The Watcher that Never Was part 10/10
Buffy collapsed to the floor beside Ripper and Ethan stopped, breathless. Willow slid in close to her friend and Ethan to Faith.
After a quick check for a pulse and breathing Willow sighed in relief. "She's alive."
"Same here." Ethan nodded as he wiped the sweat from his brow.
"Did it work?" Willow asked and glanced at a still unmoving Ripper.
Ethan cautiously examined the wound. It was gone and in its place sat a single bullet, perched absurdly over the hole ripped through the black shirt.
The odd sound of a cell phone interrupted the tense scene. Willow fumbled in Buffy's pocket and pulled out the device, flipping open the mouthpiece.
"Hello?" Willow asked reluctantly.
" Willow... get out of there now!" Wesley's voice sounded panicked. "They're coming in at any moment."
"We're going!" she looked at the passed out Slayers and glanced anxiously at Ethan. "We're out of time."
With a sudden gasp for air, Ripper sprang upright, wild-eyed and confused. "What the fu..."
"No time. We have to go!" Ethan jumped to his feet and pointed to Buffy. "You take sleeping Slayer number one, I'll handle number two. Willow, we're going to need some light. Think you can work that illumination spell I taught you?" The sorcerer lifted Faith and carefully positioned her over his shoulder.
"I'll try my best," she said, marching toward the escape hole.
"Are they ok?" Ripper asked fearfully as he cradled Buffy in his arms.
"They're fine. I'll tell you on the way. We have unwanted guests coming for dinner and not enough table settings to go ‘round so get a move on!" Ethan watched Willow lower herself in the hole and slowly dropped Faith into her awaiting arms. Willow tried to cushion the fall as best she could and went to work providing the mystical flashlights that were needed to navigate the dark, damp tunnels. Ethan dropped in and aided Ripper with Buffy as Willow recited the spell. Just as Ripper fell into place, a grouping of sparkling embers danced together in the darkness, providing just enough light to see a radius of about five feet.
"It's not much but it will have to do," she sighed.
"You did great, luv." Ethan planted a kiss on her cheek and lifted Faith over his shoulder once more.
"I think we better block off this hole to provide us a bit more getaway time." Ripper looked over at Ethan who shook his head disappointedly.
"Used all my dance cards on your sorry ass. We'll just have to get a move on." Ethan started down the tunnel.
"Which way?" Willow asked and the sorcerer paused and backtracked.
"Bloody hell, I haven't a clue," Ethan realized and looked back at Ripper.
Ripper stood firm, gazing up at the hole and quietly mumbling a chant. In a frenzy of crackling and crashing noises, the floor began to rebuild itself above the gang. Ethan's mouth dropped open in disbelief as the hole sealed shut and Ripper looked at his companions with a hint of a satisfied smile.
"Super sorcerer." Willow snickered.
"Right... fine. But it still doesn't solve our current problem now does it?" Ethan argued.
"D-did it w-work?" Buffy's faint voice caught Ripper's attention and he knelt down to her. Willow moved in closer, guiding the illuminations along with her. Buffy's weary eyes struggled to focus in the dim light as. Ripper lifted her limp body and cradled it to his chest as she strained to look up. Her vision finally cleared and she could see his glistening eyes staring concerned down at her. She smiled feebly.
Ripper held her securely for a moment; thrilled she was awake and all right. When he saw her passed out, her assumed the worst. Now that she was there with him, he could breath easier.
"Hello love," he kissed her forehead and she sighed blissfully at his touch. "We're in the tunnels. Which way do we need to go?"
"Tunnels?" Buffy seemed to be falling in and out of consciousness. Ripper gently repositioned her so he could better support her head.
"Buffy... North? South? Which way... in the tunnels?" he urged.
"North," she whispered, "Go north Rupert."
Ripper shot Ethan a harsh glare and Ethan shrugged impassively.
