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And If My Love Had Never Let Me Go

Chapter Text

Whedonverse

Hyperventilating, Ethan could barely walk much less run. With a glance back at the shop's back exit, he ducked behind a trash bin. It wouldn't hide him, not if anyone came looking, but it was the best he could do for the moment. His arm, where acid had burned his tattoo away, hurt like a son of a bitch, but he couldn't let that distract him, not if he wanted to live.

Ethan turned his thoughts inside. The terror and the pain, they belonged to him but were not part of him. He let them go, let them drop away. In his mind Ethan was in the air, dressed in robes of black and white, watching as lava erupted from a volcano and flowed down over the countryside, changing everything. When he opened his eyes only a minute or two had passed. He grimaced at the pain in his arm but at least the terror had been dulled down to manageable fear. He could think again. He could plan.

Reaching a hand across his body, Ethan let it rest an inch above the bandages, the last remnant of what had been the Mark of Eyghon tattooed on his arm. There were two others bearing the same mark. Eyghon should go for them, not him. That might not be true. The demon had touched his soul. The mark might be more than physical. He needed more information.

The shop was full of people: three children including the Slayer, Rupert, that Jenny Rupert had seemed so attached to, and one other. The other, a man, was fighting off Eyghon, but that couldn't be. No human could … Ethan felt as if his heart had stopped beating. They'd put Eyghon into a vampire? How could Rupert do something so incredibly stupid? That would only stabilize Eyghon, allow him to remain in the body without decomposing. Rupert had just gone and made Eyghon stronger. Ethan knew he should run – it was the only way to survive if indeed survival were at all possible now – but he couldn't move, and then he saw the vampire win. Eyghon was contained.

Ethan fell against the bricks, allowing the building to hold him up. Safe, he was safe. He wanted to collapse into little more than a puddle, but he wasn't safe. Rupert and his Slayer were one small room away. They wouldn't stay in the shop, not for long, and Ethan couldn't hide out here on the street. He ran, to his car and to his motel. Not wanting to think what Rupert would have done if he'd caught him, Ethan poured himself a scotch and thought of Rupert and his new toy: that dark haired little lovely, that Jenny.

So, Rupert had moved on had he? That hardly seemed fair, and after Ethan had taken so much trouble to spice up his life. Damn but that pain in his arm wasn't going away. Well, there was one thing he could do. A spot of magic, a bit of transcendence of the mundane world, could always shift his thoughts to other things. He pulled out a bowl, filled it with water, lit a candle and then incense. He closed his eyes and let the scent carry him until he, his astral self that is, was floating. Looking down he could see himself meditating before the altar. Rupert, he thought, let me see Rupert.

He was with Jenny, of course he was, but they weren't embracing. They were in a diner, sitting across from each other. He had tea but wasn't drinking it. Her coffee cup was raised between them, held in both hands. From where Ethan was floating it seemed as thick as a wall.

“We knew each other.” Rupert sighed and continued. “Very long ago. My youth was far more misspent than you might imagine. I broke it off.” He gave her a guilty glance. “I left. I never wanted to see him again but he does turn up. If it helps, I doubt it was Ethan who raised Eyghon. The demon was as much a danger to him as to the rest of us. He wouldn't risk his own life.”

It was nice to hear that Rupert still understood him.

“You were lovers.”

Ah, Ethan had wondered if she'd picked up on that.

“To put is succinctly, yes.” There was no reason for Rupert to look ashamed. “But that was ages ago, decades ago,” Rupert continued.

“There's still something between you.”

She was an insightful one. Ethan could see what Rupert saw in this Jenny.

“I told him to leave town.”

“You took too much joy in beating on him, Rupert. There's still passion there.” She put down her cup. “I have to go.” When Rupert started to rise, she added. “No. Stay.” Wrapping her arms around herself, she looked as hopeless as a lost waif. Aw, poor thing. “I need to be alone.”

Rupert stayed. He never did know when to go running after. “I told him to leave,” he whispered. “It's not my fault he came back, keeps coming back. If he had come back, that first night, I wouldn't have taken him back. I wouldn't.” He reached a hand out to where Jenny had been sitting but his words made it clear he wasn't thinking of her. “Would I?”

Ethan let go and felt himself being drawn backward into his body. He opened his eyes to the slightly dingy motel, to the altar before him and to the statute of Janus on the far table. “I think we can answer that question for you Rupert.”

Chapter Text

Whedonverse scrying in on In Another Life verse

None of the accommodations in Sunnydale stood up to Ethan's standards. Even its most expensive hotels were mundane at best. Unfortunately setting up that spell for Halloween – renting the shop, purchasing supplies, et cetera, et cetara – had left him rather on the broke side. Sunnydale was full of odd jobs but there were plenty here who knew how to work magic. They didn't pay as well as they would elsewhere. Hence the dump of a motel he'd been forced to settle for.

He rose to his feet and thought about the altar. If he was going to answer Rupert's question, he'd have to look across alternate universes. The scrying bowl could stay, but it wouldn't be enough. Ethan pulled the statue of Janus and set it down on the far side of the bowl. Janus, representing chaos, was the Lord of the Realms of Possibility. She / he could show Ethan how their lives would have played out if Ethan hadn't left that night.

Ethan sat before the bowl and lit the incense. Images began to form. Randall dead. Ripper, at the funeral, telling Ethan he was leaving, was returning to the Council. “Don't try to contact me,” he'd said. Ethan hadn't, not for years, and by then it had been too late. The Council had stultified Ripper and transformed him back into Rupert. But in this universe, Ethan waited less than a week and found Rupert in the library.

“Hello Ripper.” Gods, had he honestly worn a psychedelic vest bringing together those shades of green and orange? Had he actually allowed his jeans to become that threadbare? Ethan winced to defend himself against his younger self's taste.

Rupert slammed his book shut and jumped as the sound echoed around all three stories. “What are you doing here?” he whispered.

“I came looking for you.” Ethan hadn't diminished his voice at all, in fact it sounded as if he'd raised it a bit.

“Do you mind? This is a library.”

Ethan waved that off. “It's not as if I'm disturbing anyone, other than you of course, and I hope that's in a good way.”

Rupert looked over to see an older man slumped against a desk. He grabbed at Ethan's vest and shook him. “What did you do?”

“Relax. He's just asleep. They're all asleep. I thought it'd be nice to have a spot of privacy.”

“I told you to leave me alone.”

“And I didn't,” Ethan replied. “Can you say that you're honestly surprised?”

“I can say I'm disappointed.”

“As am I,” Ethan added. “This scholastic life, rather dull and drab, doesn't suit you, not at all. I found a new book, one to replace the tome you destroyed. Come play with me. It'll be ever so much fun.”

Rupert slammed Ethan onto a table. “The last time we played, Randall died.”

Ethan rolled his eyes. This didn't seem to be going anywhere interesting. He fast-forwarded through the inevitable beating. This one was different though. It was so brutal that Ethan couldn't even crawl away. Rupert called some of his Watcher pals who came and carted Ethan away.

Ah, this was new. Ethan slowed down out of fast-forward and then wished he hadn't. He looked dreadful. The bruises hadn't formed yet but his hand was broken and a bone pushed out of his arm.

The two Watchers met a third out, a slightly heavy man, somewhat older than the other two, in the parking lot. “Mr. Travers, sir.”

“Is this the one who's been causing trouble for our Rupert?”

“Yes, sir.”

“He's not to cause trouble again. Do you understand me.”

The two stood up straighter. Ethan, on the cart, must have understood as well. He started to speak a spell of protection but the closer man reached a hand around his throat and squeezed.

Ethan turned his head away. He didn't need to see more. “That didn't go quite as well as planned.” Still, there had to be someplace where he and Rupert were together and happy. How hard could it be to find?

Rupert, once he'd returned to the Council, never let Ethan back in to his life. There wasn't even one universe that supported what seemed to be a perfectly likely option to Ethan. There were universes where Randall died but Rupert stayed. In every one of them, Rupert drowned in his guilt. He killed himself. He recklessly hunted vampires until they killed him. He sank into a haze of drugs and alcohol until he became so pitiful that even Ethan wouldn't stay. In no universe where they invoked Eyghon did somebody not die. Rupert's deaths, which tended to involve Watchers, were particularly messy. In no universe where they invoked Eyghon did Rupert and Ethan stay together. The best that came from those universes was the life Ethan had now. On the rare occasions that he did manage to bring a bit of joy and interest into Rupert's life, Ethan got beaten for his troubles. It was hardly satisfactory. It was time to step out of the box. He'd have to search through universes where he and Ripper had been so mundane that they'd never dared to draw a demon down into themselves.

Ripper, it seemed, grew bored with nothing more than sex and drugs and magick. Ethan couldn't see why. They certainly amused him well enough. He did remember that though. Ripper bored had been a Ripper on the verge of returning to the Council. It's why Ethan had suggested Eyghon in the first place. He'd thought ramping up the danger would keep Ripper interested. That line was closed though.

In all of the universes where Rupert returned to the Council and Ethan followed after like an obedient stray, Rupert asked Ethan to get a job. Something to do with not starving which wouldn't have been a problem if Rupert would have been willing to knock a few heads in and snatch a few wallets. Most of the jobs involved Ethan working in a magic shop, one he bought out, cheaply, after the owner had died, boringly and of natural causes. Of those, the only universes that brought them to Sunnydale were the ones where Rupert was called to become the Watcher of a Slayer. “Let's see where that takes us.”

This Ethan wore blues and greens, colors he'd always associated more with Rupert, and Ethan's hair was long but tied back in a pony tail. The other Ethan owned a magic shop, two actually, one in England and the other in Sunnydale. Both shops bore his name – Ethan's – so that hadn't changed. The Sunnydale shop was in the same location as his own store and did quite as well as his own costume store had. It seemed he was still quite the businessman no matter what the universe. He looked in closer.

Ethan felt a shiver run down his spine. He glanced about the shop only to see the usual customers. Miss Maggie was busy measuring herbs but he didn't need to be concerned there. She practiced a form a Wicca with a strong belief in the Law of Returns, that any negative actions would come back threefold. He knew she would be scrupulously honest with her purchases. Three people browsed the bookshelves and another sniffed at incense but there didn't seem anything untoward there. Ethan expanded his senses but couldn't feel anything unusual, only his own magic. He resolved to keep an eye out. Here on a Hellmouth, who knew what it might portend.

The bell jangled as the door opened. Ethan didn't necessarily feel the need for a bell but Rupert had brought it in as a gift a few days before he'd opened the shop. “Every proper shop needs a bell.” He'd done the same thing with Ethan's shop in London, looking so pleased that Ethan hadn't had the heart to say no.

Ah, UPS, finally. Beth, over in the London shop, had shipped over some books, tomes Rupert had wanted. Ethan had expected them yesterday. When he opened the box, there was a letter on top, written in Beth's hand. Found this. Thought you'd like it. - B

Underneath was a photo, black and white, from more than twenty years back. Ripper in that godawful orange vest he'd thankfully left behind when he'd returned to the Council and Ethan decked out in much the same hippie style – if one could call it style – but at least in maroons and browns that didn't glare quite so loudly. Ethan smiled down fondly. Those were, well, days if not the days. He couldn't say he missed squatting or starving. They'd been freer then, or had thought they were, but life was more satisfying now, or would be if Rupert didn't throw himself into danger on a regular basis. Still, it had been over a week since anything frighteningly deadly. Perhaps it was time they had a night to themselves. Ethan gave Rupert a ring.

“Hello?” Ah good, not too distracted which meant nothing deadly had come up since this morning.

“Dearheart.”

Rupert's voice took on an affectionate purr. “You sound happy.”

“You're picking up take-out on the way home. Make it something nice.”

“Why?”

“We're staying in.”

“Don't we usually?” Now Rupert sounded completely befuddled.

“Honestly Rupert, has it been that long since we've” He let his voice drop down to a husky tone. “stayed in?”

“Oh.” Have to give one thing to Rupert. He did catch on quickly. “You know, if you really wanted to make it a special night, you could cook.”

“Ha ha. Keep it up and you won't be getting any.”

“As if you could deny me.” Rupert sounded confident, not without reason. “How late does the shop close tonight?” Ethan almost gasped at the rough edge of lust in Rupert's voice.

“Six, as you well know.”

“We could play hookey,” Rupert encouraged. “I'll give up the library for the afternoon if you'll close shop early.”

“I am a responsible businessman. Unlike some.”

Ethan sat back in shock, barely aware of the scratchy motel rug he was sitting on. His other self put business before pleasure, before pleasure with Rupert? Were there no universes outside of this one where he was happy? He was tempted to give up on this universe but the chance to see himself, even if it was his other self, and Rupert together was too strong. He scryed into the bowl again.

Ethan closed the shop up fifteen minutes early. If any customers came this late, they were just going to have to understand. Perhaps he should get an assistant, someone like Beth in London. Then he'd be able to take Rupert up on his offers without closing the shop. Not that Rupert had ever made any offers of the kind. Perhaps it was something they should try working into their relationship.

Their home, at least the downstairs, was lit by candles. Ethan knew there would be candles upstairs as well, in the bedroom, unlit at the moment but a simple spell would take care of that when the time was right. There was an album on the stereo. Ethan took in the eclectic jazz of King Crimson. “Red?”

Rupert's tweed had given way to a pair of casual slacks and a green turtleneck. Damn, that wasn't playing fair. Rupert knew how deadly attractive he was in a turtleneck. Not that he believed it, but he knew Ethan's feelings on the subject. He gave Ethan an abashed grin as he handed over a glass of wine. “I was feeling nostalgic.”

