England hadn't turned out exactly like Ethan planned. In fact it turned out nothing like he'd planned. Willow was different in England. Distant. Almost sad. He blamed it on the fog.
At first she was happy and passionate, full of life, dragging him out every night to the pub. But it only lasted a few weeks. He thought it surely had something to do with Ripper and all the time she'd spent on his estate years before. It was a mistake to bring her there. But he only realized that after she didn't come home one night and, when he went looking for her the next morning, he found her curled up in the stables at the Giles' estate, asleep next to the stallion the old ponce had given her.
Even though the guilt that filled her whenever the drugs wore off was enough to keep her coming back to him for more, Ethan knew that once in a while she still ached for the Watcher. It was something that wasn't going to leave her mind until they left the country. So Ethan did the only thing he could think of - he took her back to America.
It had been four months since that night in Sunnydale. Giles and the others were so pathetic, begging Willow to go with them. Oh, please. We love you. Come home with us. She clearly wanted to be with Ethan. Needed to be with him. Ethan considered it one of his more humane accomplishments. After all, who the hell would want to live with that sappy group of people. He felt like he'd done Willow a favor.
Of course Giles had returned to England as well to keep a constant eye on Ethan and Willow. He tried talking to Willow whenever she went out alone, but she wouldn't speak to him. Giles knew, deep in his heart, that she couldn't speak to him because it would break her. Ethan had her so pumped full of drugs. Giles thought Ethan had turned her onto heroin. But after he returned home, he asked around London to see what brand of chaos Ethan Rayne was working with these days. That's when he found out about liquid chaos. And his Willow had it coursing through her veins, forcing her to act the way she did. And God only knows how it made her feel inside. Nobody knew exactly what the drug did, but Rupert Giles was a patient man when it came to his love for Willow. He would research and learn. He would follow them wherever they went. He would wait, most certainly, but one day - he would save her.
In New York it was cold, the wind biting as it whipped through tiny alleyways. Ethan had opened up, of all things, a magic shop. If Willow was herself she would have accused him of having a bad case of Ripper Envy. Someone should have advised him against it, for obvious reasons. But in order for that to happen, Ethan would have to have someone around to care about him, and the man didn't have a friend in the entire world. Besides, he liked having Willow beside him day in and day out - and she never left that store. Either she didn't know or she didn't care that it was really just a laundering front for the little liquid chaos business he had going. Two countries and counting.
Willow's daily routine included Ethan's cocktail as if she were a diabetic and it was her insulin. She felt no shame in shooting up anymore. Ethan had fed it to her in such a way that she truly believed she needed it. The psychological withdrawal went far beyond emotional pain for Willow. She honestly thought she was sick, and Ethan had her cure.
The weather in the big city mimicked her mood. Empty. Winter in New York was teeming with life, of course, but not in the places she and Ethan spent their time. At night, in buildings where old spirits always buzzed about, Ethan put Willow on display - encouraging her to use her Magic as a parlor trick. He'd turned her into nothing more than a side-show freak. Her hair changed colors at will, and the guests loved it. She levitated, and the skeptics spent hours afterward searching for wires, pulleys and magnets. But they never found anything.
It was the very opposite of the things Giles had done with her. He chose to hide her, taught her that Magic wasn't to be shared, at least not with people who lived outside of their dark world. Watchers and Slayers, fine. But the people who thought that the shadows dancing in the recesses of their bedrooms were just full of their own imagination, those people should be left to continue believing that. But Ethan bathed her in affection whenever she showed off her skills.
"Ready, little one?" Ethan stood behind Willow as she sat at a vanity, her wet hair wrapped up in a towel, her make-up still unfinished.
She caught his gaze in the mirror and smiled. Some days she forced that smile, but on this particular night, it was genuine. "Ten minutes," she said.
"All right," he said and bent to kiss her cheek, "I'll be in the study."
Their flat was ridiculously large. Ethan owned a two-story building that spanned half a city block. And in New York, that seemed like a thousand acres. The first floor was the Magic shop and a warehouse for supplies, but the entire upper level was where they lived. And it was lavish.
It was rich and warm, full of cherry wood and velvet, antiques and a fireplace in almost every room. The study put the old library at Sunnydale High to shame. Willow had no idea how Ethan had collected so many books, but she was grateful for it. Every night he encouraged her to absorb the knowledge from one of his books. It was osmosis to her. She only had to touch the book for a second to learn its secrets.
She painted a blood red line around the rim of her lips and filled it in with a gloss that Ethan loved. It tasted like raspberries. Not that it ever stayed in place long enough for him to enjoy the sweetness of it, though.
"Ethan?" She pushed open the door to the study and saw him sitting by the fire, a brandy in his left hand, a book in the other.
She just nodded.
After he crossed the distance between them, he took her in his arms and kissed her softly. And, when he broke their kiss, he swept her up into a waltz around the large room. She just smiled and met him, stride for stride. Ethan ended with a dip and whispered in her ear, "You are stunning."
He couldn't keep his eyes off of her the entire night. She was wearing silk; silk always drove him mad. It seemed like a modest evening gown from the front - red silk, long sleeved, form fitting, and it had a short train. But when she turned around, her entire back was exposed. Ethan spent most of the night with his hand resting on her bare skin. It made her tingle.
They were at a party in Manhattan that was given by one of his associates. He had made it a rule never to socialize with any of his underworld or otherworld contacts. This party, however, was given by Austin Graham, one of his legitimate associates. A man who was fascinated with magic and the supernatural, but who had no idea that those things really existed.
Willow stood by a fireplace with a glass of merlot in her hand. She realized how much her world had changed in the past few months. Here she was in New York in her swanky dress with her wealthy acquaintances. That little geek in the overalls back at Sunnydale High, the one who wanted Xander Harris for so long, the one who secretly loved Giles all those years, the awkward teen who wanted so desperately to help super-hero Buffy in the fight to save the world day after day, the one who loved Tara and Oz in all her confusion, that girl could never have seen this in her future. Part of her loved this world, but something inside of her missed the simple things she no longer had in her life.
Ethan was across the room, his ear being bent by a man Willow had never seen before. His eyes were on her constantly. Not guarding her, just appreciating her beauty. He tried to communicate with her telepathically, but Willow never responded when he did that. He wasn't sure if she wasn't hearing him, or if she was just ignoring him. The latter was more likely the case, but Ethan didn't push it. She was his, now, and he didn't mind if she had a secret or two. She figured out very quickly how to compartmentalize so that whenever Ethan peered inside, he only saw the things she wanted him to see.
The host of the party was keeping Willow company. He'd heard stories about her parlor tricks and was trying desperately to get her to show him one or two of them. "Not even a strand? One strand of hair you won't change for me?" He was an old man, short and round, full head of white hair. "If you won't change yours, how about mine? Lord knows I could use a bit of color," he said and laughed at his own joke. If it hadn't been for his money people would have called him a doddering old fool. But people with money were never called crazy, they were called eccentric.
Willow was cordial, smiling at his requests but refusing as if she were too modest to 'perform' for him. Ethan smiled at her from across the room. It was one of those smiles that told her he was bored and tired and wanted to go home and shag her brains out. At this point she was more than happy to oblige. Anything to get away from this old man. And, truth be told, Ethan loved her like no other.
Ethan tried to break away from his conversation, but it took longer than he expected. In the meantime, Willow had grown so tired of fighting the old man off, that she decided to do something to shut him up. "Ok, fine!" She had lost her patience and actually snapped at the man. But she immediately apologized, explaining that she hadn't been able to sleep for weeks. It was a lie, but it sounded good. He understood.
