The Watcher that Never Was part 5/10

"Tell me you have a trick up your sleeve," Buffy said anxiously as the two ferocious demon gangs closed in around them.

"What did you have in mind?" Ripper glanced between the two daunting hordes.

"How about another light show, for old times sake?" Buffy suggested and spun around, trying desperately to plan an escape or at the very least, a good defensive position.

"That trick, as you referred to it, only works against vampires. We seem to be up against a diversity of demons at the moment." Ripper's voice went quiet as the beasts surrounded them.

"Told you to leave town." A large lizard like creature stepped forward and Buffy's mind raced, trying to remember when she'd seen the it before.

"Well, I kinda... um…" she started.

"I don't follow orders from the likes of you, Nokashima," a towering brut covered with horns and fur growled from the opposing demon group. The others in his horde growled in agreement.

"Sunnydale is ours. Leave now Theisis... or die!" The creature named Nokashima roared in response with accompanying roars and howls from his gang.

"I think we stumbled into the chewy, nutty center of a demonic turf war," Buffy whispered.

"It's your call Slayer." Ripper kept watch on both sides.

"I think we better make with the leaving before these two gangs start their prom." Buffy spotted a couple of smaller spider-like demons and knew she could jump over them but wasn't so sure about her less fortunate, Slayer power-lacking friend.

"Go for the Arachnisine couple and I'll meet up with you in the parking lot at the base of the hill," Ripper suggested.

"What are you gonna do?"

"Trust me!" He grinned.

"I want to taste your entrails meatbag!" Nokashima rushed forward with his gang following his attack. As demon claws and horns tore through the night air, Buffy dodged the oncoming attacks and sprinted toward the large, scurrying spider creatures. She jumped just as the duo rushed forward, striking out at her as she took to the air. Easily clearing the barrage of demons, she landed twenty feet from the closest creature and looked back to see if her escort got clear. Ripper was still trapped smack dab in the center of the scuffle. He just stood there, calmly muttering something to himself with his eyes closed in concentration. He was an easy mark.

"Ripper!" she yelled, wanting foolishly to go storming back into the conflict. But it was too late; his tall form disappeared from view, buried in a sea of beastly violence.

Ethan felt himself losing control as the striking young witch passionately licked along his lips once again. He'd barely managed to make it to the bed before she pounced on him with fevered anticipation, eager to taste more. But he had to resist for both their sakes, so he reluctantly pulled away.

"I'm sorry, my sweet. I can't allow this to happen," he whispered, trying to catch his breath.

Willow's face fell with disappointed as she tried to deduce why he'd put on the brakes.

"It's me, isn't it?" She squeaked. "I'm no good at this... inexperienced. I mean, I've had a little experience but not with someone so mature and..."

"No, it's not you." Ethan took her hand and kissed it tenderly. How was he going to mend this without telling her the truth? Perhaps she'd understand if he told the truth. Perhaps he could throw caution to the wind and rip her clothes off to praise every gorgeous inch of her silken skin with an adoring tongue. "It's me. I can't."

Willow's eyes went wide. "Oh... oh boy! I'm sorry. I had no idea you were unable to..." She jumped to her feet and awkwardly straightened her dress. "I just assumed that with the kissing and the fondling and the..."

Ethan realized what she took his words to mean and started to laugh.

"Wow, you're taking this so well. I would think most men would be all embarrassed and..."

"I'm afraid you've misunderstood, my dear. I'm fully capable and very eager to pleasure you this evening but I've vowed to remain celibate for the time being." He sat up and folded his hands into his lap. "Forgive me for leading you on. But I would love to go through with our original plans for some mystical tutelage, though. If you’re still willing, that is?"

"Celibate? Huh... that's gotta be hard. Difficult! I mean difficult." Willow could feel her cheeks blushing. She knew she'd already made a complete fool of herself. "I'd love a lesson or two, thank you."

