Mayor Wilkins' Office,
"Good Morning, Mr. Mayor," Deputy Mayor Allen Finch said as he entered the Mayor's office.
"And what a glorious morning it is, Allen," Mayor Wilkins said with a smile as he spun in his seat. "The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everything is right with the world. So, what is on the agenda today? I do believe there is another PTA meeting scheduled sometime this afternoon, isn't there?"
"Yes sir, at three," Finch confirmed with a nod, "but before we get into today's schedule, I have news on Kakistos."
"Oh? He hasn't gone and killed that little slip of a girl yet, has he? I thought he might have wanted to play with his food a little more," Wilkins commented.
"Actually, sir, our sources have informed us that Kakistos and his followers were all dispatched shortly after dawn this morning," Finch informed him.
"Really?" Wilkins said in surprise. "Well, that is a turn-up for the books. That, Allen, just goes to prove that you can never count out the little guy."
"Yes, sir. Our sources also told us that the Slayer and her group used tactics that they had previously shown not to know," Finch continued.
"That just shows that the youth of today are willing to try new things and expand their horizons, and I say good for them," the Mayor said with a smile, "they are the future after all."
"Of course, sir. They also had another member with them, not including the anomalous Slayer that brought Kakistos to your domain in the first place, who we have as yet been unable to identify."
"So, the infamous 'Scooby Gang' has grown larger in recent days. Again, that proves that our community is willing to help out their fellow man in times of crisis. I would suggest, however, that we start to keep a closer eye on that merry band of men and women," Wilkins suggested, his demeanour becoming more serious, "especially as my final goal is finally within sight."
"Of course, sir," Finch replied, "I shall arrange that immediately."
"Excellent. Now then, we were talking about the PTA meeting..."
Queens, New York.
Lyle's eyes snapped open with a start, the sound of something heavy being dropped having brought him out of his forced slumber. He didn't recognise his immediate surroundings, which told him he was no longer in the brownstone in Albany, and as his awareness began to increase, he realised that he was lying down on a cold metal table. He could hear, and feel, a fire burning off to his right, and from the lightness of the room he figured it was now morning.
To be honest, Lyle hadn't thought he would have woken up at all given the circumstances, so he wasn't about to complain about it, but he was smart enough to know that for him to be still alive wasn't necessarily a good thing. For Mr. Swallow to have refrained from killing him before only meant one thing; the mountain of a man hadn't finished having his fun at Lyle's expense just yet, and he doubted that he would enjoy the experience very much.
"Ah," the man in question said as he walked into the room, "I was wondering when you might wake up."
Lyle tried to sit up from his horizontal position, but found that when he tried he was completely unable to do so. In fact, he found that he was completely immobile from the head down. Using what manoeuvrability he had available to him, Lyle looked down to find that, not only had he been stripped naked during his unconscious state, he had been bound securely to the table with what looked like shrink wrap, which was, unfortunately, working surprisingly well in holding him in place.
"What are you going to do with me, you sick freak?" Lyle asked with a snarl on his face, and was only able to keep the fear he was feeling bubbling up inside from showing in his voice through sheer force of will.
Lyle had dealt with fear for most of his life, either through feeling it or instilling it in others, so it no longer affected him in the same way as other people. However, knowing how helpless he was, and what the probable conclusion of Mr. Swallow's plan would be, Lyle's fear was increasing at an exponential rate, and he couldn't see any way of stopping it.
"With you? Absolutely nothing," Mr. Swallow replied. "To you? Now then, that's another story entirely. First of all, there is something that I have to do, if only for my own piece of mind. You see, I have a thing about symmetry, and you, Lyle, are not symmetrical at the moment. However, that is something I can easily fix."
Lyle only realised what Mr. Swallow was about to do moments before he did it, and was unable to hold back the blood-curdling scream that came hurtling out of him as his captor removed his remaining thumb with pinking shears he had been keeping out of sight.
"There," Mr. Swallow said with a satisfied smile, "that's better."
Mr. Swallow then walked over to the fire and removed a metal rod from the flames, the tip glowing a bright, angry red, and then placed it against the bleeding stump. Lyle immediately began to thrash around in exquisite agony as much as his bindings allowed as the red hot poker cauterised the wound, and the smell of burnt flesh soon permeated the air.
