Watchers Council Ė Junior Dormitory Ė Two Days Later
Voiceover, Shannon typing: "To: Slayerson@yahoo.com. From: Sheena2@clevelandcouncil.org. Subject: Red.
Hi Norm! They let me come back to the dorm last night. Said the vampire bite was almost all healed. Good thing, because you-know-whoís probably real hungry by now ícause I couldnít go out there yesterday. I didnít see him this morning, but there was a dead squirrel on the ground. I left him some extra food."
Shannon was sitting in a sweatshirt, jeans, and muddy running shoes alongside her bed. The bed was neat but behind her the floor had a small pile of worn-out clothes, most of them slightly too small for her. She frowned at everything. She got back up and walked over to the piles.
Voiceover, Shannon typing: "This vampire bite really itches. And I canít hide it ícause itís high up. Hope the scarís gone by the time I visit you, or your familyís gonna freak."
She put her right foot behind her left shoe and slid it off. She did the same to her right shoe.
Voiceover, Shannon typing: "You know whoís here?"
She took a shoebox from under her bed and opened it to reveal two cheap, red-glitter strapped stilettos. She took them out of the box...
Voiceover, Shannon typing: "Ethan Rayne."
...and dropped them on the floor.
Voiceover, Shannon typing: "I donít think I can bring what I was gonna show you when I visit. See, Ethan may do a job for me. And Iím gonna need to use it for the money to pay him."
She slipped the red shoes on her feet without removing her white gym socks.
Voiceover, Shannon typing: "But he says canít do anything until he feels a little better because he just got out of Vor and his powers are kinda weak from it."
She pawed through the clothes on the bed until she found a red, spaghetti-strap tank top with a golf-ball sized, black lacey rose placed low in the cleft. Taking that and a black, rayon mini-skirt, she wobbled on the red, spiked heels Ė which were half obscured by the cuffs of her jeans Ė to the full-length mirror and held the tank top and skirt in front of her.
"You look stupid, you know." Lorindaís voice carried over from the doorway.
Shannon ignored her.
"I said, you look pretty stupid standing there like that. Why donít you put them on?" Lorinda continued as she came up alongside Shannon. She looked at the other girlís image in the mirror. "Unless you plan to wear them over your ratty clothes."
Shannon turned her head and stared dangerously at Lorinda.
Lorinda blinked and took a step back. Then she quickly smirked and walked away. "But that wouldnít surprise me," she tossed over her shoulder.
Shannon continued to stare at the other slayer until the girl disappeared into the bathroom and the door clicked shut. Then she hiked up her pants legs, pulled her sweatshirt sleeves up to her shoulders, and once again held up the skirt and tank top in front of her.
She gazed again into the mirror and pushed one hip out. She almost lost her balance in the red spiked heels, wobbled a bit, then settled. With her head cocked to one side and her hip thrown out, she extended one hand and looked herself straight in the reflection. In a husky, nearly-thirteen-year-old voice, she said, "Hello, Mr. and Mrs. Hansen. Thank you for having me. May I see Norman now?"
One of her pants legs fell down to her ankle.
"Hey, Shannie!" A small group of slayers came into the dorm room.
"Nice outfit, Shannie. For a freak show."
Shannon lowered the tank top and the skirt.
"Or a hooker."
"Or a vampire date."
"Wal-Mart have a clearance sale?" All the girls laughed.
Shannonís eyes grew dark, and her hands balled into a fist, crushing the red and black fabrics.
"She canít afford Wal-Mart. She gets her clothes out of the Goodwill bin onó"
Lorinda came out of the bathroom. "Knock it off," she said bossily. "Itís not nice to make fun of poor people. They canít help it if their familyís too stupid to make ends meet."
Shannon moved quickly toward them, wobbled, then stopped, the red shoes making it almost impossible to walk.
The girls giggled as Shannon wobbled her way darkly back to her bed. She tossed the skirt and tank top disgustedly onto the pile of clothes.
"Hey, look what my parents sent me for Christmas," Lorinda said. The girls, taking no more notice, went off to Lorindaís area.
Shannon reached angrily down behind herself while lifting up her right foot in order to take off one shoe. She balanced on one foot for a second, but as her fingers grasped the heel-strap, she wobbled uncontrollably on the other red-glittered pump. Her awkward movements caught the attention of the girls, who turned in time to see a surprised Shannon fall over and disappear from sight behind the far side of her bed. They heard a sharp thud.
For a moment there was total silence. Then the girls all bellowed at once in laughter, and a couple of them applauded.
"Shut up, shut up," Lorinda said, smiling broadly. "Hey Shannie, you okay?" There was no answer. "Hey, Shannie, whatsamatter?" Lorinda pressed. "You didnít stake yourself on those shoes, did you?"
"I think sheís crying," one of the other girls whispered to another uneasily.
"Who has the answers for the English homework?" Lorinda asked, purposefully changing the subject. "Cindy? Youíre good at English. Címon, I can copy íem at breakfast."
The girls left in a cacophony of comments and taunts, but none crossed over to see if Shannon was all right.
On the other side of the bed, Shannon sat on the floor, rubbing one of her ankles. A look of anger and hurt was on her face.
Voiceover, Shannon typing: "You know, Norm..."
She held up the left red shoe. The heel was broken at the base. It was hanging, literally, by a fibrous thread.
