The ringing woke Giles out of a dream of fangs, claws, and howls. Blindly he reached for the phone, locating it only after knocking his glasses and several books to the floor.
"Huhllah," he muttered into it, then realized he was holding it upside down, and tried again. "Hello?"
"Yes. Who is this?"
"This is Agent Finn."
"Listen carefully. The Initiative's facility in Nevada is shutting down. All of the detainees are scheduled for termination in two weeks."
"Detainees? Termination?" Giles repeated fuzzily.
"I thought you should know." The voice at the other end had become more human, less clipped and military. "I know he was your friend once. . . . I thought you should know." A click, and the line went dead.
Understanding finally formed in Giles' dazed mind. Ethan. They were going to kill Ethan.
Giles rose, foggy with sleep and shock, put on a bathrobe and went to the kitchen to make a pot of tea. A cockroach scuttled behind the refrigerator when he switched on the light, and Giles reminded himself to call the landlord. Not that it would do any good.
He put the kettle on to boil and went into the living room, leaving the kitchen light on to discourage vermin.
The living room, on the other hand, was better seen without too much illumination. He switched on the reading lamp and settled into the ugly but comfortable chair he'd bought secondhand. In this low light, the colors weren't too offensive. If only he could dim the noise of a typical Los Angeles night.
On bad days, Giles longed with an almost physical pain for his pleasant flat in Sunnydale, his modestly profitable shop, his nice car, his books and CDs. Between several transatlantic moves and the destruction of the town, all that he had left of the last eight years were a few clothes and maybe a dozen books.
Ethan. Giles had avoided the thought as long as he could, but now it returned insistently. Ethan was going to die. The Initiative was going to kill him.
Damn, he thought. I don't need this. I wish Riley hadn't told me.
The kettle whistled, and he went back to the kitchen. As he poured water over the tea leaves, he wondered what Riley thought he could do. Rescue him?
He probably could rescue Ethan, if he wanted to.
Did he want to?
He put the teapot on a tray, along with a mug, sugar, and a small carton of milk, and returned to the living room. There's nothing I can do, he thought. Nothing I should do. Ethan's a killer. They execute killers in this country. Of course they usually get a trial first. Ethan had never had a trial, had never been allowed a defense.
Ethan's a killer. But so am I, and here I sit.
"Oh, hell," Giles said aloud, pouring himself a cup of tea.
Giles' thoughts followed the same narrow circuit of doubts and mixed feelings for hours. Tea didn't help, nor did two double whiskies. He tried to distract himself with a book, which would let his subconscious assume the work for a while, but without success. It would be best, he knew, to talk this over with someone. But whom?
As always when he was facing a problem, it was Ethan he wanted to talk to. This was, he reflected, especially ironic now. But some old habits die very, very hard. When he thought of others who could have helped, the extent of his losses came home to him. He'd lost contact with most of his friends in England. Joyce, with her kindness and good sense, was long dead. Even Spike, sarky, uncooperative, fundamentally decent Spike, was gone, buried beneath the rubble that once was Sunnydale. The survivors, though he loved them, he could hardly imagine confiding in--his three proteges, Buffy, Xander, and Willow.
I could, he realized, talk to Willow.
In the end, he managed to get a little sleep before calling Willow in San Francisco at nine.
"Web Goddess Consultants," answered the familiar, cheerful voice.
"Willow, hello. It's Rupert Giles."
"Giles! How are you? It's been forever."
"I'm well. How are you and Kennedy?"
"Great. The company's doing good business, and Kennedy's enjoying being a Slayer. Too darn much, sometimes. And I'm working with this fantastic coven, we're trying to find a way to close the hellmouth in Cleveland. So, what's up with you?" She paused for a moment and added, sounding alarmed, "My God. Has something happened to Buffy?"
"No, no, she's fine, as far as I know. No, I'm calling because I could use your advice about something."
"My advice? Gosh, way to make a girl feel all grown up and responsible. What about?"
"Well, it's complicated. I'd rather not talk about it over the phone. I hate to ask, I know you're busy, but could you come down to Los Angeles? Soon?"
"Could you come here instead? We could put you up, we've got a spare room."
"I'm sorry, it needs to be here, but I can't explain why now. It is rather important, Willow."
"Sure, Giles. I'll fly down tomorrow."
Willow had seen the flat before, but Giles still felt a rush of shame when she came in. Not long ago he had been a mentor, even a kind of father figure. They'd looked up to him, really, even though they'd laughed at him for being old-fashioned. Now they were adults, finding success and happiness in their separate lives, while his life had been reduced to this grim little flat and a part-time job (illegal, because his work visa had expired) in a seedy occult bookstore.
Willow caught him in a tight and enthusiastic hug, and he felt a little better.
"Come in, sit down. Would you like some tea? Or coffee?" He'd bought some specially.
"Coffee would be great. Do you want some help with it?"
"That's all right," he said, heading for the kitchen. "How was your flight?"
"Well, we didn't crash. Sorry I'm late. I thought I should check into my hotel first. Normally I'd stay with Buffy, but . . . I wasn't sure how secret all this is."
Giles reappeared, wiping his hands nervously on a towel. "It's just as well she doesn't know. Not yet, at least." Buffy was so happy not to bear all the Slayer's responsibilities anymore that it seemed cruel to drag her into this problem.
They chatted until the coffee was ready. Willow, unsurprisingly, was in closer touch with Buffy and Xander than he was. She told him about Buffy's plans to open a martial arts gym for women ("to help train all the new Slayers") and Xander's decision to capitalize on his interest in construction by studying civil engineering at UCLA. Giles marveled again at how much all their lives had changed in the past year.
Once they were fortified with mugs of coffee and a plate of biscuits, Giles tried, hesitantly, to come to the point. "This is rather difficult to explain. And I need you to keep it confidential, at least for now."
Willow nodded seriously, brushing a short strand of red hair out of her eyes. It was like looking at a double exposure, the face of this confident woman superimposed over the girl he knew.
"Do you remember Ethan Rayne?"
"How could I forget? The Halloween costumes, the candy, the whole turn-Giles-into-a-demon thing."
"Yes. Well, the Initiative prison where he's being held is about to shut down. All the prisoners are going to be 'terminated.' Riley Finn called and told me."
