Something squeaked behind him. It sounded like shoe leather. Giles knew he should be worried,
but, dammit, Robson was trying to bleed to death on the floor in front of him, there was a dead
girl on the other side of the room, so forgive him for being a mite distracted.

The gunshot made him duck, though, and the swinging axe that was aimed for his head sliced
across his shoulder instead as the Bringer fell.

He clutched the wound, staring at the new corpse. This was going to be difficult to explain.
Someone must have heard that shot, this wasn't America, people would report gunplay--and who
the hell was that, anyway . . .

New hands held him up, pressed a cloth to the bleeding wound. Robson had passed out again,
but he was still breathing. Giles tried to focus on the person next to him.

"You're a difficult man to find, Rupert," Ethan Rayne said calmly. He looked around, then
tugged Robson's necktie off to tie the cloth around Giles' wound.

"Ethan? How--why--"

"Who, what, when, and where. Not now, old boy." He got his shoulder under Giles' good side
and lifted. "Upsy daisy."

"No . . . Robson . . . hospital . . . "

"No, you, hospital. I'm sure Robson's very civic-minded neighbors have already called the
police, they can deal with this mess. I'd rather not be here."

Giles saw the pistol shoved in Ethan's belt. "I don't understand . . ."

"You don't have to. Just stand up as straight as you can, keep moving, and hope no one gets a
good look at us as we leave.

The next hour was a blur. There was a car waiting at the curb, then a hospital emergency room
and Ethan telling the story of a mugging with such flaming high drama that the nurses thought
Giles was going into shock rather than trying not to laugh himself sick. By the end of it all, Giles
almost believed in the gang of drunken hooligans who had taken exception to Giles' taste in
soccer teams and drinking companions and Ethan being too panicked to call the police because
"all that blood, poor dear Rupert, I just couldn't *think*, I just knew I had to get him here."
Ethan's description of the "attackers" was vague enough to be believable but detailed enough to
make the policeman nod knowingly.

Finally Giles was released into Ethan's care, and Ethan escorted him out to the car, babbling in
concern. Once they were in the car and away from hospital, though, all the extravagant gestures
and words faded. Two blocks away, Ethan pulled into an alley and leaned his forehead on the
steering wheel.

"Are you all right?" Giles asked softly. Pain drugs, lovely things.

"Yes, I'm--I think so--that thing wasn't human, was it? That I shot?"

"What? Oh, no, no, it wasn't. It was a Bringer, or Harbinger, a servant of the First Evil, its hands
in the world. They've been killing the potential Slayers, trying to end the line, Robson said it's
started, everyone is in such dreadful danger." He didn't think Ethan was listening, though. The
other man clutched the steering wheel, eyes tightly closed. "Ethan, what is it?"

"Half a second slower, a breath slower . . . you'd have been . . ."

Giles reached out with his good arm and put a hand on Ethan's shaking shoulder. "Yes. Thank
you for that, by the way. Tell me why you were there, with a gun. I didn't even know you could

Ethan took a deep breath and relaxed his grip on the wheel. But he didn't look up. "Choices are
being demanded. Sides are being drawn up. I thought I knew mine, but then I remembered your
annoying little habit of always pulling some miracle out of your hat. I'm playing the odds."

"Ethan, are you telling me you want to help save the world?"

"You needn't sound quite so disbelieving, you know." A look of unwonted seriousness went
across his face. "Chaos isn't evil, you know. Well, not solely. Stagnation is evil. The forces
coming up on the other side want unending pain and torment. No room for the delicate touch,
that bit of whimsy."

"Turning me into a demon was not delicate. How did you get away from the Initiative, anyway?"

That mobile face suddenly went guileless and sad. "Such a weak, ineffectual man. Without his
magic, what kind of threat could he be?" The grin was pure wicked Ethan. "They actually left me
alone in a room with a working telephone with an outside line for ten minutes. I had to burn half
a dozen favors, but in 20 hours I was free and the Initiative was suffering an infestation of fire
ants, ghost scorpions and skunks. I was almost reluctant to leave."

"Ghost scorpions have been extinct since the 1830s, how in the world--"

Ethan shrugged. "Well, in this dimension they are. I'm sure those mad scientists were ever so
grateful to have several specimens of an invisible stinging insect to study." He turned to look at
Giles. "Was that creature swinging an axe at you in particular or were you just convenient?"

"I'm afraid I was just convenient, though I'm sure that will change. All the potential Slayers are
being hunted, and the Watchers Council is in danger--"

"Damn," Ethan said with as little sympathy as was possible to put into a word.

"Stop it, we don't have time for that. The Council may be full of berks and idiots, but they're still
the organization best positioned to mount a defense against primal evil."

"There is no defense against primal evil. One might as well defend oneself against primal gravity.
Despite whatever spasms are happening now, the balance will be maintained."

"But what if it won't be?" Giles said quietly. "What if there were a way to tip that balance, and
darkness is trying just that? You said it yourself, sides are being drawn. The darkness thinks it
can win this, it thinks that the light can be defeated."

Ethan stared off frowning. Giles felt something of his turmoil. Chaos played on both the light
and dark sides, riding the eternal balance like a teeter-totter. But up must always be matched with
down, good with bad, dark with light.

"I need your help, Ethan," he went on. "We must move quickly. The potentials are in dire
danger, and the Council won't be able to move fast enough. They'll want to debate and discuss
and study, and by then ..."

"By then the darkness will have won and the Council will be looking for knee pads."


"I heard that snicker." He sighed deeply. "What do we have to do?"

"Find the potentials, take them somewhere safe. I have a list of them and their locations.
Between us, we can--" He saw the look on Ethan's face. "What?"

"You're actually going to trust me to find potential soldiers for good and convince them to
accompany me to some unknown location for their own safety? Me?"

"You're a very good liar, Ethan. The gods only know all the foolish things you've convinced me
to do."

They stared at each other a moment, then Ethan began laughing. "All right, Ripper, all right.
And they call me the mad one."

Giles smiled, but there was worry in his eyes. "You do realize that this could completely wreck
your reputation. Will this be a problem for you?"

"Fortunes of war, dear Rupert, fortunes of war. I didn't start this game to die of old age anyway.
We agreed with Peter Townsend once upon a time."

Giles nodded. "'I hope I die before I get old.' Yes. Well, we're certainly doing our best to live up
to that one. We'd best be going, we have a great deal to do." He shifted his shoulders and
winced. "Dammit, I don't have time for this."

"Don't worry, Rupert, we'll think of something."

Ethan wondered which gods were rolling over and laughing hysterically as he, minion of Chaos,
Acolyte of Janus, sower of discord and confusion, smiled winningly at the cautious middle-class
housewife in Birmingham. "I completely understand your concern, madam, but I can assure you
Molly will be safest with myself and my colleagues from the Council."

Good God, he'd even managed a straight face when he said that.

