The greenhouse was silent except for water dripping somewhere in the back. The hose was lying next to the half-watered strawberries.
Next to them, a slumped figure holding a crushed newspaper, sat staring vacantly at the ground.
Dawn twitched as memories came flooding back. She fell back, but Xander was there, supporting her before she hit the floor.
They all looked at her both worried and hopeful.
"He… he…" She suddenly started crying.
"Dawn, are you…?" Willow didn’t finish her question and simply watched as Xander put his arms around her from behind.
"I’m sorry. He didn’t say anything about Buffy," Dawn managed between sobs, looking at Giles through tearful eyes.
He put his hand on hers. "It’s all right, Dawn. You did your best. You were very brave. We’ll simply find another way to locate her."
"So do we go back to the mail-tracing and driving around plan?" Xander asked, still holding Dawn.
"I think that would be…"
The doorbell rang. Everyone looked up, expectant. Willow stood in anticipation, but Giles immediately sprinted down the stairs.
"Do you think he let her go?" Dawn asked hopefully.
"I don’t know, Dawn."
"Maybe it’s Ethan," Xander said.
Willow looked at him and began running down the stairs.
"I don’t want to lose her again," Dawn said tearfully, prompting Xander to pull her back into a hug and rock her gently.
After a few moments, the others came back up, a familiar face in tow.
"Oh my God. What happened?" Carrie asked as she spied Dawn sobbing against Xander's shirt.
Ethan came out of the door, the sachet in his hands. He stood in front of Buffy.
"Have you put some cologne on? Should I be flattered?" She sniffed the air dramatically. "Although I never considered lavender and sage right for a man like you." Her nervous glances right and left belayed her casual tone.
"Clever to the last." He positioned the sachet on her lap and reached behind him to slip a knife from his belt. Buffy struggled in her bonds. "Time to say goodbye to Buffy, the Vampire Slayer."
The knife blade rose before her and with a quick slash, Ethan sliced it along his palm, wincing. The ruby edged blade then crept to her arm, cutting several short and shallow slits along her upper arm.
Discarding the knife, he opened the little sachet, throwing the contents in the air. Shiny little bits glittered and floated slowly downwards. "Pollentiam exenerat!" he said loudly and distinctly, clamping his bloody hand to Buffy's wounded arm.
The bits fell abruptly to the floor like small shiny stones and Buffy’s body jerked.
Ethan closed his eyes, released his grip and moved his hands in the air, fingers dancing. "Be one with me, Slayer, let me in. Release yourself to me."
Buffy screamed as her body began to spasm.
Moaning, Ethan arched his back, his face a picture of bliss. When he started to float, he opened his eyes to watch at Buffy convulsing in the chair.
"You have to see this, Ripper," he whispered.
"We’ll call each other if we have any news," Giles said to Willow, who sat typing rapidly at the computer.
"Thanks for staying with Dawn," Xander said to Carrie, kissing her on the forehead.
"I’m glad I can help…"
"Buffy! No!" Giles dropped abruptly to his knees, head shooting up, eyes closing.
Dawn looked frantically from him to Xander to Willow. Willow jumped up from the chair and ran to Giles, grabbing his hands and closing her eyes as well.
"What’s going on? What’s he doing to Buffy?" Dawn cried.
Buffy kept screaming as she thrashed in the chair. Then as abruptly as it had started, her voice broke off and her body fell back, motionless.
Giles opened his eyes, sweat beading on his forehead. "Dear lord, Buffy," his voice cracked.
"What did you see?" Dawn asked. When he didn't answer, she tried again. "Giles, tell us what you saw!"
"I know where they are!" Willow cried out, letting go of Giles’ hands.
Giles still didn’t move, staring fixedly at the floor. "He… he's hurting her..."
"Giles, I know where she is. We can save her!"
"She wasn't moving..." he muttered as if he hadn’t heard her, "...like she was... was..."
"Is she dead? Did he kill her?" Dawn yelled frantically, as Carrie put her arms around her.
"I-I don’t know," Giles said looking at her, his eyes vacant.
"Then get her!" she screamed.
He remained immobile. "Ethan, what have you done?" he whispered.
Breaking free from Carrie’s embrace, Dawn charged at the Watcher, gripping him firmly by the shoulders and shaking him hard. "Snap out of it, Giles. Buffy needs you!"
He stared at her wide-eyed and then his shocked expression gave way to purpose and he jerked to his feet. "Right! Xander, Willow, let’s go! Carrie, you’ll stay here with Dawn." He rushed towards the door.
