Buffy opened the door after the second knock, a small smile appearing on her face. “Hey…”
“Hello.” Giles said softly, clearing his throat. “Sorry to just drop in.”
She arched an eyebrow at him and took a step back – the usual silent invitation to enter. “One, you have a key. Two, you don’t need to be asked to come over. Three…why do you even knock when we spend every night together?”
He stepped inside and shrugged his jacket off. “Because this is your home and I try to be a gentleman.”
She snorted a soft laugh, taking his jacket and hanging it up next to hers. “Tea or beer?”
He glanced into the living room, quickly noticing that the television was on. “What are you watching?”
“Why are you trying to make small talk?” She countered, suddenly somewhat concerned.
“Because I need to talk to you.” He replied after a slight hesitation.
She exhaled a deep breath and gestured towards the sofa. “That’s never an ominous sentence.”
She followed him into the living room, flicking the television off and tossing the remote onto the coffee table. She sat down on one end of the sofa, watching him curiously as he sat down and rubbed his palms against his thighs.
“Okay, yeah…this – ” She gestured vaguely in his direction with a wave of her hand. “ – is doing nothing but making me super nervous. So, I’m just gonna say…out with it, Giles.”
He opened his mouth, then closed it. Then he looked at her and sighed heavily.
“I’m just not sure how you’re going to react.” He admitted quietly.
She looked at him closely for a moment and then tilted her head slightly. “Did you get someone pregnant?”
His eyes widened and he looked nearly offended at the thought. “No.”
“Are you breaking up with me?” She continued, her voice calm and soothing.
He shook his head slowly. “No.”
The corner of her mouth twitched gently. “Then I’m pretty sure I can handle anything you throw at me.”
“Ethan called.” He blurted, swallowing when her brow furrowed.
“Well, I can honestly say I wasn’t expecting you to say that…”
“Neither was I. Until this morning, that is.” He replied quietly.
“This morning?” She glanced at the clock.
Giles lowered his gaze.
“Giles, it’s almost 8:30.”
Giles nodded slowly, nervously twisting the ring on his pinky finger.
She reached over and placed her hand on his arm, curling her fingers to rest against his inner wrist. “Why didn’t you come sooner?”
“I needed to process what he said.” He answered softly, lifting his eyes back to hers. “I also needed to figure out…how to talk to you about what I need to talk to you about.”
She decided this wasn’t the time to tease him about his wording. Instead, she gently rubbed her fingers against his skin. “And that’s what you came up with? ‘I need to talk to you’ and then ‘Ethan called’?”
“Granted, that plan needed a bit more work.” He said with an inaudible chuckle. “I honestly didn’t know how you would react. Your interactions with Ethan have never been…amicable, really.”
Buffy snorted a laugh. “Well, each time he showed up in Sunnydale he either tried to kill me or you – sometimes both of us. So, yeah…can’t say I want to be buddy-buddy with him.”
She watched Giles closely as he nodded absently. When he didn’t say anything, her fingers stopped their movement.
“But, you do?”
“I do…what?” He asked, glancing down at her hand. “Want to be friends? I don’t know.”
She swallowed the lump that had suddenly appeared in her throat. “Do you want…more? With him?”
His eyes snapped back to hers and he covered her hand with his. “No, love. Those days are long gone. That is not a path I want to reopen. But, he’s going through something…and he’s reached out to me, to us…”
“Us? He wants me involved in whatever it is that – ”
“I’m fairly certain he doesn’t want you involved.” He took a deep breath, pausing momentarily before continuing. “However, it’s an issue of vampiric activity…therefore, you are the one person who can help him more than anyone else possibly could.”
Buffy’s eyes widened. “He’s a fucking vampire now?”
“His sister.” Giles whispered.
“His sister. The one you – ”
“No.” He interrupted quickly, shaking his head. “No, his younger sister. Half-sister, technically. She’s quite a bit younger than Ethan…his father’s second marriage.”
“What does he want you to do?”
He shot her a look of confusion. “What do you mean?”
“Well…he knows there’s no cure for vampirism, right? I mean…there’s only one thing that can be done.” She answered, sliding her fingers between his.
“Oh.” He sighed, curling his fingers around hers. “Yes, he understands. He knows how this works.”
Buffy thought for a long moment and then exhaled a slow breath. “Okay, so how do we find her?”
“She’s in Ethan’s basement.” When she stared at him in disbelief, Giles took a deep breath. “She’s…restrained and being fed. He was trying to keep her safe…while he was looking for a cure.”
“He understands, Buffy. That’s why he called me. He understands what needs to be done. He just can’t bring himself to do it.”
“Fair enough. But, if we get there and it’s some sort of trick – ”
“It’s not.” He whispered.
“If it is, he’ll regret ever calling you. That, I guarantee.”
“You can’t fake the type of pain I heard in his voice. This isn’t a ruse. He didn’t want to call me…he just had no one else he could trust.”
She hesitated only a moment before giving him a nod. “Okay, I’ll go pack a bag. Tell him we’re on our way.”
She leaned into him, gently brushing her lips over his. “I love you, you know.”
“I love you, too.” He replied, his breath warm against her lips.
He reluctantly let go of her hand as she pulled away. She gave him a gentle smile, glancing at the phone.
“I’ll just be a few minutes.”
