~~ Chapter eleven ~~
“What is it,” Angel asked.
“Not entirely certain,” Wesley replied, “Where did you find it?”
“Restfield…it was sleeping in one of the crypts, curled up in a coffin beside a rotting corpse,” he said, dryly.
“How did you…” Wesley began.
But Angel cut him off, “I smelled the blood on the air...it led me to him. He must have attacked a human sometime in the past day or two.”
“Well, I'm not sure this fits with Faith's plan but I'll see what I can find out,” Wesley said. “A solitary, rogue demon will, more than likely, yield little or no information. I was under the impression we're taking names and sending messages.”
"It's a start," Angel replied.
They were in the basement below the mansion. Angel had started chiseling away at the wall that he had been built years before to hide the dungeon the others never knew about. There was enough room in the existing basement to house the demon they had brought home with them as well as two or three others. Giles and Wesley had talked about tearing down the barrier with Magic. But theirs wasn't strong enough and they refused to allow Willow to use hers. She needed to stay strong. Little did they know the real reason she was saving her strength.
Giles sat cross-legged on the floor of the bedroom he shared with Willow, his hands on his knees in a lotus pose, his back straight and flat against hers as they meditated together. He felt her probing, searching him for heat and strength. Though it weakened him at times, he never complained. After all, it was her magic that kept him looking young and feeling strong to begin with. How could he deny her the right to take back that which she created?
He felt her pull away slowly, first her shoulders, then the length of her spine. But before he knew it her hands were sliding down his arms to meet his own. Her lips touched his softly, tenderly, as she settled comfortably in his lap. "No fair," he mumbled through their kiss, "You've worn down my defenses."
She broke their kiss but did not pull away from him. "And I plan to take advantage of you in your weakened state," she replied coyly and kissed him again.
"Willow," he said softly, breaking their kiss. "We need to talk." The tone in his voice said it all.
"No," she said. "We're not doing this again."
"Again? We haven't discussed it at all. You never let me finish," he said, still holding her tightly.
"Because I don't need you to finish, I know what you're thinking. And I don't want to hear it." She choked back her tears, trying to be brave for him. But she failed.
He reached up and touched the corner of her eye with his thumb and gently wiped away the teardrops that had escaped her hold. "I know you don't, but what about what I want? What I need? Am I not part of this relationship? Aren't my wishes, my needs as important as yours? I can't bear to think of leaving this world without telling you..."
"Stop!" She was crying harder, tears burning a streak down her face. "You're not going anywhere. You're not leaving me," she said.
"My love, I will never leave you. But the fights are growing far too fierce and, in case you haven't noticed, I'm not getting any younger." He looked into her eyes and smiled before he pulled her close, his head nestled between her shoulder and her jaw. It was a conversation he tried having with her repeatedly, but she always refused to listen.
" I can bring you back," she wanted to say, " I * will* bring you back." But she knew he'd never allow it. She knew he'd dispute her. "Not now, Giles. Not tonight, ok?" She relaxed in his embrace. "Please give me tonight." It was a desperate plea, almost as if she knew that having the actual conversation would augur the end of their time together. As long as they never spoke the words it would never happen. At least that's what she kept telling herself.
She felt his moist lips and warm breath on her neck, kissing along the line of her collar bone. "Alright," he whispered in her ear and pulled her closer. How could he deny her anything?
"Sold! To the raven-tressed beauty in the far right corner," Ethan pounded the gavel and smiled at Faith. "Congratulations, it's one of Grismay's finest." He turned his attention back to the thirty or so guests, humans and non-sapiens alike, seated in the auction hall. "And now ladies and gentlemen, that concludes the sale of tonight's collection. Please join us tomorrow evening, after sundown of course, in deference to our solarly-challenged friends, for the final items for the offering from the sorcerer's estate - his magical supplies including the much coveted journal so often rumored about." He pounded the gavel again, a sense of power running through him as he dismissed the room.
