I still don't own Buffy the Vampire Slayer or any of its characters. But I should. Lord knows I would treat them better than Joss.

Thank you to those of you that reviewed. As always, I am humbled and overwhelmed by your comments, your compliments, and your wit. I was surprised at how many people had read this story thus far. It didn't seem like a pair anyone would be interested in, but since Ethan was one of the best charismatic bad guys, I always had a bit of a soft spot for him. Therefore, he needs love. Review. Do it for Ethan.

BTVS BTVS BTVS BTVS BTVS BTVS

It had been going exceptionally well, in his always humble opinion.

He had come over that evening with groceries, amused by the fact that Buffy thought the reality of him cooking was cute, even though he had done it for her many times before. She sat on a stool in the kitchen, sipping wine and watching him like it was the only way to see.

He made chicken fettuccine because it was the first thing he had ever cooked for her. A tad romantic, but as he couldn't remember the last time he had told a woman that he was in love with her, he figured a tiny bit of cheesy romanticism wouldn't go amiss. They had eaten by candlelight, drank wine, and there was instrumental music playing in the background. Buffy was wearing the green dress she had worn on her first date and he had worn a pair of charcoal gray dress pants and a black silk button down shirt. They had both dressed up without discussing it. It was almost as if Buffy knew that the night was in some way special. All in all, a perfect moment.

Ethan grabbed his lover's hand across the table. "There's something I wish to tell you, my dear," he began. "I…"

An impatient knocking at the door interrupted him. Buffy smiled apologetically before rising to answer,

The Slayer couldn't think of anyone that would be at her door. The only visitor she ever had, at least lately, was sitting at her dining room table. She was more than a little shocked to find Willow and Giles in the hallway. Her Wiccan friend held an ornate silver chalice and before the blonde could ask what they were doing there, or even greet them, they had pushed past her, looking in doorways, obviously searching for the man in the dining room, for no reason Buffy could possibly imagine. At least, no happy reason.

Ethan stood as Ripper and the witch burst into the room, effectively killing any romance, no matter how well choreographed. Without warning, Willow threw the contents of the chalice at Rayne's face.

8 hours earlier

"So, Ethan Rayne, huh? That's…different," Willow said mildly as she buttered her roll.

Buffy smiled serenely at her redheaded friend as she set down her fork. "Not something I was looking for, but maybe everything I needed," she said cryptically. "With everything that happens in our lives, love just feels like an invitation for more pain, right? I thought I would never feel anything again after Spike died, but Ethan…" She paused, carefully considering her words. "Something about the way he came every night without fail, without me giving anything in return, made me realize that even though we've all lost so much, we can still heal. Maybe not completely, but love…that's the reason we save the world, isn't it? And I've learned in my life that it can come from unexpected places if we keep our minds and hearts open for it."

"Have you forgotten about, say, the time he tried to sacrifice you to a demon?" Willow asked with a smirk.

"Yep," Buffy answered, popping the 'p.' "Just like I've forgotten how you flayed a man alive and tried to end the world," she said with mock cheerfulness.

"Touché," Willow muttered coldly. "But really, Buffy! Ethan Rayne? Is this some residual Spike thing where you need an old villainous Englishman to get off?"

Buffy stared at her openmouthed. After a moment, she regained her voice. "You know, I've supported you in all your relationships. Even Kennedy, even though I think she might be an evil demon. Or possibly a Hell beast. Jury's still out on that one. But, until now, I've never said anything about it because it's none of my business. Just like the fact that I'm in love with Ethan Rayne is none of yours," Buffy spat as she grabbed her purse and stormed out of the restaurant, completely missing the genuine smile on the face of her friend.

Present time

Ethan screamed as the lavender colored liquid hit his face. As it ran down his skin in thin rivulets, searing pain following in its wake. "What the bloody hell have you done to me?" he gasped as he pushed his way past the smug Watcher, the grinning witch, and the stunned and confused love of his life.

Willow grabbed his arm as he tried to get by her.

