Conversations Part 2

"Ripper's a handful luv; you better get that through that lovely thick skull of yours." Though he was trying to appear angry, Ethan's cocky grin didn't make him seem truly upset.

"Ethan? Why are you here?" Buffy's mind flashed back to the last time she'd seen Ethan, being taken away in handcuffs by the Initiative. How'd he escape?

"What do you think? Who else can keep Ripper from laying waste to the entire city?" He knelt beside a smoldering attendant and glanced at the charred remains, quickly catching himself from revisiting the snack he'd just eaten.

"Well…I'd say these gents are extra crispy." Ethan stood up a bit too fast for his stomach. "Since I won't be eating for…the …rest…of my life…" Ethan swallowed down the sour taste in his mouth, "Let's go get a pint!"

"I don't drink," Buffy said in a daze, collecting her bag and standing up slowly.

"You do now! Come on." He took her arm and guided her back down the hall, not allowing her linger too long at the corpses of the men that adorned the walkway. His hand tightened as she slowed her pace while passing the remains of the attendant she'd spoken to.

"I'm sorry," she mumbled.

Ethan tugged at her arm and forced her to continue past the gate. "Better place, luv. They've gone on to a better place. Can't say the same for us if we don't get out of here now!"

A team of heavily armed soldiers met the odd couple as they exited the third unattended gate.

"Rayne, building's in lock-down. You can't leave." A soldier ordered.

"Frankly my dear…I don't give a damn!" He rushed past the soldiers, pulling Buffy along like a confused child. He knew they had to get out quickly before the reality of what just took place sank in. Though the Watcher's Council looked like they had their act together, Ethan knew they'd been loosing their touch over the past few years. Ever since they'd lost control over the Slayer. Her absence had caused chaos with the organization; Ethan appreciated that.

Every person they past on the way seem too absorbed in their own panic to consider stopping the Slayer and sorcerer from leaving. Ethan smiled at his good fortune, loving the fact his unwelcome job with the Council just ended abruptly and now he had a date for supper. Once they reached the final heavily guarded door, Ethan's good fortune ended. Five armed guards blocked the exit and were questioning every person who stepped up to them.

"Hope you're not opposed to a spot of the dark stuff," he whispered into Buffy's ear.

"Ethan…don't!" She urged.

"Not going to kill anyone, luv. Just put 'em out for a while." Ethan tried to dissuade Buffy's worries with an overconfident wink that reminded her of Giles last taunt. In all the confusion of the crowd, she couldn't make out the phrase he muttered but it did the trick. Everyone in the room collapsed to the floor as if suddenly switched off. Ethan smiled at his accomplishment and took Buffy's hand, glancing into her disapproving eyes.

"You can scold me later. We have to leave now!" He rushed through the double doors, pulling Buffy with him.

"Where's your car?" Buffy searched for the tackiest hunk of junk she could find.

"Car? Um…no," he pointed to a matte black Ducati Monster 900 i.e. motorcycle.

Buffy couldn't help the surprising grin she felt spread across her lips. He offered her the matching full-faced helmet and smirked at her appreciation as he jumped on the bike.

"Sorry to mess up those golden locks, luv."

Buffy was taken back by his gentlemanly behavior. She didn't want to trust him but had no choice. Regardless of their initial reunion, he was trying to be helpful. Perhaps Giles escape was just that bad that even Ethan knew of the dangers ahead?

"Thank you," she mumbled under her breath, not really wanting him to hear her but insisting on being polite. An armored vehicle skidded up to the curb and Ethan pulled Buffy closer to him as she fitted the helmet over her head.

"Got to ride. We're getting to much company."

Buffy slid on the back of the bike and had to think for a moment where to put her hands.

"I know I disgust you but you may want to hold on, my dear." The engine roared to life.