Mrs. Culpepper twisted her hands in her apron and looked around her sitting room uneasily,
reached over to fuss with the tea things, did everything but meet Ethan's eyes. "Mr. Rayne, it's all
so terribly, terribly odd. That nice Miss Tate did explain everything about the--the creatures that
Molly's supposed to . . . well . . . but then they found Miss Tate there in the shopping arcade
stabbed, and I've just not known what to think. Molly said she was followed home the other
night. Shouldn't we call the police?"

"Trust me, Mrs. Culpepper, the police are not equipped to deal with this situation. Molly was
followed? Did she see them?"

"No, she said she just hurried home as quick as she could, trying to stay with other people. It's
lucky we live on a busy street."

Ethan looked out the window the street. "Yes, it is." He wanted to scream at the woman that she
was an ignorant idiot and no better prepared to cope with the madness of the real world than that
dust bunny of a dog snoring next to her on the sofa, but he was afraid that he'd insult the dog.
Dammit, impersonating one of those twits from the Council wasn't doing the job.

"Mrs. Culpepper, I don't want to alarm you--" liar! "--but I was being completely serious when I
said Molly would be safer with me than if she stayed here. And to be brutally honest, you'll be
safer, too. The people who killed Miss Tate are looking for Molly, and I know first-hand that
they're not particular about what happens to anyone who happens to be nearby when they make
their attempt. Molly must come with me now. She'll be able to ring you as often as she likes, so
you'll know she's safe."

She looked up the stairs, where Molly had gone a few minutes ago to pack. "I know," she said
softly. "I've tried to tell myself that Miss Tate was a nice young lady but just a bit touched and
that it didn't do any harm if she wanted to teach Molly about self-defense. But I've seen things,
strange looking people lurking in the shadows when I'm coming home from the shops at night.
It's real, isn't it, Mr. Rayne. Every bit of it."

"Yes. Every bit of it." He glanced around the room. He had as much trouble believing in this
prosaic British world, concerned with football and rates, as Mrs. Culpepper did believing in
Ethan's world of demons and magic. Why did people like Rupert worry so much about
protecting these plebeian sheep? They were fodder for the predators, a smokescreen that those
who knew the real world could hide behind.

He hid his cynical smile. Rupert didn't see them as sheep, he saw them as innocents, people
worthy of defense. And having thrown in his lot with the side of the sheepdogs, it was up to
Ethan to downplay his own fangs and long, wolfy tail.

Footsteps came hurrying down the stairs. Ethan got to his feet as the young proto-Slayer came
in. He didn't see it, himself. She was just another teenaged girl, except for the careful way she
moved and the hint of knowing fear in her eyes. She carried a back pack and a medium duffle

Mrs. Culpepper came over, hands still twisting on each other. "That's everything you're taking?"

"Uh huh." Molly looked nervously between Ethan and her mother. "Miss--Miss Tate said I'd
best learn how to travel light."

"We'd best get moving," Ethan said, cutting across the storm of tears he saw building on Mrs.
Culpepper's face. "We're due in London."

"London!" Mrs. Culpepper gasped. "So far."

Ethan managed not to say anything of what he was thinking. Molly saw his face, though, and
hurried to her mother.

"Mum," she said, "it'll be all right. Miss Tate said the Watchers were based in London, I'm sure
it'll be safe as houses."

As the pair hugged, Ethan found himself sympathizing with the Council. These families were
such an inconvenience. So much easier to go up to a girl and say, "Come along, it's your duty,"
and have them obey.

He shuddered, realizing that he, of all people, was coming down on the side of calcified tradition.
If he wasn't careful, he might start thinking that a suit and tie were an acceptable part of one's
daily wardrobe.

It was getting dark outside. "Ladies, my apologies, but we must be going."

Mrs. Culpepper nodded and pushed Molly away after one last hug. "You be good, Molly, and be
careful, and do what Mr. Rayne tells you." She wiped her eyes and looked at Ethan. "You take
care of my little girl, Mr. Rayne."

He kept his smile to the briefest twitch. "I'll do my very best, Mrs. Culpepper. We'll be in touch."

He put a hand on Molly's shoulder to conduct her to the door. She moved away from him neatly
and, after a last wave, led the way out.

Out on the street, Molly stayed out of arm's reach. "I know you lied to my Mum."

"About what?"

"About you being a Watcher. You're not. I don't know what you are, but you're not a Watcher."

"My dear girl, I never said I was. I would rather drink molten glass than be a member of that
group." He smiled at her. "And if you knew I wasn't a Watcher, why did you agree to leave with

She hugged her duffle bag. "Because you know about those things out there, the ones who killed
Miss Tate. And you're not like them. I need to keep them as far from my Mum as I can. You've
seen then, haven't you? You know how to deal with them?"

Ethan finally identified that oddly queasy feeling in his gut as the desire to reassure the girl. "I've
found that shooting them works well. One of them was about to take an axe to a friend of mine,
but I was able to stop that."

Molly moved marginally closer. "Why was it after your friend?"

"He *is* a Watcher. He was working with the Slayer up until very recently."

"She's dead?" Molly blinked. "But--Miss Tate said the current Slayer had been around for years
and years, I didn't know she was . . ."

"Oh, she's not, she's still quite alive and kicking. For some reason Rupert decided she didn't need
a full-time Watcher any longer, and he cut her loose. Buffy seems to be managing, from what
Rupert's said."

Molly stared at him. "You know the Slayer?"

He couldn't resist a jaunty smile. "Oh, yes, she and I go way back." He nodded at the train
station they were approaching. "Best let's hurry, I want to be in London before midnight."

Ethan had chosen the hotel in London that Giles was using as the HQ of the Watcher's Council in
Exile. It was a quiet neighborhood that ignored anyone who made a decent effort to be discreet.
Giles was pacing in the room he was sharing with Ethan, but the connecting door to the next
room was open, and another young girl was aimlessly working through the channels on the TV

"Sorry we're late, Rupert," Ethan said with a chipper smile. "The trains these days are appalling.
This is Molly."

Giles contented himself with a glare at Ethan and a muttered, "You could have called," before he
turned to Molly. "Hello, Molly, I'm Rupert Giles."

Whatever qualms Molly had had about Ethan, none of that showed with Giles. She shook his
hand with a tired smile. "Hello, Mr. Giles. Mr. Rayne said you worked with the real Slayer."

"Yes, I did. I still keep in touch with her. I'm glad you made it here safely. I heard what
happened to Deborah Tate, I'm sorry."

Molly looked at the floor. "I liked her." She looked up at the appearance of the other girl in the
doorway. "Hi."

Giles gestured the new girl in. "Molly, this is Annabelle. She's a potential Slayer as well."

"Hi," Annabelle said, hanging back but studying Molly.

Giles moved over to Ethan. "How did it go?"

"No problems. Miss Molly reports that she has been followed, though, and she suspects they're
the same people who killed Miss Tate."

