Dinner. At the same time every day, like she might become a delinquent or something if he didn't put out the food at exactly six o'clock each night. With the same kind of food--low-fat, high-fiber, boring stuff that she didn't even think he liked. Since she had to get good nutrition, for some reason. Always homemade, always served with cloth napkins, the good china, and no cartons or boxes on the table ever. Because things were supposed to be nice for her, nice and stable and normal. As if anything could be nice or stable or normal with Giles sitting there instead of Mom and Buffy.
"Dawn," he said, interrupting her thoughts in the same patient, distant voice he'd been using with her ever since Buffy died, "please eat your dinner."
She looked back at him challengingly. "Why should I? You haven't even touched yours."
For a moment, his eyes flashed at her. Cold. Really cold. Scary cold. Oh. Right. She'd said the same thing to Buffy in front of him after Mom died. That meant she'd messed up again. Giles didn't like it when she did anything that reminded him of her. Like she could help it. Like she could do anything else. But, as usual, he didn't say anything about it. He just picked up his knife, cut up a piece of chicken, and put it in his mouth, chewing mechanically while looking at her, all mild and reasonable. "I have now."
He was gone away again, to wherever he was hiding his real feelings, and Dawn would have liked it a million times better if he had just stayed mad at her instead of lying to her with that look that said he cared about what happened to her. What a hypocrite. Why couldn't he act the way he really felt? She suddenly scowled, threw down her napkin, jumped up, and ran out of the house.
He didn't call after her, she noted smugly. He was probably glad she was gone. She ran along the sidewalk, not really paying attention to which way she was going. Breaking another one of Buffy's rules. Good. It wasn't like she was there to yell at her anymore.
As she ran underneath a streetlight, something unfolded itself from above and landed on her, wrapping its tentacles around her neck, muffling her face with its round, flat body. She didn't want to fight back, but slime got in her mouth and eyes, burning and choking, and she couldn't help but yelp and dig her fingers ineffectually into its soft flesh. Even as she struggled for breath, though, she heard someone say something, and the demon shriveled up and away, dropping down to the ground and lying there like an oversized raisin. Dawn looked around to see which of the Scoobies had rescued her, but it was a guy she didn't recognize, leaning against a car, folding up something in a cloth with quick, deft hands, who had obviously done it.
"You saved me," she said.
"Think nothing of it," he answered. He had dark hair with no grey in it, but there were lines on his face--he was old. Old as Giles, maybe even older, if that was possible.
"I won't. I wanted to die."
He raised his eyebrows, looking a little bit surprised. "Well, I didn't really mean it, Miss Muffet."
She stared at him. He knew who she was, and, she realized, he had an English accent. "Oh, no, not another stupid Watcher."
He shivered dramatically. "Don't even say it as a joke."
"You're not one?"
"Oh, quite the contrary."
"Good. Because I hate Watchers. I hate them!"
To her surprise, he smiled at her, eyes crinkling. "They can be very tiresome, can't they?"
"Yeah, they're big fakers," she muttered, digging at the pavement with her sneaker. Then she looked back up at the guy. "If you're not a Watcher, then how come you know who I am?"
He shrugged. "I'm a sorcerer, Miss Muffet. It's very evident to the right kind of eyes."
"You can see what I am?"
"Then why are you even talking to me?" she challenged. "You can tell I'm not real. I'm just...just a glowstick, shaped like Buffy's sister."
"Oh, I'm not a snob," he said. "I'll talk to just about anything, if it's amusing. If I looked down my nose at beings who aren't proper humans, I'd have a very dull social life indeed."
"You hang out with, like, demons and stuff? Like that one?" She looked at the demon on the ground.
He made a face. "Not if I can help it. Raptises are dull conversationalists and persistent but extremely unimaginative lovers. They tend to run out on their bar tabs, too."
Did he just say...? Dawn tried to play it cool. "Are you a demon?"
"Well, that depends on who you ask."
"I asked you," she said, challenging again.
"No," he said, smiling again. "I'm not a demon. I'm something much more exciting. Ethan Rayne."
He was looking at her like he expected her to say something, but the name didn't mean anything to her. Buffy once said that bad guys were so vain--they always expected her to have heard of them. Then Giles had said that she'd know more of them if she read more, and she'd said, "Isn't that what I have you for? Besides, I'm supposed to slay them, not improve their self-esteem." And they'd smiled at each other in that way that meant that though they sounded grouchy, they weren't really mad at each other, and...
"That's nice," she mumbled, and turned. "I have to go."
"Where?" His voice stopped her.
She didn't know, and she didn't think she could run like that again. Not with all the weight she was carrying inside her head. "Just...away."
"You don't care for living with Rupert?"
His voice was gentle, but also...too interested...somehow. She didn't care. Maybe that even made it easier. "I can't stand it," she burst out. "He's only taking care of me because I'm Buffy's sister. He tries to hide it, but he doesn't even like me. Sometimes, I think he wishes I was dead instead of her. And maybe he's right. I think about doing it every day, just to get away. It might make things better for everyone. But it's not fair! I never did anything to deserve this!"
"Suicide isn't the only way out, you know," he said.
"What else can I do?"
He looked around. "I think I've seen all I care to here. I'm leaving. You could come with me."
Dawn had gotten all the usual warnings in school about strangers trying to get you in their cars, and the extra ones from Buffy and Giles about demons, and this guy even admitted he hung out with them. But just thinking about getting away made the knot in her throat loosen a little. "Why would you want to take me anywhere?"
"I know what it's like to be hated by Rupert," he said mildly. "I can sympathize."
She heard the careful flatness in his voice and knew he was telling the truth. About that, at least. But she thought of Doc's bathrobe--the way it had hidden the terrible truth that had ended up killing Buffy. Despite the summer heat, Ethan had on long sleeves and a jacket with the collar turned up, and he wasn't sweating, either. "Let me see your arms."
"What?" He looked genuinely surprised.
"Let me see your arms," she repeated. "Or I'm going back to Giles's."
He looked at her, considering, then shrugged off the jacket and unbuttoned his cuffs. He rolled up the cloth several inches, almost to the elbow, and looked at her again, eyes harder than they'd been before. Scars. Lots of them. Some of them seemed to be in patterns, some were brutally random. "Well? Satisfactory?"
"Do you cut yourself?"
He looked surprised again at her matter-of-fact tone. Then he dropped his eyes and ran a finger musingly over a particularly prominent mark on his forearm. "Only when the occasion demands it."
So he was a freak. But...a human freak, at least. "Where would we go?"
"Anywhere but here, Miss Muffet," he said, pushing his sleeves back down and stooping to pick up his jacket. "Anywhere but here."
It might get her killed anyway. And Giles, it would make Giles so mad...
He laughed as he opened the passenger door for her, and the laugh was so wrong it made her sure. It was the only thing to do.
She looked around the car as she waited for Ethan to get in. The keys in the ignition had a green-and-white Enterprise tag on them. The inside of the car was pretty clean, but it smelled a little strange--like gingerbread spiked with rum. There was a dark blue sachet hanging from the rearview mirror; the smell probably came from that. She liked it, she thought.
"We're off." Ethan slid into the seat and started the car. Dawn caught his eye and looked pointedly down, to make sure he noticed that she was refusing to wear a seatbelt. He gave her an amused, tolerant look, and she realized that he wasn't wearing his, either.
