Ripper had read numerous novelizations of the Legend of King Arthur as a boy. Almost all had touched on Avalon at least a little. None had properly described the feeling of magic and peace. There was an overwhelming need to just lay in the thick grass and smile up at the sky and just be. Nothing evil or dark could touch him here. The anger and hate that plagued him so often dissipated. It was replaced by a joyous desire to run through the forest and climb the mountains and discover and connect and live. The others felt it, too. He could tell by the large smiles on their faces.

For a few minutes, they forgot the purpose that had brought them to this ethereal land in the first place. But at long last, they focused on an old monastery on the other side of the island. It was nearly engulfed by a large tree that sat right at the edge of the small island. Its large, green leaves spread out over the water and half of the island, so large it was. The monastery was the only man-made thing that they could see, so they pushed themselves in that direction.

The monastery looked to be either 9th century or earlier. It consisted of one square tower with a cross at the top. The tower emerged from the small building itself. The building was only a little wider than the tower. A large door, oak, stood open to them, a small set of stairs leading up into the building. Even here, the building seemed old and crumbling. Ripper wondered if it was because man-made and not of this world itself. This made him wonder where the building had come from in the first place.

Glancing at the others, he took the lead and walked up the steps and into the monastery. It was small and mostly barren. Empty pews lined the sides with a small aisle between. Everything was stone, save the pews and candelabras situated around the room. The monastery was a single room, he could see that. There might have been a small room on the other side behind the stage, but this was by-and-large the entire monastery right here. Their footsteps seemed offensively loud as they walked further inside. There was nothing ornate about the monastery. No gargoyles or decorations etched into the walls. Even the windows were just small slits that barely allowed any light into the building.

Save for one single beam that came from the only large window above the door, where the tower started to reach up. Its light shone on a still figure at the other side of the room. It was a man. He was kneeling, head bowed, before a large wooden cross. As they drew closer, they could hear the man murmuring in a form of Pre-Latin Latin. Though the man's back was to them, Ripper could see that he wore a tattered and mud-stained riding cape. The color might have been a dark red, but time had simply made it dark. There was, however, an emblem etched onto the cape of three crowns.

Ripper knew this emblem. Shocked, he felt to his knees immediately, awed and immediately feeling incredibly unworthy. The others looked at him in confusion, but the figure seemed to finally sense their presence. He rose and turned to them. An older man stood before them. He was but forty, really, but war and a medieval lifestyle had colored his dark hair with gray and white. Wrinkles lined his face around his eyes and mouth. Yet, even despite this, there was a sharp light in his eyes, and the crown atop his head made him appear even more regal. Without the crown, however, this man would appear kingly all the same.

"I am Arthur," the man greeted them, his voice low and rich. "King of the Britons and Lord of Camelot." His wise eyes ran over them all. The others were now sharing Ripper's shock and awe, though they hadn't quite gotten to the kneeling part. "I know you," he continued, "all of you . . . the moment you set foot onto this land. You do not belong here." He grew curious. "Pray, tell me what has brought the Slayer to an old Watcher?"

Buffy swallowed. "Well, you see . . . King-Sir . . . I-um . . . we . . . We need your help."

"CAN I TOUCH YOU!?" Xander blurted, then quickly clapped his hand over his mouth, looking quite alarmed that this had come from his mouth. "Sorry," he said quickly. "It's just . . . you're so cool!"

Amusement shown in Arthur's eyes. "A Slayer and friends. It is as old . . . my Slayer had friends, too. We named them Knights and formed—"

"A round table! So no one would be superior to the other. You'd all be equals, even before a King!" Willow cut-in, looking both proud and terrified that she had just interrupted King Arthur.

"You know me then," Arthur chuckled, and the warmth of his laugh seemed to make the monastery feel even more welcoming and relaxed.

Ripper finally rose then. "Excuse us, Your Majesty."

"Oh," Arthur eyed him. "Yes, I knew one of you were from my Kingdom. The only one who kneels before a King." The others flushed.

"They're American," Ripper explained. "They got this whole freedom thing in their heads. No respecting their elders. That sort of thing." There were quite a few scoffs at that. "We came here searching for the Holy Grail."

