Willow and Giles sat on the floor in the living room, holding hands. Their eyes were closed in concentration.
Xander and Dawn sat on the sofa behind them. "Should something be happening?" she whispered to him.
"I don’t know how long it’s supposed to take, but from my non-magical point of view it’s not working," he whispered back.
Buffy looked at Ethan, who was standing very close to her now. He whispered a few words she couldn't understand and reached out to stroke her hair gently. He played with it, running the strands through his fingers and then began to tie it into a bun on the back of her head. She shrank back as far as she could, moving her head to back and forth.
"Would you stop that? This is just a little show for Ripper. Come on, smile for your darling boy." He closed his eyes and whispered again.
Willow bit her lip and moved her body slightly back and forth, then opened her eyes.
She turned her head to Dawn, her eyes admitting defeat. Giles was still concentrating with closed eyes.
"What can we do now?" Dawn asked.
"We’ll have to try something else. He must have cut off all traces that lead to…"
Suddenly Giles head shot back and he cried out, "Buffy!"
Buffy stopped fidgeting and looked at Ethan in confusion. Then suddenly she yelled "Giles, we’re…"
Giles head fell forward and he opened his eyes.
"Have you seen her?" Willow asked.
"Where is she?" Dawn nearly screamed.
"Ethan has her tied up."
"He's touching her," Giles growled. "I'll kill him."
"Please focus, Giles. What about the room, can you tell us where she is?" Willow pleaded.
He closed his eyes again, his brows furrowing in concentration. "I could only see her and a bit of the room in the background. There is a bed with white covers. Nothing out of the ordinary."
"Is it a hotel room?" Xander asked urgently.
"I don’t know. It could be anywhere!" Desperation and anger filled Giles’ voice.
Dawn shrank away from his outburst. When he saw this, he took a deep breath. "I’m sorry. I simply can’t tell where she is from what I saw."
"But you saw something. That’s good, right? It means the spell is working," Xander asked hopefully.
Willow doubtfully looked from him to Giles.
"What I saw was not the spell," he confirmed, taking a deep breath. "Ethan did this. He wanted to be sure that I knew that he has Buffy. I think she called my name."
"But she’s alive?" Dawn asked in relief.
"Yes, and fighting to escape as always" he said, a smile flickering across his face before he turned serious again. "But I don’t know what Ethan wants with her. We need to find her. Now!"
"…Near water," Buffy continued frantically.
"Good try, but too late, luv. Not that ‘near water’ would have been very helpful of course. But enough of that. I only wanted to make sure that Ripper knows who took you from your home. He never did like technology and I can’t be sure he got my email." Ethan finished the bun and stroked down her neck slowly. "I wouldn’t want him to think that you went on some revenge mission for the lovely, but sadly recently deceased Coven ladies."
He turned away and walked to the desk.
"What are you doing?"
He shot a sly smile over his shoulder. "Don’t worry. You’ll have my full attention all too soon. I just want to send Dawn a little message. I don’t want her to feel left out of this little production."
He pulled out a laptop from one of the drawers and opened it.
As he started typing, Buffy took a look at the room again. There was a lamp on the nightstand and a vase on the desk. A picture of a landscape hung next to the cupboard. But she wasn’t close enough to anything to use it as a weapon.
She tried to stand up with the chair, but she was tied so that she could only move her feet and turn the chair around a bit.
"Don’t do that," Ethan said without looking at her. He pointed one hand at her and the chair moved back to its original position. "I’ll be done in a moment."
She tried to break free from the ropes again, but it was useless.
Ethan shut the laptop again and came back to her. "Save your strength. I forgot to mention that those ropes are enchanted and with every movement you only make them stronger. Not that it matters, but it’ll frustrate you and is that really how you want to spent the last minutes of this life, Slayer?"
Buffy scanned the room once more before addressing him. "This is insanity. Ethan, listen to me."
"Oh, is this the overly dramatic part where you offer me something in return for letting you go?"
"No, this is the part I try to save your life."
"That's rich, the very person who doomed me in the first place now offers to rescue me."
"You don’t want to do this. You’re not a murderer."
"I'm sure you and my overly sentimental Ripper would rather believe that, but I would wager that the dearly departed Lessa would disagree with both of you."
