the pearl

Strangers When We Meet

"Steely resolve...Is falling from me...My poor soul...All bruised passivity...All your regrets...Ride rough-shod over me...I'm so glad....That we're strangers when we meet"

Giles slowly opened his front door and walked in, tossing his briefcase to the nearby chair. He stooped down to pick up the scattered mail, wincing slightly as he stood. Too old to be fighting vampires... he thought to himself as he flipped through his mail. Bills, a few notes from the post office concerning large packages, the usual....except for a postcard sandwiched between the electric bill and his monthly statement from Occult Booksellers.

Giles looked at the picture, a bright panorama of Sunnydale from the hillside, for a few minutes, then turned it over. He frowned as he read the short message on the back. Just an address, a date, and a mark. Something that no one else living would recognize, save him, the young students he had just seen in the library...

And Ethan.

Giles closed his eyes for a second, his body leaning back against the wall, memories flooding his mind. He had almost managed to forget the last time he had seen Ethan, almost managed to forget that night of anarchy and passion. But Ethan could never be forgotten.

Giles sighed, and looked at the card again. The date and time on the card was tonight. He moved over to the desk, poured himself a drink, and waited for the night to fall.


The car pulled up to the small bar on the edge of town, a place where no one would know him, where no one would see. Giles got out of the car, then walked in. He took a few seconds to scan the small, nearly empty room, then caught sight of the other man, sitting in a booth, a drink in his hand.

Ethan lifted his head and looked directly at his old friend. The two stared each other down for a few minutes. Finally, Giles broke the gaze, his eyes shifting to his feet, cursing quietly. Ethan grinned.

Giles walked over to the small booth, standing in front of it. "Ethan," he said, his voice low.

Ethan looked up at the other man, smiling victoriosly. "Ripper," he said smoothly. "Got my card, I see."

Giles slid into the booth, facing Ethan, his eyes steely. "Why am I here, Ethan?" he asked, his voice low. "What do you want?"

Ethan's smile faded slightly, but his eyes still glinted. "I wanted you to know."

Giles frowned. "Know what?"

"I'm dying."

Giles leaned back in shock, his eyes filled with disbelief. "No..." he said in a whisper.

Ethan's smile was weak as he nodded. "You said Morocco would kill me. Never figured it'd take this long..." He waved his hand dismissedly. "AIDS."

Giles paled. "Are...Are you certain?"

"They've been certain for years." Ethan looked at Giles, a vicious smile spreading over his face. "You don't have to worry, Ripper....this happened long after we...." He let the sentence hang.

Giles closed his eyes for a second. "What do you want from me, Ethan?" he asked, his voice trying to be calm.

Ethan lit a cigarette, the trembling in his hands belying his calm. "I've known about this for over twelve years," he said. "And I've tried everything. Incantations, hexes, obscure Etruscan curses, medicinals from the Andes...." He chuckled. "I even went to an actual doctor and got on AZT. Then I decided I didn't want to spend the rest of my days in the bathroom puking. So I went back to magic." He took a deep drag from his cigarette, then looked directly into Giles' eyes. "I've run out of options, Rupert. There's nothing more available to me."

Giles looked away. "And what am I supposed to do? You've tried everything —"

"Not everything." Ethan's voice was firm. "Everything available to me." He took another drag from his cigarette. "You're a Watcher. You have access to things that I'll never have access to."

Giles looked up in surprise, then fell back to staring at the table. "Was," he said quietly.


Giles looked up, the strain of the past few weeks evident on his face. "I was a Watcher. I'm not any more."

Ethan laughed, ignoring Giles' glare. "Oh, Ripper...I knew you'd cock up some day..." he said in between chuckles. Giles looked away and began to stand. Ethan quickly sobered up. "Oh come still have access to all your books, don't you? They couldn't take those away from'd be like taking off your leg..."

Giles slowly sat back down. "I still have my books," he said, his voice quiet.

Ethan nodded. "And you have the Tale of Theophilus, correct?"

Giles' eyes widened. " can't..." he said, his head shaking slowly.

"It's the only way. I've tried everything else. And it's the only thing that's left to me." He reached over and grabbed Giles' hand. "Rupert, I need this. I can't let it end this way."

