Giles held the folded letter in his hand and stared at the all too familiar script. In bold, embellished letters across the front it said, "To Rupert "the Ripper" Giles, c/o the Council of Do-gooders and Watchers." He shook his head, a very small smile making his lips twitch.
"He asked you to give this to me?" he questioned, raising an eyebrow at the large man standing uncomfortably on the other side of his desk.
Riley nodded and turned as if to go.
"He asked me to give it to you – and to tell you that…" Riley sighed and came back towards the desk, his reluctance clear in every line of his body. "And to tell you that if you'll take responsibility for him, we'll release him into your custody." His face indicated how distasteful he found the idea, and how unlikely he felt it was to happen. He blinked owlishly as the older man burst into a hearty laugh.
"He's finally worn out his welcome, I take it?"
Riley made a face, then shrugged. "I guess you could say that. We have nothing to learn from him, really. This international operation is more demon-oriented than anything else. Magic isn't a big part of what we study; and he only raised one demon for them…"
"You allowed him to raise a demon? Are you insane?"
"I wasn't there," Riley responded stiffly. "I'm a field operative, not a lab rat."
Giles nodded. "So, how did that go? The demon raising? Was it the success for which they were hoping?"
Riley shuddered. "It was," he said shortly. "Fortunately, it didn't make it out of the building before it was neutralized."
"And now they want to get rid of the man who summoned it," Giles said wryly.
There was no reply; Riley's face said all that was necessary.
"Why do you think I would want to bring Ethan here?" Giles gestured widely, his hand including the entire new Council complex.
"Because, if you won't take responsibility for him, he'll be… neutralized… just like his demon."
Riley looked away, clearly uncomfortable with the message he'd been sent to deliver. The letter Ethan had pressed into his hand had not been part of his original mission, which was simply to make the offer to release the chaos mage into the custody of the Council of Watchers. He avoided looking at Giles until the string of colorful profanity had ended with an explosively expelled breath.
"I see," was all Giles said into the silence that followed. He glanced at the letter again and unfolded it. "I think four years is long enough, don't you?" was scribbled across the page in Ethan's flowery handwriting. The elaborate signature followed a much smaller "Always yours".
"Does Ethan know what is in store for him if I don't take him?"
Riley shrugged. "I'm not sure. I doubt it. He's been a thorn in their sides since he got there. I imagine if they haven't killed him by now, he thinks he's pretty safe. You never know, though. Prisons are funny places… word gets around."
In his fury over being turned into a Fyral demon and almost being slain by his own slayer, it really hadn't occurred to Giles at the time that he was sending Ethan off to an unknown fate. Riley had simply said, "We'll take care of this" and hustled the subdued man out the door to the relief of everyone in the room. If he'd thought of Ethan at all in the ensuing years, it was infrequently and only in passing. As he had done before the mage began showing up from time to time to wreak havoc in Sunnydale, he was able to put the man out of his mind. To relegate him to that shadowy and ill-remembered past of which he was now so ashamed.
"I'll take him," he said abruptly, standing up and showing Riley to the door. "Just let me know where and when to pick him up."
The soldier nodded, and walked out. "I'll be in touch." He hesitated, "I don't suppose Buffy…"
"She's not here."
Riley nodded. "Okay. I just thought I'd say 'Hi' while I was in the area."
He moved away from the doorway, wincing as it slammed behind him.
Two days later, a cryptic message from Riley saying that Giles should meet him in the parking lot of an old, unused school building and come prepared to travel had him wondering if he was doing the right thing. Calling Buffy, Willow and his immediate staff into his office, he quickly ran through what he was planning to do and with whom he was going. After the initial, occasionally loud, discussion that was inevitable given their history with Ethan Rayne, Buffy and Willow settled down to hear his explanation.
"We're responsible for putting Ethan into their hands. I cannot, in good conscience, leave him there to be put down like an old dog that has outlived its usefulness."
One of his staff members frowned.
"Are you sure you can trust this guy?"
Giles raised his eyebrows at Buffy and nodded for her to speak. She bit her lip, and shrugged.
"Riley's a good guy. I trust him… I think. The people he works for – even if they aren't calling themselves "The Initiative" any more – not so much." She glanced at Giles. "Do you want me to go with you? Or to send a squad of slayers?"
He shook his head, taking off his glasses and resting them on the desk as he rubbed his eyes.
"I am assuming, since he's asking me to meet him away from here, that he is not interested in sharing their location with anyone. I wasn't even aware, actually, that they had a presence here, although I suppose it was inevitable given the close ties between our two governments…." He dismissed his concern that his contacts had not alerted him to the presence of an international demon-hunting organization. "I'm letting you know what's going on so that, should I not return in a timely fashion, you will understand who may be responsible and where to start looking."