“We're thinking as one.” Ethan handed over the photo. “Beth sent it. That's what got me thinking we needed a night in.”

Rupert barked out a laugh. “Good Lord, we look …”

“Young. Naïve. Like idiots?”

Rupert looked up from the photo. “Like we were meant to be together.”

“Oh, that's much better,” Ethan purred.

“And you look …”

“Yes.”

“Positively kissable.”

On the record player, as “Providence” gave way to “Starless” Rupert started shifting in time to the music, drawing Ethan further into their home, past the dining room table and until they were dancing together, wrapped in each others arms. “Dinner's going to get cold,” Ethan smirked.

“I decided to cook.”

Ethan kept dancing but allowed a properly shocked expression to cross his face. “After I told you to get take-out?”

“It's just pasta with veggies and chicken, Ethan. Everything's chopped and ready to go. The actual cooking will be minimal, once we're ready to eat.”

Ethan pulled Rupert closer. “And you don't think I'm desperate now?”

“Oh, I believe you're quite desperate, just not for dinner.” Their lips came together in a rough kiss.

"Hmm, I suppose a short horizontal rumba wouldn't be completely out of order."

Rupert's lips drifted down Ethan's neck. "Or perhaps even a longer one," he said between kisses.

Ethan sat back and dismissed the scryed image. How dare that domesticated, tamed Ethan be happy when he couldn't have his Rupert? It wasn't going to stand. He'd show him. He'd bring the creature here and let Rupert see what he was missing. The creature couldn't stay of course. He'd have to limit the other Ethan's time here. He wouldn't want Rupert to grow too accustomed to that timid, domesticated Ethan.

Chapter Text

In Another Life verse shifting over to Whedonverse

About a month-and-a-half after he and Rupert had moved to Sunnydale, Ethan had bought the local magic shop. He didn't need the money. The shop in London was doing quite well under Beth's management, but there wasn't much of anything for him to do in Sunnydale outside of helping Rupert with his Watcher duties and that involved far more getting hit on the head than Ethan could honestly get enthused about.

After Buffy had learned Angel was a vampire and had let him live, Rupert, disappointed with his Slayer, had grown quite excited about Ethan's new shop. He'd tried to convince Ethan to keep the old location, but Ethan knew Rupert's interest had more to do with the look of the place than any practical considerations. To put it bluntly, Rupert had been seduced by the mahogany of the stairs and bookshelves. Rupert, however, wasn't the one who'd be climbing up and down those stairs each and every day. In addition, in a town where vampires used underground tunnels to get about, Ethan didn't want to be anywhere near a basement that provided access to those selfsame tunnels. The location Ethan had selected was more heavily trafficked than the old magic shop. As with his shop in London, Ethan had named the shop after himself. He owned it after all. Why shouldn't his name be spelled out in gold letters on the window?

When the customers and inventory vanished around him, Ethan's first thought was that he should have listened to Rupert. The shop, in such a central location, had been too noticeable, had almost asked to be attacked. But it didn't look as if the shop had been attacked so much as abandoned and not so much abandoned as if it had been a completely different shop to begin with. The name was still the same but the hangers and mannequins, appearing as little more than detritus, suggested a different type of inventory. Clothing perhaps? The denizens of Sunnydale certainly could use a good influx of style but Ethan didn't see such a shop prospering here. Of course, based on the look of the place, it hadn't.

The first thing to do was work out what had happened. The easiest thing to do was check the date. All he had to do was step out of the shop, walk five feet to the closest newspaper kiosk, and check the date, which was the tenth of November. Well, time travel had been unlikely. In the storeroom behind the shop, Ethan found a few crystals and herbs, enough to put together a few spells which told him that whatever had been done, it wasn't a glamour. He was seeing the real world or a real world. An alternate universe made the most sense but in what kind of a universe would he have let his shop fail?

It hit him like a brick being slammed upside his head, a feeling he was all too familiar with from his misspent youth. Ethan found himself racing for the high-school before he could even put it into words. He would have let the shop go to hell only if Rupert had died.

Chapter Text

Whedonverse

Even though he didn't know if Rupert was in danger, was alive or was dead, Ethan found himself running, not for his own life, but for Rupert's. As he threw open the door to the school and shoved himself through, the one voice saying this Rupert wasn't his Rupert was being beaten down by another, by a panicked voice calling out, “What will I do if he's not here?” Stop, use the phone, call the apartment the first voice had tried to say, but the second ran through a thousand scenarios where he never found Rupert – What if he isn't home? What if the number is different here? What if he didn't move to Sunnydale? – always avoiding the one he didn't want to think of: what if he's dead.

He knew he wouldn't call. Too jittery to use a phone, Ethan could picture himself running from school, to home, to coffee shop, running but never finding Rupert, too scared to ever stop, trapped in a Stygian nightmare, always searching but never finding.

He was so certain he'd never see Rupert again that finding him in the library was more shock than not. Ethan stumbled through the swinging doors and stopped afraid that if he reached out he'd find a mirage rather than a man. It was his Rupert, dressed in what he jokingly referred to as his Watcher's uniform of tweed and khakis, but it wasn't. He was clean-shaven, no goatee. He was tense in a way Ethan's Rupert never was. Ethan could see the anger coiled in him like a snake, ready to strike.

It didn't matter. “Thank the thousand laughing gods. You're alive.”

Ethan barely saw the fist before it struck his face. He felt himself falling. “Maybe I'll wake up in my own world” was his last thought before the room went black.

Chapter Text

In Another Life verse

Rupert was alone in the library when the call came. "We found a card in the wallet, listing you as next of kin for Mr. Ethan Rayne." The sentences stopped making sense after that but he picked up the important bits. Hospital. Ethan. Coma.

He was halfway to the hospital before he thought that Buffy didn't know where he'd gone, but that didn't matter, that couldn't matter, not until he'd seen Ethan. They wouldn't let him in the room. Not stable. Deteriorating.

He sat in the waiting room, as close to the ER as he could get, and watched doctors and nurses coming and going. He wanted to shove his way through the doors to at least get a glimpse of Ethan but they told him the next few hours were critical. The best thing he could do for Ethan was leave him alone. That wasn't right, that couldn't be right, but it was the only thing he had so he held onto it. That's where they found him, Xander first but then Willow and Buffy. The voices sounded as if they were coming from an unimaginable distance. You weren't at the library. We split up for the search. Nobody had answered at the apartment. Ethan's shop had been left open, but not to worry. Willow had locked up the shop. None of it was important.

Something was being placed into his hands. He looked down and saw tea in a paper cup. It tasted bitter. He forced himself to drink it down. He looked up. Buffy sat next to him. Willow and Xander, more blurs than figures, stood behind. “They won't let me see him.”

The paper cup was gone from his hands. He found himself crying on Buffy's shoulder. He was exhausted when he stopped but his head felt clearer. The windows still let daylight through. That couldn't be. It must be night by now, one or two in the morning at least.

“Are you okay?”

“He's pivotal,” Rupert said, “to the restoration.”

“Of a monarchy?” Rupert could almost laugh at that. Trust Willow to get the historical reference. Trust Willow to miss his point.

“To the restoration of my soul.” Rupert's thoughts flitted onto his father and onto Quentin Travers. “You don't know who I was becoming, what mold the Council was forcing me into. Ethan changed all that. He freed me. He allowed me to follow my duty but remain my own man. I shudder to think of whom I'd have become without him.”

He stared at the ER doors. “I can't lose him.”

With a sudden jolt Rupert turned back to the children. “It can't be … He just had a clean bill of health three weeks ago. The shop, it needs to be checked, but I can't leave him. I have to be here in case … for when he wakes.”

“We'll take care of it, Giles,” Willow told him. “I'll get Miss Calendar and we'll check the shop for magical and demonic signatures, for anything that shouldn't be there. Buffy?”

“I'm staying with Giles.”

“If there's a demon,” Xander said, “it's most likely at the shop. You go. I'll stay here with Giles.”

Buffy stood. She seemed terribly distant suddenly. “Are you sure?”

“Yeah,” Xander said. “I don't have the super strength or the mojo, but hospital backup? I've got that covered.”

The girls moved even further away, but Rupert could feel Xander standing over him, the boy's need to comfort an almost unbearable pressure. Finally the boy went away as well, but he returned and pressed another cup of tea into Rupert's hands. Then he sat, slouched down into his chair, and didn't try to talk.

Xander had been right. He was a good man to have at your back when times got tough.

Chapter Text

Whedonverse

Consciousness hurt. The sharp punch to Ethan's jaw had left a dull ache in its wake. The back of his head felt tender, telling him that nothing had broken his fall. Keeping his eyes closed, not moving more than he had to, Ethan felt and listened. There was wood below him, hard and unyielding, possibly one of the library chairs. He'd always hated the library chairs, awkward uncomfortable things. His arms had been pulled back behind him, tied together at the wrists. He tugged but the rope didn't move. He was bound to the chair then, quite tightly in fact.

There were no sounds, nothing to tell him if Rupert was still in the room, until something flew past his face, so close that he could feel the brush of air. He startled in place as it clattered behind him, sounding as if it had hit a table. “You are awake.” It was Rupert's voice. So much for scoping out the situation unnoticed. Ethan opened his eyes.

Rupert stood before him, about three feet away, this universe's Rupert, the clean shaven Rupert, although he looked, otherwise, enough like his own Rupert that it brought a pang to his heart. He stepped forward until he was towering over Ethan, standing so closely that Ethan could have touched him if he could have moved at all. Rupert reached a hand out, brushing his fingers through Ethan's shoulder length hair. Ethan half-expected him to tug at it, but Rupert's touch was gentle. “What's this? Grew your hair out with magic since yesterday? Is it supposed to make me wax nostalgic? Offer you clemency?”

Well, Rupert knew him, that much seemed to be certain, but this universe's Ethan and Rupert didn't seem to be on particularly good terms. On the other hand, Rupert was still brushing his hand through Ethan's locks. Perhaps there was enough chemistry between them to get him out of this. “Rupert, my hands are asleep. I don't suppose you could untie them?”

Rupert's hand tugged at his hair, pulling it sharply. Ethan didn't complain. It hurt far less than his jaw. So, that hadn't worked at all. “Won't people talk? I mean, here I am, bound to a chair in the middle of a high-school library.”

Rupert stepped back and glanced around the room as if he didn't see Ethan's point. Gods, what kind of a hell dimension had he landed in when leaving a man bound in plain sight didn't raise questions? Rupert's sudden grin reminded Ethan of Ripper, which was hardly surprising. Given the violence he'd already seen from this Rupert, he was much closer to Ripper than his own Rupert. “Then you'll have to convince them,” Rupert said, “that nothing untoward has happened.” Ethan stared back at him. “What's the matter, Ethan? Not up to it? Didn't you once tell me you could talk your way out of anything?”

Ethan recalled the words with a wince. Ripper, upon first hearing them, had gone on a shopping – meaning stealing – spree that had landed them in trouble with a pair of coppers. Ethan hadn't talked his way out of that. Ripper had used his fists and then they'd run. “That wasn't me.” It was true, in a way. He'd never said the words to this Rupert.

“What game are you playing at?” Ethan almost let out a sigh of relief. There was that much similarity then. Rupert, even at his most Ripperish, could always be distracted by a puzzle.

“I'm not the Ethan you know. I've been pulled in from an alternate dimension.” Gods, this didn't sound convincing at all. “You noticed the difference yourself. You said something about my hair? I have to admit, it is odd, seeing you clean shaven.”

When he spoke, Rupert's tone was mocking but he brushed a hand over his chin. “I have a beard in your dimension?”

“A goatee actually.”

“You always did prefer ...” Rupert took two steps back. “No.”

“I don't know what happened between the two of you …” Ethan, feeling his way, trailed off there.

And that, apparently, had been the wrong thing to say. Rupert's jaw clenched. “And what did I, or he I suppose I should say, give up for you? His conscience? His moral code? Are you still calling down demons? Killing innocents? How many more have died since Randall?”

“Randall's dead?” Ethan fell back against the chair and winced as his body pushed his wrists into the wood. Randall had been the best of them. Ethan's first friend after father's beatings had driven him out of the house. Ethan would never have survived the streets …

Ethan looked up, meaning to ask what had happened to Randall, but Rupert was raving as he paced across the room. “Never should have listened. You come here, again, and try to kill my Slayer, again.”

“Buffy? Is she alright?” The moment the words were out of his mouth, Ethan regretted his outburst. It drew Rupert's attention back to him.

Rupert's stillness was far more dreadful than anything Ethan had seen from him so far. “Did you honestly believe I'd fall for this charade? You can't pull off innocent, Ethan. You never could. You were born vile. The world would be better off.”

Ethan could hear the end of that sentence: without you in it. The compactness of the words were what frightened him. Rupert, swearing and ranting, was Rupert blowing off steam. This was nothing like that. “A spell,” he blurted out.

“What?”

At least that had distracted Rupert. “There has to be a spell to prove I'm from another dimension. We could go to my shop, search through my spell books.” No, wait. The shop had been empty.

“The same shop where you dedicated Buffy to Eyghon?”

“What?” Eyghon? Wasn't that a demon? It couldn't be. No matter how bad things had gotten, he wouldn't have. Rupert's fist was readying to strike. “No, please. You wouldn't hurt an innocent.” He didn't know that. Ethan spoke to his own Rupert, hoping this one was enough like him to hear.

“You were never innocent, Ethan.”

“One spell. What can it hurt? Please. I'm not the Ethan you know. I swear it.”

Rupert's arms folded up between them like a wall. “One spell. It's not worth the time I'd waste researching. You're lying, Ethan. You always lie.”