Cheeks suddenly flushed, she reached forward and turned on the radio. "Bye Bye Bye" was on. She glanced over at Ethan, half-expecting him to yell at her and change the station, but he...started humming along, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel. Huh? "You know this song?"
"Of course. I have all their CDs. They're luscious."
Her eyes widened in disbelief. "Luscious?"
"Especially Lance, but I'm not choosy."
"You think they're sexy?" She'd always felt sort of guilty about it, the way they made her feel. But Ethan was a guy, even, and he didn't sound like he felt bad about it at all.
"The American music industry is exerting all its strength to make us think they're sexy. Who am I to blow against the wind?"
She wasn't sure whether this was cool or really, really gross. "I, I just didn't realize grownups liked 'NSync."
"I'm not your ordinary grownup. Turn it up."
So she did, wondering if Ethan had ever thought about kissing Lance, the way she sometimes thought about Chris. Maybe. Did that mean it was normal? Did anything Ethan did count as normal? Did anything she did? They got on the interstate, heading north. Dawn watched the scenery whiz by. After a while, she asked, "Where are we going, really?"
Ethan reached over to the glove compartment, popped it open, and pulled out a thick, battered book of maps, which he dropped in her lap. "Look it up."
She opened the book near the middle, somewhere in the Midwest section. "What am I looking for?"
"What did you find?"
"Well, um," she squinted down, "South Lynnsville, Michigan, but--"
"Then that's where we're going."
"We--we can do that?"
"Of course we can. That's the whole point of the exercise." Ethan turned down the radio a little. "Which would you prefer, license plates or White Horse?"
It was then that it hit Dawn: she was free.
It didn't take her too long to figure out that Ethan was a big cheater. "I can't believe you care whether or not you win at license plates," she muttered reproachfully, folding her arrms. "It's a game for, like, babies."
"Oh, it's not that; it's just that I can't bear to follow rules for any length of time. They're so confining."
"Oh, yeah? Then why did you help yourself instead of me when you cheated?"
He was quiet for a minute. "Well, I guess I do care, just a touch," he admitted, grinning at her.
She rolled her eyes and refused to grin back. "You are so weird."
"True. Fortunately, I'm extremely charming to make up for it."
Yeah, right. "You're not that charming."
"Charming enough to persuade a strange fourteen-year-old girl to run away with me in fifteen minutes flat," he observed.
She didn't have an answer for that one, so she kicked at a wrapper by her foot. "Do you think Giles will come after us?"
"Oh, not immediately. I rather think the funeral arrangements will hold him up."
"F-funeral?" Just the word was enough to make her feel sick. "But Buffy's was two weeks ago."
"Not Buffy's, Dawn. Yours."
"Mine? But I'm not--" She rubbed her arms frantically. "I'm still here."
"Indeed. But your corpse is back in Sunnydale."
"Did you kill me? Did you kill me, you big freak?"
He winced, covering his right ear, and the car swerved. "No, but you nearly just killed both of us. Let's come to an agreement about not shrieking while Ethan is driving, shall we?"
"I'm not agreeing to anything until you tell me what you mean!" She couldn't jump out of the car there, they were going too fast, she was trapped--
"I mean that I transmogrified the Raptis demon to look like you. The spell will only last a day or two without me there to maintain it, but it should gain us a little time."
"Oh." The feeling of panic and disorientation passed, but now she was annoyed. "Why didn't you tell me?"
"Because I suspected you'd take it the wrong way. I didn't think you'd pierce my eardrum, though. I thought it would be more in the way of crying, or, given your bloodline, scratching and hair-pulling. Shrieking was really a bit much, don't you think?"
"You freaked me out!"
"Oh, dear. I am sorry. It must have been a dreadful shock, discovering that a chaos sorcerer might actually cast spells. I should have made you a nice cup of tea first."
She scowled. "Don't you think you should have asked before making a fake corpse of me?"
He tilted his head, considering. "No. Not really."
"I discovered long ago that it is almost always easier to get forgiveness than permission."
"There was no time to waste. We needed the head start. Rupert would've chased us down at once, you see. He'd never have signed the permission slip for this little field trip. He knows what a master I am at contributing to the delinquency of minors."
"It was my decision to come. Besides," she turned to stare out the window again, "you couldn't make me much worse than I already am."
"I wouldn't be too sure of that, Miss Muffet."
"It's my fault my sister is dead. I got her killed. How could I be worse than that?"
He laughed and hit the steering wheel lightly, startling her. "Ripper's young people have such a penchant for responsibility. How does he do it?"
She scowled at him. "I'm not one of his young people! He never liked me!"
"Then it's all the more impressive of him that he's gotten to you anyways."
"What do you know about it, anyway? Did you ever get anybody killed? Anybody you actually liked, I mean?"
She stuck out her chin. "Name one person!"
"His name was Randall. I got extremely drunk and summoned a demon into him. It cracked open his chest like an eggshell. Entrails and lungs everywhere"--he shuddered delicately--"very nasty. And the waste of a rather attractive chest. Randall liked to lift weights."
She tried not to sound grossed out. "Did you--did you feel bad about it?"
"Not enough to suit certain people," he said grimly, changing lanes.
"Well, I chiefly recall being very, very sick. But afterwards, a little. Though it may just have been the hangover, now that I think of it."
"If you felt bad, then you shouldn't be laughing at me."
"Laughing at youthful idealism is a privilege of the old and corrupt, Dawn. You'll understand someday."
She couldn't believe that a guy who liked 'NSync was talking to her like that. She had actually been thinking that he might be cool! "I don't want to get old if it makes me like you."
"And here I thought being me was a rare and wondrous accomplishment," Ethan said in a mock-hurt tone. "Very well, then, grow up to be like Ripper if it suits you better. You've already made an excellent start at it."
"I have not!"
"I can just picture you in tweed." He eyed her for a moment, then added, "It isn't very flattering."
Dawn rolled down the window so she wouldn't have to hear him anymore.
She was mad for half an hour, then annoyed for fifteen minutes, then, when she wasn't paying attention, she got bored. She didn't have anything to read or draw on and, looking around the car, she didn't see any books or paper. There was a black bag on the back seat, though, and she turned to start rifling through it. Ethan's hand shot back and seized her wrist. "I really wouldn't recommend doing that."
"Why?" she asked, not pulling back. "Is it dangerous? Is there magic stuff in there?"
"Well, that and my collection of pornography."
"Ew!" Dawn let the bag drop instantly and settled back into her seat. She changed the channel on the radio a few times, then gave up. "I'm bored," she announced.
"And hiding it so well, too."
"You're a sorcerer, right? Teach me to do some magic. Then I won't be like, like Ripper." It gave her a little thrill to use the name. She wondered how he'd gotten it, and how Ethan knew.
"You're mistaken there."
"He doesn't do anything with the black arts. I heard Willow say once that she thought he was scared of them."
Ethan snorted. "I do hope I'm around when reality catches up with that one. The fireworks are going to be splendid."
Dawn liked the way he said that. Willow wouldn't let her do any spells after the whole resurrection thing. After she'd shown her the book! It was so unfair. "Come on, can't you teach me something? Something small?"