"Ok, first," Dawn said, "Have you forgotten why we're here? Tactical mission ring a bell? Second, why did you buy that necklace? And third, how are you going to pay for it?"
"First," Faith said, "No, I haven't forgotten. But I'm just here for backup. You're the one running this little expedition and so far, I haven't seen hide nor hair of this Spike I keep hearing about. Second, I like the necklace. I've been staring at gray cinderblocks for ten years…a little sparkle might do me some good. And third...as far as payment? Leave the figuring to me." A very naughty smile formed on Faith's lips before she added, "Don't wait up," and headed for Ethan.
"Ewww...ewwww....ewwww......ewwww!" Dawn was talking out loud but nobody was there to hear it. She came to her senses and quickly ran after Faith. "Wait," she grabbed the Slayer's arm. "Faith, you can't. He's....eww....he's old....and British...and...eww....and he's Ethan Rayne. Bad guy, remember?"
"Slayer, remember," Faith said in proportionate response. "I know bad guys and this guy...not one of 'em." She turned to go.
"Beg to differ," Dawn said, “I think you've been in jail too long, obviously you're delusional. Halloween, band candy, turned Giles into a demon...how is that good?"
"Look, little sis, I don't know what was going on back then but I can tell you for sure that if he was really a bad guy before, he's not the same guy. Bad guys give off a vibe, you know, that only a Slayer can feel. If he was bad my spider sense would be all tingly. He's not giving off that vibe, so relax. I am, however, all tingly in a different way from the vibe that he is giving off. So why don't you take a powder, find your little friend and when you do you can send up the bat signal for me and I'll come running." Faith smiled. "A girl's got needs," she offered as her explanation before she turned away from Dawn again and headed toward the podium.
“And again, ewww,” Dawn mumbled to herself. As disgusted as she was it was the perfect distraction, really. It would keep both Faith and Ethan occupied. A myriad of tasks and tactics ran through her mind: how to get the journal, when to look for it, where to look for Spike, what to tell him, what to tell Faith. She was so lost in her thoughts that she never saw the Slayer and Ethan approaching.
“So,” he said, “Faith tells me you're in town for the night. I insist that you stay with me.”
“I'd rather be six feet under,” Dawn said.
“I can assure you if you leave this place under cover of night without protection you will be,” he said.
“Spider sense, remember,” Faith whispered to Dawn, assuring her it would be safe. “It's fine.”
“Yes, it's fine," he chimed in, even though he wasn't supposed to have heard Faith's assurance. "It's been a long time, we've so much to catch up on,” Ethan said.
“Why are you pretending we're friends, Ethan?” Dawn asked.
“Not friends…but old acquaintances. We have a history, n'est ce pas?” He smiled. “The world is different now…it's changed. I've changed. There are few friends, if any, left in this environment, this dimension we occupy. Those of us who remain must work together to create harmony.”
“You've changed and let me guess - you can prove it,” Dawn said.
“Don't need to. Surely Faith, the Slayer, can attest to my reversal of misfortune,” he winked at Faith, hoping she would smile. He lit up when she did.
It dawned on Faith that she had never mentioned she was the Slayer. How did he know?
“How did you…”
But he cut her off. “I know a little bit about a lot of things. You're a major player in this apocalyptic era. I wasn't sure it was you at first, but when I felt your power and saw that you were traveling with Dawn I knew.”
“If you've honestly changed why are you socializing with these demons and vamps,” Dawn asked.
“First of all, not socializing, but profiting from their business. I'm a good man, now, but not a stupid one. There's money to be made and how would I fare if I ran my establishment with prejudice, hm?” He turned to Faith to check her out once more. Lord, have mercy, he thought at the prospect of holding her in his arms. “And second. I've learned a lot in my forty or so…” he winked at the Slayer, sure she knew his true age, “…years.”
“What's that,” Dawn asked, snidely.
“Keep your friends close,” he said and paused, feeling in his bones that the Slayer would complete his thought.
“…and your enemies closer,” Faith said with a smile.
