“Give a guy a heart attack, will you!” cried Xander as he stepped back and Giles moved past him to stand next to Buffy.
“You came at a great time, Robin, but how? Why?” asked Buffy, confused. “Um, how?”
“Well, it seems that Faith had so much fun the last time, she just had to come back for a second helping.” Robin shook his head. “Figured I’d tag along to see what you folks put in the water that seems to attract all the bad guys.”
“We do get the demony side of life, don’t we?” Willow reflected as she peeked around Giles and waved. “Hi guys! Good timing… If you had shown up about an hour ago you’d be snoring with the rest of ye olde Whispering Pines.”
“We thought that was your doing, Willow. At least we hoped so.” Wood gave Faith a nudge and she stepped inside, greeting Giles with a pat on the arm as she moved past him. “Now, rumor has it that there’s trouble brewing here.” Wood acknowledged Giles with a nod and reached out to shake his hand.
“Trouble doesn’t begin to describe it,” Giles corrected. “And we can use all the help we can get. Thank you both for coming.”
“Hey, after B and I shared dream time, I figured we should share some real time.” Faith gave Buffy a salute and Buffy rolled her eyes. “So what’s the what, G?” Faith saw the pile of weapons in the middle of the family room. “Oh cool! Nice toys!” She walked over and picked up a long sword.
“That’s a lot of gear. We’ve either got ourselves a Council pep rally or the news bulletins were right.” Wood remained by the door, watching the preparations underway.
“It’s good to see you guys and definitely, we could use the help,” Buffy said, stepping around Giles to give Wood a kiss on the cheek. He responded in turn and then reached out to shake Xander’s hand. “But can we do the whole reunion thing later?” she continued. “Ethan’s got Dawn and we just figured out where. We need to move.”
“Yes, today’s fun-filled battle will be brought to you by a chaos-worshipping sorcerer and an insane, brainwashed Slayer,” Xander explained, stepping back into the living room. Faith grabbed his arm and leaned forward to stare at him.
“You can barely tell…” she muttered. Xander looked startled.
Faith gestured at his face. “The eye. I didn’t believe it when Buffy wrote me about it. But you can hardly tell.”
Xander grinned. “Even with the contact it doesn’t match completely, but it’s a pretty fair exchange for getting my depth perception back.” He gave Faith’s shoulder a friendly punch before picking up a rifle, which he tossed to Wood. “You know which way is up on that thing?” he asked, all business again.
“I’ve got a fair idea.” Wood positioned the weapon expertly in his grip. “Breaking out the big guns, huh?”
Xander nodded. “Whatever will work to bring this guy down.”
“Katako’s mine. I owe her and this should work nicely,” Faith said grimly, hefting the sword. She swung her crossbow off her back and placed it on the couch. “I remember the chick likes blades. I’ll take care of her and you guys can take care of Giles' evil twin.”
“Ethan is nothing like...” Buffy’s objection was cut off by a sharp look from Giles.
“While I appreciate your enthusiasm, Faith, Ethan is not to be taken lightly,” Giles offered gently. “He’s all too proficient with mystical attacks, and I’m sure you’ve heard that he has Buffy’s physical strength as well.”
“Ethan is dangerous,” Buffy added seriously. “People are dead.”
Faith saw how a somber expression seemed to sweep over everyone. She looked around then frowned and spoke sharply. "Where's Percy? Wasn't he coming over?"
“He’s going to be fine,” Giles answered quickly. “He’s getting the best of care.”
“Ethan sent his lackey Slayer to kidnap Dawn,” Xander said angrily. “A few abracadabras later, we’re all down and Percy’s got a knife to the gut.”
“That bitch is so mine!” Faith growled.
“We work as a unit on this or not at all, Faith. Is that understood?” Giles said sternly.
“I’m sorry, G. But if I get this bitch in my sights…”
“It’s understood,” Wood interrupted Faith, flashing a strict glare at her. “This is your party, Giles… and yours, Buffy. Just tell us where you want us.”
“I’ve got dibs on Faith,” Buffy said.