She turned around so that she stood in front of him, her body facing away from the rest of the crowd. She smiled wickedly and then let her eyes glow bright green. He was transfixed, but that was only the beginning. Willow held her glass up in front of her and lowered her eyes to it. The old man watched as the wine in her glass seemed to disappear. He just stood there with a grin on his face, eyes as big as a child's. Only when he realized that his own glass was filling up in his hand did he begin to laugh. "Marvelous! Dear you are simply marvelous!"
Willow smiled for the man and quickly caught Ethan's disapproving gaze in the mirror above the fireplace. He had made his way over from across the room and was standing close behind her when she let her magic be known. He encouraged the magic most of the time, but this wasn't the time or the place. But Willow was a big girl. If there were repercussions, she would have to deal with them on her own.
"My good man, do you know what your wife is capable of?" Austin greeted Ethan with a hand shake. "She's a first rate sorceress!"
"We're not married," Ethan corrected.
"Good for you, honey," Austin said, "He's a scoundrel if I've ever met one." He gave Ethan a little jab in the ribs and then winked at Willow. "Rayne why have you been hiding this lovely creature? A woman with her beauty and her talents, why, she should be a staple at every one of my parties!"
"Well, Austin, I've been keeping her all to myself," Ethan said and kissed her cheek. He slid his arm around her waist and stood by her side.
"Good idea," the man whispered as if it were a secret.
"Now, if you'll excuse us, we must be getting on. It's very late." Ethan flashed a quick smile.
Austin was disappointed. "So sorry to see you go, ma petite," he took Willow's hand in his and kissed it. "How 'bout one for the road?" He flashed her a devious grin, eyes sparkling bright. The man was absolutely in awe of her.
Willow met Ethan's eyes and shrugged. He raised his eyebrows and nodded her an 'ok' before he downed the last sip of his wine. She reached for Austin's hand and said, "Lovely party, thank you for having us."
"Austin," Ethan said, shaking the man's hand immediately after Willow let it go.
They began to walk away but he stopped them, "Wait, wait," he said, "You forgot your trick, my dear."
Willow smiled and said, "No, I didn't." She winked at him and pointed toward the mirror.
When Austin turned around, his full head of white hair had one black streak running through the front of it. "Well, I'll be...."
Outside, on the streets of New York, Ethan walked arm in arm with Willow. "Cigarette?" He was never much of a smoker, but since his magic had gotten stronger, he didn't heed the warnings that most humans should. Cancer, for one. Ethan would be able to will it away with his power.
Willow was smoking, too. She never let Ethan know that it made her think of Giles. About a block from home Ethan stopped in front of a convenience store. They looked like quite the pair, her in her elegant gown, wrapped up in a faux fur, Ethan in his tux. He held the door open for her to join him, but she wanted to stay outside and wait. "Coffee Heath Bar Crunch," he asked. Willow's eyes lit up as Ethan smiled and then stepped into the store.
She lifted another cigarette to her lips and realized she didn't have anything to light it with. Like Wonder Woman, she looked around to see if anyone was watching and then lifted her hand to the tip as if she were holding a lighter. It would have worked just fine if someone hadn't flicked a lighter in front of her at the exact same moment. "Need a light, Red?"
"What the hell are you doing here?" She leaned forward, cigarette between her lips, and touched it to the flame the vampire offered.
"Change of scenery," he said and snapped his lighter closed. "So, you and the old poof still together, are you?"
"You could say that," she said defensively.
"I just did." Spike was such a smart-ass. "So, when are you gonna get tired of this game? Your friends need you at home."
"This is my home." She glanced over her shoulder into the store to see if Ethan was almost done.
"You're not fooling anyone, you know."
"Go home, Spike."
He just smiled. Buffy didn't want him anymore, not with Riley around. It was bad enough he had to deal with Angel being back in Buffy's life for those few weeks, but then G I Joe set up shop right there in the house with Buffy and the princess. Spike figured the only way to get back into Buffy's life was to bring the witch home, cured. "Don't think so," he said. He dropped his cigarette on the ground and crushed it with his boot.
"Tomorrow night, 8:30. Your prince charming has a business meeting and you...are meeting me for a drink."
She just laughed and declined, "This is New York, not bizarro world."
"Shut up and listen." He was actually growing more serious by the minute. "You and me need to talk. One night is all I'm askin'. You don't like what I got to say...fine...I'll head back to sunny Sunnydale all by my lonesome."
"8:30." He wasn't taking 'no' for an answer, "I'll send a car." He slunk back into the shadows.
Willow just looked away from him. Ethan was walking through the door, carrying a small bag. "Talking to someone, love?"
She just smiled, shook her head 'no' and wrapped herself around his arm. "Let's go home," she said.
"You read my mind," he said and took her hand in his.
"Ok," Buffy said as she walked into the living room, "Spike just talked to her. He said he found out where they're living. He's going to see her tomorrow. Ethan's got a business meeting or something so she'll be alone."
"How can you be sure she'll see him?" Giles asked.
"I'm not. But it's a start." Buffy plopped down in the empty chair.
Giles and Xander were doing some research, trying to figure out where Ethan got his power from, and how to reverse the damage of the drug he had Willow on. The problem was, it wasn't all chemical - it was part magic. Wesley was sitting on the couch, his nose also in a book, but he was very still - Dawn's head was resting on his thigh and she was asleep.
"When are you going to New York," Wesley asked.
"Tomorrow. But I won't be there in time to join Spike." Giles features filled with remorse. "I can't believe that Willow's future is his hands."
"Giles," Buffy said, "It's ok."
He just looked around the room. When he caught Xander's gaze, Xander agreed, "It really is." He noticed Giles' apprehension and added as a confidence booster, "And you know how much I love and trust William The Bloody."
"Remember what the coven said - her problems are most likely caused by her grief over you and the things she did to you when she was evil. She hurt Buffy and the rest of us. The only person she's never truly hurt was Spike. And, even if she did, it's doubtful she would feel much remorse for it. If she is able to be around him, someone who was a part of her old life, then it will be easier for you to spend time with her. He's our best bet." Wesley was stroking Dawn's hair as he spoke. He probably wasn't even aware he was doing it. "He's got the least emotional involvement with her."
"I know, it's just…I felt like I almost had her in England. It's so bloody infuriating, seeing her with him, knowing how he's violated her." Giles looked off into space and relayed a story to them, "One night I had her, I swear to God, I did. We were in a pub downtown, alone, the two of us. She had agreed to let me sit and talk with her. After an hour she began smiling and reminiscing with me. And then all of the sudden it was like Jekyll and Hyde - she turned on me. But I could see it in her face, in the lines that crept up her forehead, in the blackness in her eyes - she hated seeing me because she thought she had hurt me. But instead of wanting to apologize she just wanted to get away from me. She ran for the door and I followed, but she used magic on me. When I reached the door I couldn't walk through it. There was an invisible barrier up and it stayed until she was in her car and halfway down the block."
"I'm sorry," Buffy said, resting a hand on his knee. He was sitting on the coffee table in front of her.
Giles just looked down at his shoes, not wanting the others to see how upset he was.
"We'll get her back," Dawn said. Nobody knew she was even awake and listening, she'd never moved from Wesley's lap.
"I know," Giles said softly. "But when?"
It was 3 a.m. and Willow couldn't sleep. The rain was pounding furiously against the windows and the roof. It never bothered her in Sunnydale. Never bothered her when she was back in England with Giles, either. But the rain in New York seemed to be more daunting and ominous. Like it had a purpose, and that purpose was almost always evil.
She slid quietly out of bed and wrapped herself in Ethan's robe. It was too big for her tiny frame, but it served a purpose. She found her own slippers by the bed and put them on before she left the room, casting a quick glance over her shoulder to make sure he was still asleep.