This made Arthur's features darken and sadden. "Then it has happened. The Solii have returned to full strength." He sighed and looked down, the armor he wore clinking as he moved. "It is as I feared . . . my Guinevere's sacrifice was all for naught . . . and I have been placed here to help the next generation set it right." He looked over each of them. "Yet a band of warriors I see before me . . . You," he looked at Ripper, "you are her Watcher. Young." Ripper shrugged a shoulder. "There is a connection between you two . . . I feel it . . . I shared it with my own Slayer, Guinevere. She was my reason for all . . . and I see it is the same with you. Yet you are filled with fear." Ripper swallowed. "Fear of what you will become should you ever lose her." Buffy glanced at Ripper, and he lowered his head, looking away from her. "And you, Slayer," Arthur looked at her. "You have a lonely soul. You fear of losing them all and being the cause of their lost." Buffy's cheeks turned pink, but she didn't look away.

"And you," Arthur turned to Xander, who ducked his head. "You fear of being forgotten. That you will be passed over and left in the dust." His gaze fell on Willow last. "You are the most afraid. You fear failure . . . and success. That fear will keep you honest and innocent. Mind it." Arthur studied them as a whole. "You are not quite the Knights that followed Guinevere and I into that fateful battle . . . but perhaps you will do. Heroes are found even in the unlikeliest of people, after all." Arthur glanced back behind him at the cross. "You seek the Holy Grail . . . but once you have found it, you will not wish to use it."

"Of course we will," Buffy protested. "It will stop the Solii. We're lucky if we have a day before they grow tired of us and start taking over the world."

"I am not speaking to you," Arthur said, and his gaze turned to Ripper. "Merlin cast the spell upon the stone from which Excalibur was pulled. Within it a hollow cup was made. The Grail. The Holy," and now his gaze turned to Buffy, "was found in the Slayer's blood. The ritual was clear. It was to be used as a last resort. We fought and fought. Mordred and his Solii army came in the thousands. We fought through the night, and when the morning light came, my Guinevere knew it was folly. She ordered me to aid her with the ritual."

His voice trembled, and Ripper felt dread starting to fill his belly. "Our Knights held the Solii off until the very last man. It gave us the opportunity. I laid Guinevere upon the stone . . . shared one final kiss . . . and plunged Excalibur into her heart. The blood ran down the stone . . . filled the grail . . . and the spell was enacted. But it was not enough, you see. We did not know this at the time . . . Guinevere had already lost too much blood during the battle. The spell required . . . all. She gave all she had and died, but the spell only buried the Solii into a deep sleep. A sleep, I can see, is now over."

Ripper felt like his heart had been kicked through his chest down into his stomach. "You don't mean . . ."

"I do," Arthur murmured sadly. "The Slayer must sacrifice herself to destroy the Solii. But she must lose every drop of blood onto that stone, or else the spell will not work. They shall only be put back to sleep for another couple of centuries until they rise again, and a new Slayer and Watcher must try." He slowly stepped down to where they were and placed his hands atop Buffy and Ripper's head. "I loved my Guinevere. A love I can feel here. It will not be easy. Please, do what my Slayer and I failed to do. Save the world, as it is our sacred right to do." Arthur removed his hands from their heads after murmuring a small blessing. Ripper didn't feel any better. "Perhaps once this is all over, I can leave this place . . . and join my Guinevere in whatever plane she exists in now," he murmured longingly. "After the ritual, I found myself alone. The only survivor. If Merlin lived, I did not see him. I stumbled to the old cave that used to belong to him and left Excalibur there. I knew I was leaving. Sure enough, when I left the cave, a boat was waiting for me. Quiet, solemn women helped me aboard . . . healed me of my wounds . . . and brought me here to this place . . . Avalon. I have lingered here for centuries, waiting for the next Watcher and Slayer to seek my aid. Here you are." He gestured to them. "In the name of Arthur, son of Uther Pendragon, and of Guinevere, daughter of the Slayer line, I bless your hearts to be true, your aim accurate, and your strength unyielding. Go now. You are mortals trespassing on this land. You cannot linger long in this place."

Ripper protested immediately. "There has to be another way. Enough blood gathered over time. Surely it doesn't have to be all at once—"

"Go," Arthur urged, and they were already fading, as if the land had recognized that they did not belong there and was moving beyond them, their bodies sifting through like sand. "Do your duty."