"She asked. What could I do?" He looked to Willow for a hint of which direction was north.
"I'm pretty sure it's that way." She pointed beyond Ripper and passed him to lead the way. "Come on Rupert." She giggled.
Ethan cautiously maneuvered clear of Ripper and followed Willow as she left them in the darkness.
Ripper began to follow as he lifted Buffy's face to his, nuzzling her delicate, warm forehead. She nestled in, tucking her face into the crook of his neck as he carried her along. It reminded him of his first encounter with her. It made him smile.
The newly formed gang continued for some distance in the blackened tunnels under Sunnydale. They hadn't heard any pursuers after them so they concentrated on making it to the end of the tunnel.
Ethan labored to keep Faith as comfortable as he could in such a bumpy scenario. She would need serious rest after the transference spell. He was surprised that Buffy had already awakened. It must have been pure determination to see the results of her sacrifice that drove her to consciousness.
"What did you do?" Ripper asked as they traveled along.
Ethan wasn't looking forward to revealing the situation to Ripper. He knew this wasn't going to go over well. "They demanded I do a spell. You can't argue with Slayers, they're tenacious."
"Transference," Ripper growled. "You need two..."
" Willow," Ethan interrupted.
"It could have killed them." Ripper stared coldly at the sorcerer.
"They're Slayers. I believed they could handle it."
"Were Slayers," Ripper corrected. "You should have let me die. I was prepared."
"They weren't," Ethan mumbled. "I wasn't."
"So you took everything that makes them who they are destined to be and wasted it on me. Bloody brilliant." Ripper shook his head. "I was fated to die back there."
"No... it was fated that you would be Buffy's Watcher. Since that course was detoured, I created another bypass." Ethan was growing irritated at Ripper's temper.
"This isn't a bleedin' highway Ethan. What right is it of yours to make such decisions?"
Ethan stopped cold and glared at his old friend, absolutely aghast by his attitude.
"How dare you judge me, Ripper? Who dragged Faith and I across the bloody Pacific to observe a Slayer that wasn't his to watch? Who risked everything for a single night with that very same Slayer?"
"Enough!" Willow stepped in between the arguing sorcerers and waved a warning finger at both of them. "Shut up and march. This tunnel's not getting any shorter and I am getting really sick of your bickering. Don't make me go medieval on you asses!"
Ripper smirked at the fiery little witch and walked ahead. Ethan smiled and stepped up to Willow, leaning in to give her a thankful kiss but was prevented by an outstretched hand.
"Move it," she demanded and pushed him along. He nodded and shuffled forward. Willow smiled contentedly and skipped up to the flirting sorcerer, planting a quick little peck on his cheek as she passed him.
"Let me down." Faith's faint voice broke the silence of the tunnels. Ethan lowered her feet to the cement and examined her face with a soothing caress.
"How are you feeling, luv?" He asked, seeing she was just barely awake.
"Tired. Where's Ripper?" She turned and saw him step out of the shadows with Buffy draped across his arms.
Ethan took the sleeping Slayer from him, knowing Faith wouldn't settle for a glimpse, she'd want to feel he was safe and well. Sure enough, the second Buffy was out of his hands, Faith rushed to him and embraced him, burying her face into his chest as if to check for a heartbeat just to make sure.
"I'm fine." Ripper gave her a squeeze and stroked the back of her head. "How do you feel?"
"God I was so worried..." she pulled back and slapped him hard across the face. "Don't you ever do that again!"
"Wouldn't dream of it." He rubbed his reddened cheek and pulled her back into his arms. What she sacrificed was unbearable to Ripper. How could she deal with being left powerless, normal?
"How’s B?" Faith asked, turning to Ethan for a quick peek.
"Same as you, very tired." Ethan offered the unconscious Slayer to Ripper and he gladly cradled her to his chest, enjoying the feeling of her pressed close to his heart.
"Any sign of Slayerness?" Willow asked apprehensively.
