"I thought I'd find you here."
Buffy reacted unconsciously, swiveled fast to attack with a fury of quick punches and jabs. None connected as the unexpected visitor cowardly retreated from her, defending himself with his waving hands.
She paused to acknowledge whom she was assaulting. It took a moment for her to recognize him, his thinning face now adorned by a carefully groomed, silver peppered goatee, a few more distinguished creases than she'd remembered, and a diamond stud earring. But those eyes were so familiar, shady as a shark's stare, and the skin on the back of her neck sizzled by the mere memory of his handiwork.
"I'm not here to fight."
"To bad, I am." She stormed forward, raising her stake. He quickly sidestepped behind a nearby tombstone, hindering her advance by keeping the large barrier between the agitated Slayer and him.
"I'm apt to disappoint," He suggested with a shrug, dancing opposite of Buffy as she tried to come around from the other direction.
She stopped, holding the stake at the ready, waiting to strike. After a moment, she sent her boot to the obstacle and the oversized ornamental gravestone splintered and crumbled to the grassy earth.
"Bet the grounds keeper just loves you." Ethan quickly dodged another few strikes and managed to root himself behind another obstruction. "I could keep this up all evening if necessary. Wouldn't you rather give me a chance to explain before jumping to any conclusions?"
"No." She strafed left and he dodged right, she strafed right and he moved left; she was quickly losing interest.
He smiled playfully as he danced behind the neighboring tree, obviously amused at the cat and mouse game with the Slayer. "Persistent little bugger, aren't you?"
"You have no idea!" She charged again only to be thwarted by the sorcerer's spry retreat. "Fine... are you here to in any way shape or form cause miscellaneous mayhem, mischief, misery, or any other words starting with the rest of the letters of the alphabet that lead to your usual badness?"
Ethan considered for a moment. "Could you repeat the question?" He flashed a toothy smile and Buffy lunged halfheartedly toward him. Ethan raised his hands again in defense.
"I believe that would be a negative." He braved a few steps out from behind his shield with displayed palms. "But then again, you may have lost me at mischief." He nodded with a glance to her wooden stake. "You won't need that."
"I'm not so sure," she grumbled, marching threateningly towards him. "He's not here, Rayne."
Ethan stood his ground. "I managed to figure that one out on my own when I checked in at the old flat and found a Hispanic family happily residing there. Lovely folks; didn't speak a word of English. Convinced I was either INS or a Satanist, bless their illegal hearts."
“Easy mistake with your MIB style outfit there.” Buffy stopped, head tilted curiously askew. "You should be locked away in some Initiative facility."
"I should, shouldn't I?"
"They let you go?"
"Let me go? Not as such. I slipped away into the night, as it were. Probably don't even know I'm gone."
"Maybe I should give them a jingle and tip them off to your location."
"Now why would you want to do such a rude thing as that?" He tried his best to appear at ease.
"Because you're evil."
"Am I? That's news to me. And here I thought I was charmingly eccentric."
"You don't seem particularly worried about the Initiative."
"Do what you will. I don't think they'd bother with me. Have their own troubles at the moment with government budget cuts and international supernatural espionage. They might even want to recruit my services. I'm well known in most mystical circles and quite the bargain, I might add."
"Economical freelance anarchy and pandemonium, good to know. So why are you here?" She asked, growing impatient.
Ethan pondered the question with a good-humored smile. "Isn't it obvious? I missed you, Buffy. We've never really had the chance to get to know each other and I thought..."
Buffy turned and walked away. Ethan hurried along to catch up with her.
"That wasn't very civil."
"Let's see how civil you think I am with my fist up your a..."
"For shame...you kiss your mother with that mouth?"
Buffy stopped cold, ready to tear into Ethan but chose instead a wounded glance. He had no way of knowing and she really didn't feel like sharing.
"I have work to do. Slayer, remember?" She gestured threateningly with her stake and scanned the horizon of tombstones, hoping for a dark, creeping figure somewhere in the shadows, anything that could distract her from her current exasperating company.
"Ah yes, must have slipped my mind." He chuckled weakly as he took a quick glance around. "Seems rather uneventful. Is it always this quiet?"
"You sound disappointed."
"Not one for polite conversation."
"Fine, then I will entertain myself."
"Can you do that somewhere else? I'd hate to see what a depraved bastard like you does for entertainment."
"And now I'm depraved, am I? What on earth has given you such a loathsome impression of me?"
"Cursed Halloween costumes, raising dangerous demons, enchanted candy bars, Fyarl demons... ring any bells?"
Ethan's midnight eyes twinkled as he let out a prolonged sighed. "Good times."
Buffy couldn't believe his satisfaction at the recollection. "Yeah, you're a real peach of a guy. Go away before my staking hand gets itchy."
"You are… um… bleeding, you know." He winced; gesturing to her forehead as a thin trickle of red appeared, trailing a path over her brow and down her cheek.
"It's nothing. Lucky strike by a newbie dirt-napper." She shrugged. "Just another happy, peppy, perk of the Slayer gig."
He dipped within his pocket and removed a handkerchief, flagging it toward her but careful to keep his distance. "Would you like to…um..."
"I’ll get it later."
"I’d rather not look at it," He said, grimacing.
"Yeah, well then here’s a thought, leave."
"Oh, bloody hell!" He moved to her, carefully dabbing the fabric to her wound. "Must you be so irrepressibly stubborn?" He curled a wisp of ruby stained blonde back behind her ear and inspected the injury with a critical eye. "It's not so bad," he said softly as he tended to the cut. "Not deep enough to warrant a visit to a hospital or diminish that pretty little face. Besides, Slayers have that whole… healing... thing... oh..."
She looked up at him; dumbfounded by his audacity. After a moment, his hands froze and eyes locked on hers, suddenly uncertain.
