Whispering Pines, OR, 2004
"She is going to be in so much trouble!" Buffy grumbled as she paced around the coven dining hall. "Not just grounded. Way beyond grounded."
"Don't you think she's a little old to be grounded?" Lessa asked innocently. "All I'm saying is don't be too hard on Dawn. She's got a lot going on, with school and the dizzy spells and you guys being so busy lately." Lessa continued to light the candles and went to fetch some tea. Buffy frowned after her and then continued her pacing.
"Is Jo around? Maybe she could help..." Willow stopped when she saw Giles frown.
"She went north for a few weeks, Willow. She needed some time away," Elspeth said gently.
"But she's okay?" Buffy asked uncomfortably.
"She will be, in time." Elspeth focused her attention on Giles. "You have shared magicks, this man and you?"
"Then you have already been bonded. It will make the process easier."
"So you think you can tune into Ethan's signal and give us a location? A kind of mystical GPS system?" Xander asked.
"Yes, I believe I can." She turned her attention to Giles. "Rupert, you must concentrate. Open your mind to me."
With a solemn nod, he took a seat across from Elspeth and let her take his hands gently into hers.
"Now close your eyes and breathe deeply. Empty your mind of all thoughts but Ethan Rayne," Elspeth coached gently.
Lessa, Willow, Xander and Buffy fell silent, watching nervously.
The two sat motionless for over a minute, deep in concentration. Elspeth flinched subtly, almost as if succumbing to a chill. Another quiet moment passed and she flinched again, shifting uncomfortably in her chair. Xander glanced over to Willow, who was frowning.
"Is something wrong?" Buffy whispered to Lessa.
"I don't know," she whispered back. "I've never seen her do that before.
"Rupert!" Elspeth gasped and pulled back, eyes wide with shock and hands trembling.
"What is it?" Lessa rushed to her, embracing the older woman in a consoling hug.
Buffy knelt beside Giles who had remained unmoving. Slowly, with a pained sigh, his body relaxed and his eyes lifted to the trembling woman sitting across from him.
"What happened, Giles?" Buffy asked.
He didn't answer, staring across at Elspeth, his eyes filled with regret.
"You must go, Rupert," Elspeth whispered.
Giles got to his feet and paused, as if to say something but instead, turned and walked out of the room.
"I'd better go with him." Buffy motioned. "Will?"
"Are you okay?" Willow asked Elspeth.
"I'll be fine, my dear." She smiled. "You should go be with your friends."
"I'll look after her. She'll be okay," Lessa reassured them.
Willow and Xander followed Buffy outside. Willow stopped just past the door and glanced back, restlessly.
"I think I should stay here, Buffy. We don't know what happened just now. Maybe Elspeth saw something or will see something. I think I can do more good here, with her."
Buffy glanced over her shoulder to Giles hurriedly getting to the SUV. "Xander?"
"You take point guard on G-man. Will has the coven watch and I'll swing by Liz's and check out the usual teenage haunts then swing back at home. We'll keep in touch." He raised his cell phone and they all nodded and headed their separate ways.
"How was jail?" Dawn asked it with casual disinterest, as if inquiring of a stranger as to how their day went.
"It was more than a jail. It was a laboratory." Ethan's face was free of any humor. "It was hell."
"Hell?" she scoffed. "Don't you think you're exaggerating a little? I mean, I lived on a Hellmouth most my life and you don't hear me complaining."
"It's not the location, luv. It's the state of mind." He paused thoughtfully. "Or perhaps I should say, the lack thereof."
"I don't get it."
"How much have they told you of the Initiative?"
"Enough," she said confidently. "Secret government agency that hunted demons. Some of the people there did experiments on demons, trying to come up with a way to fight other demons. They created a Frankenstein super weapon that tried to kill everyone. It failed and the Initiative was disbanded. Well, at least we thought they were until they showed up in Sunnydale last year and removed Spike's chip."
"A very long, very bad story and not relevant. Let's not go there."
"Fair enough," Ethan agreed.
"So what'd they want with you? You're not a demon, right?"
"No, I'm very much human." His calm smile returned. "They detained me for over two months with no word on why I was there or what their intentions were. All that time, the only other humans I saw were lab technicians who came and went, never speaking, only taking a variety of samples from me. Though I tried to be friendly, I never got a response from them. Not even as much as a solitary hello." He dropped his voice to a harsh whisper. "I thought that was bad. It was about to get much, much worse."
