The Watcher that Never Was part 9/10

Buffy thundered over to the corner of the lobby and peeked outside the covered windows. Armor shielded officers appeared outside and took up positions at different locations around the bank. Buffy had seen enough movies to assume these were sharp shooters or cops readying themselves to charge in.

"Natives are getting restless, B. What's the verdict?" Faith asked from across the room, keeping watch on the officers from her vantage point.

Ripper walked toward Buffy. "What are you doing?"

Buffy held up a finger to stop his advance and he hesitantly backed off. He knew she was upset, he thought it best to give her space for the moment. She pulled out her cell phone and quickly dialed Wesley's number. The Watcher picked up before the first ring tone had finished.

"Buffy? Are you all right? Is Willow ok?" He asked eagerly.

"We're fine, Wes. Everything's under control on our end. Looks like we might have some itchy trigger fingers outside, though. How close are you?"

"Managed to get closer, about a block away. Just close enough to watch the activity. Buffy, this doesn't look good. Police are everywhere," Wesley said anxiously.

"We just have to stay out of sight. Listen, I need all the specs you can find about the bank. Hack into public works, utilities, sewer, cable, anything. I need to know layout and most importantly tunnels," Buffy whispered.

"Buffy, I don't want you involved," Ripper urged from across the room.

"I was involved the minute you walked into my life!" she said sharply.

"I never meant for this..."

"Yeah... of course not, " Buffy started to pace heatedly around the lobby, keeping the phone by her ear, waiting for Wesley to report back. "You just wanted to drop in, rob a couple banks, say hi, get a quickie with the local freak, and escape out of town to ease your guilt for avoiding your responsibilities in the first place."

"It's not like that," Ripper urged. "You have no idea..."

"No... You have no idea! No clue what you did to me... how you made me feel." Buffy couldn't look at him, she was so upset. She'd thought he was different from the other men in her life but the sad reality was he was just like every other guy.

"Well, was it all worth it? Did you get what you came for? Because I gotta say... if this was the plan, the plan sucks, Ripper. You may not have counted on it, but a funny thing happened..." Buffy searched his distressed expression for a sign she should reveal her feelings.

"Forget it!" She walked over to a barricaded window and peeked out. The scene looked like something out of a Dirty Harry movie, cops scurrying anxiously all over the place trying desperately to find the perfect location to hide yet watch the unfolding drama.

"Tell me what happened, Buffy?" Ripper took a step forward and Willow stopped him with a tug at his jacket, holding him at bay with a slight shake of her head. He watched anxiously as Willow moved over to Buffy and leaned forward so the irritated Slayer could see her out of the corner of her eye.

"Buffy? What's going on? What are we going to do?" she whispered.

"I'm not sure Will," Buffy mumbled as she stared forward. "I just don't know."

"I don't want Ethan to go to jail."

Buffy looked over at her friend's crinkled forehead and dark pleading eyes.

"I know," Buffy sighed.

"Buffy?" Wesley's voice came through the phone and Buffy stepped away, leaning against a desk in the far end of the bank lobby.

"Tell me you found something?" Buffy whispered.

"There's an old sealed off sewer tunnel located beneath the ATM on the eastern wall. If you can somehow break through, they can escape north, connecting up to the Willington viaduct."

"It's as good a plan as any. Thanks Wes. I know you don't agree with me on this one."

"It's not my position to judge, Buffy. My job is to help any way I can, regardless of how foolish or skewed your decisions."

"Point taken. Still... thanks."

"Xander's just left; claims to have acquired an old vehicle from a family member in Ravensdale. He'll arrange to leave it at the end of the tunnel. He's on his way there now."

"I'll work on the excavation of an escape hatch." Buffy glanced around the lobby for anything that might do as a makeshift sledgehammer.

"The police could infiltrate the place at any moment. Best be quick about it, Buffy," Wesley urged.

"On it," she said and disconnected.

