Disclaimer: Buffy the Vampire Slayer belongs to Joss Whedon. I just borrow his characters now and again.
Summary: Set after Through Good and Bad and Apocalypse. Ethan escapes from the Watchers Council and comes after Giles once more, but this time his tactics are different. "Am I Mithridates' blood or meat?" becomes a riddle that will push the Scoobies to their limits and force Giles to overcome his demons. Can they save the day when everything but their minds is against them or will Ethan come out of his game victorious after all?
Notes: Thanks to littleotter73 for being my eternally patient beta and for sticking with me through the horrors of my first draft and thanks to gilescandy for being insanely encouraging throughout.
Buffy lifted the lid of the teapot. "How can you tell when it's ready or not?" she called out from the kitchen.
Giles sighed and got up from the sofa. Gently laying a bookmark across the page, he wandered over to the kitchen counter, placing his book on the table as he passed. Buffy saw him appear and held the teapot over for him to look into. "No."
"No?" Buffy asked, tilting the pot back to her and swirling it a little so the tea caught the light.
Giles shook his head and carefully contorted his face into a mask of disgust. "No."
Buffy laughed, "Well you do it then." She placed the pot on the counter between them and walked out of the door to the sofa Giles had been sitting on, making a short detour to pick up his book on the way. "I'll be over here reading about..." She tilted the spine so she could see it. "About Latin phrases and their integration into modern languages," she paused for a moment until she heard him sigh before finishing, "and tutting. There will be lots of tutting, and silently judging the American who's trying to make tea."
Giles smirked a little and took another look at the teapot before picking it up and walking into the kitchen proper, pausing to tip it down the sink before starting again.
Buffy heard the drain gurgle and looked up from the paragraph on the modern English uses of 'Modus operandi' to shout, "It wasn't that bad!" Giles ignored her and went back to making tea. When he didn't reply Buffy looked down at the book again:
'Modus Operandi, when loosely translated into modern English means "Method of operation". This phrase has come to be used in many correct, and many incorrect ways throughout modern history. One example of it being used incorrectly is...' "It can't have been as bad as this book anyway!" She shouted, not looking up from the page.
"I'll have you know that is a very well written, informative, interesting book." Giles voice came from beside her ear. Buffy jumped, "And you must have been absorbed in it, you normally hear me coming."
Buffy frowned. "Was not."
"Assuming Xander wasn't lying to make me sound like an idiot the correct response here is, 'Was too'?"
Buffy giggled, "Correct. Now sit down and tell me why my tea was, 'No'."
Giles placed the tray on the table and poured her a cup of tea, "Do you see how the colour is different?"
Buffy squinted, "No."
He frowned, "Perhaps it's the light," He tilted the cup a little more towards her. "Can you see it now?"
She shook her head, sensing his frustration. "Still no, sorry."
He settled the cup again and ran his fingers through his hair. "Right, well, um-" he stuttered, moving his hand back to the tray.
Buffy caught his wrist, "Giles. Giles it doesn't matter. Don't get worked up over it."
Giles snatched his wrist away, "I'm not getting worked up," he snarled. "If you'd just look-"
The anger left his eyes at once. "I- I'm so sorry, I wasn't thinking, I-"
"Giles, it's ok." Buffy soothed.
Giles stood up and wandered off towards the back of the room. "No it's not. I should never have spoken to you like that, I just-"
Buffy was behind him before he realised, gently placing her hand on his back, "I know."
"Bloody Rayne." Giles muttered, turning to face Buffy.
"You're doing well Giles," Buffy murmured, looking into his eyes. "You're doing so well."
Giles slumped, "Your lies are beautiful Buffy, thank you."
"And your lies are terrible, darling," she replied. "But I pretend to believe them. It's polite."
"What do you-"
Buffy sighed and began to gently repeat his lies, "I'm fine. Of course I went to bed, I was a few minutes after you and I woke up early. Of course I haven't been drinking. There's nothing wrong."
Giles looked away. "I-"
"You don't have to pretend with me. And I'm not going to push you. I just- I just wish you'd be more open with me. I know you hate what Ethan did to you. But you aren't broken, You're Giles. All that happened was that you changed a little."
Giles inclined his head in grudging acceptance.
"Look, I'm gonna go out on a quick patrol. Go get some sleep ok?"
Giles nodded, "What about the tea?"
"I'll take it in a flask on patrol." Giles' look of disgust elicited a small smile, "Look, it's the flask or the sink for it."
