Starring: Felicity Day, Lindsay Felton and Norika Fujiwara
Guest Starring: Chazz Palminteri as Jimmy Volano, Becky Wahlstrom as Julia, Robert Picardo as Dr. Miller, Jennifer Fisher as Angella and Avril Lavigne as Janet
Watchers Council Library – Later that Night
Rowena placed the phone back onto the receiver just as Willow walked in. The redhead glanced in her direction as she made her way to the other end of the table.
"Who was it?" Willow asked. "As if you’d tell me," she added under her breath.
The blonde decided to ignore the comment and only shook her head instead. "Julia," she replied. "She asked me to meet her tonight to discuss her possible future with the Council."
Willow’s eyebrows practically shot to her hairline. "Have you discussed it with Giles?"
"Not yet, but I’m going now. I think this meeting might be more important than my suspension, but that’s his decision to make."
"Can I come too? I can be very persuasive when I wanna."
The watcher couldn’t fight the slight grin. "If it were up to me, yes…but Julia asked that I come alone. She doesn’t want the pressure of everyone trying to sell her on the issue."
The Wiccan’s expression suddenly darkened. "I don’t know if I like the sound of that too much. Sure she’s not public enemy number one, but she’s not Miss Goody Two Shoes either," she said nervously.
The grin returned to Rowena’s face, and she folded her arms over her chest. "Well, Ms. Rosenberg, I didn’t think you cared."
Willow’s cheeks flushed slightly, and she shook her head slowly. She let out a deep sigh as she took a step toward the blonde.
"I care…even when I’m mad. That’ll never change, Ro. Never."
Her voice trailed off, and she averted her eyes to the floor.
Rowena stepped forward and lifted the witch’s chin with a delicate motion. "So…does that mean you’re less mad than you were yesterday?" she asked with a small smile.
Willow blushed with a tiny grin of her own.
Rowena slowly dropped her hand from Willow’s chin and placed it on her shoulder instead. "I’ll be quick, I promise. And when I get back, you’ll be the first to know," she said with a nod.
Willow reluctantly returned the nod and watched silently as Rowena disappeared out the library door.
Presidium Citadel – Panopticon – Same time
The Lover frowned slightly. The image of Willow before her did
likewise as she selected a book from the shelves and took a seat by the
library window. At a gesture the image changed, showing Rowena crossing the lobby, then it vanished as the Lover turned her attention elsewhere.
"Angella," the Lover called quietly.
The texture of light in the
Panopticon chamber altered, and the image of a severe-looking blonde woman
shimmered into being, standing beside a heavy-set man who was indistinct and on
the edge of the image. The woman turned to face the Lover, but an echo of her
remained as she had been, listening attentively to the man beside her, nodding
now and then, while the more solid-seeming twin image knelt before the Lover.
"Mistress," she said.
"When the human Rowena is acquired, allow Mr. Volano to injure her in some survivable fashion," the Lover instructed.
"I will comply, Mistress," the blonde said. At a dismissive gesture from the Lover, she turned back to the man at her side, melding back with the echo-image that still listened to him.
The Lover dispelled her servant’s image and stood alone in the chamber, her face thoughtful.
Giles’s Apartment – Moments Later
"Come in," Giles called out at the knock on his door.
Rowena walked inside and closed the door behind her. "I’m sorry to bother you, but I just got a call from Julia. She wants to discuss the Council."
"That’s excellent news," Giles replied.
Rowena scratched her head a moment. "Yeah, but there’s a bit of a catch."
"She wants to meet with me – no one else."
Giles considered her words a moment. "I-I don’t mean to offend, but why you in particular?"
"She says she trusts me most. Kinda ironic, huh?"
Giles said nothing at first. "And you’d like to do this?"
"Yes, but I haven’t officially been released from suspension."
"You could have gone anyway," Giles noted.
Rowena nodded. "I could have. But I’m asking instead. Can I meet with her in the interest of the Watchers Council?"
Giles thought about it a moment and began to nod. "Since you asked, then yes you may." Rowena nodded formally again and turned to leave. "Rowena," Giles called out, making her face him again. "Thank you for checking."
"Not a problem," she told him with a grin before she slipped out the door.
Michel’s Diner – Later that Night
"I just wanna say again how much I appreciate you meeting me like this," Julia said as she pushed the empty plate away. When Rowena nodded, Julia continued. "No really. Thanks for coming alone. I’m just not real comfortable with most those Council types yet."
"No problem," Rowena said. "So you want to talk again about coming back?"
"Yeah, but I want to take it slow. This is something new to me."
"New things can be intimidating. I understand that."
Julia nodded, and a small silence passed between them. Then she asked, "Hey, how’s Mia?"
Rowena swallowed hard, noticeably uncomfortable with the question. "She’s fine. We had a little scrape a couple weeks ago, and Mia was hurt. But you know slayers. She’s a hundred percent now."
Julia nodded absently and reached into her pocket. She pulled out some bills and tossed them on the table.
"Well, whaddya say we take this outside? Lungs need some fresh air," she said, pulling in an exaggerated breath.
Rowena grabbed her coat, and they made their way outside.
