estepheia: (Ethan)
[personal profile] estepheia
Drum roll. Here it is, the final part of my WIP of many years. Can't tell you how relieved I am. I think I may have had problems letting go (stories are so like children), because the chapter got longer and longer. Ordinarily, I'd say "murder your darlings", but I think in fanfic it's okay if there's a lot of angsty dialogue and not much else. ;) So, yeah, this could have been shorter, but I have to go with Mark Twain here: I honestly don't have the two years it would take to make this shorter. :D

Anyway, if you've been reading this from the beginning (and are still here): Thank you for your patience. If you're new to this: Fasten your seatbelt for a little roadtrip.

ENJOY!

TITLE: Broken English Part 18
PAIRING: Giles/Ethan
RATING: R (finally!)
SPOILERS: Set after 8x04 The Long Way Home (comics) - vaguely references the arc of the comics but goes AU; set in Germany
PROMPT: a vacation or roadtrip, magic, slash
WRITTEN FOR: [info]spikendru
Sorry, unbeta'd.
PREVIOUS PARTS: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10, Part 11, Part12, Part 13, Part 14, Part 15, Part 16, Part 17


“Who brought you back?” Giles asks the question that has been burning in his mind ever since Ethan stopped him at the autobahn exit. “Who are ‘they’?”

“Look, all this is still a dream; whatever I tell you now, the memory will scatter as soon as you wake up. I’ll explain everything, answer all your questions. But out there, in the real world. The truth, and nothing but the truth. Scout’s honour.”

Giles opens his mouth to object, but Ethan silences him with a lewd glance and a hand on his thigh, and suddenly more urgent matters require his attention…

***

Giles wakes, heart racing madly, feeling uncommonly chipper, yet at the same time bereft. His body is tingling, caught between keen arousal and warm afterglow. Vivid memories of an intensely erotic dream send a shiver through him.

Acute embarrassment spurs him awake. For Heaven’s sake, he’s not a teenager anymore! Fortunately, the memories are already fading, crumbling like sandcastles under the onslaught of the tide. All Giles has to do is let go…

Only this is more than just a dream. Giles sits up with a start.

Oh dear, he had sex with Ethan! Dreamspace-sex, but still. Mind-bendingly brilliant sex. With Ethan.

All watchers are familiar with dream recollection techniques. Giles is no exception. But this is the first time that memorizing a dream feels like fast-forwarding through a collection of blue movies: There are images of Ethan on his knees, sucking him off; of Ethan riding on his cock; of Giles trailing kisses down Ethan’s spine, of Giles going down on Ethan…. Did they really float again?

Suddenly, Giles feels hot under his collar.

Where is Ethan?

He takes in his surroundings, half expecting the old rogue to chuckle and reach for Giles’s raging hard-on. A glowing pebble is lying on the bare concrete, only a few yards away, radiating warmth like a campfire. Another pebble is giving off light.

Ethan is gone.

The discovery spurs Giles’s heart into another gallop, but if from knee-jerk suspicion or loss he can’t quite tell. In Ethan’s case the two are hard to tell apart.

Giles touches his temples. No horns. Good. Just because part of him wants to trust Ethan doesn’t mean he can. A quick check reveals that he is still human and in one piece. Even better: The pain in his ankle is gone, replaced by the warm tingle of healing magic.

A stray memory tumbles through his brain. Something Ethan said. Something to do with sunrise…

The room he is in has no windows, only two flights of stairs: one going up, one going down. Spurred on by a sudden and quite irrational sense of urgency, Giles rushes up the stairs.

 

He emerges in a large, dimly lit room that resembles the command bridge of an ocean liner. Huge panorama windows on all sides let in what little light there is. Of course, the tower has been completely gutted. Furniture, window panes, even the wiring, everything is long gone. Snow has drifted in, covering the floor near the windows.

The landscape surrounding the tower is cloaked in winter and eerily silent. The air is frosty, but, thankfully, the wind has gone to sleep. The cold has lost its edge.

Ethan is standing at the window, facing east, where dawn is slowly diluting the night’s blackness. He appears calm, but the rapid rise and fall of his chest gives his agitation away.

Snow creaks under Giles’s feet as he approaches his erstwhile friend.

