“Thanks,” Dawn said softly, blushing. “I think I’m fine now.”
“Are you certain?”
“Yep, all better.” She continued to stare seriously at him.
Ethan studied her thoughtfully. After a moment, his concerned gaze gave way to a satisfied smile. “I’m glad.” His hand lifted from her arm and moved unnoticed toward her chest. “Then you’re ready to play…” He stopped and his hand dropped as her right hand began to move unhurriedly up his arm. “What are you doing?”
“You have a smudge… of dirt…” Dawn reached up and wiped her thumb tenderly across his cheek. As she brushed past his lips, he closed his eyes. Her fingertips moved to his cheek and stroked his whiskers. “You really should consider shaving,” she said, dropping her hand back to his arm.
He took a deep breath and opened his eyes again. “Before you decide, perhaps you should do further research… a closer, more intimate inspection.” His dark eyes shifted between her lips and her attentive gaze. “Have you ever been kissed by a man with a beard?” She shook her head shyly and looked down at the ground. He tipped her head up again and said in a low, inviting tone, “Dawn, look at me.” He dipped his head slowly downward until his lips just brushed hers. The next second, he was doubled over, screaming and clutching at his groin.
Dawn pulled back her knee and struck again, hitting his jaw. “That was for Lessa and the Coven!”
Ethan cried out and fell into a fetal position on the ground. Dawn kicked him hard in the face, watching with satisfaction as his head snapped back and blood trickled from his split lip. “And that was for Buffy.”
She stumbled backwards and fell against the cot, breathing hard. “I am…” she panted, “…not your girl!” She tore the bracelet from her wrist and threw it down, striking him in his face. “I will never be your girl, get it?” She rose unsteadily to your feet and glared. “And you suck as a sorcerer. Your lame ass spell didn’t work… again! Also? Kissing a girl after you puked is beyond gross.”
“Bloody, bitch!” he gasped, spitting out blood. “I’ll kill you.”
Dawn staggered clumsily toward the stash of supplies. She gathered up all the bags she could and tossed them into the fire. Not stopping to watch the blaze that erupted, she continued to destroy Ethan’s mystical inventory.
“Let’s see you try to work magic now, you sick bastard,” Dawn sneered and kicked over the bowl containing his latest mix.
Ethan moaned and clawed at her, struggling to his knees.
“You trying to get up would be my cue to leave,” she said as she headed unsteadily for the cave exit.
Ethan groaned and forced himself upright. He collapsed after a single step and stared after her retreating form.
Carrie cleaned out the wound on Margaret’s side and sat back frowning slightly. “It’s worse than a flesh wound, but it isn’t nearly as bad as it looks. She’ll be fine, once it gets more thoroughly cleaned out and stitched up. She’ll need a round of antibiotics and maybe a tetanus shot, but I doubt they’ll make her stay longer than a night… if that.”
The group whirled around as Xander came running noisily into the small clearing. He stopped, out of breath, pale and sweating. Wood came in close behind, looking much better than Xander, and Willow brought up the rear with the soldiers who had survived the final fight in the cemetery.
“It… We… Gun…” Xander bent over, unable to speak further.
“Glad to see you all alive,” Giles said, his arms still firmly around Buffy.
“We heard gunfire and came as quickly as we could.” Wood approached Carrie. “How did it happen?”
“One of your CoWboys wouldn’t stay dead,” Faith answered, pointing at Harold.
Xander looked up at that. “Huh? Will… Spell…”
“Oh dear.” Willow bit her lip, looking worried.
Faith stalked over to her. “Oh dear what? You mean your spell didn’t work?”
"It did! But." Willow gave everyone a helpless look. "I didn't realize the dead Council guys were going get caught up in Ethan's spell. My blessing was good only for the people who were buried in the cemetery. You know, it returned them to their graves." She looked at Harold. "He didn't have a grave."
Dawn stumbled out of the cave and down the slope toward the forest. Breathing hard as she reached the edge, she stopped to rest against a large pine.
“Dawn!” Ethan’s voice roared from behind her and she began to run, tripping over her own feet.
