Series: The Knowing
Title: Prequel - chapter one
Author: Claudine
Pairing: W/Ethan
Rating: PG
Feedback: p.p.p.p.p.p.please ???????

Notes: After writing and posting The Knowing I received a lot of feedback that said I left out a lot of things. So here is my attempt to answer some questions. At least to answer the questions of how Willow and Ethan got together and what this soul- sucking demon was. I suppose at some point I'll write a 'sequel' to answer the other questions. Sorry, thing at a time...Claudine's got some major life stuff happening. Everything up to this point was pretty much canon. This story assumes that a romantic relationship took place between Willow and Giles when they were all in Cleveland.

Disclaimer: Permission to use these characters relating to BtVS & AtS has not been given. Joss, Twentieth Century Fox, UPN, WB & Mutant Enemy own TM and copyrighted them. This is purely for fun, and no copyright infringement is intended. Say goodnight, Gracie...

Chapter one

"Aren't you getting tired of this," Ethan said with a smirk, his hands bound by an invisible force and tethered to a slick wall down an unnamed alley in New York City in the middle of night in the dead of winter.

"Actually, I am," Willow said. "Leave me alone, Ethan. Just because I'm not with Buffy and the others anymore doesn't mean I'm bad," she said.

"Of course you aren't. And just because I'm...well...just because I'm me doesn't mean that I'm bad, either."

"Nice try," she said and lifted her hand to cast another spell.

"No, no, wait," he cried out, half laughing, half defeated. He was smitten, no doubt about that. "Seriously, how long are we going to do this dance, hm? I mean come on."

"I'm done. I'm finished. No more dancing for me," she said, hand still in a spell-launching position between their bodies.

"Let me buy you a drink," he said, pathetic and bound by the nothingness.

"No." Short. Sweet. To the point. Only she'd been telling him for months and he just didn't get it. Part of her was flattered that he'd pursued her for so long, never taking 'no' for an answer. But part of her was wary, still sure that Ethan Rayne is, was, and will always be a thing of evil. No matter how handsome he was. 'Whoa,' she said to herself, 'Where the frilly-heck did that come from?'

"Willow, love," he started.

"Don't," she warned, "call me that." That was what Giles had called her and she was not about to allow that memory to be tarnished by Ethan Rayne's pathetic prattling on.

"Willow. Please. I know you don't believe me but I've changed. Obviously you see you can kick my ass whenever you feel the need so there's no fear of me harming you in any way. I'll be a perfect gentleman if we can just untie me and go round the corner for a drink. On me," he said.

Something made her give in. He was right. She could protect herself against him. "Fine," she said and waved her hands in front of him. “One drink. Then I never want to see you again.”

Ethan had stopped listening after she said she'd go out with him. He made it a point to never listen to a disclaimer after someone had already agreed to something. Why torture yourself, right?

Finally free from the restraints, Ethan said, as he was rubbing his hands together for warmth, "Well, with any luck the next time either one of us is tied up it will be in the throes of passion," he said with a grin, "...perhaps together."

She shot him a look and rolled her eyes. She had been away from Buffy and the others too long. Ethan Rayne was the only familiar thing in her life. Even though she'd been on her own for a few years, Willow hadn't made friends. She didn't want to make friends - she wanted to fight evil. It was the only thing that made her feel alive. Like she was part of something good. But it could be a bit lonely at times. Fortunately or unfortunately, Ethan was a link to her past. One that reminded her of Giles...and made something inside of her feel like home.


Chapter two

The morning came and went but neither Willow nor Ethan ever noticed. They were woven together and had been wrapped up in each other for hours on end, breaking only to submit to the sleepiness that crept in from time to time. He'd drift off and she'd wake him in a very special way. She'd drift off and he'd rouse her from sleep with a warm, wet kiss just above her collar bone along the line of her neck and a naughty whisper in her ear.

She could not believe the things she was doing with him or the things she allowed him to do to her. Just being around Ethan Rayne made her feel dirty. And now here she was a tangled mess of limbs and blankets in his embrace. Not to mention all the things they'd discussed in the 36 or so hours they'd spent in bed together. Funny how pillow talk segued into sharing secrets.

When the moonlight crept in, hours later, and poked through a slit in the draperies Willow felt alert and alive again. Lying in Ethan's arms should have made her feel uneasy but it didn't. Something seemed right about it. Not that it or he was part of her destiny. But being with him felt like it was supposed to be part of her journey, that it would take her to a place she belonged whether it be an hour in the future or a year. “I'll never love you,” she told him honestly while she lay spent in his arms, her head on his shoulder, her fingers dancing through the warm, brown tufts of hair of his chest. It was a quiet declaration, and yet it spoke volumes.

