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Watching the Watchers (the Oncoming Storm Remix)

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There’s something about stormy weather that Ethan loves. He knows the common response to cacophonous thunder and lightning that splits the skies is to cower and run for cover, and that’s probably the sensible option, but there has always been a part of him that can’t help wanting to stand out in the open, throw back his head, and laugh until he’s either struck down or spared.

Changing a flat tire in stormy weather, however, leaves much to be desired.

Ethan heaves against the jack and swears loudly as his hand slips on the wet metal, throwing him against the side of the car. Fucking storm. Fucking tire. Fucking Ripper who didn’t want to go out for supplies because he’s a fucking girl when he’s hungover.

“Is that supposed to be loosening up the nut?” A politely interested voice asks from just behind Ethan’s shoulder. “It doesn’t seem to be working.”

Ethan jumps. The newcomer is a tall man with a Northern accent and a leather jacket, and he seems to be entirely unperturbed by the storm. Ethan hates him on sight.

“You’re more than welcome to try it yourself,” he snaps, stepping back pointedly.

The stranger grins and bends over to peer at the tire. “It seems basic enough,” he says. “Give me a lever long enough and I can move the world, as my old pal Archimedes used to say. Of course, you also have to be big enough to use the giant lever, which he didn’t consider until a few tries in...”

Ethan rolls his eyes and turns his back. If the mad Northern man can’t fix the tire - probable - he’ll have to come up with an alternate plan. The neighborhood isn’t a great one, and the people he’d come out here to see would charge him things he doesn’t want to give up in return for help. There’s a police box on the corner he hadn’t noticed before, but he’s frankly not sure if those phone lines are even connected to anything these days. Probably not much help there.

There’s a buzzing from behind him that he both hears and feels, and something elemental seems to loosen. Ethan whirls around, but there’s only the madman, idly spinning the loosened nut in one hand. The grin is nine times more satisfied and irritating.

“What was that?” Ethan demands.

“Leverage,” the man says smugly. “Shall we change the tire?”

Ethan nods, eyeing him warily. That buzzing before hadn’t felt like any magic he knew, but it was clearly something supernatural. As the man reaches for the spare tire, Ethan deliberately lets his fingers brush the edge of the man’s jacket.

For a brief instant he feels the turn of the world, the thudding power of the universe itself, spinning and crashing together and apart, and then the moment is over. Ethan rubs his fingertips together thoughtfully, frowning at the back of the man’s head. A chaos mage, and a middling powerful one, but tapping into something Ethan doesn’t recognize. Interesting.

“Ta for this, mate,” he says, forcing a sunnily grateful smile onto his face. “Really, I can’t thank you enough. Say, I have some friends coming over tonight for a little get-together - would you like to come? It’s the least I can do.”

The man’s answering smile is just as sunny and just as firmly attached. “Why not? I’m the Doctor.”

“Ethan Rayne,” Ethan says, shaking his hand. There’s no hint of that unusual magic signature now. The Doctor, whatever else he might be, is very good at hiding. “It’s a pleasure.”

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

The Doctor watches them, and Ethan watches the Doctor.

Ripper, of course, had thrown a fit about the newcomer, but the others had been welcoming and once it was clear the Doctor was mostly interested in observation everything smoothed over. He doesn’t participate in the magic, which is a shame, or the drugs, which from an interrogation standpoint is even more of one, but he betrays more than he thinks when everyone else seems to be focused on the rituals.

Ethan watches from the shadows, and tries to draw conclusions.

The Doctor doesn’t quite approve of their activities, but he’s fascinated by them. There’s an edge of hunger in his eyes when things really get going that Ethan recognizes from Ripper’s face when they’d first met. Ripper had been easy to diagnose - Daddy issues, authority issues, deeply invested in being as depraved as possible as a big fuck-you to whoever it was who had pissed him off. The simplest way to get Ripper to do something is to hint that someone would disapprove of him doing it. Then it’s just a case of standing back and watching the carnage.

The Doctor’s mind is more subtle - there’s the same yearning for destruction, the same deep-seated desire to misbehave as egregiously as possible, but it’s... blunted, somehow. He’s either still too inhibited to let loose, too responsible, or too self-aware to really think that utterly surrendering himself will solve anything. It’s a shame, really; Ethan thinks the Doctor with nothing left to lose would be utterly magnificent. It would be the storm to end all storms; if he was more than a middling powerful chaos mage, it would be the last explosion before utter oblivion, and Ethan for one would love nothing more than to be standing at the epicenter of it.