"Annabelle hasn't seen anyone, but she has been on the fringes of things. No one from the
Council had been to see her yet."

"So she didn't know about Slayers and all that?"

"No. Which is why I went to get her, not you. I can't imagine your explanation of vampires and
Slayers and the like would be in accordance with the Council's standard party line."

"As I consider the Council's standard party line to be little more than a step-by-step manual on
how to get yourself killed, you're right. Now what?"

"I need to go out." Giles looked Ethan over carefully. "How tired are you? Someone should
keep watch."

"I can manage. Is there coffee?"

"Yes, that Turkish sludge you prefer."

Ethan smiled wickedly. "Why, Ripper, after all this time you still remember."

Giles didn't even bother to react. "Ladies," he said, turning to Molly and Annabelle, who had
begun a cautious conversation, "I have to go out for a couple of hours. Ethan will be here
keeping an eye out. Molly, Annabelle can show you where you can put your things."

The girls took the cue and moved into the other room, closing the door.

"Where are you going?" Ethan asked.

"I'm meeting someone from the Council. I need to get into the library, take a look at some files,
and I don't have time to go through channels. I should be back before dawn. Look after them."

"My pleasure."

Something in Ethan's voice made Giles look at him closely. "Ethan, no games."

He managed to look innocent, an immense accomplishment. "Whatever do you mean?"

"We are here to protect them, not . . ."

"Amuse ourselves?" Ethan smiled. "Not to worry, old man. I do know better than to mess
about when there are good odds of something nasty popping out of the woodwork with an axe.
Not to say, though--"

"Don't," Giles interrupted. "Ethan, I have not trusted you in nearly twenty-five years, don't make
me regret starting now."

"And this is why I never liked the Council, it's against the rules to even think about anything fun."
He patted Giles' shoulder, touching his cheek almost by accident. "Go on, and don't worry. I'll
look after them as if they were my own--" He paused to think of something of sufficient
importance. "My own precious skin."

Giles finally smiled. "Fine. Be careful, yourself. Try not to get an axe in the head."

"Trust me, I shall try to the utmost of my ability to avoid that. You may find the hotel a smoking
ruin and the girls and I shivering on the pavement, but I will avoid any axes to the head."

Giles nodded and squeezed Ethan's shoulder as he left. Ethan sighed and scolded himself for
being a nostalgic idiot, then settled into the one comfortable chair with the Thermos of hot
Turkish coffee and the remote to the television.


The step in the hallway was quiet and furtive. Ethan woke from his half-doze with the words of a
fireball spell already lining up in his mind. The room was dark, though faint light showed around
the edges of the window blinds.

He got up from the chair and went to stand by the connecting door. All was quiet on the other
side. He debated opening the door to make sure the bad guys hadn't been able to take out two
potential Slayers in absolute silence. Another step in the hallway distracted him. A quick check
under the pillow on the bed showed Rupert hadn't forgotten old habits. Ethan rather thought he
recognized the double-edged dagger from London days. Maybe he'd been there when Ripper
had bought the thing--

Damn, he was getting maudlin in his old age. That was a hand on the doorknob. Dagger in
stronger hand, spell ready with the more nimble hand--key in the lock?

Giles froze as he opened the door and saw the reception waiting for him. "Um, good morning?"

"Good morning." Ethan threw the dagger into the back of the chair he'd been sitting in. "Well,
you said before dawn, I suppose the sun's not quite up yet. Are you all right?"

"Yes, fine." Giles put a hand on the dagger to stop it vibrating, then pulled it out. "Tense night?"

"No, very quiet, until I heard someone creeping down the hall. Did you get what you needed?"

"Hm? Oh, yes, I'm going in this afternoon."

Ethan stared at him for a few moments. "Right. You get some sleep, I can keep watch."

"No, no, I'll be fine, go ahead and get some sleep. You had that long trip yesterday."

Muttering a few choice words about Watchers and their lack of a reasonable sense of
self-preservation, Ethan went over to grab his shoulders. As he suspected, Giles had difficulty
focusing on him as his eyes wobbled from exhaustion. "You are going to get some sleep if I have
to use unfair means on you."

Giles frowned suspiciously. "What sort of unfair means?"

A blast of memory, of days and days without sleep, when life was too short and too full of
amazing things to learn and experience to waste time lying down with eyes closed, until you
couldn't sleep even when you wanted to, and someone else had to make your mind slow down,
jump the tracks into rest.

Ethan let his eyes show the memories for just a moment, then he smiled a normal smile. "Warm
milk, if I must. Lullabies, if you get stubborn."

"Oh, my god, you singing. I'll be good." There were memories of his own in Giles' eyes, then he
nodded in surrender and stumbled towards the bed. He sat down on the far side, slowly
slumping in on himself as he let the weariness catch up with him. "Still, you can't be much

"I'll manage. You're right, someone needs to keep watch."

Giles frowned at him, then at the chair, then, very briefly, at the one largish bed in the room.
"You can't go forever on no sleep. And neither of us is of an age to appreciate sleeping in chairs.
We could put some wards up, give us a few hours ..."

Ethan told himself very firmly that Giles was only thinking of the job to be done, that memories
were only memories, not plans for the future. "I can put wards on the doors, this one and the
girls'. They'll be waking up soon themselves, though."

"If they go through the door, we should know about it. I'll feel safer, regardless."

Nodding, Ethan went out into the hall to put an alarm ward on the outer door of the girls' room.
When he returned, Giles was lying curled up on one side of the bed on top of the covers, fully
clothed except for shoes and his glasses, which were perched on the nightstand. Were the
clothes in order to be ready if something unfriendly came through the door or to avoid any
comparisons to other times he hadn't slept alone?

Ethan shook his head, too tired for once to care. He took off his own shoes and laid down on the
other side of the bed, sighing in mingled comfort and pain as his joints began to relax. He
glanced at the man next to him, thinking of the distance forged by time and circumstance. "Good
night, Rupert," he said very softly, closing his eyes.

He was snoring quietly before the soft reply came. "Good night, Ethan."

Several hours later, two girls whispered together about what they were supposed to do about
breakfast and maybe getting a shower. Mostly breakfast. Wisdom prevailed over appetite, and the
two decided to consult with their strange guardians.

Molly pulled open the connecting door cautiously and peeked into the next room. Then she
gestured urgently at Annabelle to come see.

The two men were snoring in harmony. Ethan was flat on his back, and Giles lay on his stomach,
left arm hanging over the edge of the bed.

Annabelle smiled. "They're kind of cu--"

Ethan rolled off the bed and came up in a crouch, faint sparks crackling off the fingers of his
raised right hand. Giles' dangling hand reached under the pillow and came up with a dagger even
as he searched the room for a target.

"Just us, just us!" Molly shrieked. Annabelle nodded quickly.

Ethan blinked his eyes into focus, then shook the sparks off his hand. "You two. Right. Ripper,
it's the girls. At least put your glasses on before you start flinging daggers round the room."