She smirked at his self-defacing concern and hesitantly placed her hands on his sides. The bike jerked forward with a burst of speed and Buffy found her fingers digging into Ethan's ribs. She sighed a bit of relief when she looked back and saw they had gained distance without anyone following. Ethan tucked his fingers under her clenched digits, pulling her hand toward his midsection. Buffy felt a bit of embarrassment as she followed suit with her other hand; sometimes she forgot her own strength. They weaved in and out of traffic, Ethan expertly driving the bike through the narrow streets. A rush of adrenalin tickled down her arms and she felt impressed by Ethan's skill with the motorcycle.

They rode for twenty minutes and Buffy began to wonder what Ethan meant when he offered her a pint; this was a quite a distance to go for a beer. Her mistrust for him was boundless and she knew she should stay alert. The traffic thinned out as they drove down a country road and Buffy found her thoughts wandering back to Giles.

She had found it difficult to accept the stories of his actions until she'd witnessed it for herself. The spectacle of Giles brutal attack on the Council guards made Buffy realize just how different he'd become.

The memory of Xander's torment sparked in her mind. The gang was watching one of Xander's favorite horror films, snacking on popcorn and trying to settle back into routine with Willow's return. He was joking one minute and the next screaming in agony, pleading for his unseen assailant to stop. Willow and Buffy tried to hold his arms down, preventing him from hurting himself as he tore at his clothes. Dawn called 911 but felt helpless at describing what she was seeing to the dispatcher. Xander looked as if he was suffering excruciating pain, grasping wildly for a person that wasn't there. After five minutes, he lay quiet on the floor, trembling with shortened breaths. He didn't speak for two days after the incident. Finally with Willow's concerned urging, he admitted he'd seen a glimpse of his attacker, but he didn't want to believe whom he'd seen. Buffy didn't either.

"I saw h-his face. It c-couldn't be him," Xander stuttered at the recollection.

"Who was it? This might be happening to others and we can only help if we know who you saw." Willow urged. Xander looked miserably at Buffy and noticed his hands shaking with fear.

"It was…it was Giles," he choked with tears filling his hurt filled eyes. "W-Why would he do this. How?"

Buffy stared in shock at her overwhelmed friend.

Willow was speechless with the revelation but recognized how it was done. She'd dabbled with mental projected before during her battle with Buffy and remembered Giles discussing it with her in England. The young witch knew it was possible but only with short distances. Giles would have to possess unspeakable power to manage such a feat. After a brief discussion, they all decided to investigate other options. Xander didn't want to accept what he knew was the truth; Giles had viscously attacked him with dark magic without any provocation or apparent motive.

Buffy was reminded of the premonition she'd had earlier in the day of the attack. A flash of Giles smiling face, his eyes black with evil and the marks of dark magic altering the normally kind face of her Watcher. The prophetic dreams of that day still haunt her. If only she'd realized the reality of the situation, she may have been able to prevent it, to prevent the further deaths of thirteen men and women. They were innocent people who were murdered while attending the funeral of a fallen comrade. The story made Buffy sick.

Rumors began to spread in Sunnydale's demon underground that a new 'Big Bad' was emerging overseas. That's when the nightmares started.

The sun began to creep behind the horizon and the sky filled with an eerie orange glow. Buffy tried to see what time her watch said but her eyelids drooped with the longing for rest. Giving in to her exhaustion, Buffy's head fell forward and she nodded off to sleep with the helmet resting on Ethan's back. He felt the shift of weight and decided to pull over, no reason to chance an accident. As the bike came to a full stop, he reached out to prevent Buffy's limp body from sliding off the back. She woke up with his hand tucked behind him, cupping her butt; the only part he could reach to steady her. He never saw the blow that knocked him off the motorcycle.

Buffy took off the helmet and pointed a finger at the stunned man. "Watch the hands, buddy!" Buffy warned, sliding clumsily off the back of the bike.