Nevada , 2002
Searing pain. It was all Ethan was aware of and he was helpless to stop it. His arms were fastened tight at his sides, legs buckled to the table. A blinding light spilled down from above, always keeping his captors shrouded in shadows. He could feel the electrodes connected to his skin and wires tugging at him with every slight movement. Another needle pinched the soft flesh at the base of his neck and he clenched his jaw. As it punctured through, burrowing its way through his tensing muscles, Ethan's body writhed. Nearby attendants rushed to prevent him from moving; their thick, cold fingers clasping at his bare arms and naked legs.
"Hold him. We don't want to break another needle. Almost lost him last time." A faceless scientist ordered severely.
It entered him, boiling as it snaked it's way through his body. He felt a tear trickle from the corner of his eye as he fought off the sickness.
"Heart rate elevated to a dangerous level, Doctor. Temperature's rising as well. Perhaps we should stop," a distant female voice urged.
"The specimen is simply adjusting to the agent."
"There's a risk he'll go hyperthermic," she argued. "This is an increased dosage from the last attempt. There is no way to determine what this could do to him."
"It's a risk I'm very willing to take in this particular case." The voice was cold, impersonal.
In a sudden burst of adrenalin, Ethan's body seized up. Every muscle tensed, fibers threatening to shred if not released from the taut bonds. But the restraints held and his cries of agony fell on deaf ears. His bloodshot, dilated eyes went wide and he let out a choking gasp as every muscle convulsed and fell still.
Ethan's mind fractured into a million pieces.
"He's not breathing!"
"He's going into shock."
"Give it a moment."
"If this one wants to live... he'll have to fight for it."
"We're losing him!" The woman moved in closer.
Ethan's mouth fell open, waiting helplessly for his lungs to work. But the breath wasn't coming and soon his fingers went numb, then his hands. The deadness moved onward, creeping up his arms, until Ethan's entire body felt altogether absent from him. Nothing remained but his feverish mind, pleading silently for release.
"If we're going to save this patient, we need to administer the counteractant now!" A female scientist insisted anxiously.
"Doctor?" Another assistant prompted.
"This experiment will be a failure if he dies, Doctor." The voice was pleading. "All these months of study and work will be worthless. Should we administer the counteractant?"
"No!" The doctor commanded.
Ethan's senses were failing him. His eyes lost focus, leaving him only the blurred view of pale white lights above. He could hear background noise, stagnant murmurs and a thumping tempo gradually slowing. The voices were jumbled; some panicked and urging, others insensitive and unfeeling, but none comprehensible. Then, out of the chaos came a lone voice.
"Did you hear that, Hostile H669? You're dying." A cocky voice whispered to Ethan's ear. "So tell me, sorcerer... where's your magic now?"
The room was suddenly abuzz with sounds. Machines hummed alive with activity as scientists hurried to make sense of it all.
"Neurological readings are off the chart, doctor!"
Whispering Pines, OR, 2004
"What happened back there?" Buffy asked in concern.
"I never should have allowed her to do that," Giles muttered to himself.
"It looked like she was in pain, Giles."
"I don't want to..." He stopped and took a deep breath. "I'm sorry, Buffy. Only an hour and I'm already back, hiding behind my walls. Just a minute please." He steered the car to the side of the road, pulled the parking brake and turned to face her.
"Elspeth's visions required me to open myself to her," he explained slowly. "To open my mind, my thoughts, my memories."
Buffy nodded. "Got that part."
"I couldn't control which memories she saw." His gaze moved to his ringed hand. "She saw me as I was. As we were... Ethan and I. She saw the things we did." Giles took a deep, shuddering breath. "And what I've done since."
"And she didn't know before?"
"At the airport, I told Xander we all make mistakes. That all you can do is try to correct the ones you can and learn to live with the ones that you can't. But no matter how hard I try, my past always comes back to haunt me. It threatens those around me and hurts those I love." He watched as Buffy gnawed at her bottom lip. "I don't know how to correct this, Buffy."
She slipped her hand to his and pulled it close. "Then we'll learn to live with it."
"You shouldn't have to. None of you should."
"We love you, Giles. I love you. Nothing will ever change that." She gave his hand a gentle squeeze. "We'll find Dawn. Beat the crap outta Ethan and fix this... somehow. It's what we do."
"I so desperately wish we didn't."
"But we do, Giles, so we do." She gave his hand a final caress before releasing it. "Willow stayed behind to see if Elspeth got a vision."
"We may not need one."
"Elspeth was correct when she said that sharing magicks bonded Ethan and I to each other. Her attempt to read him through me had an unintentional effect."
"I believe I know how to find him." Giles shifted forward, released the brake and spun out, back into the street.
"Liz, I know it's late," Xander said softly, careful not to alarm Liz's parents who he heard watching TV in the background beyond the door. "But Dawn is missing."