“Divination then, something quick. Bibliomancy. Let a book fall open. See what it says.” Rupert hadn't been far off with that talking his way out of anything comment. Ethan could put his own spin on the interpretation of anything Rupert read. Ethan glanced at what he could see of the bookshelves. Of course most of Rupert's texts related to demons, evil wizards, things that went bump in the night. “Or tarot cards. Or perhaps cleromancy. Toss a few coins. Zygomancy even.”

“Or oneiromancy?”

“Dreams would work.” Ethan said. Dreams would work very well. Surely someone would come along and free him, given enough time.

“I fancy osteomancy with a few very specific bones.” Rupert's hard stare suggested where those bones would come from. “Or perhaps hydromancy. Dump you, chair and all, into the ocean. If you sink, you're innocent.”

Gods, he was going to die and at Rupert's hand. “Please, Rupert.”

There was a sharp clap from behind him. A pause, deliberately timed to raise the tension, and then another clap. Rupert had gone white. Ethan inched his chair around until he could see.

Ethan saw himself standing at the top of the stairs. He, the other Ethan, was dressed more formally than his own more casual style, and his hair was short, so short it didn't even curl down to the neck. That haircut must be very easy to take care of. It was an idiotic thing to think, he knew it was an idiotic thing to think, but he couldn't quite handle this Ethan who was so obviously not himself.

“Very amusing.” Ethan heard his own voice coming from another throat. He saw his own grin plastered on another face, a face that was the twin to his own. Ethan knew what that grin felt like from the inside, but he'd never before understood why it had always put his Rupert on his guard. The other Ethan spoke again. “You honestly believed that pathetic tosser and I were the same man?”

Chapter Text

IALverse

The ER had emptied out by the time Jenny and Buffy returned. Jenny had no trouble spotting Xander, who jumped to his feet as they ran through the door, but didn't see either Rupert or Willow anywhere. “No Giles,” Buffy said. “Good news?”

Buffy didn't look surprised when Xander shook his head. “He's with Ethan. The doctors said there wasn't much time.”

“And all those books we carted over here earlier?” Buffy, who'd done most of the carrying, asked.

“Willow's going through them,” Xander replied. By the tone of his voice Jenny could tell that even Willow didn't think research would help at this point.

Buffy shifted the box she was carrying. “We'd better get this stuff up to Giles.”

Xander led the way up to the seventh floor. The nurse at the main desk looked up as they passed. “Visiting hours end at nine.”

Willow, surrounded by piles of ancient tomes, rose to her feet slowly when she saw them. “No change,” she said, almost apologetically, as if she thought it was her fault things weren't going better.

Only Buffy entered the room, dropping the box onto the table with a loud thud as the others crowded in the doorway. The rasps of Ethan's pained breaths seemed to echo across the room. His pale face against the white sheets and walls made Ethan look as if he might just fade away at any moment. Rupert, looking unusually dour in his dark tweed, provided a grounded focus, as if he were a rock or a clump of earth holding Ethan to the world by force of will. Rupert looked up but didn't move from Ethan's side. “Could you please see to it that I'm not disturbed?”

“On it,” Buffy replied. She and Xander took off in different directions down the hallway.

“I worked Fox's Scrying for Occult Influences at the shop,” Jenny told Rupert. “It wasn't completely conclusive, of course, given the presence of so many magical items, but the only energies I found were Ethan's.”

“Thank you,” Rupert replied. Jenny nodded. She had to give Rupert one thing: even with his lover dying, he hadn't lost his British reserve. Even as she had that thought, his head fell to the bed and his lips brushed against Ethan's hand, held in his own. The cry that tore out of his throat was more keening wail than any civilized sound.

Jenny pulled Willow away from the doorway. “Let's give him a moment.”

She waited until she heard him moving about the room before returning. Jenny would have let Rupert perform his rituals in peace but, based on the supplies he'd asked for, knew he'd need a partner for some of them. None of them would do any good, but Jenny rather figured Rupert already knew that.

Jenny and Willow watched as Rupert pulled a besom out of the box and started the cleansing by sweeping the broom against the walls of Ethan's room. Willow let out a squeak as the twigs left brown smears against the pristine white of the walls. “The color from the twigs anchors the spell into the walls,” she said, thinking that Willow had stayed because she was curious about the spell. “He's cleansing the room of external influences, of foreign magics.”

“But you said there weren't any.” Willow's voice was insistent, as if her words themselves could drive reality. “You found only Ethan's magic at the shop.”

“I said there probably weren't any. The test isn't completely conclusive. I could have missed something.”

“So, if whatever has Ethan in a coma was an attack, Giles' spell will block it and Ethan will be okay?”

Jenny glanced at Willow. The girl looked almost as pale as Ethan. Telling Willow the truth would worry her, unnecessarily since there wasn't anything the girl could do to change the situation, but Jenny had vowed never to lie to Willow about magic. Willow might be untrained at the moment, but she had too much power to be allowed to believe lies about how magic worked. “If it is an attack and it requires an influx of magic, then the spell could help Ethan, but most magical attacks are quick strikes, like a knife to the gullet. In those cases, blocking the magic after the attack is useless.”

“But Mr. Giles knows what he's doing. He's been studying magic all his life. One of his spells will help, right?”

Jenny couldn't bring herself to meet Willow's eyes. “Rupert isn't trying these spells because they will work; he's trying these spells because he's desperate.”

Chapter Text

Whedonverse

“You honestly believed this pathetic tosser was me?”

Ethan glared and started struggling against the ropes although it did little more than increase the numbness in his hands. He resolved, then and there, to refer to his doppelganger by his surname. The man didn't deserve Ethan's given name and there were plenty of bastards in the world who went by Rayne. “Pathetic tosser,” he mumbled. “I'll give you pathetic tosser.” Neither Rupert nor Rayne seemed to be paying him any mind.

Rupert stared at Rayne the way a man would stare at the Grail, the way a man would stare at the one thing that could both fulfill his greatest desire and destroy him in the same instant. “What is this?” Rupert asked.

Ethan watched himself grin in delight. “Really Ripper, don't be stupid. It's already been explained.” Rayne gestured toward Ethan. “Alternate universe. Inferior copy of me. Domesticated. Tamed.”

Rupert burst across the room and plunged a fist into Rayne's gut. Ethan winced as he saw his other self go down, almost choking as the air was forced out of his lungs, but Rayne came back up laughing. Rupert raised his fist. “Let's try this again.”

Rayne's hands flew up as if he was surrendering although he didn't look at all penitent. “But I did it for you.”

As Rupert's fist hit Rayne's jaw, Rayne's head jerked to the right. “Fine, fine.” Rayne winced as he brought his head back around. “You wondered, just for a moment, what it would be like if we'd gotten back together. I have to admit to being surprised as well as touched. I didn't know you cared.”

Ethan shut his eyes against the love and pain he saw on both their faces. This … whatever it was between them seemed like a mockery of the devotion he shared with his Rupert, the Rupert he might never see again.

“You brought him over,” this clean-shaven Rupert said. “It's just your speed. Malicious. Cruel.”

“But Ripper, I gave you exactly what you wanted.” There was a sound of triumph in his voice, as if hurting Rupert had been his goal all along. “Of course it's a pity he won't be here long enough to replace me, but one can't have everything.”

Ethan opened his eyes at the threat he heard in those words. Rayne was staring directly at him, a cruel grin stretched across his face. “What are you planning to do to me?” Ethan asked.

“Planning?” Rayne tried, and failed, to look innocent. “Nothing more than I've already done. Why? Are you offering? How outré. We could certainly start with bondage, seeing that you've already been tied up by Ripper's expert hands.”

“I wouldn't touch you with a ten foot pole.”

Rayne tossed a kiss toward Ethan. “How delightfully phallic.”

Rupert grabbed Rayne's shirt and shoved him back into the wood of the staircase. “Is that why you dragged him across dimensions? So you could fuck yourself?”

“Don't be tedious, Ripper. I dragged his ass here, as you so eloquently stated, for you. Besides, hypocrisy doesn't suit you, my dear. It's not as if you don't want him yourself.”

Rupert sputtered in response.

“Don't try to deny it. You bound him to a chair the first chance you found. Honestly, you could have at least offered the man dinner first. He has been dragged across multiple dimensions. It must have been terribly exhausting.”

At the words “you bound him to a chair,” Rupert turned from Rayne and stopped and stared at Ethan. His stare was uncomfortable, intense. Ethan realized that Rayne hadn't been far off. He felt as if he were a dessert that Rupert wanted to slowly devour. When he spoke, it was to get Rupert focused on something else. “He's very good at escaping, isn't he.”

Rupert glanced to where Rayne had been and swore. “Damn.”

“Now that you know I'm not Rayne, I don't suppose you'd untie me.”

“I have to assume you're just as good at escaping.”

“To where and why?” Ethan asked. “Remember, I came looking for you.”

“Because you thought I was him, your Rupert.” He stared off into space and a look of wonder interspersed with a bit of terror took over Rupert's face. He fell into a chair. “In your dimension, we're lovers aren't we? You and I, or you and another me.”

“Yes,” Ethan told him. “And I'd like to get back there if you don't mind. Mine is a much nicer dimension.” You don't hit me, for starters.

Rupert was staring at him again, and Ethan had the sneaking suspicion that if Rupert had listened to what he'd just said Rupert would mind, possibly so much that he'd try to keep Ethan here. “Rupert?”

As Rupert pulled off his glasses and gave Ethan a distracted “Hmmm?”, he looked so much like Ethan's Rupert that Ethan's heart fell.

It was the last straw. “Damn it, Rupert. Untie me right now. I don't give a flying fuck what happened between the two of you. It has nothing to do with me. I just want to go home.”

Rupert blinked and untied him and even said “Sorry.”

Ethan rubbed at his wrists and had started shaking the feeling back into his hands when Rupert reached over and took one of Ethan's hands in his. Ethan closed his eyes a moment and sank into it, feeling Rupert's hands on his. He might never have this again, not with his Rupert. That was enough to break the spell. “You can't keep me,” he said. “I will find a way back to my own Rupert.”

Rupert dropped Ethan's hand as if it had burned him. “Of course not. I wouldn't dream of keeping you here.”

Ethan chose to ignore the lie and the pain underneath.

Chapter Text

IALverse

Buffy stopped just inside the door. All the occult … stuff they’d brought over was scattered throughout the hospital room. It was worse than she’d thought. Giles always cleaned up after himself. Always. Even that time when Ethan had told her about the prophecy, the one that said she’d die at the Master’s hands, even then when Giles had looked as grungy and worn out as she’d ever seen him, even then his books had been organized. Now, not only was nothing put away but Giles was scrambling through mystical-looking doodads and muttering like a madman.

She called out as she approached, trying to sound casual, “Hey, Giles, what’s up?”

“Just one more spell.” He didn’t seem to be talking to her. “There’s been no response, almost as if he’s not in his body, but that’s impossible. Almost impossible. I think Moore’s Astral …”

Oh yeah, he was over the deep end. Time to step in. “There will be no more spells.”

Buffy stood her ground but it wasn’t easy under Giles’ glare. “Do you want to repeat that?” he asked. He hadn’t raised his voice but she could hear the menace. “On second thought, don’t. I don’t want to have to kill you.” For the first time since she’d met him, Buffy wasn’t sure she could take Giles if it came down to a fight.

“You’ve gone through all the spells. You aren’t learning anything new.” At least that’s what Miss Calendar had told her. “Go home. Get some sleep.”

“Go home?” At least he’d shifted from murderous intent look to questioning her sanity look. “While Ethan’s life drains away?”

Miss Calendar appeared in the doorway. Coward. At least she could have come into the room. “Rupert, you’re not doing him any good. You’re exhausted. What do you think you can do in this state?”

“I can save his life.”

“Really?” Miss Calendar asked. “How?”

Some sort of mystical whatsit, something made of gears and feathers, fell in pieces from Giles’s hand.

“Leave,” Buffy told him. “I mean it. If you won’t go home, at least cross the street and get something to eat.”

“And if I refuse?”

“You’re not going to,” she said. “If you thought you were right, you’d still be arguing.” She didn’t say that she could knock him out and carry him home but he seemed to have heard it just the same.

He glared at her long enough that she thought maybe he would refuse to go, but then he brushed the rest of the feathers from his hands, gave Ethan a long kiss, and stalked out the door, almost shoving Miss Calendar out of his way.

“Want company?” Miss Calendar called after him.

“I suppose someone has to keep an eye on me, to ensure I obey the tyrant’s commands.” His words had that crisp edge that Buffy only heard when he was truly furious. “Xander, why don’t you accompany me?”

Buffy heard the click of Giles’ shoes retreating down the hall. Even his footsteps sounded angry. When Miss Calendar and Willow joined her in Ethan’s hospital room, Buffy turned from them and started picking up the occult stuff Giles had left scattered around. Miss Calendar had said Giles needed a break, and it had made sense when she’d explained it, but Buffy felt like a bully. If it had been her sitting with someone she loved, she wouldn’t have wanted to go.

 

Rupert allowed Xander to lead him to the diner down the street. He would have preferred silence, but Xander kept up a constant stream of chatter. At least he didn’t expect a response. Once settled, Rupert held his cup of tea in both hands, soaking in the warmth. Sunnydale wasn’t cold but Rupert couldn’t get the chill out of his bones.

Xander had blown across his hot chocolate and taken a large gulp. It had only stopped the chatter for a moment. “Hate to say it, big guy, but you’re looking worse than Starvin’ Marvin.”