The Doctor watches Ripper more than the rest of them, which Ethan is mildly offended by. Ripper may be the most powerful of them, but Ethan likes to think he brings his own irreplaceable flare to the proceedings and he is certainly the one in charge. Ethan is also rapidly starting to lose patience with the Doctor’s refusal to use that strange buzzing chaos-magic.

Yes, Ethan thinks, watching the Doctor watch them. Something has to change. If the Doctor will not reveal anything, Ethan will have to provoke him.

He grins. Provocation is something he is very, very good at.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ripper skips the next ritual, off in one of his regularly-timed sulks. The Doctor shows without him, and Ethan feels a moment of anticipation, but even when the ritual goes wrong (complete accident! Honestly!) and they wind up with a Skrsh’x demon instead of Eyghon the Doctor doesn’t use his magic. Ethan lets it go for as long as he can, and finally intervenes when the demon tries to eat Deirdre. The Doctor’s only contribution to the event is to toss the demon’s corpse into the Thames on his way out for a pint, which is deeply disappointing. Ethan would have thought he’d react when the demon went for him - those claws are very distracting - but the Doctor just stood there. Ethan mentally ups the Doctor’s self-destructive tendencies. Unfortunate. He’ll have to think of something else.

The next morning Ripper shows up in a foul mood, crashing around the flat and disturbing the delicate hungover constitutions of everyone present.

“Do I look like a librarian to you?” he growls finally, when Philip has threatened him with an early-morning evisceration and even Randall is starting to look annoyed.

Ethan nearly swallows his joint. “No.

Ripper gestures angrily. “A bloody librarian! Me! That fucking - he’s your friend, Ethan.”

“Who?” Ethan asks, raising his eyebrows. “The Doctor? I found him on the side of the road. He’s like a stray cat, he doesn’t belong to anyone.”

Ripper scowls at him. Randall puts his hand comfortingly on Ripper’s shoulder and he reins himself in a little. “I don’t like his attitude,” he says, but most of the bite is gone. “He’d better watch himself.”

Ethan watches this interplay with interest. Randall’s the youngest and the most recent entrant bar the Doctor, so Ethan supposes it’s be expected that he’s acting the peacemaker, but it’s worrying nonetheless. Ripper’s anger is what drives him - if he begins to soften the dynamic of the rest of the group will change as well, and Ethan doesn’t want that. Yet again, something will have to be done.

Ethan’s still thinking this over when they start up with the rituals that night. The Doctor’s a good way through a bottle of whiskey, though his tolerance is frustratingly high, and Ripper’s calmed down enough to back Randall when he asks to be Eyghon’s host.

“Don’t forget to keep control,” Ripper says bossily. “You know what to do if something goes wrong?”

“Yes, Mum,” Randall says, rolling his eyes. Ethan agrees with him - Ripper really is being an old woman.

“Has he ever done this before?” The Doctor asks.

“Yeah, a couple of times,” Deirdre says, and Ethan frowns thoughtfully. The Doctor has never questioned the rest of them, but right now he looks almost... nervous. It’s interesting how Randall brings out a different side to both the Doctor and Ripper -

He grins behind his glass. He’d wanted to shake it up, hadn’t he? He needs Ripper angry and he needs the Doctor to react magically if he ever wants to get a good look at that weird chaos magic. Using Randall as bait is a pity, of course, but he’s never been very powerful and it’s for a good cause. A little chaos is exactly what this night needs.

Ethan waits for the ritual to get to the right point, and makes a surreptitious gesture.

Randall screams.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Ethan looks back over the evening, and philosophically acknowledges it to have been spectacularly unsuccessful. Ripper had been furious, but that anger had been dwarfed by the horror of Randall’s death. Ethan winces - it had been significantly more graphic than he’d been expecting. Eyghon, it turns out, is remarkably vindictive, even for a demon. Ethan’s certain the only uninterrupted sleep he’s going to get for the foreseeable future will be found at the bottom of a bottle. The screaming had been - and then Eyghon had -

He shudders, and pushes it from his mind.