"I haven't seen her. Did you try the library?" She swallowed nervously, peeking around the door edge with her eyes never looking directly at him.
"Look. I know how it is. You want to protect your friends. I get that. But we have good reason to believe Dawn may be in danger here."
With that, Liz slipped outside, closing the front door behind her as she bundled herself up in her robe. "Does this have to do with that Randall guy she's been meeting?"
Xander's face became serious. "What do you know?"
"They wouldn't do that!" Dawn protested. "You're human, not demon. I can't believe the Initiative would do that to a human being."
"That's entirely your problem, now isn't it?" Ethan shrugged apathetically and after a moment, let out an annoyed sigh. "Very well." He stood and began to unbutton his blue shirt.
Dawn's eyes went wide and she jerked to her feet, stepping backwards from him, holding the stun gun protectively in front of her. "Wha... what are you doing?"
"Revealing the truth," he said firmly and stepped closer to her as he continued to unfasten the buttons. Dawn stopped and stood her ground. He watched her carefully until he was halfway undone and then he parted the shirt to display his pale, disfigured chest and neck. Her anxious features melted away into shock.
"I've seen the curiosity in your eyes for this one." He drew a finger along the only scar ever truly visible when he was clothed, one jagged scar along the left side of his neck, disappearing under his collar. "I'm surprised you never asked me about it."
"Oh my god..." she gasped, lips parting and eyes tearing.
"Far from it, luv," he corrected softly. "They only played god."
She impulsively reached out her hand, strangely drawn toward the largest of the scars, a rough-textured burn crossing his chest. She stopped just shy of touching him and stepped back, unnerved.
"Is it any wonder I keep myself covered as I do?" He took another step, stopping at arms' length from her. "Sadly enough, I can't remember how I got most of them. I try to ignore them when I can. But, more often than not, they remind me that they're there with echoes of the pain." He could see the disgust in her face. "But these... these are mere scratches, luv. Here..." he dropped down to his knees before her and bowed his head down, brushing his finger along the back of his head, "Here is the pièce de résistance ."
Dawn didn't move.
"You wanted evidence? Well here it is, Dawn." He pressed his fingers to the scar hidden just beneath the sea of dark waves of hair. "See it for yourself then tell me I'm lying."
She cautiously reached out and gently touched the area, feeling the raised flesh on the tip of her finger and a tear fell from her eye.
"It goes from here…" He slipped his fingers over hers, guiding her hand along this scalp. "To here. And the other way as well." He lifted his head, staring up at her with his deep sable eyes. "They cut into me, tortured me. And this bloody work of art is what I have to show for it."
At the tender caress of his thumb on the back of her hand, Dawn jerked away, stepping back awkwardly to regain a safe distance.
He grimaced and began to button his shirt. "Yes, well... what is it that they say? Ah yes. Chicks dig scars, right?"
"I'm sorry." Her words were barely a whisper.
"Why? I'm evil, remember. An evil sorcerer who worships Chaos. What better use for me than as a human pincushion? It's what I deserve, is it not?"
"No one deserves that." Dawn shook her head regretfully. "I am sorry."
"I believe you are." Ethan offered a gentle smile as he finished covering himself up. "You're special, Dawn."
"Oh yeah, special girl. As in special ed girl. I let an evil sorcerer use me to get to my friend. I'm a special kind of stupid."
"Don't beat yourself up about that. I can be quite charming when I want to be." He grinned and Dawn's face eased with a gentle smile of her own. She wiped away the moisture from her eyes.
"I know you don't want to hear this, but I care more deeply for you than you could possibly imagine."
Her gaze met his and she froze. "I don't know how to take that."
"Take it anyway you wish. Just know that you're not only my friend." Ethan stared at her, his eyes pleading. "You're a part of me now. You are so... so very precious."
When Dawn didn't answer, he shook his head with an idle chuckle and stepped over to the table to retrieve the bag of cookies. He ripped the package open, took out an elf cookie and bit into it and then flopped down onto the bed and set the package near her. "Enough of this. Let's move onto more interesting news. What's happened with you and this Mark chap? Things progressing as planned?" He gestured to the cookies. "I must say, these are fabulous."
"I so don't get you." Dawn rolled her eyes. "Talking torture one minute and in the next, all about the boy talk. You're crazy." She reached out and took a few cookies.
"As you've noted before." Ethan grinned, claiming another treat for himself.
"Only now I'm beginning to believe it." Dawn took a seat across the room at the table and started nibbling on her elf. After a few bites, she paused and glanced suspiciously over at Ethan. "Are you evil, Ethan?"
"As evil as you want me to be, luv."