"You can't just wave your hand, mutter some Latin, and make your teddy bear dance," Ethan said. "You need to be in harmony with the forces of the universe. And you, Miss Muffet, are fourteen years old and not in harmony with anything."
"Then show me how to get in harmony. Or I'll, I'll start singing 'One Hundred Bottles of Beer on the Wall.' Besides," she said, getting a better idea, "besides, it will really bug Gil--Ripper when he finds out."
"You do have a point." Ethan reached back and began rummaging through his bag, keeping only one hand on the wheel. The car started drifting to the left and nearly hit the car in the next lane, once, then twice, forcing him to jerk the wheel violently to avoid a collision. Dawn wanted to tell him to drive more carefully, but she kept her mouth shut. He finally found a small ivory statuette, which he lifted tenderly from the bag and handed to her with great care. It was about the size of her hand, worn and old, like something Giles would have on his shelves. On one side, the statue had the face of a woman; on the other, a man. Her palm tingled as she held it gingerly.
"It's Janus. An avatar of Chaos."
Chaos. Dawn wasn't stupid; she knew it was dangerous. But she didn't want to look like a big chicken. "What do I do with it?"
"Well, first of all, stop handling it as if it were something you'd fished out of the dustbin. It's sacred. It deserves devotion."
"Fine." She cupped it in her hands, ignoring the little shocks.
"That's better. Now look at it. Focus on it." Dawn slid down a little in her seat and studied the face of the woman. She looked pretty, but mean. Kind of like Glory. "Breathe in through your nose, out through your mouth. Deeper, down past your stomach. In through your nose, out through your mouth. Relax. Relax..."
The statue was soft and heavy in her hand. It was getting whiter and whiter...no, she was sinking down into the whiteness, like falling into the static on a TV. Ethan was still talking, but she couldn't really hear him and she didn't really care, either. The white was flickering around her, and she kept trying to figure out the rhythm of the flickers, but there was no rhythm, and it made her confused and scared, made her think she might be going crazy. Far away, she could hear the radio--it sounded like Ethan was scanning through the channels very fast, but why? It only made it worse, all the nonsense half-sentences and phrases of music pouring through her ears. She wanted to cry, but her eyes were dry and she didn't even think she could swallow. Then the brakes squealed, she was thrown forward, and she hit her head on the dash, not very hard. The whiteness fell away from her vision, and she was staring at beige plastic. "Ow!"
She sat up slowly, rubbing her head where she'd hit it, and looked at Ethan. He had his head tilted back and was pressing a handkerchief to his nose. "What happened?" she asked.
"We were nearly in an accident," he said. She looked around; they were pulled off on the side of the road.
He brought his head down carefully and looked at her. She could tell he knew she wasn't talking about the accident. "Yes, I rather thought it might be."
"But I did, I did see something. And feel it."
"I know." He took the handkerchief away from his nose, saw a tiny amount of blood, and frowned. "Where's Janus?"
"Oh." She quickly picked the statue up off the floor. This time, she felt a bigger shock when she touched it, and hastily handed it to him. He curled his fingers around it and muttered something, his eyes going unfocused. Then he smiled brightly. "There's a hotel on this very exit. It looks like we'll be stopping here for the evening."
Dawn ran downstairs to breakfast. She was late for school, she was going to have to--
She stopped dead in the doorway to the kitchen. Mom was standing there, handing a cup of orange juice to Buffy. They were smiling at each other, flooded in sunlight from the windows behind them. But...
Mom's jaw was hanging all wrong as she grinned. And Buffy, Buffy's hand that was taking the glass...she could see the bone poking straight out of the flesh...
She must have made a noise, because Buffy's head swung around towards her, and now Dawn could see that one of her eyes was gone. "What are you doing here?" she said, in a perfect Buffy voice, bright and hateful. "You don't belong here."
Dawn woke, trembling. It took her a minute to figure out where she was: alone, in the hotel room Ethan had gotten for her. The strange furniture loomed threateningly in the dark. She got up and fumbled her way to the door, her hand struggling to find the doorknob through the heavy silk of the too-long pajama sleeve. The hallway was dully bright and menacing, but not as much as the room behind her, and then she was banging on Ethan's door.
After a minute, she heard him unlock it. He was still dressed, but his eyes were tired. "Dawn, what--?"
"I, I had a bad dream," she told him. "Can I come in, please?"
He shrugged and stepped back, letting her in. The lights were still on; the TV flickered some black-and-white movie. One of the beds was unmade, with books spread all over it. The room smelled like coffee, sort of. Dawn didn't ask; she just threw herself down on the other bed, shivering. Soon, she was crying, though she buried her face in the comforter to hide it.
Ethan sat back down on his bed and didn't say anything at all, and she was glad about that. Every time anyone had tried to say anything to make her feel better, that only made it worse. Because she didn't want to feel better, and she didn't want to make anyone else feel worse, and, God, couldn't she even be sad about her family without causing more pain and suffering in the world? But after a while, she couldn't cry anymore. She wiped her face on the scratchy fabric and looked up. Ethan was sitting cross-legged on the bed, reading while sipping at a cup of something, and, to her surprise, the resemblance to Giles was actually soothing. Weird as he was, she thought, he wasn't going anywhere, and she rolled over and let herself drift back off to sleep.
Some time later, she was awakened by a strange noise--wet and thick, like someone choking, or maybe throwing up and not wanting to. A scary, hurting sound. She opened her eyes; the lights in the room were still on, and so was the TV. The books had been pushed to the end of the bed and the covers were more messed-up, but the room was empty and the door to the bathroom was closed. That was where the noise had come from. "Ethan?"
There was no answer.
"Ethan?" She really, really didn't want to have to go into the bathroom.
The door clicked, locking shut from the inside, and she could hear the water start running in the sink. Okay, he wanted his privacy. Dawn could understand that. As long as he was all right. She got up and went back to her own room.
They didn't leave the hotel until noon. Dawn felt tired and foggy-headed. Ethan had on dark glasses that hid his eyes completely. He didn't ask, so she didn't ask. It was an easy way to do it, and better than the way they all poked at each other's feelings in Sunnydale, she thought. The miles fell away behind them as the afternoon passed. After a couple of hours, Ethan gave her the statuette again. She thought about refusing, but when he said, "Ah, well, I suppose it is a touch too intimidating for a girl of your age," she had to go through with it.
The first two times were like the day before, and she emerged gasping and floundering and rubbing frantically at her eyes. Ethan hardly seemed to notice; he drove silently for a little while, then nonchalantly began talking her back down into the whiteness. The third time, she got it. There was no rhythm to the flashing, the sound. There would be no rhythm. She couldn't force one on them; she just had to...let it go. To fluctuate with it, however it fluctuated. It was hard to do. She kept forgetting and trying to control it, which made her thrash and panic. But finally, she stopped thinking and relaxed into it, and it made her throb with something infinitely sweet and strong. It was only for a minute--she got so excited that she tried to grab onto it tightly, and that made her lose it again--but when she opened her eyes, she said, with less certainty than she felt, "I think I got in harmony."
Ethan had taken off the glasses and was looking closely at her, hardly paying any attention at all to the road. He seemed clearer to her view somehow, sharper around the edges. "I think you're right," he said.