“I’m touched, B.”
“I need the muscle.” Buffy gestured with her weapon. “I’m nowhere near where I was in physical strength.”
“Can you handle Old Red okay?” Faith nodded toward the scythe.
“It feels right and I need the reach and flexibility it gives me. Anyway, one-point-five Slayers still outnumber one insane Slayer, and we’ve got experience on our side.”
"And don't forget us," Margaret said, entering the hallway from the kitchen, followed by a squad of CoWboys. You weren't planning on leaving without us, were you, sir?"
“Margaret!” Giles gave her an impatient look, then asked, “Who’s watching Percy and the Coven?”
“They’re quite alright, sir. Teams and wards are in place. In any case, the action will be where you are, not there.”
“You’ve helped us quite enough already,” Giles said seriously, “and I don’t want to see your losses grow. This isn’t a Council battle.”
“With all due respect, sir, you’re fighting a rogue Slayer and that is a Council matter. Furthermore, assisting the Slayer in all her battles is also a Council directive. Finally, as I mentioned before, my father will have my head if I fail here. I’ve lost one charge and it’s my responsibility to get her back and to see that no harm comes to the rest of you.” She looked at her team and then turned back, continuing softly. "Giles, we're not standing here because of Council directives. This is our battle as well."
Giles looked at Buffy and she nodded back. He turned to the assembled group. “Very well, then. We certainly appreciate all your help.” He lifted his radio. “Faith, there are extra radios on the table beside you.” He raised his voice to address the group. “Although we hope that Willow’s spell has put Ethan, Dawn and Katako to sleep, for safety’s sake, please make sure you have both bladed and standard issue mystical weapons as well as guns. We don’t know what magicks we’ll be facing and we do not want to risk Dawn to indiscriminate gunfire.” He paused. “If at all possible, try to take Katako alive. She’s as much a victim as Dawn and deserves the chance for rehabilitation.”
Faith snorted. “Never gonna happen, Giles.”
“I thought we already had this conversation,” said Buffy.
“Chick’s never gonna accept rehab as an option,” Faith said stubbornly.
Buffy looked over at her. “Like you were never going to accept it?”
A dull flush spread up Faith’s cheeks. “It’s not the same thing. I caught her once to give her a chance and she ran away from it.” Faith shook her head. “And her going after Percy? You think I’m gonna let that slide?”
“Faith…” Robin laid a comforting hand on her arm.
“Don’t even try to pretend you agree with him,” she said. “Not after what that little bitch did to Slayers who had no reason to think they were in danger from one of their own.”
“Sounds like you and me.” Buffy stepped closer, speaking before Faith could respond. “Lot of similarities here, Faith. Do you really think everyone else is going to ignore them just because you’re uncomfortable?”
“You don’t know what…”
“Yes, I do. And if you think about it, you’ll know perfectly well why I do.” Buffy locked gazes with Faith, nodding slightly when the other Slayer looked away. “If she can be taken alive, we take her that way. See if there’s a chance she can be helped. Agreed?”
Faith shuffled her feet slightly before looking up again. “If she can be taken alive, okay. Otherwise, I ain’t making any promises.”
Giles looked around the room. “If everyone is agreed, I believe it’s time to we go get Dawn.”
As the group started out the door, Xander hefted his rifle again and whispered to Willow, “Did you notice who’s not on the list for a room at rehab?”
Willow nodded pensively. “I just hope we’re doing the right thing.”
Katako stood motionless at the mouth of the cave, her dark eyes surveying the landscape below. At the sound of footsteps, she turned and bowed respectfully.
“All seems quiet, Master. No sign of our enemies.”
Ethan smiled and placed his hand affectionately on the young girl’s shoulder. “Thank you, Katako. I am grateful for your vigilance.”
“The radio has been silent for much too long, sensei. I fear they are planning an attack.”
“Your instincts are sharp, Katako. I’m rather astonished they didn’t try to hunt us down sooner.”
“You should have seen them, sensei, collapsing in the face of your power.” She smiled proudly. “They are no match for us.”
