Chapter 2 – Voices in the Dark
“Why are we stopping while it’s still daylight,” Giles grumbled.
“Because,” Ethan called through the open access door and the dark curtain as he concentrated on backing into the parking space in front of their motel room. “Not so long ago, someone saw fit to break a great majority of my ribs. And, even though the magick is holding them firm as they knit, there is still a bit of pain involved. I can’t sit in this bloody van any longer. Therefore, unless you want to come up here and drive us into the sunset…”
“This is humiliating,” the vampire growled.
Dawn giggled as she helped wrap a protecting blanket around him. “The door is only a few feet away. Ethan will have it opened for you and all you need to do is cross the sidewalk and get inside.”
“And why does the blanket have to be pink?”
“It’s a gift from Cordy,” his young friend grinned. “She wanted to make sure you thought of her every time you used it. Remember what she said? She has an in with the PTB, and if you ever think about getting a nice tan again, she’ll make sure they tell us exactly where to find you.”
Giles began to protest, “I’m…” but stopped when he caught a glint of worry in the lantern light reflected in the girl’s eyes. “I’m not going to do that again,” he continued softly, ghosting his fingers across her cheek. “I promised to stay with you and, if I fail in that promise, it will not be by my choice.”
“Dawn, Luv,” Ethan called from the front. “Why don’t you come in and make sure the room is safe for our photosensitive friend with me. We’ll knock on the back when we’re ready for you, Ripper.”
The vampire gave a nod and was again left alone to wait in the darkness.
Three solid knocks came quicker than Giles had expected. The van doors flew open and he was off and across the strip of sunlight in a flash.
“Safe,” Dawn laughed as he whipped past her. “Didn’t even start smoking.”
“You seem disappointed,” Giles groused as he disentangled himself from the blanket.
“Come now, Ripper. No need to sound petulant.” Ethan entered, carrying some small travel bags, and shut the door. “I’m sure you’ve done your share of teasing the bloodsuckers in the past.”
“I feel petulant,” the vampire grumbled. “And Dawn knows I’m not cross with her.” He turned soft eyes on the girl to make sure. She stepped in and wrapped her arms around him with a giggle. Giles tenderly returned her hug. “You, on the other hand, have much to answer for.”
Ethan spread his long body along one of the two double beds in the room. “And what have I done this time?” he sighed.
“Why are there only two beds? Why didn’t you get a suite like before? I told you I would handle the cost.”
“Ripper, I know you haven’t had a chance to look around, but we aren’t in the metropolis anymore. This is the best you can expect from a highway-side motel. And short of getting young Dawn her own room…” The watcher growled at that idea. Ethan nodded knowingly, “We both promised to keep her safe. This is the best way.”
“And just how do you envision the sleeping arrangements?”
The chaos mage gracefully shifted to one side of the bed with a growing grin. “I’d be perfectly happy to share. I can ‘envision’ a lovely night with either of you… or both,” he added slyly.
“Why you dirty, miserable old fuc--”
“Giles,” Dawn’s soft voice stopped him mid-rage. “It’s fine. He’s messing with you on purpose.” She sent a pointed glare at the other man. “You know that getting you all worked up is his idea of fun.”
“Better than anyone,” he growled.
“You can share the bed with me, and we’ll leave him all alone. That’ll teach him.”
Ethan gave an over-dramatic sigh of defeat, making her laugh.
“No,” Giles breathed with a small smile, finally accepting that he was doomed to be forever picked on. “You need your space to be comfortable. You each take a bed and I’ll sleep on the floor between.”
“But, it’s too hard. You can’t--”
“Luv, you’re looking at me and seeing an old man. And while that makes part of me very happy, the truth is I can sleep wherever I must. Be it stone crypts or sewers, this body will be no worse for it.”
“All right. Only if you promise to push me over if you get too uncomfortable.”
Ethan sat up with a flourish. “Right. Now that the two of you have decided to remain monumentally boring… What would the lady like to feast upon for her super tonight?”
“…Of course, they’re feeding me good stuff. What do you think, Buffy? I’m with Giles. Mister ‘eat your vegetables blah blah blah’.” Dawn spoke into the cellular phone as she picked up a slice of the greasiest pizza Giles had ever seen and took a huge bite. “I mean, it’s not like I’m with a bunch of stupid teenagers. I’m basically on vacation with an old married couple…”
Hearing this, Ethan exited the bathroom and strode up to wrap his long arms around his old friend from the side. “They grow up so fast, don’t they?” he cooed, then planted a big kiss on the vampire’s cheek.