Faith wiggled her arms and glanced at her hands. "I don't know. I don't think so. I feel a little... um, whimpy I guess."
"Seems Ripper has gained a modest amount of your strength. But for him, it comes through as increased magical ability." Ethan began to walk and the others joined him.
"Well, as long as it's still in the family. I guess that's a good thing." Faith said and stepped ahead into the dim light, obviously wanting a bit of space.
Ripper heaved a sigh and gazed down at Buffy's gentle features. "I'm sorry," he whispered to her ear and started down the tunnel after the others.
They walked for over an hour before Buffy finally awakened fully. She was dazed and a bit shaky, but otherwise quite elated to see everyone was all right. Ripper walked along in silence, holding her hand in his and wallowing in guilt for her loss.
The tunnel seemed to go on forever, no end in sight until Faith tripped up on a crumbled mound of mortar and stone. A dead end.
"Buffy, are you quite certain it was north?" Ethan asked nervously.
"Yes. Wes said north. Did you go north?" Buffy glanced at Willow who shrugged timidly.
"I thought we did. I don't have a compass so I had to guess." She noticed the illumination spell finally giving way to darkness so she concentrated on empowering it one more time. She was growing weary with each attempt.
"Will knows her stuff. This has got to be the right direction. Maybe the tunnel is just blocked up. Buffy glanced at Ripper.
"Step back, let me try something." He concentrated on the stone and cement as the others gave him space. With a faint mutter, he spoke verse after verse of a spell, willing the barricade to vanish but nothing happened. After a second attempt, he threw up his hands in frustration.
"Seems super sorcerer has left the building." Willow sighed with disappointed.
"We can dig our way out." Faith moved toward the mound and started to toss small rocks aside, digging her way through the rubble. Buffy joined in as the others watched uselessly. After a moment of effort, Buffy stopped and glanced back at the others.
"What gives? Why are you just standing around?" she asked, a bit irritated.
"There's no telling how deep the obstruction is. You might not even be making a dent." Ethan shook his head.
Larger rocks flew through the air, smashing against the tunnel walls as Faith continued to work the mound. Buffy grew angry at her companion's pessimism.
"A little help here!" She ordered. Larger rocks smashed beside her and she moved further out of the way.
"Listen Buffy, we're all just a little bit tired. We didn't all get the little nap you got while we wandered around in the wrong direction," Ripper snarled, more than just a bit miffed.
"Hey... who says this is the wrong direction?" Willow said defensively.
"Well we don't know, now... do we?" he added. "Now I'm bloody worthless and you've tired yourself out with all the little tinker bell spells while Ethan..."
"Oh no! Don't drag me into this!" Ethan stepped forward with a wagging finger, interrupting Ripper's rant.
The group continued to bicker heatedly and argue as Faith worked the rubble, moving larger and large chunks out of their path. With every whining voice, her irritation swelled, feeding her aggravation as she tore through the obstacle. With a sudden crash of a boulder on the tunnel wall, everyone froze and gazed timidly at Faith who was literally growling with anger.
"Shut... the fuck... up!" she yelled, and they did, watching as she lifted another enormous rock and thrust it down the tunnel towards them. They dodged it and gawked in disbelief at her deed. Buffy's lips curled to a smile and she went to Faith's aid, starting out with smaller rocks, working her way up in size until she too was tossing boulders aside with ease. The Slayer's were back in business.
Ripper threw his head back and silently thanked the heavens for the return of their gifts.
Willow joined in, deciding it was better to be beside the throwers rather than in their path of destruction.
Ethan wrapped an arm around Ripper's shoulder and pulled his head to his in a warm embrace. "Let's hurry this along, shall we. I'm rather sick of this tunnel."
The gang labored a short time and with the removal of a rather large chunk of cement, a beam of faint light streamed through the opening. There was a unanimous sigh of relief as Faith and Buffy worked to make the hole larger. They'd done it; they'd reached the end.