“Oh, gross,” Dawn mumbled, stunned at the freak show playing out before her. She couldn't have guessed that Faith and Ethan were so well suited for each other. But they were.
"I'll just be a minute. As soon as I've seen off the rest of my guests I'll lock up and we can retire to my private chambers," Ethan said, directing most of his attention to Faith.
"Can't wait," she replied as if they were alone.
"Eww, I need a shower....and a drink," Dawn said.
~~ Chapter twelve ~~
"I don't know if I can do this," Willow whispered.
"You can. We have to," Xander replied, taunting her like a drug dealer would. "It's the only way and we both know it."
"I just...with Giles...it's....what if it's wrong...it's been too long....she might not be..." she was sobbing, unable to speak or think clearly as she stood in the hallway just outside Xander's bedroom. She never went in, not on this occasion, not on any. There was too much history between them and the lines became too blurred where Xander was concerned. Not for Willow, she knew her love for Giles was strong. But she always kept a safe distance for fear of giving Xander the wrong idea. She'd made the mistake of comforting him after Anya's death, never realizing he still harbored some of those old feelings from their childhood. It broke her heart to turn him away when he was in need, but her heart and soul were with Giles. Always. Forever.
"It's ok, just relax. You're scared, I am too." He touched a finger to his own lips signaling her to hush when he heard something stirring around them. After a moment of silence he thought to himself, ' paranoid much?' "We're almost there," he began. "This is what we've been working for for ten years, Will."
She could never take the pressure. She always caved. "I know, it's just...Giles would never allow it. Xander, he'll leave me, I know it." She shook her head no repeatedly. “I can't live without him, I won't live without him.”
"Forget the what-ifs, Will, and think about the big picture. If we accomplish what we set out to do will it be worth it? " Xander asked.
"You know it will," she said.
"Are you strong enough? With the right books and charms, are you able to do this?" He looked deep into her eyes.
"Yes," she finally said.
"Good. Then there's nothing else to talk about." He felt bad. He knew he'd pressured her a bit, but he thought of it more as though he were 'keeping her on the right track' or ‘keeping her eye on the prize.' "Dawn should be calling soon, I'll let you know what she and Faith found out, ok?"
Willow took a deep breath and sighed. "Ok." She didn't even feign a smile, she just turned to head back to her room, never noticing the figure that was watching from the shadows.
"Ok, you know what, you two are creeping me out way too much, I'm just gonna go to bed," Dawn said and stood up to go.
They were in Ethan's dining room. He had prepared a meal for the three of them, but only he and Faith enjoyed it. Dawn refused to eat. "Oh, so soon," Ethan teased when Dawn rose, "But you haven't even touched the absinthe."
"Well, first of all it's not 1820. And second, I keep saying it and yet you never seem to hear me - I don't trust you," Dawn said. "I don't want anything from you, Ethan. Not food or water or magic or shelter. Not now, not ever. However...I'm traveling with Faith and she's into this little detour that you so conveniently happen to be a part of, so I'm stuck. But that doesn't mean that I have to like it, I just have to endure until the morning." All she wanted to do was get out from under Ethan's watchful eye so that she could snoop around for the journal.
“Chill out, D,” Faith said. “Why don't you go make some calls and find out about Spike and I'll stay here and keep Ethan company.”
He felt a chill run down his arms. “There's a phone in the…” Ethan began.
Dawn rolled her eyes and whipped out her cell phone before he even finished. “See above re: don't need anything from you.” She huffed one final time and then left the room.
“Alone at last,” Ethan whispered in Faith's ear.
Where did he come from? He was across the table only a fraction of a second before. How did he move so quickly? If it hadn't been for the chills running down her spine she might have questioned him about it, but her mind had turned to mush. “So,” she began, “You live here all alone?”
“Just me and my rather tall, dark shadow,” he replied before lowering his lips to her neck and kissing that magic spot oh-so softly.
“I know a thing or two about being alone,” she said, tilting her head to the side exposing more of her neck for him.