"They did something to you. Dawn told me that the Initiative tortured you. If they did what you claim…"
"Claim?!" he screamed at Buffy, who recoiled back into the chair as far she could. He stared at her angrily for a moment and then suddenly, in one motion pulled off his shirt. Buffy’s eyes widened at the sight of his scars.
He smiled in satisfaction. "What a work of man am I, eh, Slayer?"
Buffy swallowed hard and then said sarcastically, "So what, the Initiative gives you a few scratches and you think it gives you a license to kill?"
"Do unto others, luv." He grinned wickedly.
"You can't sell me on this being revenge, Ethan."
"Why not? After all, you were the judge who sentenced me to their ‘care’."
"I didn’t know they were capable of something like that," Buffy denied vehemently. "If I'd known I'd…"
"I would have thought of something else," she said desperately. Ethan leaned down so that his face was level with hers.
"You must feel so very compassionate confessing such a thing now that all is said and done. Hindsight, Slayer. Luckily I'm blind to such transparent claims. Nothing you offer me, no empty promises made or vows taken will give back what they took."
"You're right. But maybe we can help you."
Laughing derisively, he straightened. "And tell me, how would you help me?"
"Take away the pain, take away the memories perhaps."
"Take away my magicks, you mean. Fix me up like some neutered animal and then what? I suppose you’d simply let me go? And you and Ripper could celebrate your absolution for handing me over to those government sponsored Frankensteins in the first place."
Buffy shifted in her seat. "Your magic is poisoning you, I've seen this before."
"That poisonous magic raised you from the dead, my dear. Show a little respect for the gift Willow gave you." Ethan shook his head. "Although of course you haven’t. You repaid her by taming her as well as you have Ripper."
"What she did wasn't a gift, it was a crime against nature," Buffy contradicted.
"If that was so, you should be in the ground, luv."
"After it was done, for a long time, a part of me I wished I was." Buffy voice was sad and sincere.
Ethan moved over to the desk and pulled the chair towards her. Turning it around, he sat backwards on it, facing her, resting his chin on the chair’s back. He looked steadily at her for a long moment and then spoke evenly. "Tell me."
Giles looked at the group clustered around the dining room table, studying maps, spell books, and computer files and sighed. He turned and left the room, walking up the stairs to Buffy’s room. He stood at the open door for a long moment before finally stepping inside. His eyes scanned the furniture and the pictures until his eyes finally fell on the giant slug resting on the empty bed. He stared at it for a long moment and then spun quickly around, crashing his fist hard through the wall.
"Ah, the old drywall therapy."
Giles glanced up to see Xander standing in the doorway, a crooked grin on his lips. Giles looked back at his hand embedded in the wall as he answered, "I take it you’re familiar with this technique."
"Old favorite of mine." Xander nodded. "You stuck?"
Giles ripped his fist free of the crumbling drywall and stared at the raw skin and cuts along the knuckles. "If I'd only shot the pillock when I had the chance," he said bitterly.
"Giles, what I said before, I was wrong. It's not your..."
"It bloody well is my fault, Xander. I held a gun to Ethan's face and couldn't do it."
"He wasn’t a killer then. You didn’t know what he was going to do, what he was capable of doing."
"I should have, damn it!" Giles’ voice rose. "I know the games Ethan plays because I played along with him. Hell, I invented some of them." He turned and leaned against the wall and stared at his hand as he continued. "Over the years the games grew darker but I always told myself they were mere pranks. I never wanted to believe my old friend could be so casual with human life." Giles glanced up, his tone one of quiet anger. "Did you know that several people ended up hospitalized as a result of Ethan’s little Halloween ‘joke?’ And an elderly woman died of heart failure when her grandson turned into a turtle."
"He was your friend, Giles. I get that."
Giles continued coldly. "He’s a selfish bastard. He was willing to sacrifice Buffy to Eyghon to save himself, and if it hadn’t been for Willow’s quick thinking, Eyghon would have killed Jenny."
Xander nodded sadly. "I remember."
"And I doubt that the parents of those babies that Ethan helped send to Lurconis would have cared that he didn’t mean to kill them, that it was just a job." He shook his head. "I should have known when... I should have known."