After she made a pot of tea she ended up in the study. She sat in Ethan's chair and wrapped his robe tighter around her frame to keep her warm. Without striking a match she ignited the logs in the fireplace. Her magic was strong and no longer forbidden.
The phone sat on a small round table next to her. She went back and forth, wanting to call Giles, not wanting to call. Finally she gave in to her impulse and picked up the receiver and dialed. He answered. He must not have recognized the number because he answered without emotion. It took her a moment to speak. Finally she did. "I don't know what you think Spike's going to do to make me change my mind, but whatever it is - it won't work. Tell him to stay away from me. If I see him again..." she hesitated, but the blood in her veins ran cold, urging her to continue, "...I'll kill him." She hung up without waiting for a response.
"Still fighting those old demons, love?" Ethan stood in the frame of the door, his body merely a silhouette in the darkness of the hallway. "I told you I can help with that," he said, "Just say the word."
"It's my fight. My demons," she said like a child, "I'll take care of it."
"I only wish to help," he offered, still faceless in the doorway.
She softened, afraid she'd offended him. "I know."
"Come to bed, little one." It was as if he was cut in half, his shoulders and face hidden by the darkness, but the light from the fireplace danced across his stomach and bare chest. He was wearing only a pair of silk pajama bottoms. His arms were full of scars from that first night when he'd healed her. They never faded. His chest was broad and strong, although too pale beneath the rich, warm tufts of brown curls there.
She just shook her head 'no.'
He smiled, knowing he should leave her, but he was a stubborn man. He refused. He walked slowly over to her and bent down on one knee. Ethan took her hand and looked into her eyes, "What trouble hides behind those green eyes? What is the sorceress thinking, hm?"
"I just don't know how I ended up here," she said, almost crying.
If there was ever a time in Ethan Rayne's life when he felt like he didn't deserve something, this was it. He did this to her. She was emotionally tortured. "Do you wish to go back?" He knew he would have to ask that question sooner or later, but he'd avoided it for four months. It was almost safe to ask it now, though he still feared her answer.
She didn't give him one.
"I'll take that silence as a yes." He squeezed her hand tighter in his and traced little circles on her skin with his thumb.
"No," she said.
"I...I don't know." Willow was confused. It always got like this right before the withdrawal started. Ethan hated seeing her like this. He did it to her, and yet he couldn't stand it. But he was tortured as well - who would want him if not for Willow? Without her he was just a pathetic, old man full of magic and lies.
"Come to bed..." he whispered, "...please."
She slid off the chair and sunk to her knees in his embrace.
He felt her tears dripping onto his skin. Her head was resting on his shoulder, facing outward, her tears streaming down his arm and his back. He rocked back onto his heels and slid his feet around so that he could sit and cradle her in his arms. And he did. His hands roamed inside the robe and around to her back, the material of her nightgown soft beneath his touch. Ethan just held her until she didn't need the comfort anymore.
Eventually she pulled her face away from his shoulder and looked into his eyes. "Do you love me," she asked.
There were a million reasons why he shouldn't tell her, but he couldn't help himself. He just shook his head yes, afraid to speak the words. A smile crept over his lips and he added, full of understanding, "But you don't love me."
Willow agreed by shaking her head 'no.' It didn't matter to him... much. She lifted a finger to his lips and he parted them slightly, allowing her inside barely a fraction of an inch. When she shifted in his lap he lost control of himself and gave over to the pleasure of her touch. He took her right there on the floor, with the shadows dancing around them and the rain beating out a tune on the windows, though he knew it might be the last time they made love.
Outside, in the thick of the storm, perched on the ledge like a falcon, Spike watched the entire scene play out. He felt sorry for Giles. Ethan never forced himself on Willow, she gave in willingly. The longer it took to get her back, the more her feelings for Ethan would grow. It wasn't about love, not anymore, but it didn't matter. It had been too long already, Spike could see that.
Giles stirred in his sleep and then woke with a start when a clap of thunder broke the silence of the night. But when he opened his eyes and looked out the window, there wasn't a cloud in sight.
He had been dreaming of Willow. She was laughing, head thrown back, eyes sparkling, red hair shining bright. They were at the beach, in the water, the sun almost blinding their eyes. And then darkness fell on them like a blanket and the lightening streaked the sky and the thunder thumped in his ears. And Willow changed before him. She was dark and distant and sadness filled her eyes. Help me she said, just like he'd heard her call to him before.
Giles let the cold water run before he splashed a few handfuls on his face. He leaned forward and drank from the faucet as if he hadn't had a drop of water in ten days. When he was through he braced himself on the sides of the sink and raised his head to look in the mirror. He felt the spirit, he knew she was there.
" She needs you, Rupert, now more than ever. "
"And that's supposed to help me, how? Why should I believe you?" He spoke to Jenny's spirit in the light that was reflected in the mirror. He was bitter. Last time she told him he had time to save Willow, and then she showed up and told him he was too late.
" You know it's true, you can feel her. "
"And what if I can? She's using magic to keep me away. If I get within ten feet of her she'll just stop me again." Giles never turned around to look at her head on - this seemed more appropriate for some reason. "And you never told me why I would have to kill her. Care to shed some light on that?"
" That doesn't matter anymore. She's not what she was supposed to be. "Jenny drifted closer to him as if to rest a hand on his shoulder but, when she tried, her soul passed right through him until she drifted in front of his face. " Go to her and be patient. "
"She's not what she was supposed to be," he repeated, "What the bloody hell does that mean?" He tried to calm himself down, but as quickly as he did that, his blood ran hot again, "I mean can't you bring better advice? You're a bloody ghost - aren't you connected to a higher power? Can't you give me something more?" He'd never spoken to Jenny in real life this way, but her spirit agitated him and he couldn't help himself. "I'm obviously not faring too well deciphering these cryptic messages."
Jenny was silent, still gazing into his eyes.
He responded to a question she never even asked. "I love her," Giles said softly.
" So does he, " she said.
Willow had slept late. It was almost noon by the time the sun poked through the window and roused her from her dreams. She lay still for a moment, trying to recall the aspects of her dreams, but she realized they hadn't all been pleasant, so she gave up.
Ethan was gone, the bed next to her was cold and had been for hours. But he'd left her a rose, long-stemmed and white on his pillow. She was undecided about getting up for the day. The bed was so comfortable and she was so tired. So, so tired. Eventually, she made the move.
After a shower she headed to the kitchen for a quick bite to eat. As she made her way through the hall, she caught a glimpse of herself in the mirror and stopped. Her hair was long, now, almost down to her waist, and black. Ethan liked it that way and called her his 'raven temptress'. Besides, the red just reminded her of home. She had filled out a little and didn't look like a skinny, goofy kid anymore. After all, she was almost 30. Even when she was with Giles, she still tended to dress somewhat cutesy, but the clothes she was wearing these days were very trendy, almost like the outfits Buffy used to wear when they were in high school. No more wool hats and oversized sweaters, no more sneakers. Her wardrobe was mostly black, but it was very sophisticated.
Her eyes scanned over the figure she saw in the mirror. She was wearing black leather pants, hip-huggers, of course, a pair of Manolo Blahnik's, and a pinstriped button-down blouse open to the third button, exposing what little cleavage there was. For the first time in her life, she felt sexy.
She headed down to the magic shop through the stairway that was just off of their kitchen. When she reached the bottom she stopped. Ethan was talking to someone. After a moment she realized he was on the phone.
"I should be arriving in England next month some time. Yes...Yes....No, I'm afraid I'll be traveling alone this time...that should be fine...I'm not sure how long I'll be staying, more than likely I'll be staying..." Willow heard him pause before he added, regretfully, "...indefinitely...right, then...goodbye."