Giles pulled his hand away. "So instead you want to be dragged into Hell after fifty years?" He shook his head. "I can't be a part of this, Ethan. I can't let you do this."

Ethan looked at him, his eyes cold. "And right now, I'm all you have left." He gestured at Rupert. "Look at you. You're not a Watcher anymore...I bet whoever they got to replace you doesn't even ask you for help....You've got no family, no friends, just a few desperate teenagers..." He smiled sharply. "And me."

Giles looked down at the table, and closed his eyes tightly. "Damn you, Ethan," he said, his voice low and hard. "Damn you to hell."

Ethan smiled. "So you'll help me?" he asked, his voice creamy with satisfaction.

Giles looked up. "Yes." He closed his eyes for a second, feeling everything he had built up for the past twenty years slip away. His eyes opened again, and he looked directly at Ethan. "Yes, I will."


Buffy pushed her hair back from her face and walked into the library. "Hey, Giles," she said loudly.

Giles sat at the table, staring down at a closed book in his hands.

Buffy walked over to him. "Giles?" she said, her voice a bit more worried. "Giles, you awake?"

Giles looked up, obviously startled. "What? Oh! Oh yes. I'm fine, Buffy." He looked down at the book in his hands and set it on the table as if it were on fire.

Buffy frowned. "That's not 'fine', Giles." She sat on the edge of the table. "It's not every day I see you spacing out while looking at the cover of..." She picked up the book. "The Tale of Theophilus."

Giles snatched the book from her hands. "That's a personal matter," he said, his voice crisp. He stood up. "And aren't you supposed to be training with Wyndham-Pryce?"

Buffy ignored the question. "Giles...what's going on? The last time I saw you like this, the next day I was fighting a vampire in that empty boarding house."

Giles began walking to his office, the book still held tightly in his hands. "I told you, it's a personal matter."

Buffy followed him, her eyes narrowing. "Giles, you can't hide from me. I know something's going on." She ran up in front of him, blocking the office doorway. "Tell me."

"Buffy, I —" He tried to push her aside.

"Tell me."

He sighed, his shoulders slumping. "I saw Ethan last night."

Buffy tensed slightly. "Ethan," she said, her voice cool. "I thought I told him never to come back." She frowned. "What did he want?"

"A favor."

She straightened. "What kind of favor?" she asked, glaring at him.

He pushed past her and into the office. She followed him, her arms crossed against her waist. She looked directly at him, glaring slightly. He looked down at his feet, and sighed. "He's dying."

Buffy stared at him in shock. "What?"

Giles nodded, still looking down. "AIDS. He's been using..." He looked up at Buffy. "He's been using a variety of incantations and spells to keep himself's worked for twelve years...but now...." He took his glasses off and rubbed his eyes. "He came to me for help."

Buffy shook her head. "But why?" She looked at him, frowning. "Why would you want to help him? I mean, Giles, he tried to kill us! Several times!"

Giles kept his eyes down. "Because I have to," he said quietly.

"But why?" she said, her voice harsh.

He looked up at her, his eyes glittering. "Because he's all I have left," he snapped at her.

She recoiled, her eyes wide with shock.

Giles looked down and cursed under his breath. "I....I'm sorry, Buffy," he said, his voice quiet.

"Maybe I don't know exactly what kind of past you have with Ethan, but he's not the only thing you have!" she said, her voice sharp. "You have us." She walked up to him. "Don't you dare think you don't have anything when I'm right here!" she said, glaring defensively up at him.

Giles turned away from her. "You're just a don't understand..."

She stared at him, her anger rising. "Don't tell me I don't understand! How do you know that?"

"Because I don't understand either," he said, his voice flat. He leaned against the desk, his entire body slumped. "Buffy, I..." He searched for the words. "I have to do this." He looked up at her. "If I don't....I'd never...." He broke off, unable to finish the sentence.

Buffy stood there, her eyes wide. Finally, she spoke, her voice childlike. "I..." She shook herself. "I want to help."

Giles looked up at her, his eyes wide. "What?"

"I want to help. I mean, I don't think I'll be much help there, because of my urge to hit Ethan, but, I can help here. I can find stuff, and prepare stuff." She walked up to him and put her hand on his shoulder. "Please?"