"But I could-"
"You're taking a sleeping pill with some water and going to bed."
Giles nodded slightly, "The flask is in the top left cupboard, before you ask."
Buffy frowned, "But it goes in the-"
"It goes in the top left cupboard, you always put it in the wrong place when it's your turn to wash up."
"Ooh, it's Mr Snarky the dishwasher. Go to sleep."
"Yes, dear." Giles chuckled before wandering into the bathroom to get his tablets.
Giles swung his legs out of bed, wincing as his bare feet touched the cold floor. He wandered over to the side of the room to grab his robe before descending the stairs, pulling it on as he went. He enjoyed mornings when Buffy was late in from patrol. He could potter around as slowly as he wanted and make whatever he wanted for breakfast without her telling him about the evils of carbs or sugars or whatever substance magazines were set against that week. He also enjoyed the moments of silence after she got in and they'd just sit, in peace. Not that he'd ever admit it of course.
Ethan leaned back, spreading his arms wide across the back of the sofa. Buffy lay unconscious in front of him, stretched across the bed, ropes tying her down. He enjoyed the view for a moment before picking up a camera and taking some photos of her. Then, with a smile stretched across his face he leaned into frame and, holding the camera with one hand he raised a sign with the other, "Two days." Then, picking up the photo he slipped from the room, locking the door behind him.
There was a knock at the door. "Honestly, Buffy, some days I think sticking your keys to your forehead would be a bloody good idea!" He called out, pulling open the door. He trailed off when he opened the door to find no-one there. On the mat was a photo. He picked it up and turned it over before immediately slumping against the doorframe. After a moment he stumbled back inside. His hands shaking so much he could barely dial, he rang Xander.
"Giles. What did I tell you about calling me before ten?" Xander groaned.
The fear in Giles voice woke him up. "Giles? What is it?"
Giles found it almost impossible to answer as his entire body shook with uncontrollable fear, yet through it all he managed to croak out one word. "Ethan."
Xander stiffened, his face draining of colour. "I'm coming. Ok? Hold on."
Giles dropped the phone and sunk down the wall, his eyes boring into the photo still clutched in his hand, the faces blurring as he shook.
"Xander, slow down!" Willow yelled, grasping the dashboard as Xander tore around another corner.
Xander looked over at her for a second before turning back to the road. "He said Ethan, Willow! Ethan! We've got to help him."
"We can't help him if we're dead!" she yelped as they screeched to a halt at a set of traffic lights. "Next time, I'm driving."
Xander turned to her, his eyes dark with concern. "You didn't hear his voice Will. We need to get there!" he yelled at the traffic lights.
Willow nodded, "Turn left."
"It's got a lower speed limit but seeing as we're totally ignoring that it'll be faster. No traffic lights."
Xander slowly turned his head to her. "Have I ever told you how much I love you?"
Willow opened her mouth to reply but as she did the lights changed and Xander took her advice, throwing her across the car. "XANDER!"
When they arrived Giles was propped against the wall beside the phone, silent tears flowing from his eyes.
Xander stepped over to him, "Giles?"
Giles looked up and unspeaking handed him the photo.
Xander looked at it and swore, handing it to Willow.
"We've got to find them."
Willow shrugged, "I'm gonna take a closer look at the photo, Xan, can you take Giles upstairs and deal with the almost naked thing?"
Giles got to his feet slowly, his shaking starting to subside, and followed Xander up the stairs. They arrived at his room and Xander wandered over to the wardrobe. "What do you want to wear?" he asked, opening the doors and looking back at Giles as he stepped slowly across the carpet. Xander skipped past Buffy's section of the wardrobe before pulling out a dark blue shirt, "What about this?" He turned to find Giles right behind him, and jumped slightly having not heard his approach. It seemed that working in a library truly could make someone walk silently. It was either that, or the lack of shoes.
Ignoring Xander, Giles pulled out a faded black Cream T-shirt and worn blue jeans. At Xander's stare he shrugged and said hoarsely, "Comfort clothes."
Xander smiled, how had he not thought of that? "I get it. I've got a sweater I always wear when I'm, well... not so good." He started to leave, "Well, I'll be downstairs. Call if you need me."
Giles nodded and began to rifle his drawers for underwear.
Willow looked up as Xander galumphed down the stairs. "How is he?" she whispered.
Xander shrugged silently, he had no idea how to explain whatever was going on in Giles' mind. The sooner they found Buffy the better.
