Watcher’s Council – Coven Room – Later that Night
On the table lay a single tarot card face up. Larger than a typical playing card, its face showed a figure in armor the color of flame. In the figure's hand was a long wooden staff - a wand, in fact.
Jeff looked up at Skye, who hesitated. She held the deck of cards in her hand, but so far did nothing with them. One corner of her mouth twisted.
"Go on," said Jeff.
"This isn't really my thing," Skye muttered.
"You did promise," noted Dawn, seated to her right.
"Besides," said Andrew, between Jeff and Skye to the latter's left, "Jeff’s not supposed to read his own fortune. So...go on already. It'll be really good practice."
Skye nodded, then took the first card from the deck in her hand. It went directly on top of the card with the Knight of Wands. This card, with the word "Moon" on it, portrayed a wolf with glowing eyes and a white owl in flight against dark clouds. "This covers you," said Skye. Next, she placed another card horizontally across the first two, portraying the robed figure of a woman between two pillars--one black, one white. It read "The Priestess." "This crosses you," said Skye.
"Willow?" whispered Dawn, looking across to Andrew, who shrugged.
"This is below you," said Skye, placing a card directly under the three already on the table. This one portrayed a dark room and a weeping woman, nine swords on the wall behind her. Skye hurried to place the next card.
"This is behind you." Left of the center, this card showed a boat with six swords upright. Half the boat was off-scene, as if in movement. But this card was upside down.
"A journey," murmured Jeff. "Okay."
"Or some kind of journey's end, since that card is of what's fading from your life, right? A past influence not quite gone," added Dawn.
"This is above you." Next, above the center, was a card showing a single wand glowing with raw power.
"A Jedi, you may yet be," said Jeff in a not-bad Yoda imitation. Everyone gave him a look and he fell silent.
"This is before you." To the center's right was a card showing a heart pierced with three swords.
"Well," said Andrew after a few moments. "That doesn't look good."
Airplane – First Class – Same Time
Kadin reclined in her seat with her head resting against the window. Her breathing was deep and steady as she stared out into the night silently. Kennedy sat beside her, quietly working on a crossword puzzle.
"What’s an eight letter word for explanation that starts with ‘E’?" Kennedy thought out loud, breaking the silence. She studied the crossword in her lap for a few moments, completely lost.
"Exegesis," Kadin finally answered.
"Huh?" Kennedy said looking over at the other woman. Kadin lifted her head from the window and nodded at the puzzle in Kennedy’s lap.
"Exegesis. The eight letter word for explanation."
Kennedy looked down at the puzzle and filled in the blanks, the word fitting perfectly. "Huh." Kennedy half-smiled and looked over at Kadin. "How’d you know that?"
"I have many skills," Kadin said with a smile of her own. Kennedy looked back at her intently for a few moments before turning back to the puzzle in her lap.
"Okay Ms. Many Skills," Kennedy said looking down at the puzzle, "What’s a nine letter ‘R’ word for…uncommon?"
"Recherché," Kadin answered immediately. The slayer carefully filled in the blanks and then looked over at Kadin with amazement.
The monster hunter just smiled.
Watcher’s Council – Coven Room – Moments Later
All four of the members stared down at the cards on the table.
"It...it can mean more things than one," muttered Dawn, finally breaking the silence. Jeff said nothing.
With a sigh, Skye placed four cards in a row, going top to bottom, to the right of the cross already laid out.
"This haunts you," she said as she laid down a card with one cauldron in the center, a pair of hands clasping above the rim. This card was upside down.
"This surrounds you." Above the cauldron card was another upside down card. This one showed an immature face--one so young its gender could not be told--hidden in shadows looking at a cauldron.
"This inspires you." When she put this card down, Andrew gave a little gasp. Skye's own eyebrows shot up and she let out a sound. Not a gasp but more like a cough. Or a stifled giggle. Jeff himself kept his eyes fixed on the cards, but color crept into his cheeks. Very, very quietly, Dawn gulped. The card showed a dark-haired pale woman with blue eyes seated upon a throne. Upon her head was a crown. The colors of the room were pale greens and blues, the tints and hues of the sea, of water. And embossed upon the throne was a cauldron.