"Okay." Buffy quickly took over the meeting, wearing the "General Buffy" persona with which she had become very comfortable over the past few years. "Here's the plan. I'm going with you. Riley can like it or lump it. We're taking two squads of slayers with us. One will be clearly visible to him and to whoever else is with him; one won't be. We'll be wearing tracking amulets so that Willow can do a quick locator spell if she feels she needs to."
Buffy stopped and glanced at the Head Witch. "Can you make them look like something else? So that if we get captured, they won't notice them?"
Willow nodded. "I'll get right on it. Something small is all that's needed – maybe an earring for you, or a necklace, and a…" She looked at Giles, now chewing on the earpiece of his glasses. "And another pair of glasses for Giles." She got up and left the room, already muttering to herself about what spells to use so that she could track Buffy and Giles easily.
By the time Giles and Buffy pulled into the empty car park designated as the meeting spot, there were several slayers scattered around the area. Some of the younger, more androgynous girls were dressed like boys and were kicking an old football around in the poorly kept field at the other end of the building. Close enough to see what was going on, but too far away to be deemed part of an entourage. To the casual eye, they appeared to be a group of young adolescent boys, perhaps cutting school and hiding out in the older part of town. A few more were sitting on nearby rooftops, careful to remain under tarps so as to be invisible from the air or to heat-seeking glasses.
Behind the small car being used by Giles and Buffy was an old station wagon containing a small contingent of slayers. They pulled up behind Giles' car and got out, standing in a line behind the Head Slayer and the Head Watcher. A large, black SUV pulled in right on time, coming to a halt facing the small group.
Riley stepped out, smiling at Buffy even as he turned worried eyes on the other slayers. "I'm not prepared to take a crowd with me," he said, indicating the girls ranged behind their leader.
Buffy shrugged. "They're not coming with," she said without giving any explanation for their presence. "But I am." She waited calmly for Riley's response, relaxing when he nodded.
"I think that's okay. Just let me check…." He spoke into the communication device on his collar, frowning for a second, then speaking again. All Buffy could pick up from the quiet conversation was "Don't worry, I won't let…." He turned to Buffy with a smile. "It's fine," he assured her. "I said I'd be responsible for you."
Ignoring the snickers from the girls behind her and mentally applauding the one who muttered, "Good luck with that," Buffy nodded her thanks. She turned to the slayers and said, keeping her face straight, "Okay, ladies. You all know where we're going— oh! No you don't. Where are we going, Riley?" She blinked at him innocently.
"You know I can't tell you that, Buffy. If it was okay for you to know where we keep our… where our headquarters is… I would have just given Giles the address. As it is, we're going to have to drive from here to a helicopter pad and fly to the facility. I'm afraid you'll have to be blindfolded…."
There was more muttering behind her, but Buffy held up her hand for silence while she studied her ex-boyfriend's open face.
"What do you think?" she whispered to Giles. He shrugged. "I was expecting something of the sort."
"Okay, Riley. We're trusting you. When should I tell the girls we'll be back?"
He appeared to be thinking, then Buffy realized he was actually listening to someone through his earpiece.
"Probably within three or four hours," he said, finally. "I'll bring you back to this spot. The girls can wait if they want to."
"The girls will do as they bloody well please," Giles growled. "They do not answer to you as to which parts of this city or country they may frequent."
Riley gave an irritated sigh and gestured to the SUV. "If you're ready… I've got other things I need to be doing."
With a wave, Buffy and Giles climbed into the back of the big vehicle and settled into their seats. Riley got back into the front and nodded at the driver, who quickly pulled out of the car park and onto the main road. It took only ten minutes for them to reach a small, private airfield where a helicopter waited for them. Although it had a very military look to it, there was no insignia to indicate its country of origin. Only the initials "D, V & P Protection Services" gave any indication that it was not a privately owned chopper.
As they buckled their seat belts and calmly accepted the blindfolds that Riley apologetically tied into place, Giles asked, "What does "D, V & P" stand for, if I might ask?"
"Demons, Vampires and other Pests," Riley replied gruffly. "But we don't make that public.
"Pests? You refer to vampires and demons as pests"?
"It's an inside joke," he replied. "We needed a word to cover anything else that might come up – like your friend the magician," he said. "Pest just seemed like a good catch-all term."
"Mage," Giles said, ignoring Buffy's huffy "Pests!"
"I said the correct term for Ethan is a 'mage'. Magicians perform tricks at birthday parties for small children."
"Whatever." Riley shrugged. "Call him whatever you want. They'll be glad to see him gone; and I'll be glad to get back into the field where all I have to know about these creatures is how to kill them."
For several minutes, all that could be heard were the sound of the rotors whirling over their heads. Then Buffy leaned towards where she thought Riley was sitting to ask, "What do they do with them where we're going? Is this just the Initiative under another name?"
Riley shifted uncomfortably, then realized she couldn't see his flushed face. With relief, he said, "No, of course not. But our scientists are still studying anything we find that is really unusual. If we don't know what it is, we bring it to one of our holding facilities for study before…."