Willow stared blankly at Giles when she saw him, his Doc Martins echoing on the hard floor.
Xander noticed and said in a tone that claimed to explain everything, "Comfort clothes."
"Right." Willow nodded slowly.
Giles picked up the photo and stared at it for a moment before looking up, anger rising in his once bright eyes. When he spoke his voice was harsh, the words forced out. "I'm going to kill him."
"Giles-" Willow began.
Giles' head snapped round and he stood, towering over her. "No! Rayne has gone too far this time. Too fucking far!"
"Then let us help," Xander soothed, tugging the photo from Giles' grip. "Look, he obviously took it in a hotel room, he has nowhere to stay."
"He could be in an abandoned house..."
"The bed has clean sheets. It's a hotel."
Giles began to calm down and nodded slowly. "Remember when the council found him last time?"
Willow blinked in recognition and then her eyes widened. "They took photos of him in custody for Buffy, so she knew they'd got him!"
"The bedsheets are the same pattern."
The photos were in a small envelope alongside a letter written in a spidery hand:
As you requested, the Watchers Council has apprehended the chaos mage Ethan Ryane and will be holding him in custody until such a time as we deem his release an appropriate move. You have our assurance that he will not be released without prior consultation with Mr Giles. This is the photographic proof you requested or Mr Raynes' apprehension. We found him at a small motel a few miles west of Sunnydale.
Head of the Special Operations division of the Watchers council of Great Britain.
On the back of each photo a date was written in the same handwriting, "08/05/2001"
Willow immediately booted up the computer and soon had a list of twenty motels West of Sunnydale. Xander mentioned that a few miles probably meant under ten miles away not the fifty miles that Willow had set up as the search parameters and soon the list was reduced to four motels. Through the entire process Giles paced the room, muttering what Xander suspected to be curses under his breath in ancient Greek, or perhaps it was Sumerian.
Giles insisted on speaking to the owner of each motel they visited, each conversation ending with him swearing at someone or simply storming out. Despite this setback, they finally found Ethan's motel. Willow extracted the room number from a slightly frightened owner and they made their way upstairs. When they got there Willow began to cast a spell to unlock the door but Giles just kicked it in.
They burst into the room to find it empty except for a small envelope on the bed. Giles walked over to the envelope feeling numb and slowly opened it, inside was a greetings card with the front stamped with garishly coloured letters reading, "Congratulations!"
Inside was a message:
Well done Ripper! You found me after all, but I plan to take you on a merry chase before you get your lovely wife back. Tick tock, dear, the deadline still stands, and trust me when I say, if you don't bring her the antidote in time the results could be, well, fatal.
Giles bellowed and punched the wall but Willow was already rummaging around in the envelope. "Aha!"
Xander looked over. "What?"
She held up a small map, and two vials, wrapped around each of them was a thin strip of paper.
Giles turned back to her and, breathing heavily, watched as she unwrapped the paper from the body of each vial, each read exactly the same: Am I Mithridates' blood or meat?
Xander shook his head. “I don't get it.”
Giles looked up, his eyes pained, though when he spoke his voice held no emotion. "One of them is poison and one is the antidote."
Xander shook his head again. "No, still don't get it."
Giles stood silently for a while, "It's a myth. King Mithridates could not be poisoned for he laced his blood with the greatest antidote ever known, Mithridate. His blood was said to be in itself an antidote, but as the story of his invulnerability spread across the land, people came to poison the king, tainting his meat, his drink, everything. It was said he was so resilient he failed to even poison himself. When I was young I gave Ethan a book of poetry by A. E. Housman. It contains one that reads,
'There was a king reigned in the East:
There, when kings will sit to feast,
They get their fill before they think
With poisoned meat and poisoned drink.
He gathered all that springs to birth
From the many-venomed earth;
First a little, thence to more,
He sampled all her killing store;
And easy, smiling, seasoned sound,
Sate the king when healths went round.
They put arsenic in his meat
And stared aghast to watch him eat;
They poured strychnine in his cup
And shook to see him drink it up:
They shook, they stared as white's their shirt:
Them it was their poison hurt.
--I tell the tale that I heard told.
Mithridates, he died old.'
Trust me, one will kill her and the other will save her."
Willow almost dropped the vials in shock. "But why?"
Giles voice was so emotionless now it almost terrified her, "Because it's fun for him, Willow. Why else?"
Ethan patted Buffy's thigh as he stood and looked out of the window "He's out there you know. Looking," he said softly to her unconscious form. "I wonder if he got my card..."