Ethan turns to regard him, his expression unfathomable. “Come to say goodbye?”

“You promised me the truth. Now’s the time.” Giles keeps his voice business-like. “Start with the car crash.”

For a second Ethan looks crestfallen, but then he nods. “Someone hexed the car; put a jinx with a death clause on it. A lethal dose of bad luck, so to speak. I sensed it when it went off. My kind of spell: nifty, nasty. Only—“

“Only not this time?”

“Exactly.”

“I’m assuming there’s a reason why we aren’t dead?”

“Luck. A deer in our path took the fall for us.” For a moment Ethan hedges, but then he adds: “Also, I… uh… stopped it from leaping out of the way. When Bambi died the spell lost its momentum.”

Giles is not sure he likes the thought of a deer dying in his stead, and of owing his life to chaos magic. But then he and Buffy are already in Ethan’s debt for his help in saving Willow’s life…

“Abramelin’s Sacred Magic?”

“A dull read, if you ask me. Personally, I couldn’t care less who wins the auction…”

“Cut the flavor text!” Giles snaps.

Ethan lowers his gaze. “Rumor has it, the scriptio inferior deals with a prophecy about a forthcoming recreation of the universe. And I know for a fact that the Twilight Group has been after that book for some time. I thought if I helped you acquire it for your Council, maybe you’d consider…”

Giles frowns. “Consider what?”

“I thought that maybe you’d help me.” Ethan’s voice cracks. The fear Giles has been picking up from him all night, now it shoots to the surface like a diver who has run out of air.

“Help you? With what?”

“When they brought me back she said-”

“They?” Giles snaps. “She?”

“The Powers That Be.” Ethan hunches his shoulders and pushes both hands into his pockets. It gives him a sullen air that Giles remembers only too well. He turns his back on Giles to scan the horizon. “They sent this non-corporeal chit to talk to me. Twenty-four hours, she said, that’s all I get. A reprieve. From one sunrise to the next.”

Twenty-four hours!? Ethan’s words act like a bucket of ice-cold water: For a second, Giles’s breath seems to be trapped inside his chest, rendering him speechless.

When Ethan continues his voice sounds dull, reminding Giles of a cracked cup. "Twenty-four hours to put my affairs in order, she said. To sort out any unfinished business. Tell me, Rupert, what’s a man supposed to do with just one day before eternal damnation?”

Giles grabs Ethan by the shoulder and roughly yanks him around only to come face to face with a grimace of utter despair. He has never seen Ethan so terrified, not even when they unleashed the Sleepwalker.

He doesn’t even know what he’s going to say before the words burst free: “What did you do?”

“What did I—?” For a second, Ethan appears confused, but anger isn’t far behind. He shrugs off Giles’s hand and steps back, out of his reach. “Oh. Right. Is that what you think? That I sold you out? Made a deal?”

The truth is, Giles doesn’t know what to think, not yet, but he’s not going to advertise it. All he knows is that he needs to get to the bottom of this fast, because in the east, above the jagged crest of snow-laden treetops, the sky is already turning purple. The key to this is to keep Ethan talking; to strip away the half-truths and veiled insinuations, and, if necessary, Ethan’s pride, too.

“You’d sell your own mother for less,” Giles states with all the coldness he can muster. Meanwhile, his thoughts are racing, as he runs their entire encounter through his head again, everything Ethan said and did since his sudden reappearance. “I know you, Ethan. There you were, freshly resurrected, with the clock ticking. And you thought: ‘Sod this; I’m not going back, not if I can help it.’ You’re telling me you didn’t try to make a deal, to somehow buy yourself out of this mess?”

"Who’d I make a deal with? Come on, Rupert. I helped the Slayer. News like that travels fast. Demons and whathaveyou wouldn't touch me with a barge pole.”

“What about the Twilight cabal? They should be right up your alley.”

“Call me petty, but I don’t make deals with people who put a bullet in my brain." Ethan shakes his head. “No deals.”

That’s when everything finally starts to make sense: the COW-sign Ethan held up to stop him, even the three-piece suit and the old cold war stories about borders and defectors. Ethan is offering to work for the Watchers Council - in exchange for Giles’s protection. Only, being Ethan he can’t just come out with it, Oh no. Ethan has to waste precious time pussyfooting around. Inwardly, Giles berates himself. How could he have been so slow-witted?

