The Watcher that Never Was part 3/10

"Buffster... you alright?" Xander hurried through the crowded Bronze and caught up to Buffy.

"Yep... I'm fine. You shoulda seen the other guy." She took their usual spot on the couch in the back. Xander joined her, spotting the familiar face of Willow at the counter. She came over with three cups, offering one to each of them.

Willow's eyes went wide at the sight of her injured friend. "Buffy...?"

"Fine! Good! Never been better!" Buffy said abruptly.

"Okay then, end of story. Hey, did Wes fill you in on the magical bank robbers?" Xander decided to change the subject.

"Yeah, got the whole cryptic story. That's all we need now. I really hate this town." Buffy sipped her pop and smiled at Willow's choice of diet Coke. "Thanks, just what I needed. Wes seemed really wigged about one of these guys. I mean... he wouldn't tell me anything. It's so not like him." Buffy took another sip of her pop.

"He's just doing his job, Buff. He's looking out for you," Xander suggested and took a sip of his pop. "Ick... diet. I think I got yours."

Willow traded cups with him and nodded his appreciation. "Yeah but Wes isn't freaked about this Ethan guy so why is he so wigged over this other fellow, Smokey?"

"Smokey?" Buffy asked, puzzled.

"Uh-huh, we ran into them today," Xander explained.

"Who's Smokey... you don't mean Ripper?" Buffy kinda hoped her mystery man didn't smoke, but the idea did seem appropriate for his shady manner.

"Ripper? Now that's a nickname. Why can't I have a cool handle like that?" Xander sipped the new cup and smiled at Willow, root beer, his usual.

"Oh, Wes must have gotten the answers he needed from the Council. What was the deal with this Ripper fellow? Inquiring minds want to know." Willow scooted to the edge of the cushion, eagerly awaiting the juicy gossip.

"Council won't tell me anything but to stay clear of him. No reason, no explanation. I don't get it and I really don't like it."

"Again... it's their job to help you. Why don't you give them a brake and just follow their orders. Just this once?" Xander saw mutually raised brows of his cohorts and shook his head. "I know, it sounded silly the second it fell past my lips."

"Maybe this Ripper guy isn't so bad. Maybe he's just misunderstood. After all, Ethan was so nice and interesting and I hope you don't have to slay him. Tell me you won't slay him." Willow blushed at her obvious, record-time, crush.

"Will, I don't slay humans. It's against the Slayer Scout Code of Honor. Man, this Ethan guy must have made quite the impression. Sorry I missed it." Buffy grinned at the crimson-faced redhead.

"Well... so... you should have seen Xander acting all cool and smoking with this Ripper guy." Willow tried to deflect some of her embarrassment to someone else. Xander was her default scapegoat.

"Hey... in all fairness, I was investigating him. He was acting all sneaky and shoplifting."

"Shoplifting?" Buffy chuckled.

"Yep. But his buddy had a ton of money according to Willow so what gives?"

"Huh... that's weird ‘cause Ripper didn’t seem lacking in the monetary," Buffy mumbled.

"You met him? When? Where? Did you tell Wes? What happened?" Willow's excitement was irresistible.

"Did he do this to you?" Xander sat forward, suddenly deathly serious and Buffy knew they needed to know the truth.

"No. Actually, he saved me from a gang of vampires last night. Well, 'saved' is a bit exaggerated... he happened to come along at a good time to see me getting my ass brutally whipped. But he was so gentle and nice and not really giving off the big beware vibe the Council and Wes are warning me about."

"See, misunderstood... just like Ethan," Willow concluded.

"You're not getting off that ride anytime soon, are ya Wil? So he just shows up and scares off a gang of vampires. How?" Xander knew there was more to this guy than meets the eye.

"Magic, I guess. I was kinda out of the game at that point. He managed to fend off the vamp brat pack and took me to his hotel room to fix me up. I woke up the next morning all bandaged up and alone so I questioned the clerk about the guy. He just said the guy paid a lot to keep the room but didn't specify for how long or anything. Really weird." Buffy smiled at the recollection of the introduction and Xander raised a concerned brow.

"You're not editing out the naughty bits here, Buffster, ‘cause I gotta say I don't appreciate censorship. He took you to his hotel room and what? You played Scrabble all night?"

"Nothing... well, I wasn't exactly conscious but I woke up fully dressed so nothing happened." Buffy gulped down some more pop and smiled at Willow. "Seems the fab twosome left impressions on both of us."

"So you told Wes?" Willow asked.