Rupert merely stared over his cup. He felt slightly annoyed that he couldn’t tell if Xander’s look of surprise was real or exaggerated. “South Park?” Xander asked.

Rupert didn’t bother to reply.

“I thought Ethan was keeping you up on culture …” Now that was a look of true shock. Xander obviously regretted mentioning Ethan. He shouldn’t have. It wasn’t as if Rupert could forget even for a moment.

Xander’s usual reaction to stress was to babble. He didn’t disappoint this time. “So, Starvin’ Marvin. He’s from Ethiopia, see. These guys won him, kind of like a prize, but not really …” Rupert let Xander’s words, something about stop watches and Sally Struthers, wash over him. He felt very tired and food wasn’t about to help.

Rupert was on his feet before the expression on Xander’s face told him he was being abrupt. “I’m … exhausted,” Rupert said. “I need to walk.”

“I’ll come with.”

“No!” That had come out harsher than he’d intended. “I’m just going to walk up and down the street. I’ll be back before the food is ready.” Xander seemed uncertain but Rupert walked off quickly. He hadn’t been lying. He did hope that exercise would help wake him, but that wasn’t his only reason for leaving. If he couldn’t be with Ethan, he wanted to be alone.

Rupert had walked three blocks when he let himself fall against the side of a building. He knew he was being conspicuous, but what did it matter. He wasn’t going to be able to save Ethan. The one time it truly counted was the one time he failed. Ethan was, already, almost as good as dead.

As Rupert hung his head, sunlight caught the ruby of his wedding ring. That one tiny spark of light glittered as brilliantly as the sun rising over the wine dark sea. Rupert pushed off of the wall. Of course! How had he missed it? The rings.

 

The three of them were just standing around Ethan’s bed, staring and doing nothing. It was creepy how Ethan just lay there. Usually nothing could keep him still.

“Does anybody else feel like the three witches from Macbeth?” Buffy asked.

“The Scottish play,” Willow said.

Miss Calendar’s frown said don’t go there. “If we were, we could predict a better fate than this.”

Fine, if some people wanted to invoke a curse by saying the name of the play, Willow would just let them. “Maybe we’re more like the three Fates.”

“Don’t they decide when people die?” Buffy asked.

“But … no!” How’d she get to be the curse-invoking person? “Not like that. In a non-cutting the thread of life kind of way, which would make him, um, immortal. He could be immortal Ethan.”

“He wouldn’t want to be like this forever,” Miss Calendar said.

That wasn’t what she’d meant. Willow wasn’t sure how to respond but apparently nobody else did either because the room was silent, but then that was okay because Giles barged into the room. His hair was wild, unkempt. It looked like he hadn’t brushed it in days, which couldn’t be because Ethan had just been brought into the hospital that morning.

Buffy frowned. “Aren’t you supposed to be taking a break?”

“The rings,” he said. “The sacred scarab. Rebirth of the sun after the dark night of the soul. Resurrection.”

Buffy could never think about the rings without obsessing. Willow had tried to explain the symbolism to her but Buffy had never gotten over the dung beetle thing. “Scarabs? You don’t mean those dung beetles you had carved onto your wedding bands?”

“The scarabs are carved into the rubies.” Actually they were rather pretty although Willow had learned not to say that to Buffy.

“What do you mean resurrection?” Miss Calendar asked. Willow felt bad. Of course no one was going to care that the rings were diglyphs, not when they had a cure for Ethan.

“The stones, they’re attuned to our essences: my ring to Ethan’s and his ring to mine. I can bring him back.” He scanned the room. “Where are my texts?”

“We moved them back to the car, but Buffy and I can go get them.” Finally, something they could do.

Miss Calendar put her hands on Giles’ shoulders. She looked like she was about to shake him. “Rupert, you don’t know what’s wrong with him. What are you going to do? Try random resurrection spells? You could kill him. You could do worse than kill him.”

Giles fell into a chair. His face was almost paler than Ethan’s. “If the stone holds his essence,” Willow heard herself saying, “maybe you could talk to him.”

Buffy and Miss Calendar looked confused but Giles looked hopeful and energized, which was good because Willow wasn’t quite sure what she meant. “Of course,” he said, “a connection spell, possibly a scrying.”

Miss Calendar’s words came out slowly as if she was thinking through scenarios as she was speaking. “That could work.”

“So we will need the texts,” Willow said.

“Sounds like a plan.” Buffy stepped to the door as if she were heading out to get the books but only looked both ways up and down the hall. “What did you do with Xander?”

Chapter Text

Whedonverse

Ethan was having a hell of a time getting past Rupert. “You don’t know how dangerous he is.”

“He’s me. How bad can he be?” Very bad based on Rayne’s earlier appearance but Ethan wasn’t about to share those feelings. He couldn’t be sure this Rupert wouldn’t try to trap him in this dimension where he didn’t belong..

Rupert’s stare said, more clearly than words, that Ethan was an idiot. “I can only hope that you’re joking.”

The door burst open before Ethan could respond. It was the children: Buffy, Willow, and Xander. Ah, good, allies at last. “Buffy, please explain to Rupert that he can’t hold me against my will.”

“He’s right,” Buffy told Rupert. “You shouldn’t be holding him. I should be beating him to a bloody pulp.” All three of the children were staring at him as if he’d just crawled out from under a rock. Perhaps Rupert hadn’t been exaggerating when he’d describe Rayne as a dangerous rogue. Buffy seemed to be getting ready to actually punch him. Ethan winced as Rupert threw himself between them. What was it with this dimension and beating up harmless visitors?

“It isn’t what you think,” he heard Rupert say.

“I’ll say. What’s with the sudden appearance of the Bon Jovi hairdo?” Trust Xander to be the same in all dimensions.

“I’m not him,” Ethan said. “You obviously can’t stand Rayne and I can’t say I blame you, but I’m not him. I’m much nicer that he is for one thing.” Much nicer than all of you, he added in his mind.

Buffy turned to Rupert for advice. “Giles, what’s going on?”

“This Ethan is from an alternate dimension.” Rupert’s words didn’t sound terribly convincing.

“A dimension in which the 80s never died?”

“Xander,” Willow warned. She sounded much like the girl from his dimension although without him to give her advice, she’d kept her hair long.

“His isn’t a vampire, is he?” Buffy sounded hopeful. “Because I can stake a vampire.”

“Ha ha,” Ethan replied to Xander. “The hair is Rupert’s fault.” He glanced at this dimension’s Rupert. “My Rupert’s fault that is.”

“Your Rupert?” Xander looked as if he were about to be ill. Buffy didn’t look much better but at least his words got her off the idea of staking him.

As the children turned on Rupert, Willow started babbling. “You and Giles? That’s so sweet. Um, I mean if you’re not evil like our Ethan Rayne.”

“You and Ethan?” Buffy was practically growling at Rupert.

Rupert ignored her. “He’s not evil, or at least not as far as I can tell.” Well, wasn’t that reassuring. “In fact he needs our help. Ethan, the Ethan from this dimension I mean …”

“Why don’t we just call him Rayne and me Ethan? That’ll make discussions simpler.”

“Right,” Rupert continued. “Rayne brought Ethan over.”

“So Ethan could help him with an evil plan?” Buffy asked.

“To hurt Rupert.” At a glare from Rupert, Ethan shut his mouth. Apparently the children in this dimension weren’t to know about Rupert’s past.

Willow caught on. “So our Rupert and Ethan were …”

“Perhaps we could address the problem at hand?” Rupert interrupted.

“Yeah,” Buffy agreed. “Moving on.”

“I don’t need help,” Ethan said. “I will get Rayne to send me home.”

“How?” Willow asked. “I mean, it’s not like he’s terribly helpful.”

“And there’s the whole we don’t want the two of you together if you are evil aspect,” Xander added.

“I’ve found he’s really helpful after a few punches.” Ethan wasn’t entirely certain Buffy wasn’t referring to him. He wanted to go home. His Buffy could be violent of course – she was the Slayer after all – but her violence was somehow both protective and comforting. He’d never appreciated that aspect of her before.

Ethan half fell back to sit on the table. He wasn’t going for a chair again, not after being tied to one. While he let them argue over whether he was evil and what Rupert’s relationship to Rayne had once been, Ethan sat there and wished he was as good as Rayne seemed to be at vanishing. For all he knew Rayne was halfway out of town by now. Ethan was about to barge back into the argument when he was distracted by an odd tingling on his left hand.

His wedding band seemed to be glowing, but no, not the band. The stone was glowing, the ruby carved with an image of a scarab, the ruby attuned to Rupert’s essence, not this Rupert but his own dearly beloved Rupert.

Ethan leaped to his feet. “I need a bowl and water.” The other four stopped arguing to stare stupidly at him. “Now!”

Rupert was the first to react. “I have a Slavic ceremonial dish in my office. I tend to leave my paperclips there but I can dump them out. Will that do?”

“Is it suitable for scrying?” Ethan wanted to scream. Couldn’t he just go get it?

“Yes.”

“And water,” Willow said. “You have that pitcher where you keep water for your tea.”

“Yes, Willow, I had thought of that.”

Ethan ignored how condescending this Rupert was being to Willow. “Please, get them now.” Ethan pulled off his wedding band and tossed it into the dark scrying dish. The water, which had been sloshing as Rupert filled the dish, started to seethe. Ethan wished it would clear. They’d never be able to talk until the water had calmed.

“Ethan?” There was a flash of Rupert’s familiar goatee as the water calmed for just a moment, but then his Rupert was gone again.

“Come through, damn you,” Ethan yelled at the dish.

“Isn’t there anything we can do?” Xander asked.

“Do we want to help?” Buffy said “We don’t know who or what he’s calling through.”

“With the water bubbling like that,” Willow said, “maybe ice would work better. At least it’d be still.”

“No,” Rupert replied. “With the power required for the scrying spell, ice would crack the dish.”

“Come on,” Ethan said, terrified they’d lose the connection although now that his clever husband had shown the way, he could scry to them if this didn’t work.

The water cleared. Ethan heard himself call out. “Rupert.”

It was followed by Buffy’s voice. “Oh my God, what’s with the beard?”

“Hey, is that me?” he heard from the other side of the scrying. Three heads pushed into view, the Buffy, Willow, and Xander who were familiar to him.

“Ethan,” the Willow in the bowl said. “You’re alive!”

As this dimension’s Willow commented on her other self’s hair, Ethan felt his heart fall. You’re alive? That didn’t bode well. “It’s delightful to see you too, but let me talk to Rupert again.” The three faces fell away, leaving his Rupert alone in the scrying dish. “Dearheart?” Ethan heard Xander choke behind him at that word. “I’m alive? What did she mean?”

“You’re in a coma.”

This dimension’s Rupert had been hanging back. Now he came forward, moving the children out of the way, and gazed down into the scrying dish. Ethan watched his own Rupert’s eyes widen in shock even though he must have realized a Rupert would be here after seeing the children. But, yes, it would be disturbing to see your lover with another version of yourself. “Rupert meet, erm, Rupert. His Ethan, whom we’re calling Rayne, brought me over.”

“Ethan is fully physically incarnate other there?” this dimension’s Rupert asked. It was a good question, a brilliant question actually, given what it meant.

“Yes,” his Rupert replied. Buffy’s face appeared in the scrying dish. She goggled for a moment, presumably at the clean-shaven Rupert, but then went on. “He’s here but he’s in a coma. He’s deteriorating.”

Rupert, this dimension’s Rupert, took three clumsy steps back, as uncoordinated as if he’d just taken a punch to the gut. He obviously saw the danger.

“How long do I have?” Ethan asked.

“The doctors say it’s a matter of hours.”

Hours. Rayne had said Ethan wouldn’t be here long. When Rayne had denied that his words were a threat, he’d been lying. Ethan was dying.

Chapter Text

IALverse

“The doctors say it’s a matter of hours.”

Ethan’s face, limited to the mirror they’d laid down for scrying, looked small but even with that Xander could see Giles’ words had hit him hard. Ethan was in a coma here in this dimension but also running around in another dimension. It wasn’t completely clear but from the way the magic users were reacting if Ethan died here he’d also die there, but apparently there’d been nothing over there to tell him he was dying. It was weird, weirder than usual.

“What have you tried?” Ethan asked. He sounded so much like himself that Xander glanced to the bed. Nope, still in a big old coma. Damn.

Giles rattled off a bunch of spells. “There’s nothing else I can think of, love. You’ll have to find a way to return to me.” Xander looked away. He’d never seen Giles cry before.

Ethan’s hand moved forward as if he was trying to reach through the mirror. Giles reached out as well. The room flashed so brightly that Xander had to blink his vision back. Buffy was the first to recover. “What was that?” he heard her say.

The hospital room was dark as in no lights. Based on what Xander could see out the window, the lights were out all over town. Sunset, the perfect time for a power outage.

“Was it the spell?” Willow asked. “When you two reached out, did that trigger something?”

Giles looked up from the mirror, which was just a mirror now, no images from another dimension, and threw himself across the room to the bed. “Ethan? Ethan, are you here?” Ethan didn’t move.

“I think it was a different spell,” Miss Calendar said. “Not one of ours. It’s drained both electricity and magic.”

There was a voice. It seemed to come from out the window but Xander could hear it perfectly, which didn’t make sense. They were in the hospital and up on the seventh floor. He shouldn’t be able to hear what he was hearing. “You thought I was dead, Tommy Taylor. But you should have known Ambrosio always finds a way. A tunnel that leads back into the daylight.”

“Please tell me no one else heard that,” Xander said. “On second thought, don’t. I don’t want to be the only one who heard that.”