"Can I, can I do it again?" She had just been bored before, but now she was serious. She wanted that feeling again, the feeling of being carried along by a wave of power. An idea had hit her. If she wasn't going to be real, at least she could be strong. Not just a lightning rod. Not just something for more powerful people to fight over--and die for. But strong on her own. So nobody would ever have to bleed for her, ever again.
"I wouldn't dream of discouraging you, Miss Muffet."
By the time they reached the next hotel, she could float in it for fifteen minutes at a time, and she was starting to think that she could do things with it. Her excitement faded, though, as they got out of the car. Ethan squinted off into the distance, then moved to the back of the car and popped the trunk. He lifted a canister from it, took a handful of powder out, then threw it into the air, back the way they came. He squatted down and studied the way the powder drifted to the ground, then frowned. "Someone's following us."
Her heart sank. It was too early. "Giles?"
"Not Giles, more's the pity."
"What, what do we do?"
"Nothing, for now. Besides eat dinner, of course."
She followed him into the hotel.
She wasn't hungry, didn't want to eat, and told Ethan so as they took their seats at the restaurant. He shrugged. "Then don't. You needn't waste my money to keep up appearances, I assure you." But after he'd given the waiter a very elaborate order and the food had started coming, it smelled so good that her stomach began rumbling. She looked longingly at the steak he was tucking into with gusto.
"Can I have a piece of that?"
He gave her a faintly indignant look. "You most certainly may not. Order your own."
"But I'm not really that--"
"Hungry, yes, yes, I heard you the first time. However, your stomach is audibly disagreeing with you. Perhaps you two should take it outside."
She had to smile. "But I don't want a whole entree."
"Then order an appetizer. You are not getting any of my dinner. They fed me through a tube for months. I spent entire days fantasizing about meals like this one. I even started dreaming of my native cuisine, and that's really saying--"
"They?" she interrupted.
He was quiet for a minute. Then, "Your tax dollars at work," he said coolly, and took a drink of wine. She was suddenly so embarrassed that she looked around for the waiter. But instead of him, a young Asian man in an expensive-looking suit was approaching the table.
"I know." Ethan slid his fingers down the steak-knife, taking a different grip, as the man seated himself gracefully in the seat next to him.
"Mr. Rayne?" he asked.
"For you," Ethan said, flicking his eyes over him, his voice taking on a teasing, drawling tone, "any name you like."
He didn't react. "I'm Gavin Park. I have a proposition for you."
Ethan leaned back, smirking. "But, darling, this is all so sudden."
"I represent Wolfram & Hart, a law firm in Los Angeles. We've been informed that you have come into possession of a certain key. We'd like to purchase it from you."
Ethan's eyes dropped for one beat, two, then rose to meet the other's again. "What if it's not for sale?"
Now Park smiled. "Your file says that you have an unorthodox sense of humor."
"Oh, yes, my wit is legendary. But I don't actually think I'm joking this time."
"We'll double whatever the current highest offer is."
"You--" Ethan began, but Dawn interrupted.
"Offer?" she squealed. "You're going to sell me?"
Ethan kicked her under the table, but it was too late. Park looked at her. "This is the key? I...see."
"How could you?" She was on the verge of tears, and she didn't know why. It wasn't like she had trusted him...
"Kidnapping a minor, Mr. Rayne? That's a serious criminal offense." He turned to her and said solicitously, "Would you like me to call your parents, Miss...?"
"Dawn. My name is Dawn. And I--" For a minute, it was tempting. Giles wasn't going to auction her off like she was a poster on eBay. But then she thought of his cold, angry expression, and the way he would try to smile over it. She pictured the ride back to Sunnydale. There definitely wouldn't be any music or magic or games on that trip. Just Giles's tight voice giving her the longest lecture ever: she was the girl Buffy died for, she didn't get to throw that life away; she was Buffy's sister, and he was going to watch over her, whether she liked it or not. Then he would probably try to buy her some ice cream or something. To make her feel better. "--I don't need any help."
"Nonetheless," Park shifted back to Ethan, "I think I'd better inform the child welfare authorities. I'm sure the poor girl's parents or guardians are quite concerned for her."
"Shows how much you know," Dawn muttered.
"You don't mean that," Park said, still looking at Ethan. "Really, Mr. Rayne, why make this difficult for yourself? We can more than meet whatever offer you have, whether it be cash or something more specialized. There's no need for any unpleasantness. No need, for example, for you to go back to prison."
Prison? Ethan had been toying boredly with his knife, but that got Park an icy smile. "I think you'd better go. I would feel just awful if something happened to spoil that pretty face."
"As you prefer. For now." Park rose, bowed his head to Dawn, and left.
After he was gone, Ethan looked at her, eyebrows raised. "I thought you weren't going to do any more shrieking," he said, in an injured tone.
She couldn't even answer him.
"Well, come on then," he said, getting up. "I don't know about you, but I don't think it will be very much fun to be here if that young man calls the police. There are times when even I don't care for the company of men in uniform."
"Why should I?" she demanded. "To make it easier for you to deliver your package?"
"Oh." He gave her a look. "You're going to be difficult about this, aren't you?"
He sighed and sat back down. "I hope you don't take this personally, Dawn, but you're worth rather a lot of money, and I needed the cash."
"How can I not take it personally? You said you were going to give me a ride and instead you were planning to--to sell me to some--" Her voice broke.
"But I didn't, now did I?"
He asked with exaggerated patience, "You did just hear the nice man offer me twice of whatever I was supposed to be getting, didn't you?"
"Well, did I agree?"
She frowned. "No..."
"He could have done it, too. Wolfram and Hart are not as powerful as they think they are, but they're no one to be trifled with. They've got a great many resources."
"Then why didn't you?"
"That we can discuss in my car," he said, "or in the back of a police cruiser. Which would you prefer?"
"All right, let's go." She got up reluctantly. Ethan, she noticed, made no attempt to pay the bill before they left.
For once, Ethan really seemed to be concentrating on driving. He wasn't even humming, and it was over two hours before he finally eased off on the gas a little. They got off the highway and pulled into a small gas station. "Why don't you choose us some junk food whilst I refuel the car?" he suggested, handing Dawn a twenty.
Dawn hopped out of the car. They were on some strip of McDonaldses and car washes and furniture stores. In the distance, she could see houses. A few children were still playing outside, though it was late. Teenagers strolled by under the streetlights, hands in each others' pockets. Dawn felt strangely superior to them all. They lived there; they were stuck. They had to belong. She didn't belong anywhere, but she didn't have to anymore. She was on the road, like Frodo or Prince Caspian, and she didn't even need to try. Right, she thought, on the road with a crazy old guy who wanted to sell her to the highest bidder so that some monster could bleed her to death or something. That's real superior, Dawn. The voice in her head was so like Buffy's she almost clamped her hands over her ears. They'd be driving all night, probably, and that would be cool. Much cooler than hanging around a place like this. Definitely.
Inside the convenience store, she walked around for a little, picking up chips and candy bars. She didn't know what Ethan liked--probably something disgusting and English like Giles with his chutney relish--but she was really, really hungry now and he hadn't said, so he was just going to have to live with whatever she picked. There was a big guy who looked kind of like a biker in the next aisle, and he kept giving her looks. She tried to ignore him, but every time she snuck a glance he was watching her. Great. A creep. Probably a human creep, but still.