"I'm going to get you for this, you crazy sunovabitch!" Lyle screamed at the top of his lungs, even as he knew how impotent his threat was.
"My dear, dear Lyle, the only thing you are going to be getting is lighter," Mr. Swallow informed him mildly, in no way affected by the venomous vow that Lyle had made. "You see, I do love to take things apart, and while I can be quite content to spend a weekend taking a car or other such thing to pieces, nothing quite beats taking apart another person one piece at a time. Of course, unlike a car, I can't then put a person back together again, but as I rarely take apart a person I would want to put back together again, it seems to work out quite well for me."
Mr. Swallow went back to the fire and replaced the poker before returning his attention to Lyle, who looked decidedly green, either from the fresh wound or from Mr. Swallow's demeanour. "Another thing I like to do is see how long a person can hold on before the pan becomes too much for them and they allow themselves to be taken by the darkness. The best I've seen so far was this Mexican woman, Lolita her name was, who managed to survive having both legs removed at the hip before she finally succumbed."
He leant in close and whispered in Lyle's ear. "I have very high hopes that you will surpass that."
With that, Mr. Swallow stood up and began to open and close the pinking shears in his hand. Despite himself, Lyle began to be drawn in by the methodical movements of the shears, although he then began to use that to his advantage as it allowed him to block the searing pain in his hand. The trouble was that Lyle knew the pain he was now feeling was just the tip of the iceberg, and no matter how many techniques he used, it would eventually get to be too much for him.
"Now, Lyle," Mr. Swallow said, once again drawing Lyle's attention, "I have to say that I am in something of a quandary; I don't know whether to continue to remove your fingers, or to start on your toes as is my wont. So, which would you prefer?"
Lyle's response would have made even the most hardened of sailors blush.
Wilkins Municipal Hospital,
"We spend entirely too much in hospitals," Xander stated.
"You're not the one admitted," Buffy pointed out from her hospital bed.
"True," he conceded. "It's getting to the point where I'm actually feeling a little left out that I'm so healthy."
Buffy smiled for a moment at Xander's comment before her demeanour became more sombre. "How's Faith doing?"
Xander sighed and ran his hand down his face. "It was touch and go there for a while. Dr. Ramorez was on again, so we had that on our side, and of course Dad assisted to be certain, but even then they actually lost her on the operating table for nearly a minute before getting her back. At the moment she's being classified as 'critical but stable', and just like it was with your mom, the next 24 hours are the most important."
"Do you think that means we now have a third Slayer running around somewhere?" Buffy asked.
"You never know," Xander replied with a shrug, "but then again we don't really know why it was that Kendra was Called after you had your momentary brush with the other side. It could be that the Slayer essence is linked directly with your heart, and when yours stopped it immediately went looking for another host..."
"Do you have to put it like that?" Buffy asked, butting in. "It makes it sound like one of those Ghoulie things in that show with MacGuyver in it."
"Sorry," Xander said with a unrepentant smirk. "As I was saying, it could have been that, or it could have been because of the Codex prophecy, or where you were, or a multitude of factors. I guess that, unless we actually get a visit from another Slayer, I doubt that we'll find out for some time, especially with the Council the way it is..."
"What do you mean by that?" Buffy queried, interrupting again. "Giles is cool, in a tweedy, tea drinking kinda way."
"Yeah, well, that is a conversation for another day, but lets just say that you and Faith lucked out in the Watcher stakes and leave it at that for the moment. Now then," Xander went on as he got up from his position at the foot of Buffy's hospital bed, "lets get you out of bed."
"I thought it was the goal of most guys to get us gals into bed?" Buffy said with a smile. Her smile widened when Xander lost his footing for a moment.
"Only if your IQ matches your shoe size," he replied after a moment. "It's better to make things work out so that they're trying to get you into bed, that way..."
"That way what?" Buffy asked with an edge to her voice that Xander didn't need to be a genius to figure out.
"That way, when a gentleman such as myself states that he wants to wait until it feels right, and that he wants to get to know her better, it further distances him from the testosterone-driven oafs that are out for an easy lay," Xander replied smoothly. "Now, as I was saying, I thought you'd want to check on Faith and your mom, so I brought a wheelchair for you."