“I know,” he whispered and kissed the top of her head.

Two weeks later they were fighting evil together and Willow learned just how much Ethan's magic had grown. He certainly gave her a run for her money. And she finally understood what Faith meant about slaying making you ‘hungry and horny.' Still, even though he was fighting by her side, she kept her guard up around him, afraid that he was going to revert to his old ways at any moment. But he never did.

Two months later and she had moved into half of his closet and three of his drawers. Her books, charms, talismans, and all of her other supplies had found their way to Ethan's house one at a time, though he had plenty of spell-casting materials of his own. He'd gone good. Or so he said. He was trying to fight the good fight. Though he joked about how he had changed his ways because of how he envied the Slayer and her gang back in the day, Willow saw that there was something sincere in him. Maybe he was jealous of Giles, who knows. But he was charming as hell. And he was falling in love with her in a grand way, showing her affection and attention that Giles never dared.

A year later and she pushed all thoughts of Giles out of her mind the day she packed her last box and moved in with Ethan for good. They looked like a proper Lord and Lady Sorcerer in their Victorian mansion in upstate New York. It was a big step. Nothing in her life had prepared her for this. Not Oz, not Tara, not Giles. They had all been very different relationships - there was no question about that. Willow never fell into a pattern with any of her lovers. But this thing with Ethan was something she never imagined wanting or enjoying. Maybe because for the first time in her life she had handled this on her own. No parents or friends around to advise or her or comfort her or console her or discourage her or judge her. Nothing. She had nobody to please except herself. And Ethan made her happy in a lot of ways, ways nobody else would ever understand.

“Rough flight, darling,” Willow asked, her body wrapped only in a white, satin sheet, her hands tied above her to the headboard with two of his silk ties.

Ethan lowered his head and peered out at her from behind his sunglasses. He dropped his luggage and coat, smiled and purred as he climbed into bed beside her. He pressed his lips to hers tenderly and ran his strong hand over the length of her body until found a comfortable resting place on her hip. Her body felt amazing beneath his touch. “Now that I know how much you enjoy homecomings I'll go away more often,” he whispered in her ear.

"Don't you dare,” she said with a solemn grin. It was sincere and honest. She meant it.

“Miss me?” He nuzzled her neck, his hands roaming dangerously close to naughtiness.

She nodded.

Ethan reached up and untied her hands, kissing the inside of her wrists as he set them free.

“What's wrong?” She was confused and a little hurt. Didn't he want her? He'd been in London for eleven days. She thought he'd surely enjoy her welcome home present for him.

“Nothing's wrong, love. Only that I've missed you terribly. And that I wish to feel your arms around me while we make love.” He closed in for another kiss, his mouth warm, his breath sweet, his body hard against hers. He was lost inside of her for the next three hours before he fell asleep in her arms.

When he woke up she was in his arms. He absently traced soothing circles around her bare back. “What would you say if I told you I wanted to make an honest woman of you. Hm?” He expected apprehension. A laugh, even. Possibly a you're outta your ever-loving mind, but he never expected her to pull away from him in anger.

"I told you I'd never love you," she said hotly and climbed out of bed.

"I'm not asking you to love me. I'm asking you to marry me." He was still in bed, covered to the waist. He never bothered to get up because he thought she'd calm down. But it all happened so quickly. He barely blinked and she was gone. When he had finally realized she was seriously leaving he got up and tried to stop her. But Ethan knew that she was not to be reckoned with in the state of anger she was in. So he let her go. Things had been going so well between them but after this reaction to his proposal Ethan was stunned. He was speechless. He sat back, lit a Chesterfield and tried to imagine what had gone wrong.


Chapter three

It was November. And it was cold. She had left Ethan in a fit of rage and gone to the only other place she thought she belonged – Cleveland. For three day and three nights she followed Giles, always keeping her distance so that he would not notice her. She wasn't sure whether or not she even wanted to speak to him but at least she was close enough to him to exercise the option. Their time together, years before, had been intense and Willow feared he might sense her following him. But after three days her fear turned into disappointment when it was clear that he was never going to cast a glance in her direction. Had they lost their soulful connection?

Ethan Rayne wants to marry me, she wanted to shout to him from across the street, what do you think about that? But she never strayed from the shadows. After five days she finally moved on, never once picking up a phone or knocking on his door or letting him or any of the others know she had been so close.

