Giles made his way to the graveyard as quickly as he could without breaking into a run. At his age, sprinting was avoided if at all possible. He wasn’t the spring chicken any more. He could only hope that his fiasco of a day didn’t end in an apocalypse that otherwise would have been thwarted by now if it weren’t for the situation at hand. Asking questions around campus had proven to be less than fruitful. In fact, it had been downright infuriating. Shrugs and head shakes and dope eyed stares were the most common answers he’d got. Nobody knew a thing, couldn’t remember the last time they’d seen her, or who she’d possibly been with or even who she was. Her professors had barely even noticed her extended absence, which was nothing short of disturbing. Just another head in a crowded lecture hall. And when he’d gone to talk to her psychology professor, well. It certainly wasn’t a conversation he’d ever envisioned having. Maggie Walsh was quite possibly the most condescending person he’d ever had the displeasure of meeting. When asked about Buffy, Walsh replied that she wasn’t the first ‘brilliant’ young mind to mysteriously stop showing up one day, and that whatever Buffy was going through was really not her problem. Three absences was considered excessive in her class, and she’d already removed Buffy from her roster. When he’d only been able to look on with horror at her apparent lack of any human emotion, she continued her remarks. She’d gone so far as to suggest that the stress of Buffy’s coursework had become too much. That she was overwhelmed, often flaky, fell asleep during lectures. And that somehow, it was his fault. No strong father figure, indeed. He’d become more of a father figure to Buffy than her own biological parent. He’d mentored her, and guided her into adulthood without bearing witness to her untimely demise. Maggie Walsh was an insufferable… …cunt, Rupert. You know you want to call her a cunt. Yes, he did, and he could admit that to himself. Walsh had shown no concern whatsoever that Buffy was missing, and brushed his concerns off with raised eyebrows. The shrew. He’d very much like for her to have a run in with a demon in a dark alley. Truthfully, it couldn’t be that hard to arrange such an unfortunate accident. To add to his lovely time canvassing the campus for suspects, he had more pressing matters to deal with. It didn’t help that he’d got lost and was running short on time, he was also on his own. With Willow researching potential spells they could use, and Xander doing… whatever supposedly helpful thing he was doing, Giles was on his own. The earthquake days prior had been the portent of the rise of a very powerful demon prince. And it looked like it was going to be up to him to keep it from happening. He’d finally made his way to where the prince was supposed to rise, hours before, and found the ground within the crypt undisturbed. No cracks or gaping holes or entrances into hell. Nothing. And that was also strange. Usually there was settled dust. Cobwebs. Refuse from demons making a nest at some point in the past. The fact that the crypt was eerily tidy only added to the feeling that something was off. Demon activity as a whole had been at a low, which was not what Giles expected, with Buffy not able to patrol for nearly two weeks. No doubt it had something to do with the military operation. Everything to do with it. Perhaps they’d managed to interfere here, somehow. As thankful as he was that he wouldn’t be going head to head against a powerful demon with nothing but a duffel bag full of candles, he didn’t want to think about why that was, and what it meant for his Slayer. He dropped the bag to the floor and sunk down onto one of the stone benches. He was trying to stay busy. Trying to keep himself occupied. Trying to keep people safe in her absence. More than anything though, he was trying now to convince himself that they would be successful in their endeavor to retrieve her. Alive. If those military people could subdue the creatures of the night, and stop the rise of Barvain, what else were they capable of? He had to have faith that they would be able to. Without that… well, he wouldn’t have much at all. Tara seemed eager to help, however, and her experience would certainly be of use. Willow had power, and a natural talent, but she’d shown herself to be reckless too many times as it was. This situation had to be dealt with with the utmost care and precision, and he wasn’t certain she was up to the task. Having somebody there to help guide her, to keep her focused, could only be a good thing. Especially someone who she appeared to be much more likely to listen to when it came to the arcane. Something scraped across the floor in a darkened corner of the crypt, jolting Giles into alertness. He’d been quite sure that he was alone, but it appeared he was mistaken. Something was there. Things didn’t just make noise of their own accord. Not usually. He unzipped the duffel bag at his feet and grabbed the first solid thing his fingers landed on – a silver ceremonial dagger. He gripped it tightly in his left hand, the back of the blade aligning with his forearm, ready to attack or defend. Whatever it was hiding in the darkness, it wasn’t going to get away without losing some blood. He rose from the bench slowly, preparing himself for the fight. “Let’s get on with it then. I’m afraid I’m running rather short on patience.” A chillingly familiar voice responded from the shadows, full of the kind of arrogance only achieved after decades of using nefarious means to get what he wanted. “Weapons? Is that any way to greet an old friend, Ripper?” Ethan