She started towards the counter and he blocked her way. "Hey, there, little girl. Aren't you out late?"
"Not really," she said, and tried to go around him, but he put his hand on her arm. He smelled like stale beer.
"Want to have some fun?" he asked. "I bet I can give you a better time than whatever boy you're with. We could get some booze."
She pulled away as far as she could. "No, thanks. I just want to..." She looked desperately up at the counter. The clerk was nowhere to be seen.
"C'mon, baby, don't be shy," he said, drawing her back. "Your parents don't have to know."
"My parents aren't--" She heard the tinkle of the bell, and turned in relief to see Ethan, hands in pockets, standing in the doorway. He saw her with the guy and shook his head critically, but mouthed at her, "Fifteen minutes. No more!" and turned to go.
"Ethan, wait!" she called after him. He paused without looking at her. "This guy, he's bothering me."
"Oh? Then I recommend stopping him. In through your nose, out through your mouth..." And he walked away.
"Looks like Daddy doesn't care much," the burly guy laughed.
Dawn stared after Ethan, and the guy took that as his chance to slide his hand onto her butt. She felt sick. She'd been pushed around so much by strong people lately, grabbed and dragged and tied up and cut. But she couldn't get away. She could never get away. Not unless she...In through her nose, out through her mouth..."Janus, help me," she whispered. She fell into it easily, closing her eyes, and this time she let the power slide out, reaching for a focus, engulfing the creep.
"Hey!" he yelled, letting her go so that she nearly fell back against the rack of chips. She opened her eyes again. The buttons had all popped off his jeans, which had fallen down around his ankles, revealing boxer shorts with little teddy bears on them. Behind him, bags of candy had burst, flooding the floor with M&Ms and Reese's Cups. The guy was trying to pull his jeans back up, but he stepped on a candy and his foot slid out from under him, sending him crashing to the floor.
Dawn laughed. Then she ran, clutching the snacks. Ethan had pulled up just out front and was waiting for her to slide in. He was laughing, too, as they drove away. Dawn thought she probably ought to be mad at him. But the image of the guy toppling over was too funny and Ethan's chuckle just too catching. Finally, she hit him on the arm, not hard. "Why did you leave me with him?"
"Well, he was rather large and muscular. Intervening might've gotten my hair mussed. Besides, I wanted to see what you would do."
"For the same reason I didn't hand you over to Gavin Park."
"And why's that?" she said, getting quieter. "We're supposed to talk about that, right?"
"Settle in," he said, ripping open a bag of chips and popping one into his mouth, "and I'll tell you a bedtime story."
Bedtime story. Right. Dawn thought she was going to have nightmares for a week. Different nightmares, anyway. Buffy had told her that the Initiative had turned out to be bad, but...The worst part was the way he'd talked about it, like it was some kind of a joke, while his face kept twitching and twitching. She really, really wished she hadn't seen his arms, or heard him in the bathroom, because that made it even more real. Much too real.
The silence in the car was terrible. She could see that he was staring off into space, clutching the steering wheel and hardly even noticing the traffic. "Why'd you tell me?" she finally whispered.
Ethan shook himself and gave her a tight smile. "Because I want you to believe the next part. I'm aware that, due to some unfortunate circumstances, my credibility with you isn't quite as great as it could be."
At any other time, she probably would have scoffed at that, but the image of the scars was too vivid in her mind. "What's...the next part?"
"Do you have any idea, Miss Muffet, how tremendously depressing it is to contemplate the fact that if you died at that moment, you'd leave no mark on the world? That you would just disappear and be forgotten?"
"No, not really."
"Well, let me assure you: for one as fond of one's self as I am, it comes as a nasty blow. I'd never really thought of it before; I do tend to live for the present. But sitting in solitary confinement, waiting to be terminated, as they so delightfully put it, I finally began to understand why Ripper bothers with the children in Sunnydale. He wants to mold them, not quite into his own image--that would require he give up his favorite hobby, self-loathing, and that would never do--but into what he wishes he could be. He wants to leave something behind him when he goes. Odd." He chuckled, a very dry chuckle. "I never thought of him as a more accomplished egotist than me. But dear Ripper still does manage to confound me on occasion."
"I don't get it."
His eyes were on hers. "I want a student, Miss Muffet. An apprentice."
All at once, she realized. "You mean...me."
"Well," he looked her over, "I hope you won't be terribly offended if I admit that you are not precisely what I had in mind. I was thinking of someone a little more..."
"Like Lance?" she offered.
He smiled approvingly. "Rem acu tetigisti."
"It means exactly. Sending me a fourteen-year-old girl instead must be Janus's idea of a joke, and"--he made a wry face--"I'd say it was a good one, if it weren't on me. You have a natural, though subtle, connection to chaos--"
"Because I'm the Key?"
"Yes. Your blood draws it about you. With the proper instruction, I think you could become quite powerful. I didn't realize it when I first picked you up--hence all that unpleasantness about selling you, which I trust we can now put behind us--but I knew it the first time you held that statuette. It was you who was changing the channels, you know, and you who nearly crashed the car."
"It was? Really?"
"It was," he confirmed. "Those were just unfocused surges of chaos, though, like what you did to that distressingly ugly man in the tuck shop tonight. Hardly real magic at all. I could teach you real magic, Dawn."
Then being the Key--it didn't have to be bad. It could make her strong instead. Strong enough to take care of herself. To take the pain herself, instead of having to watch others take it for her. And it would be all her own thing. Nothing to do with being Buffy's sister. Nothing to do with being the girl that Buffy had died for. It would just be her, Dawn. Boy, would Giles be in for a surprise.
So she ignored the voices, the warning voices that whispered that she didn't really know what chaos meant and that she did know that Ethan was dangerous, dangerous, met his searching gaze, and said, "Okay."
When he took one hand off the wheel to offer it, she shook it. His grip was firm; she could feel how sensitive his fingers were. She'd been breaking things by accident all her life. She wondered if casting spells could make her hands like his, too. Make it so she only broke things on purpose.
Dawn had been a little bit worried that Ethan might go all Dumbledore on her now that he was her teacher, but the next two days were the same as before. Driving from noon til dark, then a hotel room all to herself. No homework, no curfew. Staying up as late as she wanted, sleeping in, eating whatever she chose. The only new thing was magic lessons in Ethan's room, with stinky herbs drowning out the Holiday Inn smell. He taught her mostly little things, simple charms that anybody could cast, though she did bug him into showing her a minor chaos-fireworks spell. Learning from Ethan was more like figuring something out with a kid her own age than getting lessons from someone like Giles, or even Willow. He never lectured and he never yelled, and even though she didn't always understand him, he was never boring. Of course, he also never stopped her when she was about to screw a charm up, either--he liked laughing at the results better, except for the time she turned everything in the room, including all of his clothes, pink by accident--but it was a fair trade. He started showing her how to watch, too. Not in the annoying Giles way, but the way a follower of chaos would, observing people and situations, figuring out what was going on, and then working out how to turn everything into total pandemonium. It was something he said she had to learn to do, if she wanted the favor and the protection of Janus, and so she listened carefully. They couldn't cast spells in the car, so Ethan told her stories about his past, the places he'd been to, the adventures he'd had. It seemed like he'd been everywhere cool, and though the things he'd done sometimes sounded a little mean, they were always funny. At first, Dawn felt a little bad about laughing at them, but then she thought defiantly, Why shouldn't I? and refused to let it bother her any more.
