The Watcher that Never Was part 2/10
Buffy opened her eyes to an unfamiliar smoke-stained ceiling. She explored the strange room, turning her head toward a cracked window, trying desperately to remember what had happened. The view out the window brought a subtle crumb of relief; she recognized the entrance to the cemetery where she was attacked the night before. Her tall, dark stranger was telling the truth, the hotel room was literally across the street from the location of her assault. The room was a complete dive but Buffy was grateful for it.
She sat up and immediately felt a throbbing reminder of her head injury. She put her hand to the cut and realized she was not only bandaged but the dressing was well done. Whoever the stranger had been, he knew his stuff. She looked around the room and saw no signs of him and nothing left behind. It was disappointing; she'd wanted to thank him and find out who he was. She decided to try and get up, noticing for the first time she was still fully dressed. It made her smile; he'd been quite the gentleman. After quickly examining the room and coming up empty of clues, Buffy left feeling completely frustrated. She decided to try her luck at the main desk of the hotel. The heavyset clerk behind what barely passed as the desk ignored her as she approached.
"Excuse me but did the gentleman in room 12 leave any messages?" Buffy asked hopefully.
"Hey lady, I don't judge my customers. It's your fault if you had a bit too much to drink and got taken advantage of. I just rent out the rooms," he said defensively.
"What?" Buffy didn't like his tone.
"Listen... I don't know nothin'. Some guy carried you in here last night and paid me a shit-load of cash for the room. He left this morning around five." The man noticed her bandage and looked away uneasily.
"Did he say he'd be back? How many nights did he pay for?"
"Didn't say, dropped enough green to cover at least a week, though. I'm not willing to testify or anything... I didn't see nothing!"
"Look, he didn't do anything wrong. I just need to see him."
"Room's his until he tells me he doesn't want it or his deposit runs out. I couldn't care less of you check back later to see if he returns." The man looked Buffy up and down and grinned tastelessly. "Likes 'em young. The best that money can buy, eh?"
"Something like that," she grumbled and left, not wanting to waste energy explaining herself to the perverted moron behind the counter.
"I need two grams of that..." Willow said and pointed to a jar of dark purple sand, "And a bag of nightbreeze root." The shopkeeper smiled politely as he went to work filling her order.
Two tall, older gentlemen walked into the shop and Willow thought it was odd to actually see someone else in there. It was usually empty of customers when she'd pick up supplies.
"I'll be with you in a moment," the shopkeeper said as he weighed the sand.
"Take your time." The casually dressed, late forties aged gentleman spoke with a pleasant English accent. He acknowledged Willow with a polite nod then looked back at his companion. Willow wondered if he was from the Council but knew that was silly. Why did she make that ridiculous assumption that anybody with a British accent would have to be from the Council? Besides, he wasn't wearing a suit so he couldn't be Council unless he was undercover. His leather clad associate wandered around the store, examining some trinkets scattered along the shelves. Definitely not Council.
Xander discovered a heart shaped stone on a display and considered getting it for Cordelia then remembered he was out of cash and hesitantly replaced the piece to its home. Willow saw his actions and grinned empathetically.
"I can get that for you. Maybe it'll get Cordelia to talk to you again," Willow offered and saw Xander glance at the strangers and back at her as if embarrassed they'd overheard.
"Might I suggest this…" The gentlemen held up a vial of oil and pointed to the bag of nightbreeze. Willow raised an brow at the item. "Mix this with a little of that and you'll have a quaint love potion."
Willow blushed at his friendly suggestion and shook her head humbly. "I'm not that good at potions yet. Just practicing. I don't want to do anything wrong like make the whole town crazy in love with Xander."
"You could do no such thing. I can see you have the spirit of a true witch. The elements are your instruments; you just need a music lesson."
Willow managed to deduce he was flirting but had no idea how to react. She decided to try a little flirting herself.
"Do you teach?" she asked.
Meanwhile, Xander noticed the British gentleman's associate slip something into his coat pocket and decided to keep an eye on any further transgressions. He kept his distance but watched the man eye some bagged herbs near the window.
"I've never taught professionally. But I do enjoy offering the occasional mystical recipe to promising pupils." He offered her his hand and Willow went to shake it. He brought her hand to his lips and kissed it, following with a captivating smile. "Ethan Rayne, at your service my dear."