"Giles…" Xander tried to interrupt.
"I even went drinking with the man as if none of it even mattered!" Giles turned and pressed his fist against the wall, looking as if he might hit it again. Xander placed his hand Giles' shoulder causing him to look up, his face twisted with anguish. "And then I fancied myself so clever, passing on responsibility of leashing Ethan to the Initiative. I didn't have to kill him and still the world would be safe from him. I couldn't have been more wrong."
"Giles, this isn't..."
"He is killer, Xander. We both are. I try so hard to forget that we killed Randall that I’m blind to the reality of the thing. We are both killers and had I the nerve to face that truth, I would have ended it when I had the chance."
Xander ran his fingers through his hair and let out a long sigh. "I remember about eight years ago, a stuffy British librarian changed my life forever by explaining that vampires and demons exist. I thought I believed it but I didn’t, not really." He waited until Giles looked up at him. "Not until my best friend vamped out on me at the Bronze and tried to ventilate my neck. I held a stake in my hand, Giles, and I couldn’t use it. If it hadn’t been for someone accidentally bumping him into the thing, I wouldn’t be standing here today."
"Xander, as much as I appreciate this…"
"You wanna play hardball? How’s this for you? What about Buffy and Angel, eh?"
"That’s not the same and you know it," Giles snapped.
"Why not, Giles? You forgave her for not being able to kill Angel when he…"
Xander waved away the correction. "Deadboy… whatever. The point is you forgave her. She couldn’t bring herself to end it then and it cost Miss Calendar her life. I couldn’t forgive her that, but you did. And Buffy came through afterwards, as you knew she would, as you trusted her to." Xander put his hand back on Giles’ shoulder. "So now it’s your turn, Giles. Forgive yourself. I don’t blame you, despite what I said, and I know Buffy doesn’t either."
Giles shook his head. "When did you get so bloody smart?"
"Bad influence of a certain stuffy British ex-librarian Watcher." Xander smirked.
"I’ve made a bloody mess of this," Giles said, rubbing his forehead.
"Lucky for you, I have my handy, dandy tub-o-spackle in the wagon house. We’ll fix it up so Buffy won’t ever know about your unlicensed renovation of her bedroom. Of course, if you want, we can leave it as is and it will be a good excuse for her to shack up with you."
"That’s not what I meant." Giles' glistening eyes lifted to meet Xander’s gaze. "I can’t lose her, Xander. Not again."
"None of us can, Giles," Xander said seriously. "We'll get her back."
Buffy sighed. She looked at Ethan, still waiting for an answer to his question, and then at the floor before she finally answered, her voice soft. "You feel as if you don’t belong. Everything around you feels wrong and you only want to get away from it all. You want back the peace and quiet. You don’t want to think about what you say or do next, because it doesn’t matter, at least not to you, even if nobody around understands this."
"What if you could find that peace, that solace in something, in someone? What would you surrender to have it back? What did you give, Buffy?" Ethan’s voice was intense as he leaned forward, his eyes watching every emotion that flickered across her face.
Buffy lifted her eyes and met his gaze levelly. "I got through my dark time, so can you. Maybe you can learn to live without it."
"Magicks are who I am. If you or your bloody Watcher or that Initiative had had their way, you would carve that part from me, as if it were a cancer you could remove. But it flows through me, my very being. And by taking it, you would punish me with a fate far worse than death. I will never let that happen."
"It doesn't have to be that way."
"You are a terrible liar, Buffy." Ethan barked with laughter as he stood. "Giles needs to work with you on that. Oh wait, that won’t really be necessary, when I’m finished with you."
"Ethan, we can help you. But if you do this, if you kill me, this will be the end. No more magic, no more anything."
"Threats aren't very becoming, princess."
"We will find a way. Ethan, you could still have a life."
"This is my life," he said, motioning at the miscellaneous potions and magical ingredients scattered along the desk. "I've never known any other. Sacrifices must be made, pounds of flesh given, but in the end, I'll get what I came for."
"At the cost of innocent lives?"
"There is no innocence left in the world, Slayer."
"Ethan, if you kill me, there is no future for you. My friends will come after you, you know that. And even if you manage to kill them, and that’s a big ‘if’ considering we survived Big Bads way bigger then you, there are others all over the world now, who will find you. And believe me when I say that they won’t care about your circumstances. You’ll just be a big walking target."