"What do you think you're doing?"
"Haven't a clue, really."
"I suggest you back off."
Ethan felt a poke below his waist and glanced down to see a wooden stake positioned at his groin, the sharpened tip puncturing the threads if his slacks zipper and ready to plunge. His gaze retuned to hers.
"Is that a stake in your hand or are you just happy to see me?"
"Come any closer and you'll find out."
He couldn’t help but smile as he daintily draped the bloodied handkerchief over the weapon and stepped back.
"You really don’t like me, do you?"
"What finally clued you in, the seething hatred or the gut churning revulsion?"
"You know, the only difference between me and that Watcher of yours, is you."
"And a conscience, and taste, and ethics…"
"Now that’s just unfair. I happen to think Rupert has impeccable taste… particularly in fashion. I mean tweed… simply dashing." Buffy’s lips curled to an apprehensive smile. He didn't recall ever seeing that before and wanted to see it again.
"There… now was that so hard?"
"Go away, Ethan." And in a flash, all symptoms of happiness were gone.
"Come now, if I didn't know any better, I'd assume you wanted to be alone?"
"You’re a quick one Sherlock. Bonus round will win you a one-way ticket back behind bars. Care to push your luck?"
"Alright, seeing as how I could have received a warmer reception from a demonic mime convention, I’ll leave you to your self absorbed brooding if you would tell me where your old man has wandered off too?"
"Like I'd tell you."
"I rather hoped you would. An old associate from our untamed youth has left him something in his passing and I'd like to be rid of it."
"He doesn't want anything from you."
"Think I should be the judge of that. Is he visiting with the Council? Lovely lady Olivia pop back into town for a quickie and he's dusted off the trusty old 'do not disturb' sign?"
"I don’t know."
“Don't know or don't want to know?” Ethan said with a raised brow. He let out a flustered sigh, removed an envelope from his coat pocket and held it out to her. “Fine, have it your way. I'll leave it with you and you can pass it along if you ever get around to seeing him again. Be a dear and do try and arrange your schedule to get this to him before he's buried here. “
"I don't know where he is."
"Lost him again, have you?"
"Yeah, I did," she mumbled under her breath. Ethan considered the long face of the young lady moping before him and realized what she’d meant.
"He's left you, hasn't he?" he asked, his head slightly crooked, expression uncharacteristically empathetic. When she didn't answer, he returned the envelope to his pocket and folded his arms.
Buffy angrily kicked the toe of her boot to the cracking edge of the nearest tombstone, lips pursed to a full on pout. "It’s none of your business."
"None of my business? I happen to know the prat, quite well, mind you. It’s become somewhat of a tiresome tendency of his to run off on the ones he cares about. Ripper's up and left you."
"His name is Giles," she corrected.
"Like it matters, he's a bloody git, for all I care. He's gone, hasn't he? "
The sorcerer grinned, somehow feeling vindicated by the news. "So now we have that much in common."
"What do you mean?" Her eyes lifted to meet his.
"He left me as well. Only he left me for you, so you can imagine my opinion on the entire Watcher/Slayer dynamic. And you wondered why I made life interesting for you Sunnydale folks."
"I figured he left after you two killed that guy."
"Randall? No, though that did put quite the strain on our relationship, as you could imagine. Rip... Rupert left a while after, when things became more... shall we say, complicated." Ethan smiled musingly then his expression turned somber. "It was bound to happen."
"Was it? Well, I didn't see it coming."
"Then you're just as much a blind fool as I was."
"Guess you have me pegged."
Ethan examined the young woman's expression carefully. Buffy stared vacantly at the stake fumbling pointlessly in her hand, her face apathetic and pale. He could tell she'd not seen the sun for quite some time her glow was gone. He remembered she seemed to glow, as if carrying the sunlight with her into night. But that had vanished and now the darkness was creeping in on her. But what bothered him most was she was lacking the confidence he remembered from before. There was no determination or fire. She was barely a shell of the girl he'd once tormented so mischievously and he wanted to know how she got that way.
"So little argument, I'd expect more disagreement from the mighty Slayer."
"Guess I'm not quite myself these days."
"I can see that. What's happened then? Date fell through for the dance? Hairstylist skipped town? That pesky white stain on your dress again?"
"You know what? I'm suddenly in the mood for some stake." She raised the weapon and advanced on him. Ethan lifted his hands defensively once more, putting a shorter tombstone between them as he stepped back.
"The concept of humor is entirely wasted on you, isn't it?"
"Humor? Is that what you were going for?" Buffy grumbled and lowered her weapon but still unwilling to disarm.
"Care to talk about it?" He returned his hands to his pockets.
"Yeah, right," Buffy chuckled. "Like you care what's going on, anyway."
"Why wouldn't I?"
"Because you're a self-serving, egotistical menace to society who takes pleasure in other people's misfortune."
"Guilty as charged. But despite the monster your Watcher prefers to think I am, I' m am simple man, Buffy. What you see is what you get. I make no excuses for my actions and seldom offer apologies. In short, I wouldn't ask had I not cared."
Buffy stared narrowly at the sorcerer as he waited then rolled her eyes in frustration.
"Fine... okay, I give. You want the highlight reel, here it is. Mom died last year, leaving me with a houseful of debt and a rebellious teenage sister to baby-sit who could be taken from me any day for neglect. My best friend is self-destructing on magicks. My other best friend throws his life away on an iffy relationship to an ex-vengeance demon, which is a million times more likely to blossom into true love than any of the relationships I ever attempt. I've started a secret, twisted sick affair with yet another vampire, but lacking a soul this time just to make things really interesting. And, oh yeah, I died only to be brought back as an emotional cripple and, for lack of a better term, wrong, torn from heaven and sent back to this softer side of hell. But the real icing on the cake, just when I'm on the verge of giving up, just when I needed him the most, Giles up and leaves. Not so much as a phone call or a letter since his flight home." Buffy drooped back, sitting down on a tombstone and Ethan could see the weight of responsibility bearing down on her.