And then he was gone. They stood in a field a little ways from the farmhouse. It was nighttime now. Ripper wasn't sure how much time had actually passed. Whether it had just been a few hours, or a few days. Time between dimensions seemed to differ quite a lot. Everyone was pale and giving Buffy furtive glances. Ripper clenched his jaw tightly. "We're not doing that," he told them firmly. "Arthur has it wrong. There has to be another way. It didn't even work for him, so he has no idea what he's talking about. We'll find another way," he said, glaring at them, daring them to argue.

Willow and Xander nodded, silent, and then started to walk towards the farmhouse. Ripper felt a panicking feeling rising in his chest. "Buffy," he said, reaching for her hand. She looked up at him . . . and looked so very tired. "Buffy, I'm not going to let you," he told her. "I'll keep researching. Even if I have to conjure up some Dark Arts, I will." He lifted his hand and brushed his fingers through her hair, pushing it back, so he could see her face more clearly. "We'll find another way. I promise."

She seemed to stare at him for a long time, as if trying to read something from him. Then she smiled and stepped forward, resting her head against his chest. "I know you will," she whispered into his shirt. Ripper held her tightly to him, pressing a few kisses to the top of her head. "Think it's safe in there?" she asked, looking over at the farmhouse.

"They'll likely think we ran off to another safe house, so . . . we're safe tonight, at least," Ripper sighed, feeling the panic lessen just a little. No one wanted Buffy to die, least of all Buffy herself. They'd be fine. They just needed to keep looking. Ripper refused to lose her.

"Good," Buffy nodded, then lifted her head and looked up at him. "I want you to make love to me tonight. I'm ready," she told him. Ripper's eyebrows raised, but there wasn't a question in her eyes.

"Well, no offense, love, but I'm more of a, 'needs to be the right kind of mood' guy," Ripper told her. He was quite a bit shaken from the experience. Why wasn't Buffy? Or perhaps she was, and this was her way of coping with it.

Buffy smirked at that, and he saw the familiar teasing glint in her eye. That made the dread in his stomach disappear completely. "Come on. A good snog from me seems to always do the trick. You're easy," she teased, pulling him towards the house.

"And here I was hoping that I was going to get a strip tease out of it," Ripper shot back, wrapping his arm tightly around her waist. She wasn't leaving his side. Not tonight. Not ever.

"Pft. Aren't you more of a hands-on kinda guy?" Buffy asked, then paused once they were inside of the living room. She turned and looked up at him, her eyes wide and innocent, a small pout on her lips. "You mean you don't want to undress me and feel my skin as every inch is revealed?"

Ripper released a slow exhale at that. Well then. Consider the mood ignited. "Alright," he grabbed her and threw her over his shoulder. "Consider me well stoked." Buffy giggled and playfully kicked her legs as he carried her upstairs to his bedroom. Shutting the door with his foot, he set her down on his bed and removed his shoes, then knelt and removed hers as well.

"Oh yes," Buffy leaned back as he set her shoes to the side, "I can understand the appeal of servants all of a sudden." Ripper sent her a playful glare before rising and moving over her, kissing her deeply. There was a desperation on both their parts, and it was felt in their kiss. He did not want to lose her. She did not want to be lost. Ripper felt her hands rest at his cheeks before slipping through his short hair. He wrapped his arms under her waist and lifted her up just a bit to move them up higher on his bed.

Leaning her back, he rested over her, cradled between her legs. Blindly, he reached for the curtains of his four poster and closed them. They were cut off from the world around them. There was no one and nothing but them in that little space. Ripper sighed against her mouth as their tongues met and tangled. The pure lust and joy he experienced when kissing her took over, kicking out all fear and dread and despair over their looming future. Ripper lost himself in Buffy, in the taste and warmth of her.

Time became a confusing thing. He wasn't sure how long they had kissed, but his lips were swollen and puffy, and as were hers. His blood was hot, and when he touched her skin just under her shirt, he felt how feverish she was as well. His fingers lightly tucked under the hem of her shirt and lifted it up over her head. His mouth closed on the skin that was exposed to him. Lips trailed over her tight tummy, lightly kissing over her belly button. Then he kissed between the grooves of her ribs and center of her sternum. Once her shirt was over her head and somewhere to the side of them, he cherished her neck.

