Giles was not sure why he had bothered to garage his car in long-term storage when he left California. He had not even bothered to retrieve it when he flew back after Buffy's resurrection. Perhaps he had already suspected he would not be staying for long, yet he could not bring himself to sell it. At any rate, it was waiting for him now, and he was grateful. It was a bit of comforting familiarity in this upside-down world.
"It seduced me," Giles said softly, smiling faintly at the memories as he gripped the silvered chrome of the door handle. In his mind, he compared the red convertible with his late, lamented Citroen, and despite the green beast's years of service he could not help but rank it second. He could still recall Buffy's words when he had first acquired this vehicle over a year ago; they echoed in his mind, affectionately teasing. "Little two-door tramp."
The reminder of Buffy sent his thoughts spinning again. The last update Giles had received on her condition had been some few days before the wedding, when Anya had thanked him for the flowers he sent. Since then, there had been ominous silence from the Sunnydale crew. That was perhaps not surprising, given Anya's predicted whereabouts, but he had not even heard from Willow or Dawn.
Normally, Giles would not worry about a brief gap between contacts, but the relentless negativity of Buffy's recent life combined with the "confluence of events" occurring in Los Angeles had him worried. What was the likelihood that something so important in the demonic world would not have effects on the local Hellmouth? He suspected that there was far more to Connor's story than even Wesley knew.
Giles shook his head. He'd have time to think once he hit the open road; it was still a two-hour drive from Los Angeles to Sunnydale if he followed the speed limit. He'd accomplish nothing by imitating a statue in this garage.
Traffic thinned somewhat as the main bulk of Los Angeles fell behind, and Giles allowed himself to relax slightly. He had been rather reckless himself in his youth, but California drivers would have taxed even the Ripper's nerves.
Who was he kidding? They were taxing the Ripper's nerves. Giles flexed his hands and smiled slightly as tiny green sparks danced cheerfully among his fingers, briefly lighting up the curve of the steering wheel.
"Interesting," someone commented.
Giles flinched at the voice and was halfway into the next lane before the blaring of car horns brought his focus back to the road. "Ethan," he hissed, glancing briefly at the empty passenger seat with narrowed eyes.
"Ripper," the voice answered pleasantly, and then a shimmering in the air revealed the presence of his sometime friend. Ethan looked much as he had the last time Giles had encountered him, down to the questionable taste in wardrobe and the mischievous smile curving his mouth.
Giles shook his head, setting his jaw with distaste. "I was hoping to deal with you later, after I handled the situation in Sunnydale."
Ethan laughed. "My, my. Such controlled violence in your tone, and no denials this time, I see. Whatever have you been up to, old mate?"
"It does not concern you," Giles ground out. He'd taken risks in the past few months, but the last thing he needed was Ethan's perspective on his actions.
"Oh, I think it does," Ethan said, lightly.
Giles glanced at him again. There was something odd about Ethan's tone, and there was a darkness in those laughing eyes that he did not like. "Ethan, I have no time to play games, and I have run out of patience with you. If you mean to threaten me, I will do worse than send you back to the Initiative."
Laughter again, softer this time. "Come now, Ripper. I was only going to ask you to keep an eye on Jonathan, see that he doesn't get himself killed before his next birthday. If you've left off being righteous, so much the better for the boy's education."
Giles briefly wished for the chainsaw he'd wielded two years ago on Halloween, then firmly reigned in his temper and answered as calmly as he could. "The mere fact that I have regained a few magical tricks does not mean I am turning to your path, Ethan. I still abide by the choice I made twenty-five years ago, and I am still Buffy's Watcher."
"Whatever that means," Ethan commented, shifting in his seat. "How does that work, with you in Bath and the Slayer in Sunnydale?"
Giles shifted his grip on the steering wheel and began scanning the signposts for a potential exit. This conversation was not going well. He could not even glare at his old friend properly when the man made such offensive remarks. Ethan could not possibly understand about the complex situation between this Watcher and his Slayer, and Giles could not properly deflect his insults while hurtling down the highway at upwards of seventy miles per hour.
There; Giles saw a sign for a rest station two miles ahead, where they could have a proper argument. Quickly, he flicked on the turn signal and shifted into the rightmost lane.
"What, no snappy comeback? Now I'm concerned," Ethan continued, still teasing. "What have they done to the Rupert I lived to annoy?" He was flipping something end over end in his hands, a small round object that sent a circle of light flashing between the seats with every revolution.
Giles shook his head. Ethan was as obnoxious as ever, but something about him still seemed off, and Giles could not remember him having any fidgeting habits before. "I'm pulling off at the next exit. We can talk there."
Ethan rolled his eyes. "You see? This is the reason for my imitation of the Invisible Man. I wanted a ride to Sunnydale, not an argument. Must we stop?"
"Yes. We must."
Ethan sighed and put the flashing object back in his pocket. "Very well."
The car's occupants remained silent until Giles parked the car and turned off the engine. "So why are you really here, Ethan?" he said, looking over at the aging sorcerer. "My home is in England now. You know that. Even if I were inclined to shepherd your offspring, surely you don't expect me to do so from there."