"I'm not that blind yet, idiot," Giles said, sitting up fully. "And what were you about to summon
without even knowing what the hell was going on?" He yawned and stretched, his back popping

Fighting a yawn himself, Ethan leaned on the edge of the bed and looked at the girls. "You
needed something?"

"Food?" Molly said cautiously.

"Wash?" Annabelle offered.

Giles blinked a little more. "Food. Yes. Tea. That does sound lovely."

"You haven't changed a bit," Ethan smirked. "Wake up, demand tea. No matter where you woke
up, you had to have your tea."

Giles reached back with his dagger-free hand, but Ethan easily dodged the smack that was
headed for his head. "I'm sorry we had to go the old-fashioned route with regards to facilities," he
said to Annabelle. "I believe there's something down the hall. But don't take too much time over
it. When you're done we'll get something to eat."

The girls disappeared eagerly, and a few moments later, Ethan winced. "Remind me to take those
wards off."

"Right." But Giles looked distracted. "I'll have to take you all with me into the Council. We don't
dare get separated."

Ethan managed to keep Giles from seeing his anticipatory grin. "A follower of Janus in the
hallowed halls of the Watchers. Are you sure alarms won't go off?"


There was a note in Giles' voice that bothered Ethan. "Look, save the plots for breaking and
entering and thievery till after you've had your tea. You were always useless before your first
cuppa anyway."

Ripper appeared very briefly. "Not always."

Ethan snickered. "Always."

They left the hotel without incident an hour later, after too-brief washups and shaves. Ethan
redeemed himself of a fair amount of past annoyance by providing a cantrip to deal with razor

Once the foursome was on the street, the subject of breakfast presented itself. Giles looked over
the group and hoped they didn't look too much like vagabonds, with their backpacks and air of
weariness. He himself probably still had some shreds of respectability to his name, but Ethan
always looked like he was on the run from something.

Molly perked up and pointed across the street. "Look, Starbucks!"

"No," Giles said firmly. "My god, I came home to get away from those damned things. We're
British, dammit, we're going to have something British for breakfast."

"You've been in California far too long," Ethan said calmly.

They found a caff around the corner that had all the things Giles considered part of a proper
breakfast. Molly looked at the waitress hopefully. "Corn flakes, with some fruit?" Annabelle
nodded agreement at the order.

Giles shook his head. "Tea, sausage, eggs, toast--oh, and grilled tomatoes."

Ethan winced. "Could you be any more of a cliche, Rupert? Coffee, eggs, and bacon, please."

As the waitress left, the two girls gave Ethan and Giles a look that spoke volumes about middle
aged men, arteries and greasy food. "Should you be eating all that?" Annabelle said cautiously.

"Don't worry," Ethan said, "I trust it will all get burned off before today's over. One generally
doesn't get fat being a sorcerer."

Molly glanced at Annabelle. "So--you're a sorcerer? A magician?"

"Like in Harry Potter?" Annabelle added.

Ethan put his elbow on the table and his head in his hand. "My god, I hate those books." Giles
just snickered. "Yes, like in Harry Potter."

"Think of him as Snape," Giles said.

"Thank you very much--Dumbledore."

"Do something magical," Molly said eagerly.

"I will not!" Ethan glanced around the restaurant. "Especially not here."

"Really," Giles added, "he'd best not. There are people about who can tell when magic is being
used, and we'd rather not catch their attention."

The food was delivered, and four hungry people dug in for a while. Annabelle finally looked up.
"So, now what? Where are we going, what are we doing?"

Ethan looked at Giles. "The great questions, Rupert. The girl would like to know the meaning of
life--or, at least, this afternoon."

Giles applied himself to his eggs for a moment. "I need to go to the Watcher's Council
headquarters today. There are some manuscripts and files on what we're facing, the Bringers and
the First Evil and such. You all will have to come with me, it's not safe to separate. And we can't
let the Council know we're there."

Annabelle frowned. "But you told me that the Watchers were organized to help the Slayer, to
find the potentials and train them. Why are we hiding from them?"

Ethan beat Giles to the explanation. "It may be in the Council charter that they exist to help the
Slayer, but they tend to see the poor girl more, shall we say, in terms of the job than of the

"That's not why we're avoiding them," Giles said sternly. "We don't have time to deal with the
bureaucracy and the explanations. I told them a few weeks ago about what I suspected, and they
wanted to form a committee to look into it. It's best if we just avoid them altogether and just get
the job done ourselves."

"You rebel, you," Ethan said with a muted smile.

"But, the Bringers are killing Watchers, too," Molly said. "Shouldn't we warn them?"

Giles didn't look at her. "They've been warned. They have the benefit of a millennia and a half of
experience and 21st century technology. If they can't use those resources properly, I don't have
time to show them how."

They finished their breakfast in silence. Giles paid for the meal after glaring at Ethan's suggestion
of a small cloaking spell to allow them to slip out unnoticed.

The Tube took them down to the City, the ancient heart of London, where the Watchers Council
anonymously occupied an old building on an innocuous side street not far from Lloyd's of

"It might be time for that cloaking spell of yours," Giles told Ethan as they reached street level. A
few tourists wandered about, but most of the crowd was business folk. A pair of battered
sorcerers and two potential Slayers did not blend in well.

"Surely the Council has wards and detectors on the doors. They'll pick up on the spell."

"If we were using those doors, yes." Giles led the way down the street. Molly and Annabelle
trailed along, staying close together.

Ethan sighed and followed. "So which doors are we going to be using, Rupert? No, let me
guess, your mysterious contact is going to leave the service entrance open."

"Not exactly. She said she'd have the wards disabled near the service entrance, but getting
through the door was my job." He pulled a small leather case out of his coat pocket.

Ethan gasped in delight. "Ripper, you devil, you still have them."

Annabelle cleared her throat uneasily. "Still have what?"

Giles knew he should feel ashamed of himself, but he also knew he was smiling in that way that
made the Sunnydale contingent very nervous. "Lockpicks. A chainsaw would be a bit obvious."

Ethan plucked a hair from each of them for his cloaking spell. The girls pouted at him and
rubbed their heads, but Giles barely noticed. The spell got them down the sidewalk past the
guards at the front door, then through the parking area gate when it opened to let a Rolls Royce
glide in.

"They've done nicely for themselves," Ethan commented quietly, looking at the Rolls Royces,
Bentleys, and the lone Lamborghini parked behind the walls.

"Yes, they have. Over here." Giles led the way to a side door. Ethan kept watch while Giles
picked the lock, but Molly and Annabelle watched in fascination.

"Can all the Watchers do that?" Molly asked softly.

"No, only those of us with disreputable friends."

"You're welcome," Ethan said.

The door clicked. "And there we are," Giles said proudly. "Everyone in."