This area seemed to be quite the erogenous zone for Buffy. He sucked and nibbled over her pulse points. Buffy gasped and arched underneath him. Ripper released a low moan when he felt her rubbing her core against his in her frustration. A few times, when he bit her a little too hard on the neck, her hips bucked and jerked against him in quite a delicious manner. Moans soon spilled from her lips, and she was tugging at his shirt, her hips almost riding him from below. Buffy managed to tear his shirt off—literally, tore it off—and threw it away.

"Oi, I only have—" but he was met with her lips. She kissed him hotly, the cherishing replaced by pure arousal and desire. Ripper growled against her lips and kissed her back just as lustfully, his hand bunching in her hair and tugging her back. Buffy released a heavy breath when their lips parted. She pulled him down and kissed over his chest, even licking one of nipples, which made him cry out quietly and stiffen against her as a jolt of pleasure ran through him. Bloody woman.

As she worked on marking his neck, to which he groaned and shivered at, he was working the straps of her bra off. Undoing the last clasp, he pulled it away and revealed her to him. Buffy blushed but pulled back, letting him inspect. There was an uncertainty in her eyes, and Ripper cursed whatever it was that had sprouted even the smallest doubt in her that she could be anything but beautiful to him. He kissed her tenderly, then lowered his head to take one of her breasts into his mouth. Buffy gasped and arched upwards. Her hands clasped into his hair.

A low growl left his throat as he sucked on it hard, his tongue swiping over the very tip in a plethora of patterns. Each one had her grunting and bucking her hips. Her legs were spread around him, and she was panting hotly against the top of his head, pushing him down against her, so she could rub herself firmly on him. "Ripper," she whined, a touch of absolute need in her voice. His own arousal was extreme to the point where it was beginning to become incredibly difficult to think.

He was hot everywhere, and his cock was starting to hurt at being squished into his jeans in its current state. His blood was singing and making his heart patter in his chest. Her nails ran down his bare back, leaving light red abrasions on his skin. Ripper, never one to rush, took his time in sucking the other breast next. To his delight, Buffy seemed more sensitive with this one. She called out and scrambled at him. Her core rubbed against his erection wildly, and she was breathing heavily constantly now. "Ripper, please. I need to feel you."

Ripper nipped her nipple, to which she cried out and gaped at him before he kissed her soundly. She was aflame, kissing him wildly and passionately. His hands dropped to her jeans and unbuttoned them. The scent of her musk and arousal was clear, and he quickly tugged her jeans off along with her knickers. Buffy was blushing hard at this point, but Ripper assured her with a kiss. His lips moved down, kissing her body. She relaxed at first . . . and then he felt her jerk when she realized he wasn't stopping. "Where are you going!?" she demanded. Ripper gave her an innocent look as he kissed into her thighs. His mouth suckled the flesh, tongue licking closer . . . closer. "Ripper, you're not- . . . no one has ever . .. you really don't—OH GOD!" she jolted when his mouth closed on her wet slit, his tongue sliding over it up and down.

Buffy seemed speechless after that. She could only draw in sharp breaths and clutch at his head. Ripper couldn't ask if she was alright, his mouth was far too busy, and he wasn't going to stop even if the world was ending. Which, he supposed, in a way it was. Ripper's tongue slipped past her slit and entered her directly. Buffy cried out again, her hips rising. "Fffffffuck!" she released in a heavy breath. "Oh my god, Ripper. What are you—" the rest of her sentence was cut off by a moan as he assaulted her wet core with his quite ravenous tongue. She was soaked, and he spent quite some time licking it up, then ensuring he created more by touching her in places that made her stiffen and grind into him. Ripper moved his mouth and head, passionate in his eating out of her.

Buffy was a mess. She strained and moaned and jerked against him. A few times she even kicked her foot out, and knowing her strength, Ripper was mindful to stay away from that foot. His hand spread her lips to the side, allowing him to lick her quite deep. He also spent some time suckling and licking her clit as well. That got her howling . . . so to speak. She didn't actually howl. Ripper could feel her clit pulsing under his tongue, rapidly, and her thighs started to shake as well. With his other hand, he massaged her thigh, helping her stay calm and just give in to the high he knew was climbing inside of her.

"Ripper! Ripper! Oh!" Buffy whispered, her body stiffening . . . then she shuddered hard and dug her nails into his scalp. Her thigh convulsed underneath his hand, and he moaned as he felt a bit more liquid coat his tongue and her walls convulse. She had orgasmed. Ripper licked her up, helping her stay afloat a little longer, then gently kissed her clit—to which she gasped and jerked—and then rested back heavily.