Voiceover, Shannon typing: "...I think I hate the color red."
She tossed the shoe toward at the head of her bunk. The shoe sailed into the Cleveland Indians wastebasket with a dull thunk.
Giles and Beccaís House Ė Library Ė Same Time
"What is it saying?" Ethan asked as though affronted.
"She," Becca said pointedly, "is saying hello."
"And how precisely can you tell that? Iím conversant in several demonic languages, and Iíve never encountered such incomprehensible drivel in my life."
Becca took the baby from Gilesís arms, hugged her to her shoulder, and began to pat the infantís back.
"Now why on earth are you beating it?" Ethan demanded. "Did it swear?"
Giles bowed his head to hide a small smile.
The baby burped loudly.
"Oh, I see. Youíve taught it a trick. Amazing. Truly. What do you call it?"
"Elizabeth," Becca answered, annoyed.
"He meant the trick," Giles said without thinking.
Becca gave her husband a dirty look and said, "Iíll be in the nursery if you need me." She began to walk away, but on his hang-dog look, she stopped, turned, and walked back to him. Leaning over, she kissed Giles lightly on the forehead.
"Oh, none for me, thanks," Ethan said.
Becca turned to Ethan, looking as if she were going to say something rude. Then she shot Giles a you-deal-with-him look and left the room.
Ethan watched Beccaís departure, and Giles watched Ethan. The sorcerer turned with puzzled amusement on his face.
"What on earth were you thinking, old man?" he asked Giles honestly.
Giles regarded him skeptically for a moment, then chuckled.
"Whatís funny?" Ethan asked.
"You," Giles said. "You pick up a stray dog on the streets and raise it like a child, mourn its death to the point of distraction, and break one of the most sacred trusts of magic by resurrecting it, but you canít even begin to understand the want of a child."
"Oh, I can understand wanting one just fine. Itís actually having one that throws me."
"You wouldnít say that if you had one."
"What are you suggesting?"
"Nothing, really. Just that you might Ė well, someday, I mean Ė for godís sake, Ethan, did it never cross your mind to settle down and start a family?"
Ethan stared blankly at Giles.
"Itís quite a wonderful experience," Giles picked up. "Nothing compares."
Ethan squinted at him.
"But all youíve ever known about having someone who depends upon you and looks to you for love wasó"
"Besides you, Lady Lovelust?"
"That dog of yours," Giles finished, ignoring the remark. "Ethan...what finally did become of the poor beast?" he asked quietly.
"I donít know. We were separated when I got trapped in Vor. He got left behind here Ė in this world."
Giles sat back and regarded Ethan carefully.
"Donít take that tone with me," Ethan said irritably.
"I didnít say anything."
"I can hear you thinking."
"I wasnít thinking!"
"Youíre always thinking."
"And you never do."
"And what would you have me think?"
"What do you think Iíd have you think?"
"That I should have left the bloody beast in the ground to rot."
"Thatís not what I was thinking."
"Yes it was."
"No it wasnít."
"Wasnít." Giles crossed his arms. "I wasnít thinking Ďr-o-t.í More like ĎR.I.P.í Ė if you take my meaning."
Ethan scowled and got up from the table. He walked to the stove, where Becca had left a steaming tea kettle, and began to fix himself a cup.
"So..." Giles picked up quietly, "where do you think he is now?"
"I really don't know."
"Do you really want me to believe you have no link whatsoever to him?"
Ethan turned and shot him a cold look. "Not anymore. I severed all links Ė human and non-human Ė as completely as possible as soon as I realized I wasnít leaving that hell. Though, I couldnít sever everything entirely."
"Yes," Giles said, "I know."
"So," Ethan continued, turning back to the stove. "I havenít the slightest idea where he might be. Or even if he might be."
"I think I do."
Ethan stopped ministering to his tea and stood very still. Giles saw him straighten a little. "Tell me," Ethan said quietly.
Watchers Council Ė Rowenaís Office Ė Same Time
"Robin, this isnít about your ability to be a watcher," Rowena said. "You know that. Itís really about providing the best possible match for Shannon. Sheís had a lot of male influence in her life, and thereís nothing wrong with that, certainly. But, we think it would be good for her to have a more structured and positive female influence Ė especially at her age."
"Ro," Robin said, looking at her indignantly, "for crying out loud, I was a school principal Ė a damn good one. Do you know how many kids Iíve mentored Ė male and female Ė who were Shannonís age?"
"I know youíve got a wealth of experience with kids, " Rowena said. "But there are limitations to what you can do now Ė real, measurable, physical limitations. And Iím sorry. But if you had to help her get out of a situation, do you really think you could be as effective as..."
Robin looked hard at her, daring her to continue.
"...someone without a disability? And what about Peterís death? You know how traumatic it is for a slayer to lose her watcher. And Peter died for Shannon. Tell me Iím not alone in thinking it would be better for her to switch to a female watcher until sheís had time to come to grips with that."
Robin swung his head away. "You know I canít argue with any of that," he said.
"Fine, but Iím not looking for an argument, Robin. Iím looking for your help where itís needed most."
The intercom buzzer sounded. "Ro, itís Xander. I was supposed to see you about a half hour ago?"