It would all have been perfect, except that Ethan obviously still thought they were being followed. He didn't say much about it, but every time they got into or out of the car he engaged in more and more complicated ritual, and one time when she'd come out of the women's room at a gas station she'd seen him wiping blood from a crowbar before he slid it back under his seat. In their last hotel room, he'd spent a couple of hours filling little bags with a powder that kept making his hand go stiff. He was definitely nervous, though he tried to hide it, and the constant spellcasting had started giving him headaches.
"We're not driving in a straight line, are we?" she asked at a rest stop in Indiana, in between spoonfuls of ice cream. Ethan always let her get a large.
"No," he said, filching a spoonful himself. His was already long gone. "We're zigzagging as the spirit moves me, trying to discourage pursuit."
A gaggle of small children were running over the grass near them, chasing a ball and shrieking at the tops of their lungs. "Is it working?"
He directed a nasty look at the kids, pressing his temples. "Wretched little brats. --I suspect not."
"Is it Giles who's following us?"
"Alas, no. I'm overdue for a good beating."
"Why do you hate him?" She didn't actually think hate was the right word; he sounded bitter rather than mad, and why should he be bitter about that?
"Betrayal does that. We were in a coven together, before he decided he preferred his respectability to his friends. His respectability." He snorted. "Rupert Giles, the whited sepulcher of the Watcher's Council."
"You used to be friends?"
"Friends?" he said, and smiled, his wickedest smile. "Oh, no. Not friends."
"Oh. Oh," she said, flushed, and hastily changed the subject. Not just because she was embarrassed, though she definitely was, but because something about the look in his eyes reminded her too much of the way he'd looked when telling her about his time with the Initiative. "Are we still going to South Lynnsville?"
He flicked an eyebrow at the shift in conversation. "Yes. We should be there in less than a day. If we--" The ball from the kids' game went crashing into his head, and he nearly fell over.
"Sorry, mister," a cheery voice cried, and a little boy retrieved the ball.
Dawn looked at Ethan's pained face. He was rubbing his head like the ball had knocked something loose. He wasn't as strong as he usually was, he'd said, and the spells had been tiring him out. She turned back to the kids. The words of the fireworks spell bubbled up in her mind and the children suddenly found themselves surrounded and pursued by explosions of light and color. For a few seconds, they thought it was funny, but as the fireworks persisted, floating around them, swooping in randomly, they grew scared and ran away. The colors dissipated in slow trails behind them.
"Bravo, Miss Muffet," Ethan said, applauding softly.
Dawn was only half-listening. One of the children's mothers had appeared from the car and scooped up her sobbing child, clearly consoling him. She gave him a hug, stroking his hair, then kissed him and led him off by the hand to buy him some ice cream. Dawn frowned and pushed her own ice cream away without looking at it.
"It wasn't your fault, you know," Ethan said, almost off-handedly, looking down into her ice cream and swirling it with his spoon.
"How do you know?"
"I saw it all."
"You weren't there."
He licked some ice cream off the spoon. "Which didn't stop me from seeing it, since there was an ever-so-convenient chaos nexus right on the spot. It really wasn't your fault. It was the work of Glory and Doc and those ridiculous monks."
"I know," she said. "I just..."
"A chaos sorcerer has to travel light. I left my guilt behind at a little roadside cafe some years ago, and I've never missed it."
"But everybody else thinks it's my fault."
"Yes, people do have the most appalling habit of trying to blame one for things, don't they? I simply refuse to cooperate. Accept responsibility once and where will it all end?"
"I don't know," she mumbled.
"Then I'll tell you." He pointed the spoon at her. "Tweed. Mountains of it. Even your knickers. They get them from a special catalog."
"Ew!" She couldn't help it; the image made her giggle. And maybe, she thought as she laughed, he had a point. After all, she didn't really do it. Doc did, more than anybody, and yet they all blamed her. Why should she take the blame?
"Now, let's get out of here before any parents turn up and start trying to spread guilt."
As they went back to the car, Dawn saw three large men surrounding another guy three cars down. "Where's the little girl?" she heard one of them say, pushing the guy back against the door.
Ethan shot them a swift glance and made a gesture to her for silence. He quickly opened his door and popped the lock for her. She'd hardly gotten her own door closed before he peeled out of the parking lot. Looking back, Dawn thought she saw them knock the man down.
"Were they looking for us?" she asked.
Ethan frowned. "Yes."
"That guy didn't look anything like you."
"And he probably didn't have a girl with him, either." Ethan flicked the sachet hanging from the rearview mirror. "This is a low-level distractor. People who pay too much attention to the car get...confused. It's a pity one has to keep these things a secret; I really should've gotten a rebate on my insurance. No thief in the world could take this car."
"So they just thought that guy was you." Dawn sat quietly for a minute. "It looked like...it looked like they were starting to beat him up."
"Better him than me," Ethan said fervently.
She bit her lip and reached back for the statuette of Janus.
Dawn flipped through a rack of clothes in the Gap. The South Lynnsville mall was pretty small, but it was still bigger than the one in Sunnydale. They had agreed that she really needed some clothes, so they'd stopped there first, before...wherever they were going. Ethan had picked out so many totally dorky things, though, that she'd sent him away to get them shakes or something before anyone overheard. His fashion sense was way too much like Buffy's, and she didn't mean that in a good way.
Half an hour later, she was walking out of the store, carrying a bag with her purchases. It was sort of funny, to be doing something so incredibly normal--just like Sunnydale--only a couple of hours after she'd been mixing up herbs in a mortar on Ethan's bed, trying to make a glamour to hide a zit. 'Cause she wasn't the normal one anymore. She should look different somehow, not blend in with all the other kids the way she had all her life. They looked a little funny to her now, the way they walked and talked and laughed with each other as if there were no such thing as magic, or chaos, or death. She wondered if Buffy had thought that way. It might have explained why she was always so grouchy--
Dawn froze. Walking past the store was Gavin Park. He was talking intently into his cell phone and didn't seem to have noticed her. She hastily backed up into the store and practically buried her face in a pile of khakis. After a couple of minutes, she nervously looked up. He wasn't in the store, and when she cautiously stuck her head around the corner of the storefront, she couldn't spot him in the hall, either.
Dawn ran down to the food court, bag banging against her legs. Ethan wasn't sitting at any of the tables. Damn. Dawn had already figured out that he thought it was beneath him or something to be on time, but she had to find him. Maybe he was in the men's room. She didn't know if she had the nerve to go in there herself, but she could ask somebody else going in to check.
But when she headed into the narrow corridor that led to the restrooms, she saw where he was. Two guys had him shoved against the wall. They were wearing sweatshirts with the hoods up, and from the way the fabric stretched and bulged, she guessed they were demons.
"Where is she?" the bigger one was demanding. He had hold of Ethan's arm and was doing something to it that was making Ethan's eyes roll up in his head.
"I'm over here, you creeps!" she yelled, dropping the bag.