Willow looked horrified. "That's awful. That's disgusting. Trust the Initiative to go around killing people. Giles, what are you going to do?"
"That's the problem. I don't know."
"There must be something. Buffy and Xander will want to help. We could organize a prison break. Somehow," she added woefully.
"Willow, I don't know if I should do anything."
She looked at him, a chocolate biscuit halfway to her mouth. "We can't just let them kill everybody. Even Ethan doesn't deserve that."
"Doesn't he?" This was one of the thoughts Giles had not wanted to face. Ethan might finally be getting what he deserved, and there was something satisfying in that. "He's done terrible things, and hurt a lot of innocent people. Killed some of them. He tried to kill Buffy."
"And you." Willow's voice was sympathetic, but her face was thoughtful.
"He often tries to kill me. I'm almost used to it. But he put the three of you in danger several times, too." Giles took a sip of his coffee, which tasted even more bitter than usual. "This isn't just about my personal anger, though. His death might be justice. Or necessary. Like slaying a vampire."
Willow shook her head emphatically. "It's not the same thing at all. Ethan's a human being. Nobody has the right to murder another human being, no matter what they've done." She took a deep breath. "Who should know that better than me?"
Giles cursed himself for making her think of Tara, and her own terrible response to Tara's death. But, he realized, not a day would ever go by without her thinking of it. He never forgot calling up Eyghon, or the consequences.
He tried to explain his dilemma. "Would letting him die be any worse than freeing him? And if they kill him, would it even be murder? It's the Initiative's job to eliminate threats from demonic forces." As he spoke, he had a sudden, terrible image of Ethan being marched out into the desert. Forced to dig his own grave. Shot down callously by anonymous, balaclava-clad soldiers.
"And we have so much reason to trust the Initiative's judgment," Willow answered sarcastically. "They don't have the right to decide who lives and who dies. Nobody does." She looked levelly at him, waiting.
When, Giles wondered, did she become quite so formidable? Of course, she now had access to power very close to godlike. No doubt touching the infinite strengthened the character.
"I really don't want to make this decision," he said finally.
"But you have to."
"Yes. You're right." He tried to think, but only one thought, less a thought than a surge of emotion, came clear. "I can't let him die." As soon as he said it, relief flooded through him, almost bringing tears to his eyes. He set his mug down with shaking hands.
His feelings must have been plain in his face, because Willow said, "Giles . . . Rupert. You knew this already. What did you need me for?"
He tried to laugh, but it came out perilously close to a sob. "Because Ethan hurt me and mine. And because he was my friend, once. I couldn't trust my own judgment for or against." He managed, after a moment, to smile at her. "Thank you. When Riley told me about this, it was horrible to realize I had no one to confide in, no one whose judgment I could trust. I'm glad to see I was wrong about that."
She blushed and smiled all at once. "So what are we going to do? Helicopter rescue? Armed invasion?"
"This prison is hidden somewhere in the Nevada desert, and it's probably heavily guarded. We'll have to use magic."
"But . . . I don't know of a spell that would work on all the prisoners. It's too many people. And we don't even know who they are."
Giles nodded. "With magic, I can free Ethan, but no one else. There's no way for me to save the others."
Willow frowned, clearly not liking it, but knowing there was no alternative. "So what will you do? Since the 'storm the prison with helicopters and machine guns' plan is a no."
"Well, that's the other reason I wanted you to come to LA." Giles rose, took a large, heavy book from the shelf, and handed it to her. "There's a spell here I think will work. But it takes a lot of power. I don't have enough to do it alone."
"Well, I said you should save him. I guess I can help."
"Have a look at the spell, and we'll talk."
She opened to the bookmarked page and began to read. Giles looked out the window, staring at the parking lot below. I don't believe I'm doing this, he thought. I'm going to work magic, which I've done as little as possible for the last twenty-five years. I'm going to take on a secret wing of the United States military. And all to save Ethan Rayne, when some of my last words to him were "I never want to see you again." It's a funny old world, only somehow I'm not laughing. Ethan will probably have a good long laugh, and then sacrifice me to a demon for my trouble.
When he turned around, Willow had finished reading and was looking expectantly at him. "Sorry. I seem to have a lot to think about these days. What's your impression of the spell?" He sat down beside her on the sofa.
"It seems pretty uncomplicated, it just needs a lot of power. But can we work together? Our training is awfully different." She was a Wiccan, with magic based in the female divine principle and the cycles of nature. Giles had studied within a male-dominated school of sorcery with origins in Renaissance universities, and supplemented it with practical experimentation in dark arts he preferred not to remember. It was, he realized, a very good question.
"Well, we'll have to learn. We can probably afford to spend a week practicing."
"OK, I'll take your word for it. Now, what about a focus? Some of his hair would be best, but you probably don't have that. Maybe something he used to wear? A ring or something?"
Giles shook his head, then smiled uncomfortably. "It's all right. We'll do a modified version of the spell, focusing through me."
Willow frowned down at the page. "But the book says that only works for close family or lovers . . . oh." Giles had known she'd been accepting, but her delighted grin surprised him. "I used to wonder," she explained. "After I fell in love with Tara, I noticed how you'd talk about Ethan. Not that you talked about him much, but there was something there . . . please don't look so embarrassed."
"I thought it was a rather well-kept secret."
"Not to someone with my special powers of gay perception," Willow joked. "I don't think Buffy or Xander ever guessed. Anyway, it doesn't need to be a deep dark secret, does it?"
Giles didn't answer, and couldn't bring himself to meet her eyes. "Let's talk about practical matters right now."
"OK. But . . . will the focus be strong enough? I don't know how to put this . . . it's been quite a while, right, since you and Ethan . . .?"
"Yes." Giles decided she didn't need to know he'd slept with Ethan the night before his capture by the Initiative. "But it should be all right."
She gave him another of those level, expectant looks. "I'm not trying to pry into your life, honest. But if we're going to work magic together, I need to have enough information."
"Of course. I'm sorry. It's . . . when I think of Ethan I think of the demon we called, and all the misery and death that followed. I've tried for years to forget the whole business."