"Yes, Xander, Iím sorry. Give me just a couple of more minutes." She clicked off the intercom. "Robin. You can make a real difference in Shannonís future. Sheíll listen to you. I know youíve tried to give some advice to Dawn, and I think it was good advice. Maybe you could continue to do that Ė use your experience to guide and mentor Dawn and your rapport with Shannon to encourage her to give Dawn a chance."
Robin turned away and shook his head. "Yeah," he said resignedly. "Iíll take care of it."
He left without another word, letting the door swing softly shut after him. Rowena stared at it a moment. She hit the intercom button. "Come in, Xander," she said.
Council Grounds Ė Late Morning
Ethan stood outside, his back against the cold brick-and-mortar of the Council building. He brought a lit cigarette to his lips and took a slow drag, lost in thought as his eyes took in the sloping rise of the grounds and trees beyond. Absently, he exhaled a long puff of smoke.
He started and turned his head to see Shannon standing by him.
"Well," he said, grim-faced, then with a twist of a smile, he added, "Well, well. The Little Blue Slayer. Come to make me an offer, have you?"
"I told you Iíd bring it."
Ethan looked around as Shannon reached into her coat pocket. He held his hand up, stopping her. "Not here," he hissed. "Follow me."
They walked toward the rise, crested it, then dipped down below sight on the far side of it before Ethan spoke again. Stopping, he held out his hand. "Let me see it."
Shannon looked at him, hesitating for a moment.
"Well, if you donít want the job done..."
She reached into her coat pocket. Carefully, under Ethanís amused stare, she pulled out something she had covered in a little plastic cover and held it out to him.
"And this is worth...money?" Ethan said as he took it from her hand.
"I think itís worth maybe a couple of thousand dollars. Maybe even three or four. Itís real old Ė 1952, see? And itís in real good condition."
"A baseball card. How utterly American."
"Itís Mickey Mantle."
Ethanís smirk faded a bit as he looked at it closely. "And perhaps just valuable enough to make the job worthwhile." He looked hard at Shannon. "Iíll see what it fetches."
"If not, you give that back to me," Shannon said, standing her ground.
"My dear girl," Ethanís tone was cold, "Iíve done a lot of...things in my life. But Iíve never taken payment without doing the job. Mind you, if you donít get the desired result Ė if your watcherís resurrection fails Ė I still keep the cash because I will have done the work. If I donít begin the work, then youíll get your precious ĎMickeyí back."
"I donít want Mickey back. I want Peter back. Thatís all. Just Peter."
Ethan broke into a sudden smile. "Well, then, youíre lucky I came back from Vor when I did," he said, pocketing the card.
Shannon frowned, thinking.
"What? Have I offended you Ė finally?" Ethan smirked.
Shannon brightened. "No...No! Youíre right. Youíre like, totally right. Itís...maybe it does work..."
Ethan watched her as she reached up to her neck and tugged at a worn brown leather cord. "What have you got?" he smiled.
She pulled the cord out completely, and Ethan saw an old wooden poker chip attached to it. "It was my grandfatherís," she said. "It was his lucky charm. He won it in World War II off a guy in a poker game Ė it was the guyís lucky chip Ė and then the guyís leg got blown off the very next day. And then there was this battle, and there was a grenade that went off, and everybody around my grandfather was killed Ė but not my grandfather. When he got back from the war, he bought a farm real cheap ícause the land was so bad no one wanted it, and then all of a sudden things started growing on it." Shannon stopped. Ethan was smirking at her. "You donít believe me, do you?" she asked, her face angry.
"Oh I believe you completely," he told her. "Itís luck I donít believe in. Thereís no such thing as luck," he said with a hollow tone. Then, in a low whisper he added, "Just magic."
"Youíre wrong. The other night, when the vampire attacked me, I was lucky because Vi found me in time. And youíre here, and thatís lucky because youíre just the person I need to get Peter back. And the Mickey Mantle card Ė thatís lucky ícause now I can pay you to do it. Just like you brought back Rupert."
Ethanís smile tightened a bit on the mention of the dogís name.
"Oh. I uh..." Shannon looked away, shamefaced. "Iím sorry, I...I didnít mean to mention..."
"Let me see that," Ethan said abruptly and held out his hand to her.
She looked at him blankly a moment, then said, "Oh, yeah. Here." She lifted the chip, still strung about her neck, and placed it on his palm.
Ethan took the old wooden piece between his thumb and first two fingers. He held it tightly and regarded it silently.
Shannon watched his eyes as they seemed to grow a bit dark. She grew uneasy in the silence. Just as nervousness was about to make her pull the chip away, Ethan looked at her and brightly said, "Well, it doesnít feel terribly lucky. Letís see what the next few days bring, eh?"
Shannon quickly tucked the chip inside her coat. "I Ė I gotta go," she said. "You gonna tell me when you do it?"
Ethan smiled, not warmly. "Youíll be the first to know," he said.
She looked at him, her blue eyes wide. Then without another word, she turned and half-ran back up the rise and toward the Council building.
Watchers Council Ė Rowenaís Office Ė Same Time
"Xander, I donít want to send out any Black Ops," Rowena said. "And besides, for whatever reason, Giles has specifically asked me not to hunt for it for a day or two."
"Itís been a day or two. All bets are off as far as Iím concerned."
Rowena regarded him for moment. "Why are you suddenly so intent on us finding and destroying it?" she asked.