"No. I expect you to move back to Sunnydale." No fidgeting now; Ethan's brown eyes gazed steadily at him, and his tone was very serious.
"Why would I do that?" Giles demanded. "My reasons for leaving Sunnydale are just as valid now as they were before."
The ghost of arguments past made a brief appearance. "My reasons for leaving London..."
Giles shook it off. They were valid. Not to mention the small fact that his own life was finally improving, without anyone to answer to or be responsible for. The Watcher's Council might expect a report every now and again, and he had his own little supernatural business on the side, but he was basically his own man now. He was not happy, but he was satisfied, and that was a vast improvement.
"And yet you return," Ethan said, smirking at him. "You were willing to help young Wesley when a life-and-death situation came up. I don't expect you'll do any less for your former charges."
Giles was scarcely aware that he was strangling Ethan until the other man began to choke and sputter, growing red of face. With a shudder, he let go of the sorcerer's throat and turned away, trying hard to remember the concept of "benefit of the doubt."
"if you've hurt them," Giles began hoarsely, "or put them in any danger ..."
Ethan sounded shaken. "Rupert. I've been locked up for so long, when would I have had a chance to set them up? They're destroying themselves with very little outside help. I was there a few days ago, looking for Jonathan, and saw a great deal of what was going on."
Breathe in, breathe out. Giles sat still a moment, regaining his control, then looked up, studying Ethan's face. In this, at least, the man seemed honest. "I believe you," he finally said. "I'm not certain why, but I do."
Ethan swallowed, his tense expression lifting a little. "There is more to me than chaos, Rupert, and more to chaos than evil. Need I remind you? It's a balance. People associate order with good, but evil is just an opposing form of order, competing for efficiency. Chaos is neither. I would no more lie to you outright than I would give to you without qualification."
Giles sighed, leaning back in the seat. Now it really did feel like old times. "Ethan, you've given me this argument before."
"And you've never believed it," Ethan said, sadly.
No one could turn Giles' emotions to quicksilver, changeable and violent, as thoroughly as Ethan did, save perhaps his Slayer. "Ethan..."
Brown eyes met green ones again, softened by something long buried between them. "I only chased Deirdre because you did, you know," Ethan said quietly. "I ended up with her by default when you left. I did not intend to end up with a son."
"I only chased Deirdre because it angered you," Giles admitted, with a wry half-smile. "Weren't we a pair?"
Ethan reached over and gripped Giles' hand. His arm was all wiry muscle and long piano fingers, and Giles found himself studying it instead of Ethan's face.
"Yes," Ethan said. "We were."
Even old wounds still ached from time to time, and this one had never properly healed in the first place. Giles turned slightly away and straightened his shoulders, pulling his hand from Ethan's grasp.
"If I do stay in Sunnydale, I will keep Jonathan in mind," Giles conceded, changing the subject. "Why are you going there now?"
Ethan sighed. "I'm not certain. I meant to fly back to England, but I found myself unwilling to actually get on the plane. I cashed in my ticket, then took a long stroll through the neighborhoods near the airport. After awhile, I happened across the garage with your car in it. I could sense it a mile away. Did the witches enchant something about it?"
"Anti-collision spell," Giles said, smiling slightly at the memory. "They were, well, rather concerned about the way the Citroen met its death, and wished to protect this car from similar mishaps."
Ethan chuckled. "I see why you didn't just sell the car. That must have taken a great deal of time and effort on their part."
"Indeed." Giles paused, deciding what to say next. He'd never been in quite this situation before.
He finally spoke, using quiet tones to deflect the impact. "Ethan, evil or not, I'm not sure you'll be much help to me in dealing with what's happening in Sunnydale. I'm not sure you could be. And the last thing I want to do is add you to the list of problems. Do you understand?"
"You want to leave me here." Ethan sounded disappointed, but not terribly surprised.
"Yes. Can we part this time on a friendly basis, at least?"
Ethan smiled at that, and seemed to regain some of his energy. "It took us long enough to call a truce. Yes, let's. I can't promise never to annoy you again, but I can at least let up on the dangerous pranks."
Giles nodded, relieved. "I suppose that's a fair trade. Perhaps... perhaps you could leave word with Anya, from time to time, on your whereabouts? The number of the Magic Box is in the phone books. I don't intend to let Jonathan back in Sunnydale at any time in the near future, but I will check on his progress, and... I might as well pass the word along."
It had taken some doing to get all that out, but despite everything, or perhaps because of it, Giles felt Ethan deserved the consideration.
Ethan opened the passenger door of the convertible and stepped out, stretching his legs. "Yes. I would appreciate that, actually. I've been relying on some fairly iffy demonic relays of late, and some of them don't have any branches in Los Angeles. You at least have Angel Investigations."
"Well then." Giles cleared his throat, unable to think of anything else to say.
"Well then." Ethan smirked, by way of reply.
Without another glance, Giles started the car and pulled out of the parking space, then motored back onto the freeway with rather more speed than was his usual wont. Who was he, after all, to tell Buffy she needed to grow up? He was forty-seven now, and only beginning to deal with most of his baggage.
--END INTERLUDE 1--