"Buffy, please... we need to talk." Ripper stepped towards her and she held up a threatening hand.

"No... just... just don't." She sighed and hurried past him. "Leave me alone."

Taking a quick peek at possible tools she could use to punch a whole in the floor, she noticed a metallic base of a mortgage sign at the center of the lobby. She marched over and took hold of it; sizing up its weight and figuring it might just do the trick. With one powerful hammering down of the pole, she heard a crack and felt confident the plan could work.

"What are you doing?" Ripper could see she was losing it.

Another blow and a small fissure appeared in the tile. Delivering blow after blow, she worked the crack until she could feel the floor giving way.

"Buffy..." Ripper stormed towards the frenzied young lady and clutched her arm. "Calm down."

"Shut up!" Buffy snapped, planting another tremendous blow to the floor.

"What are you doing?"

Buffy screamed out her frustration as she thrust with all her strength. The metal hit the cement and the floor crumbled, collapsing into a dark pit, revealing the hidden tunnel.

Breathless and worn out, Buffy walked passed Ripper and threw down the bent and warped sign. She looked up at him with a pained expression and motioned to the hole in the floor. "You get one 'Get out of jail free card'. I suggest you use it and go!"

Faith strolled up to the newly formed hole in the floor and grinned. "Thanks, B!" She knelt down and worked to tear up the edges to make more room for the escape.

Ripper could see the torment in Buffy's expression and wanted so badly to fix it, wanted so desperately to speak but couldn't find the words. She was everything he could possibly want in his life and he had to leave her, abandon her like he had so many years ago. And what hurt worst of all, she was letting him.

A sudden shadowy movement behind Buffy drew Ripper's attention. He focused beyond her to the bathrooms and saw a trembling security guard peek out from behind the door. Just as he was going to make Faith aware of the conscious threat, he saw the officer raise his gun and take aim at Buffy. Without a thought, he reached behind his back and pulled out his gun as he raced to her. Buffy saw the weapon and instinctively went for it, clutching Ripper's wrist and squeezing until he released it as she heaved him forward and off balance, tripping him. A shot rang out from the security officer's gun and Ripper jolted, hunched forward and sank to his knees. Faith immediately went for the officer, quickly disarming him as Ethan hurried to his fallen friend. Buffy stood bewildered, panting to catch her breath, still holding Ripper's limp wrist and trying desperately to figure out what had happened in all the commotion. With a hint of an accepting grin, Ripper collapsed to the floor motionless.

"Ripper?" Ethan whispered apprehensively. He already recognized what had happen, what was going to happen. He was witnessing what Ripper had always known would come to be, the fateful end to the reunion of the Slayer and the Watcher that never was.

"No, Ripper, you can’t do this. Please..." Ethan knelt down beside him and timidly touched his clammy face.

Buffy released her hold on Ripper's wrist and watched his hand fall to the red splattered floor below, staring in disbelief at the events that had unfolded before her. She buckled to her knees, falling beside Ripper and saw the blood trickling from beneath his unmoving body. Buffy couldn't breathe as she watched it run along the creases in the tile toward her. 'What have I done?' she thought and bent over to take Ripper into her arms, cradling him as her eyes fell upon the wound. It was a clean shot, struck just off center mass with thick burgundy blood gurgling from the fatal injury.

"You can't die, Ripper, not after… after all..." Buffy choked on her words, too overcome with emotion to communicate.

He strained to look up at her, wanting a final glimpse of his beautiful Slayer. "I-I'm s-sorry..." Ripper coughed, struggling for breath as the wound sucked with each attempt.

Still in shock, Willow slowly walked up to the emotional exchange, not sure what she could or should do. She could tell the wound was fatal, she'd seen enough from her years as a Slayer sidekick to know the signs. All she could think to do was watch.

"You bloody bastard!" Ethan yelled, "You knew this would happen. You saw it and you still..." Ethan fell quiet, working to collect himself. He clear his throat and whispered, "Why didn't you heed the visions you stupid man?"