Buffy held up her hand. "Don't want to know," she said. "I can guess what happens to them after." She cocked her head at Riley as though she could read his face through the blindfold. "Doesn't it bother you sometimes that these are sentient beings?"
"Does it bother you?" he challenged. "If I remember correctly, you've probably been responsible for more dusted vampires and decapitated demons in one month than I've had in my entire career."
"I don't capture and torture them," Buffy said quietly. "Or cut their parts off and stick them onto other creatures. It's a clean death. And they have a chance to fight back," she added.
Giles hand on her arm stopped her before she could work up to a good rant. He wanted no part of trying to explain to Riley about the differences between what his charges did in their battle against evil – and the occasional alliances they made when necessary – and the experiments that his coworkers performed before disposing of their subjects like so much trash.
Long-buried feelings stirred at the thought that he had sent Ethan off without so much as a thought to what might happen to someone like him when in the custody of scientists determined to dig out all his secrets. His hand unconsciously clenched on Buffy's arm, causing her no harm but bringing a reassuring pat to his hand.
The rest of the trip was made in silence, with Riley removing their blindfolds as they felt the helicopter settle to earth. They needlessly ducked under the still-spinning rotors and followed Riley into a nearby cinderblock building. Giles caught only a glimpse of the very bland-looking complex before following Riley and Buffy through a heavy door and into what seemed to be an airlock. Riley swiped a card and the interior door slid silently open, letting them into a small office area.
Riley nodded to the curious office staff, but didn't speak as he led Giles and Buffy across the room and through another set of heavily-built doors. Unlike the labyrinth-like Initiative headquarters, this facility seemed to have only a few easily reached areas. The cellblock, which was where he led them, was much smaller and less open than the one in which Spike had been imprisoned so long ago. There were no floor-to-ceiling transparent walls to allow those walking by to observe the inhabitants, only heavy metal doors with small grilled windows in the upper third. Without pause, Riley let them to the first cell and used his card to open the door.
Giles stepped past him to kneel by the inert body on the floor. Relief flooded his system as he turned Ethan over and saw that he'd just been sleeping on the hard floor, rather than having died there. The bruises and lacerations on the mage's face and arms indicated that he'd had a rough time and Giles turned to glare at Riley. The other man shrugged.
"His pet demon did a lot of damage," he said with an embarrassed flush. "I'm assuming there was some retaliation."
Ethan sat up, leaning perhaps more than necessary on Giles' strong shoulder. His once ebony hair was streaked with gray, and his face contained lines and wrinkles that hadn't been there when he left Sunnydale. He glanced up at Buffy and managed a smile.
"Ah," he said, coughing briefly. "The lovely Ms Summers. How nice to see you again, my dear. Perhaps you might want to take a look into some of the other cells while you're here?"
Buffy frowned. "I don't want to look at anything, Ethan," she said. "We just came to get you out. Although, what Giles thinks he's going to do with you, I have no idea."
She missed the flush that crossed her watcher's face and the smirk that graced Ethan's. But she didn't miss the way Riley stiffened at the mage's words and moved to block the door.
"Riley? Is there anything – anybody – else in here we should see?"
"No, of course not. Nobody – nothing. Just some random vampires and unusual demons…."
"Look next door, Slayer," Ethan gasped, as Giles helped him to his feet. "We can take a few minutes."
Giles was helping Ethan walk to the door, frowning as he tried to understand what Ethan was saying. Buffy wavered, then, curiosity getting the better of her, she moved towards the door. Riley stood rigidly, blocking her exit.
"Riley? If you just brought us here to lock us up too…."
"No. No, I'm willing to take you back. Right now, in fact. You've got what you came for." He stepped back, using his body to funnel them towards the doors they'd come in. Buffy quickly ducked around him and ran to the next cell, standing on her toes to peer through the small window. She frowned, seeing nothing at first but a man's bare back, and bowed head. Some sound she made, or perhaps it was Riley's shout of "Buffy – no!" brought the man's head around and suddenly she was looking at one of the two vampires she'd been sure were out of her life forever.
"Buffy, come away. It's… it's not who you think it is."
"I'm pretty sure it is," she growled back. "Open the door."
"I can't do that, Buffy. He's not my prisoner."
"He's not anybody's prisoner," she said, pulling futilely on the heavy metal door. She stopped, having had a sudden thought. "Is he Angelus? Is that why he's in here?"
Relieved, Riley quickly said, "Yes. That's it. He's lost his soul again, so obviously he needs to stay here."
Buffy stared at the pleading eyes in the cell. "Are you sure?" she replied dubiously. "Cause he doesn't look like…."
Inside the cell, Angel growled in frustration, then pointed to the wall, mouthing something that she couldn't hear through the thick door. When Buffy just stared at him, puzzled, he rolled his eyes and pulled on his hair, then pointed to her head. When she still stared at him, he pointed to the wall again, then to her, and then to his heart. He repeated the motions – wall, Buffy, heart until her eyes widened and she disappeared from his window. He sank back with a sigh, shooting a rude finger at the angry face now glaring in at him.