Las Vegas seemed like a good place to go. It was a town full of sin with a billion people without enough morals among them to string together a decent set. She wasn't quite sure why she chose that particular town. After all, Willow didn't need money. She could stand next to any slot machine and force it to pay off. She could shoot the dice at the craps table and make them come up sevens and elevens all night long. But the atmosphere suited her mood and her need. And it was a good place to get lost. Or maybe she had an ulterior motive.

“He looked over his shoulder once, on day two, but you had bent down to pick up your bag from the ground and you never noticed.” Ethan's voice answered a question she'd never asked. “He searched the shadows for a split second but never saw you. So he moved on. A bit more forlorn than he had been only a moment prior if you ask me.”

Willow spun around in the hallway of the lavish hotel she'd booked a suite in. Aside from Ethan's voice, the only thing she could hear in the hallways was the whir of the air conditioning system. Ethan was leaning against the wall, cigarette in one hand, soft, leather suitcase at his feet. “Took you long enough,” she said and opened the door to her room. She let Ethan think that she had ignored the things he'd said about Giles. But down inside she was so anxious and torn. What if Giles had seen her? What would have happened? What if it had been one second later and that car hadn't cut in front of her and what if the girl at Starbucks hadn't accidentally closed the till before handing Giles his change, would those things have made a difference? Would those fleeting moments have changed things? Would she be alone with Giles back at home in Cleveland instead of standing in a Las Vegan hotel room with Ethan?

“I'd forgotten how much I enjoyed lurking until I began tracking you. I thought I'd see if I still had what it takes - what with me being good and all, now.” He followed her in, uninvited of course.

“I saw you at the airport when I left Cleveland,” she informed him, knocking the arrogance out of him like a blow to the center of his chest. She knew he'd been following her all along but she never bothered to acknowledge him. It was too complicated. Giles. Ethan. Cleveland. New York. Marriage. Nothing made sense. She needed to get her head together.

" kiss? You haven't seen me in six days." Ethan dropped his bag, took off his jacket, stamped out his cigarette and walked over to the phone. “I'm service,” he asked her.

“I'll be in the shower,” she said, never meeting his gaze or answering his questions. She stopped in the doorway of the bathroom but never looked back at him. “I'm exhausted and I'm not in the mood for games. You might want to join me while I'm too tired to fight you off,” she said. It was cold and distant and sounded more like a dare than an invitation.

“Well...that's my little Jane Austen," he scoffed with a smirk and turned his attention back to the phone before adding, "Not my style, darling.”

She knew he was lying.

Two hours later and they had showered together, eaten dinner at the table, eaten dessert off of each other, made love and passed out from fatigue.

Four a.m. he found her sitting in the dark staring out the window down at the strip, neon flashes splashing the blank features of her face. She was wearing his shirt and had her legs curled up underneath of her with his cashmere scarf wrapped around her ankles for warmth.

"Funny, isn't it, that you ran to the one place in the world that would recognize us as Mr. and Mrs. Ethan Rayne in less than an hour. No blood test. No questions. Just a passport and a few good old American dollars." He sat up to lean against the headboard and lit a cigarette.

"If you gloat I'm changing my answer back to no."

He smiled, genuinely surprised. Had he broken her? Had she wanted to say yes all along? Did she love him just a little bit? "Yes, gloating does seem to get me in trouble, doesn't it?" Ethan put his cigarette out and wrapped the sheet around his waist and made his way over to her. He took her hand in his and actually got down on one knee before he ran his thumb over her ring finger and a glamour looking like the Hope Diamond appeared before her eyes. "Well? No time like the present." It was a pretty damned good attempt at romantic, even though she knew the ring would eventually fade.

She looked at him and cocked her head to the side and scrunched up her nose in disbelief. "Ethan it's four a.m."

"Darling this town never sleeps," he said, trying to encourage her. He wanted to get married before she had a chance to think about it any longer.

It worked. By the time they got on the plane home to New York the next night they were husband and wife. Married. If Willow hadn't just said the words 'I do' herself she never would have believed it. Willow Rosenberg was a distant memory. Willow Giles had always been a dream but never a reality. And Willow Rayne had been one bad half of a 'would you rather' game that Buffy had come up with that Halloween Ethan had come to town and turned them all into their costumes. 'Would you rather be Cordelia's personal assistant for all eternity or Ethan Rayne's wife?' It just occurred to Willow, the president of the 'We Hate Cordelia Chase fan club,' as she was staring down at the actual band of gold that had replaced the Hope Diamond glamour on her left hand, that she'd picked Cordelia. Talk about irony. She had it in spades.