"Just a moment," Ethan interrupted. He put his hand out cautiously, first touching the
doorframe, then reaching carefully through the doorway itself. He nodded. "Nothing magical
that I can feel." He smiled at Giles. "You may trust your friend, but if I were in charge of the
place I'd have alarms no one else knew about."

"That's because you're a paranoid bastard."

"Which is why I'm still alive." He gestured Annabelle and Molly to precede him through the

The service areas were prosaic enough, with bland office doors and men and women in standard
business wear. Several flights of stairs took the foursome to the upper floors, where elegant
carpets, dark paneling, and old paintings gave the air of a very respectable bank or legal firm.
They stayed close to the walls, avoiding people passing by.

There was more bustle than Giles was used to. Watchers generally never hurried unless
something was actively trying to eat them. 1500 years of history did tend to give people a less
urgent view of things. Now, though, people rushed back and forth, worried looks on their faces.
So, at least they knew something was wrong, something had happened that required a quick
response. He wished he could have brought Buffy here, shaken them out of their complacency
with the energy and fire of a true Slayer.

But perhaps they'd actually come up with something helpful. The traditions had calcified into
prejudice, but the Council's primary goal had always been the preservation of human life on
earth. The current threat was nothing they could ignore.

He looked at his companions. Molly and Annabelle were huddled together, having realized that
some of the paintings were historical works showing horrific battles and turning points of one
sort or another in the fight against evil. The Hieronymous Bosch painting of a group of vampires
rampaging through a village was particularly graphic. Just as well that most people believed he
only painted allegories of damnation, they didn't to see his more accurate works.

Giles had expected Ethan to be staring about in eager anticipation of mischief, but instead he was
studying the people with a very solemn look on his face. "What's wrong?" Giles asked, sidling
closer until he could whisper.

"I can't picture you here. This is nothing like the you I remember."

"That was rather the point, Ethan. I rejected all of this and all it stands for."

Ethan nodded. "But I still can't picture the current you, here. People must have made way for
you here, afraid of catching whatever it was that made you different."

Giles did not like the way Ethan could still read him. "Two hundred years ago, they'd have
burned you."

"Two hundred years ago? It was just last month." The quicksilver smile dared Giles to wonder if
he was telling the truth.

Giles touched Molly and Annabelle's shoulders. "The library's this way."

Three stories tall, occupying the center of the building and going to the roof, where a skylight let
in illumination. Powerful shields had protected the building during the Blitz, sending the German
bombs onto less fortunate buildings. Protecting the library and its ancient, unique texts. Light
filtered down through metal grill floors; small electrical fixtures shone just bright enough to allow
navigation through the maze of the stacks. Too much light was the enemy here.

The place seemed empty. Giles paused just inside the doors to breathe in deeply. Oiled leather
bindings, the wisp of decaying paper and cloth, a hint of dust, and, faintly, the sense of magic.

Now Ethan looked interested. "Odd," he said softly, "I always thought heaven would have more
dancing girls."

"Wow," Molly breathed. "I didn't think there were this many books in the world."

"If I hadn't been chosen to go to California," Giles said wistfully, "I was hoping to work here.
That would have been very pleasant." He shook himself. "Anyway, we mustn't dawdle. The
books we need are on the second floor."

Ethan trailed behind as they moved deeper into the treasure trove. He ran his fingertips along the
spines of the books, feeling the textures of vellum and leather and metal. Not all the leather was
from the typical animals. Faintly hooked scales caught his skin on one volume. Another binding
had the suspiciously fine grain of the skin of something sentient. When he touched that one, he
jerked his hand back at the sudden sound of screams in the back of his mind.

As he hurried to catch up with the others, he noticed a book with a familiar symbol, a profile of
the two-faced god, Janus. He drew the book carefully off the shelf, holding his breath in wonder.
"My god, I thought this burned when they sacked Rome," he whispered to himself. The
Janusside Oracles, prophecies of chaos which, naturally, each had two perfectly accurate

He looked around very carefully, then tucked the volume inside his shirt. Perhaps Rupert would
be too distracted to notice until they were gone.

"There you are," Giles said when Ethan finally caught up to them in the stacks on the second
floor. "Go take a look around, see if there is anyone else here. Molly, go down to the end of the
row and keep an eye on the main doors. Annabelle, I'll need you to help hold things." He began
pulling down file boxes and flipping through the documents inside.

Ethan smiled in encouragement to Molly as he went past. Hell of a job, waiting for a strange girl
to die in order to take over her powers and shorten your lifespan.

He heard voices outside a side door, but they passed by without showing an interest in the
library. Something about a meeting in the council room and a sense of buried panic. Served
them right. He checked the smaller reading rooms, making sure no one was napping.

In the fourth one, he found the bomb.

How lovely, said the evil part of his mind in delight, and he was momentarily distracted by the
image of beautiful flames and destruction. The calm part noted that the bomb was the fuel oil
and fertilizer type, designed to destroy buildings. And that there seemed to be no obvious timer.

He actually stepped forward, thinking to disable the thing. But he was no engineer, and his magic
was of no use here. The wires and circuits held too much order for the forces of chaos to get a
reliable hold on, and the leashed powers of destruction were too primal to risk interfering with.
Anything he tried might only trigger the explosion.

He managed not to run back, stepping nimbly past Annabelle to take Giles' shoulders. "There's a
bomb in one of the reading rooms, we have to get out of here."

"I beg your pardon?" Giles blinked, as expected.

"There's a bomb in one of the reading rooms, we have to get out of here."

Annabelle squeaked in fear. Giles stared at Ethan, obviously wanted to accuse him of lying and
just as obviously believing him. "A bomb? What kind?"

"Very large. The kind that took out that office building in Oklahoma City."

Giles looked around helplessly. "But--how would they have gotten it in here? My God, they're
going to destroy the whole Council. We have to warn them."

Ethan tightened his hold. "We have to get out of here. We can't delay for anything."

"But the Council, everyone here--"

He stared Giles in the eye. "You go to the Council chamber, you announce there's a bomb in the
library. They won't believe you. They will shout, they will demand explanations, they'll send
someone in here to look, they'll accuse you and me of being involved." He shifted his hands to
either side of Giles' face. "And then we will die."

Giles closed his eyes, knowing it to be nothing but the truth. "I know them," he whispered.

"I know. But it will kill you, and these two girls you saved, and any hope you have of stopping
all this."

"And you." Giles looked up at Ethan. "It would kill you, too." Ethan shrugged a little at the
obvious point. "We have to go," Giles said firmly. "Annabelle, pack up those papers. Molly!
We're leaving."

As he gathered everyone together, though, he looked at the bookshelves around him, at the
stacks, at the three floors of knowledge and mystery. "No . . ."

"Mr. Giles, come on," Annabelle said, tugging on his sleeve.