Willow could feel her cheeks flush and swallowed to clear her throat. " Willow, nice to meet you."
"Pleasure is all mine. Now... for your boyfriend's plight, might I suggest..."
"Oh no... Xander's not my boyfriend," Willow eagerly corrected.
Xander saw the other man slip another item in his pocket and then snap to get Ethan's attention. Ethan glanced over and nodded as the man gestured impatiently to the door.
"I'll be out in a moment," Ethan responded and returned his attention to the beautiful redhead at the counter.
The silent fellow walked to the door and Xander decided he rather not watch the dating game going on in the shop. He figured he'd keep an eye on the shoplifter and discuss the troubles of dating much older men with his giddy witch friend later.
"I think I'll go outside while you two strangers discuss my love life." Xander followed the stranger outside.
The odd shoplifter leaned against the brick wall of the shop and stared down the street as he smoked. The guy seemed off somehow but Xander couldn't put a finger on why he had that impression. He had an interesting scar on his left cheek that made his somewhat kind features seem more dangerous. Xander's curiosity got the best of him and he approached the smoking man.
"You wouldn't by chance have an extra one of those?" he asked politely and motioned to the cigarette, hoping the answer was no but willing to put up a front to get the man talking.
The man nodded and retrieved a decorative metal case from his jacket, opened it and offered the contents to the young man. Xander carefully selected a single cigarette and popped it into his mouth. The stranger shut the case and tucked it away as he flipped open a flashy titanium Zippo lighter with his other hand and lit his companion's cigarette.
"That had to cost a pretty penny," Xander said nervously, nodding toward the lighter as he attempted to inhale. He immediately choked on its effect, coughing and gagging.
The stranger's lips curled to a smile at the young man's obvious inexperience. "Not your usual brand?"
Xander nodded as he finally gained control over his coughing episode. "I'm used to cigars. But thanks anyway." He looked around for a place to put the offending cigarette. There wasn't an ashtray in sight. Having quickly puffed through his, the stranger flicked the butt to the ground and peeked in the shop window to take note of his friend's progress.
"Um, couldn't that start a fire?" Xander quipped.
The stranger’s brow lifted in response to his curious spectator and then glanced back at still smoldering cigarette on the cement. With a snap of his fingers, both cigarettes vanished. The stranger grinned at Xander's dazed expression.
"Now run along and play. I've got business to attend to." He opened the shop door and held it for Willow who came out with her face beaming.
"Thank you," she said politely.
"But of course," he nodded and entered the shop.
"What are you all peppy about?" Xander asked with his eyes darting between Willow and the shop entrance. Willow almost skipped past him.
"Ethan paid for all of my supplies." She began walking down the street and Xander hurried to catch up.
"Who’s Ethan?" Xander asked, still shaken by the strange display from the shoplifting stranger.
"That nice British gentleman in the shop. We got to talking and he insisted on paying for my supplies. He said it was his duty to support youthful dabbling in the mystical arts and wished me luck with my spells. He had a huge wad of bills, I’ve never seen so much money at once. I hope he doesn't flash that around town. Not safe in a chocked-full-of-nuts evil town like this."
"Say huh? You let a complete stranger pay for your stuff?"
"Well... yeah. So? It's better than smoking!" Willow glared harshly.
"You saw that, huh? Wait, if he had so much moolah, why was his friend shoplifting?"
"Um yeah... the tall, dark, and intimidating guy who held the door for you."
"I don't know why he'd be stealing; Ethan was loaded."
"Loaded with a big wad of cash a day after a big bank heist and Mr. Courteous and daunting all flashy with the magic."
"Yep, made cigarettes disappear right in front of me just by snapping his fingers. And I didn't see any mirrors and smoke... besides the little bit choking out of my cursing lungs."
"I think we better report to Wes."
"Ethan didn't seem evil. Does Buffy have to slay him?" Willow whimpered.
"Ethan? Ethan Rayne?" Wesley's expression turned grim.
"Yeah, you know him?" Willow wasn't sure she liked Wesley's worried face. "So we don't have to slay him, right? Pretty please?"
"I know of him. He's a rogue sorcerer, not licensed by the Council. He's wanted all over Europe, mostly for petty crimes with the occasional robbery, never violent though. He could be a handful but I don't think he warrants much concern. Relax Willow, there isn't going to be any slaying until I can further assess the situation."