“They won’t be so easily outmaneuvered again. We must be ready for them.”
Katako examined him. “You look very well, sensei. This special girl is healing you as you’d hoped?”
“Beyond my hopes, actually.” Ethan grinned broadly. “Her very presence makes me stronger, Katako. Soon, we won’t need to fear the collaborators or their meddling militia.”
“Have you broken the witch’s hold on the special one yet?”
“It’s a slow process, but yes, I’d have to say she’s coming around.” Ethan gestured down into the shadows of the cave. “I will require some more time alone with her to completely free her from their influence. Pay no mind to any sounds of struggle... they’re a natural response to the ritual. I will call upon you when I need you.”
“Very well, sensei. I know you can defeat any evil magic used by the false one and her collaborators.”
“It’s simply a matter of time, my dear.” The sorcerer turned and walked back within the depths of the cave. “Keep careful watch, please. I don’t wish to be disturbed.”
“Yes, Master,” Katako bowed slightly and returned her attention to the forest below and the town beyond.
Ethan entered the open cavern area and quickly moved to where Dawn’s motionless body was propped up in the cockeyed chair.
“It’s just you and I, Dawn.” He knelt beside her and stared for a moment at the shining bracelet. The etchings on the cuff were glowing green. “This bit of jewelry suits you, pet,” he whispered softly, “and I know you’ll wear it well from now on.” He stroked her cheek gently and then stood up. He unbuttoned his shirt then tossed it aside, before turning back to her.
Crouching again, he rested his hands on her lap, his fingers teasing the bare skin between her warm thighs, before sliding them upward to grasp her hands. He loosened her restraints, carefully catching her body as it slumped forward. Pulling Dawn close, he slipped his arms under her neck and knees, cradling her securely her in his arms as he lifted her from the chair and stood.
“Come, my lovely…” he whispered as he walked over to the nearby cot and laid her upon it, taking care to straighten her nightgown and place her hands comfortably at her sides. “It’s time for you to show a little appreciation for your host.”
“What… what’s going on?” Dawn mumbled weakly and slowly opened her eyes to stare up at Ethan. She smiled faintly. “Randall?”
“Hello, luv,” he said with a smile. “Lie still, you’re very weak.”
“Randall, I can’t believe it’s you,” she gasped and reached out to grip his shoulders and pull him close, weakly hugging him the best she could.
Ethan closed his eyes. “Yes, it’s… it’s me, Dawn,” he whispered, wrapping her in his arms.
“What’s happening?” she asked softly and pulled away, swaying dizzily as she sank back to the cot.
“You’re ill. I’m taking care of you.”
“I’m sick? Is that why the room’s spinning?”
“Yes,” Ethan chuckled. “You’ve got a nasty fever. You’ll have to rest and regain your strength.”
“I don’t want to rest when I haven’t seen you in so long. Can’t we do something…” she yawned “…well, maybe something I can do lying down?”
He swallowed hard. “Well, would you like to play an old game, Dawn? One you’re rather good at.” Ethan reached out to tenderly brushed a lock of hair from her face.
“I like games,” Dawn said softly, stopping Ethan’s hand with hers. “I always kick your butt at Monopoly.” She gave his hand a gentle squeeze and held it tenderly. “I missed you, Randall.”
Ethan grinned. “Oh, I missed you too, luv.” He raised her hand to his lips and kissed it softly and then pulled free, moving off to the far side of the cavern to gather his supplies. “But Monopoly is too simplistic for the likes of us.”
“So what am I beating you at this time?” Dawn giggled and rolled dopily onto her side, watching him happily.
“Aren’t you just the overconfident one?” Ethan glanced back with a smirk as he anointed his forehead and chest with crimson tinted oils.
“’Cause I always whip your butt, Watcher.” She shrugged. “Sometimes I think you let me win.”
“Not this time, luv,” he said quietly then murmured something inaudible. He turned around and strode forward. His dark eyes blazed a deep red in the eerie light of the fire. “This time you let me win.”