Raine, the smarmy git, stepped into the light in what he probably thought was a truly dramatic reveal. It only made Giles want to put the knife to use even more. His metaphorical plate was plenty full as it was, and he didn’t need Ethan piling his tacky self on top with his annual visit. “Ethan. The perfect end to the perfect day. What do you want?” “Thought I’d stop in for a drink. Stay for the atmosphere. Although I must say,” he glanced at the blade, lifting his eyebrows, “not exactly inviting at the moment.” Giles lunged, the thread he’d been hanging on finally snapping. Ethan tried, and failed, to run. He was on the ground, straddled, with a knife pressed to his throat before he really had time to react. The thrill of it surged through him in a dark wave. The violence he kept caged like a sweet drug finally free. “I thought I’d made it quite clear the last time. Leave, don’t come back. What made you think for a moment that this was a smart idea?” Ethan’s hands were up in surrender, eyes wide with fear. It suited him. If nothing else, Giles could take some small pleasure in relieving the world of him. “You know, the last time we were in this position it was much more enjoyable. Even then you had a thing for kinky–” Giles hit him squarely in the nose, hard enough that his head bounced off the concrete floor. And god, did it feel good to let some of his frustration out. On somebody like Ethan Raine, no less. No doubt he was there to stir up trouble like he always was, and Giles was in no mood, with no time to deal with it. He raised his fist to hit him again, and Ethan’s hands flew up in a panic. “Wait wait wait wait! I have information! You don’t even have to beat it out of me this time!” Giles couldn’t help the smile forming on his lips. One of the worst days he’d had in recent memory, and who should decide to show up out of the blue? His dear old friend and current enemy. Who always had been able to take a beating and keep on ticking. “I disagree.”
On the streets of Sunnydale, nothing seemed incredibly suspicious or out of place, which could be useful at times. Vampire sightings were written off as criminals on PCP. Werewolves were big mean dogs with rabies. And there was nothing eldritch about one man dragging another unconscious man by his arms, as far as the community was concerned. Mention something about alcohol, and heads nodded and turned away, happy to no longer be thinking about it. For once, Giles had found himself thankful for that committed ignorance. Once he’d got Ethan back to his flat, he’d been at a loss of what exactly to do about him. There’d been the mention of information, for whatever that was worth. The promise of a satisfying punching bag. Keeping him off the streets and under close watch. Not that the last bit was at all enjoyable. Ethan would likely drive Giles mad in a short amount of time, simply by talking the way he did. A gag then. Dirty old shirt should do the trick. Surely he’d had worse things shoved in his mouth, and with less care. In fact, he remembered a time when…. Giles shook the thought away. He did still have the chains. He’d put them away in the trunk, but… if they could hold a vampire, they could hold an aging Englishman. If that were the route he was going, he’d have to get it done quickly. Willow and the others were set to arrive shortly, and the last thing he needed was people in the way of him dealing with Ethan. And questions as to why exactly he was there. If he were very lucky, nobody would even notice, and Giles could deal with him later. The chances of that happening were exceedingly thin. He went about dragging the somehow still unconscious man to the bathroom and throwing him unceremoniously into the tub. His head cracked against the side in a strangely satisfying way, and Giles had to remind himself that he didn’t actually want Ethan dead- not yet, at least. He needed him alive enough to divulge whatever information he claimed to have, and then he could be thrown out of a moving vehicle miles outside of Sunnydale in the middle of the desert. Whatever happened after that was out of Giles’ control, or concern. Shackles. Living room. Right. If he’d known how many times he’d have a man chained in his bathtub, he would have sprung for a flat with a second bathroom. Or a spare bedroom. Not that he wanted Ethan chained to a bed. Not like he used to, at least. The temptation to continue on as they once had done had never fully gone away, as much as he tried to quash it. There had been a point when Ethan had been a good friend. Handsome, athletic, charming. Before the magic had pulled him too far down. Before they’d had their falling out. “Tsk, tsk, Ripper. Getting sloppy in your old age.” Ethan’s voice came from too close behind him, and Giles threw an elbow while spinning to face him. Ethan stumbled a bit in his retreat, knocking the lamp from the side table. Sloppy, indeed. He should have figured that the unconscious state was a ruse. Ethan always had been a deceptive bastard, and probably always would be. “Easy there, mate. I already told you, you don’t have to beat the information out of me. Freely given. Scouts honor!” He dodged as Giles lunged for him, running to the other side of the couch to put space between them. Giles would be damned if he played cat and mouse back and forth around a piece of furniture. “Ethan, for god’s sake. I’ve got no time for your games. You can either get back in that bathtub of your own free will and let me chain you up there, or I can put you there by force. You’ve very little choice in where you end up.” “Ooh, kinky kinky. You’ve got chains here, Rupes? Didn’t know you still had it