Flashback To Four Years Ago:
San Francisco – Basement – Night
Clad in her pajamas, Dawn sprawled across a large, overstuffed couch, laughing uncontrollably. Skye sat cross-legged on a nearby throw-rug, in the middle of a well-furnished basement. A grin spread across Skye's face when Dawn's giggles turned into a loud snort.
"Is that actually how you laugh?" she asked.
Dawn mocked offense. "Are you saying there's something wrong with my laugh?"
"No," Skye told her. "It's perfect."
Dawn smiled in return, and the girls had something of a moment. At some point Dawn seemed to remember to be uncomfortable and tried to change the subject.
"So what happened next?" she asked.
"That was it," Skye said. "The next day at school there was some screaming and yelling, but nobody ever had any proof that it was me."
"God, if I pulled a stunt like that my sister would kill me," Dawn sighed.
"Who cares?" Skye replied. "Your sister's not you. You should do what you want. Anyway, it's your turn. Truth or dare?"
"Ah, yes," Dawn said nostalgically. "Sleepovers, truth or dare. It's like sixth grade all over again." Her brow furrowed. "Or at least that's how I remember sixth grade."
"That's how everybody remembers sixth grade," Skye told her, missing the point. "And you didn't answer the question."
Skye leaned forward excitedly. "Okay, have you ever kissed a girl?"
Dawn's eyes widened. "Uh…no," she said, though she sounded uncertain.
Skye gasped happily in surprise. "Oh my God, you're totally lying!"
"I am not!" Dawn insisted. Skye gave her a look. "Okay, maybe I am."
"So, spill!" Skye sounded very excited.
Reluctantly, Dawn explained. "I was at this party with my friend Kit, sophomore year, before Sunnydale turned into a giant sinkhole. I told you about Kit. Anyway, these guys started saying they wanted to see us make out, you know, real jerks. So they took up a collection, and a lot of people gave them donations."
"So you made out with your best friend for cash?" Skye asked. "You slut!"
"Hey, we didn't make out," Dawn defended. "We didn't even kiss. It was more of a peck, really."
"Were there tongues involved in this peck?"
"One question per truth," Dawn said evasively. "Your turn. Truth or dare?"
Skye had a devious grin on her face. "Dare."
All-White Sitting Room – Same Time
"You never were big with the brains, were ya?"
Dawn looked surprised to see Cordelia Chase sitting across from her. Cordelia's hair was long and straight like Dawn remembered, and she wore a severe look on her face.
"Did it work?" Dawn asked. "Am I done?"
Cordelia nodded. "Oh, yeah, it totally worked. You outwitted the Powers That Be with a toaster." She gave a thumbs-up. "Good job."
"Really?" Dawn asked, a hopeful smile peeking through.
"No, dumbass," Cordelia said.
"Oh." Dawn's smile morphed into dejection, and she sat back unhappily in her chair.
"Honestly, what did you think was going to happen?" Cordelia asked. "You should be heading back any time now." Her expression softened a little. "Dawn, what are you doing trying to kill yourself? You have friends, people who love you, a supremely dorky and yet surprisingly well-paying career…"
"I just…" Dawn stood up abruptly. "I can't take it. I was just trying to do the right thing, and now I'm cursed for all eternity? Skye's gone, and it's MY FAULT! I…I can't live with that. And everyone's walking around like everything's normal, acting like I'm the same old Dawn. Well, I have news for them. I'm not. I can't be. And I'm gonna find a way out if it kills me." Cordelia raised an eyebrow. Dawn thought for a moment. "Wait…"
Cordelia rolled her eyes. "Have you always been an idiot, and I just didn't notice until now?"
"No!" Dawn said defiantly. "Not really."
"Says you," Cordelia said as she grinned. "But come on, electrocuting yourself? That's both completely tacky and ineffective."
"I'd like to see you come up with a better idea," Dawn huffed.
"Have you ever studied Einstein?" Cordelia asked.
Dawn slowly sat back down. "Yeah, but you haven't."
"Not the point. Energy, like matter, can neither be created nor destroyed. And the Key isn't electrical energy, anyway. You don't have a current."