"Herb, rock, water, tear, and salt,

Hear me as my song is sung.

Age him to match his heart's desire.

It is youth to which he aspires.

Dear god Aengus hear my plea.

As I will it, so mote it be," she chanted softly, speaking fast and low, so most of the words were lost to those listening in the room.

Rayne stared at her a moment with wide eyes before shoving her away and running for the bathroom, with every hope of washing the sizzling liquid from his face before it could work whatever magic the witch intended.

Buffy whirled about to face her friends as she heard the door slam. "What did you do to him?" she snarled. She paced back and forth in front of her guilty friends. "It's not enough that I'm happy for the first time in…I can't even remember how long? No! Who cares about what I want? So…what? Did you turn him into a demon or something? Something petty and revenge-y?" she ranted.

"Buffy," Giles cried out, grabbing her by the forearms and forcing her to stop. "You're going to have to trust us."

"Trust you?" she spit. "How can you even say that to me? And you," the Slayer growled at Willow. "After everything I said today. After I told you that I'm in love with him…how could you guys do this to me? Haven't I lost enough yet? You seriously need to get over your control issues! I've lost enough. I don't need your meddling!"

Giles and Willow both smiled sympathetically at the distraught young woman and physically turned her toward the sound of the slowly opening bathroom door.

Buffy blinked in surprise and alarm as she watched the figure emerge.

2 hours earlier

Willow juggled the paper sacks in her arms as she made her way into the kitchen. "Geez, you'd think that with vervain growing on the side of the road in England, it would be a whole lot cheaper to buy. I would have been better off driving outside of the city and picking it myself. These prices were highway robbery. Get it? Highway robbery? Why are we in a hurry again?" the witch babbled as she unloaded her bags onto the counter.

"Willow!" Giles exclaimed, interrupting her inane prattling. "Are you certain that's what she said? She's really in love with him?"

"That's right," the redhead confirmed. "Took a lot for her to say it, too. I had to insult him before she'd admit it. She made allusions to it before that, but nothing concrete. She seemed really shocked when I first brought it up though. I could see it in her eyes. She was all with the 'How did you know?'"

Giles stared at her. "And did you tell her, Willow?"

The witch rolled her eyes as she filled a pot with water and set it on the stove. "Yeah. I said, 'Well, your former Watcher called at five o'clock this morning and decided I should use my lunch with you as a fact finding mission to see whether or not you're in love with a chaos mage. Any thoughts?'" She gave him a withering look. "Of course I didn't tell her! If she knew we were going to do this because of what she said, she'd kill us! She really didn't want to talk about it anyway."

"Well, I can't imagine why," Giles said, rolling his eyes at the girl's naivety while he began throwing herbs into the pot and stirring. "It's not as if she has any reason to suspect that we might not be supportive of her relationship choices. After all, we were all paragons of accommodation when she was with Angel, and Spike for that matter. And she's never been encouraging to us when we've had relationships. Me with Jenny, Xander with Cordelia and Anya, or you with Oz and Tara," he intoned sarcastically.

"Yeah, yeah, I get it," Willow sullenly griped. "So, what exactly is this spell going to do? I've never even worked with half of these ingredients."

The Watcher stared into the bubbling concoction. "It might just give Buffy what she deserves."

Present time

The Slayer stared at the man that walked out from the bathroom. His handsome unlined face matched her expression of shock. Gone were the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes, the creases in his forehead, the laugh lines around his mouth, and the tiny bits of gray in his hair. He stretched out a long fingered hand to his lover and she quickly grabbed it, checking for herself that he was indeed real. She drug the pads of her fingertips over the sharp planes of his face, the obscene wideness of his mouth, and the softness of his tousled hair.

"Why?" Buffy whispered. "Do you think I cared about how old he was?" she asked her friends as she stared into Ethan's dark eyes. "It didn't matter to me."

"Are you saying that you don't like me like this?" Ethan pouted, speaking for the first time since his transformation.