Xander looked back at her. "It wasÖ" He looked away. "There was something so Ė bad Ė in its eyes. Not bad like evil, but bad likeÖwrong." He struggled for an explanation that wouldnít come. "Whatever it is, Ro, it Ė it needs to die. It needs to."
Rowena looked at him thoughtfully for a moment. Slowly, she reached her hand out, hesitated, then quickly hit the intercom button.
"Kennedy," came the swift response from the slayer.
"Ken, Xander is here in the office with me. I wonder if you could come in?"
Watchers Council Ė English Class Ė Moments Later
"Shannon!" The entire class turned and looked at her. "Do you realize that youíre twenty minutes late for class?" Mrs. Monahan demanded.
The class erupted in laughter.
"See me at the end of the period. Now take your seat and answer the quiz on the board. Bring it straight up to me when youíve finished. Everyone else, log onto the online unit you were working on yesterday. If youíre finished with unit five, raise your hand and Iíll come around to check your workÖ"
Shannon walked slowly toward her seat. Lorinda seemed not to be paying her any mind. But as she approached, Lorinda turned and shot a spitball squarely at her. Shannon watched as the spitball, merely inches from her, somehow missed her completely and shot past to bounce off the corner of CeCeís right eye. CeCe shrieked. Mrs. Monahan turned quickly to see CeCe holding her eye and bellowing in pain.
Amidst the noise and confusion that followed, Mrs. Monahan determined that
CeCeís eye was hurt, but not seriously, and asked for a volunteer to escort
her to the infirmary.
"Iíll do it, Mrs. Monahan," Lorinda said, standing. Lorinda began to turn CeCe toward the door. As she and CeCe turned, Lorinda stepped on the stray spitball, and her foot slid out from under her. She landed with a loud whomp on her butt.
Too stunned to join her classmates in the laughter that followed, Shannon just reached down in wonder and clasped the wooden poker chip firmly in her hand, then smiled.
Council Grounds Ė Den in Center of Woods Ė Same Time
Puffs of thick steam pulsed on the sound of wheezing and ragged snarls. A large and shadowy form lay heaving, on its side, unable to move or even to distinguish its own den. Its eyes, wide open, stared blankly out. Its lathered tongue had lolled onto the floor of broken twigs, dead leaves and dirt. Hot saliva had turned the mix into a muddy mess.
Its body shuddered in pain. While dreaming, it scratched and pawed at its infected ear until the ear exploded and the vile liquid leaked out. But it could not move and now could not even wake from its exhausted stupor. It shivered with the chills of a fever, unaware of its own pained cries. Its eyelids fluttered, and it tumbled into black.
Watchers Council Ė Same Time
Giles waited several minutes, looking around one corner of the building and then the other before deciding to walk out toward the woods. He crested the rise and finally saw Ethan standing and stamping to keep warm, a cigarette hanging carelessly out of the corner of his mouth. Giles could smell the acrid smoke in spite of the distance between them.
He adjusted the tranquilizer gun slung over his shoulder and picked his way carefully down the slippery slope. When he neared Ethan, he saw that the mage was not just cold, but shivering badly. Giles reached into his deep overcoat pocket and pulled out a flask. He handed it to Ethan. The sorcerer took the cigarette from his mouth, snatched the flask, unscrewed the top, and took a big gulp.
He made a face at Giles. "Thatís not your best!" he said, handing the flask back.
Giles smirked and reached for the flask. "If you donít want anymore..."
Ethan pulled it away, took another swallow, and grimaced. He handed the flask back.
"Are you sure youíre up to this?" Giles asked. "Doctor
"When did Doctor Miller become our nanny?" Ethan replied. "If you didnít want me to come out here, you should never have told me in the first place."
Giles shrugged and nodded in agreement.
"Here. Give it here," Ethan said, grabbing the flask again and taking another noisy gulp. Giles took the flask back, capped it tightly, and returned it to his coat pocket.
"Are you planning to shoot something?" Ethan asked, indicating the
"You if you become annoying. Oh. Wait a minute..." he said, and with a dangerous look on his face, he raised the gun, pointing it squarely at Ethanís chest.
Ethan laughed as he spread his arms wide. "Go íhead, then," he said, the cigarette once more dangling from his lips, "but youíll never again be offered one of these fine Turkish smokes."
Giles lowered the gun slowly. He squinted narrowly at Ethan, then grinned. "Thought I recognized the sm Ė hold on Ė where did you get those?" he asked. "You havenít been anywhere but right here, and those are..."
"Bloody hell, Ripper...youíre like an old crone. Have to know everything. Canít just enjoy a simple pleasure." Giles looked sternly at him. Ethan laughed. "Actually, mate, I pinched them from your humidor. Surprised to see you still have one." Still smiling, Ethan reached inside his coat and pulled out a simple silver cigarette case.
Giles looked accusingly at him.
"What?" Ethan said. "I couldnít very well just put them in my pocket." He opened it, and Giles saw the finely rolled, unfiltered cigarettes an adept had recently presented to him as a gift. "Besides," Ethan said," it pains me to see you with this poor excuse for a case. Really, old man, could you have found something less aesthetic?"
He looked disgustedly at Ethan. "Thief," he said flatly.
"Not stealing if you take what isnít wanted. Oh come on, Dr. Nanny say you canít have them, is that it? Here..." Ethan took one cigarette from the case, popped it between his own lips, lit it with his own half-smoked cigarette, and held it out to Giles. "Hereís to your health," he sneered, "mental and otherwise."