One glance into the next room, and Buffy was tugging on the door, doing her best to break the lock. Riley stepped up behind her and put a hand on her shoulder.
"Don't," he pleaded. "You can't take them."
"Don't tell me what I can do, Riley. Let them out of here, and do it now."
When he continued to protest and refuse, she snatched his ID card from his neck and ran it through the slot of first Spike's door, then Angel's. Without waiting for them to emerge, she began pushing Riley towards the door.
"Let's go," she ordered, turning around to see if the vampires were following her. She was surprised to see that Angel and Spike seemed to be holding each other up as they struggled to follow her. "Wha-?"
"Later, love," Spike croaked. "Just get us out of this madhouse."
She nodded, waiting until she was sure that they were going to be able to walk without more help, then turning to follow a smirking Ethan and shocked Giles out of the cellblock. Shepherding the vampires ahead of her, Buffy ordered Riley to get out of their way.
With great reluctance, the soldier raised for his weapon, holding it steadily on the small group as he said, "I'm not going to let you do this, Buffy. We don't know what they are yet. For all we know they don't have those souls anymore…"
Suddenly, he yelped and dropped the glowing gun. With a satisfied chuckle, Ethan collapsed against Giles. "Not quite dead yet, you big lump," he gasped, barely able to stand after that small bit of magic.
Buffy picked up the gun and began to hand it to Giles. Realizing that he was using both arms to hold up an exhausted Ethan, she held it herself and trained it on Riley with more authority than he would have expected.
"Be careful, Buffy," he cautioned. "You're not used to…."
"You have no idea what I've become used to lately," she said, gesturing with the gun that he was to precede them through the doors. "You've just become our ticket back to the chopper."
Throwing a worried look over her shoulder at the two vampires limping along behind her, she hustled everyone through the office area and onto the helicopter pad before it really registered on those watching that an escape might be taking place. She helped Angel and Spike into the helicopter, then ordered Riley in too. This time, she sat up front with the pilot, leaving Riley to shrink into a seat next to the two vampires. Seeing the gun she was holding, the pilot was quick to point out that they couldn't leave without his cooperation.
"That's why Riley's back there and I'm up here," she said cheerfully. "Do you know who I am?"
"I know what you are. I think." he replied, still eying the gun.
"Then you know that I'm not really inclined to hurt humans… if I don't have to."
He nodded, still staring at the gun pointed at his head.
"But those guys back there? The one's we broke out?" She waited until he sent a look towards the back and the three much the worse for wear men sitting with his superior officer. "They don't have those pesky little hang-ups. None of them do," she added, with a glance at Giles. "So, if I were you? I'd just fly us back to our car just as fast as you can go."
"Do as she says, soldier," came Riley's resigned voice. "She can be very forceful."
Choked laughter from the two vampires brought a glare before Buffy turned her attention back to the pilot. "So, let's go, huh?"
Without responding, he lifted the helicopter into the air and headed back the way they'd come. The return trip was much shorter than the trip to the facility, in part because the pilot was not taking the circuitous route he'd taken the first time, and partly because he was anxious to be rid of the surprisingly frightening girl holding the gun on him and the strange-looking men she was determined to take with her.
In a very short amount of time, he was setting the chopper down, not on the landing pad from which they'd left, but at Riley's direction, at the edge of the car park where the slayers were still waiting. Breaking off their pick-up soccer game, they formed a wary welcoming committee as the aircraft set down. Not until Buffy and Giles were safely on the ground did they approach, moving quickly to assist in unloading the three injured men and moving them well away from the whirling blades.
When she was satisfied that none of the slayers were going to stake Spike or Angel, and that Giles was keeping an eye and one arm on Ethan, Buffy turned to meet Riley's cold gaze. Equally hard and cold, her voice told him more than he wanted to know about her remaining feelings for the two vampires.
"I know you didn't mean to do it, but thanks for getting them out for me. How and where did you capture them, anyway?"
He sighed. "I told you, Buffy. They aren't my prisoners. There was some kind of disturbance in Los Angeles-" There was another coughing laugh from the vampires – "and we sent in a squad. All they found was an alley that looked like a fire had roared through it, and these two – lying on the ground unconscious. At first they were going to take them to the hospital, then one of the corpsmen noticed that they both had incredibly slow heartbeats—"
Buffy's "Heartbeats?" got Giles' attention, and he shuffled Ethan closer so that he could hear more of the conversation.
"Heartbeats," Riley said firmly. "But still not human." He pointed to Spike and Angel. "They tried to fight their way out – and he…" he pointed at Spike and glared, "…he tried to bite me when I went into his cell to see if it was really him."
"Wanker," Spike muttered.
"Why didn't you tell me? You knew who they were. Why didn't you tell me about them? We thought they both died in that battle."