Carrie nodded, as Dawn cried again, "Go!"
Ethan floated back to the ground with a smile still on his face. He went to Buffy and lifted her head with one hand. "See? You could help me after all." With a satisfied smirk, he let her head dropped back.
Suddenly, the door burst open. Ethan wheeled in surprise to stare at the young Asian woman charging in.
She stopped immediately, and as if assessing the situation, she looked at him, then at Buffy’s body in the chair. "How dare you do this?" she accused. "The Slayer is mine to kill!"
She rushed towards him, but with a wave of his hand he propelled her to a wall. She crashed against it and then remained frozen in place. He laughed at her stunned expression.
"You want to kill the Slayer? I’m afraid you’ve come too late." Grinning, Ethan turned to look down at Buffy, still tied to her chair with her head lolling before her. "The Chosen One is no more."
Giles rushed through a red light, barely glancing at the cross street, while Willow and Xander exchanged nervous looks.
"Giles?" Willow asked carefully.
"Do we have to turn here?" Giles asked urgently.
"No, but..." Willow trailed off and looked at Xander helplessly.
"What she's trying to say is, it could be helpful if we didn't die in a car crash on our way to rescuing Buffy," Xander said clinging to the dashboard.
Giles gave him one short look. "You didn't see what he's done to her."
"What *did* he do?" Xander asked.
"A spell, a powerful one. I couldn't hear her, but she was screaming and then..." His grip on the steering wheel tightened until his knuckles turned white. "I won't lose her."
"We won't," Willow said.
Giles drove on, not saying another word.
"It was quite rude of you to barge in like that, my dear," Ethan said, casually moving away from Buffy's body. "I don't take kindly to interruptions." He walked over to the door and examined it for damage before shutting it gently. "Even when the entrances are so dramatic."
He strolled up to Katako and examined her closely. She strained to move, face flushing with exertion, but she couldn’t shift even the slightest bit from her position flat against the wall. "Don’t bother struggling, you can’t move unless I allow it. Now who might you be?" he asked.
Katako glared wordlessly.
"Oh yes, sorry ‘bout that." Ethan snapped his fingers. "Let’s try again, shall we?"
"I am Katako, the true Chosen One," she answered with sharp indignation. "What form of beast are you?"
"Beast?" Ethan chuckled. "You flatter me."
"You use magicks to hold me against my will just as they did."
"And who specifically might ‘they’ be?"
"The False One and her collaborators. You are as wicked as they are, using trickery to best me." Her eyes slid toward Buffy’s slumped form, motionless in the chair.
"False One?" Ethan followed her glance and smiled. "Ah, you are referring to Buffy and her little band of do-gooders. I had a rather opposite impression of them, which brings us to another topic. Not that I’m complaining, mind you, but why are you trying to kill Buffy?"
"Balance must be restored and the Slayer lineage healed. There must be only one Chosen One and I am the rightful heir to that title."
"I see, so you’re one of those new Slayers, are you? Interesting."
"You must be some sort of demon if you wish her dead as well."
"I don’t have to wish it." Ethan winked, with a toothy smile. "I think you’ll be pleased to know that your mission to kill the Chosen One can end." The sorcerer walked over and gripped a fistful of Buffy’s hair, forcing her limp head upright to direct her face to Katako. "I’ve seen to that." He released his hold and Buffy’s head fell forward like a rag doll. "I do good work, don’t I?"
Dawn stood in front of the living room window, staring blankly across the lawn.
"They'll do everything they can to save Buffy," Carrie said, approaching from behind.
"I'm not helping very much, am I? All of this is still pretty new to me."
Dawn turned around and gave her a quick smile. "You're doing okay. For a newbie."
"What do you say in a situation like this?"
"Depends." Dawn crossed her arms. "My personal favorite is the ever popular 'everything will be fine'."
Carrie nodded. "I was thinking of that, but to be honest after what I've seen in the last few weeks and what happened yesterday, I'm not so sure anything will ever be 'fine' again."
"It's more like wishful thinking," Dawn explained. "I guess you could say that it's lying to yourself but hoping the lie is true."
"But they know where she is now, so everything can turn out to be fine," Carrie said hopefully.
"Yes." Dawn said tonelessly as she turned towards the window again. She was silent for a moment. "I wonder what they will do with Ethan?"
"Giles said they might have to kill him."
Dawn said nothing.
"Would that bother you?"