She nodded, waiting, while Giles fidgeted nervously, searching for words. "I think--no, I know, that the focus will be strong enough. Ethan and I were each other's first lovers, that strengthens the bond. And we worked, well, some very powerful magics together. The ties of sex and magic reinforce each other. The link's there, even after so long. I'd know if he were dead or dying, for example."
"I knew when Tara died." Willow had turned very pale, and her eyes were bright with tears. "I felt it in my mind. I never told anyone. I didn't think they'd believe me."
Feeling sad and awkward, he patted her hand. "I believe you." He sighed, thinking about young lives blighted by death. Willow's, Buffy's, Xander's, and, long ago, his own. And yet we go on, he thought. However do we do it?
That afternoon they began preparing. First, armed with a long list, they made an expedition to a local magic shop. It reminded Giles painfully of the past.
"This is a very strange list," Willow commented as they went through the aisles. "Mandrake, rosemary, rowan leaves, hummingbird feathers . . . I've never used some of these things."
"Some of it's specific to my tradition. We rely a lot on certain symbolic associations. For example, mandrake stands for the body, which is what we're trying to retrieve. Rosemary will strengthen the focus by signifying memory. 'There's rosemary, that's for remembrance,'" he quoted.
She looked questioningly at him.
"Hamlet. Shakespeare is thought in certain circles to have been a powerful sorcerer."
Willow rolled her eyes skeptically, but placed a jar of rosemary into their shopping basket. "All right, that explains the rosemary, but what about the"--she checked the list again--"powdered mummy?"
"Stability. One risk of this spell is that the subject might disintegrate during the translocation." He took a deep breath. "I don't think I want to picture that. Have you seen owl claws anywhere?"
As their overflowing basket was rung up, the total quickly became alarming. Willow, however, gave the clerk her credit card before Giles could even reach for his wallet.
Back in the car, he said, "You didn't need to pay for all that, you know. Ethan's not your problem."
"Do you know how much money web designers make? It's ridiculous."
"Well, it's very kind of you," Giles answered, ashamed once again.
There was silence for a while as they drove back to the flat. "Rupert," Willow ventured finally, "You're like family to all of us. Buffy would have been dead twenty times over without you, and so would me and Xander. And you gave up everything to help us. Your career, your home. You stood by Buffy, and you lost everything. We all want to help you, but we haven't wanted to embarrass you by offering."
The street ahead of him blurred, and he wiped at his eyes. "Willow, if you make me cry we'll have an accident." Once he had blinked back the tears, he added, "I appreciate it. But I need to get my life in order, on my own. I'm not yet ready to be a dependent old man. Much as I love all of you."
"But we're family, remember? How can we not help each other?"
"You're helping more than you know," he said.
The next few days were a blur of preparations. Giles and Willow spent hours learning to coordinate their magics. Soon they could work simple spells together--lighting candles, levitating objects. Needing their strength, they didn't try anything too complicated.
After swearing Angel to secrecy (he was seeing Buffy occasionally, and Giles didn't want her involved) Giles took him on several nocturnal expeditions to local hospitals. Angel's vampire stealth and hyper-alert senses let them go undetected as they gathered an array of medical supplies Ethan might need, from bandages and antibiotics to morphine and tranquilizers. Knowing Ethan, Giles thought he would probably be fine, but it was best to be prepared.
Finally, after six days, they were ready. Giles and Willow moved the few pieces of living room furniture into the corners, covered the floor with a canvas dropcloth, and set out their materials within reach. "What are those for?" Willow asked when Giles added an armload of blankets.
"The spell will send Ethan through a rather rarefied dimension; he'll probably be cold. And he'll arrive, er, naked. If the spell works correctly, it should bring nothing but Ethan himself. Everything else--clothes, handcuffs, even the fillings in his teeth--will be left behind."
Giles chalked a large circle around them on the dropcloth and drew the correct magical symbols around the perimeter. Then he sat down inside the circle, facing Willow, with a basin between them. They were ready to begin.
"Spirits of fire, we call you," Giles began, lighting a match and dropping it into the basin. Normally he would have worked the whole spell in Latin, but Willow was more comfortable using English.
"Spirits of water, we call you." Willow poured water over the match.
"Spirits of air, we call you." Giles blew on the surface of the water until it rippled.
"Spirits of earth, we call you," Willow added a pinch of dirt.
A gleam of power shimmered over the basin. Giles picked up the bowl of ingredients they had mixed earlier. "Spirits of fire and water, air and earth, bring me the man I seek." Slowly, he trickled the bowl's contents into the basin. "Bring him to me complete in body and spirit. By my memory and my power, by the bond between us, I seek him. Let it be done according to my will." He set the bowl down. The glowing power had spread out from the bowl, enveloping him and Willow. "Fiat. Let it be so."
"Let it be so," echoed Willow. She reached across the basin and took his hands. He turned his mind inward, looking for Ethan in his body's memory of their lovemaking, of the touch and taste and smell of him. His power and Willow's roared along the link, and then he could see Ethan, dressed in a coarse gray jumpsuit and shackled to a metal bunk, apparently asleep. He was very far away, and close enough to touch. "Come to me," Giles said, reaching without hands. There was a sudden sense of completion and a blinding flash of light behind his closed eyelids. When he opened them again, the glowing power was gone and a naked, emaciated Ethan Rayne lay on the canvas. "Consummatum est," Giles said, lowering his hands to the floor to earth the residual power and end the working.
Scrambling to Ethan's side, he threw a blanket over him while Willow checked his pulse.
"He's alive," she said, "and his pulse seems OK. Not that I'd know. Why doesn't he wake up?"
"It might just be the spell, or perhaps he's drugged. Help me get him to the bedroom. We need to keep him warm."
Together they lifted Ethan, who made a shockingly light burden, and put him into Giles' bed. He didn't move and showed no sign of awakening.
"I'm not happy that he's unconscious," Giles said.
"Should we take him to a hospital?"
Giles hesitated. "Let's wait a bit. I'll take him if he gets worse, but I'd rather avoid it. For one thing, the Initiative will probably be looking for him." He shook the thought away. Worrying wouldn't help. "Willow, the power you gave me was astonishing. Are you all right?"
"Just a little tired." As if to demonstrate, she yawned. "And starving."
"Me too." He was lightheaded and trembling, utterly depleted. "Let's eat."