"Hello?" Xander's voice echoed down the tunnel and Willow ran up to him, never gladder to see him. She wrapped her arms around him and hugged him solidly. "Hey Will. Wes and I were wondering what happened. You're about two hours late from the bookman's estimates."
"Well, we had a little trouble," she smiled.
The others caught up to her and they headed for the light of the tunnels mouth. Buffy slipped her hand into Ripper's and stroked it with her thumb. He smiled as her face lit up, the light growing more intense with every step. They could see a figure waiting at the end of the tunnel and Ripper knew it would be the Watcher.
He'd tried to deny the inevitable, ignore the conclusion to this unlikely encounter. Buffy's life stood ahead of them and Ripper knew he had no place in it. He was a fugitive, eternally running from the deeds of his past. She was a Slayer, a hero destined for greatness. Though their separation would be akin to removing his own heart, it had to be that way, and she knew it.
As they approached the end of the tunnel, Wesley smiled in relief that they had made it away safely. He motioned to Xander who handed a set of bent up keys to Ripper.
"She's not much to look at but my uncle Rory insist she'll get you to where you need to go," he smiled.
"Thank you," Ripper said genuinely and glanced over at the Watcher. "And to you as well."
Wesley threw his hands up defensively. "I have no part in this. It was Buffy, Xander and Willow. If I had my way... you'd be going to jail." Wesley grinned.
"Just the same... thanks." Ripper grinned.
"I'm afraid the Council got warning that I was... um, unreliable in this case. They've sent word of an extraction team heading to Sunnydale. The team should arrive here tomorrow and they will be looking for you," Wesley warned and looked over at Buffy with an apologetic glance. She smiled faintly, acknowledging his subtle hint to let them go.
"I'll wait in the car." Wesley walked over to his Volvo and slipped inside, waiting and watching as his Slayer said her goodbyes.
"Time to ride off into the sunset, hey cowboys?" Xander joked but saw the hurt expressions on everyone's faces and quickly regretted making light of the farewell.
"We should get moving, boss." Faith walked over to Xander, grasped at his shirt and pulled him to her, kissing him hard and wet. "See ya sport!"
When she pulled away, Xander stood unmoving and breathless, frozen in his arousal as the dark Slayer strutted passed him and towards the beat-up Chevy. After a moment, Xander coughed and straightened up.
"I think I'll go join Wes," he said with a cracking tone. The young man swaggered to the Volvo as Buffy and Willow walked closer to the getaway vehicle. Ripper grinned and exchanged a glance with Ethan who hurried to catch up with the Faith.
"Faith, come here a moment," he said as she cocked her head in curiosity.
She strolled up to the sorcerer and could see a the faint ache of sorrow in his eyes. "What is it?"
"You know I love you... Ripper loves you?" Ethan said and took her small hand in his, raising it to his lips and tenderly kissing it. He pulled her to him and enfolded the puzzled Slayer within his arms. He could feel his heart sink with her touch. "Be seeing you," he whispered, holding her head to his and nuzzling her warm cheek as he mumbled a chant into her ear. Faith went limp, her sleeping body being supported in Ethan's arms as he lowered her to the sandy soil.
"Wha... why'd you do that?" Willow asked and knelt down to check on the unconscious Slayer.
"She's a Slayer. She has a duty... a destiny to fulfill. She can't fulfill it with a couple of scoundrels such as us," he smiled weakly.
Ripper grinned agreeably at Ethan, silently thanking him. "The motorcycle is hers. Have your Watcher train her… watch over her. She will make an invaluable asset to you and an unconditional friend."
"What if she refuses and tries to look for you?" Willow asked nervously.
Ethan exchanged a knowing look with Ripper and smirked sadly. "She won't find us. Besides, this is her chance at a real life. She may prove difficult at times, but she'll give in and accept her fate in the end. She's always known who she was. It's up to you guys to help her deal with it." Ethan stepped up to Buffy and took her hand. "Make her happy, please."