Over there was Merganser's Treatise on Flying Monsters, from Fiorenza, written in 1454. The
only known copy in the world. Next to it were da Vinci's collected sketches and notes on the
dissection of a Fyarl demon. Up on the top floor, immune to the stronger light, was the engraved
silver tablet describing a Babylonian Slayer's defeat of a wizard attempting his own demonic
Ascension and her death in the struggle.

He reached for the Merganser, but it was two feet on a side, three inches thick and weighed ten
pounds. Perhaps the da Vinci, but that was only an interesting curiosity, everyone knew the
anatomy of Fyarl demons. The Katifore Dissertations?

Ethan grabbed him and shook him. "You can't save them all, Rupert! We may not have time to
save any. Come on."

"But--the books . . ."

"I know, luv, I know. Ladies, we're leaving!" He grabbed a book at random from the shelves.
Giles grabbed two more, trying not to read titles and make judgements. He dropped them at the
door, picking up two others, not even certain why those were more worthy of being saved than
the first.

They ran down the stairs towards the service area, no longer worrying about noise.

"How long?" Molly asked.

"I don't know," Ethan said, one hand twisted in Giles' jacket sleeve to keep him moving. "There
wasn't a timer."

"Then it could--"

"Yes, any moment, keep moving."

When they reached the outer door, Giles pulled to a stop. "Drop the cloak," he told Ethan.
"Don't argue, just drop it."

Ethan shook his head but pulled the hairs, tied together with a string, out of his pocket. He pulled
it all apart and shrugged. "Done."

Giles shoved the door open. "Bomb!" he yelled at the startled workmen. "There's a bomb in the
building, run!" He ran for the gate, the others behind him. They shoved the gate open and ran
down the street.

"They're following us!" Annabelle yelled.


A duck into an alley a block away and a small misdirection spell hid them from pursuers. Giles
leaned against the side of the building, clutching the books to himself.

"It hasn't gone off," he said to Ethan. "Maybe--"

Ethan put a hand on his shoulder. "No, Rupert, there was no ti--"

The blast was deafening. Ethan and Giles grabbed the girls and pushed them to the ground.
Windows all around shattered, car alarms blared. Then the rubble began slamming down. The
two men hung onto each other, trying to make as small a target as possible.

Finally all that was left was the screaming and the sound of flames.

Giles stumbled out onto the street, staring towards the building. The top floors were burning,
what hadn't been blown apart. Papers swirled in the vortex, catching fire and vanishing in sparks
and smoke. He couldn't speak, not even to whisper a denial or a plea to whatever gods might

Ethan took his arm and pulled him away. "We can't stay. The police will be here, and there's
nothing we can tell them."

Giles forced himself to stop looking and to walk away. "I knew them, Ethan. I knew them all."

"I know, Rupert. I know. Leave that, Annabelle!"

Molly pulled Annabelle away from some debris, debris that oozed and smelt of burnt meat and
had fingers if you looked too closely. "What do we do now?" Molly asked.

Giles shook himself. "We keep running."

Despite Giles' demands that they keep moving, Ethan aimed everyone at a hotel. This time it was
a nice hotel on the rich side of discreet, where money bought a chance to recuperate. He had
money enough, if he wanted to use it.

Judicious use of basic misdirection spells got them all into a suite with two bedrooms, each with
attached bath, and only one outside door that required warding. Ethan deposited the girls in one
room, Giles in the other, then just stood in the sitting room as he tried to force his brain to

He was impressed all to hell with himself, being calm and resourceful and getting everyone out of
that. Underneath it all, though, he could picture the flames ripping through the walls, catching the
people. He worshiped chaos, fire made him happy. If he hadn't been a sorcerer he'd have been a
pyromaniac. Or a fireman. But this was just destruction for death and evil's sake. People died of
some of the things he did, he didn't deny that, but that had never been the purpose. Collateral
damage. This, this was just murder and barbaric destruction.

On the table underneath his hands were the books they'd rescued. Eyes closed, he ran his fingers
across the bindings. No magic spoke from these volumes. They were old and valuable, but not

He opened his eyes to look at them. Ti'tillen's Guide to the Higher Dimensions. A good book,
essential for anyone who was even thinking of portal travel. So essential that several copies
existed in libraries around the world. Ethan flipped through the volume and saw annotations in
various hands. Notes from travellers? Possibly very worth saving, then. The other book Giles had
grabbed was a collection of maps of leylines cross-referenced with known communities of
demons of various sorts. Again, worth saving but hardly unique.
He laughed when he saw the book he'd grabbed as they left: Volume 6 of the Collected Works of
Sigidith the Poet. Kudos to the Watchers for their urges towards a complete collection, but surely
Sigidith was better used to prop up uneven table legs than as research material. He touched the
book still tucked under his shirt. At least one truly unique book was saved. He pulled it out and
studied it for several minutes. He understood the symbology of the Janusside linguistic system.
There were probably very few people in the world--even fewer, now--who were better suited to
interpreting the work than he, who would be a more appropriate guardian.
After a few more moments, he added it to the pile of books on the table.
Slowly he went to the bedroom where he'd left Giles. A knock on the door brought no answer,
and he peeked in cautiously. Clothes lay on the floor in a trail leading to the bathroom, where the
shower was running. Ethan went to the closed door of the bathroom and listened. Beneath the
sound of water, he thought he heard crying.

Damned proper upbringing, mustn't show your pain where anyone can see it. No, have to hide in
corners, disguise the tears under something else. Ethan wondered if those children in Sunnydale
had ever been allowed to see the tears. As many battles as they'd fought, he imagined they had.
But he wasn't allowed to see them anymore. He was no longer worthy. And so his oldest . . .
friend huddled in the shower and suffered alone.

"Bugger that," he muttered, and he yanked his shirt over his head.

He knocked on the bathroom door briefly, in warning, then slipped inside. The room was full of
steam. Behind the shower door, Giles was straightening from leaning against the wall, his back to

"Yes?" he said, his voice thick.

Ethan didn't bother answering, just pulled open the shower door and stepped in.

Giles stared at him, shocked. "I beg your pardon!"

"Rupert, hush." Ethan closed the shower, then just looked at Giles a moment before resting a
careful hand on his face.

Without his glasses, Giles' eyes had no defenses. The outrage faded quickly, showing the shock
and pain. He tried to hold on to the bluster, but he only got halfway through a babbled command
for Ethan to leave before his voice cracked and he had to drop his eyes. Blindly he reached out,
and Ethan pulled him into his arms.

Being skin to skin brought out the honesty in each other. There had been lies and prevarications
between them since the day they'd met, but at times like this they'd allowed truth to show. It was
no different now they were older, allegedly wiser, and much, much better at telling lies.

The falling water from the shower allowed the fiction that the drops on Giles' face were not
mostly tears. He let Ethan hold him up for now, abandoning his duty, his mission, his heritage.
For now.

"I knew them," he whispered, staring at the shower wall with his head on Ethan's shoulder.

"I am sorry," Ethan said softly, stroking his hair.

"I didn't like most of them. I bloody hated a lot of them. But ..."