“Don’t worry,” Miss Calendar said. “I heard it too.” It wasn’t as comforting as he’d hoped.

Willow stepped over to the window. “Demon?” Buffy asked.

“It’s a man, or at least he looks like a man, but his skin is awfully pale.”

Buffy pulled out a stake. “On it.”

Giles didn’t move from Ethan’s side but he did ask, “Do you need me?”

Buffy stopped and turned back to Giles. “Always. But Ethan needs you more. Stay here. Get that mirror thing working again. Get Ethan back.”

“Actually,” Miss Calendar started to say. Buffy grabbed her and pulled her out the door.

“You don’t need me for the scrying, right?” Xander asked. “I’m just gonna …” He gestured toward the door.

“Go,” Giles said. “Backup Buffy.”

Out in the hall Miss Calendar was telling Buffy that the scrying wouldn’t work. “There’s no magic.”

“Because that other spell ate all the magic?” Buffy asked, sounding doubtful.

“Close enough.”

“Doesn’t matter,” Buffy said. “Giles needs to feel useful. Stay with him. I don’t care what it takes but make him think he’s helping Ethan.”

Miss Calendar nodded. “Of course.”

“I’m coming with you,” Xander told Buffy before she could get him doing busywork too.

“And me,” Willow said stepping through the door.

“Fine,” Buffy agreed. “Let’s go.”

By the time they made it to the parking lot the almost certainly a vampire guy wasn’t alone. There was a crowd standing about, almost blocking the entrance. Willow sidled up to one of the doctors. “So, what’s going on?”

A nurse answered first. “It’s Director Chabon, the prison warden. They say he killed a man.”

“Wait,” Buffy said. “When did Sunnydale get a prison?”

“Demonomania,” the doctor muttered. “Fascinating.”

“Demon o what?” Xander asked.

“It’s a monomania,” Willow said as if that explained anything. “A psychological disease. It means he thinks he’s a demon.”

The man, definitely a vamp, raised his arms over his head. His coat spread out like bat wings behind him. “When did he get a jacket?” Willow asked. He rose straight up into the air. “Oh,” Willow added. “Less of a mania and more of an actual demon.”

The vamp spun slowly in mid-air until he was facing them. “Sue Sparrow,” he said, looking straight at Willow. “And Peter Price,” he added as he saw Xander. “Can Tommy Taylor be far behind?”

Xander usually felt a bit girly when Buffy stepped between him and danger, but this time he was okay with it, completely and totally okay. “I don’t know who you are,” she told the vampire, “but you came to the wrong town on the wrong night.”

“Come not between Ambrosio and his prey, mortal one, lest he batten on thee instead.” Oh, this wasn’t good. Guys who used weird, old language were always trouble.

Buffy didn’t take her eyes off the vamp. “Willow, Xander, get these people out of here.”

Willow scattered herbs out of her magic ready pack and chanted a few words that would usually raise smoke. Nothing happened. “Oh, right, no magic.” She sounded a bit lost and they still had to get everyone out of the parking lot. Xander ran for the entrance, screaming about a gun, hoping to start a bit of a panic. People shrieked and raced after, almost trampling over him before he ducked into the stairwell to wait for the rush to pass. By the time he made it back to the parking lot, the vampire was flying straight at Buffy.

She ducked and struck up with the stake. The vampire flew on past. “Damn. Missed.”

The vampire turned, impossibly fast, faster than anything Xander had ever seen, and grabbed Buffy. “So. We spill each other’s blood. This is right. This is holy. And now it is my turn.”

Fangs pierced Buffy’s neck but the vampire looked up as Willow shrieked out Buffy’s name. “Sparrow,” the vampire hissed. “Do not fly off. You’re next.” Xander grabbed at a trash bin but it was bolted to the sidewalk.

An older man appeared almost out of nowhere. By his clothes and demeanor, he could have been a businessman out for a casual stroll by the hospital but he addressed the vampire. “I think this is a really bad idea, Mr. Chadron. Don’t you?”

The vampire dropped Buffy, ignoring her as he hissed at the man. “Taylor.”

“That’s Tommy Taylor?” Buffy yelled. “That’s your nemesis?” She grabbed the stake out of his chest and hit it home. The vampire fell into a pile of dust.

“Well, that was different,” Taylor said.

“So, you’re Tommy Taylor?” Buffy asked. “What would a vampire want with you?”

Taylor’s grin was almost as creepy as the vampire had been. “Hardly.” He started walking toward the hospital, not to the door but toward a wall.

“Hey,” Buffy called out. “What was that with the floating vampire business?”

“Nothing for you to worry about, little girl.”

And that was the wrong thing to say. Buffy threw him against the wall. He tried to fight her off and seemed surprised when he couldn’t. “This is bigger than you know. Stay out of it.”

“Seems like I’m already in it.”

“Buffy, look out,” Willow shouted. “There’s something in his hand.” Xander caught sight of it, something that glittered? He wasn’t sure what it was but a stream of light spread up and down from where Taylor had struck it into the wall and then around until it formed the shape of a door. Taylor stepped through but Buffy wasn’t letting go. Willow ran forward, grabbed Buffy’s hand, and vanished through the door with them.

Xander ran after, catching a glimpse of prison bars before the doorway vanished. “Hey,” he shouted, pounding at the bricks, “give my friends back.” Stepping away from the building, he shouted, “Dammit Willow, I thought magic wasn’t working.” Maybe her magic would working wherever she ended up. He hoped so. He didn’t know how to get them back otherwise. Xander looked up in the general direction of Ethan’s room. Giles would be in no shape to deal with this given that Ethan was both in a coma and missing. Xander sighed. Giles would come through. Giles always did.

Xander had taken one step toward the hospital when something started glowing behind him. He turned and saw a big hole, larger and squarer than the doorway, in mid-air, about eight feet off the ground. “Oh thank God.” Three figures fell through and hit the ground: two men and a woman. Not Willow and Buffy. Not Willow and Buffy at all.

One of the guys, dark-haired, picked up a map that had come through with them. “Where are we Lizzy?”

She looked around although there wasn’t much to see, just the hospital and a town with no lights. “Sorry, Tommy. I don’t know.”

Tommy? “You’re Tommy Taylor?” Xander asked. The other guy, the one with the funky beard that was worse than Giles’ goatee even, rolled his eyes. Okay, Xander had tried being polite. “You’re the guy that vampire was looking for?”

That got their attention. “Vampire?” funky beard guy asked.

“Yeah,” Xander agreed. “Pale skin, no hair, dark clothes. Oh, and here’s something funny. He could fly.”

“Wait,” Lizzy said, “his being a vampire doesn’t bother you but his flying does?”

“Ambrosio,” funky beard guy almost growled the name. Apparently he wasn’t a big fan of vampires. Good, Xander wasn’t either.

“I go by Tom,” the dark-haired guy offered.

“So you are Tommy, um, Tom Taylor? Because that other guy, who was also a Taylor if you believe the vampire but then again who believes vampires untrustworthy creatures that they are, said he wasn’t.”

It took them a moment to catch up. “Wilson Taylor was here?” Lizzy asked.

Xander shrugged. “I suppose. He didn’t give his first name. Actually he didn’t give his last name either. Got that from the vamp.”

“You couldn’t tell that he was Wilson Taylor?” funky beard guy asked.

“Who’s Wilson Taylor?”

The three of them glanced at each other but Tom replied. “My Dad.”

Xander wasn’t sure why they thought he’d recognize some guy’s father but didn’t ask. He had more important concerns. “Um, okay. Look, he made some sort of big glowy door, sort of like the one you came through, and my friends fell through with him.”

And there went the glancing at each other again. Great, it probably meant Willow and Buffy were in a bad place, not that he was surprised. “Did you see where the door came out?” Lizzy asked.

“I did,” Xander said, “but I’m not telling unless you agree to take me with you.”

“You’re just a kid,” Tom said.

“I’ve been fighting vampires for two years. I don’t care how young I am. My friends went through that door and I’m going with you to find them.”

“I guess we were all kids once.” Tom stared at Lizzy for a moment. “Okay,” he told Xander, “but we’re going now.”

The sooner the better. “It was a prison.”

“Roncevaux do you think?” Lizzy asked.

“Worth a try,” Tom replied.

“What would he be doing there?” beard guy asked.

“Let’s find out.” Tom threw the map onto the ground, put his hand down onto it and mumbled something Xander didn’t catch. A big hole, much like the one they’d fell through to get here, appeared on the map. “You still coming?” Tom asked.

Xander looked up again toward Ethan’s room. Giles had said there wasn’t anything they could do to help Ethan from here. Maybe if he stepped through the hole he could help Willow and Buffy. “Let’s go.”

Chapter Text

The prison was on fire. Xander stepped back – so many bodies, none moving – and his foot gave way beneath him. He felt himself falling, floundering until a hand reached out and grabbed him, drawing him back through the portal and into the prison.

“Never step through a doorway,” Lizzie shouted. “What if it had closed on you?”

Funky beard guy released Xander’s arm, and, whoa, that guy was stronger than he looked. “Lizzie, he didn’t mean it.”

“He said he could take care of himself.”.

“Hey, I can,” Xander said. “It’s just …” He gestured around the prison. “So many bodies.”

“Don’t people die where you come from?” Funky beard guy seemed genuinely curious.

“Sure, but it’s usually only one or two, and a lot of the time we don’t see them until they’ve been cleaned up in the morgue.”

“We don’t have time for this,” Lizzie said. “We have to find Wilson.”

“Hey, I’m good,” Xander said. “Let’s go.”

Lizzy and beard guy stared at Tom. “How would I know? If we knew why my Dad had come back here, maybe we could guess where he’d gone.”

Xander pointed to the wall that had half crumbled down. “Usually I just follow the path of the most damage.”

The other three shrugged. “It’s a plan,” funky beard guy said.

“Doesn’t make it a good plan,” Lizzie replied but she headed in that direction anyway.

They passed a bunch of open cells, but other than the dead bodies they didn’t see anyone. Xander wasn’t sure which was creepier, stepping over dozens of corpses or wondering what had happened to everyone else.

There was a shout ahead. “Hey!”

“Buffy.” Xander started running, glad that Tom and his friends were keeping up. He wasn’t sure how to get home without them. Up ahead, past more rubble, was a large area, open to the sky. It was night here too, although it seemed later here than it had in Sunnydale. Buffy was sitting on her butt as if she’d just fallen backwards. Willow stood with a hand over her mouth. At her feet was that old guy’s head, Wilson’s head, and past that a decapitated body. Remembering that Wilson was Tom’s father, Xander tried to stop him from climbing over the rubble – “You don’t want to see this.” – but Lizzie was the one who fell to her knees.

“Xander.” Buffy scrambled to her feet. She stared at them, obviously unsure what to do with a weeping girl, especially one she didn’t know. Funky beard guy – and he really had to get that guy’s name – dropped down to put an arm around Lizzie’s shoulder.

“It wasn’t us,” Willow blurted out. “Some man showed up out of nowhere, pulled out a wire, and decap …” She looked over at Lizzie who was still crying. “Um, maybe we should move this elsewhere?”

“Yeah,” Xander agreed, “somewhere not here would be of the good. It was rather emptyish back the way we came.” They led Lizzie back to the other side of the rubble where Wilson couldn’t be seen.

“This man you saw,” Tom said.

“He was strong, unexpectedly strong,” Buffy said, rubbing her butt.

“Shortish, dark hair, sideburns?” Tom asked.

“Yeah, how’d you know?”

“Pullman,” Tom said. “He does that,” Tom added, nodding toward the far side of the rubble where Wilson’s body lay.

“Is he still around?” funky beard guy asked. It wasn’t a bad question, not if the guy could get the best of Buffy.

“No,” Buffy said. She looked upset about it.

“He vanished before we had a chance to follow,” Willow added.

“So we’re back to square one,” Tom said. “No leads.”

“Oh,” Willow exclaimed. “Is one of you Tommy?”

Even Lizzie looked up at that. “You don’t recognize him?”

Willow and Buffy glanced at each other. “Um, no.”

“Should we?”

“It’s a thing they have,” Xander said. He wasn’t sure how to say that Tom and his friends thought they were famous without sounding like a jerk so he didn’t add any more.

“You’ve never heard of the Tommy Taylor books?” Lizzie asked.

The three of them shook their heads. “No.”

“That’s a relief,” Tom muttered.

“Why’d you want to know then?” beard guy asked.

“He, um that guy, left a message.”

“Buffy, Willow,” Xander said, pointing to each in turn, “meet Tom Taylor,” – he emphasized Tom since it seemed to be important to the guy – “Lizzy, and um …”

“Savoy,” beard guy said.

Savoy? Okay.

“Message? Tom asked.

“Growlersburg,” Buffy said.

“What?”

“He said tell Tommy: Growlersburg.”

“I’m supposed to know what that is?”

“Oh!” Willow almost bounced with excitement. She’d mellowed since Giles and Ethan had come to Sunnydale but she still loved knowing things. “It’s called Georgetown now. It’s gold country, located in the California Mother Load. Chunks of gold used to ‘growl’ in miner’s pants as they walked and so it was called Growlersburg.”

Lizzy wiped the last of the tears from her eyes. “Wilson wouldn’t have cared about gold.”

“What else is in this town?” Tom asked.

“Well, it’s pretty much just a town now. Nothing special that I know of.”

“Wait,” Lizzie said. “Weren’t other stones mined there, possibly something with a crucifix pattern?” Lizzie’s two friends startled at that.

“Oh sure,” Willow babbled. “Graphite forms a black cross-like image in chiastolite.”

