that didn't even hurt," he teased. "Come on, whatta ya say? You got the guts, Summers?"
"Trying to use my ego against me, are you?"
"Is it working?" Xander asked.
She smiled and turned her back to Xander again, resting against the sofa. After a few seconds she nodded. "Okay, you're on," she said and then coughed into the sofa cushion.
Xander smiled for a moment and then quickly had a sad look. Buffy noticed.
"Changing your mind already? I wouldn't blame you."
"What?" Xander asked automatically. "Oh, no. I was just thinking I can't wait to see Will and tell her. Then I realized I can't just 'see Will' without traveling hours in a car and practically having a body cavity search."
"We'll get her out, Xander," Buffy told him and then fell into a coughing fit.
"Maybe we should just focus on trying to stay as healthy as possible right now," he suggested.
Watchers Council – Infirmary – Later
Every bed in the infirmary was occupied. Several slayers lay on the floor, while others sat against the walls. Dr. Miller and a pale looking nurse hurried from patient to patient.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "We don't have the resources to treat the entire Council."
An alarm sounded at Faith's bed.
Rushing over, Dr. Miller opened an intubation kit.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "And until I know conclusively exactly what we're facing, I can't effectively treat anyone."
He stepped over another slayer as he rounded Faith's bed and began the procedure.
Watchers Council – Coven Room – Later
Jeff sat in a ring of multicolored sand, looking extremely pale. Beads of sweat trickled from his forehead, and his hands shook as he fought a moderate tremor. Eyelids heavy, he struggled to mumble a spell beneath his breath.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "Ms. Summers, it's only a matter of time…"
Jeff's words faltered, and his eyes blinked several times. He struggled to continue, but each word proved exhausting. Finally, his energy drained, he fell back to the floor unconscious.
Watchers Council – Front Entrance – Same Time
With a great shimmer of light, Jeff's protective shield fell.
Voiceover, Dr. Miller: "…until we are completely defenseless."
Several waiting teams, clad in hazmat suits, approached the building with caution. One brave soul waved a hand where the shield had once been. He met no resistance and continued to the door and into the building. The others quickly followed.
End of Act Two
On to Act Three