Ethan smiled as a trickle of blood pooled in his mouth. "You've upgraded our relationship to buddies. I'm touched," he stood up and wiped his lip clean with a finger. "You may not want to believe this princess, but not every man is lining up to get under your skirt."

Buffy wobbled around a little, trying to get the feeling back in her legs. "You were touching my ass. It's a rule of mine to avoid letting evil sorcerers touch my ass."

"I was trying to stop you from…oh it doesn't matter." He waved a hand in defeat, too tired to argue. "Who says I'm evil? Maybe a bit fiendish…a touch immoral…devious, perhaps. Not evil. Ripper has a monopoly on that one, now." Once he saw the wounded look in Buffy's eyes, he wanted to take back his words.

"For what it's worth, I'm sorry," he walked over to her and took the helmet. "No more driving today. We can sleep under the stars or…um…" he scanned the area for a suitable spot for an overnight stay, noticing the limited choice of wooded landscape or open grassy field, "Under the stars it is!"

Buffy watched him guide the bike off the main road and down the slight incline of the shoulder. What had she gotten herself into? Her world was inside out, backwards from everything she was used to. She had to put all her trust in a former enemy in order to hunt down a former ally and friend. Buffy followed slowly behind Ethan. As she felt a tear trickle down her cheek, she let him gain some space in front of her.

Ethan could sense her unhappiness but knew she didn't want him to see her cry. She was the all-powerful Slayer and had to keep up appearances. The sorcerer considered how he'd managed to stumble into this odd situation, befriending the foe that had defeated him on more than one occasion. 'Bloody karma!'

The night air nipped at Buffy's nose and she tucked her face into the collar of her wool coat. She was grateful she'd dressed warm and comfortable, ready for action if necessary. A Slayer's duty seemed an endless array of hardships; at least she could be comfortably dressed for it. A crackling sound caught her attention and she repositioned herself to face Ethan, watching curiously as he poked at the meager campfire he'd managed to build.

"Magic again?" She asked, assuming he couldn't possibly have any real wilderness training. He was too much a city type. "Zippo, actually," he flipped the top of a silver Zippo lighter and snapped it closed. Buffy wondered why he had a lighter; she'd never seen him smoke.

"Thank you for getting me out of there. I kinda wigged, didn't I?" Buffy's eyes seemed shameful.

"Wigged? If that means what I think it means then yes…you did," Ethan sat down across from her, close to the fire. "Can't say I blame you. Seeing Ripper like that is enough to make anyone a bit radgey." He noticed Buffy shiver as a slight breeze came across the area. 'Should I continue to be the gentleman?' Ethan stood up and walked over to the resting motorcycle. He unzipped the small bag on the gas tank and dug through its contents.

"Do you know how it happened?" Buffy had to have an explanation.

"No, not really but I have my theories. The Council assumes he just woke up evil one day, I have my doubts." Ethan pulled out a black leather jacket and walked over to Buffy, offering it to her. "It's not much but it might help."

"Why are you being so…um…civil?" She let her face fall out from the protection of her collar and thankfully accepted the jacket.

"Seems to me like we need each other. No use wasting all our dislike on each other when we have such fun awaiting us with the new and improved Ripper." He returned to his original spot.

"Won't you be cold?" Buffy didn't want to seem so cold-hearted but hoped he wouldn't retract his offer.

"Naw…I'm used to sleeping outdoors. Not so close to nature as this lil' bit of heaven but I've plenty street experience."

"What do you think happened to Giles? When did you know?"

"Magic's a peculiar thing. It has it's own balance of weight and measures, you see." He smiled, almost chuckling to some unheard inside joke. Buffy noticed Ethan's eyes twinkle with excitement at the beginning words of his lesson. "With any action there's an equal reaction or some such nonsense. Tell me you've heard this, right?" He waited for her response and she nodded. "Well, magic has a bit of mystery to it. A sense of humor, if you will. That's why I love it so."

"Chaos," Buffy smirked, knowing he'd appreciate her description.