After gazing out the window at the sun-kissed clouds for twenty minutes, Willow finally settled back in her seat, laid her head on Ethan's shoulder and drifted off to sleep. Part of her hoped that she would wake up in the morning next to Giles and find out that the past few years without him had all been a horrible nightmare. But a small part of her was looking forward to waking up in her husband's arms.


Chapter four

"Jessie, calm down. Wait....I can't understand you," Willow said, her heart racing at the sound of the frenzied voice on the other end of the phone.

Ethan was standing beside her, his ear pressed to the outside of the receiver trying to hear what was being said. But the voice on the other end was hysterical and he barely understood a word Jessie was saying.

"Ok, I know, now listen." Willow's voice was soothing despite her racing heart. "Just get yourself someplace safe," Willow said after the girl had explained the reason for her call. "I don't know," she said and then turned to Ethan. "Where can she go? Who do we know in Manhattan?"

"Tell her to get to the village and ask around Washington Square for a seer called The Eye - her real name is Evelyn. Tell Evelyn I sent her - she'll keep Jessie safe," Ethan said and squeezed his wife's shoulder in reassurance.

Willow told Jessie what he had said and then hung up the phone, still trying to catch her breath. She told Ethan everything. All about how the illusive demon they had been keeping watch for had finally struck again, this time attacking one of their own. And that the rumors were true - the demon had stopped killing normal mortals and was now targeting for powerful people. Then the two of them searched through a few dozen books for the right spell, one that would protect them all from the demon Jessie had called to warn them about. Once they found the protection spell they had been looking for they gathered all of the girls, who had come to call the Rayne's place 'home' over the years, into one room. "Where's India,” Willow asked after she took a quick headcount.

“I don't know. She grabbed her yoga mat and went outside about forty five minutes ago,” Carly said, “Maybe she's still out there.”

“I'll go and look,” Ethan said, “You stay here with them.”

Willow and Ethan had taken in Carly and India a year and a half before. Ethan heard from one of his contacts that there was a demon-run human-slave-trading ring not far from where he and Willow lived. They did some research and then infiltrated the lair where the prisoners were kept. Carly and India had been enslaved by the beasts for years and had shared a room, more like a cell, from the time they were 15 until Willow and Ethan freed them – five years later. After the girls were reunited and spent some time with their families, they both wanted to learn more about demons and witches and other things they had seen during their enslavement but never understood. They wanted to help people like Willow and Ethan did. So the Rayne's, who had turned into quite a pair to be reckoned with, took them in and promised their families they would keep them safe. Willow taught them about meditation and spells, Ethan taught them about magic and repentance. It reminded Willow of the time she spent in Sunnydale training the Potentials. Only without that pesky apocalypse looming.

When Ethan reached the front door India was just coming inside. “There you are, are you alright?”

“Yeah, fine, why?” She dropped her things on a chair at the foot of a grand staircase.

“Jessie just called. Something's happened,” he started. He tried to proceed with caution because he knew the girls were all as close as sisters. “She's fine, but…we need you in the other room.”

“Ok,” she said and shrugged. She was unfazed...completely calm as she followed him.

“Is this everyone, now,” Ethan asked.

“Praemunio,” Willow said and her eyes shone a bright yellow while her hair turned white for one brief second. All of the windows and doors slammed shut on their own and locked themselves into place.

They didn't want to scare Carly and the others, but they had to tell them what was going on. If they were going to keep anyone safe they had to be armed with the truth.

There were seven girls, including Jessie, living with Willow and Ethan. Carly and India were the first to move in and train with them. A year later Ethan returned from a trip to England with Lizzie and Fiona, sisters, who had lost the rest of their family when a group of vampires ambushed them while they were on holiday. Riva's parents owned the property next door and she had been training with Willow since she was a little girl. But when she turned 16 her parents decided to move to the West Coast. Riva refused to leave. She somehow convinced her parents not to sell the place but to rent it out and let her stay behind and live with Willow and Ethan so that she could finish high school with her lifelong friends and keep an eye on the family's estate. Riva was the youngest but she was wise beyond her years. And Quin was the oldest. She was 25 and had practically raised herself. She was working at a magic shop in NYC when Willow met her. They talked casually for a few months and then Quin finally confessed that things had gotten bad in her life and she'd been delving into the black arts. Willow knew immediately that she needed to step in and help, so she offered Quin a place to live if she promised to learn about all magic and put her power to good use.

