Ethan wasn't really concentrating on his book. It was difficult to do that when there's someone outside your door that you're not entirely sure whether you should be pleased to see or not.
Ethan had just reread the same line at least five times without getting any closer to figuring out what it actually said when there came a faint scratching at the door.
Despite himself, Ethan couldn't help smiling a little at that. So, Giles was on the straight and narrow, was he? Then someone must've changed the definition of 'straight and narrow' when Ethan wasn't looking, because he was pretty sure that the good guys weren't supposed to pick locks.
On the other hand, maybe it didn't count if they weren't very good at it. Apparently Giles needed some more practice with the skills he'd picked up as a result of a misspent youth.
However, Giles was bound to crack the lock eventually. Either that or he'd lurk outside and ambush Ethan when he finally left the room. Ethan should probably deal with him now. Although he didn't think Giles would accept Ethan telling him to bugger off.
Ethan opened his door, hoping that catching Giles in the act of lock picking might wrong-foot him. No such luck - Giles straightened from his crouch utterly unabashed.
Ethan sighed. "I don't suppose that telling you to go to hell would result in you making a short trip of an infernal nature?"
Giles shook his head. "It wouldn't."
"So, you've come by to moralise me some more, then? Because, Ru, I could really do without that."
"Actually, I wanted to apologize."
Ethan raised an eyebrow. "Oh?"
"I might have been a little... hasty in my judgment of you before. I know that people can change. I could've at least given you the benefit of the doubt."
"Okay. You've said sorry. Now go away." Ethan said, shutting his door.
Giles quickly shoved his foot through the doorway, making the door rebound off of it. "I-I figured out how hypocritical I was being. I know that the Watchers weren't exactly understanding after Randall died, and then I turned around and acted exactly the same way towards you. I'm sorry."
"You've made your remorse abundantly clear, Rupert." Ethan said coldly. "Now kindly remove your foot before I curse you into oblivion."
Giles frowned. "I don't think you're really in a position to be so unforgiving. After all, you turned me into a demon and mentally regressed me to a teenager. I don't think you nearly killing me is equal to me being a tad hypocritical."
"Yeah, but that thing with the band candy led to you having sex with the Slayer's mum. I think that makes up for turning you into a Fyarl."
"Yes? Well, what about tattooing Buffy so that Eyghon would go after her? Or turning her into a-"
"Oh, shut up, you sanctimonious prat." Ethan snapped. "How dare you come here to say sorry and then attack me for everything I've done. You're hardly blameless yourself, are you, Ripper? You weren't exactly saintly even after you went crawling back to the Watchers."
"Do you know how many people died from your Halloween stunt alone? Nothing I've done compares to that!"
"Oh, sure. Because towns just collapse all by themselves, don't they? Yeah, it looks like you did a great job keeping Sunnydale safe."
"That wasn't my fault! The First Evil-"
"Rupert, I don't care! I don't want you here reminding me of all the things I've done! I don't do those kinds of things anymore." Ethan said, thinking a little guiltily of the bust of Janus that was even now anchoring the spell he'd cast on that girl in Stars Hollow. "I don't need you to be my conscience. I've got the Finns for that. So, do me a favour, and leave me alone."
Ethan sighed noisily. "What the hell do you want now? Why can't you just leave me in peace?"
"I want - Ethan, we were always friends. Even when you were a chaos mage, we had drinks together. Even if you did turn me into a Fyarl shortly after that. But now that you're a good guy... well, do you want to go out for a drink?"
Ethan looked at him incredulously. "Are you serious?"
Giles nodded. "As Canis Major."
Giles reposition his glasses slightly. "Uh, I'm sure I explained that. I could say it again if you didn't catch it."
"No, I heard what you said, but we've just been having a flaming row in the middle of a hotel corridor - by the way, everyone in these rooms probably think we're crazy, talking about magic and demons and all that - and now you're asking me out for a drink. In the morning, I might add. Seems like a bit of a turnaround."