Giles looked at the offered cigarette then glanced at Ethan. Giles took it and brought it his lips where he took a dainty drag from it, letting the smoke curl around in his mouth before inhaling it. Then he let it out on an easy breath and smiled. "Thatís, well...very good, actually. Havenít had one of those in years."
"Decades, Iíll wager."
Ethan hesitated. He looked out across the grounds, away to the trees that marked the entry to their search.
The sorcerer turned to Giles and looked the tranquilizer gun up and down. "Will that kill him?" Ethan asked.
Giles took another drag from the cigarette. "No," he said quietly. "Thatís up to you to do."
Ethanís eyes widened, and then he looked away, troubled. He stood, unmoving, for a moment, then felt Gilesís hand lightly rest on his shoulder.
"Letís go," Giles said softly.
Ethan felt the hand slide off his shoulder and heard Gilesís footsteps crunching along the frosted ground. He didnít stir until Giles had walked many yards beyond him toward the woods.
Dawnís Apartment Ė Early Afternoon
"Hi Dawn," Shannon said seriously. "Iím here for my remedials."
Dawn opened the door wide. "Uh...cool. Letís work in the kitchen. Would you Ė I have some leftover pizza in the fridge Ė if you want some."
Shannon looked at her expressionlessly. "Okay."
Dawn watched the young slayer set her books and laptop down on the kitchen table.
Shannon stopped what she was doing and said, "Oh. Do you want me to like, set the table?"
"Um...no," Dawn replied. "No, Iíll do it. You go ahead and open your books."
Shannon got down to business as Dawn pulled a couple of slices of anchovy pizza from the refrigerator. She prepared to set them in the microwave.
"I like it cold," Shannon said sharply.
Dawn stopped and put the plate on the table along with two glasses and a bottle of cola. Shannon was logging onto her laptop and already had her work out in front of her.
"So..." Dawn began cautiously, "this is a double study hall?"
"And uh...everythingís okay today? School good? Other kids...treating you all right?"
"Sure. No problem."
"Well. All right. Great. Letís see what youíve got..."
Shannon opened her notebook to her half-finished math homework. "I donít get how to do this one," she said, not looking at Dawn or the homework.
Dawn looked down and realized it was an algebraic problem. "Oh great," she said. "Iím not sure I do either."
Shannon made a face.
"But I seem to remember something my algebra teacher told me about this kind of example," she said, surprised at herself. "Here, we need to figure out what Ďxí is. And Ė and we have clues. Like this..."
She began to explain the problem to Shannon, slowly at first, and then in a rush as vivid memories of things she had never paid attention to in high school algebra came flooding back in detail.
Shannon, now intent on her homework, paid more attention to her, and within minutes, the tricky math problem was solved.
Shannon huffed at Dawn. "What were you Ė a geek or something?"
Dawn looked at her indignantly. "Iíll take that as a left-handed
compliment. "God," she continued, "I never thought Iíd even
remember my algebra teacherís name, let alone what she taught me. I havenít
thought about that stuff in years! And just like that, I remember it! How lucky
"Yeah..." Shannon said. A slow smile played across her lips as she touched her fingertips to the wooden poker chip beneath her shirt. "Real lucky."
Council Grounds Ė Same Time
"We wonít find him, you know," Ethan said as he walked alongside Giles, "as long as he doesnít want to be found."
"We can do a locator spell."
"No. We canít."
"We canít or we wonít?"
"Listen, Ripper, I know you think I made him a familiar. And Iíve told you before, that isnít true. But I did...charm him a bit. You know, wards and protections. That sort of thing. You wonít find him with a locator spell. And he wonít be detected by someone elseís protection spell, either. Otherwise, the Little Red Witch would have known heís here. If it is him, of course."
"Thatís exactly what youíre here to tell me Ė whether itís him or not."
"And if itís not?" Ethan asked.
"Then weíve nothing to do but shiver, try not to slip and kill ourselves on this ice, and take a nice, long walk in the below-freezing temperatures."
"You always were up for a ruddy good time, mate."
They trudged on in silence. Soon, they were at the edge of the tree-dotted area that would lead them to the thicket and the woods beyond. Giles took a sudden turn away from Ethan.
"Over here," he said as Ethan followed close behind. "I found this the day after Xander and I were attacked. But I think it was actually done a few days before that, judging from the condition of it."
He brought Ethan around to an evergreen tree and pushed aside low, heavy branches sweeping just above the ground. Beneath them lay the frozen remains of a raccoon. It was clear the animal had struggled violently with whatever had torn it apart Ė and lost.
Ethan took one step back, staring at the shredded animal. Giles saw him close his left hand into a crooked fist, but said nothing. Ethan turned away and looked into the trees.
"Is that what happened?" Giles asked. "Is that what happened to your hand?"
Ethan glanced quickly down at his left hand.
"Willow noticed it, when you came back to help us fight Vor. She noticed it had been...injured. She mentioned it to me, but I was far too busy at that time to really give it any thought. But when you put your hand on my shoulder the other day, to heal it, I thought Ďwell, then, if Doctor Miller stitches me up, no matter how well, my shoulderíll end up looking like Ethanís handí."
Ethan said nothing and continued to stare into the trees.