Nevertheless, something in Ethan’s words doesn’t ring true.

Giles folds his arms in front of his chest. “So, you decided to come to me. What makes you think I’d help?”

“You really go for the jugular, don’t you, Ripper.” The look on Ethan’s face is indescribable. “What if I tell you I've changed, Rupert? That I'm a new man?"

"You're just wearing a new suit, that's all," Giles states harshly, but without raising his voice. “You invaded my dreams! You violated my privacy!”

“You liked it well enough when you were shagging me!” There’s enough acid in Ethan’s voice to eat through flesh and bone.

With great effort Giles manages to control his features.

Maybe he doesn’t know Ethan as well as he thinks, because what he gets instead of more accusations is an almost inaudible sigh and an unexpected confession: "You’re right, Rupert, maybe I haven't changed that much. But I’m willing to try."

"Because you're scared."

"Of course, I'm scared!” Ethan explodes. He starts to pace. “I'd be stupid not to. You don’t know what it’s like. Hell is—” He stops. When he continues his voice is hoarse. “It’s physical torture blended with emotional anguish. Hell is crawling over broken mirrors towards something that’s forever out of your reach."

"Or someone?" Giles asks, reading between the lines.

"Or someone." Ethan holds his gaze.

"What do you want from me, Ethan?"

Ethan pulls a cell phone from his pocket and offers it to Giles. “Looks like a mobile, I know, but it’s a conduit. To call the Powers.”

Giles makes no move to take it.

“Vouch for me, Rupert. Call the Powers and tell them you want me on your team or in your Council or whatever. Tell them I’m part of the war effort. Tell them your Slayer needs my knowledge and skills, or that you need to interrogate me. Tell them anything you want. Incarcerate me, if you must. I don’t care. But don’t let them take me!”

The hand holding the conduit-phone is shaking ever so slightly.

With great effort, Giles keeps his face impassive and his voice even. “How many of your chaos chums did you call for help before you came to me?”

Seconds tick away, until Giles no longer expects an answer.

Meanwhile, the eastern sky is blushing.

“Two.” Ethan finally admits. With a sigh he lowers the hand with the phone.

Giles nods. He did not expect to be at the top of Ethan’s list. Not really. The only real surprise is that Ethan decided to tell the truth, and that the truth stings, just a little.

“Ethan, I cannot help you, and you know it. The simple truth is: I can’t trust you. I can’t put Buffy or the Council or anyone else at risk, just because I’d like to see you safe and sound.”

Ethan nods, slowly, as though Giles just measured up to his expectations. “Tell me, Rupert, if I swore loyalty to your Council, would you trust me then?”

“You already gave your loyalty to Janus.”

“He didn’t exactly keep his side of the bargain, now, did he?” Ethan dredges up a quirky, lopsided grin that is full of self-mockery, but his strangled voice gives his hurt away. “Janus left me to rot in my cell, when I would have signed anything, would have made any kind of deal. None of the dark powers cared.”

"And that surprises you?! That's what happens, when you make deals with chaos!" Giles realizes he’s shouting and closes his mouth with a snap.

Ethan looks sheepish. "True, but I always assumed I'd find a way to, you know, come out on top."

“And that’s precisely why I can’t trust you.” Giles swallows. He can’t remember the last time he felt so utterly powerless. It gives him an inkling of what Buffy must have felt, when she realized that Dawn’s blood was already dripping into the dimensional rift… It takes all his self-control to keep his voice from cracking. “I’m sorry, Ethan. I truly am.”

Ethan does not answer. Instead, he quickly turns away, locking him out, but not before Giles has glimpsed his shattered expression.

 

Giles’s throat feels tight and sore, as though he’s being strangled. He casts about for something to say, but what comfort can he possibly offer to a man sentenced to eternal torment?

 

As Giles steps forward to join Ethan at the window, their hands touch – almost by accident.

A bitter pain blossoms inside his chest. Before he knows it, he’s caught Ethan’s hand. At first it feels limp with resignation but when Giles threads his fingers through Ethan’s, his erstwhile friend and lover holds tight with the desperation of a man about to fall off a cliff.