"Take a seat, have a glass of wine and let me get my things. I'm sure we can conjure up something to take our minds off other more physical activities." Ethan strolled out into the lobby area and Willow heaved a sigh.

"I hope so." She pouted.

Buffy watched the skirmish as she reluctantly walked backwards out of the cemetery, trying her best to fade into the shadows but keep a lookout for Ripper. Blood and gore freckled the air and spilled along the ground as she searched the mob for her enigmatic stalker. She knew she could do nothing but come back after the gang war settled down, hoping to find the remains of her mystery man.

Just as she was about to give up hope, a trembling, sweaty hand slipped over her mouth and pulled her close against a large, warm mass. She was dragged into some nearby bushes as she struggle to free herself, kicking and letting out muffled screams until she smelled the familiar musky scent of cigarette smoke and sandalwood tickling her nose. The grip over her jaw loosened and she jerked around to see Ripper bent over, panting and sweating profusely.

"You're alive?" she gasped, puzzled by how elated she was to see him. She would have hugged him if not for the awkwardness of taking such liberties in the beginning of a relationship. After all, she hardly knew him... even though she strangely felt she did.

"You sound… so surprised," he choked. When he tried to straighten up, he buckled back over, grasping his abdomen in pain.

Buffy glanced down to see a glistening stain spreading across his white shirt. "You're wounded!" she knelt down and examined the gash. It was shallow but might need stitches.

"Guess I wasn't quick… quick enough. Messed up the second verse... had to start fresh," he hissed as she pulled the matted material away from the wound.

"Come on, I need to get you to your place. Do you have a car?" Buffy wrapped her arm around his waist, trying to support him but Ripper wasn't about to let her see his weakness. He pushed away, stumbling a bit.

"Motorcycle... parked at the base of this hill. I can make it. Just keep an eye out for demon tailgaters." He started to walk and Buffy followed along side.

"Have it your way, macho man. I can't drive a bike anyway. I can't even drive a car."

They managed to reach the bottom of the hill and Ripper slowly straddled the Ducati.

"Hurry it up Slayer. I'm bleedin' all over my bike. Don't want to mess up my paint." He reached out a hand to help steady her as she jumped on behind him.

"You're more worried about your motorcycle than you?" Buffy grabbed a handful of his leather jacket and leaned against his back as he started up the bike. "Remind me to discuss your twisted priorities later. Where's your helmet?"

Ripper glanced back as if appalled she'd even asked such a question.

"Fine, just be careful. My mom will kill me if you don't."

Buffy held his jacket firmly. She really wanted to wrap her arms around his waist but thought it best not to risk aggravating his wound while on such a hazardous vehicle.

They drove off into the night and Buffy couldn't help feeling a little turned on by the roar of the engine, maneuverability and speed of this dangerous machine between her legs. Ripper steered the bike expertly through the quiet streets, ignoring all traffic signals and pedestrian crossings. She bit her lip as they jetted through a typically busy intersection, crossing her fingers that they would reach their destination safely.

"You do want to reach your hotel alive, right?" she yelled.

There was no answer and she felt the bike waver a bit as Ripper's head ducked forward. He was hurting; they needed to hurry.

It was eating at Wesley's gut, keeping secrets from Buffy. How could she serve humanity well without being fully informed on hazards confronting her? She deserved to know the truth about Ripper, for better or worse. He drove speedily down Bradshire Drive, pushing his old Volvo to the limit as he glanced down at the clock. 10:45 am, she had to be around the vicinity of St. Evensty Memorial Cemetery.

After a few twists and turns, they pulled into the familiar hotel parking. Buffy leapt off the bike before it stopped and ran along side it. Ripper managed to shut the bike down but was too far gone to do any more. She grasped the grips, braking its momentum until it stopped. Just as it did, Ripper lurched forward against the grip and Buffy had to catch him before he collapsed to the pavement. He tried his best to help her help him off the motorcycle but fought to keep the cycle upright. Buffy had to release him to find his way curbside as she worked to get the kickstand down.