“Get off, you bloody pillock,” Giles growled, pushing him away, yet being surprisingly mindful of Ethan’s sore ribs.
“Careful, Dear. Such language in front of the little one,” the mage teased.
“Shh,” Dawn hissed at them, trying not to laugh at their antics. “I’m on the phone here. No, Buffy. It’s a little town on the coast. Not sure of the name. We’re going for a walk on the beach as soon as the sun goes down in a few minutes.”
Giles watched her affectionately. “I can’t believe you got her that disgusting thing,” he whispered to the other man.
“Our princess wanted pizza. I accommodated.”
“At least she looks happy,” he sighed. “I can’t imagine…”
“Oh, come, Rupert. Remember when we were young. There were plenty of nights filled with decadent curries and gallons of whatever rot gut we could get a hold of. Among other delights,” Ethan added with waggling eyebrows. “Let her be young while she can.”
“To a point,” Giles added in slight warning. “Our youthful behavior is nothing for a young lady to strive for.”
“That, we can agree on.”
The Watcher chuckled as another slice disappeared. “You’d better get over there before the entire thing falls prey to a teenage appetite.”
“Ripper, youth is far behind both of us. If I ate that, it would make me pay dearly.” He picked up a plastic box containing a salad. “Here is my portion of the feast. This perfection doesn’t happen easily you know,” with a smirk, he lifted his shirt to show off an impressive abdomen.
“Hold on, Buff, let me put you on speaker. The boys are whispering again.”
“…I just wanted to let you know that we’re doing good here,” Buffy’s voice came through the tinny speaker. “Xand and I had to go back to work. Anya is full steam at the Magic Box. And Willow is getting stronger every day. Oh, speaking of Will… She was kinda hoping that Giles would be up to talking tonight. She misses him.”
Both Dawn and Ethan shook their heads sadly as the motel door clicked shut. “I’m sorry,” the sorcerer sighed. “He’s gone.”
“He’s… He’s probably right outside. I know he was looking forward to our walk. I could go and try to bring him back.”
“No,” Willow’s voice came on. “If he’s not ready yet, don’t push him. Just tell him I love him and can’t wait until he comes home.”
Dawn frowned. “Sorry, Willow. And I will tell him. I gave him your letter earlier today, but I’m not sure he’s read it. He’s still being really hard on himself.”
“That’s all right. Thank you for looking after him for me, Sweetie.”
“It’s my pleasure,” Ethan answered, making the girl grin. “Are you keeping up with the meditations I taught you, Dear? The overload of magick I gave you is still draining. I know you must be feeling it beneath your skin even now. But the chaos likes you. As long as you release it slowly, you’ll be fine.”
“Chaos likes me? That explains so much,” Willow snorted. “Yes, Ethan. Thank you. I do some everyday and it is helping me relax.”
“Again, my pleasure, Luv.”
Buffy’s voice returned. “And is Trouble-in-a-tacky-shirt behaving himself? Just tell me if I’m gonna have’ta kill him.”
Ethan brought his hand to his chest in a mock-hurt gesture and Dawn laughed. “He’s being a perfect gentleman. Still likes to pick on Giles, but not too bad. You don’t have to kill him, Buffy.”
“Besides,” the mage added. “If the time comes, I think it’s Ripper who’s earned the honor.”
“You really are a weird one, aren’t you?” The Slayer sighed heavily. “How is Giles doing, really?”
The two in the motel room shared a sad look. “It’s pretty bad, Buffy,” Dawn began. “It’s like he’s so scared of himself right now, he can’t even move. I try to help him, but I don’t know what more I can do.”
“Is he still big with the nightmares?”
Ethan answered, “I believe he never closes his eyes for long without seeing the atrocities his alternate-self committed. It’s beginning to show. I know Ripper is one of the undead, but the level of death he’s achieving at this point is not becoming on him. The man has always taken his own failings very hard. Yet, no one else can ever find the key to pulling him from a downward spiral. Your lovely sister is the best medicine for him at this juncture, Slayer. He would never do anything especially foolish with her here depending on him.”
“Thank you, Ethan,” Buffy whispered. “I would have never thought you’d be the man to look after anyone. But thank you for having my Watcher’s back.”
“Anything for the Summers women.”
“Buffy, I think I’d better go find him now. It’s dark enough we can go for our walk.”
“Tell him we all love him, Dawn. We love you, too. Goodbye.”
The phone clicked off and Dawn looked at Ethan. “So, are you coming?”
“I think I’ll stay here and do some healing meditation, Luv. You go show our man some of the beauty out there in the world.”