They stand like this for almost a minute.

Ethan’s rapid, panicked breathing cuts through the silence that surrounds the watchtower. Listening to his struggle for composure makes Giles feel like an intruder.

 

In the east the sky is bursting into colour. Streaks of pink and orange are bleeding across the firmament.

 

Ethan is the first to find his voice again. “Brilliant, isn’t it?” He gestures at the horizon, sounding calm, almost serene. “Did you know that the colours are caused by atmospheric dust scattering the sun’s light, by drops of water and specks of dirt?”
Giles shakes his head. “No, I didn’t.”

The sun’s corona peeks through the treetops, setting the sky on fire. Sunrise. Here it is.

“Well,” Ethan finally extricates his hand. “I guess that’s my cue.” He raises the other hand with the conduit-phone in it. “Messenger girl said to call her, once I’ve got my affairs in order.”

“This doesn’t make sense.” Giles exclaims, suddenly struck by the absurdity of the situation. “Resurrections cause a major upheaval in the balance of the universe. Do you honestly expect me to believe that the Powers That Be, beings of immense power and - one would hope – wisdom, went through that much trouble to give a disciple of chaos twenty-four hours to settle his affairs?”

“Now that you mention it: it does sound rather thin,” Ethan admits. “But that’s what she told me.”

Giles frowns. “You said The Powers That Be resurrected you, but you never told me why.”
 
“See, this is where it gets odd. Messenger girl said that some witch intervened on my behalf.”

“A witch?!”

“Apparently, the Powers owed her some sort of favor. Something to do with taking the heat for one of their champions.”

Giles motions for Ethan to continue.

“The thing is, I never even met the bird. Apparently, she went to the Powers and said I deserved a second chance. She said I saved her girl.” Ethan shakes his head. When he continues, his voice is raw. “Truth is, I don’t know who or what she was talking about. But when you’re down there and you get a chance to get out, even if it’s only for a few hours, you take it.”

For a moment Giles is confounded, but then understanding dawns. “What was her name?”

“Hmm?”

“The witch. What was her name?”

“I didn't ask.”

“Tara!” Even after all those years speaking Tara’s name is like a stab in the throat.

“You know her, then?”

“Indeed, I do.”

“Well, give her my thanks.”

Giles breathes a sigh, as the chill of grief mingles with the warmth of her memory. “That won’t be possible. She’s dead.”

“Oh.” Ethan turns his head to study Giles's face. "A friend of yours?"

My Slayer’s best friend’s significant other? Giles swallows, suddenly ashamed that he is struggling with the right words to describe Tara. “Yes, a friend.”

Watchers are taught to be what Buffy always called stiff-upper-lippy. They’re told to get over the deaths of their Slayers, colleagues, friends and even their loved ones; to bury their dead and prepare for the next battle. And the next. It’s the bigger picture that counts, or in Xander’s words: the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.

On a normal day, Giles can make those grave decisions and live with them; like killing Ben; like betraying Spike to Principal Wood. On a normal day, he can think of the dead as war casualties: Randall, Deirdre, Thomas and Henry; Jenny, Tara, Anya and Cordelia; the Potentials and Slayers. And he can put their deaths behind him. On a normal day, he can live with the knowledge that it will happen again: that sooner or later he will toss a shovel full of dirt onto yet another coffin and listen politely to Christian phrases that might as well be Chinese, only to drown his grief later, when no one’s looking.

However, today is not a normal day.

Giles’s heart is hammering, as he pries the conduit-phone out of Ethan’s hand. With a determined press of his thumb Giles hits dial.

At once, the air in front of him shimmers and Ethan’s ‘non-corporeal chit’ appears, sitting comfortably on the window sill, with her back to the fiery sky.

She’s beautiful, with perfect auburn hair and impeccable nails, dressed in a white silk blouse, tight designer jeans, and stylish stilettos that Buffy would kill for.

“Hello Giles.” Her smile is even more dazzling, more radiant than Giles remembers it. “It’s good to see you alive and well.”

His jaw drops. “Cordelia?”

“The one and only. Higher being now, busy busy.” She frowns at him. “Which, from the look on your face, Angel never bothered to tell you. Typical!”

