Whispering Pines, OR, 2004
"There are signs of a struggle." Giles motioned anxiously to the scattered piles of mess around Dawn's room.
Xander looked around the room and shrugged. "Naw, it always looks like this."
Buffy paced back and forth, running her fingers through her hair. "First Ethan Rayne playing evil Santa and now Dawn with her Houdini routine." She stopped and glanced at Giles. "I'm adding an addendum to the rules: No birthday's for either one of us... ever... again!"
"Her jacket and book bag are gone so she must have left of her own free will," Willow said thoughtfully.
"Maybe she went to the library?" Xander suggested. "No, wait. They're closed."
"As soon as we know she's okay, I'm gonna kill her," Buffy threatened, beginning to sift through the papers on Dawn's desk.
"Um, guys." Willow motioned to the computer. "I don't mean to be nosey but who's Randall?"
"Probably some guy she met at Liz's party." Buffy continued to rummage around.
"I don't think so, Buffy. Looks more like they're working together."
Buffy moved closer to the monitor and quickly scanned the email still displayed on the screen. "This sure doesn't sound like a high-schooler to me."
"Look." Willow pointed to a line. "He mentions prior conversations and seems to know all about Mark and Brian."
"And us," Buffy added, shifting her eyes to Giles who stepped forward to examine the message for himself.
'Council's running me ragged.
Couldn't do this without you, luv.'
Giles motioned to the keyboard. "Willow, would you see if there are any other archived emails from this Randall? I'd very much like to know why this person refers to the Council so casually. As well as the nature of the aid he's been receiving from Dawn."
He stepped back to let Willow work and something glimmering caught his eye. It was Dawn's bracelet. He took up the discarded curiously etched cuff and examined it more carefully.
"Do you know any Randall at the Council?" Buffy asked.
Giles shook his head. "No. It's not anyone I've been in contact with, but Percy has done quite a bit of outside recruiting."
"Maybe the Council's doing some kind of internal investigation," Xander suggested. "Do they have an Internal Affairs department?"
"Not as such." Giles shifted closer to see Willow 's progress. "Besides, Percy would alert me to any investigations."
"Not if they were investigating us... or you," Xander countered.
"They're not," Giles said firmly. "Percy is not like Quentin Travers. Besides, the Council is stretched well beyond their means trying to track and retrieve Slayers."
"Guys." Willow called their attention back to the monitor. "They've been meeting each other, Dawn and this mystery man, Randall."
"Secret rendezvous with a high school student? That sure doesn't sound like Council protocol," Xander commented.
"This one has an attachment. Looks like some kind of official report." Willow swiveled around, looking thoughtfully up at Giles. "You know any Randall Page?"
Giles' expression went hard and Buffy saw his eyes return to the cuff in his hand.
"Giles, you okay?" Xander asked. "You look like you just ate some of Buffy's egg salad surprise. You need to sit down or something?"
Giles' fist clenched around the bracelet, his knuckles whitening with strain. "It's him."
"Who?" Buffy asked anxiously.
Sunnydale , CA 2000
"Your eyes. You're the only person in the world that can looked that annoyed with me."
"Is this gonna go on much longer? I'd rather like to be going." Ethan's cocky tone interrupted the tender exchange.
Buffy crossed her arms and turned toward the meddlesome sorcerer. "And why would I let you go?" Giles followed her lead, leaning back on the bedside dresser.
"Well, maybe because you have no choice. I'm human; you can't kill me. What's a Slayer going to do to me...?" Ethan's words trailed off as a couple of young soldiers came up from behind him.
Riley was all business as the MP's handcuffed the sorcerer. "By the authority of the US military, you're being taken into custody pending a determination of your status." He smiled at Ethan's panicked expression as he turned to the MP. "Take it from here."
Ethan's eyes fixed on Giles' delighted expression as he was pulled out.
"They'll, uh, take Mr. Rayne to a secret detention facility in the Nevada desert. I'm sure he'll be rehabilitated in no time."
Giles gestured toward the door and grinned happily. "Uh, if you don't mind, I'm just gonna... go and watch them manhandle him into a vehicle." He stepped outside just as the MP's reached the transport with their new prisoner.
"What's going on? Where are they taking me?" Ethan's eyes fell on the barred windowed military issue truck.
"I honestly couldn't care less," Giles smiled as the MP forced Ethan forward.
"W-wait, Ripper... Rupert... perhaps we can come to some kind of arrangement?"
"Information. I know more... more about these shadow soldiers. You'll need time to prepare."
"I'm sure I can discover all I need through proper channels and not lower myself into relying upon questionable resources such as you."
The MP's opened the back of the truck and shuffled Ethan to the tailgate.
"How can you be so certain? I might be able to help."
"You don't help. You don't know the meaning of the bloody word."
"How quickly you forget. I helped you once, remember? When it was important. When it meant something."
"That was then." Giles' face was like stone.