Buffy looked him over critically. His voice was the same, his eyes were the same, softening and shining every time he looked in her direction…only when he looked in her direction. She glanced from his lanky frame, the same as always under his clothes, to his nimble hands, now lacking the lines and scars that had been there only minutes ago. "It's not that I don't like this, because…well…yum! But I didn't need this to care about you or love you. I already did."

Willow stepped forward nervously. "We just wanted to show you that we support you and want you to be happy no matter what because you deserve it. And because we love you," she stammered. "And the whole Spike replacement thing…that was just me trying to figure out your feelings. I wasn't serious." She smiled in apology, hoping Buffy wouldn't hold it against her that she had harassed her friend earlier that day to suss out her real feelings toward the former chaos worshipper. And to be honest, Willow approved. There was not going to be a horrible talk one day about vampires and demons with him. He didn't work for a government organization that was going create creepy experiments that would get out of control. He wasn't half a demon hell god. And there was the whole part where he was alive and his age of fifty was a far cry from the two hundred and fifty of Angel or the one hundred and twenty of Spike. But, of course, he wasn't exactly half a century old anymore. Sure, he had been evil at one point, but who among them hadn't?

Ethan Rayne hadn't even heard the witch speak. His attention had been caught and held by the blonde woman in front of him. He snagged her arm, pulling her tight against his body in a hug. She loved him! He felt almost giddy at the revelation. He caught Ripper's eye over the Slayer's head.

"You and I were friends once, Ethan," Giles began. "And we were for long time. Apart from your degenerate and chaotic attempts to reinstate yourself into my life, I know you're not a bad man. And you deserve to be happy, as does Buffy. Willow…and myself…thought it would be best if you were closer in age so you had more time to accomplish that."

Willow grinned at them. "So, we've cut your age in half. Congratulations! For you, fifty is the new twenty five!" she exclaimed, winking. "And I think it goes without saying that if you hurt her, I have a shovel and I doubt anyone would miss you! A vague disclaimer is nobody's friend." She grabbed Giles' arm and led him to the door. "Have fun, you two! See you around, Ethan!"

They heard the door open and Willow's whispered, "I so want to be the one that tells Xander about this!" before it slammed and the rest was silence.

The Slayer raised an eyebrow at her newly youthened lover. "Was this something you needed?" she asked softly. "I mean, not that the prospect of having an extra twenty five years with you isn't wonderful…" her eyes widened ad said. As she realized what she had said. "Sorry," she muttered. "I didn't mean to be emotionally slutty there. Just forget I said anything."

Ethan smirked as he watched his lover turn a fetching shade of red. "Well, I'm afraid I look forward to having the opportunity to spend the next twenty five years with you."

Buffy looked at the mage in shock. They had never discussed their feelings, except of course, when she blurted them out, which she seemed prone to doing in the duress of the night. They had never talked about the future, or if they even had one. The Slayer would have even settled for what they had…the late night visits, the cooking, the ridiculous stories of their past, the surprisingly amazing sex…if that was all he was willing to give.

Rayne took in her awed expression and remembered that he hadn't gotten to tell her that tiny tidbit of information he had been agonizing over. And here it was again. The perfect moment…kinda.

"Don't you see, you silly girl? I'm in love with you." He grimaced. A less than perfect delivery.

Buffy rolled her eyes. "Be still my heart," she deadpanned. "How can I resist you when you're just so romantic?"

"It is a curse, isn't it?" Ethan smirked proudly.

"You know," Buffy said, a mischievous gleam in her eye, a hand on her hip and a finger on her chin, "I got used to the other version and I gotta say…I liked it. This is like a bait and switch." She bit her lip and looked up at him coquettishly from under her lashes. "Maybe I should try out the merchandise."

Ethan raised an eyebrow at her as his amorous Slayer drug him off towards the bedroom. "Must you cheapen the moment?"

"Hell yeah."

A/N You'll notice the god Aengus was referenced in my spell. For those of you who don't know, Aengus was in Irish mythology and thought to be a god of love, youth, and poetic inspiration.