"Are you really Cordelia?" Dawn asked skeptically. The other woman only shrugged. Dawn thought for a moment. "Okay, so, what does that mean?"
"You're on the wrong track," Cordelia told her. "There's only one way for you to end it, and that's –"
Dawn's Apartment – Bathroom – Afternoon
Dawn's eyes shot open. She immediately began to blink rapidly and cough from the shower stream hitting her directly in the face. She slid herself out of the way and looked around. She had been slumped awkwardly on the floor of the shower, her toaster lying dormant next to her. Her clothes and hair were completely soaked, and she sat in a growing pool of water.
"DAMMIT! " Dawn yelled. She slammed her palms down on the floor, creating a decent-sized splash.
Watchers Council – Detention Area – Same Time
With a loud clang, the door of a prison cell slid closed. Once again, Skye was on the wrong side of the bars. Perspiration was plainly visible on her forehead. She was unable to stand still, and while she paced, she chewed on her fingernails.
Outside the cell, Rowena spoke to the slayer who had just shut the door. "Thank you, Alisa, that will be all." The girl nodded and walked away.
"You don't have to keep me in here." Skye moved her hand away from her mouth long enough to speak. "I'm fine, great actually. Can't hurt anyone anyway."
Rowena sighed. "I'll bet you could find a way. In any case, from what I can tell of your present state, you're not capable of judging what you can and can't do. Faith tells me she can't spare the slayers to guard you. And if you forced the spell to dust you, I would just have to start all over."
"I'm sure that would be a real hardship for you," Skye grated. "I'd be gone, but you…you would experience a major research setback."
Rowena put her hands behind her back and bit her lip, keeping her eyes fixed on the pacing vampire in the cell.
When Skye noticed this attention, she looked even more uncomfortable. "I know I'm unbelievably hot, but it's still rude to stare."
"I spend all my time keeping track of you," Rowena said, "and I just cannot figure you out."
"I'm just special that way," Skye told her. "I'm the Agatha Christie novel of vampires."
"You say you don't enjoy drinking blood, but you obviously need it on a basic physical level," Rowena continued. "Your symptoms are very similar to those experienced by hard drug users when they enter withdrawal."
"Just because I don't like the taste, doesn't mean I don't have to drink it." Skye was trying to sound reasonable, but failing.
"I don't think it's the taste," Rowena said. "I think you put on a show of disliking blood because it's something that separates you from Dawn."
Skye couldn't maintain eye contact with the watcher. Her eyes darted around in every direction, but couldn't latch onto anything. Rowena kept talking.
"You claim that you have no desire to kill anyone, and I want to believe you, Skye, really I do, but in my heart I really don't. I think Dawn's the reason for that claim, as well. If you're lying, then you're a monster that needs to be exterminated. And if you're telling the truth, then you're nothing. You're not a vampire, and Dawn will never love you like this, so what does that leave?"
"Stop it!" Skye yelled suddenly, hysterically stamping a foot on the floor. "You don't know anything!"
Rowena waited a moment, perhaps to see if the outburst would continue. Then she said, "I wonder if you wouldn't be better off if you did end it. If you attacked someone, got yourself dusted."
Skye tried to stay in one place long enough to think. "Am I hallucinating right now?" she asked.
"I don't know," Rowena replied. "Are you?" Then she turned on her heel and walked away.
For a moment, Skye listened to Rowena's footsteps fading into the distance. Then she growled and slammed her palms against the bars of her cell.
Watchers Council - Hallway
"Hey Red?" Faith called out as she saw Willow at the far end of the hallway. The witch turned around. "You seen B around?" she asked as she approached.
"Not since breakfast," Willow answered. "She's probably in her office."
"I checked - she's not there," Faith said looking around the hallway at the passer-bys.
"Why? What's up?" Willow asked.
Faith looked a bit uncertain. "Nothing maybe. But if you see her tell her to stop by my office though."
"Sure thing," Willow nodded.
"Thanks," Faith said as she turned to leave.
Cleveland – Lake Pier – Later
Dawn sat cross-legged at the end of the pier looking out over the water before she scooted back. Around her ankle was a short bit of rope tied to two cinder blocks. She kicked in the blocks with both feet before falling into the water, being submerged.