"Well, that's what I originally came to ask, but you were so damned stubborn-"
"Anyway, I thought I might as well ask."
"It's a bit early to start drinking for me."
"We could get tea."
"American tea is awful."
Giles' lips quirked into a small smile. "I still remember that charm you taught me. We can have a decent cup of proper tea if you want."
Ethan hesitated for a moment, before saying "Sure. Just give me a second to put on some shoes."
While Xander went hunting for some holy water, Rory sat on the sofa, quietly panicking.
She didn't know if she wanted the holy water to burn her or not. If it did, then she was somehow turning into a vampire. Hopefully, that could be treated and she would turn back into a human (Rory knew that Willow was a powerful witch, maybe she could do something) and then all that would be left would her having a major freak out about nearly becoming a soulless killing machine. She didn't know if she could deal with that - she'd opted for forgetting the whole supernatural situation before. If it turned out that she was turning into a vampire, Rory couldn't be sure that she wouldn't decide to do that again. That world scared the hell out of her.
Then again, if the holy water didn't burn her, that wouldn't necessarily prove anything. Rory wasn't yet fully a vampire, although she had some of... some of the symptoms
of vampirehood. However, so far she had never had more than two at once. For example, right now, she could easily hear Xander moving around upstairs. If she focused she could even hear the blood rushing through his veins. She also suspected that going out in the sun wouldn't be the best of ideas. It was possible that she wouldn't yet be susceptible to holy water. She'd managed to enter Xander's house without an invitation, after all.
Rory didn't know which was better. Either she had some strange disease that had symptoms eerily similar to the abilities and handicaps of a vampire, or she was actually turning into a vampire. Both of those options terrified her.
After a couple of minutes, Xander came back with an absolutely normal plastic water bottle. It even had the brand label on it. "Are you ready?" Xander asked gently.
Rory, being not quite capable of speech at the moment, merely nodded.
Xander unscrewed the cap and splashed a little water on Rory's outstretched hand. Rory hissed at the sudden rush of heat, and the pale skin of her palm rapidly turned an angry, burnt red.
Jess was in the middle of taking an order when Luke called out "Cesar, can you handle things for a couple of minutes?" and, without waiting for Cesar to respond, grabbed Jess by the shoulder and steered him upstairs.
Luke sat on the edge of his bed. Jess remained standing. Luke looked like he had difficulty figuring out what he wanted to say, but eventually managed "Is it true?"
Luke looked at him in amazement. "It-it's not? Then why would you say something like that? Why would you say that to that girl? She clearly believed you."
"Oh, we're talking about me telling Dawn about seeing someone stabbed in the neck by a broken bottle, are we?"
"Yes. What did you think we were talking about?"
Jess shrugged. "Could've been any one of a number of things, really. I find it's best to deny everything."
"You - so, is it true, then?" Luke asked again, just a hint of exasperation creeping into his voice.
For a second, Jess thought about lying, but quickly realised that there wasn't really any point. "Yeah, that's true."
"What - why didn't you say anything?"
"It's not exactly the kind of thing that crops up in a conversation."
"You managed to bring it up when you were talking to Dawn." Luke pointed out.
"Yeah, well." Jess gave an inarticulate shrug. How could he explain that he had felt that he owed Dawn something for telling him about her sister, for peeling back her enigmatic shell, even if it was only for a moment?
"You should've told me."
"Why?" Jess asked. He wasn't being insolent. He just genuinely didn't understand why.
"Because that's what people are supposed to do. They talk about things, or see a psychiatrist, or something. I could've helped."
"How? Have you seen the things that I've seen?"
"Well, no, but-"
"That's your problem, Luke. You tried to fix me, and you tried to fix Liz whenever her new boyfriend turned out to be yet another loser. But the thing is, you weren't there when it mattered. You were there when Liz called you, you were there to bail her out. You weren't there when I saw that guy bleeding out on the floor without anyone lifting a finger to help him, or when one of Liz's boyfriend nearly OD'd, or when she came home drunk and broken hearted because she couldn't understand why they always left her. You can't fix me, Luke. I don't need your help, I don't need to pour my heart out to you. I’ll get through it by myself, or I won't get through it at all."