"But they were people you knew, people you'd worked with, people doing the same job you are."

Now he could dare show his fear, as well. "It's taken out the Watchers, Ethan. I don't know what
to do now. I know I was trying to stay out of their way, but I'd always expected that I'd have
them as a resource if I truly needed it. The First has destroyed the only organized defense the
world has."

Ethan managed an honest chuckle. "Which only means it's time for the disorganized defense.
Which is better than no defense at all."

Giles nearly laughed, then the reality of it hit again, making him sob. "Gone. They're all gone."
Ethan tightened his hold and said nothing for quite a long time.

Finally, damnedable practicality made a few points clear to Ethan. "We're losing the hot water,
Rupert. And my joints are too old to appreciate cold water. And you should probably get a little
rest before we do anything else. And some food."

"For a chaos worshipper, you have a disturbing grasp of sensible matters." Giles slowly pulled
himself upright, but he didn't let go of Ethan's arms.

"All the best chaos has a touch of order to it."

Giles nodded, but his attention was on Ethan's left arm, specifically the scar where he'd burned
away the Eyghon tattoo. "Why did you do it, Ethan?" he asked quietly.

"What, this? You know very well why, to put Eyghon off my trail."

"Not just this. Why--" He blamed shock for the tangents his mind was taking, and he had always
wondered. "The costumes. You were hired for the band candy prank, you tosser, but I've never
understood why you came to Sunnydale to play your trick with the costumes. Did you need the
Hellmouth to power it?"

Were they still in the trusting place where truth was allowed? Ethan decided to risk it. "I did it in
the first place as, well, an offering to Janus. I did it in Sunnydale because you were there. No
one else in the entire country would have appreciated it the way you did."

"Appreciate it? I kicked your arse and smashed your shrine."

"Well, yes," Ethan grinned, "but I can't say I wasn't expecting that."

Giles stared at him for several moments. "You could have just rung me up and said hello. I
wouldn't have hung up on you."

"Oh, where's the fun in that?" Ethan lost his smile. "The man you were then had put everything
behind him. You'd had that very nice museum job, which you obediently gave up when you
were assigned to Sunnydale. You were being such a good boy, I wasn't sure how you'd react to
seeing one of your wicked old playmates again."

"And you cared that much about how I'd react?" Giles asked softly, meeting his eyes.


Giles studied Ethan, and his memories. After Eyghon, he had denounced all his old ways, turned
his back on the passion of magic--and on the magic of passion. Until he'd been called to
Sunnydale, and the real world reminded him that blindness could get you killed. He reclaimed
his magic, his passion, and even his music. He'd thought he'd even reclaimed something with
Ethan, until that evening of reminiscence and booze had turned into adventures in demon form.

"Why did you turn me into a Fyarl, anyway?"

"Revenge," Ethan shrugged. "And green really is your color."

Giles blinked, then burst into laughter. He rested his forehead against Ethan's and lost himself in
giggles as Ethan draped his arms around his shoulders. Finally he caught his breath, and the two
of them just looked at each other for a while.

"You should get some rest," Ethan said eventually. "I can feel you shaking." He reached over
and turned off the water, long since gone to tepid.

"And the girls are probably wondering what we're doing. Don't grin like that."

Chuckling, Ethan shoved open the shower stall door and grabbed the nearest dry towel. Giles
actually had his hand out to accept the towel before he remembered who he was with. The
second towel, though, was handed to him as Ethan dried his own hair.

He was in the middle of drying off his legs when it all hit him again and he had to lean against the

Ethan took his arm. "What is it?"

"Sorry. I just--saw it all again."

"Remembered everything."

"Yes. God. Fifteen centuries. We predated Charlemagne. When the Black Death decimated
Europe and the monsters roamed at will, we fought the tide. The Watchers themselves went out
to battle, there were so many vampires and demons about." He leaned his head against the wall
and closed his eyes. "So many times humanity could have gone under to darkness, but the
Watchers held on. And now it's over. It's done."

"No, it's not."

Giles opened his eyes and looked at Ethan, who was looking disarmingly serious again.

"It's not over," Ethan added. "Because you're still here."

"But I'm the last."

"Only till the next one shows up." He patted Giles on the shoulder. "Get dry and get dressed.
I'm going to order an embarrassing amount of food from room service. Shall I see if they have

"Oh, god, if they have a decent masala, I shall love you forever."

"For that I might just go out and see if that little restaurant we liked in Wembley is still there."

"But not that one in Neasden."

Ethan shuddered. "Dear god, no. If ever a place deserved to have a Rakshasa show up and
wreck everything, it was that one."

"What Rakshasa?" Giles frowned.

Ethan did a fair job of looking innocent, then he grinned his normal wicked grin and left the
bathroom. Giles leaned against the wall a while longer, his heart and mind aching, but his soul
being very glad he wasn't doing this by himself.

Molly and Annabelle made deep inroads themselves on the piles of food that two waiters brought
up to the suite. Whether they appreciated the good meal or the decadent bathroom more,
though, was an open question. Out of respect for Giles' obvious shock, they were quiet, but
Annabelle eventually took her nerve in hand.

"What are we going to do now, Mr. Giles? With the Council . . . you know, and all the other
potentials dead--"

"They're not all dead," Giles said firmly. He was on his third helping of chicken tikka masala, and
he'd almost fought Ethan for the naan. "There are probably a couple of dozen more potentials
around the world. We'll need to gather them and get you all someplace safe."

Molly looked at Annabelle, then across the room at the television, which was running with the
sound off and showing the continuing coverage of the tragic explosion and fire in the City at the
unnamed research facility. A representative from Number 10 had already been on, reassuring the
country that this was not a terrorist act. Giles would have laughed, if not for fear of hysteria.

"Where's safe?" Molly asked quietly. "If the First can do that . . ."

"No, you're not safe here. But you will be safe--or, rather, safer--with the Slayer."

Annabelle blinked. "The--the Slayer? The real Slayer?"

"Wow," Molly breathed. "Where is she?"

"California." Giles took off his glasses and massaged the bridge of his nose. "The Hellmouth."

As the two girls looked at each other, Giles looked across the room to where Ethan stood near the
windows, keeping watch on the street as he ate his aloo saag. He'd been quiet since their tete a
tete in the bathroom, either from reluctance to risk showing too much of his feelings in front of
the girls or from regret at showing too much to Giles.

Ethan saw he was being watched. "So you're taking them to America?"

"Buffy can help keep an eye on them. And I imagine she could use the help. It's only a matter of
time before the First moves on her. We need to combine our resources."

"You'll forgive me if I'm not eager to return to America myself."

Giles blinked in surprise, then nodded. "No, of course not, I shouldn't have assumed."

"A bad habit, making assumptions."

Ah, lovely, they were back to concealed daggers at arms' length from each other. But he didn't
have time to deal with that. There were travel papers to acquire, one way or another, and plane
tickets to organize. Giles was beginning to have very nervous feelings about being in one place
too long.