They both turned. Ethan grabbed the chance and whacked the bigger one on the head with the little blackjack she knew he was carrying. He groaned and fell. The other glanced back, struck Ethan a blow that sent him sprawling, and started towards her, yanking a walkie-talkie out of his jacket. "She's down here, by the restrooms," he said, striding towards her as she backed up, "she--"
He suddenly fell flat on his face, and behind him, Ethan was sitting up and grinning, though blood was trickling from the corner of his mouth.
"Ethan," she said, "we have to get out of here. Gavin Park is here."
"Yes." He got to his feet with some difficulty. "Wolfram and Hart isn't waiting any longer for me to come round."
"Then let's..." She turned back around and her heart sank. At the end of the corridor were at least five demons, peering in. There was no other way out.
"Get back here," Ethan hissed, and she hastily complied. Up close, she could smell the zip of magic in the air, like the scent of horseradish from the jar. Ethan was already starting to sweat.
"Mr. Rayne," Park's voice called. "Are you sure we can't make a deal? I'm authorized to increase the offer another hundred thousand dollars."
"Perhaps if you threw yourself in, I might consider it," Ethan cooed back.
"Be reasonable, Mr. Rayne."
"I thought I was. I'm afraid we're just not going to be able to come to terms."
There was silence, then two of the demons started in. It was too narrow for more than that, Dawn saw. Maybe that would give them a chance.
Ethan reached into his jacket and pulled out one of the little pouches he'd made up earlier. He muttered something in Latin, threw it, and it exploded at the demons' feet with a big puff of smoke, a bang and a flash of light that hurt her eyes. The demons stood stock-still for a moment, then fell over, stiff, like Wile E. Coyote in a cartoon.
Dawn laughed, and the sprinkler system went off, pouring water down on all of them. She heard screams in the background. That scared her a little, and she looked at Ethan. There was a pleased glitter in his eyes. He was enjoying it. Of course, she thought. This was it, wasn't it? Chaos.
The next two charged in more quickly, but the stun powder took them out, too. Dawn turned to ask for one and saw that Ethan's grin had twisted away, and he was leaning on the wall for support. "What's the matter?"
"Are they coming?" he said.
Dawn looked back up the corridor, through the drifting smoke. There were still more of them--she could see at least six now--but after what had happened to the first four, they seemed to be arguing about what to do next. "No. Not yet."
"But they will," he muttered, and reached into his jacket for a knife. "Give me your hands."
"It's too early for you yet, but I haven't made the proper material preparations," he said. "I need help."
"With a spell?"
He seized her hand and made a cut across her palm. She gasped and wrenched away her hand, but he was already catching at the other one. "Yes, a spell. Do what I do, and repeat after me. Exactly." Dawn swallowed and let him make the other cut. He cut his own palms, and pressed their hands together briefly. "The world that denies thee, thou inhabit." He wiped blood from his palm onto his eyelid, and looked at her. She hastily imitated him as she repeated the words. "The peace that ignores thee, thou corrupt." He marked his forehead, and she followed. "Chaos, we remain, as ever, thy faithful, degenerate children."
As she said the words, it was as if the whiteness wrapped around her, holding her tightly and drawing something out of her like it was drinking from her. It hurt, and it felt like a blessing, and she could hardly hear herself as she said the Latin after Ethan. "...Janus! Sume noctem!" The power flowed away, and she thought that she ought to kneel down in the direction it went. There was suddenly the sound of beating wings. She looked up, and saw...doves. One of them was trapped in the corridor and struggling to get out. She ran out, laughing again, and looked around. No demons at all. They'd changed them with the spell. Now there were just doves, circling in the rafters, swooping down to get bits of food abandoned by the shoppers, who had run away.
Except not all of them had. A woman was sitting next to a stroller, screaming. "My baby! My baby! He's gone!" That was bad enough, but her arm--She hadn't noticed her arm wasn't an arm any more, but some kind of wing. Sort of. With...fingers on the end, dangling uselessly. She must have been caught right on the edge of the spell. Dawn stared at her, mouth hanging open from the laugh. She thought she might throw up.
She shook herself. They had to fix it. There must be a way. Ethan was so smart, he had to know how. She ran back to the corridor, calling his name.
He was lying still on the floor, hardly even breathing. There was...there was blood seeping from the corners of his eyes. There was blood everywhere, in fact, even though the sprinklers were still going. Dawn knelt down by him, but she didn't know what to do. Was it even safe to move him? The woman was still screaming, but with new panic in her voice; she must've finally noticed what had happened to her. Dawn pressed her hands to her face. There might be more Wolfram and Hart people hanging around. The cops would definitely be coming soon. This was her fault, this was all her fault, and she didn't know what to do.
She had to get help, and there was only one way she knew of to do that. The idea choked her, but maybe she deserved it. She closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on the trick Ethan had taught her: Giles?
Dawn? Is that you? Where are you?
Giles, we need help. We... She tried to give him an image of it.
Ethan. Of course. He sounded grim. I'll be there in ten minutes. Just hold on, Dawn.
She sat up and looked over at Ethan. He was soaking wet. She turned his face away so that water wouldn't run into his mouth. "Sorry, Ethan."
An hour later, Dawn sat on a bed in yet another hotel room, rubbing her hair with a towel and watching as Giles perched next to Ethan on the other bed and wiped blood from his face with a handkerchief. He had teleported in within minutes of her call. He'd figured out the situation in two quick glances, given Ethan some kind of injection, and half-carried, half-dragged him out to the car just as the cops turned up. Ethan had started to wake up as he supported him down the hotel corridor, and now he opened his eyes, looking at Giles.
"I ought to rip out your spine for this," Giles told him, supporting his head and giving him a glass of something he'd mixed up. He didn't sound as mad as he might have, though. He'd hardly even spoken to Dawn since he'd appeared, and she had thought he was too angry to talk.
Ethan drank, then smiled at him faintly. With his bloodshot eyes and dilated pupils, he was scary-looking, and even more when he smiled. "Did you a favor, Ripper. You didn't want her."
"So you took her instead."
"Gave you something to...take your mind off your grief, didn't I?"
"I'm very much obliged," Giles said dryly. Then he bent closer. "You've been teaching her?"
"She wanted to be different, Ripper. She wanted to be...strong. It seemed awfully familiar, for some reason. Not sure why."
"So you showed her a few tricks to keep her quiet."
"Oh, no. I was quite serious."
"You took a student? Ethan, I never thought I'd see the day when you did that."
"Well, I never thought I'd see the day when you'd let the pigs take me away. It's nice to know we're not in a rut in our middle age."
Giles took off his glasses and sighed, rubbing his eyes. "It stops now."
"Sorry, old man, but she made a commitment today."
Giles went still for a minute, and, looking at the stiffness of his back, Dawn was afraid he'd do something terrible. Finally, he said coldly, "You know I don't recognize the claims of that power."
"Very...noble of you. But not at all practical."
"We'll see." Giles reached for the washcloth which had been steeping in some other mixture in the ice bucket. "This is going to hurt rather a lot."
"Yes, I think I might pass out. Sorry. I know you don't like that." That faint smile again. "I'm supposed to be awake to take my medicine."
"This once you have my permission to lose consciousness with agony." Giles pressed the washcloth against Ethan's eyes, and he made a choking sound and went rigid, clutching the comforter. Then he relaxed. "Ethan?"