The Doctor hadn’t used that chaos magic - he’d settled for pitching a chair at Eyghon-Randall’s head, which was an impressive feat of adrenaline-fueled strength but wasn’t at all what Ethan had been aiming for. He and Ripper had left to dispose of what remained of Randall’s body, and Philip and Deirdre had left immediately after. Ethan isn’t really expecting any of them to come back.

A fairly colossal failure, all the way around, but such is the nature of chaos magic. It reacts unpredictably, but the results are always... impressive.

He swallows back bile and stands, staggering a little. He’ll have to go find Ripper tomorrow, once he’s sobered up a little - besides the fact that it would be a shame to lose access to Ripper’s talents, Ripper’s a powerful magic-user and a well-built bloke and he can most certainly fuck Ethan up in ways Ethan doesn’t want to experience. Philip and Deirdre he resigns to the vagaries of chaos and fate - they may come back, they may not. He doesn’t think either of them will figure out Ethan’s role in tonight’s little fiasco.

“It was you,” a voice says from just behind Ethan’s shoulder.

He turns, a little too quickly, and stumbles against the wall. It’s the Doctor - half in shadows, but his face has finally lost that irritating smile.

“You disrupted the ritual on purpose, didn’t you.” It’s not a question.

“If you say so,” Ethan says noncommitally. Even drunk he knows better than to incriminate himself unnecessarily.

“Why would you do that?” The Doctor demands, coming closer. “Was it jealousy? Were you threatened by him somehow?”

“By Randall?” Ethan says incredulously.

“By Giles. You did that for a reason, didn’t you? You were trying to get a reaction out of Giles. Why? What purpose did it serve?”

Ethan’s impressed - the Doctor has picked up more than he’d thought, even if it’s not completely accurate. He’s also disappointed; the Doctor’s expression is oddly hurt, as if he’s been betrayed. Ethan’s really not sure what kind of people he thought he was spending time with.

“I was looking for a reaction from you, too, but that was a lost cause,” Ethan says snidely.

The Doctor slams him back against the wall. Ethan’s head spins, the alcohol and the impact making him lose track of time for a moment, and then he feels it - that buzzing chaos magic is thrumming through the Doctor, burning under his skin. Ethan closes his eyes and sinks gleefully into it - it’s the turn of the universe itself, ancient and unpredictable and far, far too wild to be tamed. The strength of it, the nearness of it, takes his breath away.

“You’re not just a chaos mage, are you?” he demands, breathless, clinging to the Doctor to keep himself upright and in contact with that glorious tumbling siren song of uncontrollable power. “You’re chaos itself. It’s in you.”

The Doctor frees himself violently from Ethan’s grasp, staggering back as if pushed. “What?”

Ethan straightens, reeling with want. “I can feel it in you. I have since we met. How can you possibly have that much power and not use it? Why is someone like you even down here with the rest of us? If you don’t know how to use it I can show you - “

“No!” The Doctor retreats another few steps, horrified. “No. You don’t understand.” His face hardens. “I have seen and done things you cannot even imagine - been places you don’t even know exist. I have seen the turn of the universe, beauty and power and the tiny, fragile glory of individual lives playing themselves out. I am the Doctor, the Oncoming Storm, and I stand against people like you.”

Ethan sighs regretfully. He can still feel that thrumming, even across the room - the Doctor is too upset to conceal it, or has simply decided to stop trying. It’s maddening to have it so close and so out of reach, to have failed after such effort. “Are you going to punish me, then?”

The Doctor watches him, calculating. “That would actually benefit you, wouldn’t it?” he says shrewdly. “No. I’m going to stay away from you. I’m going to let you sit here, with your lack of talent and your regret, and you’ll have to think of your own way to atone for what you’ve done.”

Ethan eyes him. “You’re sure I regret it?”

The Doctor smiles. Ethan never thought he’d miss that old manic expression, but this smile has no warmth in it. He shivers.

“Regret is something I can recognize in others,” he says coolly. “Stay away from Giles.”

He steps back and vanishes into the darkness of the flat. After a moment, Ethan lets himself slide down the wall until he’s sitting. His legs are shaking.

Well. Interesting. The Doctor had been right about the regret, of course, but there is one thing he’d overlooked. Ethan might not have Ripper’s abilities, but he doesn’t actually need them. One does not need a great deal of power, after all, to trigger chaos in an already chaotic universe.

Ethan smiles. He already feels a little better.