“I’m headed out for patrol, Wills. Need anything before I go?”
“I’m good, Hun!” Willow called from the bathroom. “You just be careful.”
“I always am. You get some sleep.” The front door clicked shut and locked.
Willow sighed at her reflection. “Sleep. Easier said than done.” She finished getting ready for bed and walked into her bedroom. A familiar figure sitting on the bed looked up at her. “OHMYGOD! Tara! Baby?” Tears ran down her face.
The lovely vision had a slight smile. “Hey, Will.”
“How are you here? I don’t understand…”
“Well, you didn’t expect me to just leave and not check in on you.”
“Tara,” Willow reached for her, but the blonde witch easily rose and crossed to gaze out the window. “I’ve missed you so much, Baby. I’ve needed you. You don’t know…”
“Oh I know,” Tara said lightly, still facing the window that had once been broken. “I’ve been watching you the whole time. Funny, something so tiny can fly into a room and change so much.”
Willow sat heavily on the bed and murmured, “You must be disappointed in me. The way I reacted when I lost you was--”
“I understand all that.” Tara turned back to her. “It was my fault because you weren’t ready to be alone again.”
“How can being murdered be your fault?”
The blonde flashed her pretty, shy smile.
“If it wasn’t for Giles and the others, I don’t know what would have happened.”
“He was really there for you when you needed him, wasn’t he?” Tara’s gaze dropped to the floor.
“Yes, he was. And I guess you must know how I ended up repaying him. I don’t know what to do, Tara. Now he’s suffering something I can’t even imagine. How can I help him?”
“Well, you did manage to go on and give him his pesky soul back.” The eyes that looked back up at
Willow were a touch too dark for her lover. Her voice had a hard edge it never had before. “You told him you love him.”
The redhead was taken aback for a moment. “O-of course, I did. I do. He needs me now and I’m not going to lie to him.”
“And, if you’re not lying to him, that must mean you spent all that time lying to me.”
“No, Baby,” Willow shot up and took a step forward reaching out. “No. I never… I did lie, but never about that. I loved you. I still do with all my heart.”
“I always knew that I was some kind of experiment. That what you really wanted was something else, something maybe not so soft.”
“It has nothing to do with that. I swear, Baby. He just happens to be, but that doesn’t make any difference to me. I love him because he’s Giles.”
“I knew you did. You have all along. Just used me as your play thing until you had your chance at that dirty, old… MAN!”
Willow’s knees felt week under the harsh accusations. Tara became a blurred form through the tears in her eyes. “No,” the witch whispered, trying to clear her whirling thoughts. “No, this isn’t right. My Tara would never be like this. She was an angel, a saint. She loved me and she loved Giles. And if she saw that we could be happy together, she’d be happy for us.” She stood straight and screamed at the intruder. “Whoever you are, you’re not my Tara! Get the hell out!”
The sound of slow clapping from behind her spun Willow around. “That went better than I expected.”
The witch gasped and jumped back. Tara was now gone and at the other end of the room stood… “Miss Calendar?”
“Gotta hand it to you, Kid. You’re a real go getter. Chasing after everything you want, not caring who you trample on the way. I always knew you’d be on top one day.”
“I… I don’t understand. Did I do something to upset you? Why would you use Tara against me?”
Jenny gave her a confident smile. “I wanted to see what you would do. Honestly, I’m impressed you saw through the image. Maybe you did learn some things about her while it was all about you.”
“All about…?” Willow angrily swiped the tears from her eyes. “It wasn’t all about me. I loved Tara.”
“Oh please,” her ex-teacher mocked. “You’ve always been out for yourself. Didn’t take you long to rip all you wanted from my life.”
“How can you say that? I was crushed when you died.”
“Oh, crushed…” Jenny mocked. “I’m sure you wept as you proceeded to then take my class… take and perform the spell I died for… take credit for bringing Angel back…” She paced easily around the room as she spoke. With a sharp turn back to Willow she concluded. “You know, I was fine with all that. Someone had to do it, and I was flattered you wanted to follow in my footsteps.”
“Of course, I did. You were one of the best people I knew.”
She jumped as Jenny’s face contorted into an ugly frown. “But now you’ve taken the last of what was mine and I can’t stand for that.”
“What… I… I didn’t…” Willow stumbled back from the frightening presence.
“You stole him right from my grasp. Rupert was to be mine. I was there waiting for him. My arms open and ready to at last hold him forever. But no! I had to watch as you brutally fed him to a vampire. You callously ripped his soul from his body and kept it all for yourself.”