"There it is, in all its gory detail. So is that reason enough for me to be a bit off? Make you feel better knowing the mighty Slayer soiled her good name and is struggling to make ends meet flipping burgers at the local zit farm?" She shook her head, jaw clenched, fighting back the tears shimmering in corners of her eyes. "So do your worst, Rayne. Turn me into a Fyarl demon or curse me back to infancy or something because nothing you do can possibly make things any worse then they are right now."
Ethan stared at her for a long moment, his arms crossed and face wrought with disappointment. "What are you doing?"
Buffy shot him a defiant glare. "What do you mean what am I doing? What are you doing?"
"Trying to understand."
"What is there for *you* to understand? I don't need your understanding." Buffy shook her head in disgust. "Why am I even talking to you?"
"Because you need to talk to someone and apparently there's no one else here to do it." Ethan moved in closer, leaning forward with his elbows resting against the tombstone positioned opposite her. "From what I gather, you are in dire need of an evening off."
She let out a frustrated snicker. "No can do. The Chosen One doesn't get vacations. Not anymore, now that she's alone girl with no backup except a lovesick vampire with a fondness for bondage."
"Pity. So your life is become rather sobering at the moment. Go on holiday."
"You're not listening, I can't 'go on holiday'," she repeated in a mock British tone.
"And why not?"
"Because Hellmouthy bad things run amok if I'm not out here."
"Ah, but bad things run amok regardless. What makes you think your presence prevents bad things from happening?"
"Thanks for the pep talk coach." Buffy displayed her stake and gave it a jiggle. "*This* prevents bad things from happening?"
"Does it really? From the rather bleak list you just ran off to me, those bad things seem to wiggle there way into your life with or without your handy little weapon there."
"That's different. There are consequences if I don't patrol."
"Consequences are for Catholics."
"Isn't it though? You should try it sometime."
"I have to consider the consequences. If I don't, someone dies."
"What do you mean?"
"Simply that your actions, as outwardly correct and just as they seem to be, may have their own set of consequences."
"Wuh-huh... are you talking in puzzles or am I stoned?"
"I'd wager you've never been stoned in your restricted little life."
"Hey... I can cut loose with the best of 'em. But if you mean fall down, dribbling on myself, snacking on kitty litter stoned. You'd be right."
"How about mind expanding, mood transforming, life altering stoned?"
"Nope but sign me up. I could use some life alteration right about now, a little nip and tuck to tailor the pressure right out of it."
"Ah yes... I've heard this song before," he said with a smug grin. "I hear a plea for release."
“Only from irritating sorcerers,” she grumbled then raised a brow, curious. "Depends on your idea of release."
"A touch of Chaos, perhaps?" There was that darn twinkle again but now fortified with a roguish grin.
"I'll pass. I've seen your Chaos crap before."
"You've never experience true Chaos." It was an outright challenge and he knew it.
"Something tells me I don't want to. Besides, it's dark and therefore evil. Not of the good."
"Who's filled your mind with such rot? Rupert's poisoned you to it, hasn't he?"
"He's right, isn't he? Your magicks are dangerous."
"Can be to those unpracticed in it. Chaos has a balance of sorts, as all things do."
"Are you going to spout off equations and scientific facts like that guy in the dinosaur movie, trying to win me over to your alternative lifestyle?"
"That would be Chaos theory, darling. True Chaos cannot be defined or dissected. It's untamable... wild. It is what it is; beautiful in its convolution and magnificent in its simplicity." His face lit up as he described it, eyes sparkling as if charged by the magicks he spoke so fondly of. The faint lines of age seemed to melt away, leaving him with a certain boyish charm. It was the first time she'd seen the charisma there, the lure of the man her Watcher once called friend and perhaps more. That thought sent her crashing back to the curious nymph of a man suddenly intriguing her.
"You two wanna room?" Buffy rolled her eyes. "You make it sound kinky, like Chaos is your lover or something."
"It is in a sense, just as much a mystery and delightfully unpredictable."
"Alright Chaos man, thrill me." Buffy crossed her arms doubtingly.
"If it's so wondiferous, show me something."
"What... just like that? A snap of your fingers and I am to perform at your beck and call?" Ethan asked, feigning offense while he was dying to show off his skills. "I think not, Slayer."
"Knew it... you got nothin'!" She snorted snidely.
"Nothing?" Ethan barked, straightening up.
"All this waxing poetic over Chaos bit, it's all just smoke and mirrors. No real power there."
"Are you actually trying to goad me into this?" He could see that sparkle of confidence in her haughty smile. He liked it.
"You aren't going to sell me on your so-called Chaos without a demonstration."
"So-called Chaos?" Ethan chuckled. "Perhaps I don't feel the urgent need to convert you over to my way of thinking, my skeptical friend."
"Friend? Let's not say things we can't take back."
"And why couldn't we be friends?"
"A little something having to do with your multiple attempts to kill my Watcher and my friends, as well as me."
"I never threatened your lives."
"You threatened the hell outta our lives."
"I'll admit I did cause a bit of a mess here and there... but never intended any harm. Had I wanted any of you dead, you would be, I assure you."
"That's very reassuring."
"Look, let's not quibble over petty terms here. You wanted a taste of Chaos."
"Without so much mess, if you will."
Ethan removed his raincoat and draped it carefully over a nearby tombstone then unbuttoned his cuffs and proceeded to roll up the sleeves of his silken charcoal grey shirt. "You see, Chaos is a sort of jester, making light of things profound while providing the wielder answers within its riddles."