Her eyes challenged him to provide a good reason for not telling her about his two greatest rivals for her affection. He shrugged. "I'm human, Buffy. I don't like them and they don't like me. And my bosses wanted to study them. It's not every day they get to see vampires with heartbeats and…"
"And breathing," she finished for him, remembering all the panting and gasping that had accompanied them to the helicopter. "Riley, they're human. How could you?"
He shook his head. "No, Buffy. They're not. I don't know what they are, but it isn't human. They set off all our demon detection devices, they still have fangs, they're still really strong…"
Giles broke into the conversation. "They, and Ethan, are obviously quite weak and injured to boot. I suggest we get them back to some medical care and worry about what they are later."
"Don't come looking for them, Riley," Buffy said as she turned toward the cars. "You can't have them – and my army is stronger than yours."
With a stiff nod, Riley returned to the helicopter, which quickly lifted into the air and disappeared into the distance. Hands on hips, Buffy, glared at what had been the two most important men in her life.
"When we get you patched up and fed, we're going to have a long conversation about why I wasn't told about what you were doing – and why you didn't think having some slayer back-up might have been a good thing."
Angel and Spike exchanged glances, then shrugged. "We doubted you'd be interested in our problems," Angel said stiffly. "After you sent that watcher twit to take Dana, when we'd found and subdued her."
Buffy winced when Spike waved one scarred arm at her; then she stood up straighter.
"You didn't trust me?"
"Was more like you didn't trust us… him… Slayer." Spike's voice was strained and trailed off when she transferred her glare from Angel to him. "Right. None of my business, is it? This is between you and him."
"Get in a car," she said flatly. "Both of you." She pointed to the station wagon where the slayers were making room in the back. "Don't stake them," she added as the younger girls looked dubious about riding with two vampires behind them. "If they bother you, just punch them."
Without another word, she got into Giles' car behind Ethan and said, "Let's go."
By the time they arrived back at Council Headquarters, Buffy had calmed down enough to take charge of hustling the two semi-vampires to the clinic and supervising their care, leaving Giles to decide what to do with Ethan. To her surprise, he took the mage directly to his private quarters, asking one of the younger girls to fetch one of the many first aid kits available in the building for him, and helping Ethan up the stairs.
Giles opened the door to his room, watching carefully as Ethan made his way slowly across the living room and directly into the bedroom. He fell face down on the bed, sighing and mumbling, "You have no idea how wonderful this feels, Ripper," as he burrowed into the soft linens.
"I'm sure it is far superior to the hard floor upon which I found you," Giles said. "But don't get overly comfortable there. I have no desire to ruin my bedding by cleaning you up on it." He went to the door, responding to the timid knock by the girl who'd brought the requested first aid kit.
"Thank you, Lily," he said, closing the door firmly in her curious face. He returned to the bedroom to find that Ethan had turned over and was watching him with wary eyes.
"So now what?" he asked, the first sign of uncertainty on his face.
"Now," Giles said firmly, gesturing to the easily visible bathroom, "we clean you up and tend to those cuts and bruises."
"And then?" Ethan didn't look at his one-time lover as he stood up and walked towards the bathroom.
"And then, we'll see."
Giles followed Ethan into the small bathroom, brushing past him to take a clean washcloth and towels from the small linen cupboard. When he turned around, Ethan was already removing his shirt, dropping the extremely dirty article of clothing on the floor and kicking it away. His upper body, in addition to being dirty, was covered in bruises, both old and new. With a gasp, Giles reached a tentative hand towards Ethan's chest, withdrawing it before he could touch.
"I am so sorry," he said, never taking his eyes off the slender body in front of him. "I never thought-"
Ethan shrugged and began to unzip his pants.
"Don't worry about it, old man," he said, dropping them to the floor and stepping out. "It's not like I haven't been bruised before – and by better men than they," he added with a leer that caused Giles to flush and turn his eyes away. He handed Ethan the washcloth and set the towels down on the counter.
"I'll just leave you to it, then," he said, after clearing his throat. "I may have something you can wear…"
Keeping his eyes averted, he left the room and closed the door behind him. He leaned back against the door, squeezing his eyes shut.
What am I doing? What have I done?
When he heard the sound of the shower behind him, he moved away and rifled through his drawers looking for something that might fit Ethan's much more slender body. Settling on pair of sweat pants that had shrunk, and a matching sweatshirt, he walked back towards the bath, hesitating with his hand on the door. Ethan's voice floated out as the sound of running water ceased.
"If you want to come in, come in," he said. "I've not got anything you haven't seen before."
Giles opened the door and handed the clothes through the opening.
"Here. These should keep you decent until we can you something more… appropriate."
"That afraid to be in the same place with me when I'm naked?" Ethan responded, taking the sweats from Giles' hand and setting them on the counter. He'd already picked up the towels left there and was rubbing one vigorously over his body. As he finished with a flourish, he turned and faced Giles.
"There! Do I look better now?" He waited, an unreadable expression on his face while Giles ran his eyes over him, then nodded reluctantly.