“But you have to know we still needed him. We can’t handle any of this without him,” Willow cried her defense.
“Yes, it’s all about the cause, isn’t it? Nothing to do with any base personal desires,” Jenny spat. “Tell me how he felt against you, Little Girl. Still warm and hard? His battle torn hands gently worshiping your skin. His velvet lips breathing life into your soul. Tell me how he felt inside you. What it was like to share one flesh with him. I was murdered before I could know him completely, so you tell me what it is to have all of him!”
Willow collapsed against the bed under the force of the onslaught. “I can’t… I don’t know. None of that was him. It was the demon. Please, Jenny, I’ve never been with Giles that way.”
The ghost chuckled wickedly. “But you can’t wait, can you. You can’t wait to see how all of that feels. To taste his soul. You want him to come crawling back to you so you can claim him as all yours, just like everything else.” Jenny sneered down at the weeping girl. “You’re not worthy of him.”
The next moment Willow was alone in the dim room, balled up on the floor and trying to control her sobs.
Giles stood, watching his sleeping companions. The only light in the room was the glow of the digital clock proclaiming it to be a little past one in the morning. The occupants of the two beds were both breathing steadily, deep in peaceful sleep. He envied them that.
Ethan began to twitch uncomfortably, the pain in his ribs threatening to wake him. Giles silently crossed the room and sat on the edge of his bed. Placing his hand only centimeters over Ethan’s bare chest, he closed his eyes in concentration. The man settled back into a deep sleep, his pain gone. Even in the darkness, the vampire could see the large bruises still covering the sleeper’s chest as his nightshirt fell open. The twang of guilt he felt was useless, so he decided to focus on another thought, one that brought a slight smile to his lips. Because, while Ethan refused to fully button his pajama top, the ensemble he had taken to wearing to bed was still much more appropriate in Dawn’s presence than his preferred nighttime attire of their youth.
Giles flexed his hand, the skin growing deep purple and the bones creaking with phantom pain. He stood and headed back toward the open space of the room.
“Why don’t you just throw the poor bloke a bone for once?” the vision of Randall at his shoulder spoke. “We all gave into to the prat’s charms at some point back in the day. You were the only hold out, something of a mount bloomin’ Everest to our shag crazy little friend there. What’re you still holdin’ out on him for, Ripper? Not like the demon left you with any undiscovered territory. Hell, I’d bet for you he’d even play the submissive.”
“We’ve all had to grow up since you died, Randall. Even Ethan. There are more important things to life than sex,” Giles whispered to the ghost at his shoulder as he gazed down at his sleeping friend.
“Geez, never thought I’d hear you say a thing like that. The stud of the pack. You could pull a bird even if we stumbled into a bloody church.”
“That was a long time ago.”
Randall crossed in front of him and looked down at the peaceful form of Dawn. “Now I get it. This was always more your taste, innut mate? So young an’ innocent. So tasty.”
“Get away from her. She’s fifteen, you bloody fool.”
“Al’ite… not quite legal. Just how you used to go for ‘em.”
“We’re not in England, you stupid berk. Here, she’s far from legal. And I never pulled a girl who wasn’t my match. It was you and Philip who tended to go a bit too young. Free love is dead, Randall. As dead as you are. So step away from the girl before I make you.”
The vision smirked, but stepped back to where Giles stood. “You’re not as saintly as you think you are, Ripper. I know what you dream of, what you long for. The one back home waiting for you. She your match, ol’ man? Only a few years older than this little bit, innut she? Just on the verge of womanhood. And so limited in experience compared to you. Practically a virgin, too. But you can’t wait to get back into her little arms, her little bed. To wedge yourself back into her tight, juicy little cun--”
The vampire lunged at him with an angry growl, “You shut your filthy mouth.” But Randall easily avoided him.
“Gettin’ slow in your old age, mate,” he laughed. “What are you gonna do, kill me? Oh, but you did that, didn’t you?” His voice grew lower and his skin began to split and peel away just as it had the night Eyghon took him. “You put a demon inside me. Told me to trust that you had everything under control. But you didn’t, did you Ripper?” The vision became more and more gruesome, causing even Giles’ lifeless stomach to lurch. “You watched as the demon fought and I tried to rip it out of my own flesh. And when you couldn’t watch anymore, you killed me. Just like you’ll end up killing everything you’ll ever profess to love. It’s who you are, Rupert Giles.”
The ghost exploded in a cloud of smoke and ash as Giles turned and ran out into the night....To Chapter 3