They sat in a circle on the floor in the basement. Willow and Ethan sat opposite each other and everyone else filled in the gaps. They had explained to everyone what had happened to Jessie, that she had almost been killed by this new demon that was looking for human hosts to suck the knowledge from and then move on. Willow promised that she and Ethan knew what they were doing and that the spell they were about to perform would protect them all. Ethan told them that they, as a group, had gained quite a reputation over the years fighting evil and that something as big as this demon would surely head straight for them. Especially now that it had already gotten to Jessie. Although it had been unsuccessful, it would surely try again. He told them they would all be targets.

The spell only took about fifteen minutes but when it was over Willow was drained. Ethan was strong but whenever they were performing a ritual of this magnitude Willow insisted on being the power center. Her power was the purest and the strongest and she always gave herself over completely to the task. After everyone had left the room Ethan gathered Willow in his arms and carried her up to their bedroom.

“Do you think it worked,” she mumbled into his neck while her head rested lazily on his shoulder.

“Of course it did, don't you worry about that.” Ethan closed the door with his foot and carefully set Willow down on the bed. “Rest now, love,” he said and stroked the side of her face softly. He removed her shoes and covered her with the blankets, tucking her in loosely. Ethan knelt beside the bed and leaned in and kissed her softly. He smiled and stood up but before he could walk away Willow stopped him.

“Stay here,” she said and tugged on his sleeve.

“No, no, you need sleep. If I crawl in there you know I'll just be a distraction.” He smiled mischievously and kissed the tip of her nose.

“Get your ass in here,” she said, still groggy, and pulled back the covers for him.

Ethan contemplated leaving for a fraction of a second, but then slid off his shoes and slithered into bed beside her. He held her tight, his body outlining hers from behind. He felt her spirit searching him, probing him for heat and strength. He loved that she used his body, his natural energy, to replenish her own.

“Do you know what next Tuesday is?” She was almost asleep but she was still talking.

“Yes, that new David Bowie compilation CD is being released,” he said, “I'm really excited about it.”

She threw an elbow behind her and jabbed him in the ribs.

“Ow!” He laughed and groaned. What a tease he was. “Kidding, little one,” he said and kissed her neck softly. Though Willow liked to call it 'cuddling,' Ethan called it 'spooning' - and they would often lie like that for hours. Ethan loved holding her in his arms, despite his voracious appetite for lovemaking. Nothing felt better than holding her close to him, feeling the rise and fall of her body as she breathed in and out. “Three years," he recalled with a sigh. "You know I think the traditional anniversary present for three years is leather, not soul-sucking demons.” He kissed her ear softly and whispered, “And I was so looking forward to a gift of the leather variety.”

She turned in his embrace until they were facing each other. Ethan still had his arm draped over her, casually settled in the curve just above her hip. She stirred until she was comfortable, finally settling nose to nose to him with her hand resting on his thigh. “Things were so good. Why did this have to happen now?”

“Darling, this is who we are, it's what we do. The universe pauses for no lovers,” he said and smiled.

“I'm sleepy,” she said, her eyes barely open.

“I know, love,” he said and kissed her forehead. “I know.”


Chapter five

Four months had passed without incident. Jessie had returned home and the entire group had been searching for clues to the demons whereabouts. Nothing on the news seemed out of the ordinary. None of their underground contacts had heard anything recently about this new ‘player' in town.

“Why can't we find it,” Quin asked. It was just after dinner. She and Willow were in the basement, where they kept all the magical supplies, going through all the evidence they'd collected over the months. They had given the other girls the night off.

“I don't know,” Willow said truthfully. “I've done every spell I can think of. The news hasn't helped. Usually they report things that are kinda odd and we can pinpoint where the evil is.”

“I know this guy in the village,” Quin started, eager to help.

“NO!” Willow knew who she meant. His name was Daegal and he was an old acquaintance of Rack's. “Quin, I know you want to help but that is not the answer. He won't help.”

“Yes, he will. He helped me before when I was..." she trailed off and never bothered to finish that thought. Quin had made everyone aware of her past, no need to bring it up again. "Why can't we just use him to find this thing?”

“Because that's not how we do things,” Willow said.

“So you'd rather let more people die than go to someone who can help.”

“Listen to me, Quin," Willow tried to speak calmly and intelligently so she could get her point across, but her emotions overtook her. "You're right. This guy can help, or at least make it look like he's helping. But his magick is black and once you allow him inside of you...once you go to the other side you can't come back…not without losing part of yourself. He might even tell you he's helping but he could be working for this thing, this demon. I know from experience - bad things join forces with other bad things just to piss humans off. It's not an option, ok?” Willow looked Quin in the eye and waited for a response.