“Dawn!” the furious sorcerer cried again. She turned to look and tumbled over a stump, twisting her ankle as she fell.
Giles sighed. “Alright, new plan. Clearly Carrie will have to stay with Margaret.” He turned to the nearest Council soldier. “Stevenson, was it?”
“Yes, sir,” he answered.
“I want you to prepare a litter and have you and your team get Margaret to the hospital. Keep her and Ms. Whedon safe.”
“Yes sir,” Stevenson replied and began organizing the remaining CoWboys.
“Faith, I’m sorry to ask you to do this, but I don’t want to have the CoWboys to have to walk around beheading their own. I need to have you and Robin clear the forest of the Council zombies. Mark the places where you leave the bodies so we can send in a cleanup team, and for god’s sake, please be sure that anyone you behead really is the walking undead.”
Wood nodded while Faith frowned. “So will all the unburied people come back now?”
“I think anyone killed after I did the spell will stay dead,” answered Willow. “Why?”
“I’m thinking about Katako.”
Xander snorted. “Yeah, as if her going zombie-like is going to stop you…”
“Xander.” Buffy stepped away from Giles. “Katako is dead. She killed herself.”
“On my sword.” Faith ignored the sharp look Wood gave her.
“Ouch,” whispered Xander, looking at Faith.
“Her choice, Faith, not yours,” Buffy said firmly.
Willow looked at the two Slayers. “I guess this is the part where I say I’m sorry, and I am, but I’m kinda not.”
Buffy nodded. “I don’t know what would have been best, but Katako made her decision.”
Her face pinched tight, Faith turned and stepped away from them. Wood followed and gently placed his hands on her shoulders. She turned and buried her face against his chest. The others turned away to give the couple some privacy.
“I’m sorry, but we have to go now,” Giles said.
Xander asked quickly, “Even without a fully powered Slayer to help? I mean Ethan’s still got Buffy’s Slayer strength, right?”
Buffy rolled her eyes, then looked around. When she found a fallen branch, she walked over and picked it up. It was perhaps six inches in diameter, and using only her bare hands, she snapped it in two with scarcely any effort. She shook her head at Xander. "Maybe so, but I've got my strength, too, and way more style. Let’s go."
Ethan stood at the cave entrance. “There’s nowhere you can escape to now, Dawn,” he whispered, raising his hands to the sky. His body began to spark and glow as small bolts of energy ran along his skin.
“You belong to me and I will have what’s mine!” Ethan bellowed and thrusting out his hands, sent a bolt of crimson light streaking from his fingertips down into the woods. The raging current ruptured trees, destroying everything in its path as it tracked Dawn.
The five of them made their way up the hill. "I still don't get how Buffy's all Slayery again," said Xander, still short of breath.
"None of us do. Accept the ambiguity, let the healing begin, and move on, okay?" Buffy stopped and raised her hand. "Do you hear that?"
"Hear what?" Giles turned his head to listen.
"I thought I heard something over there." Buffy said pointing.
"Let's split up, but I want us to stay in sight of one another," said Giles. "Willow, Xander, make your way up to that crooked pine. Buffy and I will move toward those rocks. And please be careful."
The two teams separated and moved cautiously up the hillside. At another cry, they stopped.
"Dawn!" Buffy cried, pointing. "Giles, there she is!" She began running up the hill.
Giles turned to see Dawn struggling to her feet. "Dawn, over here!"
"Look out! He's right behind me!" Dawn screamed, limping toward them. "Oh, god, Buffy, help!"
The bolt of light struck directly on Dawn's back and the bright red currents engulfed her body. She stiffened before shuddering uncontrollably. The energy crackled and danced around her, and she screamed as it centered on her back.
The crimson color lightened to a pale pink. Dawn screamed again as the energy abruptly turned green and streamed back up the hillside.
Buffy dropped the scythe and caught Dawn as she fell forward, motionless in her arms. She lowered her to the ground and tried to turn her away from the flow. The energies curved and continued to flow out of Dawn.
Giles fell to his knees beside the sisters. "Oh, dear lord," he whispered.