Cleveland – Train Yard – Later
Dawn stood in the middle of the train tracks looking at the oncoming train. The whistle blew, growing louder the closer it came. Her face appeared calm, not threatened in the least. As the train flew down the tracks, a sickening crunching noise mingled with the sound of the squealing brakes.
Watchers Council – Xander's Wood Shop – Later
Dawn picked up a rope in one hand and a circular saw blade in the other.
Woods behind the Watchers Council – Later
A circular saw blade hung in the air suspended by rope wrapped around a tree branch. Dawn was flat on her back and looked up at the blade in line with her neck. In a fluid movement she released the rope and the blade started its descent down.
Hidden Meeting Place – Later
"So can you help?" Dawn asked as she sat in a chair.
A group of vampires all sat around her in a circle in similar chairs. They looked at each other. Finally, one of them spoke up.
"That's an interesting problem, Dawn," he remarked, "but really, we avoid human blood."
"But it wouldn't be cheating if I gave you permission," she retorted. "And I was bitten by one vamp. I'm wondering if a pack would make a difference?"
The vampire smiled, and a few others looked at each other with a grin and shook their heads.
"You don't understand, Dawn," he explained. "Think of us as strict vegetarians. Some vegetarians will drink milk because it doesn't mean killing an animal while others feel that any product produced by an animal is off limits. We're strict vegetarians in that sense, so any human blood is off limits, even if it's offered…"
"Look, I've tried everything at this point," she pleaded.
"I'm sorry," the vampire repeated. "But we just can't."
Dawn sighed, "Thanks anyway." She got up looking depressed and shuffled toward the door.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Later
Willow and Rowena walked side-by-side down a bustling hallway.
"You know what this meeting's about?" Rowena asked, avoiding a cart stacked with Black Ops weapons trundling down the corridor.
"I never know anymore," Willow told her. "Sometimes I think Buffy's so worried about improving communication that she forgets to actually communicate with anybody." Willow's eyes widened. "Please don't tell her I said that."
Rowena sounded amused. "Don't worry, I won't rat you out to the boss. Anyway, Buffy's doing her best. I'm worried about Skye."
"Do those have something to do with each other?" Willow asked. "Because…"
"No, I'm just tired and couldn't come up with a segue," Rowena assured her.
Willow swerved to avoid a cart covered in file boxes as it trundled down the hallway, nodding to the watcher who was pushing the contraption. "So, I take it the Snarkiest Vampire isn't reacting well to the non-blood drinking?"
"That's one way of putting it," Rowena said. "Another is that she's gone nuts. She fell out of an elevator, gasping for no reason. So we put her back in a cell, just as a precaution. I tried to talk to her, but I'm not sure she was coherent enough to understand me."
"Wow," Willow said. "So that's something new, right? I mean, we didn't know vampires went crazy when you take away their blood."
"We know Skye goes crazy," Rowena said, "that's not the same thing."
"But maybe it's enough," Willow replied. "Have you thought of ending the experiment?"
The two women came to a stop outside of a door marked "Conference Room 1". Before they went in, Rowena took time to look Willow in the eye. "The research I'm doing…I think it's important. No, I know it's important. I was willing to risk my life, and Kennedy's, to get that book in Siberia. Maybe Skye's willing to do the same since she hasn't asked to stop."
"Hasn't asked or can't ask?" Willow suggested.
"Meaning?" Rowena prompted.
"Maybe she doesn't have the sense to say it if she's going cuckoo."
Rowena sighed. "I don't know…We're gonna be late for the meeting." She opened the door and entered the conference room. Willow followed her.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Continuous
As Willow found her seat, she noticed Mia sitting at the end of the conference table. "So that's what this meeting's about."
"Looks like," Rowena agreed, taking her seat at the table alongside Buffy, Kennedy, and Faith.
Willow leaned over to whisper in Kennedy's ear. "So, is she, like, back back?" Kennedy nodded. Willow's expression was somewhere between a grimace and a smile.
"Exactly," Kennedy said.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Minutes Later
"So I was in Paris when it happened." Mia seemed more animated than usual. Buffy, Rowena, Willow, and Faith all listened with some interest. Kennedy didn't seem certain whether or not to look at Mia during this explanation. "All of sudden it was like, hey wow, this is what I'm supposed to do after all. The whole thing just put a lot of things in perspective. And that's when I decided to come back here."