They devoured two chicken sandwiches each and most of a quart of ice cream in less than ten minutes. After that, the dizziness went away and Giles just felt exhausted. Willow had perked up and barely seemed sleepy. She helped him restore order to the living room, and then left. She was flying back to San Francisco early the next day.
Giles warded the flat afterwards, wanting no surprise visitors. Then he checked on Ethan, who lay motionless except for the slight rise and fall of his chest with each breath. He probably shouldn't be left alone, Giles thought. And the bed's much more comfortable than the sofa. He got into bed beside Ethan, and fell asleep listening to the other man's harsh, shallow breathing.
It was dawn when Giles awoke. He hadn't drawn the blinds, and pale light filled the room. The air was close and stale. Once Ethan woke, he decided, he'd have to get him into a bath as soon as possible. It was unnerving that the normally fastidious Ethan would be so grubby and smelly.
Giles propped himself up on an elbow and looked at Ethan, taking in the changes he hadn't noticed yesterday. Ethan's hair was shorn to grayish stubble, he had several days' growth of beard on his cheeks, and there were new hollows in a face that had always been thin. He was very pale, and the lines around his eyes and mouth were deeply graven, even in sleep. One arm lay over the covers, so thin the bones could easily be seen. His wrist was chafed raw from shackles.
Giving in to impulse, Giles laid a light hand on his cheek. He barely touched him, but Ethan's eyes opened. He gasped and raised his arms protectively over his face, then curled up defensively. A terrible asthmatic wheeze began to constrict his breathing.
"Ethan, it's all right." Giles sat up and touched him carefully on the shoulder. "You're safe. It's all right."
Gradually, Ethan uncurled and his pained breathing improved a little. "Ripper?" he asked in a hoarse whisper. "Ripper. It's you. Where am I?"
"Los Angeles. In my flat."
"In your bed, too? You always did like to surprise me."
Giles stroked his cheek, gently, with the backs of his fingers. "I'll tell you all about it when you're feeling better."
Ethan's eyes closed, and for a moment Giles thought he'd gone back to sleep, but then they opened again. "I'm thirsty," Ethan said plaintively. "Could I have some water?" He spoke as if it were an impossible wish, not a request.
Giles fetched some water, which Ethan gulped down. Giles had to hold the glass for him. "Do you need anything else, Ethan?"
"No." Ethan's eyes were half-closed, his voice distant. "Stay with me." The need and fear in his voice were so naked that Giles found it impossible to refuse. Ethan sighed when Giles lay down again and held him, and soon his breathing leveled out into sleep. Giles armored his heart against memories.
Once he was sure Ethan slept, Giles extricated himself carefully. He had just gotten out of bed when the phone rang. Cursing, he caught it after a single ring. Ethan did not stir.
"Hello?" Giles took the phone into the living room.
"It's Willow. How is he?" He could hear airport noise in the background.
"He woke up for a few minutes just now, and drank some water. He knew me. In fact he managed to make one of his irritating comments. All in all, I think he'll live."
"So am I, to my surprise."
"Do you think they . . . did anything to him in prison? Like put a chip in him?"
"A chip? I hadn't thought of that. If they did, it could only be an improvement. Anyway, time enough for that once he's conscious for more than five minutes."
"Is there anything I can do to help?"
"Well . . . I don't know why I didn't think of this before. Looking after Ethan's going to be a full-time job for a while. I won't be able to go to work. Could you lend me some money? I'm sorry to ask-"
"Family, remember? You can have as much as you need. Give me your bank account number. I'll call my bank and arrange a transfer."
"Willow, I don't know how to thank you."
"I seem to remember you saved my sanity a couple of years ago, when you took me to England. As far as I'm concerned, I'm still thanking you."
Giles' optimism about Ethan's recovery faded when Ethan awoke a few hours later retching and shivering. "Withdrawal," he said when Giles could finally get a coherent word out of him. "They kept me drugged a lot of the time."
"I don't know," Ethan snapped, as another round of tremors set in. When it eased, he added more calmly, "It was injections. Could've been anything. A sedative of some kind."
Giles went to the hoard of drugs he was keeping in a box in the closet. He found a bottle of liquid morphine and measured out a small dose in the little plastic cup. It looked just like cough syrup.
Ethan was huddled miserably under the covers. "Drink this," Giles said, offering the cup. "It'll help."
"What is it?"
"That's meant to help? I need to get rid of an addiction, not start a new one."
"It's only a small dose. Enough to ease the symptoms. We'll taper you offer gradually."
"You're a fucking doctor now?"
"Ethan. Trust me."
"Do I have a choice?" He swallowed the dose and curled up again. Giles returned the morphine to the box, and, after a moment's thought, put a padlock on the box. Then he sat down in the living room with a book. A few minutes later, Ethan called out. "Rupe?" When Giles went to him, he saw that Ethan had uncurled and was looking calm and sleepy.
"Better enough to realize I'm desperate for a piss."
"Are you strong enough to stand?"
Giles brought him the bottle he'd acquired from the hospital, and, seeing Ethan's hands were steady enough now to hold it, left the room. When he returned to empty the bottle, Ethan refused to meet his eyes. Giles left him alone, recognizing a stronger, more painful version of his own shame about his poverty. Nothing humiliates quite like helplessness. Giles found Ethan's humiliation less enjoyable than he had sometimes imagined. He poured himself a large drink and tried unsuccessfully to read. His mental state was just about right for daytime TV, but he no longer had a television.
About an hour later, a terrified scream from Ethan rang through the flat. He was wide-eyed, even paler than before, and gasping for breath. He clutched Giles' hands in a desperate grip. When the wheezing eased off again, he said simply, "Nightmare." Soon, morphine and exhaustion began pulling him back into sleep. His eyes closed. Giles rose to leave, but Ethan said faintly, "Don't go."
Giles lay down beside him, rubbing his back. After a while Ethan turned and snuggled in closer, his back to Giles' chest. Long ago, they'd used to sleep together like that.
"What is it?"
"Please talk to me. I want to hear your voice. Tell me a story."