"Magic," said Andrew. "This is all about the lore and power of the sorcerer's arts. Don't you see?" He spoke faster than usual. "The wands, and the emotional journeys you're going through, your teachers, and like that."
No one said anything until Skye cleared her throat. Her eyes were bright, and the ends of her lips were turned upward. "If you want love advice," said Skye, finally, "maybe you should just go ask Giles."
"Hey!" protested Andrew. "The reading isn't over yet!"
"I'm sorry," said Skye, shaking her head but still grinning. "But I mean--come on!"
"Skye," said Dawn, voice low. "Hey..."
"Look" said Skye, pointing. "The Ace of Cauldrons! The Three of Swords! Now the Queen of Cauldrons!" She opened her mouth, but stopped herself from saying anything. She looked at Jeff across from her, still coloring and focusing on the cards, not on anything or anyone else.
"Uh...Skye..." muttered Andrew, "...that Page of Cauldrons there..." He seemed to be trying to say something without really saying it.
With a nod, Skye continued, "Exactly. The point is--you're still young. And more importantly--you're not alone, Jeff." Jeff still did not look up. "Really, you're not."
Dawn glanced down, not looking at anyone.
Panopticon – Same Time
"What think you of this one?"
An unfamiliar presence in the Lover’s domain, the towering Dreamer brought its mirrored visage close to the image of the coven room, and its occupants. The reflection of Jeff’s troubled face covered it.
"This is not the one you study?" the Dreamer asked.
"One of her students," the Lover explained, "but look closer. Use your gifts."
"I remember," the Dreamer said, "this one… I have studied his fate before."
"For the Engineer," the Lover noted, "a cog in his machine."
"Yes," the Dreamer nodded slowly.
"And now, he dabbles in fortune-telling," the Lover prompted.
"He is not like us," the Dreamer said, answering the implicit question. "He has power, potential… but passion, turmoil, petty things hold him in chains. You above all, Highness, understand the need for clarity. There is no other way to move beyond the boundaries of the possible." It stood straight, away from the image hovering in the Panopticon’s heart. "One who allows his instinct to overrule his intellect is a beast, no matter the kind he was born to."
"I have observed," the Lover said thoughtfully, "an intriguing capacity in these creatures, to not only obey the beasts inside themselves, but also to rein them in at the most critical moments. It makes them… unpredictable?" She grinned vaguely as the Dreamer stiffened at the word. "It has already cost one of us his life," she concluded quietly.
"So noted, Highness," the Dreamer said, inclining his head. He departed, leaving the Lover alone with her images. She gazed thoughtfully at Jeff, alone in the darkness, and frowned.
"Of course," she mused to herself, "the beast may just as easily snap his reins, if he grows strong enough."
Watcher’s Council - Coven Room – Same Time
Jeff sat alone. The others had left, and the tarot cards remained behind. All but the final card lay face up in the configuration where they'd been set down by Skye. The last card, the answer card, was absent. Next to the seat where Skye had been lay the deck.
When Jeff took his hands from his lap and looked into the palms, he could see the deep marks his nails had left in his flesh. Four on each palm--little half-moons nearly, but not quite, bleeding. As he stared at those marks, Jeff breathed heavier. And faster. His mouth frowned. He looked over to stare at the seat where Skye had sat.
His blue eyes flickered. For the briefest of moments, the blue darkened from sapphire to midnight, like a shadow across the moon. Had he blinked at that precise moment, the effect would have gone invisible. As it was, the only reason no one saw it was that none were looking.
Now he reached and picked up the top card from the deck.
Placed it face up in the last place, above the Queen of Cauldrons. "This answers you," he said quickly.
Upon the face of that card was a man wearing long red robes. His saturnine face was bearded and crowned with horns, while one elegant but clawed hand held a goblet forward, as if offering the viewer a drink.
Across the base of the card was its name: The Devil.
Airplane – First Class – Late Afternoon
Kennedy sat motionless in her seat, staring up at the roof of the plane.
The sounds of Kadin beginning to awaken beside her pulled her from her trance. She looked over at the other woman just in time to see her let out a huge yawn.
"Have a good nap?" The slayer asked as Kadin turned in her seat to face her.
"As good as can be expected," Kadin answered as she reached for her bottled water. "You know, considering it may be my last." She downed the whole bottle of water and then crushed it between her fists.