"Well, Mia, we'd love to have you," Buffy said. She hesitated, looking at Rowena. "It is Mia, isn't it?" Rowena nodded, and Buffy smiled in return. "Cool." She turned back to Mia and held out her hand. "I'm Buffy Summers, by the way. I'm sort of in charge now."
"She is in charge," Rowena emphasized.
"I think we might have met before," Mia said as she shook Buffy's hand. "Kennedy talked about you all the time, that's for sure."
Buffy looked surprised and glanced over at Kennedy. "Good talking?" Kennedy looked uncomfortable.
"Mostly good talking," Mia said quickly.
"We can always use another slayer with actual field experience," Faith said, changing the subject. "Especially on Black Ops. They're hurting more than most over there, and the girls they do have…I'm not sure they're leadership material."
Kennedy spoke up for the first time, looking directly at Mia. "I thought Black Ops was the reason you left."
An awkward silence settled over the room before Mia replied. "It was." She turned to talk to Faith. "And I'm not going back. If I'm gonna do this, I want to do it right. I want to be just a regular old everyday slayer."
Buffy nodded. "Well, we did give the Black Ops girls that option. A few of them have already taken advantage of it."
"Mr. Giles made me an offer to stay, but at the time I didn't take it. It was just too hard to stay," Mia said quietly.
"I know," Willow put in, "and I personally am sorry about that. We're trying to fix things, really we are. A-and we've made great strides so far."
"One thing you should probably know is that the girls who switched from Black Ops had to undergo formal training like everyone else," Rowena said. "Some of them have yet to be approved for field duty. Are you willing to do that?"
"Back to slayer school, huh?" Mia said. "Yeah, sure, if that's what it takes."
"Then it's settled," Buffy said, writing something down. "Why don't you find Robin, and he'll get you enrolled."
Kennedy was the first to get up and head for the door. Looking concerned, Mia sprang up and hurried to follow her.
Buffy's eyes widened slightly. She turned to Willow. "Were Kennedy and Mia, like, um…"
"Together?" Willow nodded.
"Ah," was Buffy's only response.
Watchers Council – Hallway – Continuous
Mia caught up to Kennedy just outside the door to the conference room. "Hey, Ken."
Kennedy stopped. Slowly, she turned around to face Mia, her arms crossed across her chest.
"Maybe we should talk," Mia said. Her eyes pleaded for Kennedy to say something.
Kennedy licked her lips and broke eye contact. "I really am glad you're back, Mi." She turned to leave, but Mia grabbed her by the wrist to get her to stay.
"Ken, I…" Mia looked down at the floor. "I know I hurt you, and I'm sorry. I went to Europe to try to figure some things out and…" She looked back up at Kennedy. "…And I think maybe I did. I don't want to rush you into anything, but…"
Mia's noticed something behind Kennedy, and her mouth opened. Kennedy looked over her shoulder.
"Hey, baby, what's going on?" Kadin asked, walking up to her girlfriend. She pulled her into a lingering kiss. Mia blinked several times. "I needed that," Kadin said. "The flight was just terrible, not to mention the pack of Jel'Gal dem – Hello." Kadin finally noticed Mia.
"I…need to go." Mia took off down the hall in a flat-out run. She put her hand over her mouth as she ran, trying to squint back the tears forming at the corners of her eyes.
"Mia!" Kennedy called, but she was already around a corner and out of sight.
Kennedy gave Kadin a hard look. "What?" Kadin asked.
Watchers Council – Conference Room – Continuous
"Is that it?" Buffy asked and everyone nodded. "Okay, meeting adjourned." She banged the gavel and turned off the recorder.
Everybody stood up and Faith walked over to Buffy. "Hey B? I didn't bring this up at the meeting because it's not really a council thing so I thought we could talk now."
"Sure thing." Buffy looked at her to continue.
Faith sighed and shrugged. "I'm not sure if there's a problem, but.. it's your sis."
"What do you mean?" Buffy asked.