Ethan helped obtain some remarkably authentic looking passports for Molly and Annabelle by
the end of the day. Giles wasn't sure whether to credit magic or bribes for the speed. He didn't
question it, either way. There was a plane leaving Heathrow for New York at 4 AM. The girls
tried not to complain about the lack of rest and the late hour, but they were exhausted. Everyone

At midnight, they went down to Piccadilly Circus to start their journey to the airport. Possibly
not the most efficient route, but anything to stay out of the crosshairs.

"You'll be careful?" Giles said to Ethan on the platform.

"Of course." He hefted the duffle bag of books that Giles had insisted he keep. "Are you sure
you don't want to take these along?"

"I need to travel as lightly as possible. If you can't find anyplace safe to keep them, I put the
address for the group in Devon in the bag. They'll be happy to keep them."

Ethan rolled his eyes. "Oh, yes, a white coven. I'd be such a welcome visitor there. Oh, don't
worry, Rupert, I have my own boltholes where the books will be perfectly safe." He slung the
bag on his shoulder. "Give my love to our Buffy, won't you? Or not, depending on what mood
she's in."

Giles didn't answer, too tired to deal with Ethan in this brittle mood, when all his words had
knives' edges just below the surface. Someday it would sink in, that all the easy moments with
Ethan were the exception, that believing the two of them could get past the tricks and plots and
fists was a mug's game.

Molly hesitated a moment, then went over and kissed Ethan on the cheek. "Thank you, Mr.
Rayne. For everything." Annabelle added a hug of her own.

Ethan looked utterly speechless for once in his life. Giles managed not to laugh. "My pleasure,
of course, Molly, Annabelle. Anytime." All the proper instincts of a gentleman, despite all his
worst intentions. He got a grip on himself. "Well, Rupert, look after yourself in America and
against our unpleasant friend."

"And yourself, Ethan."

Giles made no move towards Ethan. Ethan gave him a look that suggested he might say
something more, then he gave that thin, cynical smile and walked away. Giles saw Molly and
Annabelle looking at him in surprise and disappointment, but he had other things to think of,
safety, secrecy, the need to save the world a-bloody-gain.

He glanced up at the clock on the wall to see how long it was until the train arrived. "How can I
find you?" he called.

Ethan froze for several long moments, then he turned. "What did you say?"

Giles went towards him, not wanting to shout. "How can I find you?"

The shutters were still up in Ethan's eyes. "Why would you need to? I promise I won't get into
so much trouble I need--a watcher."

"I can't do this alone, Ethan. The girls and I would not be alive right now if not for you. I need
someone I trust watching my back."

"If this is part of your recruiting speech for joining the side of goodness and light, Rupert, it
needs some work. I think I just heard you say you trust me." He glanced towards Annabelle and
Molly. "Besides, you have access to a whole group of destined warriors, there's a young woman
in Sunnydale--oh, how does that go--chosen from all her generation to fight the evil."

Giles shook his head. "Buffy thinks she knows evil, but she doesn't. She's never lived it, never
made it with her own hands."

"Like we have." The cynicism was hard in Ethan's voice. "You want my help because you know
a little more dirt on my soul won't make much more of a stain. Such a flattering offer. I think
not." He turned to go again.

Giles' sharp voice pulled him back. "That's not why I want your help. I want your help because
you won't be horrified by whatever dirt ends up on my own soul. The children, they don't
understand. They think they can fight these battles and not have the darkness stick. I don't know
what will happen to them when they find out differently. And that's not the only reason."

Ethan gave him a cautious look but said nothing.

"I'm tired of all this between us," Giles went on quietly. "I'm tired of the violence and viciousness
and deception. I'm tired of my driving you off and you skulking away. If the world is in real
danger of ending, then it damned well is not going to end with me still being at odds with the
only person I've never pretended to."

There, he'd said it. And even if Ethan laughed and walked away, he wasn't sorry. Too many
bloody people had died on him without him telling them how he felt.

Ethan stared at the dirty platform surface. Around them, the new bustle in the crowd said the
train was due soon. Finally Ethan reached into his trouser pocket, pulled something out and held
it out. Giles took it and blinked. An ancient Roman bronze coin, with two-faced Janus on one
side. Twenty-five years ago, a corruptingly beautiful young man in Soho had worn this coin as a
medallion, giving a rebellious university student the opening he wanted to start a conversation.

"You shouldn't need much in the way of a locator spell with that," Ethan said diffidently. "This
will be the first time I've ever had it away from me."

Giles wrapped his hand around it securely. "Thank you. I'm afraid I don't have anything to give

A different kind of smile tried to escape Ethan's control. "I've never had any trouble finding

"No," Giles admitted, "you never did."

"Where will you go next?"

"There's a girl in New York I have to collect, then I'll take them on to Buffy in Sunnydale. I need
to see how things are going there, then I think my next step will be Shanghai."

"Shanghai? Are you mad? One doesn't just pop over to China from America in this day and

Giles grinned. "Well, that's why I'll have you about. Meet me in Tokyo in three weeks and we'll
work out a plan." He laughed outright at the anticipatory cunning in Ethan's face.

Rumbling in the tunnel from an approaching train told them time was up. "Mr. Giles?"
Annabelle called anxiously.

"Be right there," he answered. Ethan pulled him into a hug, which he returned without hesitation.

"Be careful, damn you," Ethan growled into his ear. "I will not have you abandoning me here on
the side of truth and justice. You're the only one I know here."

"And you save your creativity for when we need it. No ordering drinks for the house then casting
a glamour of yourself over some poor sot in the corner while you sneak out."

"That worked, if you'll recall, and you found it hysterically funny."

Giles pushed him back, then kissed him very quickly, hoping the girls didn't notice and not caring
if they did. "Yes, I did." The train rattled into the station. "Be careful, Ethan. I'll see you in
Tokyo, three weeks."

"Three weeks, Ripper." The wicked grin was back in full force. "I'll reserve us a bath house."

They hugged again, then Giles broke it off to collect Molly and Annabelle and take them to the
train. He found them seats and took the strap to stand nearby. Through the window he saw
Ethan in the crowd, a slight man already blending into his surroundings as he prepared to
disappear again.

There was something terribly irresponsible about looking forward to the future. He had no idea
what they would find in Sunnydale, he might find horrors to rival seeing the Council's
destruction. A proper Watcher would be soberly considering the options, preparing Molly and
Annabelle and whomever they would find next for the battles to come, sublimating himself in the
requirements of the job.

As the train pulled out, he looked back one more time. He caught Ethan's grin for a split second
before the train disappeared into the tunnel. All the proper Watchers were dead. He had never
been a proper Watcher, that was rather the story of his life. It was long past time he stopped
being half-ashamed of it and embraced the impropriety. He imagined he was going to have to do
much worse before this all was over.