As he finished rolling up, Buffy could see the scar left from his self-mutilation years before. She wondered if it still ached as hers did.
"The trick is to know the correct questions. If you ask wrong you will receive your just rewards in the most unexpected way."
Buffy raised a mistrustful brow. "Do you actually know what you're doing?"
"Oh yes. These magicks require a confident mage."
"Or a sadistic madman."
"That's for you to decide."
"Would it be a mood killer to know I've already made up my mind?"
"Not in the least." He smiled. "Close your eyes."
"I'm thinking not."
"Please, only for a moment." He waited expectantly. "You know as well as I you could dispatch me with a simple flick of your brutal wrist so just this once..."
"Try anything and I won't hesitate to kill you."
"Charming as ever. Close your eyes."
She followed his direction, keeping a tightened grip on her stake and taking a few peeks as he settled cross-legged to the grass, resting his elbows to his knees and palms facing toward the stars.
"What are you doing?"
Ethan's eyes opened, casting an annoyed glance her way. "No peeking."
"I don't trust you."
"As any clever Slayer should." He offered a patient smile and reached behind him, snagging his coat off the tombstone. "Well, if you're not going to follow my directions, you can at least help me." He carefully laid out the coat on the ground and gestured to it. "Sit."
"Is that an order?" Buffy objected.
"A polite, gentlemanly request. Please sit." Ethan reached out, offering her a helping hand to take the position before him. She didn't move. "Do you want this display of Chaos magicks or not?"
"Fine, but no funny business." She ignored the offered hand and took a seat on his jacket. She crossed her arms, still keeping a solid grip on her weapon. "So what are you doing? Turning me into a horny toad?"
"Hmmm... I don't care much for the toad suggestion but the horny intrigues me."
She responded only with a blasé stare.
"Right then. Let's get down to it, shall we?" He said with a sly smile and began to reposition himself to give her more space. After a moment of shifting, he settled his hands again on his knees and refocused on steadying his breathing.
"I don't get it? How is this helping?" Buffy asked glancing around to see that there weren't any unexpected intruders.
"See the rose in that small vase behind you?"
"Bring it here."
"Stealing flowers off a grave? You never cease to amaze me with the depth of your despicableness."
"Oh, but smashing the resident's headstones to rubble is such the enlightened act of a true saint." He snapped his fingers as if to encourage her to fulfill his demands. "It's not as though the poor sod is going to miss it anyhow. Besides, it's for a good cause. If you will..."
After a long, hard, seething glare, she followed his instructions and retrieved the flower, tossing it to him, watching gleefully as it bounced off his nose and fell to the coat below.
"The pinnacle of maturity," he sighed. "Give me your hand."
"Using it at the moment." She wiggled the stake.
"Then give me your other hand." Ethan rolled his eyes, annoyed. She apprehensively did as he asked and he placed the rose within her open palm. "Now watch the rose."
"Why, what's it gonna do?"
"Must you be so inquisitive?"
"I just want to know what I'm getting myself into."
"Isn't the thrill of not knowing part of the fun?"
"Not in my line of work. Toad me, already."
"No toads. I'll get back to you on the horny." He winked. "Just watch the rose."
Ethan closed his eyes and began to chant. Though she tried to listen, the words were barely audible and Buffy knew she wouldn't understand them anyway. The sorcerer worked to cast his mysterious spell, decorative phrases filling the night air. Watching him, she was fascinated by his concentration, to be able to lock out the world and hide within himself. She was envious. After a few minutes, he fell silent, face sparkling with sweat and strain. Buffy's gaze returned to the rose and it suddenly seemed different to her. It was changing, transforming into a crystal representation of a rose. And with its transformation, Ethan's eyes opened and he smiled, satisfied.
"For you... my dear." He panted.
"Okay, it's pretty, I'll give you that."
"I'm not referring to that little bauble."
"What then?" She didn't notice anything else different. "I don't see anything."
"Probably because there's nothing to see."
"I don't get it? What'd you do?"
"I've stopped the world for you," he said in a crooning tone and the odd phrase sent a shiver up her spine. If she didn't know any better, Buffy would have thought it romantic.
"Really... seems okay to me." She could see clouds moving across the moon, grass shifting in the breeze, her watch still ticking. "Nothing's stopped."
"Perhaps stopped isn't a particularly accurate choice, more like stalled." He stood and reached out his hand, drifting it along some unseen barrier. As his fingers made contact, the touch triggered a ripple in the space and warped the view of reality like some disturbed puddle of landscape. "We are contained within static bound space cemented by time. The rest of the world is going on but we are separate and apart from it, safe within the embrace of vacuity."
"Not getting the payoff."
A dark figure caught Buffy's eye and Ethan watched as her attention shifted instinctively towards it. As the figure approached closer, crossing the expanse of the cemetery, Buffy could see the recognizable yellow glow of a vampire's eyes. She jumped to her feet.
"You can call out to him if you like. Attempt to bring him to us. It won't matter, we are immaterial to him."
She prepared to charge when the vampire unexpectedly changed directions and headed straight for them. Buffy raised her stake, ready to dust the trespassing demon and not at all hiding the threat. He seemed oblivious to her and continued to march, passing right between her and Ethan. As he crossed the barrier, the invisible walls began to shimmer with waves of distortion. Buffy froze, stunned.
"What is this?" She gawked confused at the rippling atmosphere surrounding them, stake gripped firmly in one hand and the crystal rose in the other.
"It's your release, Buffy," Ethan explained patiently as he moved closer and with great caution, took the weapon from her and dropped it to the ground.
"I don't exist anymore?" She asked it with what Ethan could only discern as hope in her mystified gaze.
"Is that what you wanted?" The sorcerer's eyes went wide. "To cease to exist?"