Michel’s Diner – Moments Later
"You know…the Council’s not one to harbor ill feelings. We firmly believe that everyone is entitled to a second chance," the blonde watcher said with a smile.
The slayer smiled in return but shook her head as she placed her hands in her pockets and let out a deep sigh.
"No, seriously, Julia. You’d be more than welcome. We could always use another slayer, and soon at that."
Julia gave her a sideways glance, and her smile turned into an evil grin.
Rowena stopped at the change in expression. Her eyes narrowed, and she stared into the face of the woman in front of her. Just as she opened her mouth to speak, a sharp jolting pain shot down her back, and she fell to her knees, gasping for breath.
Two thugs stepped out from behind the watcher’s crumpled form, their tasers still crackling in their hands.
Rowena looked up and saw Julia glaring down at her.
"Like I’d ever be your lap dog," Julia said with a scowl. Then she lifted her fist and, with one quick punch, knocked the watcher out cold.
Office – Later that Night
Rowena slowly shook her head and strained to open her eyes. She squeezed them tightly when a sharp pain shot down the left side of her head. She tried to lift her hand only to find it tied to the chair behind her back along with her other hand. Her feet were bound as well.
The sudden flash of a camera went off in her face, blinding her in the darkness. The flash went off a couple more times before she was able to focus at all. Suddenly the lights came on and she found a man standing in front of her. It took her a moment but recognition took hold.
"You?" she mumbled. "What do you want?"
"Money, Ms. Allister. You and your friends cost us a nice payday a few months back. I think they’ll pay a pretty penny to see you alive again."
The head mobster, Jimmy "The Cannon" Volano looked at one of the Polaroids that he had taken of Rowena.
"Alive, but not undamaged I’m afraid. Now you be nice and cooperative, and you may survive this. Give us any trouble, and you’ll need a bodybag."
Rowena managed a nod.
Jimmy motioned the two men to move toward Rowena as he left the room. As they closed in on the blonde, Jimmy slipped outside and closed the door behind him. He heard Rowena’s scream as he continued to walk down the hall, his face expressionless.
Watchers Council Library – Moments Later
Willow and Xander stood around idly chatting.
"So then I told Alex…" Xander trailed off as he saw the redhead glance at her watch. "Is there somewhere you gotta be?" Xander asked with a raised brow.
"What? Oh no, it’s just that, well, Rowena left a while ago, and she should’ve been back by now. I’m getting worried," she said with a slight chew of her bottom lip.
"I’m assuming things are going better between you two?"
"Yeah, each day, a little at a time," Willow admitted with a hopeful expression.
Then the doorknob turned, and the door swung open. Faith and Robin walked into the room. The slayer gripped a plain manila envelope in one hand and a small box in the other as she walked in with a disturbed expression etched in her features.
"What’s wrong?" Willow asked.
Faith silently handed her the envelope and took a step back, her eyes falling away to the floor.
Willow watched her reaction, and her own face fell in response. Her gaze dropped to the envelope in her hands. She slowly pulled open the flap and reached inside, pulling out the contents.
All the color drained from her face when her eyes met the image of her bloody and bruised girlfriend.
"One of the WITs found this under the door in the lobby when they were leaving for the night," Faith explained.
"Oh Goddess," Willow said as her hands began to tremble.
Xander reached across and took the Polaroid from her grasp. He read the note attached aloud, "Ten million cash for the blonde in unmarked bills. Call the cops, and you’ll be picking up the other pieces off your front lawn." The breath died in his throat as he stared down at the picture of the bound and visibly weak watcher. He shook his head in shock as he tried to make sense of the words. "Other pieces?" he asked.
Faith opened the small box and set it on the table. "They found this outside too."
Xander and Willow looked inside and saw a pinky finger.
"Oh dear God," Xander said and turned away.
Willow began to shake. She put her hand over her mouth as if preventing herself from being sick.
The sound of the door opening once again broke the uncomfortable silence in the room. Giles walked in with a stack of papers in his hands, studying them intensely.
"Oh good. I was just looking for you all actually. I’ve been researching th…" His voice died away when he saw the looks on all their faces. "Dear Lord…what is it?"
He turned to each of them with a questioning glance, but everyone remained silent for the moment.
"We got trouble," Faith said finally. "This time, though, it’s of the human variety…for once."
Giles furrowed his brow in confusion. "Trouble? Human…trouble?"
Xander nodded mutely and placed the Polaroid into the elder watcher’s hands.
Giles stared down at it for a moment before his eyes grew wide and he suddenly looked back up at the faces before him. They were all numbly expressionless except for one.
The tears silently slipped down the redhead’s cheeks as she tried desperately to keep it together. Giles reached forward to pull the woman into a tight embrace.
"We’ll get her back…I promise," Giles assured her.
The rest of the room looked on uncomfortably as Willow clung tightly to him and cried.
Presidium Citadel – Panopticon – Same time
The Lover studied the image of Willow as she clung to Giles. She walked around the two figures, carefully dissolving their surroundings until only the humans remained. Finally, she swept a hand slowly through the pair themselves, brushing away Giles's image like a mist. She took a step closer to Willow, who was still poised in the embrace of a now-invisible form. The Lover leaned in to study the moisture streaking Willow’s cheeks.
