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He had encountered so many dead ends during the course of his search. Each time he’d thought he was close to finding the answer his hopes would be dashed once more. This latest lead was the most promising so far and, strangely, had been found not on the shores of the United States as one would have expected, but rather on those of his homeland.
He closed his eyes, pushing away the exhaustion brought about not only by two international flights in almost as few days, or from the mind-shattering news that his slayer—whom he had lost and mourned and, to what extent he was able, come to terms with the loss of—was somehow back, but also from the apprehension that by his return to Sunnydale he was throwing away his last opportunity to discover the location of Ethan’s incarceration. He should be meeting with his contact in Cornwall in a little less than twenty minutes. It had taken a great deal of time and a not-insignificant sum of money to persuade the understandably nervous man to meet with him, and with each mile travelled his trepidation grew.
From the little his informant had told him the holding facility in which his former-lover was a guest was a testing centre for the supposedly-defunct—but in actuality still very much in operation—Initiative to continue their experimentation.
Willow’s phone call had woken him from a fitful, exhausted sleep less than an hour after his arrival home in Bath, and he had immediately made arrangements for his return to the USA. He felt somewhat like he'd not stopped for breath since leaving Sunnydale only a few short days ago, which really, he hadn't. There had been the obligatory report to the Council of Watchers to deal with upon arriving in England. Obviously he had made a report at the time of Buffy's death but there had been no formal announcement, no handing over of his diary with the written account of his slayer's last battle and that was the task he had been required to make upon setting foot on his home soil once more. Reporting Buffy's death in person had been rather—taxing—the watchers' cold clinical assessment of his slayer and her demise had cut painfully at barely-healed wounds and it was with great relief that he had finally departed for the tranquility of his home.
Willow's rushed babble about Buffy being back and needing him had eventually forced its way through his sleep-addled brain but not before he had mumbled that of course he would be on the next available flight and the girl had hung up. It wasn't until later that he'd realised the implications of his immediate return to Sunnydale. Now as he sat somewhere over the Atlantic he wondered for the hundredth time if he hadn't been too hasty. If by his actions he was abandoning Ethan to spend the rest of his existence as an oversized laboratory rat. Despite his recent differences with the chaos mage, a life spent at the mercy of the Initiative was a fate he wouldn't wish upon his greatest enemy, let alone one who still held, and always would, a large portion of his heart. He smiled wistfully as unbidden memories of an eager, youthful Ethan flitted through his mind before with a regretful sigh he forced his mind back to the not-so-pleasant dilemma of his current situation.
That Buffy needed his help and support he did not doubt. Whatever the girl had been through in the months since her 'death' must have been horrendous. He had believed when she'd passed through the portal—thus closing it—that she had died. They had buried her body and mourned for her.
His search for Ethan had begun out of a desperate need for a distraction from his grief, and had quickly become an obsession. The young girl whom he had always known would have only a brief stay on this earth, but whom, nonetheless, he had allowed into his heart and loved as dearly as if she were his own flesh and blood, was gone. As he found himself turning more and more frequently to the bottle to dull the pain he had come to the conclusion that he needed a means to occupy his mind lest he sink to a level of inebriety from which there may be no return. Now the daughter of his heart had returned and he trembled at the implications. If, in fact, Buffy had not died, where had she been these last months? And what effect would it have had on the poor girl? He knew that the portal had been a doorway to innumerable hell dimensions, and the thought of his slayer having been trapped in one of these while he had obliviously gone on with his life sickened him. He had spent much of the journey so far preparing himself for the fact that what had returned to them may resemble the girl he had known in little more than physical appearance.
His head spun and his heart ached. He had made his choice when he'd boarded the plane and all he could do now was hope that there was time enough for him to help them both. He sighed deeply in an attempt to ease some of the tension that had been mounting steadily, and with a rare whispered prayer he closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind enough to allow him at least an hour or two's sleep before he had change planes. A clearer head would be needed in order to deal with whatever awaited him in Sunnydale.