"No... Maybe... I just... I guess I don't know what I want." She returned to sitting on the coat covered ground, slumping forward, with her elbow on her knee and her face propped up in her hand, radiating disappointment as she examined the enchanted rose.
Suddenly, all the pieces fell into place and it made some strange sense to Ethan. "Is that why you go to him?"
"Your vampire." Ethan almost regretted asking. "You go to him in hopes he would return you to your grave... to heaven?"
"I don't know why I go to him." She thought for a moment. "He said I belonged in the dark. That I belong with him."
"You work in darkness but you don't belong there. And correct me if I'm wrong but you are a Vampire Slayer which doesn't lend itself well to carrying on relationships with the nasty buggers."
"He's the only one that makes me feel something," she said softly, staring in a daze at the rose. "When he touches me..." her voice carried off into nothing until she realized who she'd been rambling on with. "Oh my God... why am I telling you this?" She jumped to her feet and shook her head to clear her daze.
"You think those feelings you have with him are the only feelings you're capable of. But you're wrong. The others, your friends, are moving on and living their lives, experiencing life. And you're so busy making sure your sister has a life that you don't have one yourself." Ethan shook his head sympathetically. He moved in closer to her, feeling the sudden urge to take her into his arms but knowing she would never allow such compassion from the likes of him. "You crave life, Buffy. You seek to remember what it was to simply be. And no matter what your vampire tells you, you will never recapture life by lying with death."
Buffy took a few steps and felt her arm catch. She turned back to see Ethan holding her back. "We're done, here. I need to patrol..."
"You exist, Buffy. That doesn't change." Ethan's grip loosened. "Think of it as an invisible box surrounding us. We can interact with people and things outside and they can interact with us. But what happens within the box exists only to us."
Ethan was surprised at her failure to grasp the gift he'd given her. "There are no consequences in here, Buffy. No bills, no family, no friends, no stress. We left that out there." He gestured out to the tombstone-speckled landscape. "You can do anything you want here and it doesn't matter. You are free from the binds of your duty, free from your destiny while in here. If you want to dance, dance and the bent blades of grass won't remember your steps. You want to sing, your voice will evaporate within the wind beyond the mystical walls. You want to scream, scream and no one will hear you."
"Okay, now I'm getting a whole Slasher flick vibe and not seeing an up side." She said flatly.
"This is your reprieve from life."
"So, what if I want it to stop... I mean start... I mean... what if I want my actions to count."
Ethan reached out and lifted Buffy's hand up, curling her fingers to cup the crystalline rose she held protectively. He remained there for a moment, her seemingly delicate hand sandwiched between his.
“At any time you want the world back, simply take this rose and hide it away.”
"Put it away?" She snickered skeptically. "Okay, so that covers me, but what about you?"
“Actually, my fate rests in your hands as well. Since we were both present with the casting of the spell, we were both initially affected. But once I step beyond the boundary, everything renews itself. All that I've experienced in here evaporates and I can never return.”
"You wouldn't remember anything?"
"Not a thing." He smiled. "You could cast me out of the garden at this very moment if you wished."
"Okay, I'll bite. So say I kicked your ass outta here. What happens to me?"
"As long as the rose is intact and you hold it, you can remain in box, enjoying the comfort and shelter it provides. However, when it leaves your possession, though you will remember what's happened within, you won't be able to return to the box until you hold the rose again. And if for whatever reason you ever wish to vanquish the box entirely, to erase it and all the memories guarded within, destroy the rose and it will be as though it never happened for you."
"My very own, portable Fortress of Solitude."
"A rather drab description for it but yes, I would have to agree."
"What can I do in this mystical box?" She asked sarcastically.
"Whatever you like. If you could do anything, what would it be?"
"I don't know."
Ethan couldn't help feeling his presence was making her hold back. He stood up and straightened the wrinkle creasing his shirt. "Perhaps I should leave..."
“Wait…” She said anxiously then quickly covered with an indifferent shrug. “Naw... be kinda lonely in here, then.”
“That was my thought as well.” He smiled at her forged apathy. “You can do whatever you like or nothing at all. What do you enjoy?”
“I don’t remember.”
“You’ve forgotten the little wonders that make life bearable, Slayer.”
“Yeah… guess I can’t exactly argue with that.” She fidgeted with the crystal rose in her hand.
“I don't get the sense you believe in all this.”
"Probably 'cause I don't."
Ethan considered the strange turn of events that had led him to that moment, sharing vacant space with the fading Slayer. It had to mean something, had to amount to something, at least for her. "Shall I prove it to you?"
"Why not? Take your best shot."
"Alright, close your eyes."
"Close my eyes again? What's with you and temporary blindness?"
"Only for one moment more."
"What are you gonna do?"
He guided her to return to sitting on the coat and he took his place opposite her only this time sitting quite a bit closer, his knees crossed and touching hers. Buffy wanted to recoil but didn't want to give him the satisfaction of having affected her so she sat her ground knowing that her stake was ready for her if she needed it. A whiff of cologne tickled across her nose as Ethan took in a slow, cleansing breath. There was a hint of sweat entangled in the scent and for some reason it was nice, familiar. She was curious how he'd prove himself to her and decided she would do as he asked and closed her eyes. What came next was beyond her comprehension.
Lips, supple yet undaunted, were pressing gently to hers and she was bewildered by the unbelievable intrusion.
"What are you doing?" She muttered, tasting the tang of tea and scotch on his breath and unable to pull herself away.
"I believe it's referred to in most circles as kissing."
Masculine fingers brushed along her cheek, slowly coming to rest pinching the curve of her chin, both holding her still as he kissed her and encouraging her to open her mouth to him. She didn't move, couldn't move as she was spellbound by his intimate actions. He couldn't possibly think she'd go along with this. After all, this was Ethan Rayne, Chaos sorcerer and underachieving miscreant and she was the Slayer. Yet she was inexplicably affected by his tender touch and something deep within her sighed.