Willow waited a minute before walked into the store so that Ethan didn't think she was spying on him. He was by the cash register, pen in hand, signing his hard earned cash away. Well, ok, not exactly 'hard-earned,' but still. "Why didn't you wake me?" She walked over to him, tapped his nose playfully with the white rose he had left her, and then leaned up on tip toe to kiss him.
"You looked like an angel," he said, smoothing back her hair, "It would have broken my heart to disturb you."
She just smiled and rested her head against his shoulder.
It was an awkward moment. One of those times when silence speaks volumes. "How about we go away," he said out of the blue.
"What?" She had just heard him say that he would be going to England alone.
"You and me, going away...a little vacation."
"Where to," she asked.
"I don't know..." he thought about for a minute and then smiled. His eyes sparkled and he announced, "Atlantic City."
"What?" She actually laughed at him.
"Yes, Atlantic City, it's only about 3 hours away. We'll gamble, we'll see a show, take a dip in the ocean," he was very proud of his idea.
"It's the middle of winter," she said.
"Well, then, we'll find a room with a great big hot tub," he whispered in her.
"When," she asked, skeptically.
"I thought you had a meeting tonight."
He got very serious and looked into her eyes, "I'll cancel." Ethan took a deep breath, "I want to take you away. We need a change of pace, don't you think?" Perhaps it was a last-ditch effort to make her fall in love with him, though he knew it would never be.
She was thinking about Spike. And Giles. And Buffy and the others. Even though she had told Spike she wasn't going to meet him, and told Giles that she would kill Spike if he contacted her again, she knew the vampire would show up - and she really had planned on going to see him. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but Willow really wanted to hear what Spike had to say. But after a moment's consideration the factors were just too overwhelming and she decided that Ethan was easier to deal with. "I think...ok."
"Splendid!" He kissed her on the top of her head and let her go.
"I guess I'll go pack," she said hesitantly.
"I'll ring for a car and meet you out front in an hour."
She just smiled tentatively and went back upstairs to pack. Ethan watched her go, his smile fading with every step she took. His heart was almost broken. This would have to end, soon, she wouldn't stay with him forever. And, though his initial plan never included her, as time went on, he grew to love her. He should have just rolled into Sunnydale, sold the stuff to the highest bidder like he planned, and then moved on. But now, he loved her too much to force her to be with him.
"What do you mean she's gone?" Dawn was on the phone with Spike, Wesley was standing by her side in the kitchen. "Well do you know where they went?" She was shaking her head in disbelief. They were so close. Giles was on his way to New York and now Willow was gone. "No, I'll tell Buffy and try and get in touch with Giles. But you'll probably see him before I talk to him. He should be there in the morning." She hung up the phone.
"Where are they?" Wesley asked.
"He's not sure. The store is closed and the apartment is empty. He didn't see them leave, but he thinks they might be gone for a few days." Dawn just leaned forward into Wesley's embrace. "Man, this sucks. I mean - we just got them all back and then Ethan swoops in and takes Willow from us...from Giles. It's not fair. He loves her so much. He lost Jenny, now this. I just want this over. What if Spike's wrong? What if they left for good? How is Giles going to be able to do what he needs to go to get her back?"
"I'm sure they're only gone for a bit, and that might not be a bad thing, you know," Wesley said.
"What might not?" Buffy walked into the kitchen with Riley in tow. He was holding Vivienne.
"Willow and Ethan have left New York," Wesley said, "But, as I was about to say to Dawn - this might be ok. This will give Spike and Giles the opportunity to have a look around and see what else Ethan has up his sleeve."
"Where did they go?" Riley put Vivienne down and the little girl took off running, no doubt up to her room.
"Not sure," Dawn said.
"Oh." Buffy was at a loss. There really wasn't anything they could do at this point. Giles was there, in New York, to take care of it, but the rest of them had to be home for the welcome party. That's the only time they were going to do any good. When she came home they would be able to help her transition back into her life, but for now - they were just emotional support.
"So, now what?" Riley asked.
"Now what, what?" Xander walked into the kitchen from the basement. He had stayed behind when Angel and Cordelia left. They headed back to L.A., but Xander felt like he needed to stay in Sunnydale. After all, Angel Investigations was back on track with Gunn and Fred, Cordy and Lorne – they could handle things. Wes and Xander had their own little thing going in Sunnydale, in addition to helping figure out how to help Giles and Willow.
"Ethan and Willow are gone, Spike didn't get to talk to her." Dawn was still in Wesley's arms, though she was facing everyone now, with Wes holding her from behind.
"Is there even anything we can do at this point?" Riley asked.
"I'm afraid not. The coven has given Giles all the information he needs. Now we just have to wait." Wesley released his hold on Dawn and went over to the stove to stir a pot of soup he was making.
"Where do you think they went," Dawn asked.
"Nine – front line winner!" The casino was crowded, teeming with life, voices booming all over the place. "Yo, eleven, winner, Yo, eleven." Willow didn't know how to play anything other than the pretzel-ante poker Xander taught her when they were ten. She guessed that you couldn't actually call wild cards at the casino, though. Ethan promised to swing by one of the gift shops so that she could suck all the gambling information out of one of the books.
They walked through the Taj Mahal, Ethan holding her hand tightly in his. "This is crazy," Willow said, looking around at all the people who were so transfixed by the bells and whistles. "There are no clocks, no windows – these people have no idea what time it is. The whole world could be crumbling outside and they wouldn't know. The boardwalk could be swept away by the tides and they wouldn't know."
"That's how it's supposed to be, love."
"The eye in the sky." Ethan directed his gaze above them to the smoky domes that were placed every few feet. "They've got a better view from upstairs than God does."
"You have much knowledge," she said quizzically. Willow smiled, but was a little taken aback at the mention of God. She thought Ethan's soul was surely promised to the devil. And it probably was, but at least he wasn't struck down at the mention of the lord's name – that was a good sign.
"So," Ethan said, "Where to first?"
"I don't know." Willow was content strolling, just taking everything in.
Ethan stopped for a moment, a feeling of desperateness washing over him. He noticed one particular man who looked like he could use a little magical intervention. "I'm feeling generous. Feel like changing some desperate old, fool's life?" Ethan nodded toward the old man - he was sitting at a slot machine. The man must have been 75 years old, wrinkled clothes, cigar hanging out of his mouth, hair looked like it hadn't been washed in weeks. The poor sap was probably down to his last quarter and he was feeding Donald Trump with it.
Willow just looked at Ethan, wondering what on earth made him think such a thing. He generally didn't use his power for the good of others. In fact, he'd never used his power to help a random stranger.
"It's all right, go ahead." He led her by the hand and they stood behind the old man as if just casually observing.
Willow concentrated hard, closed her eyes tight and then heard it. The alarm went off, the bell began ringing and, when she opened her eyes, the man had won. She just smiled – she felt pretty damn good about herself.
"I...I won! Ha-ha!!! I won!!!!" The old man was bouncing in his seat, shouting at the crowd that had quickly gathered around him. "How much did I win," he asked Ethan.
Ethan looked up at the counter that was above the machine. It was a progressive machine, which meant a huge payoff. "Looks like 2 million dollars," Ethan said with a smile and patted the man on the back, "You've had a bit of good luck!"
"Two…whoo-whooo!!! Two Million !!!!" The old man was smacking his knee and laughing hysterically.
Ethan just leaned over and whispered in Willow's ear, "Great, we just made him win, now he's about to have a heart attack. Should have thought of that before."
"Yeah," Willow said, "Not exactly a community service if he dies before he cashes the check."