Dawn turned to her again, then gave a slight shake of her head. "I met this nice guy named Randall and we totally hit it off, became good friends, doing the things good friends do. But then I find out one day that Randall isn’t really Randall. There’s suddenly just this guy named Ethan with Randall's face and voice." She paused and continued sadly. "But it's not that simple. He’s not like Angel and Angelus where one's good and the other's evil."
Carrie looked confused. "Who are Angel and Angelus? Are they with Ethan?"
"Angel was Buffy's vampire boyfriend and Angelus was his evil alter ego," Dawn explained. "It's a long, complicated story. Xander can tell you all about it. Ask for the Cliff Notes version, because it’s really boring and painful." Dawn waved her hand dismissively in the air. "The thing is, this is different. Randall had Ethan in him, I can see that now. But I thought that maybe Ethan had Randall in him too, something good, and now I find out that Ethan did things to me. Things that make me feel... I don't know."
"Dawn, you didn't do anything wrong."
"Then why do I feel I did? I mean... I feel stupid, because it's not like he bad-touched me or anything." She stared down at her hands. "Well, at least not... it could have been worse."
"It's not stupid to feel bad about what he did to you. It was bad. This is your body and it is for you and nobody else to decide what to do with it."
"There was pain there, with Ethan. He suffered more than anyone deserves to. And a small part of me understands why he did what he did to me. He was so happy when he took my energy. It helped him."
Carrie took a step towards Dawn and put a hand on her shoulder. "He took something from you that you weren't ready to give. Maybe you would have given it to him if he had simply asked. I’m not the one to even speculate on whether you should or shouldn't, but the fact remains that he did this without your consent and that is unacceptable. You have every right to feel however and whatever you feel."
Dawn looked out once again then turned back to Carrie and nodded slowly. Then she looked up suspiciously. "This doesn't happen to be your standard speech about date rape?"
"Does it feel like rape to you?" Carrie asked carefully.
Dawn thought for only a second. "No, it’s the betrayal of trust and the loss of a friend that hurts. The rest, well… it’s just like some old freaks drooling over your cleavage in the shopping center. It's yucksome, but nothing I won't get over."
"In that case I'll admit that some of it might have come from a book or two that I read about dealing with rape in high schools. But I'd still like to add that you can always come to me when you want to talk about it or anything else that's bothering you."
"Thanks Carrie. I think what I find a lot harder to understand is which parts of Randall were Ethan and what of Ethan that I saw was just playing Randall."
"You really liked this Randall guy."
"Yeah. The only problem is that he never existed."
"I have her power now, her strength, speed, and skill," Ethan boasted to the young Slayer. "I even have her healing, with a magical boost." He waved his hand in the air and the cuts on his palm disappeared.
"Then you are no better than the False One, subverting powers not justly yours. You must pay for such crimes," Katako declared righteously.
Ethan’s brow rose with curiosity and his lips curled back to a smile, amused. "Is that a challenge, luv?" He motioned with a curled finger, goading her to come for him. "Come then, show me what you got, one Slayer to another."
Katako trembled slightly as the mystical restraints released. With only a second’s recovery time, she charged her captor. Ethan stood firm and confident as she sent a left hook towards his face. He blocked it easily with a swiping forearm and quickly dodged the uppercut that followed. She pushed forward, trying a series of jabs, each faster and more powerful than the next. Not a single one connected.
"Impressive. You do your Watcher proud." He encouraged her, darting swiftly sideways as her boot flew just shy of his head. "Tell me, luv, where might your old man be?"
"My sensei is dead, killed by the treachery of those who support the False One."
"They killed a human?" Ethan continued to evade her attacks as he spoke. "Dear me, Rupert... breaking all those pesky rules now, are we?"
The young Slayer seemed to slow in her attack, drawn in by the conversation. "He died honorably in battle, fallen by a demon’s blow. But the collaborators drove me from his deathbed and he passed on alone."
"Pity, luv. You deserve your revenge."
"I don’t require your sympathy or approval, sorcerer, only your death."
She charged again, sending brutal strikes to his chest and head. Ethan shuffled backwards, managing to lessen the force of the strategic hits with skillful blocks. Katako landed a combination of a right hook and return elbow.
One devastating uppercut fell through his defense and he staggered back and into Buffy’s motionless body, sending it teetering for a moment. He braced against the chair, steadying the body as he tried to recover from the blow. The aggressive Slayer capitalized on his injury, managing to plant a vicious kick to his abdomen and he hunched forward. She followed with an elbow to the back of his neck and he fell flat to the floor, chuckling.