Ethan kissed her ear softly and slid his hand lightly down her arm until he met her wrist. He encircled it and drew her arm up, enticing her to stand. When she did he wrapped her in his arms and lifted her off the ground, her body flush against him. She sank into his kiss, every inch of her body tingling with excitement and nerves. After all, it had been a long time.
"Dessert?" He managed to ask between passionate kisses.
"Maybe later," she replied, breathlessly.
"You read my mind," he whispered as he guided her body down to the black velvet chaise in a dark corner of the room.
"No, it's just me. Faith's...." Dawn searched for the right word before deciding on, "...busy."
"Busy doing what," Xander asked.
"You don't want to know," she said. "But I pretty much have free rein of the whole house. I know the journal's here, it's not up for sale until tomorrow."
"Well, find it and get back here, we need you guys and we need the spell. Willow's ready but she's faltering. I'm afraid she'll back out if we don't do it soon, you know how she's been going back and forth about this."
"I know. Ok, I gotta go," Dawn said.
"Be careful," Xander said.
"I will." She clicked her phone off and headed down the hall, trying desperately to ignore the sounds billowing from the dining room. " Ewww...."
~~ Chapter thirteen ~~
Giles woke with a start, heart racing, blood pumping as he shot out of a nightmare into the reality of the black of night. Hard to tell the two apart these days. Willow was asleep beside him, her fiery mane falling all around her angelic face. He sighed at the sight of her, still smitten after all these years.
He slipped out of bed quietly, covering her bare arms before he stepped away. When he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror, naked from the waist up, he stopped and examined his weathered exterior. Scars of varying age made up most of his chest and forearms, proving he'd earned the muscular build he was studying even though Willow helped him maintain it with magick. Only the flecks of grey creeping into the tufts of brown hair on his chest showed his true age.
The Watcher pulled on a black silk robe before leaving the room. He strolled quietly down the hall away from their bedroom, which was located in one of the more private parts of the mansion. As he made his way toward the study he noticed a dim light seeping from beneath the threshold of Wesley's door. Truthfully it wasn't that unusual, the group, as a whole, often kept odd hours. But it was 4 am and Giles had been worried that the younger Watcher was losing himself in the fight against evil. He'd seen it happen many times in the past and all the warning signs were in place. Wesley was working far too hard and brooding far too much.
Though he planned on continuing on to his destination without bother Wesley, he stopped and knocked softly when he heard the exchange of two voices inside.
When the door crept open Giles saw Angel, dour and forlorn, standing a few feet behind Wesley. “Everything alright,” Giles asked.
Wesley responded by stepping aside and opening the door wider, clearly an invitation for him to join their conversation. Clandestine meetings under cover of night…all in a day's work, he thought as he entered and closed the door behind him.
She checked her watch, 4:30 am. Had she really been snooping around Ethan's place for five hours? Well, it's not like she was going to go to sleep. Letting your guard down in a place like Ethan's was foolish all around. She hoped Faith understood that.
She headed for the auction room again. It was worth one last look, after all. Even though her search, hours before, failed to produce the journal, there might be something of use to a powerful Wicca like Willow, something she could bring home. The room was dark, save for the little flashlight Dawn was holding. As she looked over the items beneath the glass case carefully, it occurred to her how wrong this was. How was she going to keep Faith from telling Giles where they'd been? Too many secrets to keep track of. Something had to give sooner or later. And, given the amount of secrets she was keeping, she was betting more 'sooner' than 'later.'
"Does she know?" Ethan asked from the shadows.
It startled Dawn. Though she shone her light all around the room she couldn't find him. It wasn't until he flicked open a lighter and lit a cigarette that Dawn saw him. "Anybody ever tell you that'll kill ya," she said, nodding toward his cigarette.
"I only smoke after sex," he mused, moving closer.
"Well, then, I'm guessing you're carcinogen free," Dawn responded.
Ethan held a hand to his heart as if she had just shot him. "You haven't answered me," Ethan said, now face to face with Dawn.
"What was the question?" She knew what he'd asked, she just wasn't sure what he meant.