For a moment she was completely still. Then, abruptly, she straightened and turned, dispelling the image entirely without looking back as she left the Panopticon chamber.
Watchers Council Meeting Room – Later that Night
The senior members of the Council sat around the large round table as Giles looked over the paper in his hands.
Kennedy glanced across the table at the mute redhead, whose intense pain was noticeable in her eyes.
"Willow?" Giles called to her.
The witch barely turned her head at the sound of Giles’s voice.
"Were you able to get anything with the locator spell?" he asked with hopefulness.
Willow just shook her head solemnly. "No, nothing useful." She averted her eyes back to the table. "Just like me," she added under her breath.
"Hey," Kennedy said as she reached over to place a comforting hand on the witch’s arm. When Willow’s eyes met hers, she gave her a light smile. "You’re not useless, just rusty. "
Willow managed a light smile of her own as she placed her hand over the slayer’s. "Thanks Ken."
Mia watched the exchange with a cold stare, jealousy evident in her eyes. She reached over and placed a hand on Kennedy’s thigh, causing her to release her hold on Willow.
Kennedy turned to her girlfriend and smiled, placing her hand over hers. Mia managed a tight, but clearly forced smile as she stared back into Kennedy’s eyes.
The smile slowly faded from Kennedy’s face, and she visibly flinched at the look she was receiving. Her grip on Mia’s hand slowly loosened, and she turned her attention back to the meeting.
Willow noticed the exchange, but gave it only a moment’s thought before the overwhelming fear of the situation set in once again.
"I know that I’m not completely useless, but…well things aren’t exactly great between Ro and me right now, and what if she–"
This time it was Xander who placed a comforting hand on Willow’s arm. "She won’t, Will. I promise." When she opened her mouth to protest, he just shook his head. "It won’t help having an attitude like that. Right now we just need to concentrate on getting her back."
"Umm…I think I have something that might help," Dawn said from her place next to Giles.
When she remained silent, Xander prompted her with a nod of his head. "Well Dawnie, let’s hear it."
The young watcher cleared her throat. "Okay, I’ve been doing some research on the Cleveland Mob, you know part of the job description and all, and I found some interesting facts."
"Like what?" Skye asked.
Dawn took a deep breath. "Well, like the fact that they tend to make this a trend. Apparently, they’ve kidnapped others in the past for ransom, only…" she trailed off and gave Willow a nervous glance.
"Dawnie?" Willow asked in a broken voice.
Dawn cleared her throat and averted her eyes from the table. "Only, the victims have never come back. Now I don’t know if this might be the same mob, but bargaining might not be an option here."
Willow stared at the woman in silent shock before her bottom lip began to quiver. With the beginnings of a sob, she stood up from the table and walked out.
Dawn gave Skye a pleading look, and she just nodded in understanding. After a quick kiss, Dawn followed Willow’s path from the room.
"Well then. I guess that answers the question, ‘How could this be any worse?’" Xander said. "We need to just go in there with as much slayer power as possible and start breakin’ in the skulls. If they want an all-out slugfest, I say we give it to ‘em."
Kennedy let out a scoff from across the table, drawing everyone’s attention. "Yeah cause we all know how effective that method always is. Besides, these aren’t your normal run-of-the-mill evil demons. These are human beings we’re talking about here. Granted, they are barely human beings…but still, I–"
Xander suddenly slammed his hands down on the table. "So what?! Are they any better than those demons we hunt down and kill on a nightly basis? I say if you live like an animal, you die like one."
Kennedy gestured in the carpenter’s direction. "Xander, I’m on your side here, and normally I’d say ‘Yeah, kill the blood suckers’, but they aren’t bloodsuckers."
Xander stood up and pointed at Kennedy. "You know what? I really don’t care what you say, ’cause when it comes down to it, I think you’d rather enjoy seeing bits of Ro spread across the front lawn. Gets rid of the competition, doesn’t it?"
Kennedy’s eyebrows shot up, and she rose from her chair, cracking her knuckles. "I think you better take that back, stake maker!"
"Cool it, Slick," Faith warned. Kennedy spared her a glance but locked eyes with Xander again.
The man took a step back from the table, his jaw set. After an intense staring contest, he finally just sighed, shook his head, and took his seat once again. Kennedy did the same.
"All I’m saying is…" Xander paused, trying to find the correct words. "We can’t just sit back and let Ro die. The last time Willow…it nearly killed her, it nearly killed us all. That’s all I’m saying." He glanced up at Kennedy to see the uncomfortable expression on her face and instantly regretted his outburst.
The room remained silent for a few shorts moments until Giles cleared his throat.
"Well now that we’ve gotten all that out of our systems," Giles said in a chiding voice as he looked at both of them, "I think it’s time to focus on what we can do, not on what might happen."He turned his eyes to Mia. "What do you think? Are the girls ready for a mission this important?"
The slayer nodded confidently and pulled her gun from her hip. "Most definitely."
End of Act One
Onto Act Two