Giles' mind went back to his mother's bedtime stories. They had been the best thing about his childhood. "Once upon a time," he began, "there was a brave and powerful king named Arthur. Many famous knights lived at Arthur's court, but the best of them was Sir Lancelot. One day, a wounded knight came to Camelot. He said he'd been traveling for years looking for the best knight in the world, because only that knight could heal his wounds. When King Arthur heard this . . ."
The days passed slowly, in a rhythm determined by Ethan's various needs. Giles fed him soup, dosed him with ever-smaller amounts of morphine, and held him almost constantly. Ethan seemed to need the physical contact even more than the drug. Even in sleep Ethan clung to him, and he sometimes woke in a panic if left alone in the bed. Giles, to his surprise, didn't find this annoying. The contact worked in him, too, like a drug. He spent long hours in a daze of unlikely contentment, holding Ethan as he slept or telling him all the stories of King Arthur he could remember. This was an island, an interlude, Giles felt, cut off from the world, cut off from both the past and the future. Giles left it that way, refusing to think. Nor did he make Ethan think; he asked him nothing about the prison.
As Giles lowered the morphine doses and gave them at longer intervals, Ethan's discomfort spurred him into irritability. In the hours before a dose was due he would pick fights, to have the relief of losing his temper. Giles welcomed this at first, partly as a glimpse of the old Ethan beneath this broken man, and partly because it felt more real to him than their embraces.
"I'll bet this amuses you," snapped Ethan one day. He was sitting in a chair in the living room, an accomplishment he'd only mastered the day before. "To see me weak and pathetic."
'Yes' didn't seem like the right answer. And Giles wasn't sure if it was true anymore. "That kind of amusement's more your line, Ethan."
"Don't be so bloody virtuous. Florence fucking Nightingale."
"Yes, I'm doing this for the public recognition of my goodness."
"Oh, bugger you, Rupert."
"Not until you can stand."
"Stop laughing at me!" Ethan picked up the nearest object, which happened to be one of Giles' favorite books, and threw it at Giles' head. Or tried to. It fell far short.
Well, apparently they didn't give him a chip, thought Giles.
"Go on, laugh away," Ethan said with weary humiliation. "Seems I can't stop you."
Later, as always, he fell asleep in Giles' arms.
As the drug cravings grew weaker, Ethan's temper improved, but he grew more and more silent. He kept the radio on constantly, and would ask for a bedtime story if Giles didn't offer, but barely spoke at all. At first this was easier on Giles' fraying nerves than Ethan's constant baiting, but it soon became tiresome. Ethan ghosted through the flat with the pinched, vacant expression of someone whose suffering is unspeakable. But Giles remembered Ethan's gift for theatrics, and he also remembered that a few years back the man had tried to sacrifice a ward full of newborns to a demon.
About three weeks after Ethan's rescue, Giles finally lost patience. Ethan had spent an entire day unspeaking, stretched out on the sofa pretending to read, while songs and chatter jangled from the radio until Giles switched it off in irritation. By evening even the sound of Ethan's faintly wheezy breathing had become unbearable. Giles set down the grimoire he'd been trying to read and said, more sharply than he'd planned, "Stop it."
Ethan looked up, then back to the page he'd been staring at for the last hour.
"Ethan, stop . . . brooding. I know you've been through a bad time. But you've alive, you're free, you're safe, you're getting stronger every day. And you're driving me mad. You won't talk to me. You won't leave the flat. You wouldn't eat if I didn't make you. Stop feeling sorry for yourself and be glad you're alive."
Ethan continued to stare at his book for a long moment, while Giles held his temper with an effort. Then, without looking up, he said, "I can't quite seem to manage being glad. My apologies. And if you want gratitude for getting me out of that place, you might remember it was you who put me there."
"The Initiative put you there."
"You could've stopped them."
"How? I'd just been almost stabbed to death by my own Slayer, because I'd been turned into a demon."
Ethan moved his head slightly, and Giles thought he was about to speak, but he said nothing.
"And anyway," Giles continued, "why would I stop them? Do you think the things you've done don't deserve a few years in prison?"
"Self-righteousness really doesn't suit you. Considering." Ethan's voice was flat, emotionless.
"There's no comparison. Yes, I helped call up Eyghon. And . . . the rest. I did terrible things. No doubt I deserved punishment for it. But since then, for the last twenty-five years I've tried my best to live a decent life. I've done my duty. And in the same twenty-five years, you've gone from one atrocity to the next. How many people have died because of you? But let's not punish Ethan, no, he doesn't deserve that."
Ethan looked up at last, with an expression of mild surprise. "Punishment? You thought they were punishing me?"
"Barely even that. 'Rehabilitation,' was their word, I think." Giles knew Ethan had suffered in prison, but he was getting annoyed.
"Rehabilitation. Oh, that's even better. I like that." Slowly, with effort, Ethan sat up. "Rupert, you're not usually a stupid man. How could you not know what they wanted with me?"
Giles' anger died abruptly, replaced by a tense anxiety. "I don't understand."
"Sure you want to? It gives me nightmares, and we all know you're the one with the delicate sensibility."
It occurred to Giles then that the plan to exterminate the inmates had been more than the Initiative's rough justice. There were secrets to cover up. "Ethan, tell me."
"Well, don't say you weren't warned," Ethan said in his habitual tone of irony. He was holding a pillow on his lap, gripping it so hard his knuckles showed white. "It was a military facility. They wanted to learn to use demons as weapons."
He's right, Giles thought. How could I not have guessed this? I even knew about Adam. But it was Ethan, and I didn't want to know.
"At first," Ethan continued, "I was willing enough. It wasn't as though I'd had no truck with demons before. It was just another job. Except for the prison bit." He held the pillow to his chest. "They were using me for a series of experiments to learn the demons' killing methods, testing which ones were most efficient, most frightening, that sort of thing. And that meant there had to be . . . test subjects. People."
God, Giles thought. Whatever's coming, it's so awful it sickened even Ethan. Destroyed him almost. I don't think I can bear to hear this. But it's killing him to keep it in.