"Does Faith know what you're planning?" He asked.
"I don't know what you're talking about," she said and turned to leave.
"Oh come, now. You know it hurts my feelings that you don't give me enough credit," he said.
"Fine," she said. "Enlighten me. What are we planning?"
"Well, first of all," he said as smoke billowed out of his mouth, "It's no coincidence that you showed up for the auction."
"Bored already," she said.
"And I'm guessing that in addition to hiding something from Faith, you're also hiding something from Ripper. Surely he'd disapprove of your coming here. What I'm not certain of how all these secrets fit together," he said as he tamped out his cigarette in an antique ashtray in the corner. He took Dawn's flashlight from her and softly spoke the word, "Luminos," a simple statement that commanded light from the ceiling.
Dawn was surprised. Ethan had never had any power to speak of, magical or otherwise.
"How did you..."
"Magick," he responded, cutting her off. "Now, answer my question."
"I'm not telling you anything, Ethan," she said and tried to leave the room.
Again he stopped her. "Look, I've said it before but you haven't heard me. I'm a good man. I've atoned for my sins tenfold, though you'll never understand. You'll never believe me so I won't waste my breath any more. However, I do insist that you tell me what you came for."
She crossed her arms and raised her eyebrows in defiance.
He smiled. She looked just like that strong little girl he'd seen standing by Buffy's side a lifetime ago. "You know if you tell me...I might help you."
Dawn lifted her shirt slightly and looked down at her belly button.
"What are you doing?"
"Just searching for traces of an umbilical cord, seeing as how you seem to think I was born yesterday," she said.
"Funny, but untrue. I find you fascinating and quite astute. Though you don't offer me the same consideration, still I say - if you tell me I may help you," he said.
"Doubtful," she said and made her way for the door.
"Alright, but I have a sinking suspicion that this is what you're after," he said and held up Grismay's journal.
Her eyes lit up. She didn't even see where he had taken it from. An inside pocket of his robe, maybe?
"I don't even know what that is," Dawn said, trying to sound nonchalant.
Ethan just raised an eyebrow and cocked his head.
"Ok, fine," she gave in. "Yes, that's it. Big deal, Kreskin" she said, dismissing his guess. "Every creepy, crawly fiend in the world is trying to get their hands on that."
"And that would make you...what...creepy or crawly, I can't tell," he said.
"It would make me a renegade grasping at straws, trying to keep that from falling into the wrong hands...though it seems I'm too late," she replied.
"My hands are just fine. If you don't believe me you can ask your friend when the sun comes up," he said with a sneer. "And now it's time for me to 'not' believe you."
"Whatever," she said.
"Though you're not telling me the truth I do believe that your intentions are noble. So..." he paused.
"It's yours," he said.
"Just like that?"
"Well, no, silly," he said. "Everything comes with a price."
"Yours being?" She didn't have any money, but she thought she'd entertain the idea for a moment.
"I'm coming with you," he said.
"You really are delusional," she said.
"Far from it. I know the only reason Faith jumped into bed with me is because she's been denied male companionship for years. I'm no fool, Dawn." He turned and moved away from her and opened the drapes slightly to peek out at the early morning. "What I am is eager to help. So, this is the deal and I suggest you take it. You'll stay through the day and attend the auction tomorrow evening. You'll bid whatever it takes on the journal so that no suspicions will be raised. After the auction the three of us head back to Sunnydale and I join your little justice league. The journal is yours and my lips are sealed should Ripper ask any questions. The only thing you have to do is convince him I'm there to help."
"Still trying to convince myself," she said.
"Take it or leave it," he said.
"Giles will kill you himself when he sees you," she said.
"Not if you and Faith attest to the change in me. Ripper, of all people, knows about redemption. It's not fair that he gets to change but the rest of us are forced to live forever as if we're still the same people we were three decades ago." He waved the journal, taunting her with it. "Besides," he said with a knowing look, "Two Slayers are better than one."
~~end part 13~~
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