"You do," he said gruffly. "You smell better, too."
"Ah yes." Ethan looked slightly disappointed. "I imagine I was becoming quite aromatic. Regular bathing was not considered important for any of us." He pulled on the pants and shirt and stood up straight looking Giles in the eye. Thank you, Rupert," he said quietly.
"I wouldn't have left you there," Giles replied, standing aside to allow Ethan to go back into the bedroom. "Are you hungry?
"I could eat," Ethan admitted. "They hadn't fed us today – except for our normal drugs, anyway."
Ethan nodded as he followed Giles out the door.
"Yes, they originally kept me in a cell that damped my abilities to the point that I couldn't escape, but when I was moved to the facility where you found me, they resorted to keeping me too drugged to concentrate."
Giles frowned. "Well, I assume they had to do something to keep you from creating havoc…"
There was no reply from the other man, and they continued in silence until they reached the dining hall. Giles gestured for Ethan to precede him, showing him to the serving line and then waiting while he filled his tray. They found a small table away from the few other people eating at that hour, and sat down. Giles watched in silence while Ethan wolfed his food, holding his questions until the other man had stopped eating and was leaning back, savoring his coffee.
"What about the vampires?" Giles finally asked. "What did they do to them?"
Ethan shrugged. "I don't know exactly. They'd been there for a while when I arrived. I believe they were being fed drugged blood to keep them docile. I was able to see them leave their cells once or twice and recognized the Slayer's former boyfriend and William the Bloody."
"Also a former boyfriend of Buffy's," Giles said with a grimace. "I am amazed to see them getting on so well."
Ethan gave a soft laugh. "They fight like… like family," he said. "But, like family, they appear to stick together when threatened. I had no idea the Slayer would want to take them both with her – but I knew Angelus wouldn't leave without William."
As he finished speaking, Buffy appeared in the entrance to the room, spotted them and wove her way through the tables. She sat down without invitation, looking back and forth between the two men. She fixed Ethan with a hard eye.
"So, what are we going to do with you, now? I'm not sure I trust you not to-"
Ethan interrupted her. "I'm hurt, Slayer. And after I helped you rescue your slightly less undead lovers…."
"I appreciate that, Ethan. Trust me. I'm very grateful. But I know you. The minute you feel better, you'll be looking for some kind of mischief to get into."
Giles couldn't hide his smile, and when he saw that he'd been caught, he laughed aloud. "She's got you there, Ethan."
The mage just sipped his coffee and did his best to appear harmless. After a minute of silence, Giles came to his rescue and turned to Buffy.
"Have you obtained any information from Spike and Angel yet? Anything about the apocalypse they seem to have survived, or about why they have heartbeats?"
Buffy shook her head and grimaced. "No. As soon as I got some blood into them and they started feeling better, they started arguing over which of them shouldn't be here and whose fault it was that they were captured. When it looked like they were going to start fighting over me, I left."
"You left them alone?"
"Nah, I left a couple of slayers to watch them and Xander was just going in when I left."
"Oh, that should go well," Giles muttered.
Buffy shrugged. "I think he and Spike liked each other more than they want other people to think. He looked pretty happy to find out Spike wasn't dead – again." She looked up at her former watcher with a grin. "Angel's on his own."
"What do you intend to do with them?" Giles looked at her intently, searching for any hint as to what place in her affections the semi-human vampires might still hold.
She shrugged. "They're big boys," she said finally. "They can decide for themselves what they want to do. I'm hoping they'll help us out with the slayers, maybe take up some of the slack in my job…"
"I meant," he said gently, "where they are going to fit into your life – if at all. I can understand that you are well-removed from the teenager who fell in love with Angel, but it hasn't been all that long Spike was very important to you."
Buffy nodded, then sighed. "Yeah. Kinda why I left the room," she admitted. "He was looking at me like… and I've.…" She sighed again. "I don't know what I'm going to do with them. I'm just really, really glad that they aren't dust in that alley. I'll worry about what to do about them tomorrow. Or the day after, maybe.…"
"Anyway!" she said, sitting up straighter. "We weren't talking about the men in my life, we were talking about the one in yours…." Buffy stopped, turning bright red. "I mean… not in your life, but, you know, yours to.…" While Ethan smirked at her and Giles cleared his throat and fumbled for his handkerchief, she blushed even deeper. "Feel free to stop me before I get another foot in my mouth," she said.
"It's quite all right," Giles finally said. "He does appear to be in my life at the moment… in the sense that he is my responsibility."
"That's exactly what I was trying to say!" Buffy's relief was palpable. "That he's your responsibility." She beamed as she asked. "So, whatcha gonna do with him?"