"They'd bring in a person, or a group of people. I don't know where they got them. Homeless, most likely, and illegal immigrants. A lot of them didn't seem to speak English. People nobody'd miss. They locked them in a room with me. The room was all steel, they hosed it down afterwards. I'd conjure a demon from inside a protective circle. Once it had killed everyone, I'd send it back." The wheezing of his lungs was getting worse. "I've . . . caused people to die, before. But this . . . every day there was a new batch of people to kill. Death and death and death and death. All in front of my eyes. I had to see all of it. The demons pulling their arms and legs off, clawing them to shreds, eating them before they'd even stopped screaming." He was fighting for breath now, as though invisible hands squeezed his throat. "Some of the more . . . sophisticated . . . demons liked amusement before they killed. Torture, rape . . . there was a little boy, they . . ." Choking, Ethan stopped, and puffed on an asthma inhaler from Giles' locked box.
After a couple of minutes, Ethan could continue. "There are limits, even for me. After a while--it must have been a year or so--I couldn't bear it anymore. I refused to do it. I thought they'd just kill me. But they still needed me. Their own people couldn't reliably work the summoning spells. They knew the words, but not the mental disciplines, you know? And I wouldn't teach them. That's when the interrogations started." Ethan rocked slightly, back and forth, arms crossed over the pillow. His eyes were vacant as he looked at the nightmare in his memory.
"When I was cooperating, they didn't treat me too badly. But later, my cell got colder, my meals got smaller. Sometimes they forgot to give me food or water. Those last few days I didn't get anything. I don't know why." Giles decided never to tell him about the death sentence he'd been under.
"They drugged me with hypnotics during the interrogations, and with sedatives afterwards, so I wouldn't try to kill myself. Sometimes they beat me, or chained me up by the arms, or wouldn't let me sleep. It could have been worse. They didn't use pincers, or electrodes, or break my bones. They didn't feed me to the demons. But I knew they could, any day. And I knew that I'd never leave the prison. It would all just go on and on until they killed me. And . . . and . . . it was so silent. The cells were soundproofed. There must have been other prisoners there, but I never saw them and I never heard a thing. And the guards were under orders not to speak to me. After a while I almost looked forward to the interrogations, just to hear a voice." Ethan's composure finally broke, and tears slid unregarded down his face. "That was the worst thing. No one ever talked to me. For years. No one."
The horrified paralysis that had been gripping Giles cleared then, and he went to the sofa and pulled Ethan to him. Ethan cried hopelessly, like a beaten child, while Giles rocked him as he would a child.
Before long, Ethan's crying eased to sniffles and shuddering breaths. "I used to talk to you," he said, the words half-smothered against Giles' shoulder. "In my head. Some of what I said wasn't very nice."
Giles tightened his hold, and kissed the shorn hair. He could almost feel Ethan's despair. He should have cried more, Giles thought. He won't let the pain loose. But no amount of crying will ease those memories.
"I want to go to bed now," Ethan said, like a child. "I'm tired."
Giles helped him up, and supported him into the bedroom, and undressed him. Ethan stood shakily, neither resisting nor helping, eyes gone blind and vacant again. After helping him into bed, Giles undressed and got in beside him. Until now they'd been sleeping in t-shirts and shorts, but Giles wanted to give Ethan the comfort of skin-on-skin contact. He wanted it himself, too. They lay pressed together, Ethan half on top of him with his face buried in Giles' neck. "I'm so sorry, Ethan," Giles whispered, not sure if Ethan heard. "I'm so sorry."
After that, Ethan began to improve a little. He ate, and talked sometimes about neutral topics, and his asthmatic wheeze mostly disappeared. He could stand and walk through the flat for several minutes now, as his strength returned after far too much time spent shackled to a bed.
"I feel a bit better having talked about it," he said suddenly to Giles a few days later at breakfast. Giles knew immediately what "it" was. "Though you probably feel worse."
"I hope that's not why you feel better. My feeling worse, I mean."
"Quite likely," said Ethan, looking at a piece of toast as though he had no idea what to do with it. "You know what they say about misery and company." This good cheer felt rather frail to Giles, but he was glad to see it. It had to be better than Ethan's long silence.
Finally, one day about a week after his revelation, Ethan said, "I think I'd like to go outside today. Would you take me to the park?"
Although Giles was nervous about Initiative surveillance, he knew Ethan needed to leave the flat. So, for that matter, did he. An hour later they sat on a bench in the sun. Ethan tilted his sallow face up towards it like a flower. "It's been awhile," he explained unnecessarily.
Besides themselves, the park seemed to be populated entirely by pairs of men walking their dogs. Giles had deliberately chosen a park popular with the gay community. If Ethan broke down again and needed to be held, Giles didn't want to deal with disapproving looks, or worse.
Ethan was looking around at the trees and flowers as if he'd never seen any before--or, more accurately, as if he'd never expected to see any again. Giles, idly watching the passers-by, noticed that they were getting lots of friendly smiles and looks of compassion. He was puzzled, until he remembered Ethan's gaunt face and wasted body. My God, he thought. They think Ethan's dying of AIDS.
Eventually, Ethan noticed too. "Apparently we're filling all hearts with the milk of human kindness. I'm the poor dying bastard, you're the loving boyfriend sticking it out to the end." He grinned sourly. "If only they knew. Do you suppose if I kissed you, one of them would pick us some flowers?"
"We could try." Kissing Ethan seemed, at the moment, like a good thing to do.
Ethan looked questioningly at him. Giles shrugged and smiled, then kissed him lightly on the lips. No flowers appeared, but the kiss had felt nice. Giles put an arm around Ethan's shoulders.
"Well, you're changed your tune, Rupe." Ethan's tone was bantering, but with knives beneath. "The last time we kissed you got very cross afterwards."
This was a topic Giles had been dreading. As mildly as he could manage, he said, "The last time we kissed was nothing to be proud of. I was drunk and acted like a fool. And you deliberately seduced me." He moved his arm away.
"Has anyone ever been accidentally seduced?"
"Don't mince words, Ethan," Giles said sharply. "I know you too well. You set out to get me into bed, never mind what I wanted."
"As I recall, your cock was hard too."
"My body may have wanted it. That didn't make it right."
"No, if your body wants it, it must be wrong. Especially if your body wants a man."
"I never thought that."
"Liar." Ethan sounded almost amused.
Giles wanted, fiercely, to be elsewhere. Yet there was no one but Ethan he could talk to about these things. If only they could put the daggers down for a while. "All right, maybe I did think it once. You know what my father's like. And the Watchers, with all their talk about moral uprightness. When I was young, I thought I'd be more . . . in balance . . . if I were straight. Even magic--all the most powerful symbols in our tradition are about the uniting of opposites, of male and female."