They strolled away, hand in hand. Willow just looked up at Ethan and smiled.
"What," he said.
"Where did that come from?"
"Can't a man want to do a nice thing for someone without the third degree?" He wore a broad smile.
"No. Not when that man is you," she said and playfully jabbed at his side.
Ethan knew what sort of man he was. But being around Willow made him want to do good things. And the longer he was with her, the more he wanted to change. But he knew that with that change, he would lose her. He would lose her because he would set her free. How ironic.
Later that night, standing on the cold, dark balcony of their room, Willow looked out onto the ocean. The moon was full and seemed to cast a single beam, a spotlight that danced off the waves of the Atlantic, undulating and churning rhythmically as she looked on.
"My God," Ethan said "It's freezing out here." He was covered in a large blanket when he walked outside. He immediately went to Willow and wrapped his arms around her from behind, both of their bodies now sharing the space of the blanket. "Come inside, little one."
She turned in his embrace and kissed him softly before she led him inside. Her mind was cluttered. She was so full of confusion she couldn't even figure out what it was she was confused about. She led him to the bed and pulled him down next to her. He covered their bodies with the blanket and she immediately situated herself in the stronghold of his arms, her head resting on his shoulder, her legs laced together with his.
"Why did you want to help that man today?"
He thought for a moment, not really sure himself of how to answer. "I don't know."
She leaned up on her elbow and looked his in the eyes. "Yes you do." There was a moment of understanding between them when Willow asked, "What did you do to me?" Her voice was not threatening, she was simply asking because she wanted to know.
Ethan's heart stopped. This was the moment. He took a deep breath and then sat up, reaching for a pack of cigarettes. He lit two and handed one to Willow who was now sitting up, facing him. "I don't want to hurt you anymore." He took her hand in his for a brief moment and then let it go.
"That wasn't my question." She ducked her head a little so that she could look him in the eye.
Ethan took a long, deep drag on his cigarette and then exhaled through his nose before stamping out the butt in the ashtray. "Another time, little one." He avoided her gaze as long as he could but eventually he had to meet her eyes. "Do you trust me," he asked.
Ethan laughed. "Good, you shouldn't." A moment of nervous laughter quickly turned serious. He raised his hand and stroked her cheek.
She knew she wasn't going to get her answer, and maybe she didn't need it at that very moment. Willow leaned forward and kissed Ethan. Her mouth moved quickly over his and, before she knew it, they were tangled up together, moving like the ocean outside of their room.
"Spike?" Giles closed the door behind him and dropped his suitcase on the floor. It was an apartment a few blocks from Ethan's that belonged to an old friend of Giles' who happened to be out of town.
"Oy, Watcher, in here," Spike called.
When Giles walked into the bedroom, Spike was standing over an old man who was tied to a chair.
"What the hell are you doing?" Giles rushed farther into the room. "Are you mad?"
"Found him lurkin' about outside the magic shop. Says he's a friend of Ethan's. Says he was looking for the sorceress." Spike sneered at the man, trying to make him quiver.
"Untie him this instant," Giles yelled.
"Yes, that's a very good idea," Austin said, almost unfettered. Almost. He was fascinated by the whole thing. His life had been rather boring, but now - witches and magic and men who kidnap you for information - he'd never had so much fun before.
"Hey!" Spike growled at him, "I'll do the talking little man."
"Spike!" Giles scolded.
"What? He's got information. I can smell it." The vampire lowered his hands to the arms of the chair and leaned into Austin's face. "Now, tell me where they are."
Giles walked over and pulled Spike away by the shoulder.
"Fine, don't blame me if Red takes off back to merry old England with the ponce." Spike stood back against the wall, lit a cigarette and pouted.
"I'm very sorry..." Giles paused and waited for the man to give his name.
"Austin. Austin Graham."
Giles untied him and stood aside. "I...I really don't think there's a damn thing I can say to explain this." He scratched his head and then removed his glasses to clean them.
"It's ok," Austin said, "I'm a business man, myself. Sometimes you just have to let things slide." He tried pretending like he was used to this sort of thing, but inside he was frightened and a little excited.
Giles turned to Spike and just scowled. Spike let out a small "P-tuh" and looked away from Giles.
As Giles reached the front door to escort Austin out, the old man said, "Is something wrong with Willow?"
"You know her? You've seen her?" Giles couldn't help himself. He tried to keep a cool exterior, but he melted. He assumed that when Spike said Austin was looking for the sorceress, the man was looking for a witch he'd never actually met.
"Yes, just last night. She and Rayne were at a party I was giving for...oh, what was that again? Oh, who knows, some charity for something." Austin was a little worried. He'd really taken to Willow.
"Do you know where they might have gone?"
"No, I'm afraid I don't." Austin was intrigued and wanted to help them. "I could make a call or two."
Giles smiled. "I would appreciate that."
"Oh, sure, now we're all buddy, buddy. When Spike tries to help nobody wants to hear it." Spike was standing in the doorway, leaning against the frame of it. His long leather duster made him look extremely menacing.
Giles said a silent 'thank-you' to whatever force it was that kept Spike from changing into his vamp face. "Uh, I think the phone is this way," Giles said, pointing Austin to a long, narrow hallway.
"I'll be right back," the old man said and headed toward the phone.
"What the hell is wrong with you?" Giles whispered loudly.
"Nice to see you, too, Rupert. Good flight?" Spike was upset. Sure, his tactics might not have been...well...humane...but Giles ruined his fun.
"No time for that, we've got to find out where she is."
"Don't you mean where they are?" Spike had to remind Giles that where Willow was, Ethan was surely with her.
"The coven is standing by, ready to strike whenever we get her away from him," Giles said, "I just want to get her back...I want this over. He's hurt her enough."
Spike watched as Giles' features faded. After the scene he had witnessed while perched on Ethan's ledge the night before, Spike couldn't bear to taunt Giles anymore. He practically had to bite his tongue when Giles said that Ethan had hurt Willow enough. She didn't seem too tortured. Teased, maybe, tickled to death, but...."I know you do," he said, "We will."
It only made Giles more confused, but the Watcher shook it off as soon as Austin entered the room.
"Well, rumor has it they're in Atlantic City, though I'm not sure how long they're staying. I don't think it was planned, so they might be back in a day or two," Austin said.
"Well, uh...thank you, Mr. Graham, I appreciate all you've done. And, again, I apologize for my..." Giles searched for the right word "...associate," he nodded toward Spike.
"If there's anything else I can do." Austin was saying the words as Giles practically pushed him out the door. "Mr...uh..?"
"Giles, Rupert Giles." He smiled and added, "Thank you for the information."
Ethan stirred as the sun broke through the curtains of their hotel room. Willow wasn't next to him. He panicked for a minute, like he did whenever he woke up without her by his side. But when he heard the shower running, he relaxed.
He made his way to the bathroom, brushed his teeth and then dropped his jammies and slid into the shower behind Willow. "Please, allow me," he purred in her ear as he took the washcloth from her.
"Mmmm," she sighed as he kissed his way up her neck before pressing his lips to hers. "Minty fresh." She dropped her head forward, allowing him access to the back of her neck. That was the spot that drove her the craziest.
Ethan kissed the warm, wet cavern between her shoulder blades before he helped her wash her back and all those other hard to reach areas. He turned her around and looked deep in to her eyes. His fingers traveled down the line of her body, over the curve of her hip. He coaxed her legs apart with his knee and, when his hand reached the back of her thigh, he lifted her until she wrapped herself around him. He said the words, "I love you," before he pressed her up against the wall, beneath the hot spray of the shower and filled her with one fluid motion.
"Hurry up," Spike said, "It's cold out here."