"I will keep him where I can monitor his activities until such time as he seems to have his health back. Then… I don't know, actually. What shall we do with you, Ethan?" The heated look he got in exchange had him quickly filling the silence. "Not that it's necessary to decide right now. As Buffy has so astutely pointed out, there is always tomorrow, or the next day…"
They rose to their feet and began to make their way out of the large room, now beginning to fill with hungry slayers-in-training. In the large hallway outside, they halted as they saw a small group of men heading their way. Leading the group was a wide-eyed Spike, followed closely by Angel who looked merely bemused, and Xander, who was tugging on Spike's sleeve and whispering urgently in his ear.
Spike stopped a short distance from Buffy, staring at her with disbelieving eyes that gradually darkened in a way with which she was all too familiar. Angel's faint growl brought a sudden burst of understanding, and she whirled on her oldest male friend.
"You told them?" she demanded, glaring at Xander as he tried to hide behind Spike.
"Well, technically, I only told Spike," he stammered. "Deadboy there was just listening in on our conversation."
"You haven't seen him for over two years, and all you could think of to talk about was my private life?"
"Well, he asked if you were seeing anybody… and that led to… and then.…"
Spike was still staring at Buffy as though she were something rich and delicious. He licked his lips and managed to say, "Not his fault, Slayer. I asked… and.…"
He trailed off, obviously sidetracked by the images in his head. Buffy walked up to him and slapped him across the face, leaving an imprint on his pale skin.
"Snap out of it!" she growled, lowering her voice as the girls walking by slid their eyes towards the small group.
"Sorry, pet," he breathed. "I just…." He stopped and turned towards Xander. "Did you say you saw them?"
Buffy rolled her eyes and threw up her hands. "You are so immature. Go away before I stake all of you." She glared at Xander. "ALL of you," she repeated. Refusing to meet Angel's still-dazed eyes, she pointed towards the door. "Go away!"
Angel cleared his throat and began, "Buffy, if you want to talk abou—" Her "No!" accompanied Spike's yank on his arm, and he reluctantly followed the two rapidly retreating men escaping the Slayer's wrath. As the two vampires and Xander disappeared down a side hallway, Willow came running up, out of breath.
"I'm so sorry, Buffy. I told him not to tell them about Sat-" She halted abruptly when she saw Giles and Ethan. "I told him not to tell them," she finished lamely. "But he and Spike…."
"Apparently bonded over it," Buffy said dryly. "I got that." She fought down a blush and shrugged. "Oh well. It's not like it's something I'm ashamed of. I wouldn't do that to Satsu. But I didn't need…. Men are so stupid!" She fixed her glare on Ethan and Giles, both of whom immediately announced that they had business elsewhere and hurried away.
"Real poopheads," Willow agreed.
After an early-evening walk around the grounds and some occasionally uncomfortable reminiscing, Giles and Ethan, who was obviously tiring, were ready to return to the living quarters. Giles now had a much better idea of what sorts of things were still going on in the much smaller, but still secretive and dangerous Initiative. It was clear that, in spite of the new name and the more international scope of the organization, some things had not changed much.
He'd apologized so many times for not checking on Ethan's whereabouts before Riley's visit, that the mage had finally laughed and stopped him with a gentle hand on his arm.
"Do stop, Ripper. It's not like you to be so remorseful – certainly not for anything you may have done to me. I had it coming. I know that, even if you are choosing not to remind me of it at the moment."
Giles stared at him suspiciously. "The Ethan Rayne I know would never admit to deserving punishment," he growled.
"The Ethan Rayne you knew has had several years in which to contemplate the error of his ways," Ethan said lightly. "I've also had some time to learn more about the events I missed while being held underground and to realize that the chaos you and your slayer managed to prevent would have been a little too much even for my taste."
"If you were so isolated, how do you know anything about what Buffy has dealt with in the past few years? Not always with my help, I might add."
Ethan nodded. "Yes. It seems you left her in her time of need – if I'm to understand the vampires correctly. Seems to be a pattern of yours, does it not?"
"There is no comparison between-" Before he could finish his furious comeback, Giles stopped himself. "I did what I thought was best. You know nothing about what we've had to deal with."
"Actually, old man, I know quite a bit about it. The vampires and I had the opportunity to spend some quality time in the same crowded cell when they first arrived. They were drugged, of course, and somewhat the worse for wear, but still capable of talking much of the time."
"Then you know about the First Evil."
Ethan nodded. "Hence my realization that interfering with the forces of less-than-evil might not be as good an idea as it seemed at one time. It seems that it took the combined efforts of your entire little team to keep the world from sinking to a level of chaos that would have been too much even for me."
Giles was silent for a minute, then muttered, "It was a group effort, without a doubt, but it couldn't have succeeded without Buffy… and Spike. I was not as helpful as you might think. Surely Spike took the time to share that with you?"
"Neither vampire speaks overly highly of you," Ethan said with a small smile. "Although I did my best to assure them that you had nothing but the best of intentions – no matter how holier than thou you may have seemed at the time."
Giles made no reply to that, and instead led Ethan back into the building and up the stairs to his flat. He opened the door, holding it while Ethan preceded him into the small, but comfortable sitting room. As he closed and locked the door, Ethan's amused voice came from behind him.
