It is Easter. It does not feel like it, but it is. Sugar idols line the shelves in brightly coloured foil uniforms, deformed rabbit soldiers surrounding hollow, armoured eggs, filled with nothing but solid energy and e-numbers. Flightless marshmallow birds… and somewhere, in lonely little churches, people kneeling with lifeless palms folded into the death-cross.
The church is dark outside, but filled with pastel tissue-paper and roughly coloured children’s pictures, amidst the Alphas, Omegas, fringed cloth and wooden pulpit. He sits proudly in his pew, straight-backed and calm, singing the hymns loud and sure. His voice is deep, and perhaps those around him sing a little louder than they would do without him. The only light is electric, the voice amplified by technology fifteen years old. This is unimportant.
When the service is over, he passes the collection plate and only takes a little, murmurs a warm, sincere reply to the wrought-looking vicar, and walks back out into the street. The air is cold, and he puts his hands deep in his pockets, fingers brushing the rough inside edge of the hem, toying with the stolen coins, flicking them through knuckles back and forth. It is not raining.
He only has to walk two blocks before the car pulls up, the driver sitting with his hands gripping the wheel, his attention firmly locked ahead. It is not raining. There is no excuse for this. Ethan smiles as he gets into the car, pushes his hands over the small vents of warm air as though he needs the heat.
“Well, well, Ripper, we have to stop meeting like this.”
The other man doesn’t flinch when he uses the name, his jaw doesn’t even tense. It would be a start, if it wasn’t for the fact the librarian doesn’t tense more, because he’s already jaw-locked and taut. Taut is a nice word. Ethan rolls it through his mind.
“I see you still haven’t progressed in any way, Ethan. Although I shouldn’t be surprised.”
“I see no need to,” Ethan replies, lounging back in the chair, sprawling one arm behind him. Rupert meets his eyes in the window, then looks back at the tarmac maw in front of them. The car does not move.
“Seatbelt,” Rupert says eventually, turning to look him in the face for the first time. Ethan merely smiles.
“You know, it’s a terrible thing to admit to, but I think Easter is my favourite time of year.”
“It is.” The tone asks no questions, but Ethan won’t let that stop him. Partially because he likes to annoy Rupert, in the hopes of echoing days long gone, partially because Rupert listens. Rupert knows. Rupert judges. Confessor, judge and jury.
It is nice to have a foil.
“Think about it. Death and life anew. Murder, thieves, denial. Cannibalism. Artificial deities, sex, and the greatest god of the modern age, Capitalism.” He stretches his legs into the well under the dashboard, deliberately arching his spine. Rupert does not react as he used to – no burning glances, no hard fist, but he knows it’s there somewhere, behind the patina of vellum and tweed.
“I know, Ethan. It’s just the sort of thing you would like.”
“I always did have a sweet tooth.”
They are driving now, the change from still to move something seamless and necessary, so much so that he doesn’t realise it is happening until it has. There’s no music in the car, just the soft pedal-sounds and engine coo.
“You should come in sometime. Prodigal son. They’re always taken back.”
Ripper-eyes flash at that, and he knows the blow has stung. In several ways. All at once.
“I feel I have enough contact with the other side as it is, already. And if I were to go in, it would not be for the occasional cheap thrill.”
“Oh, you wound me, Ripper. Truly you do.”
“That I doubt.”
“Just because I also believe in Kali, Badb, Hecate and Zoro it doesn’t mean I can’t believe in YHWH too.”
“Zorro the swordmaster, or Zoroaster?”
“And you believe by following all of these you will guarantee your immortal bliss?”
“No. I believe it will make life more interesting.”
“Yes, Rupert, that state of life where the most exciting thing is not discovering a new, harder-wearing tweed.”
“My life is interesting enough as it is, thank you very much.”
He’s pulled up by a motel. The motel Ethan is staying in. Either Rupert is obsessively calling in favours, wants to be rid, or has something ‘interesting’ in mind. Ethan believes in all three.
Ethan does not get out. Rupert sits.
“I have your fare,” he tells him, as casually as he can. “If you would be so kind as to walk me to your room…”
Rupert simply looks at him. Ethan shrugs.
“You will be out of Sunnydale by the end of the week.”
“What, fortune-teller too? Relax, relax, it was only a passing visit. I had a demon to see about a dog. A three-headed dog, mind you. They take some feeding.”
Rupert looks again. Ethan laughs, and shakes his head.
“Goodnight, Ripper,” he replies, and leans over to the other man’s seat. The twist is awkward, but Rupert doesn’t turn when he moves his face in close. The other man smells vaguely sweet, and the preparation amuses him. His face is stubble-rough, but Ethan stays only long enough to make Rupert short of breath, and then sits back.
“Check your pockets. I brought something for your chickens. Check them if you want, but there’s nothing more in there than there was when I bought them.”
The slightly lax expression turns void again, but Ethan’s already out. “The biggest one is for the Slayer,” he says more loudly, before walking into the lobby.
The man on the desk looks tired, so Ethan hands him the change from the church. “Get yourself a coffee, mate,” he says with a wry grin. “Unless you like tea more.”
“Coffee is fine. Uh. Thanks.”
“No problem,” Ethan tells him, walking towards his room. The bag is already packed, and it’s no problem to walk out of the place without paying. He can see Rupert’s car on the highway as he climbs into his own, and bats the pink dice on his mirror.
“See you next year, Ripper.”
The rain starts to fall.