"Precisely. When you tempt fate with darkness, magic gives you light. Well, Rupert forgot that lil' snag with his self-sacrificing drama played out in Sunnydale the night little miss red witch was hell bent on destroying those naughty nerds." "You lost me." She was curious how Ethan knew about the dark Willow incident but remembered he was helping the Council. They must have records of the incident.

Ethan moved a bit closer towards her, eager for her to understand. "Rip…um, Giles predicted the good natured magicks he borrowed would do the job of quieting your friend Willow and also expected to sacrifice himself in the act of saving her."

Buffy nodded, suddenly aware that had Giles died that night, all this recent death and destruction may not have happened.

"Precisely!" Ethan smiled.

Buffy's eyes filled with confusion and concern, "Precisely what?"

"What you just thought. The whimsical balance of magic had to be upheld. Giles didn't die therefore a suitable substitution had to exist."

"Hold on a minute…you read my thoughts…my mind?" Buffy suddenly felt uncomfortable.

"Um…yes, catch up!" He said it so matter-of-factly Buffy had to replay the conversation in her mind, seeing if she'd missed something. Ethan's impatience overtook him, "Yes, I can read your thoughts. Ripper has read your thoughts and will continue to do so. Trouble is…I can't read his and I can only read yours while you're close to me."

"I don't think I like this arrangement."

"I gathered that. Can we focus on the task at hand, please?" Ethan smiled reassuringly. "I'll try not to intrude on your more personal thoughts."

Buffy stood up and threw him the leather jacket. "How far?"

"Pardon?" Ethan knew what she was asking but didn't want to admit his limits.

"How far?" She repeated impatiently.

"About thirty feet," he mumbled.

Buffy quickly estimated the distance and took her new position under a small tree. "Stay there. I'm a light sleeper. You make any moves and you'll have a matching black eye for that split lip."

"Sunnydale Charm School at its best." Ethan wrapped the jacket around him and settled back by the fire. This would make for an interesting adventure if they both survived.

"Buffy, have you found it yet?" Giles yelled.

"Just about…one more to go." She responded. Finally she found the book they had been searching for. A small, red, leather bound book with odd etchings carved into the cover and gold leaf border running around the spine. She couldn't read the strange print title so she knew it was another job for her super bookman.

"Got it…I think." She walked into his library office and hopped up on his desk. "Is this the little critter?"

Giles slipped his glasses back on and nodded contentedly, "Yes, that would be the one. Thank you. Good work. I think you're getting better at this."

"Don't get your hopes up, Willow's still the queen of research. I'm just the princess of pain!" Buffy crossed her legs and noticed Giles eyes glancing at her uncovered legs. "What? Do I have a run?"

"Pardon?" Giles blinked, bringing himself back from the sudden daze he'd fallen into.

Buffy jumped off the desk and examined her legs. "My nylons…do I have a run or something?"

"A r-run? Um…no, I don't think I see one. Why?" His face flushed and she watched him shuffle clumsily around the other side of his desk to exit his office.

"You were looking…um…never mind." She suddenly realized he'd been checking her out. Her Watcher had ogled her exposed legs. Her Giles. This revelation quickly followed with another, she wasn't upset. A matter of fact, she was intrigued. Watching Giles busy himself with other texts spread out on the main table, Buffy walked up behind him and tapped him on the shoulder. He whipped around and Buffy gasped as his eyes blackened and web-like veins distorted his face.

"Miss me, love?"

Buffy jerked awake, sweat pouring down her forehead. It was another nightmare; she'd thought she'd be growing accustomed to them by now. Taking a few deep-calming breaths, she looked around to see if Ethan kept his distance. Surprisingly, he lay in the same spot she last saw him. She went to stand up and felt something slide off her shoulders to the ground. Glancing down to see what it was, she smiled as she recognized the item. It was Ethan's leather jacket.

Part 3...