"Not so much and please don't make with the tattling. I've got to look into this guy for myself. There's something there that the Council doesn't want me to know I have to know what." Buffy waited for some acknowledgment of her request and both Willow and Xander nodded.

"Fine, you have a temporary tattle-tail deferment but the second I see anything I don't like, I’m spilling my guts to your Watcherman," Xander warned.

"I'm not exactly secret girl but he won't get a peep outta me. I have to admit, Ethan has me intrigued. But what about the third figure, the one that might be a demon?" Willow asked.

"That's the wild card. Your guess is as good as mine." Buffy's eye caught a glimpse of a tall figure making its way through the young crowd. She felt her pulse quicken as she recognized it was Ripper. He stuck out like a sore thumb. "What's he doin'? Would you guys give me a sec?" Buffy stood up and headed toward her new acquaintance before her friends had a chance to respond.

"Hey, that's Smokey." Willow pointed.

"Ripper," Xander corrected. "Damn... I want a cool nickname."

"Should we follow them?" Willow asked and Xander shrugged.

"Let's keep our distance. Buffy knows what she'd doing... I hope," he suggested. "Hey... how bout Redrum? It’s murder backwards. Bitchin’."

"Xander, we really have to get your TV viewing under control."

Buffy waved to get Ripper's attention. A warm smile lit up his dark features once he spotted her. She pointed up to the elevated platform and he nodded slightly, following shortly behind her as she maneuvered her way upstairs.

The upper ramps were empty. The early afternoon atmosphere of the Bronze was much less rave-like and more of an easy-going people-watching hangout. The joint only got hopping in the evenings.

Buffy took a seat in a far corner, wanting as much privacy as she could get in a public place for this second meeting with the marked man. Ripper approached leisurely, almost seeming to strut up to her. Buffy smiled as he politely outstretched his hand.

"We were never properly introduced. Buffy, isn't it?" He grinned. Buffy took his hand and shook it once, quickly pulling away. The second her hand had left his, she wanted to feel it again.

"Ripper, isn't it?" she grinned confidently back. He took a seat across from her and lit up a cigarette. He offered her one and she refused. "Can't read? The sign says no smoking."

"Pity that." He grinned and inhaled deeply, slowly letting the smoke trickle out over his lips.

"You know those things will kill you." Buffy had the sudden urge for gum so she riffled around through her pockets in search of satisfying her craving.

"Everything kills you... given time." He crossed his legs and Buffy noticed he was wearing leather pants, tight leather pants, worn and shaped just right to fit his form. "Cursed humanity... the moment you're ripped from the serene protection of your mother's womb and discarded into this godforsaken prison, you're dying."

"Well, aren’t you just a basket-full of puppies? Was there a point to that happy reflection?" She didn't have any gum so she tried chewing on the end of her straw to forget her craving.

"You've been sentenced to life in this hell-hole, you may as well have some fun?" He concluded with a wicked smirk.

"Hellmouth actually. And I wasn't aware of smoking being fun?"

"It depends on what you're smoking." He winked at her and she felt a shiver run up her spine. "So, we seem to know each other. How pleasant. Now, what shall we discuss? Perhaps the weather? Sports? Felonies?"

"How about the latter and your involvement with Ethan Rayne, friend," Buffy tried to sound cold and impersonal.

"How are you feeling? Better, I hope. It's been a while since I've had to do a field dressing, I trust my attempt was satisfactory?" As Ripper puffed on his cigarette, Buffy watched attentively. His pouted lips enveloped the paper, pressing gently as the cherry red tip blazed alive at his coaxing. A ribbon of smoke glided along his teeth until he inhaled it deeply, licking his lips as he savored the taste of chemical death invading his body. "Are you sure you wouldn't like one?" He held out his cigarette case and Buffy shook her head.

"I'm feeling much better, thank you." She smiled warmly, suddenly remembering she owed him one. "I just have to ask... why is it the Council of Watchers wants you to stay away from little ol’ me? Is it because of your bad habits..." she motioned towards the cigarette, "...or because of your Matrix style fashion sense?"

"They didn't tell you?" He smiled, clearly amused and noticed his cigarette burning close to the filter. "Perhaps it's due to this?" He held out the cigarette butt, blew it a kiss and it vanished. Buffy grinned.

"I'd heard about that trick. Quite the showman." She glanced around to see if the crowd was filling in but the place was still quite empty.

"Friends of yours at the magic shop today? I should have guessed." He tilted his head back and rubbed his eyes for a moment. Buffy wondered if he was in pain from the momentarily strained expression on his face.

"You ok?" she asked.