"He's killing her, Giles! Stop him, please!" Buffy cried.
Giles stood and started running up the hill. He had run only a few steps when Buffy screamed. Turning back, he saw Dawn start convulsing in Buffy's arms. With a deep breath, he stepped directly into the path of the green light.
Willow gasped and stumbled. Xander turned to try and catch her as she cried out, "Giles, NO!"
Buffy watched the energies dissipate along Dawn’s body. “It’s stopping…” Her cry of joy broke off as she saw Giles frozen, his arms spread wide, trembling as energies flared green, then red, then white and finally gold around him. His body spasmed and he cried out as a brilliant gold-red light flared from his chest and began rushing up the hill.
“Giles!” Buffy screamed, watching helplessly as Giles fell to the ground.
Ethan stumbled backward as the energies hit him. His body shook and appeared to blur momentarily.
“What happened…” he stuttered, regaining his balance. “Dawn?” he whispered confused, and then his eyes widened. “You fool,” he gasped. “Damn you, Ripper!”
He started down the slope.
“Oh, Rupert, no.” Elspeth’s head lifted and she gasped out. “I saw this before. I hoped I was wrong. I wasn't....”
Agnes leaned forward, exchanging a glance with Deborah. “Saw what? What do you see?”
The older woman’s eyes glistened with tears. “The end.”
“There they are!” Xander yelled. He ran to Buffy and Dawn as Willow rushed to Giles.
As Xander reached out to Dawn, Willow knelt beside Giles, closing her eyes and pressing her hand gently to his raggedly rising chest. She took a deep breath and frowned in concentration for a moment then looked up at Buffy.
Buffy shifted Dawn into Xander’s arms and rose, stumbling over to kneel next to Giles. His eyes were closed, his face ashen and breathing pained. Buffy tenderly caressed his cheek. “What did you do?” Buffy asked him gently.
“Willow?” Buffy looked up, pleading for an explanation.
“I… Buffy, I…” Willow took a deep breath. “His life force is being pulled from him.” She closed her eyes. “I’ve felt that before, when I…” she broke off and shook her head.
“What happened?” Xander asked.
“I don’t know,” she whispered, pulling Giles into her lap and cradling him. “Dawn was coming towards us and then she was hit by this lightening bolt or something. It turned green and moved back up the hill. It was killing her, and Giles went to stop it.”
“He must have stopped it with his own.” Willow’s hand hovered over his chest.
“He took the bullet for her,” Xander assessed, his voice cracking.
“Rupert always was the noble one.”
Everyone turned as Ethan stepped out from behind a tree. Xander immediately pulled out his pistol, took aim and fired. Five rounds struck Ethan in the chest and his body jerked with each hit. The last pushed him back against the trunk of the tree, blood spilling out to further stain his grimy, torn shirt. He looked down stunned at the holes in his chest.
Faith took a deep breath and nodded. “Five by five,” she said, offering up a weak smile. “It was just, well, not the way I wanted it to end, you know?” She shook her head. “I thought we were getting through to her and then, boom, she’s sticking herself on my sword.”
”I’m sorry, I really am.” Wood squeezed her arm. “Do you want to go to the hospital with Margaret and Carrie? I can get one of the guys to help me do zombie cleanup.”
"No," Faith said, sounding more certain than she had earlier. "I can do this. And Giles was right. They shouldn’t have to.” She leaned down and picked up one of the Council machetes. “Come on, handsome. And don’t ever tell me I’m not a fun date.”
Ethan began to laugh, blood trickling from his mouth. “Please, if it were that easy, you’d all be disappointed.” He waved his hand over his chest, and took a deep breath as the wounds closed over. “With enough energy, I can fix anything.” He opened his hand and casually sprinkled the bullets on the ground. Xander threw the gun at him in frustration and he dodged it easily, stepping forward.
“Dawn is mine,” Ethan stated as Buffy jumped to her feet and Willow stood, hands raised, ready to strike. “You’ve lost that battle already. But if you want him to live, let me approach.”
“Dawn?” Giles coughed. “Buffy, is she well?”