Buffy looked over at Ethan with tear-filled eyes. "He knew?" Buffy flashed back to Ripper's words, " ‘Cause I die in your arms."

"He didn't know how or where or when, but he knew the prophecy." Ethan gripped Ripper's trembling hand and gave it a squeeze. "Didn’t matter, he couldn't resist you. You were all he ever cared about."

"He can't die!" Faith rushed to Ripper's side, her face twisting in anguish at the sight of the wound. She had to turn away. Willow wanted to comfort her but knew Faith wouldn't have it; she was just as stubborn and proud as Buffy and to show any sign of weakness would hurt worse than burying it.

"I'll kill him!" Faith stormed over to the frantic security officer and started to beat him, punishing him. Willow ran to try and stop the attack but didn't want to get in the middle of a hysterical Slayer.

"Faith... no..." Ripper gasped and Buffy covered his lips with her fingers, gently persuading him to stay silent.

"Faith... stop!" Ethan barked and realized Faith was too caught up her vengeful rampage to care. She wanted blood. Ethan glanced down at Ripper's grimacing face and back at Faith's wild-eyed expression as she punched the now unconscious officer. He had to prevent her from killing the man. Ethan stumbled to his feet and rushed over to her, wrapping her within his arms. She fought at first, trying frantically to pull away and continue to take out her fury on the source of her suffering. But as Ethan's gentle yet urgent hand pinned her head to his chest, willing her to stop, the frenzied Slayer let loose and began to do something he'd never seen her do, cry. The sympathetic sorcerer held her tight, keeping her close as she sobbed, wanting her to know it was ok and he that understood.

"Slayer..." Ripper whispered breathlessly and Buffy looked down into his glistening eyes. "Buffy… thank you."

"Please no... don't do this." She shook him slightly as if to snap him out of it, pleading to him to hang on.

"B-Being with you w-was the only g-good thing I've ever... ever..."

He fell silent and Buffy watched in horror as Ripper's eyes rolled back and he sank in her arms, as if melting away.

"Help me!" Buffy screamed helplessly and Ethan and Faith hurried to her.

Ethan quickly waved a hand over Ripper's sickly features as he recited a spell. After repeating the spell over and over for a few fleeting minutes, he stopped and examined the lifeless face of his friend. Though it was temporary, Ethan was satisfied he'd given Ripper a momentary reprieve from death and he looked sadly at Buffy.

"He'll rest now. It will give us a bit more time but I'm afraid his injuries are too..."

"You've got to do something. Please," she begged the sorcerer and Faith looked over at him with the same hope.

"Isn't there a spell... magic... anything?" Faith pleaded.

Ethan bit his lip at the request. There was always something to be done but as with most balances in nature it was very risky and could cost dearly more than the individual was willing to pay. Besides, it would require another practitioner of magic.

"Why do you care? He's a stranger to you, Buffy," Ethan said harshly.

"I feel like I've known him forever, like he's a part of me," Buffy whimpered and caressed Ripper's softened features, delicately gliding her fingertip along his scar and down to his lips. “I know it doesn’t make any sense…”

Ethan could see the genuine affection in the Slayer's eyes and he sighed deeply, resignedly.

"He's had visions going on nineteen years now, glimpses of the future, of what should have been. His destiny was corrupted from its original path and he's made to suffer for it with haunting nightmares that would drive most men insane." Ethan delicately combed his fingers through Ripper's hair and smiled. "But not Rupert."

"Is that... is that his name?"

Ethan smirked at the childlike tone in the Slayer’s voice. She didn't even know who he was and she cared so much for him. He couldn't help but wonder what the couple could have made for themselves had Ripper's path been followed as intended. In one hand, Ethan lifted Ripper's hand and then took Buffy's hand in the other, bringing them together and folding them between his. "Buffy Summers, meet Rupert Giles."