Tommy Taylor and the Winged Thing,” Savoy said.

“The Andalusian Cross,” Lizzie added.

Tom sighed and covered his face with one hand.

“I think I speak for all of us when I say … huh?” Buffy said.

“You really haven’t read the books.”

“We are so looking up these books when we get home,” Buffy said.

“Don’t bother,” Tom told her. When he got three glares in reply, he added, “I mean that they’re pretty well-known. They probably don’t exist in your world.”

“Was Wilson saying the Andalusian Cross is in Growlersburg?” Savoy asked. “And do we trust him enough to follow his lead?”

Tom shook his head. “He was never that direct. Growlersburg was probably just to lead us to the idea of the Andalusian cross. We still don’t know where it is.”

“Hey,” Xander said. “Before you go running off, looking for something you don’t know how to find, I think you owe us a favor.” Five pairs of eyes turned on Xander. “Look, we’ve got a friend, he’s missing, his life is in peril, and I’m just saying you wouldn’t even know about this cross-thing if it weren’t for us.”

“We don’t have time,” Lizzy said.

Buffy stepped forward and glared at the girl. “Xander’s right. You were chasing this Wilson guy but he wasn’t waiting for you. If it weren’t for us you’d be missing a pretty big clue right about now.”

“You did say you were at square one,” Willow added. “You’d still be there without us.”

“It’s our friend who doesn’t have time,” Buffy said. “Ethan has only hours to live. Hours. Maybe less.”

“We’re sorry about your friend,” Tom said. He looked like he was about to speak again but then he stopped and stared at Willow. “What’s she doing?”

Buffy and Xander spoke as one. “Resolve face.”

“May as well give up now,” Xander continued. “Nothing in the world can stand up to Willow’s resolve face.”

“Even if we did want to help,” Lizzie said. “Do you know how many worlds there are? He could be anywhere.” She paused, staring at Willow. “Anywhere. We’d love to help, really, but we don’t know where to look.”

“Giles has a way to find him,” Willow said. “He has a ring attuned to Ethan’s essence.”

“Where is this Giles?” Savoy asked.

Xander replied. “Back where we came from.”

Tom pulled out the map.

“Don’t you guys have any normal ways of getting around?” Xander asked. “I mean, travel by map isn’t terrible, but it is a bit ouchy when you hit the ground.”

“Hit the ground?” Willow asked.

Chapter Text

From IALverse to Whedonverse

As Giles and his dark-haired friend – Calendar? What kind of a name was that? – worked with Tommy to determine how they could use the map and doorknob to find this Ethan guy. Savoy, keeping an eye on the blonde, on Buffy, wasn’t quite sure why they had to find Ethan since the guy was laying right there in the hospital bed, but that wasn’t his most urgent concern. Willow, the little redhead, in her babblings, had called Buffy a vampire Slayer. Savoy wasn’t sure what that was but, as a vampire, he was definitely worried.

“That’s it,” Giles shouted. He then glanced over at Ethan, looking guilty as if he were afraid he’d woken the guy, but Ethan, in a coma, looked half dead. Savoy didn’t think anything was going to wake him ever again.

“Fine,” Buffy said. “We’ll go, find Ethan, and figure out what this spell is.”

“Excuse me, but what’s this spell you’re talking about?” Lizzy didn’t seem to be tracking any of this better than he was, although she had the excuse that she’d just seen the decapitated corpse of the closest thing she had to a father.

The Calendar woman replied. “We can’t reverse the spell unless we know what it is. That’s how magic works.”

“In your dimension,” Lizzie said.

“Do you have a spell that can restore him?” Giles looked both hopeful and threatening, as if he were about to throttle them for not speaking up sooner.

“No,” Tom replied. “We’ve got defensive hexes, wardings, protective charms, but no healing spells.”

“Well, perhaps we should get going then, while Ethan still has time.”

“We?” Buffy asked as she stared at Giles. “I thought you would be staying with Ethan.”

Giles looked over at Ethan. “There’s nothing I can do for him here.”

Tom threw the map down onto the floor. “You’re in a hurry? Fine, let’s go.”

They stepped into the map and fell out onto a parking lot. “I don’t see … anyone,” Lizzie said.

“We decided not to come out in the motel room, not enough space,” Xander replied.

“There it is,” Giles said. “Room 235.” He raced over without waiting for backup, but then again, the others followed after just as fast or, in Buffy’s case, even quicker. She was first to the door.

Lizzie rushed ahead with the others, while Tom and Savoy came along behind quickly but not as fast as. By the time they’d reached the door, the chintzy motel room was packed full of people, all but Lizzie having a double in this world. A Buffy, this world’s Buffy, held onto an Ethan, one with short hair so not the counterpart of the Ethan still in a coma back in the hospital. It looked like she’d been punching Ethan which suggested she might be a vampire killer in this world as well. Great, his life just kept getting better and better. The Xanders and Willows were staring at each other in astonishment. Giles and the longer-haired Ethan were hugging. It looked like they’d never let each other go.

Buffy, the one he’d met, grabbed the punching arm of the other Buffy. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“It’s Ethan,” the second Buffy said as if that explained why she’d been beating on him.

“Yeah, and Ethan’s our friend,” the first Buffy replied.

“Ethan? A friend?” That came from Xander, this world’s Xander, who was surprisingly difficult to distinguish from the other one. At least the second Willow had shorter hair. “What kind of a Hell world do you come from if Ethan’s a friend?”

“Oh Gods, Rupert.” They all stopped and turned to stare at the pain in those words. Ethan’s voice held a world of hurt. Giles, the one not hugging Ethan, the clean-shaven Giles, looked as if he wanted to toss the other Giles aside and grab Ethan for his own.

Giles, the bearded Giles, brushed Ethan’s hair back. “I’m here. It’s alright. I’ve got you.”

“It’s not alright,” the clean-shaven Giles said. “The spell, it’s from Caveat Lector.”

Giles, the bearded one, half-fell at the words. Ethan, the one whom Buffy hadn’t been beating on, shifted to hold him up. “But that’s …” the bearded Giles couldn’t seem to finish the sentence.

“We know,” Ethan said. He held Giles gently.

“Could someone explain for those of us not in the know?” the longer-haired Willow asked.

“It’s Latin,” the shorter-haired Willow replied.

“Let the reader beware, I know,” the other Willow interrupted. “So what?”

“The book contains some of the darkest spells out there.” Savoy was fairly certain this was the Xander from this universe and not the one who’d come through the portal with him. “No cure.”

“No cure? But there has to be. We always find a way.”

“Maybe I shouldn’t have been so quick to stop you from punching …” Buffy had been turning as she spoke. “Where’d he go?” The shorter-haired Ethan had vanished.

“He’s good at that, at vanishing,” one of the Xanders replied.

Ethan, the one in Giles’ arms, staggered. It looked like he would have fallen if Giles hadn’t held him up. Giles helped him to the bed. Ethan sat carefully as if holding himself up by force of will. “It’s okay, dearheart. I’ve had you all these years. I don’t believe I’ve ever fully appreciated what a treasure our love is, not until I saw a world without it.” Ethan fell backward onto the bed.

The bearded Giles threw himself down next to Ethan, half kneeling on the floor, half hanging onto the bed. “No!”

The other Giles, the clean-shaven one, fell against the wall and leaned there as if he couldn’t hold himself up. His whispered “No!” was so quiet that Savoy thought no one else had heard it. He then pushed himself off the wall and practically threw himself across the room. He took one of Ethan’s hands into his. The bearded Giles glanced up but quickly turned back to Ethan. The clean-shaven Giles felt for a pulse. “He’s alive.” The words, as delicate as a prayer rising to the vaulted ceiling of a church, turned into a death knell. “But there’s not much time.”

Chapter Text

Whedonverse to Tom Taylor verse

Tom and his friends, Lizzie and Savoy, had stepped to the side as they’d entered the dingy motel room in a vain attempt to avoid the crowd. Everyone else in the room was had a double because they’d brought characters from one variant of a story into another. The bearded Giles, kneeling at the side of the bed where Ethan had passed out, had come through with them. The clean-shaven Giles, standing on the opposite side of the bed, was taking Ethan’s pulse. The bearded Giles was obviously Ethan’s lover even though Ethan had been here, in this second story variant, when they’d come through, but Ethan was also back in the first story variant, lying in a coma in a hospital room. That didn’t include the third Ethan, the short-haired Ethan, who had up and vanished when no one was looking. Tom hadn’t quite followed it all but he did know that things didn’t look good for this Ethan.

“He’s alive, but there’s not much time.” The clean-shaven Giles removed his finger from Ethan’s pulse point but still held Ethan’s hand in his. The bearded Giles didn’t look pleased that the other Giles was holding Ethan’s hand but didn’t object. Clearly he wasn’t about to waste time on inconsequential bickering while his lover lay dying.

“No” The Xander who’d come through the portal, the one wearing a Scooby Doo t-shirt, spoke up. “He’s one of the good guys. He doesn’t die. Not on our watch.”

“So Jesse’s alive in your dimension?” That came from the other Xander, the one from this world, the one wearing a bat shit ugly Hawaiian shirt. The other Xander and both Willows looked shocked at that although Tom didn’t know why.

“Xander.” The long-haired Willow shut her friend down with just that one word. They, along with the second Buffy, weren’t particularly upset that Ethan was dying but at least the girls were trying to hide their hostilities.

“There’s one thing that can save him.” Lizzie’s words dropped like a stone into a pond. Tom could see the ripples on the faces in the room, hope on most but with a mix of why bother from the teens of this world.

“The Grail,” Lizzie added. Tom stifled a groan. Lizzie had been close to his father, which Tom didn’t get since Wilson had manipulated her as much as he had Tom. Seeing Wilson’s decapitated corpse, the head and body separated and fallen to the ground, had wounded her and this, saving another from death, was her way of dealing with that pain. Tom watched, unable to stop it, as the purpose filled her.

“The Holy Grail?” this world’s Xander asked. “As in Monty Python and the?”

“The Holy Grail.” The scoffing came from the clean-shaven Giles. “It’s a myth.” The man didn’t drop Ethan’s hand but he looked ready to pummel someone, possibly anyone, for raising his hopes.

“I’m thinking it’s not so big a myth to them.” The hand waved by the Buffy who came through the portal included Lizzy, Savoy, and Tom himself.

Lizzie nodded. “If it’s in a story, we can get there.”

“How would that work, exactly?” asked the clean-shaven Giles.

“He has this map,” Xander explained. “He mutters a few words, a big hole opens up in the map, and we jump through.” He paused. “It’s a lot safer than it sounds.”

“Tom,” Savoy interrupted. “We’re not thinking of doing this?” Savoy seemed uncomfortable around Buffy, around both Buffys, but Tom hadn’t had time to explore why.

“Yeah,” he replied, glancing down at Lizzie. “We are.”

The clean-shaven Giles glared about the room. “You honestly expect us to believe you can bring the Holy Grail here, to this motel?”

“No,” Lizzie said. “We can’t bring the Grail here; we’ll have to bring Ethan to the Grail.”

“Good riddance,” Tom heard this world’s Xander mutter.

“We’ll start in Chrétien’s romance,” Lizzie said.

“But the Grail doesn’t heal in that story,” the short-haired Willow said. “There’s a procession and the Grail is just used to carry around a Mass wafer.”

“It’s a thin wafer,” this world’s Xander muttered. Buffy pulled him aside and whispered something that left him pale.

“The stories all connect, one to another,” Lizzie replied. “If we get into one Grail story, we can get to the others.”

“We should go now,” the bearded Giles said. “While there’s still time. Buffy, if you would.”

“Got it.” She looked like a little girl but she hefted Ethan off the bed with no trouble at all.

“How long can you carry him?” Savoy asked.

“As long as you want.”

The clean-shaven Giles, having let go of Ethan’s hand as Buffy had picked him up, stepped forward. “I’m coming with.”

The bearded Giles moved around Buffy until he stood like a wall between the other Giles and Ethan. “No, you’re not. You’re not coming anywhere near Ethan again. You almost got him killed.”

“That wasn’t me. That was Ethan, my Ethan I mean. Rayne.”

“Your world almost killed him and I’m going to save him. You have your duty and your responsibility to hold you here.”

The Buffy from this world grabbed the clean-shaven Giles. “You can’t go. This world needs you. I need you.”

Apparently the bearded Giles saw the other give in. “Let’s go.” Muttering under his breath he added, “Before that berk changes his mind.”

Tom threw down the map and they fell through. Only Buffy, carrying Ethan, and Savoy landed on their feet. “Ow,” Willow complained. “Why do we have to fall onto tiled floors all the time? Couldn’t we aim for a bouncy bed or at least a carpet?”

“Willow,” Xander said.

“What? Oh.”

Tables, sturdy wooden structures, filled the great hall and at each table sat dozens of knights. Every man’s gaze was turned toward a procession, two rows, five youths each, dressed in pale silk. Behind them, entering through the doorway, came a maiden. Fire licked at her feet but did no harm. She wore a white dress, simple and unornamented but elegant and beautiful. Its sleeves hung down to her hips from her raised arms. The large golden goblet, held reverently, cupped by both of her hands, glowed so brilliantly as to outshine the candles that had lit the hall. Tom found he couldn’t move, not even to name the goblet as the Grail.

Tom heard a small noise, an inconsequential buzzing. “This won’t help Ethan.” It slipped from his mind, forgotten as soon as he heard it. The Grail filled his vision and his thoughts. When it passed out of his sight, the loss wrenched his heart. His grief was so great he barely saw the bleeding lance or silver platter that followed after. He stood there, as unmovable as a statue, staring at the doorway the Grail had vanished into. He could not mourn its passing, for he’d never thought to see such beauty in this life, but he couldn’t rejoice either, for it was gone.