Sweat gathered over her skin, and her face was red. Ripper lifted himself up, licking his lips and chin clean, and he smiled down at her. Buffy smiled back after a moment, her eyes bright. "First time, hm?" Ripper asked with a satisfied smirk.

"Mm," Buffy nodded. "Vampires and fangs are never a good idea near . . . delicate things . . . and Riley and I never progressed that far, so . . . Yes. First time." She traced his cheek with her finger, then ran it down his chest and torso to his jeans. "Someone is suffering I see," she purred, rubbing him through his jeans. Ripper breathed in sharply and delighted in even the smallest bit of friction. God, it had been so long. "Well, I think I'm quite . . . lubed up and ready to go," Buffy stated, both looking daring and blushing.

Ripper smiled down at her, kissing her tenderly. He lightly suckled her lower lip, trying to convey what he knew in his heart was the absolute truth. Buffy seemed to hold him tighter for a moment, and he hoped that meant she had received the message. Her hands turned their attention to his button and zipper, undoing his jeans. Ripper was prepared to pull away and remove them, but Buffy stuffed her hand in his jeans and gripped his cock directly, pumping him a few times. Ripper cried out in surprise and clenched the sheets in his hand. "It's a damn good thing I'm a Slayer," Buffy murmured, then pushed his jeans down with her feet as much as she could. Ripper helped her, still quite sluggish from her latest attack. "Ripper . . . honey . . ." Ripper looked at her immediately, "when it's . . . when it's your turn to . . . just . . . it's okay to do it inside of me. I don't think Slayers can get pregnant. Sort of a job hazard."

He wasn't sure on that account, but as he had never really researched that part of being a Slayer before, he nodded. "If you're sure." Ripper shoved his jeans off of the rest of the way, his cock fully erect, a bit of arousal dripping from his tip. His hands ran down her body, her legs willing spreading wide around him. Ripper gripped himself and led himself to her entrance. Then his gaze met hers. She held it . . . all the way through his entry of her. Both of them gasped and moaned as he filled her. She was soaked and tight. So very tight. Buffy made a sound of discomfort, and he quickly rubbed her clit to alleviate any adjustment pain she had.

She relaxed after a few minutes and nodded at him. Ripper couldn't help but grin at her, and she rolled her eyes. They were joined. Watcher and Slayer. The power he felt from their union was . . . incredible. Even the least gifted sorcerer could conjure a tornado from this unique and primal power. Ripper leaned down, needing to touch and feel her everywhere. Their bodies pressed together, scalding hot flesh against scalding hot flesh. His lips pressed to hers, and they kissed during the first few thrusts. They were experimental, questioning. When Buffy suddenly pulled away from his mouth to moan loudly, he knew they were ready.

Ripper sped his hips up, his body grinding into hers and creating an even headier friction. Buffy clutched him, her arms wrapped tightly around his torso, and her legs wrapped around his hips. Ripper had an arm cradling her face and hand tangled in her hair. The other braced himself against the bed, moving deeper inside of her. Their moans filled the room as he sped up, locking them in a steady, passionate rhythm. The cosmos seemed to surge past them as they moved and joined and rutted and mated and fucked in a way as old as mammal itself.

Every thrust had Ripper clamoring for the next to one. The pleasure he felt was so great, not even a thousand Eyghons could ever conjure something even close to this. "Buffy!" he found himself shouting after each thrust, his mouth mostly covered by her neck. Her nails were digging into his flesh, and she was bucking wildly underneath him. Ripper was swept up by her abandon and passion. His hips pumped his cock into her harder, the bed starting to bang against the wall.

"Ohhh! YES!" Buffy shouted back, her hips pitching forward. "Oh, right there! Oh right there, baby!" Buffy's mouth fell open and a soundless scream came from her as he rocked them into a frenzy of ecstasy and passion. Ripper was surging towards his peak. He had no idea how long they'd been going. Again, time seemed to lose its meaning in their little world here. But he knew he was close. Judging by the pulsing he felt around him, she was rising up on her peak as well.