"You dare to laugh?" Katako growled. "To mock me?"
"No, no mocking intended. It’s just... this feels so bloody familiar, is all. But that’s about to change." Ethan straightened up, licking the blood from his split lip and grinned. "My turn."
Ethan attacked with a flurry of jabs, most of which were blocked but the last connected solidly to Katako’s cheek, sending her spinning into the door. She swiveled fast, arms raised in defense and stared back at him, shocked.
"You have the strength of a Slayer," she gasped.
"I believe I explained that to you. You really must learn to listen." He rolled his eyes with disappointment.
Furious, Katako stormed forward, punching and kicking with wild strikes and Ethan defended himself with crafty blocks and dodges. For every connection, she received punishment from him in return. Soon, they were matching each others’ moves, blow for powerful blow.
"I never did give Buffy her due," Ethan marveled as he jumped up to smash a foot into Katako’s jaw and continued to flip head over heels, landing expertly with feet firmly planted to the floor. "This is really an impressive talent she has. Or rather, had."
Katako tumbled back to the floor, rolling through the fall to return to her feet. She ran at him, fists flying with ever increasing speed and strength. Ethan spun around, evading the charge and countering with a sweeping leg which knocked the Slayer off balance. He saw the opening and followed through with the spin, sending his shin to the side of her head. She fell sideways, hitting hard against the desk and collapsing to the floor. Ethan clapped.
"Brilliant! You’re exquisite, my dear."
Katako gripped the desk and pulled herself upright, staggering forward a few steps to resume an offensive stance.
"But I believe we’ve both had enough, pet."
The determined Slayer ran forward and Ethan barely managed to avoid a leaping spin kick, swaying just out of range as it passed over his head. She landed and quickly sent the other leg flying towards the sorcerer’s head. It skipped off his blocking hand and landed square in his shoulder, sending him stumbling sideways into the bed. He sprang off the mattress as she pressed the attack, forcing a knee to Ethan’s midsection only to be slapped away with one hand and quickly out maneuvered into a chokehold.
"We’re through for now, luv," he whispered in her ear and she struggled to break free from his hold.
"You... must... pay..." Katako gasped out.
"I can use you, child; your anger, your darkness," Ethan whispered softly, consoling her as he held her trapped within his arms. She clawed at his forearm restricting her throat and he loosed it just enough for her to breathe freely.
"You would steal that away from me as you did the False One?" Katako asked breathlessly.
"Where’s the fun in that? No, I have better plans for you."
Dawn picked up the telephone on the first ring. "Hello?"
"Oh. Hi, Mark."
"Everyone at school is talking about what happened out at the Coven. I know how much you like, I mean, um, liked, Lessa and the others and I just wanted to see if you there was anything I could do," he said, without pausing for breath.
"Thanks." There was a long moment of uncomfortable silence. "I think I just need some time to think about everything."
"Alone?" He sounded hurt.
Dawn tightened her hold on the phone. "Yeah, I'm not in the mood to see anyone right now."
"Okay. I guess I'll talk to you later then."
"Sure." She took a deep breath and struggled to keep her voice from trembling. "I'll give you a call sometime." Without waiting for a response, she put down the receiver.
"Dawn, are you okay?" Carrie asked as she entered the kitchen.
She shook her head. "I just told Mark that I wanted to be alone. It was the only way I could think of to keep him safe." She looked up at Carrie and started to cry.
Ethan held the rogue Slayer in his arms, whispering to her in a language she didn’t understand. Her body unwillingly began to relax, all tension fading with the soothing tone of the sorcerer's voice. Soon her body grew limp.
He released his hold on her and turned her to face him. Her legs buckled beneath her but Ethan supported her with his arm, pressing her body against him as he spoke in mystic phrases. Katako watched helplessly as he lifted his hand to touch her gently on the temple. He bowed his head forward, resting his forehead to hers and she felt her mind grow hazy. Thoughts of her Watcher drifted into scenes of training. Battles against demons and false Slayers shaped from her memories but the faces seemed to change. With the last exotic phrase, all went black.
"You serve me now, my Dark Warrior, my little tiger." Ethan caressed her cheek. "I am your Watcher, your friend, and you are my Chosen One."
With a loud crash, the door flew open. Ethan’s eyes shot open to see Giles rushing at him, eyes blazing with fury, fists clenched.