"What you fail to realize is that I already am." He looked at her for a long time. "However, I’m beginning to understand what Ripper sees in you."
"So show me what he saw in you once, Ethan. I know it's still there, somewhere beneath all the hate and vengeance."
"There is no other way for me, luv."
"It’s never too late to change. I’ve seen killers sacrifice themselves to save the world."
"You hold too much hope for them, and for me. You see, that’s the difference between Ripper and me, if you'll remember? Self-sacrifice was never my style. I take what I can get and make the best of it. Maybe you’re right and I’ll die for it. But at least I’ll die under my terms and with a smile on my face. That’s all I ever wanted."
"I’m sorry, Buffy. Well, not really 'sorry,' but I have to admit that it will not be as much fun as I had hoped. I thank you for this little heart to heart. It might prove useful at some point."
"Buffy, you’ll excuse me while I prepare for the climax of our relationship, if I may call it that."
He went to the desk and got out a dark bottle, a little sachet, and an old book, and disappeared through the door leaving Buffy behind, bound in her chair.
Lyle entered the greenhouse and walked slowly to where Brad was watering the strawberries. "Can you turn off the water?" he asked softly.
"Sure thing. Just a sec." Brad reached behind him and turned the tap, then straightened and wiped his hands on his pants. "What's up?"
"There's no easy way to tell you this," Lyle said. "We just got a special edition of the Gazette and something terrible has happened out at the Coven." He held the paper out to Brad. "I'm very sorry, son."
Brad opened the paper and stared at the headline ‘Coven Massacre.’ In slightly smaller print he could see ‘Brutal Attack Leaves 3 Dead.’
He looked up at Lyle. "Lessa?"
My Dearest Dawn, I haven’t forgotten our rendezvous. Surely you will have heard that I am entertaining a guest at the moment, but rest assured that my thoughts are always with you and our reunion. Soon, luv.
Xander, Willow and Giles stood behind Dawn, staring speechlessly at the screen.
Finally Xander spoke up. "Can you trace the mail back to him?" he asked.
"He’s using a lot of spoofing programs that spammers use."
"Which translates to…?"
"According to the IP address in his mail headers, he's at an internet café outside Moscow." She blew out a weary breath. "Finding him this way is just going to take more time than we have."
"We might not have another choice," Giles said decisively. "We have to hurry. Xander, maybe driving around with a car is our best bet after all. Willow, do your best to trace back his email."
He was turning to leave when Dawn spoke up. "I might have another idea."
"What?" Willow asked her.
"You said that you saw how Ethan grabbed me and took some energy from me."
"I don’t remember any of that. I just know that I often got the dizzies when we were together and woke up sometimes quite a bit later. What if he didn’t just suck energy from me, but talked to me about what he had planned. I know that he likes to talk, so maybe… maybe if I could remember, there would be something about where he took Buffy."
"Dawn, I don’t know if it’s so easy," Willow said hesitantly.
"Triggering her memory shouldn’t be too hard, if he only used a minor spell on her," Giles said thoughtfully.
Willow looked at him, then Dawn, her expression torn between hope and fear. "I’m just not sure if it wouldn’t be better for Dawn if she doesn’t remember."
Xander’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t say anything.
"But I have a right to know what he did to me," Dawn said firmly.
Willow looked to Giles. He hesitated. "I don’t know… Buffy would… " He stopped and looked up unhappily. "This might be our only chance to find out where Buffy is!" he finally said desperately. "Dawn are you sure that you can handle this?"
"She doesn’t even know what there is to handle," Willow said emphatically.
"What are you not telling me?" Dawn cried out.
"I’m not hiding anything," Willow said softly. "But look, Dawn, he grabbed and used you against your will. What I saw was… you won’t ever look at him the same way. You might not even be able to see yourself in the same way."
"But it did happen and ignoring it won’t undo it." Dawn looked back and forth between them and pleaded. "He killed our best friends! I can never look at him the same way anyway. And if this helps to find Buffy, I want to do it."
"Dawn, are you…"
"Yes, Giles, I’m sure. Tell me what to do."