"So, Ripper, it seems your slayer has expanded her horizons since last I had the pleasure of her company."
"Yes, so I've been told. When you consider who the men in her life have been, is it any wonder she may have chosen to seek comfort elsewhere?"
"A good point. Although I'm a bit surprised by William the Bloody. That was unexpected."
"Spike changed remarkably after he was chipped," Giles admitted with visible reluctance. "More than I could have imagined was possible for an unsouled vampire. I sorely misjudged him that last year in Sunnydale." He paused. "I cannot tell you how grateful I am that he was there for Buffy when the rest of us…."
"When the rest of you were your usual judgmental selves?"
Giles stared at Ethan, his eyes hardening. "If I were my 'usual judgmental self' you would be still residing in that hell hole, awaiting your turn to be 'neutralized'."
Ethan nodded and walked over to the chair closest to the fire. "Quite right, old man. I've been an ungrateful bastard." His relaxed posture as he slumped into the chair belied his apologetic words, but his eyes were warm as they met Giles'. "I do appreciate it, and you have my word that I will refrain from my usual… activities… as long as I am residing in your home."
Giles looked away; his body tense as he sat in the other chair.
"You promised them you would monitor my activities, didn't you? I don't know how you're planning to do that without keeping me right here. Close by…."
"I don't have a guest room," he said stiffly. "But I daren't leave you on your own in the complex."
Ethan remained silent for several minutes, thoroughly enjoying his old friend's flushed face and uncomfortable shifting. Eventually, he sighed and spoke up.
"Relax, Ripper. I'm not going to accost you in your bed. The days when I needed to be sleeping next to you are long behind us. I'll be perfectly fine on that sofa." He gestured across the room to an overstuffed couch. "You can even chain me to the legs if it will help you sleep better."
Giles nodded, his shoulders slumped with relief.
"An excellent suggestion," he said. "I will know where you are, and yet I…"
"You won't have to worry that my abused old body will tempt you into something you'll regret."
Ethan's voice was flat. If there was an undercurrent of pain in it, Giles worked very hard to ignore it.
"That was not my concern. I simply do not care to give the impression that there is anything more to this arrangement than is actually present."
"And what is that, exactly?"
"That is the question, is it not?"
There was a long silence while Ethan did his best to appear only mildly interested in the answer and Giles pretended to be deep in thought. He got up and paced around the small room, pausing when he got to Ethan's chair. His hand moved forward, hesitating over the other man's head before dropping to his side without touching.
"It's been a long time, Ethan," Giles finally said ambiguously. "You are welcome to remain here until you are completely recovered – as long as you behave," he added with a warning frown. "However, anything else would be…." His voice trailed off and he glanced down, this time allowing his hand to brush over Ethan's head. "It's been a long time," he repeated softly.
Rummaging through his clean sheets, he pulled out a set of clean ones and an extra pillow, setting them on the couch. He went into the bedroom and pulled the quilt off his bed and added it to the pile. While an uncharacteristically silent Ethan began to make up a bed on the long sofa, Giles pulled a set of manacles with attached chains from a wooden chest, carrying them to the couch and looping the chains around one leg of the heavy piece of furniture. He padlocked the chain in place, then indicated that Ethan should lie down. With a resigned shrug, the still weak mage lowered himself onto the admittedly soft cushions and stretched one leg towards his old friend.
"Get on with it, then, Rupert. I believe I could sleep for a week, now that I no longer have to worry about— well, no reason to dwell on that, is there? A good night's sleep, and I'm sure I'll feel like a new man." He smiled at Giles, his eyes already drifting closed as the pulled his now manacled leg back under the fluffy duvet. "Then we can talk about how I might make myself useful around here," he said, with a yawn.
"Good night, Ethan," Giles said. He turned out the lamp and went into his bedroom, leaving the door slightly ajar. As he undressed and prepared for bed, he mulled over Ethan's last words. Was the chaos mage actually offering to work with the Council? Could he be trusted? Should he be trusted? Would his gratitude for being rescued from the new Initiative outweigh any desire for revenge on those responsible for putting him there in the first place?
His thoughts strayed to Buffy and her surprisingly calm acceptance of the presence of her two former vampire lovers. He had to admit that he would have expected more drama with both of them obviously still interested in the slayer that they hadn't seen for over two years. As much as he hoped she would send them both packing once they were restored to health, he knew better than to think he had any idea what was going on in her heart.
Tossing and turning, he put Buffy and her unconventional choices from his mind, allowing it to return to the man in the next room. A man who seemed to be suggesting he would like to stay with the Council and share some of his knowledge of the darker arts. Could he bring himself to trust Ethan again? Would Ethan trust him?
Telling himself there would be time to work out those questions when Ethan was back to good health and they'd had time to thrash out some of their issues, Giles rolled over and forced his eyes closed, trying to forget that lying in the next room was the man who had been a part of some of the best and worst times of his life.