"Are you always this cheerful when you wake up or is this just a special occasion?" Kennedy asked with a grin.
Kadin looked over at the other woman with an apologetic smile. "Sorry. I’m not feeling very…positive right now."
"No, I get it," The slayer replied with a shrug. "I’ve felt death nipping at my ass a coupla times myself. Doesn’t exactly give you a warm and fuzzy."
"It’s not that I’m afraid to die," Kadin said slumping back into her seat. "I mean, there really are worse fates." She paused and adjusted in her seat, her bruised and battered ribs aching in protest. She winced in pain for a moment, and then let out a deep sigh. "It’s just…"
"You don’t want to," Kennedy finished for her. Kadin looked over and met her warm eyes. "I don’t blame you. No one wants to die. Hell, I don’t want to die." Kadin looked away uncomfortably. "Hey," Kennedy said leaning over in her seat, trying to catch the hunter’s eye. After a tense moment, Kadin turned her eyes back to meet Kennedy’s.
"Neither one of us are going to die," The slayer assured. "Well, at least not in the next few days."
"You can’t promise that, Kennedy," Kadin whispered.
"What?" Kennedy said with a half smile. "Are you kidding? I’m the Kresnik here, remember? That means I can promise whatever I want."
Kadin smiled and shook her head. "I knew that was gonna go straight to your head. You slayers are all the same."
"You slayers?" Kennedy smiled. "That wouldn’t happen to be a bit of jealously I detect, would it?"
"Jealous?" Kadin laughed. "Of you?" She finished with a raised brow.
"Hey, I’m just saying," Kennedy said throwing her hands in the air.
"And ah…what is it exactly that you have that I would be jealous of?"
Kennedy looked over with a smirk. "Besides my sexy good looks and kick ass super powers?"
Kadin’s eyebrow rose even higher. She licked her lips and leaned into Kennedy’s personal space, her nose inches from the slayer’s. "Well," she drawled in a deep, husky voice. "I can’t really argue with that first one, but…it ain’t exactly jealousy I feel about it either."
Kennedy’s eyes widened and she swallowed back the desert in her throat. "I…uhh…"
"Good morning," the stewardess’s voice came over the intercom. "Will all passengers please fasten your seatbelts and prepare for landing. We hope you enjoyed your flight, and as always, thank you for flying Air America."
Kennedy pulled back slightly and smiled. "I guess we better do as she says. Wouldn’t wanna get whiplash or something." She quickly sat back into her seat and fastened her seat belt.
Kadin smiled and sat back into her seat, pulling the belt over her lap and fastening it.
Watcher’s Council – Library – Early Morning
Rowena walked into the library, a thick folder in one hand and a steaming cup of coffee in the other. She placed the folder on the table and flipped it open. She took a sip of her coffee and reached over to turn on the light.
"Don’t," a thick voice came from the darkness causing her to nearly spill her coffee.
The watcher jumped back from the light switch and peered through the room.
"Mia? Is that you?"
A figure slowly stood up and walked over to her. It reached out and the light suddenly popped on to reveal the worn and ragged features of the young slayer.
"Jesus, Mia," Rowena said placing her coffee onto the table. "Have you been in here all night?" The other woman just nodded. "What in heaven for?"
Mia looked around uncomfortably and ran a hand through her hair. "I was just…waiting."
"Waiting?" Rowena repeated, confused. "Waiting for what?"
Mia let out a deep sigh and fell back against the table. "Kennedy."
Rowena’s face softened and she reached forward to place a gentle hand on Mia’s shoulder. "Oh, Mia."
"I just thought that maybe…maybe she’d change her mind, and I wanted to be here for her when she came back. So I waited."
Rowena cringed at the admission. "All night?"
Mia nodded again.
"Sweetie, don’t you think that if she hasn’t come back by now, that maybe…she isn’t going to?" When Mia didn’t answer Rowena added, "Why don’t you go get some rest?"
Mia looked up at her with pleading eyes on the verge of tears. Rowena’s heart ached for the other woman. "Mia?" she whispered and pulled the woman into her arms.
The slayer clung to her and cried.