"Come on big boy." She wrapped her arm under Ripper’s, supporting him as they slowly made their way down the strip of hotel rooms. Once they reached the right one, she carefully lowered him to the ground and propped him against the outside wall so she could search his jacket pockets for the keys to the room.

Unfortunately, the keys were hidden well and Buffy quickly deduced that he must have them tucked away in his pants pockets. She cautiously slipped her fingers within his front pocket and felt the edges of rough-cut metal she was looking for.

"Whatever you're searching for... " Ripper mumbled as she tugged on the key, "It's a little to the left." Buffy paused and glanced up at Ripper's sweat-soaked and grinning face.

"Why you dirty old man, you!" she teased, pleased to hear he was in good spirits at least.

"Old? You wound me Slayer." He shimmied up the wall, pushing with his straining legs to a standing position. Buffy helped to steady him with her free hand as she removed the key from his pocket.

"For such a little scratch, you don't look so good." She unlocked the door and kicked it open as Ripper leaned toward her for support.

"Must have been toxin in the demon's claws. But I'm feeling a little better..." he wheezed and collapsed through the doorway to the floor.

"I bet you are." She sighed and dragged him toward the bed, kicking the door closed after her. Once she reached the bed, she cautiously heaved Ripper to the mattress and laid him out so she could treat his gash. She removed her jacket and prepared to operate, or at least bandage. A quick check of his forehead revealed he was running a slight fever that she hoped wouldn't require a hospital visit for the same reasons she dreaded going before.

"Um... I have to... um, well your shirt's a goner anyway so I'm just going to rip it a little more..."

She pulled on the material and felt the threads give way as she examined the wound more carefully. She was right; the injury wasn't fatal. It didn't even require stitches, just a little flesh wound amplified with demon gore to worry her unnecessarily at the time. But she knew to the least she could do was clean it up to prevent infection. They'd just have to wait to see how the toxin would run its course.

"Looking good, Ripper." Buffy tore away the remainder of the shirt and looked around for first aid supplies. "Do I have to call you that? You just don't seem like a Ripper."

She saw a small zippered pouch beside the bed and opened it. "Bingo!" There were the leftover supplies he'd used to aid her days before. She pulled out the roll of dressing material and a small bottle of iodine.

"I don't care much for Bingo..." Ripper mumbled slowly, "But you can call me whatever you like if you can make the room stop spinning."

Buffy snickered and joined him on the bed.

"I thought you were out?" She poured some iodine on the torn shirt and placed it over the gash. Ripper seethed in pain and Buffy grabbed his hand to offer him some comfort.

"I wish I was, luv." He gritted his teeth as Buffy poured more iodine on the wound.

"Not much stuff here to choose from. This'll have to do for now. I've gotta clean you off a little."

Buffy saw a half full bottle of water beside the bed, opened it, and poured it on some of the bandage material. As she tenderly patted it along the edge of the injury, she caressed his tensing hand with her fingers, wishing she could somehow dull the pain. She examined the wound as the blood slowly wiped away and found her attentiveness fading as her eyes wandered along Ripper's sweat-glistening torso. He was lean-muscled and taut. Various scars marked his pale skin also decorated with peppered hair that outlining his chest and trailed down his abdomen, ending somewhere below the leather waistband. Buffy's eyes gazed vacantly at his waistband, pondering her odd curiosity to such a mysterious character.

"It's nothing... you needn't worry," he smiled and gave her hand a squeeze. Buffy felt her face flush as she was brought out of her daze and wondered what exactly he was referring to, his injury or the mysteries that lay hidden below the blanket of faded black leather. "I've suffered worse."

Buffy smiled at his reassurance and concentrated on finishing her temp-nursing job. Her attention soon fell on the various marks and scars ornamenting his skin.

"You have quite the game of connect-the-dots here." Buffy glided a finger across a long scar by Ripper's navel. The texture was captivating, like spilled day-old nail polish on a mirror.