"No, Luke. Shut up. You're a good man, but you can't help me with this. You don't get it. You've got this perfect small town life, with your diner and everything. You haven't seen what it's like out there. Don't try and fix me, because you don't have the faintest idea how. Now, I'm going out. Don't try and follow me."
After giving Luke the longest discussion he'd ever given him, Jess turned and walked out. Luke let him go.
Rory backed away from the water bottle as though it was poison. She supposed that, to her, in this state, it was.
Xander stared at the bottle as though he'd never seen anything like it in his life. He hadn't believed that Rory was turning into a vampire. He knew that it was ridiculously ironic that he, of all people, was playing the sceptic, but it went against everything he knew about vampires. It just wasn't possible.
Except that it was.
"Oh my God." Xander breathed.
"Oh God." Rory echoed, eyes wide, fists clenching and unclenching rhythmically at her side as she struggled to breathe. If this was what a panic attack felt like, Rory would never again sneer at all those swooning damsels in distress in movies. It felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest. "Oh God oh God oh God I'm turning into a vampire."
Xander gingerly put down the holy water bottle. "It'll be okay, Rory, we'll-"
"No! No, it won't
be okay! How can anything be okay when there's stuff like this going on?"
"Rory, I know it's scary-"
"Scary?" Rory interrupted with a slightly hysterical giggle. "It's terrifying. I don't know how to deal with this. I can't
deal with this."
"Yes, you can." Xander said gently. "We ca-"
"No! I wiped my memory to forget all of this before, and it wasn't even affecting me then. Now it - now I'm turning into a vampire! How can I deal with that!?"
"Rory, we can fix this." Xander said in as soothing a voice as he could manage. Which was considerably less soothing than he would've liked. "We can."
"This is your fault. This stuff follows you wherever you go. You and your damned demons and magic. This is your fault. My life was normal and happy before you came. This is all your fault!" Rory shouted.
Xander knew that Rory was scared out of her mind, but that didn't mean that her saying that didn't hurt. Especially seeing as how it was probably true. "Rory-"
"Shut up! Shut up and stay away from me!" Rory shrieked eyes a little wild.
"Stop it, Rory!" Xander snapped. He instantly felt guilty when he saw Rory flinch, but he fought down the urge to apologize and continued.
"Rory, there aren't that many people in my life that I care about. Most of them are so much stronger than me that even if I could help with their problems, they wouldn't need me. But you? You I can help. I know that, right now, you want nothing to do with me, that you'd rather never see me again. And I understand that. But you're going through something right now. If you want to leave that's fine. I'll call Willow and she can come and fix whatever is wrong with you and then you'll never have to see me again. You don't need my help, because you're a hell of a lot stronger than you think you are and I have no doubt that you can work through this without me. You don't need my help. But I want to give it. I want to put my arms around you while you shake with nerves and cry. I want to tell you that everything is going to be alright. Because I wasn't there for you when you came to Sunnydale. I couldn't help you then. But I'm here for you now. And I want to help. Please, Rory, let me help."
It was sickeningly romantic to say it, but, as Xander's monologue went on, Rory stopped feeling scared. Well, that wasn't actually true. Rory was still scared - but it didn't control her anymore. She no longer felt as though she was on the edge of a nervous breakdown.
Because of Xander. Because this was the sort of thing that Xander had dealt with on a daily basis for years. And, while he hadn't made it through without some scars, he'd survived, and he was intact, and he would fix this. He would keep her safe.
"Please." Rory said in a voice barely louder than a whisper. "Please put your arms around me while I shake with nerves and cry. Please tell me everything is going to be alright. Please."
She'd barely finished speaking when his arms were around her, and she felt safe in the warmth of his embrace. She cried into his shoulder as he stroked her hair.
He didn't tell her that everything was going to be alright, though.
Instead, he said, for the first time "I love you, Rory."