"And this is now, eh?" Ethan sneered bravely. "So here we are again... at the bloody crossroads, and yet again, you are the one choosing the path we take. I'm growing tired of this, mate."
"Then stop putting me into this position." Giles nodded for the guards to take him away. "Goodbye, Ethan."
"Will you ever learn? It's not goodbye, Ripper," Ethan said with a sly wink. "It's never goodbye."
Whispering Pines, OR, 2004
Ethan remained unmoving, not wanting to alarm Dawn who stood at the closed door, her hand still buried within her book bag.
"Are you armed?" With a slow gesture, he turned out his empty palms. "I'm not. Don't much care for weapons, particularly those aimed at me."
She slipped her hand out of the bag, revealing a small stun gun clenched securely in her grasp.
"Buffy doesn't like guns," Dawn explained sternly. "Says they're dangerous and that they make people stupid."
"Sound advice." He motioned again to a chair. "Take a seat. I'll sit over here if you like." He pointed to the bed. When she didn't respond, Ethan chanced a step toward the bed.
"Look, I know you have questions." He took a seat, casually crossing his legs and leaning back, trying his best to look completely at ease. "I'm willing to answer anything you wish to ask me. You won't even need that quaint little truth spell of yours." He grinned.
"Why are you here?"
"I thought we'd covered that."
"You're supposed to be in the custody of the Initiative."
Nevada , 2003
Ethan's eyes burned as the searing sunlight accosted his weary eyes. He could barely hold his head up as he fought to stay conscious. The sound of the engine hummed in his ear as they drove along the dusty desert road. The woman at the wheel was nervously glancing in her rear view mirror as she steered the Hummer over the pot marked pavement. Ethan was jarred forward against the dash as the vehicle came to a screeching halt.
"Go west. Stay west and you'll eventually hit Interstate 80," she said, motioning forward.
"W-why?" Ethan barely managed a whisper, his body weak from malnutrition and withdrawals. "Why are you doing this?"
"I never signed up for this. Experimentation on demons is one thing.... but humans? I can't."
"A woman of principal." He let out a choked chuckle. "Too bad. Not my type."
"You need to go. They'll be searching for you."
He worked the door latch and slipped his feet to the sandy ground outside. It took a moment for him to be certain his wobbly legs could support him and his head pounded. He turned back with a tired grin. "Thank you."
"Don't bother. You'll most likely be dead in than less than 48 hours anyway."
"Blame it on misplaced morality and being a sucker for an English accent." She smiled regretfully and looked behind her with an anxious glance. She handed him a small prescription bottle. "Take this. You'll need them." She gripped the door and slammed it closed. With a roar of the engine, she tore off down the beaten path, leaving Ethan alone in the middle of nowhere with nothing but a bottle of pills and the shirt on his back.
Whispering Pines, OR, 2004
"They let me go."
"They just let you go?'" She repeated skeptically.
"Well, I was quite the wreck at the time. Not a lick of sense left and on the verge of death."
Dawn didn't react, seemingly disinterested. "How did you find us?"
Ethan hesitated, glancing around the room until he spotted the old Gazette article on the Sunnydale survivors. He shrugged. "Strangely enough, the Salvation Army."
"They're good at that sort of thing?" She remained stubbornly in her spot.
Ethan chuckled. "When the Initiative found it fit to discharge me from their detention facility, they didn't exactly provide me cab fare. They quite literally booted me out the front gates in hopes I'd end up a shriveled up corpse in the Nevada desert and they almost got their wish." He paused dramatically before continuing. "Anyway, I somehow managed to find my way to Interstate 80 and hitched a ride to the next stop to nowhere. Lucky me, my rescuer came in the form of a Salvation Army truck and driver. The Good Samaritan was an incessant talker, talked me up all the way to Carson City . I could barely breathe, let alone carry on a proper conversation so he took it upon himself to fill every awkward moment of silence with news from around the world. Including news of this." He waved a hand to the newspaper on the small nightstand beside the bed. Dawn moved in closer to read the headline, positioning the stunner between her and Ethan.
"I hate that shot. What's up with my hair there?"
"I like it. Quite fetching. Naturally frames your face and..." He stopped when he saw her eyes staring him down. "Right... anyway, after hearing the news of Sunnydale's demise, I'd assumed the worst. I'd thought I'd lost him."
Ethan nodded gently. "I needed to be sure. So I began looking, researching every article I could find on the subject of the catastrophe. And then I found the Gazette article with that charming candid of Ripper and I knew I couldn't stay away."
"Let me get this straight. You get your 'get outta jail free' card and the first thing on your mind is to come here and be a big pain in our ass?"
"When you put it that way, it sounds so..."
"Stupid," Dawn finished succinctly.
Ethan was pleased as she finally moved to the table and took a seat, stun gun gripped ready in her hand. "I suppose so. Ripper has always had that effect on me." Ethan shrugged with a helpless smile curling his lips. "Something you both have in common."