Buffy pulled back. "I know *what* it is. Why are you doing it to me?"
"Tell me what you're feeling?"
"Repulsion." Nothing could be further from the truth as her heart pounded in her chest and her breathing quickened.
"Then why can I feel excited pimples along your skin, the heat of invigorated flesh, the breath of expectation and the taste of curiosity."
"You love the sound of your own voice, don't you?" She said spitefully. "I feel all those things with Spike."
"Ah... but do you feel this?" He leaned forward, capturing her mouth again in a searing kiss. It was so different, warm and welcoming and so utterly... fantastically human. It was nothing like the tepid touch of a vampire, so unnatural and dark. The almost forgotten feel of living male flesh to her remembering lips awoke something in her. Ethan's mouth was slow, leisurely savoring her lips and in no rush to move on and conquer more of her. There was no fury there, no demonic roar demanding satisfaction. All that she felt was the simple desire to share the human sensation of life. Her heartbeat, her breath, all reacting to the prying man kissing her and for the first time since her resurrection she felt the humanity being stirred within her. Unlike what Spike claimed, this wasn't darkness she was feeling it was inspiration.
"What are you doing?" She could barely speak.
"I'm giving you the proof you want. Giving you what you need." He spoke smoothly along her lips, sending tingles up her spine. His other hand made its presence known, crawling mischievously along her thigh.
"You aren't what I need." She found one hand pushing him away as the other gripped his wrist, trapping him to her.
Suckling the curves of her lips, he boldly explored the space between with the tip of his sensual tongue and whispered, "Then stop me..."
"I will..." she could feel him smile against her as he continued kissing her, trying to persuade her into joining in.
Regardless of what her body wanted, Buffy's mind ran through the only logical conclusion; she was the Slayer and this dark sorcerer infringing on her was her enemy. But it felt so good, the rhythm of the blood he sent pumping through her and feeling the echo of it in Ethan's wrist, his pulse quickening with his efforts to steal another kiss. In the end, he was evil and beneath her, but she couldn't resist the craving to feel him beneath her, moaning out her name.
"I'm waiting..." Another kiss chiseled away at her resolve with its unexpected tenderness.
Her hold on his wrist tightened and she opened her eyes wide, staring at his softened obsidian gaze. "Don't make me hurt you?"
"Please do." His words seemed to breathe life back into her as his fingers roamed further between her thighs. "I like it rough."
"I don't want this." She whispered, trying to make her body believe it.
"Oh, but you do. You want an escape."
"Not like this."
"Just like this."
His body inched toward hers. She could feel the natural heat between them as his hands gripped firm on either side of her shoulders and began to lower her back to the ground. She hadn't realized her secure grip on his belt until he was tugged into following her down. The glint of a smug smile crossing his lips made her angry.
"I hate you."
"You hate to want me." His hand slipped behind her head, cradling her as he settled her to the fabric-blanketed grass. "You can let yourself have this, Buffy. It means nothing. Nothing that happens here matters."
"It does. It matters to me."
"You don't understand, Slayer." His strong fingers slipped beneath the cotton fabric of her sweatshirt, drawing unwaveringly along her abdomen and moving further up, gathering the material with it. She gasped as his fingers dipped under the silken lace of her bra and teased her nipple. "*You* don't matter here."
"Fuck you, Ethan..." she moaned softly.
"If that's what you'd prefer. Be my guest." He cupped her breast; his hot, masterful hand kneading it with an appreciative palm. His thumb circled her nipple and she felt the heat building as his mouth claimed hers again. She fought the urge to participate though her tongue felt swollen with the need to tempt his.
"Don't... want... " she mumbled breathlessly as he dropped his thigh between her legs and pressed solidly against her. The contact triggered a rush of delight radiating out from his firm urging.
"Tell me this isn't what you want, what you need." Ethan moved, rocking his hips up, his masked, rigid groin imprinting the tender flesh between her thighs. "All you have to do is crush the rose and it all ends."
Buffy felt her hips lift to meet him as he rocked into her, reaching out to connect with that part of him that called to her. "I shouldn't do this..."
"All the more reason to."
His mouth met hers again, lips praising her with torrid nips and tongue seeking recognition as it dipped inside. Another press of his thigh and she could feel his erection straining to reach her. He wanted to fuck her and nothing else, no commitment, no expectation, no consequences, no darkness. His fingers pinched her nipple, a delicate torture, and as she opened her mouth to gasp, Ethan delved inside. She surrendered to his spirited tongue, joining the dance and sampling the juices of life lingering there.
Her mother would never have approved. Her friends would not approve. Giles most definitely would never have approved and mostly likely kill Ethan for such a thing. And that's what made it all the more desirable. This man, this very human being wasn't offering her stability, wasn't offering her love, and wasn't offering guidance or friendship or even a solution. He was presenting the possibility for the improbable, one night to tempt Chaos and win the chance at the unhinged escapism she desired so badly. But could she live with it? If what Ethan claimed were true, she wouldn't have to. The humanity drowning in darkness within her cried out for salvation.
"I can't do this anymore." Buffy could hear a pitiful plea in her own voice and the echoes of responsibility threatening to tear her back to her sad, unwanted reality. "I can't live like this." Her hand curved around his waist and drew his hips to hers.
"Then don't. Let me help you forget..." His hand groped through the fabric of her jeans, deliciously clumsy fingers clawing against her. "...And for a flickering moment, all your world will disappear."