"Do you know the other guy, Smokey the Bear?"
"I need more to go on to be certain, of course, but I suspect Ethan's accomplice may be the more troublesome character of the two. Someone who I’d prefer remained far from here and nowhere near Buffy."
"Let me verify a few things with the Council first. No sense setting off the alarms if it's uncalled for," Wesley suggested.
"Why be so blatant with the majicks?" Xander asked.
"Sunnydale police are world renown for their ineptitude. I’d suspect that since they've evaded capture all over Europe, they probably don't fear it here." Wesley jotted down a few notes on a scratch pad.
"What better place for a group of fugitive sorcerers to settle down than the capital of weird and evil," Willow agreed.
"Was there a third person... shorter in stature maybe?" Wes asked hopefully.
"Swing and a miss Watcher-man, just the two guys," Xander took a jelly donut and began to suck out the filling.
"Oh, but Ethan offered to tutor me in a few spells. He gave me the phone number to his hotel room. Maybe I could spy on him?" Willow suggested.
"Double-o-Willow, reporting for duty." Xander smiled at her eagerness to help. "You don't need to be alone with Mr. flirty dirty old fart, Will. I don't like the sound of that."
"Let's not be too hasty. That may be a plan if the Council's information turns up what I think it will," Wes said. "I'll get back to you after I've talked with the Council and after Buffy checks in."
"Haven't seen her yet?" Willow asked worriedly.
"Not yet but she's been late before. Probably just slept in. No need to call out the search and rescue team just yet," Wesley said optimistically.
Wesley tapped his pen impatiently on the pad of paper sitting on the desk, listening carefully to the Council of Watchers Internal Affairs officer's dull voice ramble on and on over the phone. This call would cost Wesley a weeks pay if he didn't get to the point soon.
"I see... well thank you for your time. It's been an education. Goodbye." He hung up the phone and stretched his back, happy to finally be freed from the conversation that wouldn't die. He jerked to his feet at the sound of the door opening. Buffy came in and gave a half-hearted salute.
"Slayer reporting for... oh, forget it. I'm not in the mood today." She closed the door and collapsed into the couch.
"Buffy, are you alright? You look like hell." Wesley went to her and helped her roll over onto her back, examining the bandages curiously.
"No... that was last night. Today, I look like heck." She sat up and brushed his prodding hands away. "I'm fine. Just ran into a little gang of the undead last night and have the party favors to show for it."
"Sorry to hear it but I'm afraid we have more urgent things to worry about," Wesley took a seat beside her.
"Great... now what?" Buffy sighed and fell back into the cushions.
"Seems we have a couple sorcerers in town that may be responsible for the bank heist. One is known for being a bit of a troublemaker, his name is Ethan Rayne. But my concern doesn’t lie with him. It's his associate that troubles me. I'm afraid the Council won't permit me to explain further but you need to keep a look out for a man fitting this description." Wesley handed her what looked like a badly photocopied wrap sheet complete with fuzzy photo.
Even with the scratches and distortion marking the black and white photo, Buffy immediately recognized the face; it was her mysterious stranger. The only name listed on the sheet was Ripper in quotes under the heading of aliases. Seems he would remain a mystery for the time being. She scanned through the list of crimes. There was nothing serious to worry about, mostly insignificant misdemeanors until she came across one that sent up the red flag, suspected manslaughter.
"The Council has ordered me to keep you away from this man. You are to report to me any sightings of him and I'll pass on the information to the Council. Under no circumstances should you approach him. They believe he may be a danger to you." Wesley waited for a response but Buffy just stared mystified at the photo. "Buffy, Is that clear?"
" Crystal," She mumbled somberly, staring blankly at the mystery man's photo. She considered admitting to Wes her run-in with the fugitive but decided she needed to do a bit of her own investigating first.
"Why all the secrecy, Wes? Why are they hurting so bad to keep him outta arms reach of me. After all, I'm the Slayer... kinda known that I can handle myself." She said and finally looked Wes in the eye. She could see he was really bothered by something.
"You'll tell me if you see him, right?" He asked.
"Yeah, but why..."
"Council's restricted this as a need-to-know issue. I'm afraid you'll just have to trust that it's in your best interests that we follow their orders." Wes said apologetically. It wasn't his usual style to keep things from his Slayer but he had his orders. "And Buffy, take the night off. You really do look like hell."