"I've tried a dozen times with no answer. I think she has her phone turned off." Buffy paced back and forth in Giles' bedroom. She looked over to where Giles sat on the edge of his bed, bent forward with his head in his hands.
"Xander said the library is closed. I don't know where to begin." She slumped back against the dresser.
Giles sat upright. "Willow 's locator spell?"
"She got five different locations. Just like last time." Buffy shrugged. "How about the coven?"
"No." Giles got quickly to his feet and headed toward the door.
Buffy followed after him. "Elspeth might be able to get a vision."
"I said no, Buffy. Please." His face was tense.
"What then?" She waved a hand helplessly. "We can't just wander around calling her name or start knocking on doors and keep our fingers crossed that we get lucky. If Elspeth can help, why not let her?"
"You don't understand, Buffy."
"I want to, Giles. I really do." She paused. "Is this about Jo?"
Giles shook his head. "No. It's much more complicated than that. The magicks I used when I was with Ethan are volatile. To allow Elspeth to touch them could endanger her. They are far different from the type of magick she is used to."
"Couldn't we at least ask her? I'm scared, Giles. I'm really scared."
He pulled her into a hug. "I know," he said softly. "So am I."
Xander came through the kitchen door and went directly to the refrigerator.
"What's happening now?" Willow asked, shredding a napkin into tiny pieces.
"They're still talking." He opened the door, grabbed a soda and moved to the cupboards where he grabbed a bag of chips before joining Willow at the messy kitchen table.
"Dawn's missing, Xander. How can you eat? "
"It's my coping mechanism." He opened his soda and sipped at it and then tore into the bag. "Besides, I'm not used to drinking and my little bender earlier did wonders in reacquainting me with religion."
Willow shot him a confused look.
"I spent a bit of time at the hospital worshiping the porcelain god. Now I'm strangely hungry."
"Do you think we should we contact the coven? Elspeth might be able to get a vision, see where Dawn might be or at least see where Ethan is."
"That's what I suggested," Buffy said, entering the kitchen. "But Giles thinks there could be some risk to Elspeth. He's calling her now to talk to her about it."
"Elspeth is tougher than any of us. She'll say to come out," Xander predicted. He crunched into a chip and eyed Buffy warily. "So it's lookin kinda bad for the Dawn-meister, ain't it?"
Buffy sighed with frustration. "It looks like she's been lying and sneaking around for a long time."
"Her friends must know more then they're telling. Or maybe they saw something, anything that could give us a lead. It's not too late. I think I'll swing by Liz's place and fill her in on the bare bones basics of the situation. If she knows Dawn could be in danger, it might refresh her selective teenage memories."
Willow pushed some files out of her way in a frustrated huff and reached for a handful of chips. "Gives me serious wiggins knowing all this time someone as dangerous as Ethan Rayne could be in our back yard meeting with her. I mean, why would she keep this a secret?"
"Well, she obviously didn't know who he was. She never met the guy, remember? She spent that Halloween with Hank." Xander looked at Buffy. "We've always tried to keep Dawn out of Scooby business. How could she know?"
Buffy nodded. "I just want to keep her safe."
"We know that, Buffy," said Willow. "But she's still with the sneaking, even after all the groundings. What do we have to do, deadbolt her bedroom door and post guards outside her bedroom window?"
"Do I have to remind you what we were like at her age?" Xander grinned for a moment and then frowned.
"But we were fighting evil," Willow protested.
"Maybe that's what she thinks she's doing." Xander gestured upwards. "If this Randall guy is Ethan Rayne, then he's posing as a Watcher. Pretty brainy if you think about it. He has the accent, knows Giles intimately, pretty much knows all about us. He double-O-seven's it up and he's a shoo-in."
"But why not tell me, us?" Buffy protested. "I mean, saving the world eight years running now. Why keep us out of the loop? It doesn't make sense… Dawn knows better."
"I don't know." Xander crunched another chip. "Maybe we've been trying too hard to protect Dawn. Maybe she knew you would go nuts if she came to us so she decided it was better if we didn't know."
"I would have been cool! I am super cool! In fact, I'm a freezer!"
"Buffy, you gotta admit that sometimes, like always, you're like a mother tiger protecting her only cub. Which is not all bad, you know, because hey, Xander and I, we're poster children for disinterested parents, but maybe you've gone a little overboard… and shutting up now." Willow turned away from Buffy's glare and grabbed a chip from Xander.
They sat in silence for a moment and then Xander took a deep breath. "What do you think he wants with her?"
"I don't know." Willow glanced down to the Council file and took up a torn and bent black and white photo of a young Giles and Ethan. "But when it comes to Ethan... all roads lead back to Giles."
"Come on." They jerked to their feet with a start when Giles pushed open the kitchen door and motioned for them to follow.
"Where we goin'?" Xander asked, surprised.
"The coven," Giles said decisively.