He worked at the button and zipper of her jeans and her hand covered his, unsure. She felt her fingers curl around the crystal rose, the gentle pressure so close to ending it. Ethan held himself above her, eyes glancing over at the rose and back to her. Her apprehensive hand fell to her side, permitting him to carry on.
But instead of moving onward, Ethan stood. She was about to ask what he was doing when he began to unbutton his shirt. Once done, he let the material drift off his shoulders and fall freely into his hands. She watched him fold the shirt but let her eyes wander along the revealed skin of the sorcerer, and there was little doubt he was an instrument of magicks. His pale, bare torso was riddled with interesting marks, grisly scars and mystical tattoos, every one a story that she didn't really care to know at the moment. Buffy's first impression of his form was that he had the build of a swimmer, long and lean and taut muscled. But what interested her more were the mysteries lying veiled beneath the black slacks he worked to remove. The trousers came off, followed by his boxers, the presence of which took her by surprise. She'd assumed he wouldn't bother with them.
Finally, the clothes were folded and discarded to the grass below and Ethan stood before her, stripped of his cloak of Chaos and at her mercy. His eager and hopeful cock was on display and he made no attempt to conceal his arousal. There was no shame there.
"Here I am; no demons to speak of, nothing to hide." He gave her a patient smile. "Last chance, luv. I will walk if you wish it."
He was a man, beautifully constructed and shaped and offering himself to her. Buffy smiled. "Seeing as how you went through all the trouble of the strip tease, I think I'll let you stay for the encore."
Ethan rejoined her on the ground and placed one final kiss to her chin then pulled back and began to undress her, unhurried and calm. There were no words now, no need for them. He directed her to lift her hips with a tug of her jeans and she followed his silent instructions. She watched with confused fascination as he slipped the jeans down her legs and off, considerately folding them and placing them beneath her head to act as a pillow. He gathered up the material of her sweatshirt and directed her again to lift her torso and as before, she followed his wordless instructions, smiling as he folded the shirt and placed it with the other garment. It was so surreal, the thoughtful preparations the eccentric wizard went though to make her comfortable. She wanted to laugh and suspected by his boyish grin that so did he.
Buffy lay bare and exposed except for the thin fabric of her panties. Ethan's eyes drifted along the length of her, admiring her, rewarding the visual with a subtle sigh of appreciation.
He watched her attentively as he slipped his fingertips below the silken waistband of her panties, wanting to capture the moment she reacted to his touch. The caress sent liquid fire pulsing at the bay of her legs and she growled her longing to be explored.
Audacious fingers sank below the fabric, combing through her dewing curls, seeking out the inviting embrace of her sultry flesh. A single thick probe dipped within and back, shallow and fleeting, leaving her wanting more. He teased her again, sinking deeper with two firm fingers, feeling the moist skin surrounding them, massaging her from within. His ministrations excited her nerves, rippling currents of pleasure vibrated along her legs and her stomach. He was reaching every part of her by the mere strokes of his skillful fingers.
Her back arched, as his lips tasted her nipple, tongue circling the hardened nub. He stretched his fingers wide from inside, coaxing out a groan and sent his broad thumb to tempt the pursing crevasse below. She shuddered as he pushed the tip to a shallow depth and retracted. Buffy knew he was testing the waters, studying her reactions to his discovery of her. And as Ethan's lips kissed down her abdomen and glided lower, she combed the fingers of her free hand through his dampened hair and guided him to where she craved to be kissed so thoroughly. Smiling, he followed her directions, carefully slipping her panties off of her and making himself comfortable between her trembling, anticipating thighs.
Ethan started slow, effortless licks brushing over the surface of her flesh, generating tingles as he savored the glisten of her arousal. He slipped his thumb along her plump folds, fingers slick with her juices and traveling further down to explore the shady place once again. Buffy understood he wanted to hold her in his hands, grasp the entirety of her. He leaned in and kissed her to the core as his slick finger dove into her puckered entryway. Buffy groaned at the astonishing pleasure of his fingers stroking, tongue lapping, thumb kneading, breath panting, beard scratching, teeth scraping, voice humming so wonderfully that he affected every cell of her being. Physical sensations so abundant along her body that her mind couldn't separate the birth of one from another. Her orgasm washed over her, quick and hard and so unanticipated that her mind fainted, leaving only the sensation of her body proclaiming her existence.
Buffy's breath calmed, her heart slowed and Ethan's sweat gleaming face lifted from her, smiling with pride. He crawled up her body, his steely erection bobbing along as he moved, animated by her passion still simmering below him. She rewarded him with a kiss, sweet and tender. She could taste herself along his tongue and it energized her, further evidence of what her living flesh was capable of. She gave Ethan another steamy kiss as he draped his body on her, letting her become accustomed to his weight. She could feel his joyous cock resting along her sensitive valley and the presence of it and experiences it promised excited her yet again.
Ethan's lips brushed along her chin and neck as his hands explored the rest of the beautiful landscape her body presented to him. As his fingers traveled, his hips shifted and he began to rub along her, his throbbing manhood pressing for her to invite him in. She felt his hand slip over to cup hers, which held the crystal rose and they held it together, united in their mutual desire to make the moment happen.
Ethan grew more eager, his arousal moving from dipping to gliding, sinking to skimming, forever teetering on the verge of taking the plunge and claiming his prize. But he held himself at bay, building her up with more luscious grinding until she was ready to welcome him in.
With every stroke, she could feel the buried stress unraveling and she realized she wanted to break out of her cursed darkness. She needed her release. Her hand slipped free from his and wrapped around his waist, telling him it was time. Buffy gazed up into Ethan's shadowy eyes and they watched each other as he shifted and immersed.
Feverish flesh, as if fashioned stone sheathed in the sweet touch of satin penetrated her in a single vigorous thrust. She was breached and with his defiant depth, the ache locked inside her loosened. He moved, unhurriedly withdrawing but never completely abandoning her. Then he would return, plunging as deep as her flesh allowed.