Giles finds himself grinning. For once he’s rendered speechless in a good way.

Cordelia returns his grin before turning her head to address Ethan. “Hello, buster. Short time, no see. And? Are you ready? Metaphorical bags packed, and all?”

“Don’t have a choice, do I?” Ethan looks pale.

“We gave you twenty-four hours’ worth of making choices. Only you know whether you made the most of them,” Cordelia says, not without kindness.

Ethan wags his head and produces a half-choked chuckle. “Well, I got one last roll in the hay. In fact, more than one. And I get to say goodbye. That’s something.” He turns to look Giles squarely in the eye. “Be safe, old friend. And if you happen to come across Twilight and his cohorts? Do me a favour: Kick their arses.”

Giles opens his mouth, but nothing comes out.

“Well, then. What are we waiting for?” Ethan steps forward, wrists offered as though he expects Cordelia to slap handcuffs on him. “I’m ready. Off we go.”

“No!” Giles bursts out. “No, he’s not.”

Cordelia raises a questioning eyebrow.

Ethan shakes his head. “Don’t, Rupert. Just don’t. This is hard enough as it is.”

Giles ignores him. “Cordelia, wait. Is there no way we can, uh, avoid this?”

 

Cordelia purses her lips and taps her watch-less wrist. Meanwhile, the sun has cleared the horizon and is bathing them in warm pastels. Its brightness is almost painful in its beauty. “Come on, Giles, I’m on a schedule here. If there’s something you want to say, just say it.”

 

“I was thinking, Ethan’s skills and knowledge might be extremely useful in the forthcoming confrontation with Twilight....”

“Is that the part where you offer to incarcerate him?” Cordelia asks him sweetly. “And what happened to ‘I can’t trust you’?”

“You were listening!? Have you no shame?” Ethan exclaims in mock horror. “Did you hear that, Rupert? This so-called higher being violated our privacy!”

“So-called?” Cordelia exclaims, with her hands on her hips. “Newsflash, pal, I’m standing right here, and I’m the one who passes your sentence!”

Ethan looks like he’s about to say more, but when Giles shoots him withering glance, he wisely shuts his mouth with a snap.

Giles clears his throat. “Look Cordelia, it’s true, Ethan has done despicable things in the past, and we have every reason not to trust him,” he concedes, trying very hard to sound calm and rational, when he knows for a fact that he’s neither. “But I didn’t trust Spike, either, and look what he did: He sacrificed himself to close the Hellmouth.” Giles holds her gaze. “We all make mistakes.”

 

“Yadda, yadda.” Cordelia dismisses his words with a languid flick of her wrist. “Does that mean you’re going to vouch for him?”

 

Giles hesitates for only a heartbeat. “Yes, I’ll vouch for him.”

 

“To the point that you’ll trade places with Mr. Rayne should he betray our trust?”

Ethan inhales sharply.

“If necessary”, Giles hears himself say, not quite certain at what moment exactly he decided to abandon all reason.

“No!” Ethan shouts. “Rupert, don’t!”

 

Giles silences him with a brisk gesture.

 

“Why?” Cornelia asks softly. “And don’t insult my intelligence by saying it’s for the greater good.”

At least a dozen different, half-way reasonable answers race through his head, among them ‘because Ethan saved my life’, which Giles is beginning to suspect may have been the reason behind Ethan’s resurrection. In the end he settles for the answer closest to the truth: “Because a world without second chances is not worth fighting for.”

Cordelia smiles. “Very well.” She turns to regard the chaos mage who radiates tension like a coiled spring. “Mr. Rayne. Consider yourself on parole.” She wags an admonishing finger. “Any mayhem you want to cause? Make sure it’s aimed in the right direction.”

 

Ethan exhales, looking faint with relief.

 

“Giles?” Cordelia leans forward to breathe a non-corporeal kiss on his cheek. “You’re a terrible liar,” she whispers into his ear, sounding utterly pleased with herself. “Have fun, and try not to screw this up.”

 

And with that she disappears.

 

When Ethan takes an uncertain step towards him, Giles rushes forward to meet him. As he presses his lips on Ethan’s, Giles finally admits to himself what Cordelia must have known all along: that digging another grave for Ethan would have broken him. Once and for all.


THE END

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