He made no answer. Giles readjusted the washcloth, sweeping a hand over Ethan's hair, and checked his pulse. Whatever he saw seemed to satisfy him, because he nodded. As he released Ethan's wrist, he brushed his fingers across his palm, and Dawn realized something. She didn't have time to think about it, though, because Giles was turning to her.
"Giles," she burst out, "Giles, I'm sorry. I just wanted to get away. I just wanted to be somebody else, I just wanted to--"
"I know," he said, very gently. "I remember what that was like."
And she stopped, because there was a look in his eyes she couldn't ever remember seeing before. It wasn't anger at Buffy's sister. It wasn't annoyance at the responsibility Buffy had left him. It wasn't even that fake look of patience that had made her leave in the first place.
It was compassion, and it was recognition, for her, for Dawn, and remembering what Ethan had told her about his past, she knew it was true. Before she could think what she was doing, she was in his arms, sobbing. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she kept gasping.
"I'm sorry, too," he told her. "I've mucked things up dreadfully. I should have seen what was going on long before you left."
She sniffled and wiped her face on his shirt. "I really hurt that woman. And her baby. Isn't there anything we can do?"
"Where's the statue of Janus you used to cast the spell?"
"We didn't use one."
He paused. "Then I'm afraid there isn't."
"Oh," she said in a very small voice, feeling sick again. So that was what Buffy had been trying to protect her from, all the time. Now she got it. She almost wished she could go back, but she knew that once you got it, it was too late, forever.
"That's one of the drawbacks of becoming an adult, Dawn. We have to learn to live with the consequences of our actions." He glanced over at Ethan. "I wish I could tell you it was easy."
"Is...is he going to be all right?"
"Ethan will always be all right," Giles said. Dawn thought of the scars, and the bathroom, and the way he'd smiled talking about Ripper, but she didn't say anything. "I need to make some arrangements to get us home. Can you watch him?"
He took a bottle out of his own bag. "If he wakes up, you can give him one of these for the pain. Only one. He'll try to wheedle more out of you, but it will only weaken him further, so don't listen to him. Do you understand?"
She nodded, and Giles left.
It was about ten minutes later that Ethan stirred. "Ripper?" he said drowsily, reaching out.
Dawn came over to him. "He'll be back soon."
"Not like him...not to be around to savor the pain he's inflicted," he mumbled, pulling away the washcloth, then wincing and rubbing his temples.
"He told me to give you one of these," she said, opening the bottle.
"I'll take three." He put out a hand.
She hesitated, then gave him two. He smiled at her. "Good girl." He swallowed them dry, making a face.
The room was quiet. Dawn was going to miss having a strange, new room every night. She was going to miss looking at stupid people and thinking she didn't belong to them. She was going to miss sitting with her cheek pressed against the window, listening to his stories in the middle of the night, feeling like they could be going anywhere. "I'm sorry, Ethan. I couldn't think of anything else to do. You were so--"
"I've always found other people's excuses very tiresome," he murmured, half-closing his eyes. "You were never tiresome before, Miss Muffet. Don't start now."
"Sorry," she said again, and was surprised how much it hurt.
There was another silence. "You're going back to Sunnydale with him?"
"I can't help it, Ethan. I just...I care."
"Yes, you care so much for others that you'll do anything for them, even put me at Ripper's mercy. You're quite the good Samaritan."
He could've died without Giles's help. It was so unfair that she blurted out, "He's not going to hurt you. He still loves you."
He opened his eyes again, and they were cold. "You don't know what you're talking about."
"I don't understand you guys," she said, "but I know what I saw just now. When you passed out, he was...he was..."
For a minute, she couldn't think of how to say it. "He touched you the way you touch Janus. With...what did you call it?...devotion."
"Ah." Ethan shut his eyes tight. "I see." After a minute, he added, "Thank you, Dawn."
"Think nothing of it," she smiled. But there was a funny expression on his face still, one which made her fumble another pill out of the bottle and press it into his hand. "Are you going to be okay?"
"Oh, I always manage to land on my feet." He swallowed the pill, then said, "We need to have a little chat before these lovelies take me away."
"About what? I'm going back to Sunnydale." Back to dinners at six. Back to school. Back to homework. She tried not to sigh.
"For now. But you named yourself a child of chaos today. You used the power that only we can. You felt it, didn't you?"
She nodded, reluctantly.
His eyes were glazing over, but he kept them fixed on her. "Janus does not forget. He always claims his children. It may take a while, but we're not finished, you and I."
Giles had said there would be consequences, so she tried to sound brave. "I know."
"I want you to take my pretty statuette."
"I'm not going to cast any more spells like that, Ethan. I don't want to hurt anybody else."
"There may be a time...when you don't have a choice, Miss Muffet. I do hope you're not going to be as complete a damned fool as Ripper. At least look after yourself properly."
"And him, too?"
"Someone needs to. It would...it would only..." His eyelids were dropping. "...only be fair..."
She touched his hand. "I will." Not that she was going to tell Giles that or anything. He might see her differently now, but that didn't mean he was suddenly going to be as cool as Ethan about things.
When she was sure he'd dozed off and didn't need her, she took the statuette and put it in her bag.
Three hours later, Dawn was waiting in the new rental car for Giles to come down. Ethan was feeling a little better, though Giles had forbidden him to get out of bed. He'd made him another batch of that strange drink while Dawn emptied out the mini-bar onto the nightstand for him. Ethan's eyes had lighted up at the little bottles of alcohol, but Giles had confiscated those. "Not with these," he'd said, carefully counting out a small number of painkillers. "If you die of aspirated vomit, I won't be held responsible."
Ethan's response to that had been colorful enough that Giles had sent Dawn down to wait for him. Now, twenty minutes later, he was finally getting into the car.
"Did you have a nice, long, boring old-people talk?" she asked him cheerfully.
"Something like that." Giles handed her the baggie in which she'd hidden the extra pills she'd snuck out for Ethan. "Oh, yes, he gave me these back. He said he didn't want you getting in any more trouble."
"Oh." She flushed. "I just--"
"Wanted to help him, I understand." He gave her a sympathetic look. "Unfortunately, there's no better way to land yourself in appalling difficulties. I should know." He started the car. Dawn turned on the radio and tuned around until she found an 'NSync song. Giles glanced over, glare at the ready.
"Ethan let me listen to this," she pointed out.
"He would." But Giles didn't change the channel, and they drove along for a while. "Dawn, you do understand why you can't live the way he does."
"Yes. But you, you understand why I wanted to. Because you did once."
He gave her a look that wasn't really surprised. "He told you that?"
"Mm-hm. Guess you're not as old and dull as you pretend to be."
"I suppose I must own my weaknesses," Giles said mildly, and she wondered how she'd missed that he had a sense of humor all along.
"So, what's going to happen to me now?"
"Fortunately, you're not officially dead. We managed to avoid that. So--"
"So I get to go back to school and stuff. Whoo and hoo."
"I was thinking of supplementing your education, actually," he told her.
"I'm not joining the Girl Scouts, Giles. Not even to make up for this."
"That's not what I had in mind," he said, smiling. "You're bright and rebellious, and you've dabbled in the black arts. Have you ever considered becoming a Watcher?"