"I don't need a wheelchair," Buffy informed him, her tone a little petulant. "I'm perfectly capable of walking."
"You know that, and I know that, but the good people at Wilkins Municipal Hospital, and the Chief of Medicine in particular, beg to differ," Xander replied. "Then there is the fact that, only a few hours ago, you were brought in with cracked ribs, a broken arm and a dislocated elbow. No one... normal, for want of a better word, would be walking under their own power by now, which means that you can't be seen to either, ergo you use a wheelchair."
"Ergo? You bought yourself a word of the day calendar recently?" Buffy asked in bemusement.
"No," Xander replied with a smile, "it's just that I've been trying to slowly amalgamate the Xander that everyone knows with the Xander I've kept hidden, and that includes an increased vocabulary as part of it." When he saw the look of worry that flashed across Buffy's face, Xander couldn't help but laugh. "Don't worry, Buff, how I express myself won't change who I am, any more than how strong and fast you are changes who you are. I'll still be the same Xander you know, I'll just sound a little different is all."
"Just don't change too much," Buffy told him, "because I'm pretty attached to the way you are now."
That had been the closest Buffy had come to stating her intent towards Xander, and they both knew it. For Buffy, it was a step in the right direction, and for Xander, it was further proof that the best things in life truly do come to those who wait. However, neither one was quite ready to take things any further than that, so Xander simply smiled and then went to retrieve the wheelchair.
"Your carriage awaits, milady," he said with a flourish and a authentic sounding English accent when he returned.
"Why thank you, good sir," Buffy replied as she bounded out of bed and into the wheelchair, which proved just how little she need to use it.
"So, who do you want to see first; Faith or your mom?" Xander asked as he began to push her down the corridor.
"Faith," Buffy replied immediately. "I want to see Mom, but I know that she's okay; I need to see for myself that Faith will be as well."
"I'll warn you, it's not a pretty sight," Xander told her.
"I'll take seeing her in a bed covered in wires over seeing her on a slab covered by a sheet any day," Buffy replied.
"I couldn't agree with you more."
Queens, New York.
"AAAHHH!!" Lyle screamed in abstract agony as he felt the surgical saw in Mr. Swallow's hands bite into his flesh.
Mr. Swallow moved the old fashioned manual saw in a slow and precise fashion, which indicated that it wasn't the first time he had used the instrument. He made short work of severing Lyle's left arm at the elbow, and quickly brought over another red-hot poker to cauterise the wound.
To ensure that Lyle would survive the ordeal for longer, Mr. Swallow had hooked him up to IVs filled with saline and powerful antibiotics, but had given him nothing to numb the pain. He always stopped cutting once his victim died, as he found no joy in doing it if they didn't feel it, so he did what he could to keep them alive for as long as possible, but he did so in a way that ensured they still felt every second of it.
On top of now missing half of his left arm, Lyle was also missing his right hand and both feet, although Mr. Swallow severed all of Lyle's fingers and toes first. In another example of his intestinal fortitude, Lyle had only lost consciousness once during his ordeal, when he'd severed his left foot, but all it took to revive him was a bucket of cold water and Mr. Swallow resumed his work.
So far, Lyle had held up remarkably well, and was most definitely his best specimen to date, which Mr. Swallow put down to the mental and physical abuse Lyle had endured throughout his childhood. No matter what happened, Lyle would soon be dead, but Mr. Swallow had to take his hat off to him for his ability to withstand extreme amounts of pain. He doubted that Lyle's father would fare as well, but he also knew that he would have a lot of fun finding out.
"Now, Lyle, I have to say you're holding up remarkably well," Mr. Swallow told him as he dropped the severed forearm into a black plastic sack.
Lyle would have responded to that, but he was in too much pain to do anything but scream in agony.
"You do know, however, that you are now no longer symmetrical," he went on, "and you know how I am about symmetry, so your other arm simply must go."
The whimper that escaped Lyle's throat was music to Mr. Swallow's ears.
Wilkins Memorial Hospital,
After having gone to see Faith, who had looked nothing like the confident young women she was lying deathly still on the hospital bed, with the only sounds coming from the machines helping her breathe and checking her vitals, Xander had wheeled Buffy over to her mom's room and sat with her for a while before he finally made his way to see his dad in his office.