“She’s alive, Giles,” Willow assured him, as she quickly knelt back down beside him and touched his forehead. “Buffy will go check to be sure,” she said meaningfully.
Looking puzzled, Buffy stepped slowly toward where Xander held Dawn, keeping Ethan in her line of sight. “Don’t move, Ethan.”
He ignored her. “Ah Ripper, old mate. Why did you do it?”
“Ethan, you sick bastard,” he wheezed. “You wouldn’t understand.”
“Try me,” Ethan said lightly. “After all, I’m the beneficiary of your noble gesture.”
Giles coughed again. “You’d find it ironic perhaps that I was once ready to sacrifice her to save the world. But not this time. I won’t lose any of my family again.”
“So let them lose you instead, is that it? Bloody brilliant, Ripper,” Ethan sighed.
Buffy spied the scythe where she had dropped it next to Dawn and grabbed it. Turning quickly, she sent blazing slashes across Ethan’s path, forcing him to step backwards to dodge the blade. He laughed. “Got your strength back, did you, Buffy? That makes this so much more interesting.” He jabbed at her eyes and she spun away. As she began to thrust again, he stepped quickly forward, grabbing the weapon’s grip, pulling her close to stare her in the eyes.
“I think I can save one of them if you give me the chance. Or, if you’d prefer, we can continue this battle until the last of you joins both of them in the great beyond. The choice is yours.”
“How can I trust you?” Buffy growled, pushing against him.
“You can't, but you have no choice. He's dead if you don't. He might be dead if you do. Life’s a gamble, Slayer.” He grinned wickedly. “Feeling lucky today?”
Buffy held the weapon firm for a moment, staring Ethan down, then stepped back.
She stopped Xander’s objection with a raised hand. “I can’t lose them both, Xander.”
Ethan approached Dawn first, kneeling down to stare thoughtfully at the unconscious girl.
Xander glared and leaned forward to whisper in his ear. “I don’t care how many bullets it takes, I’ll find a gun that stops you.”
Ethan looked up and winked before pulling Dawn forward just enough to position her near Giles. He then settled to his knees between the two and placed a hand on each of their chests.
Willow stepped behind him, raising her crackling hands toward him. “I won’t hesitate to kill you,” she warned.
“Now we both know that’s not true, my wicked Willow. Now stand back and watch. Maybe you’ll learn something.” He took a deep breath and the hand flat against Giles glowed a faint gold.
Xander and Buffy moved to stand on either side of Willow. “Do you know what’s he doing?” Buffy whispered.
Ethan looked up, annoyed. “Quiet, please. I need to concentrate.”
He took another deep breath and then said, “Rupert, I’m truly sorry. I never meant for this to happen.”
“You chose your path,” Giles answered in a whisper. “And I chose mine.”
“I won't let you do this.”
Ethan glanced over to Dawn and down to his hand glowing green on her chest, “I almost understand. She is special.”
“Touch her again, I'll kill you.”
“My dear noble Ripper, you know the rules. ‘All’s fair in love and war.’” Ethan leaned in close and whispered to Giles’ ear, “And believe me when I say this is both.”
Ethan swiveled around, his eyes black and his hands glowing red. Before Willow had a chance to do anything, he unleashed a blast of energies that sent the three crashing amongst the nearby trees and brush. Ethan grinned as they lay unmoving in the undergrowth.
“You’re all too trusting.” He winked at Giles. “Looks as if it’s just me and my favorite two playmates.”
“Ethan, no,” Giles choked as the sorcerer’s hand pressed firmly against his chest.
“Just close those pretty green eyes, luv. It’ll all be over with in a moment.”
Jo entered Elspeth’s bedroom and came to stand behind Deborah. “How is she?” she asked.
“Not well. I’m sorry, Jo, but she’s seeing something happen to Rupert. We don’t know what…” Deborah stopped speaking when Jo swayed and grabbed at the back of her chair. “Here, sit down,” she offered, quickly standing.
“I’m sorry, I just got dizzy for a moment.”
“It’s not over yet, dear,” said Agnes from the other side of the bed. “I have faith in Rupert. He’s strong.”