“I'm not a child,” she said. She was breathing heavy, nostrils flaring from the sheer energy she was exerting. Why was Willow treating her this way? "Ethan..."

"Ethan what?" Willow asked, still angry. She knew she had treated Quin like a child and she felt bad about it, but there was no way Quin would ever understand. Willow knew she could never explain how the darkness had taken her over to any of them. The only way to learn was by experiencing it…and she wished that on no one.

"Ethan knows Daegal. He's been there before...I've seen him." Quin was still angry, but she wasn't telling Willow this out of spite. She truly was confused. She respected and looked up to Ethan, so if he was seeking Daegal's help...

"What?" Willow's heart sank. "No."

"It's true. I was there last month with a friend. When I walked into Daegal's I saw Ethan leaving through another door." Quin really was trying to help. "Maybe he really can help. Maybe Ethan's already working on something with him."

"No!" Willow turned away from Quin in anger. She didn't want the girl to see the look of disappointment on her face. Ethan's been lying to her?

"It's true."

"It wasn't him," Willow said with her back still to Quin.

"Willow, I'm not lying. And I'm not telling you this to get Ethan in trouble. I just want you to see that it's not always about..."

"NO!" Willow said and spun toward Quin. "Daegal is NOT the answer. If Ethan was there it wasn't because he was looking for help. And you should not be going there, either. It's dangerous. You have no idea what Daegal is, what he can do to you. He cannot help. Do you understand?"

"Of course I understand," she said through clenched teeth. She left the room in a huff, the tension so thick that it crackled around them like lightening.

“What was that all about,” Ethan asked when he entered the room. He had passed Quin on the steps while he was heading to the basement.

“Nothing,” Willow said. “Where have you been?” It occurred to her that she hadn't seen him since early that morning. Was it true? Did Quin really see him with someone like Daegal?

He answered quickly and nonchalantly. “Ran down to the city to pick up some supplies.”

The city? It was a three hour drive to the city. Willow knew instantly that something wasn't right. She could feel the change in Ethan, in the energy that flowed from him. All the years she'd been with him she had never allowed herself to doubt him. But now, after hearing Quin tell her that Ethan had been to see Daegal...she wondered if she'd made a big mistake. “What's wrong,” she asked him telepathically. She wasn't going to confront him there. Not without more proof.

“Not here,” he replied in-kind and nodded toward the steps, indicating he wanted her to go upstairs.

She grabbed a few books and a small leather satchel filled with oils, candles and dried leaves. She started up the stairs.

He followed her up and took her free hand in his when they reached the top of the steps. Carly and Quin were in the dining room, where the door to the basement was. When Ethan saw them he announced, “We're turning in for the night,” and slid an arm around Willow's shoulder.

“Kinda early, isn't it,” Carly asked.

“It's been a long day...I'm tired,” Willow said with a yawn.

“Geez, don't you two ever take a break?” Carly always made jokes about how affectionate they were. Truthfully, she thought it was romantic the way they would lock themselves in the bedroom for hours on end and how Ethan always had an arm around Willow.

Quin just rolled her eyes and shook her head in disgust. She was still angry about the way Willow had treated her. “I'm going back to the city tonight to stay with a friend. I'll be home Tuesday,” she informed them and left the room.

Willow was about to say something but Ethan squeezed her hand and whispered into her mind that she should let the girl go. Willow agreed, though she didn't know why. She watched Quin leave, knowing she was going to go straight to Daegal's. Why did Ethan let her go?

“Well, g'night,” Carly said and picked up the books she had sprawled out on the dining room table.

“Good night,” Ethan said and then tugged on Willow's hand to pull her along with him.

When they reached the bedroom Ethan locked the door behind them and held a finger to Willow's lips to silence her. He picked up a bough of sage, lit it with the use of magic, and smudged the entire room. Willow was a little worried...he was acting so odd and being so mysterious. He pointed to a group of candles signaling Willow to pick them up. She arranged them in a circle and lit each one. Ethan spread a blanket out on the floor and they both sat inside the circle, sage still burning, candles lit all around them in a protective border.

Even though they were alone and protected, he still spoke telepathically. “It's here.”

“What's here,” Willow asked.

“Kek, the demon we've been searching for.” He was holding her hands as they sat face to face.