"What happened, Ethan? Did the dog Ė did he mangle your hand that way?"
Ethan turned, his face lined and tired. He smiled a little and said, "You never encountered your slayer when she first returned to the living."
"You know I didnít. You were with me shortly after the call came through."
"And how do you suppose sheíd have reacted had you tried to Ďhelp herí, letís say?"
Giles looked down and considered it. Then he looked back at Ethan. "How long did it take you to tame him again?" he asked.
Ethan gave him a puzzled half-smile. "Tame?" he asked Giles. Then, his expression unchanged, Ethan began to sing very quietly in a rich, low voice: "If you go out in the wood today, youíre sure of a big surprise."
He turned and headed back in their original direction, toward the deepening trees, as he sang more loudly.
"If you go out in the wood today, you better go in disguise."
Giles bit his lower lip as he watched Ethan picked up a jaunty pace.
"For every bear that ever there was, will gather there for certain because..."
Giles sighed, readjusted the tranquilizer gun on his shoulder, and moved to catch up as Ethanís voice faded into the distant, dead air.
"Todayís the day the teddy bears have their pi-i-i-ic-nic!"
Watchers Council Ė Conference Room Ė Same Time
"I tried a locator spell," Willow told Xander, Rowena, Kennedy, and Faith. "But it just didnít work. I even used the fur that came off Gilesís clothes after the attack and his bloody Ė as in blood-soaked Ė shirt. But that just told me where Giles was, so either the creatureís blood wasnít on him or..."
"...this creature has a ward of protection on itself," Rowena frowned.
"All right," Faith said. "So weíll place sentries around the perimeter of the woods, and weíll sweep the entire area. Weíll flush it out, donít worry. The Black Opsíll come in handy for this one."
"Well, not if itís protected," Rowena said. "Will, do you think you could break any protection spell it might have around it?"
"Not without knowing how it was cast."
"But there is a general reversal spell, isnít there?"
"General, yes. Universal, no. Otherwise, Iíd just reverse the last twenty years of my life." They all looked at her balefully. "Joking! Joking!" she said. "Iíll give it a shot. I mean, what could it hurt? But...I donít think itís going to work."
"Faith," Rowena said, "how many girls can you give us for this?"
"How many do you want, Blondie? I can put all the girls we have on active duty on it, and some of the inexperienced girls, too. We have a few intermediates who need to go out on an actual assignment. And if this thing is just an animal like Giles thinks, then it should be no problem."
"But weíre not sure it is just an animal. And if it isnít, weíre risking too much asking untrained girls to fight it."
"Hey, I was untrained, and I fought the First," Kennedy spoke up.
"And most of those who fought with you died in the fight."
Kennedy sighed. "Yeah. Well, okay, Iíll give you everyone on active duty on my team. But Shannon still stays on suspension."
"Agreed," Rowena said. "Willow? Xander?"
"Yup," Xander answered.
"Works for me," Willow replied.
"Draw up a plan," Rowena said. "Maybe we can be finished with this by weekís end."
Council Grounds Ė Center of the Woods Ė Same Time
"This is it," Giles said. "This is where it attacked us."
"Yes," Ethan said, looking at the blood frozen in the groundcover of ice. "It went off there." He walked, following the frozen dollops of blood to a denser and darker area. Giles walked close behind him, tranquilizer gun at the ready.
"Every teddy bear whose been good is sure of a treat today," Ethan sang softly as they slowly pushed through the deep woods.
"Thereís lots of marvelous things to eat and wonderful games to play."
"Youíre going to let it know weíre here," Giles warned.
"Believe me, mate, it already knows," Ethan said and picked up the song again.
"Beneath the trees, where nobody sees, theyíll hide and seek as long as they please. íCause thatís the way the teddy bears have their pi-i-i-i-icó"
There was a sudden movement from just ahead of them, and Giles brought the gun up sharply. Ethan raised his right hand to cast a shot of energy at the attacker. They both held as a small rabbit ran for its life from them.
"ónic," Ethan finished, smiling.
"Prat," Giles called him, relieved. "Weíll look a little longer. If itís alive, it may be injured and might be more deadly. Are you up to it? Magically?"
Ethan considered the question seriously. "No," he said, finally. "Are you?"
"Me? Iíve a bad heart, and my nerves arenít what they used to be either."
"Itís settled then. Weíll press on."
"Right." Giles smiled.
They moved slowly, pushing aside branches, half-tripping over frozen, rutted terrain, and feeling more cold than when they had begun. They thrashed the undergrowth that hadnít frozen hard to the ground, hoping to startle the creature from its hiding place. But nothing stirred except them.
"Ethan, what happened to him Ė the dog Ė when you resurrected him?"
"He was...out of control. Completely. Crazed. Heíd spend hours Ė days Ė lunging at me, trying to rip my throat open."
"How did you manage him?"
"Protection around myself and...I just kept talking to him."
"And it worked. I mean, he was quite docile when you brought himó"
"He was spelled. I spelled him to control him, finally. Nothing more than a...a lost mind in a dogís body. Iídíve been better off to carry a picture of a dog for all the life that was left in him after I spelled him," Ethan said, his tone turning bitter. "But if I hadnít spelled him, heíd have done worse than just this." Ethan held up his crooked, scarred, left hand. "Still canít feel anything from the middle finger on."