Elspeth opened her eyes suddenly and grabbed for Jo’s hand. “It’s wrong, what he’s doing is wrong.”
Gold light began moving up Ethan’s left arm and green energy crackled along his right. The air began to hum and he closed his eyes in concentration.
As the first golden and green ripples of energy met they began to move in a frenzied action. Ethan frowned as the energies stormed uncontrollably across his body, growing increasingly erratic. He began to struggle, trying to pry his hands free. “What…”
“May I cut in?” Ethan looked up at Willow standing before him, her eyes blazing.
“What…” he repeated helplessly.
"Even Chaos won’t mix those two, Mr. Know-It-All"
Willow shot a bolt of blazing white light out, sending him sailing backwards to collide against a tree. He collapsed, his body convulsing as sparks of energy ran along his skin. The various energies collided and slowly blended to a sickly gray that seemed to crawl across his body. His face rippled as bullet holes reappeared in his chest and then disappeared again.
“What’s happening to him?” Xander ran up to stand by Willow, staring horrified at Ethan as he jerked on the ground.
“Giles? Dawn! Willow, are they alright?” Buffy struggled to stand and Xander rushed to help her up.
Willow knelt quickly and checked. “They’re still alive,” she called out.
Buffy stumbled up and fell beside them. She grabbed Willow’s hand and stared at her. “I can’t lose them, Willow. Either of them. You’ve got to do something.” She squeezed hard, eliciting a sharp yelp from Willow. “Please.”
Willow nodded wide-eyed, whimpering softly. Xander put his hands on Buffy’s shoulders and, leaning down, he embraced her gently from behind, carefully loosening her grip on Willow. “Okay, Buff, we’ll figure this out. Just give Will a sec to think of the right mojo, okay?” He held her close and rocked her gently as she reached out to stroke Dawn’s hair and cup Giles’ cheek.
Willow closed her eyes and placed both hands on Giles’ stomach. She moved one hand slowly up to his heart, pressing her fingertips in different patterns on his chest before moving carefully upward to his forehead. She held the position for a moment and nodded. Turning, she repeated the gestures on Dawn.
She sighed and opened her eyes and looked back at Ethan. The grey glow around his body was fading and he slumped unconscious against the tree, his muscles still twitching slightly. She turned back to Buffy and Xander and swallowed hard before speaking.
“Buffy, neither Giles nor Dawn has enough energy left to live very long. What they do have left has been contaminated both by Ethan’s energies and by each other’s energy. It’s the mix that’s killing them as much as the draining.” She rubbed her forehead, and shook her head. “Dawn’s energies aren’t strictly human, which is why Ethan was called to her in the first place. I guess he found a way to use them just as they were, but when he tried to mix them with Giles’ life force, it was like mixing two different blood types. Or more like two different energy frequencies.”
“Willow, you have to save them,” Buffy whispered. “Can’t you transfuse them or something and give them my energy?”
“Maybe, but not with the contamination of energies. You can’t mix these forces this way.”
“Can’t you do dialysis on them?” Xander asked.
Willow’s head shot up. “What?”
“Carrie told me about this kid with a bad kidney. She said they clean her blood every couple of days. Can’t you do that, clean their energy somehow?”
Willow got a faraway look in her eyes. “Maybe…” She said thoughtfully. “But I need a transfer center and a source of clean energy to feed them, and it’s got to be compatible.”
“Use my energy," Buffy said quickly. "Dawn’s made from me, right? So we’ve got to be compatible. And Giles and I, I think we’re kinda bonded now because of that spell Ethan did. We’re on the same wavelength, tuned to each other. I’m sure it will work with him too.”
“No,” Giles whispered hoarsely. “Buffy, you’re making wild guesses… too risky....”
“Giles!” Buffy leaned down and kissed him lightly on the lips before pushing her cheek up against his and whispering, “Sorry, you don’t get a vote here. I’m not losing either one of you.” She kissed him again and nodded at Willow. “Let’s do it.”
Willow nodded. “Your energy should work, ‘specially with you back at Slayer strength. But I need a transfer focus.”