Willow's eyes grew but Ethan's gentle squeeze on her hands reassured her that he was taking care of things. Even though she doubted him because of what Quin said, she still believed his reassurance. “How," she asked, "What do you mean? Is it…”

Even telepathically he cut her off. “I don't know how but one of the girls is infected. I went to see Evelyn, the seer, in the village today. She said Daegal and a lot of the other sorcerers are scared, afraid of the darkness that's coming. If Daegal is frightened then it has to be bad...worse than we originally thought. Evelyn opened a portal and called on the ancients to help her find Kek. She told me that he's here with us. He's in one of the girls. But that's not the worst part.”

"I hate to ask," she said, "but..."

He knew what she was thinking. "It's been here all along. Ever since it attacked Jessie. It had to have already been here when we performed the protection spell. I know it's not in Jessie but I'm not sure about the others." He met her gaze. "We can't let on that we know anything."

"I know. If it's been here this long then it must not be going anywhere for a while," Willow said. "We just have to pretend like we're still looking. But how are we going to..."

One of the benefits of speaking telepathically was that most of the time you could read ahead of someone's thoughts and not actually have to wait for them to silently vocalize. "We have to work fast," Ethan answered before she finished. He could feel her body stiffen and, for the first time since they'd been together, he felt Willow's fear.

She crawled into Ethan's lap and curled up in his embrace. "I can't let anything happen to them," she said out loud. "We swore we would protect them."

He held her tight, his cheek pressed softly to hers. "I know. We'll figure this out," he said and then added silently, "I already have a plan. Tomorrow I'm taking Fiona and India away. They'll each go to a safe house. You will take Riva and Carly away. I've already spoken to Evelyn. She has places we can send them. We'll tell them we're separating everyone because we're afraid of losing them all at once. We'll tell them we have information that Kek is seeking a group of witches. It will throw him off...he'll think we're still looking. After everyone is someplace safe, you and I will go through the group one at a time, and take their souls and send them someplace safe. It will prevent Kek from destroying any of the others and it will lead us right to him. Once we get to an empty body, we'll have our demon."

"It's too dangerous," Willow said, "There has to be another way."

"There isn't, love. This will work, trust me." He kissed her softly.

"Oh, no," Willow shrieked and pulled away to look Ethan in the eye. "Quin is going to Daegal for help. What if..." she started speaking to him silently again, "What if it's her, what if the demon is going to Daegal to kill him next...if Kek and Daegal merge into one uber-demon we're..."

"Calm down, love, calm down," he said. "I don't think it's Quin. And Daegal is frightened of Kek. Someone as strong as him will have already taken precautions against infiltration."

She took a deep breath and then exhaled, magically blowing out all the candles in the room. Willow calmed down. "Are you sure the seer told you about Daegal? Or did you hear it from him yourself?" Not exactly unassuming.

"Willow," he began. The jig was up. "I would never hurt you."

"That wasn't my question."

"I can't answer you. All I can do is ask that you trust me."

Though she had just given Quin a lecture on the uses of black magick, Willow knew that Ethan had proven himself to her more than enough. She did trust him. She had been to hell and back so she knew that Ethan was torn up inside. A voice inside of her would always doubt him from this moment on, but it was the same voice that kept luring her to the dark side. She was strong enough to fight it. She made up her mind at that moment to trust him. "I do."

Was Ethan Rayne really the voice of reason in this relationship? Giles would have killed her for taking a backseat to Chaos' degenerate son. But Ethan wasn't that man anymore. He had changed. So why did Willow constantly wonder what Giles would think about everything they were doing? About everything they had done together? About the life they had built with each other? Why did she always wonder if Giles would have handled things differently? Better?

"I know what you're thinking," Ethan said. Though they both knew that Giles and Buffy and their band of merry men-and-women had moved to New York, neither ever mentioned it.

Willow pulled away from Ethan slowly and stood up. "I'm not thinking anything." She was such a bad liar.

"Love..." Ethan raised an eyebrow and smiled. "Ripper is less than an hour away from wonder if he can help...if he has better resources or better ideas...or purer magick."

"Look, Ethan..." She sat back down, this time between his legs with her legs wrapped lazily around his waist. "Giles is part of me...part of my past...he taught me almost everything I know about magic and witchcraft and fighting evil. I've been through a lot with him. So if I think about him it's because he was my friend, my teacher, I went to him for guidance and support. But those days are gone. I left him, remember? And I married you." She kissed him softly on the lips.