"We'll do our best. Good luck," she said and gave his hand a kindly squeeze. Ethan nodded and pulled away, approaching Willow for a final farewell. The redheaded witch embraced him warmly; hoping to avoid the tears she knew would come anyway.
"I thought you didn't believe in luck." Ripper smiled sadly as he approached Buffy.
"I have to," Buffy whispered, trying to hold back the tears threatening to fall.
"Why is that?"
"Because... with any luck, I'll see you again," she said tearfully. Ripper felt his chest constrict under the strain of seeing her glossy gaze.
"Count on it." He pulled her into his arms and held her firmly, savoring the final embrace. The vanilla scent of her hair tickled his nose as he nestled her golden locks. He breathed her in, taking in every sensation she would allow him, smell, touch, and then taste as he bowed his face to meet hers. Their lips pressed to one another in a half-hearted effort to make their final kiss a memorable one. But their emotions shattered their resolve and they pulled away, unable to mask their grief.
"I think I love you," Buffy yelped and tremulously touched his cheek, gazing into his crinkled brow.
Ripper cupped her chin and ran his rough thumb along her smooth pouting lips. He never wanted to forget her beautiful face; he took the moment to etch her features into his memory. He knew what she wanted to hear; just three little words but he couldn't say them. It hurt too much. He glanced away and went to speak but her trembling fingers stopped him from uttering a word.
"I won't forget you," she whispered and pulled on his neck, drawing his face down and kissing him passionately. She wanted him to always remember her as she would him. With a reluctant breath, she separated from him and stepped back, forging a smile to make it easier for him to go.
"I won't let you." He smiled softly in response and walked toward the Chevy with Ethan running to catch up.
Somehow Buffy believed him. She truly felt like this wasn't the last time she would see him. There was still some untold story between them and she would just have to wait and see what would become of it.
Xander and Wesley hurried up to Buffy as the two sorcerers opened the doors to the old junker and paused for one last glimpse of their ladies. Ethan winked at Willow and slipped into the passenger seat leaving Ripper staring at Buffy from the driver's side. Another tear trickled down her cheek and she saw Ripper mouth the words, "I love you."
He sunk into the vehicle and quickly started it up, revving the engine as if letting out a frustrated scream. The old car tore up the soil as the wheels spun swiftly under it. With a fury of dust, the vehicle jerked forward and spun onto the dirt road paralleling the viaduct, speeding away as if they needed to escape their feelings for those they were leaving behind.
"Are you ok?" Wesley came up beside Buffy as she buried her hands in her pockets.
"I will be," she sighed and looked at Willow who was a blithering mess, crying in Xander's arms. "You think they'll get away?"
"They've managed to out wit all of Europe, I can't see how our local boys will catch up with them." Wesley reassured her with a hopeful grin, watching the dust trail twist in the wind as the car shrank in the distance.
"You have another Slayer to train," Buffy said and glanced over at Faith's sleeping form. "She's feisty and one hell of a striker."
"That explains quite a lot." Wesley chuckled.
Wesley noticed the jewel and shook his head. "That would be the Eye of Lamna. The reason Ripper robbed the bank. He wanted you to have it."
"Why?" Buffy asked with a curious raised eyebrow.
"To watch over you I suppose. Its legend tells of its mystical protective power. The jewel is meant to protect its possessor, to watch over the champion who holds it. Ripper intends to keep an eye on you, whether or not he can be here." Wesley began to step towards the unconscious dark Slayer. He motioned for the others to get into his car as he cradled the sleeping young lady in his arms and headed for the Volvo. Willow and Xander followed, giving Buffy moment alone.
She stared off into the distance, watching the faint trails of dust dissipate in the wind as the speck of the car disappeared over the horizon.
Buffy smiled. "Rupert Giles, my Watcher."