"I seem to make enemies quickly." Ripper placed his hand over hers and held it down. The motion caused a chain reaction of tingles and heat to swell up her arm and across her face.

"I'm sorry." She tried to pull her hand away but he held it firm, not wanting to relinquish the contact.

"Don't be. It just tickles." He released her hand and carefully sat up. He was suddenly looking much better and the fever seemed to have leveled off.

"I've never seen so many scars before." Buffy set the blood-soaked rags on the floor and looked around for a clock. She should have checked in by now. "I don't scar easily."

"I don't either. But it never stops others from trying." He noticed her impatience. "You can go. I'm fine."

"You feel better?" Buffy stood up to stretch her legs.

"Thanks to you." He smiled warmly.

After a quick internal struggle between responsibility and gratification, Buffy grabbed her jacket and smiled at her patient.

"I think I should go then." She tugged on her jacket and pulled out her favorite wooden stake as she meandered towards the door, considering what the penalty would be for not checking in. Wesley would definitely grow suspicious if he wasn't already; so she decided she had to leave. Ripper labored to get to his feet and shuffled across the room to meet her at the door.

The young Watcher walked wearily out of the cemetery, not really motivated to continue his search for Buffy. He'd exhausted most of the locations she frequented except one last hot spot located at the northern edge of town. As he threw his more manageable sized weapons bag over his shoulder, he heard the contents spill out onto the cement. He bent down to collect the variety of tools and spotted a couple standing in an open doorway at the hotel across the street. Though he could only see the back of the woman, he was surprised how much it resembled Buffy. Hair, clothes, stake... wait!

"I think we should rethink our choice for dating activities." Buffy smiled flirtatiously as she nervously twirled the wooden stake in her hand.

"Date? Is that what this is?" Ripper leaned against the doorframe and rested his head against the wood, gazing at her from under a shadowed brow.

"Well, no... how about board meeting?" Buffy smirked, absorbed in his gentle smile and mesmerizing green eyes.

"Whatever they are, I wish to continue engaging in them." He shut his eyes and Buffy could see he was worn out.

"You need sleep, I should go."

Ripper slowly opened his eyes and bowed forward, bringing his face closer.

"If you must." His warm breath tickled along her skin and she felt something stir within her, something she hadn't felt in a long time.

Buffy instinctively leaned forward, wanting to get closer. 'He's so...different,' she thought. 'Maybe I should keep an eye on him until he's feeling better.'

"Your Watcher will expect you to check in. Shouldn't keep him waiting." Though his words seemed to tell her to leave, his tone was sensual and inviting. Buffy wanted to stay. Her body pleaded for her to take a chance but she had to resist her desire. She had to go to Wes; it was her duty.

She stepped back and bounced the end of the stake against her thigh. "Goodnight then."

"Goodnight, Buffy."

"Buffy? What happened to Slayer?" she smiled at his sudden familiarity.

"The Slayer shouldn't be here. The Slayer was ordered to stay away from me." he grinned slyly. "So, I shall say thank you and goodnight to my lovely friend, Buffy."

"Right then. See ya!" she turned and began to prance happily away.

"Count on it," Ripper whispered and watched her go until the door swung shut.

Wesley watched Buffy walk off into the shadows and sighed disappointedly as his eyes returned to the closing door. He recognized it was Ripper. Buffy was secretly meeting with him in total disregard for his wishes and Council orders and it hurt. He could sense she'd been keeping something from him but hoped it was as simple as a bad grade on a midterm or that she'd broken a battle axe. He'd never thought she was capable of such a risky deception. It had to end. Wesley collected the weapons and tucked them safely away in his car. He took a deep breath and headed toward the hotel room.

The demanding knock on the door took Ripper by surprise. Surely Buffy hadn't returned so soon. He glanced around for anything she might have forgotten and didn't see any misplaced items. Barely able to move his sore muscles, Ripper staggered to the door and gripped the knob.