"It's called symbolism for a reason. Representation, not reality, see? Anyway, what could be more opposite than you and me?"
Somehow their quarrel had cooled back down into a discussion. "I suppose," Giles answered, clasping Ethan's hand. "Anyway, I don't think like that anymore."
Ethan took his hand away. "Really? When exactly did you stop? Tell me something--that night, when we were together, when I was fucking you, you told me you'd never been with any man but me. Still true?"
Giles nodded. Refusing to answer had never been an option with Ethan.
"And there've been how many women?"
Giles averted his eyes. "Not many. Well, five."
Ethan made a sound that could have been disgust or pity. "Amazing. You don't just hate being queer. You hate having a body or any desires at all."
"Are you surprised?" Giles controlled his voice with an effort. If Ethan insisted on a quarrel in a public place, they could at least be discreet. "Think about what we did together, you and I and our friends, for the sake of desire. We called up Eyghon because it would be fun, it would be sexy. If I don't trust myself and my desires, I have good reason."
Ethan shifted on the bench to face Giles. "We were kids. We made a mistake."
"We were adults. And Randall died. We killed him. We committed a crime."
"Why not just say a sin, and be done with it?"
"Yes, why not?"
Ethan shook his head. "You should hear yourself. A few days ago you told me to stop feeling sorry for myself. Now it's your turn. You're ridiculous. Rupert Giles has sinned, the world had better stop. You sinned, so to atone you abandoned me. I'd have given up demons for you. I'd have given up magic. But you never even asked. You wanted to be a saint, and I was temptation. You decided not to live. And when I came back and reminded you what life felt like, you sent me to prison."
"Ethan, for fuck's sake, you turned me into a demon."
"No, actually, I didn't."
"So who did? Father Christmas?"
Ethan laughed unkindly, and Giles itched to hit him. "You really don't know, do you? You did it yourself."
"Of course. I turned myself into a demon. Unconsciously. Do you expect me to believe you? Don't you know what it was like? I looked in the mirror and saw a monster. The people I was closest to ran away or tried to kill me. When I spoke, they didn't even understand. It was like looking at everyone through a glass wall I couldn't cross. Why on earth would I do that to myself?"
"You know why."
"Listen to what you just said! A monster, repellent, disgusting, alien. And the night before you'd been to bed with a man for the first time in decades. You're a psychiatrist's wet dream, love."
Giles sat in frozen silence. It had to be another of Ethan's lies. Yet he remembered his anger and self-disgust as he drove home from Ethan's motel, the furious scrubbing in the shower to strip the scent and memory of Ethan from his skin. How filthy he'd felt, how monstrous. "Oh, fuck."
"Indeed," Ethan said with contempt. "What, are you sorry now? Do you pity me? Can I look forward to a pity fuck some night, before you get panicky again?" He dropped the handful of grass he'd been methodically shredding. "Let's go. I don't want to be here anymore."
Neither of them said a word for the rest of the day. Giles churned with dismay and regret. He replayed that night over and over in his head, remembering the pleasure, their perfect knowledge of each other, Ethan's strength and unexpected tenderness. It hurt, now, to think he might never feel those things again. Several times he drew breath to apologize, but Ethan's angry silence made it impossible. Giles got a bad headache from suppressed emotion. He drank a large whiskey, but it didn't help.
Finally, after a long, tense, oppressive evening, Ethan made his slow way to the bedroom. Giles couldn't move to help or to join him. What good would it do? If Ethan wanted him, he'd call. But Giles heard the click of the light and the soft creak of the bedsprings, then silence.
This is better, he thought. He's angry with me, it'll encourage him to get his strength back and leave. Now that he's safe, I want him to go away and leave me alone. I'm sick of all this anger and recrimination. I want him to go away.
This is better, he told himself. But it didn't feel better.
He stretched out on the sofa, doubting he could sleep. His chest was filled with broken glass, his belly with lead. The only thing that sounded good in the world was to go and lie down with Ethan. And what a mistake that would be.
Giles longed to beat his head against the wall, slash his wrists, anything to stop this misery.
All he could think of was Ethan, lying alone. Ethan, who'd loved him once. Who, four years ago, had found him in despair and consoled him. Whose body he remembered down to the last detail. Who infuriated and outraged him, and whose company he'd missed every day for over twenty-five years.
I, he thought with sudden, clear certainty, am being stupid.
He got up and went to the bedroom, heart in his throat. At the bedroom door he met Ethan, still dressed, coming out. Their eyes locked. Giles started to speak, but Ethan put a finger to his lips. He was right, Giles realized. Words kept coming between them. They needed the body, its pleasures and desires and even pains, as a bridge.
Ethan held out a hand, and Giles took it. They got into bed, not bothering to undress. With Ethan in his arms, Giles could breathe again without the dull, grinding agony. He tightened his grip, wishing he could meld their bodies into one.
Much later, he felt Ethan stir a little, and sigh. "What a mess we're in. What are we going to do?"
"Go on," Giles answered. "We'll go on."
Giles awoke the next morning tired, wrung out, with an aching back, a numb shoulder, and one of Ethan's bony elbows bruising his ribs. He felt better than he had in years.
Carefully, he moved Ethan's arm and tried to stretch his back. Ethan woke, but gently, without his usual terrified gasp as he came out of nightmare. He and Giles looked at each other, uncertain if last night's reconciliation would hold.
Giles knew the first move was up to him. He caressed Ethan's cheek with open palm. "I have an idea. Let's try to go a whole day without a row."
"A challenge. Good. I like a challenge. Now I have a challenge for you."
Giles kissed him gently at first, feeling as if Ethan might break, but then Ethan's tongue was in his mouth and his fears vanished. It was several minutes before they came up for air.
"Well done," said Ethan. "Maybe I'll let you do it again later. If you want to."
"By the way," said Ethan, more seriously, "thank you for rescuing me."
"Thank you for not turning me into a demon."
Ethan smiled. "Let's go out to breakfast. I'm sick of toast and desperately sick of this flat."