Two hands landed on his cheeks. Lizzie’s face filled his vision. “We need to move on.” The words made sense and yet they didn’t. She turned his head to the side. He saw Buffy carrying Ethan. He saw such great strength in her stance that he wondered how he’d missed it before. He also saw gentleness and grace. Her hold on Ethan was as careful as the maiden’s had been on the Grail.

Willow had one hand on Ethan’s forehead. “He’s better I think. That’s good, right? We could just follow and find the Grail and cure him?”

Giles shook his head. “This Grail doesn’t have healing powers. That he’s better …” Giles brushed a lock of hair from Ethan’s face. “I don’t know. Perhaps energy is leaking from other manifestations of the Grail.”

“Um, guys,” Xander said. “Problem.”

The knights at the closest table had risen to their feet. A good third of them had already drawn swords. Savoy stepped forward, joining Willow and Xander who had already moved between the knights and the rest of their group. “We should move, now.”

“Just get us out of here,” Tom thought as the portal opened beneath their feet.

They fell into a circular room. Its stonework had a rougher appearance than had the polished surfaces of the previous court. The few men here, all seated or standing in positions of relaxed enjoyment, noted them but didn’t seem to mind there coming. A head, only a head, one with no body anywhere in sight, a head sitting on a silver platter, called out to them in a merry voice. “Welcome friends.”

Lizzie, half-risen from her fall, dropped back down to the floor. “No.” The word was whispered but sounded, for all that, like a keening wail in Tom’s heart. He thought back to Wilson’s corpse, not two hours cold by now, and how the head had been strewn far from the body as if it had been tossed casually aside. He knew that’s what Lizzie was seeing.

“We’re too far back,” Giles called out. “Bran the Blessed, the Celtic tales, are precursors to the Grail romances. We need a later text, one of the Christianized versions.”

Tom acted quickly, tossing the map to the ground and muttering the incantation. He had to get Lizzie out of here, away from that head. “Christian, right,”

They fell into a stable. “Hey, hay this time,” Xander exclaimed. “What?” he added when faces turned to glare at him. “I was the only one sick of falling onto hard floors?”

“Nobody move.” Lizzie’s whispered words, full of urgency, froze Tom as he’d been rising, leaving him in a half-squatting position. He glanced over slowly and almost winced at the sight. Lizzie had landed before a bull, before a huge black bull. Its horns were curved but sharp. If the bull attacked she’d be dead. Tom wouldn’t have time to open a portal. Tom wouldn’t be able to save her.

“Be careful, Miss Hexam,” Giles said. “It’s a full bull. They can be quite deadly.”

“I think she’s already got that,” Buffy said.

Lizzie crawled away from the beast, carefully and slowly. The bull didn’t move. It didn’t seem to even notice her. When she’d made it to the relative safety of the group, Tom wrapped an arm around her. They were still in danger. Any of them could die if the beast attacked.

“Maybe we should get out …” Xander stopped speaking. Tom glanced about, wondering what had shut the boy up, wondering what new danger they were facing. He saw a stable – wooden beams, hay, animals – but each and every animal, including the bull, was facing the same way, some standing, some sitting, but all quiet and still. Tom followed their gazes.

He saw a woman dressed in flowing garments of white and blue. A man, dressed plainly and carrying a shepherd’s staff, stood behind her. In her arms she held a babe, an infant. A gentle light emanated from the child.

“Um,” Willow said. “Jewish here. This can’t be real. Right?”

“It’s a story,” Giles said. “We’re in a story, nothing more.”

“Are you sure? Because it feels kind of real.”

“Wills,” Xander said. “We’re looking for the Grail. Of course this isn’t real.” He glanced apologetically at the mother and child, as if he didn’t quite believe his own words.

“Okay, sure,” Willow agreed. “But on the other hand, vampires, real.”

“Guys,” Buffy interrupted. “Focus. We’re saving Ethan, remember?” The man still wasn’t moving but he looked, somehow, more worn.

Giles laid a hand on Ethan’s chest, holding it there for a few moments. He winced at whatever he’d learned. “He’s weaker.”

“Do you think the babe could, you know, save him?” Savoy asked.

Giles’ face lit with hope but only for a moment. “He doesn’t come into his power until later. We need to go. Please, we should find the Grail as quickly as possible.”

“Right,” Tom said. “Keep the Christianity but add the Grail.”

“Shouldn’t that have been an ox?” Willow asked.

Tom wondered at the girl’s insensitivity. Her friend was dying after all, but when Lizzie answered he realized they were each distracting themselves to get through this without breaking down. “It’s a German variant,” Lizzie said. “A heresy that the Church took pains to eradicate. The ox, in Christian iconography, represents patience and strength.” They stepped into the map. “But the early Christian converts preferred the untamed strength of the bull. The aurochs had a special religious significance to the half-converted Germans and thus made its way into their version of the Nativity story.” Lizzie ended her narrative with an “uf” as she landed.

Tom looked up from the wooden planks they’d landed on. “Oh shit.” They’d fallen onto a sailing ship, one smaller than the Pequod where Tom had spent far more time than he’d like to recall. The ship’s sails were white, brilliantly white, too white. No seaman could keep sails that clean. A red cross, the color of fresh blood, while worked into the warp and weft of the sail, seemed to hang before it. Although there was no wind, the sails were full and the ship sailed forward. Tom threw down the map.

“Wait,” Willow said. “We might find the Grail here.”

“Oh no,” Tom replied. “If we stay here we’re stuck with ships, oceans, and whales. We’re looking elsewhere.”

“Ethan’s dying,” Buffy said, her voice full of threat. “We’re staying.”

“He’s right,” Giles said. “We’re too far into the story. We won’t find the Grail, not here.”

“Come on then,” Tom said as he jumped down through the portal.

“A prison,” Xander said, glancing up from the dark and cold stone floor they’d fallen onto. “We’ve landed in a prison.”

“A prison cell to be exact,” Savoy added.

A shout came from the far side, if any side could be called far in such a small space, of the cell. In the darkness Tom could barely make out a cot and an old, bearded man. When the man started speaking, he sounded afraid and angry but Tom couldn’t make out the words. Giles replied, in the same language, and the man calmed down quickly, more quickly than Tom would have expected. Either Giles was unexpectedly good at dealing with upset people or the man was used to unusual events. “Joseph of Arimathea,” Giles said. “Unfortunately before Christ appears with the Grail.”

“So, do we wait?” Wilow asked.

“Ethan,” Buffy said. She’d been carrying Ethan all that time with no complaint or signs of weariness. “He feels … lighter somehow. I don’t think we have time to wait.”

“Forward ho,” Xander said. He cast a guilty glance toward Ethan and hung his head.

They did not land on stone this time. The floor and walls were modern, so modern that they looked almost futuristic even in an empty hallway. There was a noise like that of a great number of people chattering in a very large room. They glanced around at each other and Buffy shrugged. They followed the sound to a large area, enclosed but open to two levels. The people there … weren’t all people. “Aliens,” Xander said, sounding as if he were seeing something holy. “One of the Star Trek’s maybe?”

“Vir.” A loud voice, English but accented, broke through the din. “You nincompoop. I see you. Don’t try to hide from me.”

The voice led to a man. His clothes were formal and looked almost like a dress uniform being full of gold braid and elaborate buttons. Tom couldn’t stop staring at the hair. It stood out from his head, not as if the man were terrified but as if the hair had been dressed that way on purpose.

“Londo?” Xander asked. Happily that man didn’t hear him. “We’re on Bablyon 5.” The words weren’t meant to inform the rest of them. The words sounded awestruck as if this chaos were a dream come true.

“Move on,” Willow said. Xander turned and glared but didn’t disagree. “There’s a guy,” she added, “a couple of guys actually, but the second only takes up the search after the first dies so I guess guy would be the right word …”

“Willow,” Giles barked.

“Um, okay,” Willow replied. “There’s no evidence that the Grail actually exists in this universe and even if it did we wouldn’t know where to find it.”

Xander looked back, his face full of regret, as they stepped into the map. “Well,” Willow said. “We’re back to castles at least.” It was another feasting hall.

“The miraculous meal,” Giles said. Tom took a closer look. There were a variety of different dishes set before the guests.

“Huh?” Buffy asked.

“King Arthur’s court,” Lizzie explained. “After the Grail passed, everyone’s place was set with his or her favorite food.”

“Oh, like in Harry Potter,” Xander said. “Hey,” he asked turning towards Tom. “Do you have the Potter books in your dimension in addition to the Tom Taylor books?”

“The books are Tommy Taylor,” Tom growled. “There’s a difference.”

“How can you tell this is the miraculous meal?” Savoy asked in an obvious attempt at distraction.

Giles and Willow glanced at each other. “That’s obviously King Arthur. What else would this be?” she asked.

“We should move on,” Giles said. He placed a hand on Ethan’s chest. “His breathing’s getting worse.”

They fell into an open area, onto dirt covered by hay, before, well, not a town. The closest Tom could come would be village but it was more along the lines of one larger building surrounded by hay covered hovels. A large crowd had gathered around a set of what could only be scales, wooden scales, large enough to hold people. In fact a woman was being weighed against a duck. “More witches,” one of the peasants shouted. The crowd took up the chant and ran at them.

“Go. Now,” Savoy said.

One of the peasants fell through the portal with them. After he’d risen to his feet, Tom watched the man slowly work out his situation. “You aren’t going to turn me into a newt, are you?”

“Well, actually …” Willow had started to say when the peasant dropped to his knees and started praying. “Please forgive my gross, and, um, really awful, awful transgressions …”

Tom turned to see a chapel of light colored stone, a garden full of lush plants, and three angels. Tom knew they were angels because they had wings, red wings, ranging from blood red at the tips to pale pink at the height of the wings.

“If any one of them says ‘none shall pass,’” Buffy muttered, “I’m so kicking his butt.”

“Technically,” Lizzie said, “that would be its butt.”

“What?” Xander asked.

“Angels are androgynous.”

“The Grail Chapel,” Giles said. “Quickly.”

Giles stepped forward. An angel, without moving, was suddenly in his path. Its eyes sparked lightning. Tom knew, without knowing how he knew, that if the angel spoke he would drop dead at its feet. It was all he could do to stand in its presence, but Giles was either made of sterner stuff of so desperate that he didn’t mind courting death. “No. You must let us into the Chapel. We must save him. We need … I need ...” The angel didn’t move. Giles fell to the ground.

Buffy stepped forward. Ethan’s breaths, heavy and strained, sounded an odd counterpoint to the peasant’s prayers. “… and I promise to never, ever do it again, not even if I do get mad, which, you know, is really tough because, let’s face it, she’s not an easy woman to …”

A second angel placed a hand on the peasant’s head. They vanished in a flash of light. “I hope he’s going to his just reward,” Willow muttered, “and, no, I don’t mean Heaven. Burning a witch, hmph.”

“Please,” Buffy said. “He’s our friend.” Again the angel didn’t move but there was space, a space that hadn’t been there before, just enough space for Buffy to step into the Chapel. The message was clear. Only she and Ethan could enter.

She carried Ethan into the Chapel. The light, glowing from inside, flared up, shining so brightly that Tom had to raise his arm, close his eyes, and turn his head away. Something fell against him and then past him, dropping to the ground. Tom, turning away from the Chapel and shielding his eyes, could barely make out Buffy in that brilliant light.

“Where’s Ethan?” Giles shouted.

“In there,” Buffy called back. “I couldn’t … He’s in there.”

“No.” Giles’ scream seemed to rent through the light. It faded before the sound and passed away. The three angels were there again, standing to the side as they’d been earlier. “You give him back, you bastards.” Buffy grabbed Giles before he could attack the angels. “He’s mine. He’s my … everything.”

“But why would they …” Willow looked lost. Xander took her into his arms. She rested her head on his shoulder.

“The pure of heart,” Lizzie said, “ascend straight to Heaven when their Quest has ended, when they find the Grail.”

“You know,” Xander said. “If I could use one word to characterize Ethan, it would never, not ever, be pure.”

“Rupert?” The voice came from the Chapel.

Hope etched itself across Giles’ face. “Ethan?”

Ethan appeared in the Chapel door. His clothes had been bleached white but Tom figured Giles hadn’t noticed. Ethan and Giles ran for each other so urgently that Tom thought they’d crash into one another but they came together gently. They didn’t kiss, as Tom had expected, but instead stared into each other’s eyes. Tom turned his head away from the tenderness of their reunion.

“Um, guys?” Xander sounded nervous. “I hate to break this up but the other Ethan, well not the evil Ethan, but the other half of you-Ethan, is still in the hospital in a coma.”

Chapter Text

Grail Lore verse / Tom Taylor verse to IALverse

“I hate to break this up but the other Ethan, well not the evil Ethan, but the other half of you Ethan, is still in the hospital in a coma.”

Ethan allowed his fingers to tickle along Rupert’s beard. “Shut up, Xander. Busy here.”

But then the words struck home, not in Ethan but in Rupert. Ethan could feel Rupert’s arms tense, just a bit, before Rupert stepped back and grabbed Ethan by the arms, effectively keeping them apart. “We still have to save you.”

Removed from the comfort of Rupert’s arms, Ethan could now see the Chapel, its pale brick walls faintly glowing in the darkness, and the three angels standing by the door. Angels? Ethan thought back to before he’d thrown himself into Rupert’s arms: Chapel, glowing light, Grail. “Already saved,” Ethan heard himself say. Grail. He’d been healed by the Grail. By Janus’ tits and beard, how had they found a Grail?