Bucharest, Romania – Airport – Moments Later
Kadin stepped off the plane and looked around. She pulled her bag over her shoulder and sighed. "Home sweet home."
Kennedy stepped off right behind her. "It is?" She asked picking up her own bag, "But I thought you were born in England?"
"I was," Kadin answered absently.
"Then how is this home?"
The hunter looked over at the other woman with a light smile. "It isn’t. I haven’t had one of those for a long time, but…you get used to it."
"Yeah," Kennedy replied absently.
Kennedy nodded. "Starved."
"Okay then, let’s grab something then head to the hotel. We got a lot to go over before tonight."
"Lead the way." The slayer smiled. Kadin returned the smile and headed for the gate.
Kennedy took a moment to stare after her before soon following.
Watcher’s Council – Willow’s Classroom – Later
Willow was standing in front of a group of watchers-in-training lecturing. An overhead projector was showing the computer screen that appeared on her monitor.
"As you can see, the profiles we have at this point are pretty complex so it’s important that if you’re adding acquired knowledge to the database that you create a back-up copy of the original. We don’t want to lose anything we’ve incorporated over the last eight years."
Willow glanced into the hallway to see Rowena standing there, her arms folded across her chest.
"Ah, why don’t you all take a look at chapter 22 in the manual tonight and we’ll discuss how to add the forensic material at our next meeting. Okay? Ah, class dismissed," she said as she still focused on Rowena.
Willow sipped her coffee as the students filed out. After the last trainee left, Rowena walked in with an angered expression on her face.
"Ro?" the witch asked placing her coffee mug on the table. "Something wrong?"
The watcher slammed the door in answer.
"Okay, I’ll take that as a yes," Willow replied getting up from her desk. She walked over to meet her lover with genuine concern. "Ro, what is it?"
Rowena let out a deep sigh and threw her jacket onto the hook. "It’s really none of my business."
"If it has you this upset," Willow said placing a hand on the woman’s shoulder, "I think you can break ethics just this once," she finished with a soft smile.
The blonde looked up into Willow’s soft eyes and gentle smile. "It’s Kennedy."
The smile suddenly faded from the witch’s face. "Oh. Well, what about her?"
"Well, it’s more Kennedy and Mia…actually."
"I take it back," Willow said turning away. "Stay out of it."
"You don’t understand," Rowena said following the witch.
"I think I understand more than you," Willow said picking up the paper again.
"Excuse me?" Rowena asked with a raised brow.
"Look, Ro," the redhead sighed, "I didn’t mean it that way. I just meant that…I’ve been in a relationship with Kennedy, and I know how difficult it can be. She can be stubborn, pigheaded and impulsive…but she’s also loving, attentive and very good at apologizing."
Rowena smiled. "So, what you’re saying is…I should just stay out of it and wait for Kennedy to come crawling back?"
Willow smirked. "I doubt Kennedy will crawl for anything…well, there was this one time…" Rowena’s eyebrows shot to her hairline and Willow quickly backtracked. "That I can’t even remember cause it was so long ago."
Rowena laughed softly and took a seat next to the wiccan on the edge of her desk. "I know and accept that you have a past with her, Will. It’s a part of you…she’s a part of you."
Willow smiled softly and leaned in for a gentle kiss. When the kiss broke, the witch leaned her forehead against Rowena’s. "You’re right, she is my past, but you’re my future."
Rowena smiled and leaned in for another soft kiss. "But stay out of it, right?" she asked as she pulled away.
"Yeah," Willow said as she nodded. "They'll work out - one way or another."
Bucharest, Romania – Sofitel Hotel – Same Time
The taxi pulled up to the front of the hotel and the back doors swung open. Kadin and Kennedy each climbed out of a side. Kennedy went back to the trunk and grabbed the two bags as Kadin paid the driver.
The taxi pulled away leaving only the two women standing by the side of the road. Kennedy looked up at the tall building and smiled. "Nice."
"I’m not usually one for expensive taste, but when it could be your last," Kadin said with a smile as she reached down to pick up her bag. "I say ‘What the hell.’ Shall we?" Kadin motioned towards the tall glass doors.
Kennedy nodded and both women entered the building.
Sofitel Hotel – Lobby – Moments Later
Kadin walked up to the front desk and smiled at the cute redhead. "Van Helsing. I should have two suites reserved."