When he got to his office, Xander could see a large shape on the couch and, opening the door as quietly as possible, went inside and found that Jarod was fast asleep. Knowing that he had definitely been burning the candle at both ends the past couple of days, Xander went over and covered Jarod with his jacket and then went to leave again. When he reached the door, Jarod's cell phone started to ring and, not wanting his dad to wake up, Xander picked it up and answered it.
"Hello, Jarod's phone," Xander said in way of greeting.
"Who's this?" an older male voice asked on the other line. "And why do you have Jarod's phone?"
"To answer in order; none of your business, and because he's asleep," Xander replied softly but with a hint of steel in his voice, as he was irked at the way the other man had spoken to him. "So, who is this?"
"My name is Sydney," the man replied, his tone suspicious. "Why is Jarod asleep?"
"Because he was tired?" Xander replied in a 'duh?' tone of voice. "You know, for a psychologist, you're not very smart are you," he added without thinking.
"How do you know my profession? Who are you?" Sydney demanded.
"Look," Xander said with a wince as he realised his mistake, "right now it doesn't matter who I am or how I know what I know. For you to ring Jarod means that something is seriously wrong, at least in your opinion at any rate, so what's the problem?"
"No offence, but I have no idea who you are, so why should I tell you anything?" Sydney asked, his tone challenging.
"You don't have to tell me a damn thing if you don't want to, but I am not waking Jarod up without a really good reason why," Xander told him, his tone hardening as he spoke. "Just so you know, the fact that one of the people that kept him prisoner for most of his life is on the phone and wants some help doesn't qualify as a good reason in my book, so I see no reason why I should."
"I can understand your anger," Sydney said, his tone changing to one of chagrin at the not so subtle reminder of his part in Jarod's captivity, "but there were reasons..."
"I don't care about your reasons for doing what you did," Xander hissed, cutting in, "that's something you'll have to take up one day with the big man upstairs before he sends you to the big man downstairs. Either tell me what's going on, or this conversation is over."
"Xander," Jarod said a little groggily as he sat up, "who are you speaking to?"
"I'm speaking to one Dr. Sydney Green," he replied, "who seems to think he has some right to speak to you."
"Please pass the phone to Jarod," Sydney requested as he heard his former charge's voice.
"I'll speak to him, Xander," Jarod told him, knowing that Sydney wouldn't have initiated contact unless something big had happened. He could understand Xander's animosity towards Sydney, as he himself felt the same on many an occasion, but for better or worse Sydney was as much a part of his family as Xander himself, and he could not turn him away.
"Alright," Xander replied reluctantly to both requests, "but before I pass him over, I'm only going to tell you this once; if you try and pull something, or if Jarod gets hurt by what you're about to tell him, I swear that I will return it ten-fold to everyone you hold dear."
"Xander," Jarod said in shock.
Xander put a hand up to his dad and Jarod wisely took the hint and stayed quiet. "Do you understand me, Dr. Green?"
"I understand," Sydney replied, his tone indicating that he knew just how serious Xander was about that.
For Jarod to have told this person as much as he had about his life before his escape from The Centre meant that he trusted him a great deal, and from the threat he had just received, this man thought a great deal of Jarod as well.
"Here's your phone," Xander said as he tossed the cell to Jarod. "I'll see you later."
Before Jarod had a chance to say anything, Xander left his office and shut the door behind him.
"Hello Sydney," Jarod greeted with a sigh.
"Jarod, who was that man?" Sydney asked after a moment, his curiosity making it impossible for him not to.
"Someone you should take very seriously, Sydney," Jarod replied, not willing to to answer the question fully just yet, "because I guarantee you he would make good on his statement, no matter the cost to himself."
That Jarod said statement instead of threat was very telling, and Sydney made a mental note to take Jarod's advice. "I am sorry for calling, but there have been some developments the last 24 hours, and I fear for Miss Parker's mental state."
"What happened, Sydney?" Jarod asked immediately, his senses springing to full alertness.
"Miss Parker decided to take your advice and check to see whether Lyle was indeed her brother," Sydney explained, "and it is fair to say that she found out more than she expected, due to Broots going above and beyond in his testing."
"What do you mean?"
"It turns out that Mr. Parker is not Miss Parker's father; Raines is."
"What! That's preposterous!" Jarod shouted.