Faith seemed reluctant and watched as the people filed out before turning to Buffy. In a soft voice she said, "My kid sister told me something, and since she's not the most reliable of sources, I went to Dawn first before you...but if I don't say anything to you, and something happens..."
Buffy took Faith by the elbow conspiratorially. "Okay, okay. My office, right now."
Faith nodded and followed her.
Skye's Cell – Later That Evening
Skye was unable to keep her right arm from shaking as Rowena strapped a cushioned sleeve around it. The two women sat next to each other on a cot in Skye's new cell. Grace stood at the cell's open door, ready to take notes on a clipboard. Vi looked bored as she leaned against a wall.
Rowena finished fastening the Velcro on the sleeve and began to pump air into the device using a plastic bulb. Skye's breathing was shallow and irregular as she stared down at the floor. That didn't keep her from attempting sarcasm. "How many Council members does it take to use a blood-pressure reader thing?"
"Sphygmomanometer," Rowena said without looking up from her work.
"Bless you," Grace said.
"No, that's its name," Rowena said. "The blood-pressure reader thing."
"You're taking her blood pressure?" Vi asked. "But…she doesn't have a pulse."
"Just because her heart's not beating doesn't mean blood isn't running through her veins," Rowena said. "Otherwise they wouldn't bleed when the skin was punctured. I keep telling everyone, vampires are mystical beings. Our scientific assumptions are just not going to hold."
"So, wouldn't trying to do scientific research on vampires be similar to beating one's head against a wall?" Grace asked.
Rowena just glared at her assistant. "Just write this down: forty over twenty."
"That's not a blood pressure reading," Vi said. "That's a football score."
"Told you vampires are different," Rowena said as she rummaged through her bag. "Grace, did you put those needles in here like I asked?"
"Um…what needles?" Grace asked.
Rowena sighed. "Fine. I'm going to head back upstairs and get some."
A snicker escaped from Vi.
"Some needles," Rowena clarified with a small smile as she stood up.
"What should I do till you get back?" Grace asked.
"Why don't you get everybody some coffee?" Rowena tossed over her shoulder as she left the cell. "I like mine black."
"Don't take too long," Vi called. "I'm in charge of patrols tonight, and I don't want Xander to be too sleepy when I get back." She noticed the look Grace was giving her. "What?"
"Just…sex. It's like it's all anyone ever talks about around here," Grace said.
"New girl's finally getting it," Skye said. She was tracing strange patterns in the floor of the cell with her shoe.
"Ignore her," Vi said. "Everyone else does. Anyway, I guess because everything's so serious, we have to joke around a lot."
"At least you're with Xander," Grace replied. "He seems like a great guy. I don't…I mean, I haven't…"
"We should get you a guy," Vi said suddenly.
Grace looked confused. "What?"
"I could introduce you around…you ever been to one of Jackson's parties?"
"Well, you should," Vi told her. "Sometimes you feel a lot better about things when you just let loose for a while. When was the last time you had an orgasm?"
Skye was still shaking, but she grinned nonetheless.
"How do you like your coffee?" Grace asked quickly.
"Lots and lots of sugar," Vi replied.
"How did I know?" Grace smirked, and she walked out of the cell, leaving Vi and Skye alone.
Awkward silence reigned for a few long moments. Vi kicked her heel back into the wall of the cell a few times. Then the chorus of Gnarls Barkley's "Crazy" began to blare. Vi reached into her pocket.
"God, that's loud," Skye winced. "Would it kill you to answer your phone?"
Vi glared at the vampire as she flipped her phone open and put it to her ear. "Yeah? Oh, hey!" She listened for a moment, putting a hand to her forehead. "You know what, I totally forgot that was tonight. No, look, it's okay, I'll just blow it off, listen, I'll be there in two shakes, all right? Later, baby."
"So, what are we blowing off tonight?" Skye asked. Instead of replying, Vi walked towards Skye and looked at her more closely. The slayer towered over the shaking, sweat-covered mess of a vampire.
"I think maybe you need to have some fun," Vi said.
Slowly, Skye looked up at the other girl. "What did you say?"
Vi reached out and grabbed Skye's hand, jerking her to her feet. "C'mon!"