"Why would he give us a map that leads us to the middle of the park, it makes no sense!" Willow cried, checking the grid reference. "There's nothing here!"
Xander looked around. "Are you sure we're in the right place?"
Willow looked angrily at him. "Yes! We are at One-Eight-Four Three-Eight-Six and he drew the arrow to One-Eight-Four Three-Eight-Six!" Then, seeing his hurt look she went to apologise but he cut her off.
"Are you sure it's a map reference?" Xander asked. "It could be a serial number, a password, a super secret code, hell it could even be a locker combination!"
Giles' head snapped up, "What did you say?" His tone was sharp, attentive.
Xander frowned, "It could be a locker combination..."
"No, the bit about a code..." Giles trailed off and stood for a moment to think. "One-Eight-Four-Three-Eight-Six. Split it into sets of twos." He fumbled in his pocket for some paper and a pencil. "One-Eight, Four-Three, Eight-Six." He wrote the numbers across the top of the paper and quickly wrote out the poem he had recited in the hotel room. "If you take the first letter of each page as a line and the second as a word in that line it reads, "East, Meat, Store." He circled each word as he said it.
Xanders eyes widened. "The abandoned butchers shop on East Street."
Ethan watched them coming down the street, Giles dressed in full Ripper garb. He almost stayed to get a closer look, but instead turned and placed his final clue on Buffy's chest. Leaning into her he whispered gently into her ear, "You should really get him to dress like that more often, it does wonders for his libido." He began to leave before pausing and looking back at her. Then he opened his mouth to speak again but thought better of it, instead, squaring his shoulders and slipping from the room.
Giles stood beside Buffy his hand curled protectively across her cheek. He was almost scared to pick up the letter on her chest. Willow did it for him.
It's a shame I can't see you but my talents are needed elsewhere. I hope you arrived in time or my present may just be a dead body. You have done well solving the puzzles I set for you though. I do hope you use the right vial. Wouldn't want any accidents now, would we?
(May the ingredients weigh true)
Xander took the note from her, "May the ingredients weigh true? What the hell is he trying to say?"
Giles took the vials out of his pocket. "Willow, find me some scales."
She nodded and walked off, finding a set of electronic scales under the counter, obviously placed there by Ethan. Giles, without speaking, placed the vials on it in turn, muttering out the weights, "0.2234" He shook his head and placed the second vial on the scale, "0.2254" He smiled a little but re-weighed the vials, then he picked up the second one. "It's this one."
"This one is the antidote," he announced triumphantly.
Willow frowned. "Are you sure?"
"'May the ingredients weigh true.' Each one has around 0.22 grams of fluid, the standard needed for this antidote. But they vary slightly." He showed Willow the vial. "This one weighs exactly 0.0054 grammes over. There are 54 ingredients in the most common version of Mithridate. This is the antidote." He then stepped back over towards Buffy and picked up the syringe Ethan had left by her hand. Xander shifted nervously as Giles prepared the syringe. When it was ready Giles looked back and at Xanders encouraging nod he stabbed the needle into Buffys arm. As the pale liquid was released they all stilled.
Immediately tears formed in Giles eyes, and he threw himself over her, holding her close as she woke. "Oh god, Buffy, I was so worried," he whispered into her hair between tears.
She extracted herself from him and looked around the room, bewildered. "What the hell happened?"
Xander grinned, "Really long story."
"It can wait until we get you home," Willow chimed in.
Buffy nodded and turned to Giles. "Ok, but one thing can't wait. Why the hell don't you wear that more often?"
In the dark, surrounded by his family, safe and secure and feeling more confident than he had in years, Giles smiled. "You don't ask me to."
Months later, as she was dozing off to sleep Buffy realised something. "You know what?" She muttered, turning her head on the pillow to face Giles.
Buffy placed her hand on his chest gently, "This whole thing with Ethan... It's almost as if you got the antidote thing, not me."
"Mithridate." Giles sighed.
"Whatever. All I know is that you said it was supposed to cure anything-"
"Well, not anything, it only works on-"
"Shh." Buffy chuckled, placing her finger in his lips gently. "Anyway, It's supposed to cure anything and you are so much better. You sleep. You've stopped drinking too much. You have nightmares so infrequently now... I almost feel like we should send Ethan a thank-you card."
Giles frowned and gently moved her finger away, "I wouldn't. He may do something like this again."
Buffy laughed. "Good point."