The woman smiled and began to type on the computer. "Yes, Ms. Van Helsing," she said in a thick Romanian accent. "Suites 309 and 310." She reached behind and grabbed the keys from the hooks. She held them out for Kadin with a flirtatious smile. The hunter reached out and accepted the keys, the woman clasping onto her hand for a moment.
Kadin smiled and nodded. "Thanks."
The desk clerk smiled. "My pleasure."
The hunter shook her head with a light laugh. She signed the guest book and walked over to the elevator to meet Kennedy. She handed the slayer her key. "You’re in 310."
Kennedy smirked. "You sure you want me right next to you?"
The slayer nodded over to the desk. "You work pretty fast."
Kadin looked over her shoulder at the desk clerk who was busy watching them. "Oh." She smiled. She turned back to the elevator and pushed the button. "Sorry, but she’s not my type."
"She’s cute, she obviously likes you, and I doubt she’d have a problem with the whole ‘one night’ thing."
"Maybe not," Kadin said as the doors opened, "but I would." She stepped into the elevator and pushed the button for the third floor. "You gettin’ on or you just gonna stand there all day?"
Kennedy shook her head and stepped onto the elevator. She looked over at Kadin strangely as the doors slowly closed.
Watcher’s Council – Robin’s Office – Moments Later
"Seven more businesses were hit last night," Bonnie explained, settling herself into the chair in front of Robin’s desk. Brell stood to one side, deliberately apart from her.
"Do you have any useful information yet?" he asked.
"Here," Bonnie said, putting a piece of paper on Robin’s desk. He picked it up and read it.
"The businesses being targeted are very carefully chosen," she explained. "Whoever is behind this has excellent intelligence – as good as mine. Maybe better dare I say – there’re a couple of oddities in the pattern that I wouldn’t have looked for, and I’m not sure it’s not because they know something I don’t. The owners are those most likely to pay up rather than cause trouble. Demons are far more inclined to vigilantism than humans – there’s no other option, for most of them. Running a protection racket means choosing your targets carefully, and moving in stages – get a foothold, then expand."
"And these businesses?" Robin asked, indicating the paper.
"Those are the next likely targets," Bonnie said. "If I’m right, at least one or two of those will be hit tonight."
"Alright," Robin said, turning to Brell, "we’ll have some slayers at these locations tonight, just being visible – that should deter our would-be gangsters. Each site will have a covert team in place, to see who shows up, and quietly follow them back to wherever they call home once they give up for the night."
"Thank you," Brell nodded.
"That’s what we’re here for," Robin smiled, standing. Bonnie stood too, and turned for the door.
"You’re not asking for anything this time?" Robin asked her. She gave a wan smile over her shoulder.
"I’m saving up my ‘frequent watcher points,’" she replied. "Three more assignments like this and I’ll have enough for a trip to Disneyland."
"You’d think she’d be more emotionally invested," Robin said to Brell after Bonnie had left, "one way or the other."
"Mercenary," Brell shrugged.
"Guess so. See you ‘round." He waited until Brell had left, then picked up the phone.
"Giles?" he said when it was answered. "We’ve got a job for the black ops team. Surveillance only, but it’ll be good practice. Al right, I’ll meet you and Mr. Zim in the Council room. Five minutes."
Sofitel Hotel – Suite 310 – Moments Later
Kennedy slid the key into the lock and swung the door open. She stepped into the room and looked around. "Now this is what I call class."
There was a large four poster bed in the center of the room. A huge fireplace, surrounded by fine leather furniture, burned near the far wall, and a huge big screen TV sat just beside it.
"Damn," Kennedy whistled and walked into the room, throwing her bag onto the king bed. She took another moment to look around before reaching down to pull open the zipper.
"You should see the bathroom," Kennedy looked over to see a smiling Kadin standing in the doorway. "Nice, huh?"
"Yeah, it’s great."
"I thought you’d like it," Kadin said coming deeper into the room. "I mean you seem like the type that likes a little...comfort." She smiled at Kennedy with her patented smirk as she fell down onto the bed. The slayer cleared her throat uncomfortably, causing Kadin to give a light chuckle. "Relax, Kennedy. This isn’t some big covert ploy to seduce you."