Giles just looked up at him, "Are you kidding me?"
"What?" The vampire said defensively.
Giles turned his attention back to the door of the magic shop. It was dark, after 10 P.M. Ethan and Willow hadn't come back, yet. It had been two days since Austin said they left town. Finally, after 48 hours of the blender churning out Wheatabix and blood smoothies, Giles decided to break into the shop and their apartment and snoop around. He chanted something Latin and pressed his fingers to the door. The palm of his hand glowed a bright yellow as he held it flat just above the doorknob. The lock clicked open.
They slipped inside quickly, certain nobody was watching them. There was no magic barrier between the shop below and the apartment above. If there had been it would have sizzled them already. Spike headed to the back of the store and nodded for Giles to join him. The vampire had been casing the place since he arrived in town. Although he had never officially been inside, Spike knew about the interior staircase.
After half an hour of looking around for odds and ends, things Ethan might have hidden from Willow, things Ethan might have stolen from whomever, Spike found a stash of Ethan's liquid chaos in a flashy false book in the study. "Hey, over here." When Giles reached him, Spike showed him the faux-books he found with over a hundred vials of glowing, green liquid inside. "Think that's the entire stash?"
"It's anybody's guess," Giles said.
"So, what's the plan?" Spike lit a cigarette.
After a moment Giles said, "We wait," and then he sank into a chair.
"Home sweet home," the driver said as he pulled up in front of their building and stopped at the entrance to the shop. It was well after midnight.
"Wake up, my raven temptress, we're home." Ethan stroked Willow's cheek. She had fallen asleep while curled up in the seat in the back of the limo, her head resting on his thigh.
She stirred and sat up. When she got out of the car she leaned back against it, lazily, and dropped her head forward as if it were too heavy to hold up. Ethan paid the driver, grabbed their bags and tugged on her arm to pull her away from the car. She just fell forward into his embrace.
"Now, now," he said, trying to support her, "I'm an old man. If I have to carry you up those steps I'll be of no use to you for days."
"What about nights?" She reached between their bodies and stroked him tenderly.
"Oh, well, nights - I'm sure I'll manage." He closed his mouth over hers and squeezed her tight. When he pulled away he bent down to Willow's waist and flung her over his shoulder in a mock fireman's carry, eliciting a startled squeak from the witch. He picked up the bags with one hand and braced her with his other hand on her ass. Between the two of them, they commanded doors to open and close without ever touching them. When they reached the hallway outside the back door to the kitchen, Ethan lowered Willow to the ground and immediately pressed her up against the wall. "Wanna get drunk and fool around?" After all, she started it with her groping and teasing. She smiled and reached down to stroke him again. Ethan just purred as he leaned into her touch before he kissed her again. "No time like the present," he whispered in her ear.
She wrapped her right leg around him and pressed her hips against his, seeking the friction of his love. Ethan's head was swimming from the scent of her perfume and the lazy lust in her eyes. He reached down between their bodies, lifted her skirt and, within a moment, lost himself inside of her. He kissed her with passion and meaning, his touch was full of love.
When it was over, after a blur of movements neither one was truly sated by, Willow whispered something and the lock to the door clicked open. She pushed through first and was immediately grabbed by someone in the dark. Ethan rushed in to help, but he, too, was grabbed and hit so quickly over the head that he didn't have time to defend himself or Willow. He was knocked unconscious. Willow began chanting, but her captor's voice was louder, stronger, more prepared. Giles held her tight with one hand while his other hand sprinkled a red, shimmery dust all over her. His voice grew louder, more intense, and his chanting faster. "Spike, now!"
Spike opened an ornate glass container and held it up in front of Willow. She wasn't sure what was happening, but she tried to fight. She flung her head back until it connected with a thunk that knocked Giles away from her. He staggered and when he turned around, her eyes were full and black and she was about to cast her spell. But he spoke the word first and watched as a beam of light shot out of her body and into the bottle in Spike's hand. The vampire popped the cork onto the bottle as soon as the beacon faded.
"What..." Willow was faint and woozy, barely able to stand, "What did you do to me?" She fell against the wall, the world around her spinning wildly before she hit the floor. She teetered on the brink of unconsciousness for almost two minutes and then finally gave in. A soft moan escaped her lips, a cry for help just before she fell under, "Ethan..."
"I knew you'd come," Ethan said through the tiny slits of his eyes. Giles was sitting across from him and the room was full of light. Sunlight. It was morning. Maybe the very next morning, maybe four days later - Ethan wasn't sure. They were in a bedroom in a place that he didn't recognize. For all he knew, they could have been in Pomona. "Is she back in Sunnydale?" His voice was hoarse and his throat hurt. It felt like he'd been asleep for days.
"I'll ask the questions," Giles said calmly. He stood up and pulled his chair closer to Ethan's side. "What have you done to her? Besides this," Giles held up a vial of the drug, "What else?"
"Nothing, I swear." Ethan coughed a few times, his lungs weak, his chest heavy as if someone were sitting on top of him.
"You lie." Giles still kept his cool.
"Ripper I've never lied to you." Ethan said it as if Giles knew the statement was true. Ethan was at his mercy. His life was in Giles' hands. It was probably the worst predicament he'd ever been in and, yet...he felt like the weight of the world had been lifted off his shoulders. From the moment he found Willow he'd been worried about losing her. But now he didn't have to worry anymore...she was already gone.
"You expect me to believe that she climbs all over you like that of her own will? That she looks at you that way because she cares for you? You're a sick man, Ethan – delusional about the meanings of her actions. That's not love – you created every one of her kisses with that drug you poisoned her with." He leaned closer, asserting his position in Willow's life, "My Willow wouldn't touch you if you were dying, you pathetic lout."
Ethan smiled thinly, his eyes glossed over, his body so weak. "She's not yours anymore, old chap. And, don't take this the wrong way, but I doubt she ever was." He wanted Giles to think that Willow had changed of her own volition and that he, Ethan, never forced her. "And now the million dollar question - did you take her power? The one thing that defines her? The thing that courses through her veins with more meaning than her blood?"
"Yes, and I've taken yours, so don't bother," Giles said and glanced down at Ethan's hand. The poor man was trying to weave a spell so that he could untie his restraints.
"How did we get here, mate? I'm so bloody tired, I mean - I'm practically an old man." Ethan looked into Giles' eyes, "You are, too." He smiled and then sighed. "You won't find what you're looking for, here, Rupert. I don't have a cure, it's not as simple as that. Go to her. She won't make it without you." Ethan laughed again, "You, you, you...It's always you, bloody hell...every damn night when I find her curled up with a book...every sodding time she watches An Affair To Remember, every cuppa she drinks...it's all you." He paused, "Even when we make love she's not really with me. You're right - I was a fool to think she'd have me." He looked into Giles' eyes. "I knew it wasn't forever, friend. I knew you'd come for her."
Giles let the words roll off of him. Friend? They weren't friends. And he didn't want to hear those things about Willow. It meant that she was a part of Ethan's life. A willing part of it. That was too much for Giles to bear, but he acted as though it didn't phase him. "Why her? If you wanted to hurt me you could have done it a million ways, why on earth did you have to hurt her?"
Ethan just smiled and shook his head 'no' to assure Giles he wouldn't get an answer out of him. Giles could torture him to death, but Ethan wouldn't give him what he wanted.
"Where is he?" Willow was writhing on the bed, her head pounding, sweat pouring down from her temples.
"He's gone to take care of some business," Spike said, "Now, be a good little girl and go through your withdrawal nice and quiet." He was reading a magazine, sitting across the room from her, his legs crossed at the knee like some dainty, old bint.