Giles looked at his Slayer and wrapped his hands around her tiny one. "Thank you," he said quietly. "Thank you."


Giles grabbed a small stack of books and placed them in the bag on the table. Buffy added a few large white candles. "What does this do, anyway?" Buffy asked.

Giles blinked. "Well...uh...." He sighed. "No one is quite certain." At Buffy's surprised look, he sighed and continued. "The Tale of Theophilus is a sixth century Greek story on which the Faust story was based....a man renouncing Christ for the devil and receiving some goods for it." He paused. "The stories have been cross-checked and it's believed that there is one essential ritual behind all of the stories." He held up a slim volume. "The basic idea is that a person summons a particular demon and then makes a deal with it. The....soul...for a certain desire." He paused again, trying to find the words. "Ethan is....hoping to gain a longer life."

Buffy frowned. "What's going to happen when....when the demon collects?"

Giles looked down at the bag, his hands tightening on the straps. "When....when he dies....the demon will take his soul to Hell."

"And Ethan knows this? He's willing to do this? All for a little more time here on Earth?"

Giles willed his hands to unclench. "Ethan...Ethan has always been more interested in the here-and-now rather than the aftereffects," he said quietly. His hands refused to relax, twisting the leather strap between them. He closed his eyes for a second, attempting to regain some self-control. After a minute, he looked up, only to see Buffy looking at him worriedly. "Well," he said, trying to sound calm. "I believe we have everything together."

"I was beginning to wonder..." a smooth voice said from behind the two of them.

Buffy whirled around, her body slipping instantly into battle mode. Giles knew instinctively who it was and stood still, wishing this moment had never come. "Ethan," he said, his soft voice breaking the stillness of the room.

Ethan looked at the bag. "Is everything ready?" he asked, his eyes never leaving Giles' face.

Giles nodded, his eyes meeting Ethan's. "We'll go to the Restful Pines cemetery at the edge of town..." he said, his voice still low. He broke the gaze and looked down at the bag. "Shall we?"

Ethan moved towards the door, but before he took a step, Buffy stood in front of him. "Let's make one thing clear," she said, her voice commanding. "You come back, and he doesn't? I don't care what demon you're getting fed to when you die — you're going down."

Ethan quirked an eyebrow. "Charmed," he said. He turned back to Giles. "Coming?"

Giles picked up the bag and started walking. He stopped in front of Buffy. "Buffy, I..." He paused. "If anything..." He paused again.

Buffy touched his shoulder. "I know," she said, her voice quiet. She watched Ethan and Giles leave, then finally spoke up just as Giles reached the door. "Giles!"

He turned around to face her, his eyes questioning.

"Be careful."

Giles nodded, then left the library.


Dawn broke over Sunnydale, sunlight filtering through windows, slipping through cracks, crawling over sidewalks. The library door opened, then shut quietly as Giles walked in, trying not to wake the girl sleeping on the couch.

But a Slayer's hearing is attuned to the slightest noise. She lifted her head, her eyes opening. "Giles..." she said, her voice sleepy. She blinked a few times, then sat up. "Giles!" she said again, her voice more alive. "What happened? Did you...? Did it...?"

Giles nodded tiredly, his face shadowed. "The...contract was made....Ethan's already on his way out of town..." He found a nearby chair and collasped onto it. "Oh God, Buffy," he said, his voice near breaking. "What have I done?" He rubbed his hands over his face. "What have I done?"

Buffy moved towards him. "You did what a friend asked of you," she said, her voice quiet. "You did what needed to be done."

"He was..." Giles paused, trying to rein in his emotions. "He was the only thing I had left. And I let him damn himself. I sold him to a demon just so he could have a few more years. And he asked me to. He begged me to!" A sob escaped from him. "I...I've lost everything I have...." he said, his voice quiet and childlike. "There's nothing left."

Buffy wrapped her arms around him, unable to think of anything else to do. "There's me," she said, her voice quiet. "There's still me."

"Though nothing, nothing will keep us together...We can beat them, for ever and ever...Oh we can be heroes, just for one day"

This Angel/Buffy the Vampire Slayer story was written by Kate Bolin. If you liked it, there's plenty more at And you can feedback her at