“What about this?" Xander pushed the scythe towards Willow. “You used it before.”
“Yes!” she said excitedly. “Of course, I should have thought of that.” She looked up at Xander admiringly. “You’ve been holding out on us, Brainiac.”
“What are you doing, Willow?” Giles asked hoarsely.
“It’s the scythe, Giles. It was created to work on people’s energy, you know, like the Army, to help make them be all that they can be.” She smiled down at Giles. “Trust me, please, I can do this.” Giles smiled weakly at her and closed his eyes. “Xander, help me please. Pull Dawn back a bit, thank you, here, can you lift Giles a bit, okay, and Buffy, you please lie down there and hold their hands please.” She arranged them in front of her, Buffy in the center, with the scythe carefully positioned under their backs.
Looking at the three, she took a deep breath and mumbled, “Relax.”
“I am relaxed, Willow, I know you can do this,” Buffy answered confidently.
Willow nodded. “Great. But I was talking to myself.” She gave a slight shake to her shoulders, loosening them. “Xander, step back please, I'm not sure exactly what’s going to happen here.”
She held her arms out directly in front of her and closed her eyes as strings of multi-colored energies began cackling between the bodies.
"I don't know, Carrie," Xander whispered into the radio, glancing back at Ethan's slumped form before taking a few steps away from the group and continuing, "Willow's trying some sort of mystical dialysis to save them, cleaning their energies and all.” He paused, listening. “I'm not sure. She’s been at it for like thirty minutes now and it’s really scary. Their bodies keep jerking around and all these little lightening bolts are flying around like fireworks and Willow keeps groaning. I want to do something, but I don’t know what to do… uh uh, yes… Ethan? He’s right…” Xander turned and stared at the spot Ethan’s body had been. “…somewhere. Shit. Gotta go.” He clicked the radio off and ran to where the sorcerer had been. As he passed Willow, the energies sparking above the bodies suddenly disappeared and she screamed.
Elspeth looked at Jo and sighed. “Natural order is returning. The Key is no more.”
Willow collapsed backwards as Xander rushed to help her. “What happened?! Are you okay?” He turned to look at his friends. “Are they okay?!”
“I feel like a truck hit me.” Buffy groaned and opened her eyes. “Willow, did it work?” She tried to turn over to see the others. “Giles?”
"Still here, Buffy," he whispered. "And I think I can feel you inside me, something's there."
Xander clapped his hands over his ears. "Okay, entirely too much information. I don't want to hear anything about anyone being inside of any other person."
Buffy glared up at him. "Shut up, Xander," she snapped before she returned her attention to Giles. "Are you sure you're alright?" she asked in a much softer tone.
"I'm feeling better by the minute." Giles shifted. "Ow! Damn it, your scythe is tearing my jacket." He sat up slowly and looked around. "How's Dawn? Willow?"
"I'm fine, Giles. Recharging quickly." Willow leaned forward to touch Dawn's forehead. "Dawnie, are you okay?"
Dawn moaned. “Randall? Is that you?”
Buffy quickly turned, “Dawn, it’s me, Buffy. Look at me.”
Her sister’s eyes fluttered open. “Buffy? What happened?”
Buffy pulled her into her arms and held her tight. “It’s okay now, it’s all okay.”
Giles pushed the scythe out of the way and leaned in to hold them both, and then reached out an arm to pull in Xander and Willow. They held each other for a long moment, before Dawn pulled back and sniffed, “So is Ethan dead?”
“What do you mean? What about Rupert? Dawn? Please, Elspeth,” Jo said frantically, “Please tell me what’s going on. And no more riddles!”
Deborah placed her hand on Jo’s shoulder. “Joanna, please. You know she feels things as much as sees things clearly. Let her rest, she’ll tell us when she can.”
“It’s alright, Deborah,” said Elspeth weakly. “I’m sorry to frighten you, Jo, but I was frightened too. For just a moment the world seemed to break apart.” Her voice trailed off and her eyes closed.