Buffy held his hip, guiding his motions to and from her, creating the rhythm she wanted. He was following commands now, disciplined and obedient drives sending himself deeper and deeper still, challenging her to release.
Between the labored breaths of Ethan's thrusts, she heard sobbing and realized it was her despair and hopelessness leaking from her tearful eyes. It was a tender therapy, his hardness gliding slick within the embrace of her quaking flesh.
Ethan heard the sobs and in feeling the familiar tremors of his orgasm stewing, he hastened his pumping. Buffy's cries grew desperate as he worked to drive out what darkness possessed her by reminding her of what passions life presented.
"Let it go," he whispered, consoling her with a kiss to her breathless lips. "Let it all out, luv. You don't want it." He rocked faster, the tempo hastened as her sobs gave way to gasps and then grunts. He could feel the tension stiffen along her body as her orgasm built and fueled his own.
Ethan's body went stiff as he erupted within her, the hot milk of his essence spilling to fill her. All the tension, the overwhelming manacles holding her back shattered and she let her feelings pour out. In a flood of raw emotion, she cried out as her orgasm seized her again only excruciatingly more powerful than before.
They froze; bodies slow to release the tension of strained muscles and heightened senses. Ethan rocked a few moments more, as if aftershocks of his orgasm propelled him to taste her once again. Buffy gently guided him to rest on her, pressing her parched lips to his sweat-dripping forehead. He smelled incredible, sweat and cologne and the musk of sex all tangled together. She'd forgotten what it was like to share such intimacy with a man; to share in the celebration of life.
Ethan nuzzled to her, enjoying the tender caress of her kisses. After a moment of peace, he settled beside her and stared into her lazy, contented features. Slayer and sorcerer smiled, exchanging glances, as they suddenly grew shy with each other. Seeking a distraction, Buffy brought her hand above her and examined the crystal rose shimmering at her fingertips.
"It really is beautiful, you know."
"Not nearly as much as you," he said it with such sincerity that it made her blush.
"Bet you say that to all the girls." She grinned.
"You are an amazing woman Buffy Summers." Ethan leaned in to place one last kiss to her delectable lips and then worked to get to his feet. She watched as his sweat-speckled body became outlined by the moonlight and marveled at the impulsive moment shared between them. He tipped his head back and gazed at the stars; drawing in a long, cleansing breath. Then he turned and began to walk away.
"W-what are you doing?" She sat up.
He stopped and glanced back at her from over his shoulder. "It's time to give you your proof."
"So where are you going?"
"To take a stroll," he said, the gleam of a sad smile curling along his lips. He waited for a moment more, taking the opportunity to admire the sight of her, the glowing Slayer spread out naked and sated at his feet. Even though it all meant nothing and he would forget everything, he relished the rare gift to have touched her.
Buffy thought for a moment, realizing the truth behind what he was saying. "Ethan..."
“I thought you didn’t believe in all this?” He said with a knowing grin.
“Then let me prove it to you.”
“I don’t mean to rude but there is a bit of a chill…”
He chuckled. “That had to hurt.”
“Not as much as trying to walk in the morning.”
She'd never expect such an emotion to come from him but the delicate grin and uncertain bow of the head could only be called embarrassment.
“For what my despicable, self absorbed, Chaos driven and evil opinion is worth... you can do this you know. Life, I mean. You don't belong in shadows, Slayer. Your greatest weapon is the light. It's there in your eyes. Don't let it go.” He flashed that smile that mischievous, toothy smile of his, complete with eyes twinkling and she felt better.
“Yeah, I hear you,” she said, watching him turn and wander naked into the night. Something in her told her to stop him, to capture that moment within her memory. Then her fingers drew along the edges of the crystalline rose and she knew that their night together was forever at the mercy of her fingertips.
As he stepped beyond the mystical, invisible border, the scene suddenly reset itself. Buffy was now fully clothed with stake at the ready to strike and Ethan was fully dressed and avoiding her attacks.
“I'm not here to fight.”
She froze, stunned and trying to understand the predicament she was in. She glanced down into the hand free of the weapon and uncurled her fingers to reveal the shimmering crystal rose she held. There was her answer, her proof. He'd told her the truth and he now stood before her completely oblivious to what had transpired between them just moments before.
She stared at the rose, considering the options presented to her. And with a confident grin, she placed the rose safely within her pocket.
“Alright...” Ethan responded suspiciously. “You wouldn't happen to know...”
“He's not here.”
“I figured that out on my own but thank you just the same.”
“I don't know where he is, either.”
“Fine then..." he stared at her distrustfully, "I'll just be on my way.” The sorcerer turned and began to walk away.
“Give it to me.”
He stopped and glanced back over his shoulder. “Pardon?”
“The envelope in you coat pocket.” She reached out, waving her hand impatiently. “I'll make sure he gets it.”
“How did you know?” He asked, more than a little spooked.
“Slayer intuition.” She lifted up the stake in her hand and gave it a wiggle. “Come on, give it here before I change my mind.”
Ethan cocked his head aside and stared at her for a second, confused and skeptical. He slipped out the envelope and guardedly placed it in her hand, backing away while trying desperately to hide his apprehension. She tucked it safely away within her jacket pocket.
“I guess all that there is left to say is thank you.”
“I already did.” Buffy gave him a warm smile. “I suggest you go.”
The unsuspecting sorcerer was completely dumbfounded, backing away but keeping one eye on her as he did. Once he had a good distance on her, he turned and walked off in a hurry to get away. Buffy watched Ethan leave, her gaze locked on him until he was absorbed by the shadows, her thoughts still on the crystal and his gift to her. She would never see Ethan Rayne or a rose the same way again.