"Buffy, fuck," Ripper growled, driving himself faster. His cock was swallowed by her hungry core each time, giving him a good hug before he pulled out again. His fingers continued to stimulate her clit, which had Buffy losing her mind, if her cries were anything to go by. She was soaking. They were soaking. Liquid dripped from where they were joined and onto the sheets. "Oh fuck, Buffy. I'm so close," he gasped, his voice ragged, catching.

"Yes! Yes!" Buffy cried in response, her nails digging in and not letting him go. Ripper felt his toes start to curl. He thought he might go blind or deaf or something from the sheer power of the pleasure he was climbing towards. This orgasm was going to hurt. Ripper groaned louder, his thrusts becoming a little erratic. His balls were tightening . . . just a second before he came, he heard her shriek and felt her explode around his cock. Her core undulated and throbbed around him in just the right way, and he was lost. Completely lost. He was sure he screamed her name somewhere in the torrents of sound he made, as he released inside of her. Ecstasy, life, death, happiness, despair, loneliness, love, pain all mingled together and left him shaking and trembling against her. The pressure continued until he had released every drop of seed inside of her.

Then, panting, he was lost to soak in the beautiful afterglow of warmth and love and acceptance and union with Buffy. She was still moaning softly underneath him, her nails loosened on his skin, but her hands still clasped against his skin. Ripper wouldn't be surprised if steam was rising off of them . . . or if they had set something on fire. "D-Did you feel that?" Buffy asked finally, once she had caught her breath.

Ripper, who was having quite the crisis of being absolutely in love, looked down at her adoringly and kissed all over her face slowly. "I felt a lot of things," he chuckled lowly, kissing the bridge of her nose.

"Mm," Buffy agreed, nestling him against her. "The power, though. I felt like . . . like I could destroy the world."

Ripper stole a quick kiss from her lips. He was still happily nestled inside of her. It was very, very wet there. "I felt it," he whispered against her lips. "A Watcher and Slayer's connection has always been strong . . . unique. It's pure in its essence . . . love, whatever form it might be, is usually the center of it. I understand now . . . Love is the most powerful ingredient in any spell."

Buffy touched his face, pushing his sweaty hair from his face. "I've never felt more alive . . . than right now. Or so connected. I . . . I want to spend the rest of my life with you," she said, a tear escaping from her eye. Ripper brushed it away, hushing her gently. Buffy calmed and kissed his hand. They shared a quiet moment, simply staring and sharing silently, a few kisses given here and there. However, it began to turn playful when Ripper innocently—or not so innocently—lowered his hand to play with her breast. Buffy stiffened a little with delight as he manipulated her nipple. "So um . . . thing about Slayers? . . . Lots of stamina . . . Think you can keep up, mortal?"

Ripper grinned. "Try me."

Buffy rolled them over with hardly any effort, topping him. Ripper beamed up at her, their hands lacing together up above his head. Buffy rocked her hips down, riding him hard immediately. They both arched and cried in unison, "yes!" And so supernovas began again . . .

His body was sore. That was the first thing that entered his mind during the hovering state of consciousness and unconsciousness. He was quite sore, but pleasantly so. The next was a mental journey back to why he was just so sore. God, how many times did they go at it? For how long? It had lasted for hours with intervals of just kissing and touching between. Ripper had never experienced anything like it. He'd never felt so content and happy.

Smiling into the sheets, he lifted his head and turned in the direction of Buffy, his hand moving to reach out for her at the same time. He grasped cloth and paper. She wasn't there. Ripper frowned but didn't worry at first. Perhaps she went to have a breakfast. A pity, he was rather looking forward to having her for breakfast. Yawning, he sat up and looked down at himself. Scratch marks littered his body along with a few bite marks and bruises. His Buffy wasn't gentle.

Chuckling, he looked over where his hand rested, noticing the paper his fingers were lightly touching for the first time. Turning it over, he saw written—

I love you.

At first, he smiled at the words. How cute of her to leave him a note . . . but then a hot, nauseating anxiousness filled his heart. She couldn't have . . . Ripper threw back the curtains of his bed and grabbed his jeans. Pulling them on as he ran out the door, he nearly fell down the stairs in his rush to search the house. "Buffy!" he called. Silence. "BUFFY!?" Room after room was empty. "Willow!? Xander!? ANYONE!?" he shouted. Each room was empty. They had left him.