He nodded silently, watching her leave the room. He swallowed thickly and reached over, picking up the phone. He collected his thoughts, then cleared his throat as he punched in the numbers. He rubbed the back of his neck, waiting for his call to be picked up.
And then he heard the voice of his old friend. He closed his eyes and lowered his head.
* * *
A little over an hour later, Giles pulled the car into the driveway and killed the engine. When he didn’t make a move to open the door, Buffy reached over and placed her hand on his thigh. She was somewhat surprised when he jumped as though he was startled.
“Clara had…well, it was just a high school crush…”
“I would’ve been more surprised if she hadn’t had one.” She smiled softly when he turned his head towards her. “What? I’ve seen pictures of you from that era…and there were plenty of high school crushes on you in Sunnydale.”
“Be that as it may…I’ve never had to be directly involved in the death of someone who had…”
Buffy regarded him closely as he trailed off. “It was more than a crush, wasn’t it?”
“She said it was.” He admitted, glancing back towards the house.
“But, you didn’t…go there?”
He shook his head, pulling the keys from the ignition. “There was an innocence about her that completely surprised me – considering her siblings. It was refreshing – and I would have destroyed that had I allowed myself to take advantage of her feelings.”
“Well, that wasn’t very Ripper of you.”
“No, it wasn’t.” He agreed, a sad smile playing on his lips. “That caused more arguments between Ethan and myself than would have occurred had I taken her to bed.”
“Interesting.” She reached up, running her fingertips through his hair. “I can do this on my own.”
“No. No, I should be there. Ethan is going to need a friend.”
Buffy arched an eyebrow. “And that’s you?”
“I think it has to be.” He answered quietly. “I know that concerns you, but this is going to be incredibly distressing for him.”
“Yeah…it is.” She responded, resting her hand against his nape. “But, you have to promise me that you’ll be careful. I mean…he’s still Ethan.”
He looked into her eyes and gave a nearly imperceptible nod. “Not the Ethan you remember. Not any longer. This…among other happenings…has changed him.”
“Other happenings? What other happenings?”
“Another story for another time. Let’s just deal with this at the moment, okay?”
“Okay.” She answered hesitantly. “You ready?”
He snorted a soft laugh that held no humour. “Not at all.”
With that, he opened the car door and climbed out. He took a deep breath as he slipped his keys into his pocket. He stared at the house while he waited for her to join him. When he felt her hand slide into his, he gently squeezed and led her up the path towards the front steps.
The door opened just as they stepped onto the porch. Giles’ eyes narrowed, Buffy’s widened – they both allowed their gazes to drift down and then back up. Ethan stood there…eyes dull and sad, lips pressed together, clothes saturated with blood. There was so much blood…running down his arm, dripping from his fingertips.
Giles opened his mouth, flinching when Ethan shook his hand. Blood splattered onto the porch floor, causing Buffy to take half a step back. Giles tilted his head slightly and glanced at Ethan’s neck. Ethan rolled his eyes – and if the situation hadn’t been so serious, Buffy would have laughed.
But, it was serious. Extremely serious. And there was no laughter.
Giles coughed lightly, releasing Buffy’s hand. “Hello, Ethan.”
“Hello, Ripper.” A faint smile appeared on his lips when Buffy raised an eyebrow. “Rupert.”
“And this would be?” Giles asked, gesturing towards the blood on the floor at their feet.
“Feeding time.” Ethan offered as an explanation. “She took great offense to being given pig blood. Normally, it’s not such an offense – however, I believe she suspects that it would have been her last meal.”
He took a step back from the door and looked at them expectantly. When they both walked inside, he closed the door and sighed.
“My apologies for not properly inviting you inside. The last time I did that…well, let’s just say that I learned my lesson in regards to inviting people I ‘know’ into my home…”
“Ethan, I’m really very sorry.” Giles said sincerely.
“Yeah, me too.” Ethan said, turning his eyes to Buffy. “Unfortunately, you were my last resort.”
“I’m sorry that I’m a resort, at all.” Buffy replied, gently placing her hand on Ethan’s arm. “How did this happen?”
Ethan’s brow furrowed. “Pretty sure you know exactly how it happened.”
“I think she means…what details can you give us?” Giles interjected softly. “Where was she? Who turned her? When did it happen?”
“I don’t know the answers for the first two – she wouldn’t tell me anything and I wasn’t with her. As for when it happened…she showed up here a year ago. I don’t think she’d been a vampire for very long before that.”
Giles stared at Ethan. “A year? You’ve had a vampire in your basement for a year?”
Ethan’s eyes glistened. “Like I said…this is my last resort.”
“Jesus, Ethan…” Buffy whispered.
“I’m sorry to ask this of you. I just…can’t…do it myself.” He cleared his throat as a single tear slipped down his cheek.
“I understand. We understand.” She paused for a moment and then offered him a small smile. “Why don’t you go get changed and stuff while we get things prepared.”
Ethan looked down at his clothes and chuckled. “Yeah, I probably should. I, uh…I’ll….”
He shook his head slowly and simply walked out of the room. Buffy looked up at Giles, who had his eyes trained on the hallway that Ethan had just disappeared into.
“You’re right. He has changed.”
Giles nodded absently, but said nothing.
Buffy placed her bag on the coffee table and began unpacking.