They ate omelettes and fruit salad at a local café, and talked carefully at first, mindful of unhealed wounds. After a while things felt more natural, and they began to reminisce longingly about greasy English fry-ups with eggs, bacon, sausages, mushrooms, and tomato--the sort of breakfast you can only get in England.
Afterwards they went back to the park, though Giles felt conspicuous after their very public quarrel yesterday. By unspoken consent they sat on a different bench, and continued to talk about England.
"I miss London," Giles said. "I'm sick of sunshine and SUVs. I want rain, and the tube, and the British Museum."
"I want to go to Hyde Park and watch the lunatics make speeches. I want to listen to the silly quiz shows on Radio 4."
"God, we're getting old, Ethan."
"They say it's better than the alternative."
Giles gathered his courage. "Let's go home. To England."
Ethan looked startled and blank for a moment, then said, "Yes. Let's."
Stunned and happy, Giles began to babble. "I don't quite know what we'll live on, but we'll manage. Maybe I could find some consulting work. Would you work with me? Between the two of us, we could be first-class demon hunters."
"I'm not sure I want to think about demons ever again."
Giles mentally kicked himself for his stupidity. "Perhaps something not involving demons. In the meantime, we can always go on the dole." Giles smiled, imagining the two of them queuing up for unemployment benefits. "Or maybe there's a pension for ex-Watchers and unemployed sorcerers."
"I think we can do better than that. I've got an account at a very discreet Swiss bank." He smiled at Giles. "Dark magic pays better than the Watchers."
They contemplated for a few moments.
"A future," Giles said meditatively. "It's been a while since I've had one of those."
"Me too," Ethan agreed.
Ethan soon began to feel tired, and they drove back to the flat. On the way, Ethan said cautiously, "I hate to break the mood, Rupe. But you do know all this sweetness and light can't last forever?"
"I know. We're going to fight like mad, as always, and you're going to torment me with sarcasm, and I'm going to panic once in a while. But I've been half dead without you, for years, and I've only just figured it out. I'm not going to lose you again."
"Remember that in a few months," Ethan said with a faint smile.
When they got back, Ethan said he was going to lie down.
"Do you want company?" Giles asked.
They lay contentedly together for a while, in an embrace that didn't, for once, spring from pain or despair.
"I don't suppose I could kiss you again?" Giles ventured.
"You'll never know if you don't try."
They kissed, and began, tentatively, to explore. Then Ethan caught Giles' hand, which had been unbuttoning his shirt, and held it still. "If you turn into a demon this time, I'll stab you myself."
Giles freed his hand and resumed his unbuttoning. "That won't be necessary." Opening the shirt, he ran a hand over Ethan's bony chest and prominent ribs, aching with desire, marveling that anyone could be so beautiful as Ethan.
Giles kissed the pulse point at his throat and then moved over his neck and shoulders with open-mouthed kisses, tasting his body. He felt he could spend hours just breathing in the faint scent of Ethan's skin, salt and earth and warmth. Ethan's hands were in his hair, but otherwise he lay passive, accepting, asking for nothing. Giles wanted to pour pleasure over him like water, like precious oils, giving ease and joy after so much pain. He began to drop light, brief kisses on him, moving always to the unexpected place, feeling Ethan begin to tremble.
Between kisses he finished undressing Ethan, and then, quickly, himself. He turned Ethan over and kissed the nape of his neck, tonguing down his spine, kissing his buttocks and the backs of his knees, while Ethan made little murmurs and groans. Giles thought of the warm tightness inside him, but put the urge aside; for now, he wanted to give Ethan only the softest, the most caressing of pleasures.
He rolled Ethan onto his back again and kissed his hair, licked his closed eyelids, licked his mouth thoroughly with little, catlike strokes. Then he paused. "Open your eyes, Ethan. Look at me." Ethan did, and they stared into each other's eyes. This is pleasure for the body, that look meant, but it's more. It's you and I, together. Together.
Ethan touched his face gently, and closed his eyes again. Their kiss was the slightest touch of lips brushing, yet almost unbearably intense. Giles knew it was time, now, for completion. He began to move down Ethan's body.
"Stay here," Ethan said. "Where I can touch you." He ran a hand down Giles' hip to his cock. Giles did the same, and they rubbed and stroked in the same rhythm, mirroring pleasure together. Their breathing grew quick, they filled and overfilled with sensation, and shared each other's release.
Giles pulled Ethan to him, wrapped himself around him, and Ethan lay calm and at peace in his arms. At this moment they were two halves of a single whole, they were travelers come home at last. It was only a moment, Giles knew, the past was still there and things would be difficult, but now they could begin.
Two weeks later, Willow drove them to the airport. She'd come down from San Francisco the day before to say goodbye. That night, Giles had gone out with Willow, Buffy, and Xander for a tearful farewell meal. Ethan had stayed home, insisting he was well enough to be alone for once.
Giles had already explained to them about Ethan, and heard all their arguments. That last evening, knowing everything was decided, they'd all tried to enjoy each other's company. Still, it felt like an ending, although really they'd begun going their separate ways long since. It's normal for children to grow up and begin their lives, thought Giles. But now I'm beginning a new life of my own, and it feels strange to all of us. "Come on, it's not that bad," he said aloud. "Once I'm settled in England, you can all come and visit me. Us. Soon and often, I hope."
"Only if you promise not to make us eat English food," said Xander, and they all laughed, relieved. Jokes were easier than goodbyes.
Willow came into the airport with them, ostensibly to help with their bags. After he and Giles had checked in, Ethan said, "I think I'll go through security now. I want to go and sit down. Thank you, Willow, for everything." He glanced down at his passport, bought with Willow's money. It gave him a new name, in case the Initiative was watching the airports. He kissed Willow's cheek and headed towards the checkpoint.
"Thank you, Willow," Giles echoed.
She clasped his arm. "Are you sure everything will be all right?"
"With Ethan? No. But . . . we love each other. I think we'll find a way to be together. We need to be."
She smiled wanly. "Do you have enough money?"
Giles laughed. "Willow, stop throwing money at me. I'm fine, and I'll pay you back when I can." As soon as Ethan can manage a trip to Switzerland, he added mentally. "Please come and visit us. You're family, after all."
"I'll call soon."
He hugged her again, and smiled, and went to find Ethan.