"But the spell hasnít held," Giles said more than asked.
"It stopped holding from time to time," Ethan replied. "Seemed to wear away under Ė what would you say Ė the strain? Of all that aggression tearing at it." Ethan stopped and breathed a shivering sigh. "I had to renew the spell on a few occasions, and each time it seemed to be easier for him to tear through." Ethan suddenly stopped.
"What is it?" Giles asked, looking about.
Ethan faced him and with a look of sudden realization asked, "How did you come to figure that these animals were being killed by Rupert?"
"I was there that day. I overheard you talking to him."
"What do you mean?"
"The day that you were shot at. The assassination attempt when you were helping us fight the Fire Eater. The shot that grazed you. You do remember, donít you?"
"Vor didnít take my memory," Ethan said. "In fact, it gave me some new ones."
"Well, I stopped by to see you, afterwards, and I let myself in at your door," Giles replied. "You were sitting on the couch and talking to him Ė to the dog. You told him that if anything happened, he was to return here. ĎTheyíll take care of you here,í I heard you say. The animal killings began not too long after you got lost in Vor. We had a bad bout with some horrible demons that were killing in a similar fashion, tearing up animals. We disposed of those Shadow Demons. And it seemed like the killings had ended. But now Iím not so sure. Now I think that Shannon may have discovered this beast killing small animals Ė tearing them up much the same as the Shadow Demons would. And I think she began to feed it so that it wouldnít kill and to discard the carcasses it left from time to time so that no one would know. She didnít get all of the carcasses, however, and quite frankly, thereís been an increase in their occurrence."
"But two more things happened that convinced me it was your dog," Giles continued. "When it attacked me, I couldnít make out what had me, but I could feel its general shape and size, and I could feel the heavy, matted coat. I even pulled out long, black hairs from it as I fought it. And Xander, when he faced it the second time, saw a look in its eyes that he described as very much like Buffyís when she was first resurrected."
Ethan stared off sternly, barely breathing.
"Ethan, this animal is dangerous. It needs to be destroyed."
Ethan remained still.
"You...need to destroy it. Itís suffering. It isnít fair."
"No. No it isnít," Ethan spat. He turned and began to walk angrily out of the darkness of the wood, unmindful of the noise he was making. Giles followed close behind, but said nothing until they had come out of the darker recesses and approached the thicket.
"Ethan!" he called.
The sorcerer turned around, his face full of anger.
"Ethan, I canít hold off the entire Council. Theyíll launch a search for him. Today, tomorrow... And when they do, theyíll be on a killing mission."
Ethan turned and began to stalk toward the thicket.
"Theyíre slayers, Ethan. Theyíll show no mercy, and they wonít worry about how cleanly they do it, either. Ethan! "
The sorcerer stopped, and Giles could see puffs of steam as Ethan heaved heavy breaths. "Ethan..." he said firmly, but gently, "you have a choice Ė a choice for the poor beast. You can leave him to the slayers. Or, you can end his suffering yourself."
Ethan turned his head and looked at Giles. A strange expression came over him as he held Gilesís gaze. "ĎYour hands before all others,í eh?"
Giles winced, but said nothing.
Ethan smiled sadly back at him. "I need a few days."
"We havenít the luxury of a few days for you to make up your mió"
"Iím not strong enough!" Ethan almost shouted. "Iím still weak, magically. Iíve tried a couple of simple things, and Iím as adept as ever. Just not up to full strength. I need to be completely recovered. Please."
Giles shouldered the rifle and led the way out of the thicket. He waited until they had crossed the clearing and were out on the open grounds of the property before he took out the flask and opened it once more. He held it out to Ethan, who waved him off. Giles took a swift drink and put the cap back on as Ethan walked past him. He followed a few feet behind Ethan all the way back to the Council building.
Watchers Council Ė Dining Hall Ė After Supper
The Watchers Council was aglow with a warm, nighttime lamplight. Most of the slayers had already eaten, and Shannon was quietly finishing her meal at a table by herself. Andrew came out of the kitchen, his apron stained and his brow sweaty.
"Hey," he greeted her.
"Hey," she said back.
"I have something for you."
Shannon looked at him questioningly. "You didnít!" she said. "Did you? You found it? Did you really?"
He grinned at her and held up a DVD with a picture of Harry, Hermione, and
Ron and a dragon behind them, visible through the cover. "Andrew! Youíre
great! This is sooooooo cool. Normís gonna freak! You got the new
"Shhhhhh!" he said, still smiling at her excitement. "Bootlegs are so illegal. Oh, and here. Hereís your money back."
She looked at him.
"Go on, take it," he said. "Consider it a late Christmas gift from me."
"I Ė thanks. Really. How did you Ė ?"
"I have my ways," he said. "Actually, youíre pretty lucky. Theyíre cracking down real hard. This was the last copy weíll be seeing in these parts for a while."
Shannon sat back, her mouth open. Then she began to quickly clean up the uneaten half of her chicken and stuffing, putting it into a plastic bag she had with her.
"What are you Ė ?"
"Gotta go,"í she said quickly. She swung around in her seat, got up, and clutching the food and the DVD tightly, took a few steps. She stopped and turned. Andrew was staring at her. She walked back to him and, without warning, hugged him hard. Then she was heading away again and out the door.