Buffy let out a slight sob at the sound of Ripper's true name. It was so gentle and undemanding. She wished she could hear him say it, as if politely introducing himself on their first meeting.

"There is one enchantment, but it could prove to be deadly for you," Ethan spoke slowly to Buffy, hoping she would ignore his warning and demonstrate just how much she cared for Ripper.

"I'll do anything, just help him," she demanded.

"It requires two sorcerers and with Ripper down..."

" Willow! We need Willow!" Buffy looked up at her friend with pleading eyes.

Willow shook her head nervously. "I can't. I don't have the power."

"You don't know what you're capable of, luv. We might be able to work this..." Ethan's expression held hope that Willow couldn't deny.

"Please Will... I don't know what else to do. He's slipping away..."

"What's the price?" Willow asked solemnly; there was always a cost to such gifts.

"Whatever it takes, whatever the cost, he must live!" Buffy ordered, wiping the tears from her cheeks.

"The spell requires the transference of your Slayer healing and strength to him. It will leave you powerless, weakened... normal." Ethan watched for her reaction and saw no hesitancy in her agreement. "And it would be a permanent condition."

Willow shook her head, knowing Buffy couldn't pay that price. She had responsibilities, duties she had to perform and couldn't do them without the aid of her special skills.

"Do it," Buffy stared at Ripper with unwavering certainly.

"Buffy?" Willow gasped.

"Do it now!" She urged.

"Me too." Faith knelt down beside Buffy and stared determined at Ethan. "Maybe we'll have a better chance if both of us..."

"Faith... are you sure?" Ethan smirked, already knowing her answer.

"Never been as sure, boss."

"Then I'll go over the spell with Willow. It'll be a moment." The sorcerer stood up and led Willow away, leaving Ripper with the two resolute Slayers.

"Ripper loves you,” Faith mumbled faintly.

Buffy turned toward the uncompromising young Slayer and smiled kindly. "Thank you."

"If this doesn't work... I'm gonna kick your ass!"

Buffy snickered at the absurdity of the threat and Faith smiled at her response.

"The spell will only work if they really want it to," Ethan whispered.

"You know what this could mean? The end of the Slayer line here... the Hellmouth would be left wide open." Willow hated to be the barer of bad news but someone had to point out the dire consequences involved.

"With both of them, there might be a chance..."

"So we're placing all our hopes on chance? And what happens to the world if an apocalypse comes and we don't have any Slayers to stop it?"

Ethan glanced back at Ripper and looked back at the willful redhead. "I'm willing to risk that... for him."

Willow bit her lip with worry over the possibly atrocious outcomes this spell could have but her heart always fell on hope; a sliver of chance that she could help save Ripper's life.

"Let's do it." Willow smiled nervously and Ethan dipped down to kiss her sweetly.

They formed a circle around Ripper with Buffy and Faith on either side as Ethan sat at his head and Willow sat positioned at his feet. Ethan took the hands of the Slayers and placed them on Ripper's slowly rising chest and winked at Willow.

"You just have to concentrate on the wound, Willow. Imagine it closing... healing," Ethan explained.

"And us?" Buffy asked.

"Nothing. Just focus on Ripper and I'll do the rest." Ethan grinned and Faith nodded nervously.

The sorcerer started his incantation and Buffy couldn't care less. She ignored all things around her and focused on Ripper's lifeless features. All she wanted to see was his gentle smile and his stunning green eyes staring at her, watching her. She didn't care what became of their relationship. If he left, she'd deal as she always did but somehow just knowing he was alive would enable her to go on. The precious little time she'd spent with him was enough to make her realize what she was missing in her life. The world was a better place with him in it and if it meant letting him leave then she would make that sacrifice.

Buffy's mind began to blur and she could feel her body tingle under the spell being cast on her. She could feel her muscles fighting to resist the spell, straining to protect what was hers. With a deep breath, Buffy let go with her mind and felt as though if her spirit was torn from her. In a flash, everything went black.

Part 10...