Ballroom – Night
Skye blinked hard, shaking her head like she was trying to fit the world back into place. When she opened her eyes, she was standing in the middle of a huge ballroom. A glittering crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling. Dancers in tuxedos and hoop skirts twirled around Skye. She herself was wearing a long, black, slinky dress. The bags under her eyes and scratches on her arm were gone, replaced by hair styled into curls and perfect makeup.
Vi, now dressed in a big pink frilly dress, dropped Skye's hand and scanned the crowd. "There, now that's more like it." She noticed Kennedy standing over by a particularly well-stocked buffet table, wearing a black dress as she dipped a slice of celery into what looked like some kind of cheese sauce. Vi waved to get her attention.
"You'll be all right by yourself, won't you?"
Skye opened her mouth to reply, but Vi had already gotten halfway across the room on her way to her friend. Left to her own devices, Skye looked more closely at the crowd around her.
On a stage at one end of the ballroom, an impeccably dressed Becca led her band in a staid selection of chamber music. Closer to Skye, Buffy and Faith were doing a slow dance. They both had wistful smiles on their faces and were looking deep into each other's eyes. Next to them, Xander and Rowena were doing the same thing, she in a shining golden dress, he in a smashing tuxedo number.
Skye tapped on Rowena's shoulder. "Hey, I thought you were getting needles from your lab."
Rowena looked back over her shoulder, still with her arms wrapped around Xander. "Oh, it's you. I meant to tell you, something's come up."
"What are you doing?" Skye asked.
"You wouldn't want a physical now, anyway," Xander put in, "dressed up the way you are."
"She is cute as a button, isn't she?" Rowena giggled.
Skye gave up and left the two of them to their dance. The music faded as she strode between the neat rows of revelers. Skye's footsteps echoed loud as the dance continued silently around her. She watched Kadin and Mia move in slow-motion, Kadin gracefully tipping her partner back until Mia's hair nearly touched the ground.
Then Skye felt a hand on her shoulder and whipped around. The world returned, sound and motion, though that particular song seemed to have ended.
Dawn stood in front of Skye, wearing a pretty little blue dress. "May I have this dance?" she asked, offering her hand.
Slowly, Skye reached out and took Dawn's hand in her own. "Of course," she said, and then she smiled.
On stage, Becca nodded her thanks as someone handed her a guitar. She played a few test chords, nodded to her band, and launched into a version of Snow Patrol's "Run".
Dawn placed one hand around Skye's waist and the other on her shoulder. The pair moved together across the dance floor.
"It's good to see you," Skye said. "Today has just been…well, it sucked, but that's over now."
"And you're looking better," Dawn commented. "That's good. It makes this easier."
A crease appeared on Skye's forehead above her nose. "Makes what easier?"
"I've tried to pretend that Skye isn't dead," Dawn said sadly, "but it just isn't true."
"I'm right here, Dawn," Skye told her. "Yeah, sure, I'm dead, but only technically."
"You're not Skye," Dawn said flatly, "and you never will be. You're only a demon that stole her face." Skye's mouth dropped open in shock, but Dawn wasn't done. "And I could never be with a demon."
"Then why do I love you?" Skye shot back angrily. "Why do I feel this way?"
"You're not in love with me," Dawn said. "You're just too scared of who you are to do anything about it."
Skye looked like she was about to cry. "What do I have to do to prove myself to you? To prove to you how I feel?"
Dawn paused before answering. "Love isn't a feeling, it's an action." Then she let go of Skye, took two steps backward, and disappeared into the crowd of dancers.
Skye gasped and found that her legs were no longer able to support her. She fell backwards, and the parquet dance floor rushed up to meet the back of her head.
Skye's Cell – Seconds Later
Female voices echoed out of the darkness.
"She lost consciousness for a moment."
"What's wrong with her?"
"Look, she's waking up."
Ever so slowly, the images of Rowena, Vi, and Grace's faces came into focus. The three women were kneeling on the floor around Skye, who found herself on her back in the middle of her cell.
With vampire reflexes, Skye reached up with both hands and grabbed Rowena by the collar of her blouse. She pulled the startled watcher's face within inches of her own.
"You should have killed me," Skye growled.
End of Act Three
On to Act Four