They were in her apartment. Ethan's apartment. It was big and secluded and Giles knew that it would take a long time to get Willow back to normal. He didn't want to try to bring her home to Sunnydale until she was herself again. And keeping her at his friend's place might raise suspicion. So he brought Ethan there, instead. Ethan was a man of quiet rage, but Willow's recovery would be anything but.
"Not Giles," she said, "Ethan. Where is he? Did you hurt him?" She pulled at the restraints, but Spike had tied her good and tight. Practice makes perfect.
"What's that? Now, we'll have none of that talk." Spike was upset at Willow's emotional attachment for Ethan. "Giles is your man. Rupert's the one who's been pining away for you for months, scouring every alley in the world for the secrets of that liquid chaos you got running through your veins. Rupert's the one's cried so many tears I thought he'd shrivel up. He's the one you need, Red, he's the one you love – trust me. Ethan Rayne drugged you, he hurt you. As soon as it all wears off you'll see."
She had been muttering under her breath, casting silent spells. But it didn't work. "How did you do it?" She was still struggling, pulling, writhing, breathing heavy.
"What? Take your powers? That's a little something courtesy of the old coven. You remember them, right? Bunch of double-double-toil-and-trouble gals back in England helped you get through the dark ages?" He walked over and sat on the bed with her. "Fed-Ex'd your mojo back to the Slayer - she's keeping it all snug as a bug for you, and as soon as you're healthy, you can have it back."
"It reminds me of Angel's soul, just floating around like that." Wesley was transfixed by the magic in the bottle. All of them had gathered around the living room, the bottle that held Willow's magic was on the coffee table in the center.
"It's like...fog," Xander said, "Big, honkin' jar 'o fog."
"What if something happens and they need to give Willow her power back," Dawn asked, "Do you think they should have sent it to us?"
"It was too dangerous to keep it there. Besides, as soon as she's better they're on a plane back home," Buffy said.
"When's that," Riley asked.
"Soon, I hope," Buffy looked around the room and added, "I miss her."
"Me, too," everyone agreed.
"Where is it? I need it," Willow was begging Spike. "Please, Spike. Giles won't know...I just....I just...I have to..." She started crying, her tears very real as they streaked down her face. It wasn't the magic she was pleading for – it was the chaos. In her mind's eye she saw Giles, hurt, bleeding, almost dead on the floor of the Magic Box from the things she did to him when she was bad. She saw the scars on his soul from the things she had said to him. All that evil power she sucked out of Rack and tortured her friends with. It came crashing back, but the memories of them forgiving her had faded. It was like she had to repent all over again – and she couldn't take it. All she wanted was for those memories to go away.
"It's part of the process, Red. You just gotta deal with it. Besides - even if I wanted to help you - the Watcher destroyed every last vial." He looked deep into her eyes, "Which was a good idea, judging by the side effects."
"Get away from me you filthy thing." Willow was so tortured. She was going back and forth, crying and then yelling. Begging and then spitting on Spike.
At that moment Giles appeared in the doorway.
"Well, looks like it's time for Spike's coffee break." The vampire smiled and then stood up. As he passed Giles he said, "She's a handful. Don't let her ruffle your feathers - she's learned a bunch of new words." He looked over his shoulder at Willow, still shifting wildly on the bed, and said loud enough for her to hear, "And not a one of 'em very lady-like." He lit a cigarette and turned back to Giles, "Want me to go and keep an eye on the ponce?" Giles had been staring at Willow the whole time. He just nodded a 'yes' to Spike.
"Come to take me home," Willow asked snidely.
Giles walked over and sat on the bed beside her. He reached up to smooth back a fallen strand of her hair and she flinched - just like she did when Ethan first captured her.
"I know you don't believe me right now, but this will go away, love. You'll be better soon." She said nothing. Her teeth were clenched and her nostrils were flaring with each breath she took. If she had her powers, she may have actually breathed fire at that point.
She was staring him down, but he wasn't going to break. He wasn't going to get angry and fight, he would take whatever she gave him no matter how many emotional scars it might leave. He steeled himself for the worst and said, "I love you."
She just laughed and threw her head around wildly. Her senses were peaked as her mind replayed the scene from only days before when Ethan had pressed her up against the wall of the shower, with her legs wrapped around him, his strong, hard body holding her tight. She took those thoughts and tried to push them into Giles' mind, forgetting for a fraction of a second that she didn't have the power to do so anymore. It didn't matter. The corners of her mouth turned up slightly, devilishly, and then she bit her lower lip as the memories of her lovemaking with Ethan ran fresh through her mind. She finally met Giles' eyes and taunted him with these words: "He says it better."
Spike opened the door to the apartment Giles had left Ethan in and made his way inside. When he reached the bedroom - it was empty. Ethan was gone. On the bed there was a piece of paper, folded neatly with the name 'Ripper' written across it. "Bollocks," Spike said.
Two hours had gone by and Giles still hadn't left her side. She'd spit on him, cursed at him, cried for him, begged for her release, and cursed at him again. This was it - he wasn't giving up. He'd listened to an endless account of how sick she thought he was, how weak and old.
The withdrawal was too much for her. Instead of feeling remorse and apologizing, she just wanted to make Giles hate her. If he hated her, she'd have nothing to feel guilty about. She searched the recesses of her mind for the things she thought would hurt him most. "What did you think was going to happen, Giles? You and me would live happily ever after? The watcher and his witch…his weak, sick witch who couldn't even cast a spell without losing her mind." She looked into his eyes, ranting like a lunatic – no thread to weave her thoughts together, just a mindless ranting stream of consciousness.
"Did you want me back then? In the library? In the dark ? When I was 16 years old and you were leaning over my shoulder, clearly violating the six-inch rule, standing so close I could feel your breath on my neck? Did you go home and slip between the sheets by yourself and dream about that skinny, naïve little girl? Did you think she wanted you? With your books and your theories and your prophecies – did you see this in your future?" The thought of Ethan popped into her head, touching her, kissing her, loving her. "You finally got me, didn't you? But guess what...I was the only person who'd have you...because I was weak like you." Willow practically choked on the work 'weak' as she emphasized it over and over again. "I wonder - all those times you crawled up on top of me, hard before I even touched you, fumbling with my buttons like some love-sick teenage boy who almost didn't make it inside? Did you think for one second you'd be sharing me with him?" She smirked and whispered dreamily, "Ethan whispers words to me you've never even read about in your musty, old books."
"It won't work," he stated calmly.
"You're pathetic!" She thrust up quickly, her body shot up like an X in the air with her limbs still tied to the bed. "This is the only way you'll ever have me again - tied up and unable to fight you off. Do you think that I would ever touch you again? After you let him take me? After you let him take me all over the place and shoot that stuff into my blood? My blood, Giles, my life! " She was crying, but trying so hard to spout off at him that the cries were strangled in her throat, "Is that love? Is that how you show your love? By letting Ethan drag me all over creation?" She changed gears again, so confused, so driven by the pain inside of her trying so desperately to hurt him. "What do you think, now? You still want me? This girl who doesn't care about anyone but Ethan Rayne, do you want me?" Classic case of stockholm syndrome. At least that's what Giles wanted to believe, despite the fact that Willow wasn't technically Ethan's prisoner. "If you want me, you better take me...right here, right now, all tied up like I know you've fantasized about. You'd better get it all out of your system, because when I get out of here..." She didn't finish. Instead her thoughts turned even more evil at the realization that she'd never actually told Giles about her life with Ethan. "You want to know, don't you?" She wiggled and writhed some more, her wrists and ankles burning from the friction of the restraints. "Oh, wow, I get it." It was as if she'd had an epiphany. She stopped moving and looked deep into his eyes before she whispered, "…you want to know if I fucked him." She was laughing, enraged and amused at the same time. "...you can't stand it, can you? You want to know if I ..."