Agnes looked up at Deborah, who nodded reluctantly. She leaned closer to the old woman. “Is everything together again? Can you tell us…” she swallowed hard, “…are Rupert and Dawn alive?”
Elspeth nodded. She smiled slightly as she whispered, “They’re alive, both of them. And Dawn’s human… well, maybe slightly more than human. She and Rupert both have a bit of Slayer in them now…”
The group staggered to their feet, supporting each other. Xander pointed where Ethan had last been seen. “He can’t have gone far. He only disappeared a few minutes ago. I was talking to Carrie and I turned around and he was gone. It was just before you screamed, Will.”
“Stay here,” said Buffy, as she bent over slowly to pick up her weapon. “I need to deal with him.”
Giles placed a hand on her shoulder. “He’s my responsibility, Buffy.”
“It was me he tried to kill,” Dawn insisted.
“And I’m the only one who hasn’t just nearly died from massive energy trauma,” Xander said, stepping forward. “I don’t think you guys are up for it, and I did promise him that we’d get together again.”
They turned to look at Willow and she shook her head. “I won’t do it, and I can’t make this call for any of you.”
“Will…” Buffy started to speak when she was interrupted by a groan. She stepped a few feet to the side to peer around the tree and pointed. “Guys, he’s over there.”
They moved forward cautiously to see Ethan backed up against a tree. “Stay back!” he ordered, thrusting his hand out as if to strike. Nothing happened but the crackle of weak sparks and wild static.
“No more,” Giles said, approaching cautiously. “It’s finished, Ethan. It’s over.”
“Over?” Ethan hissed, bracing himself against the tree. “You want to believe that, but it’s never over for you and me. We are meant for each other.” He looked at Buffy with contempt. “You’ll never have him the way I did.”
“You’re living in the past, Ethan,” Buffy said, standing protectively beside Giles.
Willow shook her head. “Let us help. The energy you stole… you can’t control it, Ethan. It’s consuming you.”
Ethan ignored them. “Try as you might, you’ll never be rid of me, dear boy. You can’t lock me away or bury me in some underground military facility.” He chuckled painfully. “I’m under your skin… if nothing else, your bloody conscience will force you to admit the truth!”
“Perhaps.” Giles bowed his head briefly in acknowledgement then gestured to everyone to stay back as he took another step forward. “But Ethan, listen to me now. You’ve taken too much, and the energy has turned on you.” He took another step, pausing as the sorcerer pushed away from the tree stared angrily at him.
“Take a good look, old friend,” he hissed. “I’m a tainted reflection of you and you of me. We’re one and the same. You see yourself in me. Admit it.”
“What I see is a man unraveling under the very magicks he blindly hoped would make him whole,” Giles said evenly, taking one step closer. “You always were a bloody fool looking for the easy way out.”
“Stay back.” Ethan pointed his finger accusingly at Giles, and sparks and smoke danced along his trembling hand. “I know that if you have your way, the Initiative will get their pet lab rat back again.”
“The Initiative won’t get you back. I won’t do that to you again.” Giles took another step, holding out his hand in a passively. “Please listen to me… the energies you’re trying to control and use are neither containable nor compatible. They never were, never will be.”
“You’re wrong!” Ethan shouted, taking a staggering step forward. “They’re mine to mold, to bend and shape to my will. They’re for me… only for me. Damn it, Ripper, they’re mine. I need them.”
“No one can control them completely, Ethan, not even a man who worships Chaos can alter their nature. They were lost to you before you ever stole them.”
“No! This is just a temporary setback. I only need… need…” Ethan clutched his chest in agony, “…need more…” He winced and fell to his knees. Eyes wide with panic, he gurgled, spitting out blood, his hands trembling with sparks of light. “Can’t breathe…”
“Be still, Ethan. Don’t… don’t try to move. Just relax. If you’re able to speak, you’re able to breathe.” Giles knelt in front of him, blinking as he watched his friend’s skin crawl with unstable magic. The wounds on his chest cracked slightly and his flesh flickered with an unearthly glow as magicks began to seep out in place of blood.