"There goes the damage deposit," Ethan snickered and dropped the unconscious girl on the floor. He straightened up to catch a hammering left hook across his jaw from the enraged Watcher. Willow and Xander rushed in, Willow searching for Buffy and Xander moving to help Giles.
Recovering quickly, Ethan dodged Giles’ other attacks, using magic to hurl various objects to collide with the intruders; a bottle here, a book there. "Ah, and here’s the extraction team, coming for their captain," Ethan snickered.
Giles and Xander paired themselves against him, each throwing wild punches, but they were no match for his newfound speed.
Willow spotted Buffy and rushed towards her. Ethan saw the movement and with a few choice words, sent the bed crashing toward her. He stepped back from Giles and Xander and before they could follow, he raised both hands up, shouting out another spell. A wall of energy shot up from the floor, cutting the room in two and separating himself, Katako and Buffy from Giles, Willow and Xander. Giles collided with the barricade and pounded his fists at it.
"Willow! Get this barrier down now!" Giles cried, glaring at Ethan across a space of a mere two feet, yet unable to touch him no matter how hard he tried.
"On it." Willow closed her eyes and almost immediately opened them again. "It’s not like the others. It’s different." She looked at Giles enraged face, took a deep breath and closed her eyes again. Her hand wavered in front of the barrier.
"Buffy! Buffy, can you hear me?!" Giles yelled, lunging against the energy field.
"Yes, this one is my own special recipe, much improved upon since our last meeting. I’ve always been the adventuresome one, eh Ripper?" Ethan strolled casually up to the edge of the barrier and watched with glee as Giles tore at the barrier.
"Willow!" Giles cried again, eyes never leaving the sorcerer. "Please!"
"I’m trying! Stop interrupting me!" she yelled back, before launching into a new chant.
Xander lifted a chair and sent it crashing against the invisible wall. It smashed to pieces upon impact, scattering to kindling on the floor. Ethan watched with amusement as Giles sent punch after punch against the mystical barricade. The attacks did nothing but create a rippling lightshow along the divider.
"You seem stressed, old man," Ethan said, feigning concern.
"Let her go!" Giles growled and sent his bruised and bloodied fist crashing uselessly at the invisible wall again.
"Thank you Ripper, may I have another?" Ethan grinned and turned away to saunter toward Buffy. Giles lunged forward, butting his shoulder against the barrier as Ethan approached her, undoing the bun and combing his fingers gently through Buffy’s hair.
"Lovely, isn’t she? Looks like an angel, Ripper. I can see what brought you to her."
"Take your bloody hands off her, you bastard!" Giles roared, pounding his battered fists against the mystical barrier.
"Oh, but I can’t. She’s just so tempting." Ethan came around the front of her and knelt down. He leaned in close, cupping her chin and lifting it level to his. "She isn’t looking well, Ripper." He shook his head sadly. "I think you might be too late to save the day this time, hero. Looks like my games were too much for her." He grinned wickedly. "Looks like I was too much for her."
"I'll have your heart for this, Rayne," Giles swore, his tone suddenly quiet with deadly resolve.
"Dear Rupert, you've always had it." He winked. "That's the bloody point."
"Let her go!" Xander ordered.
"Of course," Ethan responded easily and untied the rope. Once the knots were loosened, Buffy’s body spilled to the floor, crumpling into a heap on the rug.
"Oh my god," Xander gasped in horror.
"We really should do this more often. It’s been far too long since we all convened like this," Ethan said cheerfully. "How unfortunate that Buffy couldn’t join the reunion, but she’s here in spirit, God rest her soul."
"WILLOW!" Giles cried out as he began to tear at the barrier like a mad man, using his fists, legs, knees, and shoulder. "PLEASE!"
"You’ve lost her, Ripper!" Ethan yelled triumphantly. Suddenly, with a noise like thunder, the barrier cracked and shattered. Giles and Xander charged forward before Willow could even say a word. Giles rushed towards Buffy’s body as Xander grabbed Ethan's arm and pulled back. Ethan cried out frantically and a burst of energies sent all three flailing and crashing away from him.
Ethan moved quickly, scooping up the unconscious Katako and slinging her effortlessly over his shoulder. "Be seeing you, old mate!" He laughed and they disappeared in a swirl of smoke.
"BUFFY!" Giles dived towards her motionless form. "Buffy, please!" He cradled her limp body in his arms and searched frantically for a pulse. "Oh dear god, Buffy, please..."