Giles cut her off, his voice soft, steady, calm. "I want to know if you loved him."
"Bad news," Spike said as he entered the room waving the note from Ethan in the air. He was completely oblivious to the moment he'd interrupted. "Your blokes gone missing, but he left you a message."
Giles stared intently at Willow, an almost unbreathable silence filling the space between them. He didn't want to hear her answer, yet he'd asked, foolishly. Finally he cast a glance toward Spike.
He didn't want to leave Willow, not even for a second, but he knew he must. It was too confusing, too infuriating. A break from the fury might do them all some good. All the thrashing about she'd been doing was starting to worry him. He finally just stood up and led Spike out of the room without ever uttering another word to Willow, without hearing one from her. He snapped the letter out of Spike's hand and headed far down the hall. The vampire followed.
Thanks for the chat, I'm feeling much better about myself. As far as my escape, I'm not Houdini, however I do have friends in low places. Well, not exactly 'friends' – but… When she asks about me, and she will – please be kind. My ego is frail.
Two days more and Willow still wasn't better. Her emotional, raving rants had stopped, but now she'd gone into a fit of crying and hadn't stopped for eight hours. Giles just sat by her side, holding her hand in his, stroking her cheek softly.
"How can you touch me," she said through her tears. "I hurt you so much. I'm sick, I'm evil. God, I should be dead."
"No! Stop that! Willow you need to hear me – you need to listen." He leaned forward and kissed her forehead. "Those things that you're feeling remorse for, you've already atoned for it all. Years and years ago, though you can't remember it, now. I love you, my God, I love you so much." Giles took a deep breath, trying to quell his own sobs. "It pains me to see you like this...I'm sorry but I can't let you go...until I know you're not going to hurt yourself, this is how it has to be."
"You don't understand," she cried, "I tried to kill you."
"Oh, please stop, love. Please stop thinking about it. I've forgotten. That was so long ago, don't you remember? Think about our life together. We've just gotten our friends back and they're waiting at home. They all want to see you: Buffy, Xander, Dawn…they miss you."
"How can they miss me," she was shaking like a kitten who'd been left out in the snow.
"As soon as you're well we'll go home and you'll see. You'll see how loved you are." His hand kept a steady pace, stroking her hair over and over again, trying to soothe her. "This…thing…whatever it is that you're feeling, it isn't real. But I can't make it go away, it just has to run its course." Giles couldn't take it anymore. His heart was breaking. He reached over to the nightstand and picked up a hypodermic needle, muttering under his breath, "I am going to throttle Ethan Rayne once and for all the next time I see him." Willow's eyes opened wide when she saw Giles preparing to inject her. "It's a sedative. You need to sleep – you're exhausting yourself. It might not be a restful sleep, but it will be better than all this struggling you're doing. I promise this won't hurt you."
She didn't know what to think. But she wanted to sleep, too. She just looked into his eyes and said, "Ok."
Another two days had passed. Willow had gotten better. She wasn't consistent, though. At times she still tried to say things to hurt Giles, but those moments were so few and far between that he thought it was time to send Spike home to Sunnydale. Giles needed to be alone with her for the rest of the recovery.
"How are you feeling this morning?" Giles was sitting on the bed beside her, but she was still restrained. He'd untied her the night before, almost certain that she was fully recovered, but she found an old razor blade and cut one of her wrists. Without magic, she had to resort to normal human solutions to problems. She couldn't weave a spell to block the pain, but she could kill herself and end it all for good. Giles was kicking himself. He had only left the room for a minute, but luckily found her in time to keep her from cutting the other. By using the power the coven had given him, he was able to heal her immediately.
"Not sure," she said. "My head's still not right." At least she knew things weren't right and that was a good sign. If she knew there was something wrong, she could work to fix it.
He was sitting casually by her side, barefoot in a pair of jeans and a shirt he hadn't bothered to button. His hair was still wet from his shower. "You're doing much better." Giles smiled and took her hand in his. He just gazed into her eyes, afraid to spoil the moment.
She bit her bottom lip, almost afraid to speak. "...kiss me?"
It had been a long time. Too long. And this moment, though he'd been waiting for it, seemed awkward and forced. But he indulged her. He smiled, for the first time since she'd been gone, he smiled and meant it. He leaned forward and pressed his lips to hers, softly, slowly, sweetly. He wanted to untie her so that he could feel her arms around him, but he didn't want to risk it again. And then he remembered Jenny's words, " Love her, Rupert. "
Willow looked into Giles' eyes. She saw his love for her shining through. He never said a word - he just moved to the end of the bed to untie her feet, and then he sat beside her again and untied her hands. She sat up slowly, tentatively, as if she was afraid of her own actions. He lifted her wrists to his mouth and kissed the wounds from the restraints, and each one faded beneath his lips.
"I've missed you," he said softly. Willow only cried.
He held her. She climbed into his lap sideways and sat in his arms for the next five hours. And still he held her and rocked her, calmed her with his words of love. Giles had no idea what to expect. He assumed that things would be awkward between the two of them for a while, but it wasn't like that. She was his and she loved him. And she knew that he loved her.
Finally, hours later, Willow whispered in his ear, "I'm sorry." He thought she'd had a relapse, but she quickly added, "I mean about the things I've said to you these past few days. And, I wanted to let you know - when you asked me if I loved him...I never gave you an answer." She took a deep breath, gathering enough strength to deliver the answer with conviction. "I didn't love him."
Giles smiled, thankful she'd made the attempt. He added softly, "But you could have."
Willow parted her lips to speak, but Giles silenced her with another kiss. She never had the chance to respond.
Two more days in New York and Ethan was nowhere to be found. Willow had gathered what she wanted from the apartment - mostly clothes. As much as she wanted to forget the experience, she learned a lot about herself. Besides, she was sure that Giles would appreciate all the black lace under-things she'd acquired.
Giles was in the shower. It was their last morning in New York. They had plane tickets home and Willow was eager to get gone. She was lying in bed while Giles showered. The thought of the coming days and all the explaining she was going to have to do to her friends tired her out.
Just as she drifted off, she felt his hand on her face. She smiled into his touch, but never opened her eyes. When his lips met her mouth she kissed him passionately and opened her eyes when he pulled away.
"Hello little one."
"Shh..tuh...tut...tut." He pressed his finger to her lip and silenced her. He spoke at a whisper, "I'm afraid our time is through. Ripper needs you back. You know he won't last without you." She parted her lips to speak, but he silenced her again, this time with a kiss. He broke away before she had the chance to push him away. "Your soul has been screaming for him - I could feel it in your touch."
Willow wanted to scream for Giles to come to her. But she knew that he would hurt Ethan. As much as she wanted that to happen, for both her and Giles, a part of her knew it was wrong, so she didn't bother. But still, she said nothing to Ethan.
"I had to see you one last time. I assure you I won't be calling on you again, so you can rest easy." He raised a hand to her head and ran his fingers through her long, black hair. Each strand turned back to the fiery red it once was. "I had to borrow the magic to do that," he said, nodding to her hair color. "This color suits you much better." He lifted his hand and stroked the side of her face. "You were the best thing that ever happened to me. And I was the worst that ever happened to you. But I want you to know this, and know that it's true - I will love you forever." Ethan kissed her hand and smiled, "He's a good man...and you and I both know that the two of you were meant to be together."
Giles was in the shower during this entire exchange. He never heard a sound. He leaned forward and rinsed the shampoo from his hair, unaware that behind him, etched into the steam that had condensed on the shower door, someone had left him a message - Be seeing you.
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