“It… it hurts, Ripper. Pain… sharp in my chest… I can’t…. I can’t…” The words faded to a ragged cough.
“For once in your contrary life, listen to me and be still,” Giles said sharply as he watched the energies breaking free of Ethan’s physical form.
“Was it too much to ask to be whole again?” He wheezed and coughed. “To recapture what I once had? What we had?”
“It was never going to happen. We’re not who we were back then.” Giles stretched out a hand to one of the wounds opening up. He jerked back slightly as a shot of energy arced up and hit his hand.
Giles turned as Buffy came to stand beside him. She lowered the scythe and placed her hand on his shoulder, squeezing it lightly in support. Behind her, Willow and Xander held Dawn, who stared at Ethan, her eyes filled with pity. He turned back when the sorcerer began to whisper.
“She’s enough for an eternity, Ripper. Dawn is overflowing with riches. Only one touch and you’d see… you’d understand.”
“I already do,” Giles admitted softly.
Ethan grimaced from another wave of pain as it subsided, be grinned faintly. “We lit up the night, didn’t we, mate?”
He reached out and grasped at Giles’ shirt, pulling him in close to his face, only a mere breath away. “Chaos, mate. You and I…. we were chaos together…” Ethan’s body seized up as the crackling energy sizzled along the open edges of the wounds. “It hurts, Ripper. Fuck, it hurts.” He fell forward and Giles caught him, turning Ethan gently to rest in his lap.
“I know,” Giles responded softly, looking to Buffy again as she watched, her face stern but sympathetic.
“You never should have left,” Ethan’s dark eyes stared up at Giles, pleading. “I never should have let you go.”
Giles tucked his arm beneath Ethan’s neck and pulled him close, cradling him. He ignored the hissing tendrils of energy as he said quietly, “I won’t leave you again, Ethan.”
“Thank you…” Ethan’s voice slurred and he choked again. His body spasmed and black sparks ran across his chest. “It hurts,” he whimpered.
“Let me take care of you,” Giles said, laying his hand along Ethan’s cheek and gently wiping away some of the blood.
“Please…” Ethan begged softly.
Giles swallowed down the lump in his throat and pulled Ethan to him, embracing him tightly. The sorcerer whimpered again. Giles turned to stare up at Buffy and shifted his body to hide Ethan from the group behind her. Watching her closely, he lifted his arm to better brace Ethan against his chest. He slowly raised his other hand to stroke Ethan’s cheek and moved it slowly over to pinch Ethan’s nose shut, covering his mouth at the same time. He didn’t look down as Ethan’s trembling hands began batting feebly at Giles, raking his shoulders ineffectively.
“It won’t hurt much longer, old friend” Giles said softly.
Buffy knelt down, keeping her hand on Giles’ shoulder. Ethan’s free arm started to flail, and Buffy reached out to trap it against his body. Giles stared at Buffy as he whispered, “I’m sorry, Ethan.”
Ethan twisted his wrist enough to grab Buffy’s hand and squeeze tightly. Just then, his body stiffened before going completely limp. His hand loosened enough for Buffy to remove her own from his grip. Giles held him firmly for several more minutes, and Buffy held Giles the entire time. Eventually, she reached toward Ethan’s neck, her fingers landing over the carotid artery.
She said softly, “He’s dead.”
Giles nodded and lowered the body to the ground, wiping his bloody hand on his jeans. The energies that had sparked along the sorcerer’s injuries were gone, leaving only deep gashes and torn holes to further deform the already scarred torso. He reached out and ran his hand down Ethan's face, closing the lifeless eyes before briefly closing his own.
“What’s happening?” Dawn asked softly.
“It’s over,” Buffy answered.
“Not quite.” Giles struggled to his feet, accepting Buffy’s help. He looked down at the body for a long moment and then stepped back, pulling Buffy with him.
“Incendiere.” He whispered hoarsely. Sparks flared and ignited a blaze that quickly consumed Ethan’s body. They group stood silently beside each other, holding hands, watching in silence as the corpse was reduced to ash.
“Come on.” Buffy gave Giles’ hand a squeeze and gentle tug. “Let’s go home.”