He returned the kiss with a bit more passion than she had expected. When he broke away from her he had a smirk on his lips. "What a bunch of crap," he said and laughed at her. "Hell, love, I'm even wondering if Ripper can help us. At the very least he's got a few Slayers in his employ, they must be good for something."

"No. I might think it, but I'm not about to ask for their help. Ethan, we're strong...we can handle this." She had no idea what she was saying. But she knew that there were enough complications in her life without opening old wounds. Selfish, but true. And she didn't want to lead Kek to Buffy and the others. Willow had been keeping tabs on them all, from a distance, of course. She didn't leave them in Cleveland because she hated them. She left because she loved them all so much...and she was slipping again. There was no way she could put them all through veiny-black-hair-bad-ass Willow again. She had one brief moment of clarity in her madness...and she took that opportunity to remove herself from the group so that she'd never hurt them again. It was better to break their hearts than to put them through the hell she had before. Though she made Giles promise to take whatever measures were necessary to protect himself and the others from her, she knew he'd never do it, he'd never kill her. Not even if it meant his own life. So she had to leave. She was too far gone for him to help her. Willow had to seek help on her own, away from friends and lovers. But after she had gotten help, her pride kept her from going back. And then Ethan showed up. And then Vegas happened. And then Carly and India came into their lives. Before she knew it six years had passed.

"As you wish," Ethan said and stood up. He pulled her close and wrapped her in his arms. "We'll get through this."

"I know," she said, softly. In that moment she wanted to say the words I love you. But she never spoke them. In that moment, when everything she had built with Ethan was in jeopardy, she knew that if she didn't speak the words then...she never would.


Two weeks had gone by. The girls had been sent somewhere safe, assured that the others were safe as well. Willow and Ethan had performed the rituals and had taken the souls of Riva, Fiona and Jessie. So far so good. And then Carly's soul was removed and sent out into the ether, safely on its way to the Elysian Fields as Ethan had planned. But by this time Willow was getting worried about the prudence of their plan. She left their house late one night and went to make sure the hiding places were all secure so that nobody would disturb the bodies.

Ethan stayed behind to perform the rest of the spells on his own. Because it sapped them of so much of their strength they had to rest in between each spell. Sometimes the two of them had to wait for over a day before they could move on. Since Willow was so weak, magically, she decided to let Ethan handle the next one on his own while she was out doing 'field' work.

She went to check on Fiona first. When she got there she found the body beaten and drained of all its blood. Though she knew Fiona's soul was safe it still pained her to see the girl's body destroyed. Willow tried to connect with Ethan telepathically but she was still too weak. So she moved on.

She found Carly's body in the same condition - battered and drained. Willow needed to tell Ethan what was happening. She tried to call him but she was way out in the boonies and couldn't get a signal on her cell phone. Though she tried, again, to connect with him with her mind, she was still weak.

After finding all four bodies destroyed Willow took it upon herself to go to the other girls, the girls whose souls they hadn't performed the spell on, yet. India was next on Ethan's list. Willow figured it was safe to go to her. Since the other bodies had been destroyed she assumed Kek was on the move. And if she got to India and found her alive it meant Ethan hadn't gotten to perform the spell, yet. If she found her body destroyed it meant Kek had gotten to her and moved on. One possibility never occurred to her.

Ethan had been trying to connect with Willow all day, psychically and also by phone. But he was unsuccessful both ways. Though his strength had returned, with a little help from friends that Willow didn't need to know he still kept in touch with, he knew hers was weak. He was strong enough to perform the next spell. In fact, he was stronger than she was, though he knew it wouldn't last long. When he did, he found that India's body was empty – Kek had been living inside of her all along.

Again he tried to connect with Willow. He managed for a brief moment but not long enough to say anything other than “Willow, can you hear me?” Like a radio, his voice fizzled out before she could respond. Ethan was frantic. He knew she'd gone out to check on everyone. Though India was not on Willow's list, Ethan had a feeling that she was headed in the girl's direction. He knew he had to do something.

Willow got to India's safe house and found her body drained, like the others. Though she knew the girls were, technically, safe, it still hurt her to see their remains. As soon as she found India's body Ethan managed to connect with her. “Willow,” he told her, “Kek is using India's body. I tried to perform the spell…her soul was missing.”

“It can't be India, I'm with her right now. The body's been destroyed like the others.” Willow never noticed that the doors and windows were still locked from the inside when she got there, unlike the other safe houses whose doors had been broken open.

Ethan's heart sank. He knew she was in trouble. Using the magick he had borrowed from a friend, Ethan took a deep breath and said, “Brace yourself, love.”

“For what?”

~~The End~~


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