"They're going through with it," he breathed, his heart tightening in his chest. Not if he could stop it. Ripper rushed upstairs and put a shirt on, then hauled out some ingredients and grabbed Buffy's discarded shirt on the floor. Lighting a fire underneath the small cauldron, he threw the ingredients in and held his hand over the top of it. He murmured a tracking spell, then held Buffy's shirt over the fumes that came up. "Please," he begged. "Please, take me to her."

The shirt rose up from his hands and floated before him. Ripper extinguished the fire and jumped to his feet. The shirt soared out of the room and down the stairs, leaving the house once he opened the front door for it. Ripper followed hot on its trail. His car was missing, so he took one of the horses and rode after the shirt. Thankfully, the shirt soared quickly, and he had the horse in a hard gallop after it. His heart was pounding so hard in his chest, he thought it might bust right through. He was going to make it. He'd stop them before . . . before it happened.

His horse was panting hard, and he urged it on. "Come on, boy. We've got to be there soon." The truth was, he had no idea where they were going. Did one of them discover where the stone had been? Ripper wasn't even sure where he was anymore. He had ridden across endless countryside and now found himself in a thick forest. Suddenly, the shirt shot ahead and started to circle high above a clearing. Urging his horse through the last line of trees, he entered the clearing and found . . . chaos.

Jumping off of his horse, he rushed into the fray. Vampires—Solii—were attacking the group in the middle of the clearing. Willow and Xander were fighting, holding them off as much as they could with magic and holy water laced weapons. The Solii were gaining though. Ripper twisted the neck of one of them as he ran past and tackled a few others in his desperation to get to them. "Ripper!" Willow shouted when she saw him. "Don't! It's too late!"

And then he saw her. Buffy lay on an old rock . . . boulder, really . . . Excalibur pierced right through her. Blood was gushing from her, running down the rocks. Runes were etched into the stone, and her blood ran through them, making them light up. Ripper felt . . . crippled . . . gutted. He walked over to her, tears blinding him. When he reached her side, he saw that she was already dead. The sword had pierced her heart, as the ritual had required. Ripper took her hand in his, the tears running down his face as agony such as he had never known could exist washed over him. How could she do this?

But he knew why. Buffy had always been a better Slayer, than he was a Watcher. She had done what she had to do . . . for the world. Ripper kissed the palm of her hand. "I love you, too, Buffy. I love you, too," he told her, his voice cracking. A sob left him, and he lowered his head. Fighting was going on all around him. He knew he needed to help. The ritual wasn't complete until all the blood left Buffy. Her body couldn't be moved until then. The Solii still had a chance.

Ripper hardened himself. It wasn't difficult, really. All softness in him had died the second he had seen Buffy's body. Releasing her hand, he stepped away and moved to Willow and Xander's side. His pain gave him power, and he used it. Screaming in his agonized-filled rage, he used magick to tear the Solii apart. It wasn't light magic. It wasn't good magic at all. He ripped them apart savagely, half-demon himself. Blood splattered over him, but he was relentless in his attack. Ripper knew on some level that using this primal of magicks would kill him. It'd rip him apart. So be it. Watcher and Slayer would die together ending the Crusade of Solii.

The sudden brightening of the sun stopped him. In fact, it stopped everyone. The Solii looked up at the sun. Ripper looked at Buffy. The stone was completely covered in blood, as if it had sucked it from her itself. It likely had. She was so pale. The sun surged again, and Ripper had to close his eyes against it. The others did as well, shielding their eyes as the sun seemed to stretch out its light and touch the ground. Ripped shielded his eyes as well, and he felt warmth pass through him. Even behind his eyelids, he saw whiteness. There were inhuman shrieks around him, and then the sound of ash scattering in the wind. The light dissipated, and he cautiously opened his eyes.

All around them were endless piles of smoking ash. The sun had returned to normal. No harm seemed to have been done to anything but the vampires. "We won," Willow said, but her voice was hollow.

"You are weak," said a voice behind them.

They turned around and beheld another figure. He was dressed in a The Who t-shirt and torn jeans. His face was barely recognizable, for it seemed to be deformed and . . . demonic. Yet, it was still a face they knew. "Hey, isn't that that . . . guy . . . Philip? Your friend?" Xander asked, looking over at Ripper.

"That's not Philip," Ripper said, and he felt fear resurfacing as those demonic eyes focused on him, a smile stretching on its horrible face. "Hello, Eyghon."