in you.” There was a playful glint in his eyes, one that Giles had seen years earlier in their youth. He ignored it in the most dramatic fashion he could, and flipped the couch in a single move before advancing on the wiry man. “There he is!” Ethan laughed as he backed into the kitchen. “Oh, you’re serious. What’s the matter? Watcher job got you knickers in a twist?” Giles grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and yanked him in close. “Come now, Ethan. You know me better than that,” he whispered, a dangerous edge to his voice. Why he was letting himself play along with Ethan’s baited quips, he didn’t know. “Oh, yes, how could I forget?” Ethan glanced down between their bodies before meeting Giles’ eyes with his own. “Still going commando, after all these years?” Something long repressed sparked inside Giles. That aggressively playful hint in Ethan’s voice brought back memories of a time, long ago. Before they hated each other. He dared not entertain the thought. He had much more pressing matters to attend to, and Ethan showing up yet again didn’t change that. It certainly hadn’t changed anything the last three times, and now would be no different. He was still here for his own gain, whatever nefarious purpose he might have. Giles knew that. “Oh, Ripper. Look at you argue with yourself in that head of yours. Come on, mate. When’s the last time you let yourself live a little?” He leaned into Giles, head tilted just so, a soft smile on his lips. So, that was his game. Giles had suspected as much. He half expected it every time Ethan popped up out of nowhere. Even years later, everything he’d done, and what he’d become. Giles couldn’t help himself. Even if there’s never been any love, at least on Ethan’s part, there was a sentimental attachment to the way they’d been at the beginning. How they’d experimented and discovered and grown together. As much as he tamped it down, it remained. It took so much self control to shove him back against the counter with real force. The kind that would be necessary to put a stop to it. The sound of the impact brought Giles back to his right mind, for the moment. He couldn’t afford to give in to momentary distractions, no matter how welcomed they would be. He gripped Ethan’s shirt collar and pulled him in, until their faces were just inches apart. “You listen to me, you pompous self-serving ass. I don’t have time for this right now. I have far more important things to attend to. I don’t think you need to be reminded that you are entirely unwelcome here.” He landed a vicious punch to Ethan’s solar plexus, knocking him to his knees with a huff of breath. “Just to make sure we are absolutely on the same page, why don’t we start from the top?” Ethan’s words came in quick breaths. “You always did prefer the top.” Giles had had enough of the quips and antagonizing. He could feel Ripper swelling up inside him, and for the first time in a long time he welcomed it. This was an interrogation. As much as he tried to be the kind gentleman, that just wasn’t who he was. At the same time, he wasn’t that reckless fool he’d been in his youth. There had to be some kind of middle ground, but he’d never managed to find it. Perhaps he could use this as an opportunity to try again. “Ethan, I will say this only once, so please pay attention,” Giles spoke with a cold calmness, determined that he would maintain his self control. “I don’t know why you decided to come back here, and quite frankly I don’t care. You will tell me what you know, and once I’ve confirmed the information, you will be released. I highly suggest you take this mercy I’m offering to heart. There will not be a second offer. Do you understand?” The man in front of him nodded silently. “Good. Now, I’m going to render you unconscious as nicely as I can, because I don’t want to clean blood from my carpet. I’m expecting company, so you will remain quiet when you wake up. Do you understand?” Ethan sighed, but nodded again. Good. It seemed that slipping into his most threatening visage had the desired effect. Ethan was an idiot, but he knew Giles, and he knew when it was time to stop joking and start listening. “If you do decide to scream, or call for help in any way, you should know, these are not the kind of people who would come to your aid.” He grabbed Ethan, spinning him and putting him in a headlock. He’d have a terrible headache when he woke up, but at least he wouldn’t be bleeding from a head wound. He struggled, despite knowing the inevitable. He’d be unconscious in less than a minute, and then shackled as Giles had originally intended before this game of cat and mouse had started. As Ethan slumped against him, there was a rapping at his door. “Oh, for heaven’s sake.” Giles muttered under his breath. Then, louder, “Give me a few moments, if you’d please.” Nothing would go right that day, would it? Of course, it had been a typical Buffy birthday. What would it have been without enemies old and new popping up? He could only hope that Willow and Tara had made some progress and had good news for him. Or that Xander had somehow procured something akin to another rocket launcher. He dragged Ethan back to the bathroom, fastened the shackles around his wrists and ankles, and let out a sigh. Good Lord, he needed a drink already. The expensive scotch. Hoping the children at the door would be content to impatiently knock on his door for a few moments more, he poured himself a glass, caging away Ripper with each swallow and letting the mild mannered Watcher persona settle over him like an old, familiar coat.
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November 18, 2020 19:57