"Really?" Kennedy asked with a raised brow. "Why? Am I not your type either?" She smiled as she sat down onto the bed next to the hunter.
Kadin smiled and let out a little breath, dropping her head for a moment. Kennedy watched her in rapt fascination as the hunter licked her lips and slowly brought her eyes back to the slayer’s.
"Oh no," Kadin whispered low, slowly leaning in. "You’re definitely my type."
Kennedy watched, frozen as Kadin’s lips descended onto her own. Just before they made contact, the slayer jumped backwards off the bed, nearly tripping over her own feet.
"Okay," Kadin said nodding lightly, "I mean, I know I haven’t done it in a long time, but I’m pretty sure your lips are supposed to move towards mine."
"I’m sorry," Kennedy breathed, walking over to the fireplace. "I just can’t."
"You can’t?" Kadin said rising to her feet and walking over to join the other brunette. She stood directly beside Kennedy and waited for the slayer’s eyes to meet her own. "Or you don’t want to?"
Kennedy looked at her helplessly for a moment, her eyes pleading. "I want to…but..."
Kadin smiled and leaned in. Kennedy watched as her lips neared, closing her eyes for only a moment, feeling Kadin’s breath, warm on her face. Their lips nearly touched once again, but Kennedy finally lifted a hand to the hunter’s chest. "But I can’t," she whispered.
"Why not?" Kadin breathed.
Kennedy stared deeply into her eyes. "I-I’ve got a girlfriend."
"Oh." Kadin looked back into her eyes for a long, tense moment before slowly stepping back. "I didn’t know."
"It’s okay," Kennedy said with a light nod. "It’s not like we exactly discussed our love lives. Not a real big conversation starter with someone you just met."
"Yeah," Kadin laughed, "Well, that woulda been one sided."
"What?" Kennedy asked with a disbelieving smile.
"It’s true," Kadin nodded. "My love life makes Woody Allen look like Hugh Hefner."
Kennedy laughed. "You’re joking, right?" Kadin just stared at her, a slight smile on her face. "Whoa. That bites."
"You’re telling me," Kadin said as she walked back over to the bed and took a seat.
"Not to cross the line here," the slayer said slowly walking over to join her, "but you just don’t strike me as the type that would have much trouble in that arena."
"And what? You’re suddenly the expert on relationships now?"
Kennedy let out a deep breath and took a seat next to the other woman. She looked over to see the amused grin on the hunter’s face. "Expert?" She smiled. "I’m not even a novice."
"Ouch," Kadin chuckled. "That bad huh?"
The slayer let out a small sigh and stared down at her hands. "It’s not like I haven’t tried. I really really have. I mean, I always try to be the best lover, the best friend that I could possibly be and still…sometimes it’s like it’s never enough."
"Are we talking about this current girlfriend, or a past one?"
"Both," Kennedy answered. "I mean, it’s just completely impossible for me to have one single relationship that actually works. At least, one that works for all involved."
"Ah, yes," Kadin nodded, looking away. "The ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ syndrome or my personal favorite, ‘I just don’t feel a connection.’"
"Exactly," Kennedy answered, slightly surprised.
"Yeah," Kadin nodded bringing her eyes back to the slayer’s. "Been there, heard that."
"Yeah, well," Kennedy sighed. "We’ve gotta get it right someday."
"Yeah, maybe we just haven’t found the right one yet."
"Maybe," Kennedy whispered, staring deeply into Kadin’s eyes.
The hunter watched as she slowly started to lean in. "Are you sure?" she asked in a whisper.
Kennedy stopped in mid-lean and stared deeply into Kadin’s dark eyes. "Like you said, we might be dead tomorrow," she breathed and leaned in to close the gap.
After the first touch of their lips, Kennedy used her weight to push Kadin back onto the bed, kissing her deeply. Any thoughts of Mia seemed to suddenly vanish from her mind as she climbed fully on top of the other woman, the action causing her bag to fall from the bed.
The green duffel bag fell from the bed and landed with a heavy plop, its contents spilling from the open zipper. Various articles of clothing tumbled out, landing against the thick carpet. Right in the middle was a picture of Mia and Kennedy, clinging to each other and smiling brightly.