"Changed your mind..." he opened the door to the unwelcoming sight of a pistol barrel taking aim at his face. As his eyes focused on the young man wielding the firearm, he swallowed hard. "Damn." He let his head duck forward submissively.

"Do be polite and ask me in," Wesley said coldly and stepped forward to press the cold steel barrel to Ripper's forehead. Ripper peered up from under his brow and stepped back, allowing the stranger passage.

"By all means. Would you like tea? I believe that's your poison," Ripper mumbled disdainfully as he moved back over to the bed and sat down, too tired to care what his uninvited guest planned to do.

Wesley scanned the room as he kicked the door shut. He spotted the blood-soaked rags beside the bed and the noticed the gash on Ripper's bare abdomen. Buffy must have been tending to his injury.

"I know who you are and what you've done. But I'm afraid I don't know what you want with Buffy and that troubles me." Wesley didn't like Ripper's relaxed attitude; he was known to be dangerous. Wesley wasn't sure he could shoot an unarmed man if he had to. But then again, Ripper was never unarmed; he was a sorcerer and a proficient one at that.

"She deserves to know who I am," Ripper said plainly.

"Is that why you're here, to tell her?" Wesley took a cautious step forward.

"No. I'm here to protect her, same as you." His eyes fell closed under the strain of fatigue.

"It was you who aided her the other night... bandaged her wounds." Wesley's tight grip on the pistol's handle loosened as Ripper nodded slightly and sighed. "The Council has put a price on your head. Ethan Rayne's as well."

"Have at it then... bloody Watcher." Ripper stared sharply at Wesley. He couldn't hold out much longer, his body was fading fast; he needed rest.

"I'd rather put my trust in my Slayer. She has superior instincts." Wesley lowered the gun and smiled. "But I will be watching."

"That's what you do best, isn't it?" Ripper mumbled. "Watch Buffy. Watch her risk death every night while you putter around with your books and research, hoping she never realizes what a useless sod you really are."

"Is that why you left? Is that how you see us?" Wesley wasn't shocked by Ripper's opinion; he'd thought the very same things on many occasions. Especially when sending Buffy up against an unusually skilled and deadly foe.

"It's the truth." Ripper cursed under his breath.

"Well, this particularly useless sod has managed to keep his Slayer... Buffy alive longer than most Slayers in record." Wesley turned toward the door and began to leave.

"She needs to know who I am!" Unexpectedly, Ripper stormed toward Wesley and the Watcher swiftly twisted around, cocking the gun and aiming square at the center of Ripper's chest as the older man stopped at the touch of steel against his flesh. He stood defiantly as the gun pressed against his dimpling skin. With a quick glance to the weapon, Ripper stared narrowly at Wesley from under heavy brows as a wicked sneer curled his lips. "Do it."

"And just who do you think you are? You want truth? You want to shed some light on the harsh reality of the situation? How's this?" Wesley fished though his coat pocket with his free hand and pulled out a crumpled sheet of paper, throwing it at Ripper's face. The fuming man caught the fluttering sheet and examined it. It was his life's work, the unsavory credentials of a life full of crime and chaos and it was a waste of paper.

"That is who you really are!" Wesley barked. "And I will be damned before I let you tarnish my Slayer with your mistaken claims and counterfeit duty. I'm giving you a choice. Leave now and never come near Buffy again..."

"Or?" Ripper asked through clenched teeth.

"Or so help me I will have a Council Extraction team take you to a dark lab somewhere where they can drain your twisted notion of entitlement from every cell of your being until you couldn't dream of continuing your warped mission to ruin Buffy's already difficult life."

Ripper smirked at the determined young Watcher trying desperately to intimidate him. "You love her," he said gently.

Wesley cocked a brow at the accusation. He'd never thought about it. He did have strong feelings for Buffy, perhaps stronger than a Watcher should. He wanted nothing more than to protect her from the world, from the council, from herself.

"I suppose I do," he answered softly.

"Good." Ripper smiled. "Then we have something in common."

Part 6...