"My sentiments exactly," Sydney said dryly, "but Broots did the tests twice to be certain, and you know that he would not have made a mistake concerning something so important."
"Of course not, but Raines?" Jarod said, his tone incredulous. "How did that happen? I can't see Catherine Parker procreating with that monster, no matter what the circumstances."
"Neither can I," Sydney replied, his tone indicating how revolted he was at the mere thought of it, "but we both know that, when it comes to The Centre, anything is possible. In any case, Raines and Mr. Parker are actually brothers, and while Lyle is Mr. Parker's son, Miss Parker is not his daughter. As you can imagine, she didn't take the news too well, and she hasn't come into work this morning. Also, Lyle seems to be missing, along with Mr. Swallow..."
"Wait, who is Mr. Swallow?" Jarod asked.
"That, Jarod, is a long story best told another time. I am really worried about Miss Parker, and I feel that you may well be the only one who can get through to her."
"Sydney, now is not the best time for me to leave where I am and return to Delaware," Jarod told him, and knew how much of an understatement that was.
"I am aware of that, nor do I think there will ever be a good time given the circumstances," Sydney said, "but I do feel that your presence is not only required, but needed."
"I will have to think about it, Sydney."
"No, Sydney, none of your guilt trips," Jarod said interrupting his childhood mentor a bit more harshly than he had intended. "I said I will think about it, and I will, but I am not at the beck and call of you, or Miss Parker, no matter what our history is."
"Very well," Sydney replied with a sigh, his tone indicating that he was disappointed with Jarod's response, "but I sincerely hope that you do not think about it too long, as you might be too late."
Queens, New York.
Mr. Swallow looked down sadly at the lifeless remains of Lyle, disappointed that he hadn't held out a little longer. That wasn't to say he hadn't outlasted Lolita, because he had, but Mr. Swallow had never been able to reach the point where he could actually decapitate a specimen, and he'd hoped that Lyle would have provided him with the opportunity.
However, Mr. Swallow had to give credit where credit was due, as Lyle had provided him with a lot of entertainment. He had completely severed both of Lyle's arms and legs, and it had only been when he had cut off his genitalia that Lyle had finally succumbed to the pain. In all honestly, Mr. Swallow was in awe with Lyle's resiliency, and doubted if he would have been able to survive as long, but then again he never intended to be in a position where he could find out.
With a sigh of disappointment, he went over to a nearby sink and briskly cleaned himself off and then took his cell out of his pocket and called the only number stored.
"Hello," a male voice answered.
"Hello, sir," Mr. Swallow said in way of greeting.
"Brian, I've already told you to call me Hamilton, haven't I?"
"Yes, si... Hamilton, sorry. I was just calling to update you on the situation at The Centre. We overestimated their patience it seems, as they have already tried to kill me."
"I must say I'm not surprised," Hamilton said. "I take it that they didn't succeed?"
"No, sir, I mean, Hamilton; the protection spell you had cast on me worked perfectly, thank you."
"Excellent news, and you are of course welcome. So, who was it that made the attempt?" Hamilton asked.
"It was Lyle," Mr. Swallow replied. "As per our agreement, I took that as a hostile act towards me and began Stage Two. I know that it is ahead of schedule, but..."
"No need to worry yourself, Brian, you're not in any trouble," Hamilton told him when he noted the panic in Mr. Swallow's voice. "In fact, I would have been disappointed if you had let him live. Will there be any way to link you to his death?"
"No, none at all," Mr. Swallow replied, lying. He knew that his brother would easily figure out who had been the one to kill Lyle, but didn't have any worries about Broots saying anything, at least not publicly.
"That's good to know, as I would hate to put a reprimand in your file," Hamilton warned him.
Mr. Swallow shivered slightly as he thought of what that might mean for him.
"Do not go after anyone else for the time being, as that would most certainly cast suspicion on you, but you have my authorisation to fully initiate Stage Two of the plan," Hamilton continued. "The Triumvirate have been at our heels for too long, and removing the foothold they have in the Northern Hemisphere due to The Centre will go along way to rectifying that. Anyway, I shall leave things in your capable hands, and we shall speak again when you check in again."
Before Mr. Swallow had a chance to reply, a click indicated that Hamilton had ended the call.