“Ethan,” Buffy said. “You’re in a coma back in our dimension.”

“Don’t be silly. The Grail healed all of me.” As he turned his gaze to Buffy, Ethan saw Willow, Xander, and three others he vaguely recalled from the other dimension. Well, this would be a tale, but one for later, much later, as in after he’d spent many hours in Rupert’s arms later.

“Are you sure?” Buffy asked.

“Well, I think so,” Ethan replied. Maybe it had.

“Oh, that’s great,” Xander added. “So we’ll have to merge the two of you and bring you back here?”

Rupert stared off at that, trying to work it out. “It is possible that the Grail healed both Ethans.”

“Guys,” Willow said. “Even if Ethan is fine there, I’m sort of getting uncomfortable with these angel, um, guys. They’re sort of creepy.”

Rupert grabbed Ethan tighter, holding him close. Mmm, lovely. “We have to go.”

“Rupert,” Ethan purred, “much as I adore …”

“Ethan.” Rupert shouted the name. “If your other half dies, you die.”

“Oh.” Hadn’t thought of that. “Is he, or I mean I, in danger?”

“You’re on a Hellmouth,” Rupert said. “Mr. Taylor,” he added. “If you don’t mind.”

The dark haired man looked as if he were about to complain.

“I could get us home from here,” Willow offered.

“Are you sure of the way back?” Rupert asked. “Because I have no idea.”

“Oh, um, well sort of sure.”

“This is Ethan’s life,” Xander said gently. “Sort of sure won’t do.”

“Tom.” A brown-haired woman spoke to the dark-haired man. “Come on, let’s finish this off. We owe it to them.”

“Sure, Lizzie. No problem, Lizzie.” He pulled out a map and threw it to the ground. A gaping hole appeared in the middle. Tom and the other two jumped through, quickly followed by Buffy, Willow, and Xander. “A map?” Ethan exclaimed. “We’re jumping through a hole in a map?”

“It’s a portal,” Rupert explained. “Perfectly safe. Come on, before it closes.”

Holding on tight to Rupert’s hand, Ethan fell into the map and hit the floor with a resounding thump. “Ouch.” He and Rupert were sprawled on the floor of a hospital room. The others, standing, had either landed better or had already gotten up. “Rupert, why didn’t you tell me it would hurt?”

“Because I needed you through the portal.”

“Brute,” Ethan teased. “Just for that you can sleep on the couch tonight.”

“You can take the couch if you like, Ethan, but Rupert and I will be sharing our bed.” It was his own voice.

Ethan turned to see himself, sitting up in a hospital bed, wearing a ghastly gown. Oh, they’d said he was doubled, or possibly tripled given that there’d been another Ethan in that other dimension, but that hadn’t been the same as seeing it. “How do I know you’re me?”

“Of course I’m you,” the other Ethan said. “Rupert left to find my other half, the rest of me, which of course means that you’re the rest of me and I’m the rest of you. Rupert would never make such a fundamental mistake as to bring back the wrong Ethan.”

“Uh, did anybody else not follow that?” Xander asked.

“Can’t say it made much sense to me.” That came from one of the strangers, a tall man with reddish hair and the most amusing beard. “But then again, not a lot has lately.”

“Right,” Buffy said, taking charge. “We need to get the two of you back together.”

“So quickly?” the other Ethan asked, looking almost disappointed. Ethan could see his point, even if he hadn’t verbalized it. The two of them giving Rupert the night of his life? It did hold a certain appeal.

“You’re weaker separate,” Jenny said. “If we were attacked, you’re easier to kill until we merge you back into one whole.”

“Oh, you mean the sum is greater than the whole of its parts?” Willow asked. It was a delight, how much pleasure she took in magic, but that girl could take enthusiasm above and beyond.

Jenny nodded. “If one Ethan dies, so does the other.”

“Right then,” Ethan said. He pulled a fetish, bones and herbs tied together with twine, from his pocket. “This should do the trick.”

“What is it?” Willow asked.

“Rayne bound the spell that brought me from this dimension into his into this fetish. If I break it, both Ethan and I should merge back together.”

“Wait,” Jenny shouted as Ethan, putting words to action, broke the fetish. Bones and herbs fell to the floor.

“There still seem to be two of us,” the other Ethan said from the hospital bed.

“Willow,” Jenny shouted. “You didn’t tell him that magic had been drained over here?”

“Oh, uh, well no. I didn’t think …”

“How do we fix it?” Xander asked.

“We don’t.” Rupert’s voice sounded dead. “With the fetish already broken, even when magic does return, there’s no way to end the spell.”

“But there’s gotta be research we can do, right? There’s gotta be some way to fix this.”

“I don’t know of anything,” Jenny said softly.

Willow broke the silence. “Oh, oh, but they still have magic.” She pointed to the dark-haired man. Tom was, perhaps, his name?

Tom looked reluctant until his friend, the one with the beard, spoke up. “Don’t make her break out resolve-face again.” Ah, so Willow had already been working on them. Good.

“Geminarimus?” Tom asked.

“I don’t think that’ll work for the spell,” Lizzie said. “Gemini are twins, meant to be separate. How about contexerimus, weaving him together?”

“We could try copulatus,” Ethan said from the bed. “Let us have a little fun before we’re back in one body and stuck with masturbation.”

“TMI, Ethan,” Xander said. “TMI.”

“Are you saying I don’t pleasure you enough, that you have to take matters, as it were, into you own hands?” Rupert asked.

“Did you not just hear me say TMI?”

“Why don’t you combine them?” Willow asked.

Tom blinked at her. “Uh, that’s what we’re trying to do?”

“No, I mean the phrases. Temporarily split in two halves and now being woven back together.”

Lizzie grabbed Willow’s hand. “Yes, that should work.”

Tom pulled out his wand. “Wait,” Jenny said. “Won’t you need to lay out a sacred space or draw out a sigil?”

“Oh,” Willow said, “like a yin yang symbol with one Ethan in each side?”

“Or a triquetra,” Ethan said. “We could bring Rupert into the mix.”

Rupert gave Ethan a look over the edge of his glasses. “We are not merging the three of us into one body.”

“It would rather take some of the variety out of our sex life,” the other Ethan said from the bed.

“He doesn’t need any symbols,” Lizzie offered. “Just his wand, his intentions, and his words.”

“That’s a lot easier than hours of research,” Willow muttered. “How do I get a wand?”

“You two should probably stand together,” Tom said.

“Can you stand?” Ethan asked his other self.

“Of course.” He hopped from the bed and stood next to Ethan.

“Tempus bifidus exsarcio contexerimus.”

Ethan felt nothing. “Well, how long is this supposed to take?”

“It’s done.” Rupert grabbed him into a hug.

“Are you sure? I’m both of me now?”

“Do you remember the Grail Chapel and that other dimension?” Buffy asked.

Ethan grabbed Rupert tighter. “Those ghastly versions of ourselves? I don’t think I’ll ever forget.”

“How about waking from your coma and speaking with me?” Jenny asked.

“Of course.”

“Then that’s all of you.” Rupert’s smile was warm and welcoming.

“So,” Ethan said, teasing at a button on Rupert’s shirt, “how about we skip the exit procedures and find a side door to sneak out of?”

“There will be no sneaking out.” Rupert turned a glare toward Buffy where it fizzled off before her very righteous wrath. “After you snuck Rupert out during that ketchup thing? I’m surprised they let you in this time.”

“Ketchup?”

“Buffy, that was Hain not Heinz, as in Sam Hain, the Celtic Lord of the Dead, but even that wasn’t really it because the Celts didn’t have a …”

“Willow.” Ethan wasn’t about to stand up to Buffy if Rupert wasn’t but he wasn’t about to let Willow ramble on either, not when he could be working on getting Rupert alone. “One of you bring back a doctor so Rupert can take me home for much needed bed rest.”

“Um.” That dark-haired man, Tom spoke up. “We’ve got worlds to save. Glad your friend is back and all, but we do have to be going.”

Oh, well, they couldn’t just run off without some thanks. Ethan ran over and dragged him into a hug. He hugged Lizzie and then Savoy. “Thank you, all, for saving me.” This led to a long session of handshakes all around while nobody went to fetch a doctor but the trio had, apparently, helped bring him back from death’s door. Since complaining would make him seem ungrateful, Ethan held his gripes at bay.

Willow didn’t hug Lizzie but instead looked her in the eyes and said, “I’m going with you.”

“What?” Ah, good. Buffy’s wrath had been diverted elsewhere.

Willow turned so quickly that the edge of her hair whipped across her neck. “They helped us. One of us should help them. And you can’t. You’re the Slayer. You have to stay here.”

“Wills,” Xander said.

“Plus they have a whole other approach to magic. I want to get myself a wand and try it out.” Ah, that made sense. Ethan couldn’t see Willow passing up a chance to learn a whole new magical system.

“It might not work for you,” Tom said. “The magic that is. It works for me because it’s in the story.”

“Are there other magic users in this story?” Willow asked.

Lizzie goggled as if mildly surprised that Willow didn’t already know. “Yes.”

“Then I’ll take my chances.”

Of course that led to more hugs all around, longer this time since it was one of their own leaving. Once they were gone, there was no reason for Ethan to continue being polite. “Doctor now. Moving forward on getting us out of here now. Or someone will find us in an extremely compromising position.” He drew Rupert in for a kiss and very blatantly rubbing his hand along Rupert’s ass. Rupert returned the favor.

“Doctor. On it.”

“Wait, Buffy,” Jenny called out. “I’m coming with.”

“Me too,” Xander added.

Ethan let everything else slip away as he lost himself in Rupert’s kiss.

Chapter Text

Whedonverse

Rupert forced himself to stillness as everything he’d ever wanted was taken away. Even a goodbye had been denied him, not by that other Rupert, but by fate. Ethan was unconscious: dying. Buffy, the other Buffy, held Ethan as gently as a mother might cradle a wounded child. His own Buffy would never have cradled Ethan in such a manner. His Ethan didn’t deserve such gentle treatment. The other Rupert huddled over Ethan protectively even as he cast angry glances across the room, warning Rupert that this Ethan wasn’t for him.

A map was thrown to the floor by the dark-haired stranger, Tom. He touched it with a blooming magic wand and a portal opened. Buffy, carrying Ethan, stepped into the portal and fell through. Rupert, Xander, Willow, and Tom as well as his two friends followed after. The map vanished with the portal leaving Rupert alone with the children – his Buffy, his Willow, and his Xander or, if not his, at least the Buffy, Willow, and Xander from his dimension. Rupert stared at the foot of the bed, at the place where he’d last seen Ethan, and waited for the shouting to start. Willow would try to smooth things over but Rupert was certain that neither Buffy nor Xander could ignore his “romantic” past with Ethan.

There was a shuffling behind him. “We’ll, uh, see you tomorrow big guy.”

“Are you okay getting home on your own?” Buffy asked. Ah, it wasn’t to be shouting after all; it was to be denial.

“Yes.” He didn’t turn to look at them. He’d never see Ethan, not his Ethan but the man his Ethan could have been, again.

“Are you sure?” He could feel Buffy approach. “I could stay.”

“Go.”

They left quietly but with enough shuffling that Rupert could hear when they were gone. He stood over the bed and dropped his hand down to the pillow as if to brush a cheek that was no longer there. His hand clutched empty air.

He should have had … The other Ethan had seemed like something out of a fairy tale, like something one could wish for but never hold: a Prince Charming who faded to dust at the mere hint of a kiss. Rupert’s eyes fell shut as he dropped to the side of the bed, but he still couldn’t stop the visions. He saw Ethan give a shout of relief and throw himself into the other Rupert’s arms. He saw them come together so tenderly that he stood, twisting as he rose, and punched his hand into the wall. His knuckles came back bloody. There was a fetish on the floor, a clay medallion carved with a Chaotic sigil. Rupert threw it against the wall where it smashed into a dozen shards. Ethan. Ethan had cheated him. Ethan had offered him a Grail of pure bliss but had turned it to poison when Rupert had raised the cup to his lips. Rupert’s hands clenched into fists. Ethan wasn’t about to get away with it.

Rupert returned to where it had begun, at least in this cycle. He smashed through the glass window, shattering Ethan’s name, painted out in gold, into a thousand shards. Ethan he found running for the back door. Rupert slammed him into the wall and shoved a fist into his gut. Ethan came up gasping. “What? You didn’t care for my present? Or is it that you cared too much?”

Rupert’s fist found Ethan’s jaw. Ethan wiped the blood from his face. “Are you punching me because you can’t hit him or because you can’t fuck him? Are you planning to tie me to a chair as well?”

Rupert stumbled back as if Ethan had punched him. He’d hit Ethan, the other Ethan, a man whom, if he’d been given half a chance, Rupert could have loved. Rupert fled the shop, fell against the side of the building, and slid down the brick facing as it hit him. Ethan wasn’t his, had never been his, and never would be his.

“Come on, Ripper, don’t run away. We could have such fun. Punch me again. Or kiss me. After all, it’s all one and the same.” The voice came closer. “Ripper? Ripper?”

“Rupert?”

There was silence then, a blessed silence he could drown in, but it didn’t last. Nothing good ever lasted. “Giles?”

He felt hands on either side of his face. “Giles?” She seemed to be shouting. “Giles?” He raised a hand to her cheek and felt the wetness there. She’d been crying. Of course she’d been crying. Nothing good ever lasted.

“Giles, I need you.”

“Buffy.” He pulled himself together for the girl. He had nothing else left.