"A bit tired. I didn't manage much sleep last night."

"Why are you following me?" It sounded much more sharp then she'd intended but Buffy was sick of beating around the bush, she had to have an answer. The mysterious stalker leaned forward with a sly grin.

"Ask your Watcher." Ripper slowly reached out and took her hand in his. "He knows. He understands." He slowly lifted her hand to press his lips to her skin, kissing it tenderly. "Until we meet again, Slayer."

Buffy's mind blanked with the startling intimacy of his actions. She watched as the mystifying sorcerer walked away, lighting up another cigarette and descending down the stairway. Just before he was out of view, he glanced back with one final smiled. Buffy returned it and sat there in the darkness, recapping the strange exchange with unexpected fondness.

"What is it about that guy?" she mumbled as she brought her hand to her face to draw back a stray hair. The scent of his musky smoke and sandalwood still lingered on her skin and she enjoyed its intrusion on her senses. "Wes is so gonna kill me!"

Faith snuck into the room quietly, figuring on getting a mouthful from either of her overprotective male companions for not following their orders. She'd been with them for over a year, they had to be getting used to her all night outings by now. The room was dark; all the curtains were drawn closed making it almost impossible to recognize it was the middle of the day. Faith gently shut the door, turned around and peeked into the bedroom. It took a moment for her eyes to adjust and make out the forms of Ripper and Ethan sprawled across the bed together. She tiptoed silently into the room. Ethan was lying on his side above the sheets, shirtless, eyes open and looking absorbedly into the sleeping face of his oldest friend. Faith understood the attraction, Ripper had one of those faces that made you want to cry; and she never shed tears.

"How long has he been out?" Faith whispered and knelt beside Ethan's side of the bed. She could tell Ripper was naked, his lower extremities drape in thin silken sheets, not leaving much to the imagination. Then again, she didn't have to imagine. He usually slept in the nude and she often caught Ethan appreciating the view as she did.

Ethan took a deep breath and rolled over to face her as she ran her deceivingly delicate fingers through his hair. For all her aggression and temper, her touch could be genuinely caring and wonderful.

"About five hours. How are you?" he whispered and nuzzled into her hand as she caressed him.

"I know I was supposed to..."

"How... are... you?" Ethan didn't want excuses or apologies. He only wanted to know she was ok.

"Fine now." She leaned forward and kissed him. It was a loving, appreciative kiss expressing what she couldn't put into words.

"Thank you." Ethan carefully slipped off the bed and grabbed his shirt, slipping it on to hanging loosely over his shoulders as he guided Faith into lounge.

"Nice to see you two close again," Faith spoke quietly, giving a sly wink.

"Mustn't worry my sweet, you didn't miss anything. We were simply resting." Ethan sat down into a cozy decorative chair and pulled Faith into his lap. "You'll be the first to know when we can resume our more carnal activities."

"Why are you two punishing me... punishing yourselves? You can’t really believe the superstitions?"

"It's not superstition luv." Ethan brought her hand up before his face and kissed her fingertip. "Sex is a more than just a union of the flesh; it's a joining of the soul, the spirit. Not to be take lightly, especially when one is a practitioner of magicks. You share yourself with your partner... all of yourself, including mystical energies. Wonderful as it may feel, it can confuse the body and mind, rendering a sorcerer powerless in extreme cases. If we are going to pull off this last job, we need to stay pure."

Ethan kissed another fingertip and glided it along his lips. He'd told her all this before but knew she needed to be reminded. Faith's teasing drove both he and Ripper to the breaking point on more than one occasion and it put them all at risk.

"Point taken... again. But I just don't think we should depend so much on this mystical shit. We can always do it the old fashioned way." She wrapped her arm around Ethan's neck and pulled his face to her chest. "I miss you guys. I need you guys."

Ethan sighed at the lovely feel of her cotton-covered bosom against his skin. "You didn't find someone to your liking last night, then?" He lifted his lips to her exposed skin and breathed along her bare flesh, tenderly kissing her as he drew his fingers along her thigh.

"Didn't want anyone else." She pouted until Ethan's touch awakened the good down-low tickle she craved.

"How bloody awful for you," he whispered mischievously along her skin and unbuttoned her jeans, slipping his fingers beneath the hot fabric. "As long as you be a good girl, I think I can help you remember what you're missing." Faith gasped as Ethan's strong fingers delved into her and he smiled at the exuberance of her pleasure. Though it would be a battle for him to control his libido, his Slayer needed release before she did something she regretted. Besides, he loved making her groan.

Part 4....