Andrew watched her go, then put his hands to his ribs. "Owww," he whined.
City of Cleveland Ė Tower City Center Mall Ė Same Time
Ethan had been standing at the counter for almost half an hour, while the Ultimate Sport Collectibles and Memorabilia shop owner whistled intermittently at the card. Bored, Ethan glanced at a good-looking blonde teenager who was leafing through glossy sports photos in a binder. The boy, sensing he was being watched, looked up suddenly at Ethan. Ethan stared right back and slowly smiled.
The teenís face darkened in anger, then turned bright red. Ethan smiled wider.
"Perv," the boy said and walked out of the store. Ethan stared after him, still smiling.
"Rick!" the storeowner called to his assistant. Another teenager, thin and dark-haired, emerged from the back. "Breakís over. Iíll be in the back with this gentleman for a little while. Can you hold the fort?"
"Yeah sure," Rick said and walked behind the counter.
"Reginald," Ethan lied.
"Mr. Reginald," the shop owner said as they entered the room. "Nice to meet you." He shook Ethanís hand and indicated that he sit at a counter cluttered with plastic bags, sealing tape, and other shipping materials.
"Mr. Reginald, Iím not a professional grader, you understand. But Iíve been in this business for over thirty years, and Iíve been a collector since I was nine. I know the real thing when I see it."
Ethan looked blankly back at him and smiled. "Yes, well, what do you think itís worth?"
"Mr. Reginald, do you mind my asking where you got this?"
"Why, itís been in my family for years," Ethan lied glibly. "It was handed down to me from a dear old uncle."
"Is he still alive?"
"Oh no. Dead. Dead and gone. Forever."
The shop owner looked at him strangely, but continued. "Exactly what do you know about this card?" he asked Ethan.
"That my dear uncle treasured it and wanted me to have it Ė as a remembrance. And that the nice man in the sporting goods store on the lower level thought it might be worth a little money."
The shop owner laughed. "Jerry? And how much did he say it was worth?"
"Oh, he said around eighteen to twenty, but I told him that couldnít be correct. And that is when he suggested I speak to you."
"Well, for once Jerryís almost right. But eighteen to twenty is for a card thatís only in good condition."
"Oh. Then I suppose the best I could do would be what? Fifty, maybe a hundred dollars?"
"Wha Ė What? Mr. Reginald, you donít know anything at all about baseball cards, do you?"
Ethan smiled wanly.
The shop owner took a gooseneck lamp and turned it on above the card. "Look at this," he said. "This is a Topps 1952 #311 Mickey Mantle baseball card in mint condition, with perfect centering and no wear on the corners that I can detect. Whoever owned this card knew what they had and took meticulous care of it. A 1983 reprint of the set this card comes from is now worth about three to five hundred dollars itself. But youíve got an original Mantle card from one of the original sets from í52 Ė the second series print."
The shop owner shook his head in admiration of the card. "You need to get this to a professional grader. There are a couple of companies thatíll do it Ė PSA and Beckett. Iíll give you their information. Theyíre more qualified than I am to give you a real accurate assessment, but in the meantime, Iíd have this card insured."
Ethanís eyes sparkled, but his face was unreadable. "So..." he said to the shop owner, "this is worth a little something then."
"Look, get it graded. Thatís your best bet. See, this card, non-graded, in merely good condition, could easily be sold for about twenty thousand dollars."
Ethan said nothing for a moment. "And if I get it graded?"
"Well, keep in mind that the company that made this card Ė Topps Ė just signed an agreement with the Mantle family. This year, they are issuing new Mantle cards from the familyís photos. That means renewed interest. Add that to the pristine condition of this card..."
"Damn it, man! Tell me what itís worth!"
The shop owner looked wide-eyed at the angry man.
Ethanís face softened, and he smiled. "Please..."
"I canít give you a price. But I can tell you that another one of this exact card was graded in similar condition and sold at auction last year for one hundred and twenty-one thousand dollars."
"One hundred and twenty...did you say thousand?"
"Itís worth the hundred or so bucks to have it professionally graded. Iíd really be interested to know what they say. Let me get you the addresses for the grading companies. Wow. I never thought Iíd ever hold one of these..."
Watchers Council Ė Slayer Wing Ė Just After Supper
Shannon crept past the recon area. She had no other choice unless she wanted to exit the far side of the building and run the risk of being seen from the bank of apartment windows on that side. She held the bag of leftover chicken from supper and walked as quietly as she could.
Faith was briefing the patrol unit, and their attention was not on the doorway. Shannon slipped past without being seen or heard. She was nearly to the end of the hall when she heard one of the slayers ask, "So if we find it, we donít engage if thereís a Black Ops nearby. Theyíre gonna shoot to kill."
"Right," Faith answered.
"But if we have to engage..."
"...engage it long enough to kill it."
"But I donít want to kill an animal," one of the others said.
"This isnít an animal," Faith corrected. "Or if it is, itís not the kind you bring home. Itís a killing machine, and weíre gonna treat it like one. Letís review positions. Lucy and Connie are taking their group to the north and east sides of the woods. Vi will have a group stationed south, and westíll be covered by..."
Shannonís heart raced. With no more care to be quiet, she ran the remaining few feet to the end of the hallway, turned the corner sharply, and dashed through the building. Within seconds, she was out the door and off over the rise in the bright moonlight.
Onto Act Four