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January

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The young man on the bed was struggling desperately against the manacles. His wrists and ankles would bruise from the unpadded steel. Ethan pictured blood-dark rings on that tanned young skin, encircling those strong bones. He looked the man over carefully, weighing possibilities, seeing a blank page ready to be marked. To be written upon. The story Ethan would write was old and not at all edifying, the grimmest of fairy tales. One nobody's granny ever told. A tale in which everyone was devoured, even the big bad wolf.

"Now, now," Ethan said to the man, soothing words in a tone that was not soothing at all. "You were willing enough when I put those pretty toys on you." That was almost true. He'd been willing enough to be bound while Ethan still wore the glamour, the one that made him seem young and better looking than he'd ever been, really. Even better looking than the man on the bed. The reaction after Ethan let the glamour drop had not been flattering. Though some of it might just have been fear.

Twenty years ago, Ethan thought, or even ten, I could have had the likes of you with no need for a spell. This, too, was almost true, and that was close enough.

There were tears in the young man's ink-dark eyes. Perfect. Those eyes were made for tears, that face was made for tears to glide down. His pleading noises were soft, puppyish. The spell wouldn't let him scream or speak, hotel rooms being far from soundproof. But Ethan didn't want him completely silent. Too much like a doll, or a corpse, or a fantasy. And a gag would have been an annoyance, covering that exquisite mouth.

Irrepressible hunger had seized Ethan, seeing that face in the bar. He'd wanted a handsome man, though really it didn't matter, anybody would have done. Any . . . body. But this body, this face like a Hollywood idol, Ethan would have wanted anyway. And then, when Ethan first touched him, he'd felt the shock of recognition. The man had magic, and didn't even know. He was a fool, too caught up in youth and beauty and sex and whatever passed for his life to notice the best gift some dark god had given him. A dark god, without a doubt, because it was gift enough to draw trouble. If not Ethan then somebody else, someday.

Tears were pouring down the man's face now. Ethan laid a hand on his arm. Like his words, it might have been soothing, but wasn't. "I suppose you'd like an explanation," he said. "And perhaps I owe you one. But it won't help. The explanation, my dear--what was your name again? Scott, Brad, Jason, something like that? Never mind." He shifted his hand from the man's arm to his chest, exploring smooth depilated skin and hard muscle. So many hours in the gym to make that body. Treadmills and weights and low-fat foods. So much dedication for something so transitory. It was fitting enough. It might please the god of Chaos, the god of change and the unforeseen. Of mutability and loss and disappointed hopes.

"The explanation," Ethan continued, caressing the navel and the dark line of hair below it, "is that it's January." The god's month, the month of cold and darkness, when the world was at its farthest from Apollo, from sunlight and ripening and order. The month when hope sickened, when nothing surely would ever grow again.

"And it's my birthday. I am," he whispered intimately into the man's ear, "forty-five years old today. And I wanted to give myself a present."

The man's eyes widened and he struggled harder, trying to escape this embodied nightmare. Ethan smiled to himself. He was no ordinary nightmare. He was nothing so obvious as the serial killer the man was expecting by now. "Don't worry, dear," he said. "You're not the present. Well, not exactly." He stroked the man's cock, which was soft and shrunken with fear.

"Now, you must lie very still and not struggle," Ethan said, exerting compulsion. The man stilled, except for his ragged, terrified breathing. Ethan took the platinum chain from around his neck, removed the ring that hung from it, and placed it on the man's finger. Such memories. Ripper had never been without that ring, heavy silver set with a milky, fire-flecked opal. Opals were unlucky; Ethan had tried to stop him wearing it. It had torn Ethan's skin the first time Ripper hit him, and left a faint white scar along his jaw. Ripper had left the ring behind when he ran back to the Watchers, along with a heap of ashes that had once been his spellbooks. And Ethan.

"Just a little blood, next," Ethan said, drawing the bronze ritual knife through the candle flame. The man stopped breathing entirely for a moment, eyes rolling back in his head. "Don't faint," Ethan said, compelling again. He carved a sign over the young man's heart, listening to the little gasps of pain that sounded so much like pleasure. Ethan kept his own face expressionless, serene, when he cut his palm. As the blood filled his hand he chanted the spell words, then tipped the blood between the man's lips, pinching his nose so he'd swallow or drown. Ignoring the man's gagging, he pressed a bloody handprint over the sign he'd incised, spoke the final words, and watched the transformation.

Ripper lay in the chains now, the Ripper of Ethan's memories. The likeness was exact. Ethan had a few tattered, endlessly studied photographs, and many sharp-edged, perfect images burned into his mind's eye. This was Ripper. Twenty-one, painfully young and rather ugly, a boy who hadn't yet grown into his features. Face unworn despite drugs and late nights and magics that wore away at the spirit like sandpaper. The body was Ripper's too, athletic but less developed than ScottBradJason, a body from before the phrase "working out" existed.

More whining and pulling against the bonds. Ethan realized he'd loosed the compulsion to stillness, caught up in the sight of his Ripper naked and helpless. Looking at the face again, he saw Ripper's hazel eyes, watery, red-rimmed and frightened. Proof, painful and enticing, that the mind behind them was not Ripper's. He'd never been able to frighten Ripper. There were too many things he'd never been able to do to Ripper.

Just one more little spell. Ethan put one hand lightly on Ripper's forehead and circled his cock with the other. He stroked the unresponsive cock, muttering a love charm to cloud the mind and produce infinite need. Ripper's pleading noises began to plead differently, hungrily, and his cock stiffened. Ethan watched his face as he stopped crying and looked up with passion and--oh, irony--trust.

"Do you want me, Ripper?" he asked, loosing the silencing enough that Ripper could answer.

There was a moment's pause, confusion perhaps at the name, and Ethan pushed with his will. He felt a crumpling from the other man, like tinfoil in a clenched fist.

"Yeah." It was Ripper's voice, perfectly, down to the working-class accent he'd affected.

"Tell me more. And call me Ethan."

"Ethan . . . I want you so much. You're so sexy. So hot. So wonderful. I've gotta have you. I'll do anything."

Another reminder that this wasn't Ripper. His Ripper would never mouth these pathetic cliches. But they sounded good, somehow. "Do you want to touch me?"

"Oh, yeah. Please. I wanna kiss you everywhere, all the way down to your toes. I want your cock in my mouth, your beautiful cock. I want to taste your come, I want everything."

Ethan hit him, a hard backhanded slap across the face. "Do you want that, too?"

The red mark on Ripper's cheek would make a beautiful bruise. "Yeah," he gasped. "Yeah, I want that. Ethan, hit me again. Hurt me."

Ethan obliged, losing himself in the pleasure of marking Ripper in all the places he'd imagined. All the places Ripper had ever hit him. He used his hands, and a heavy leather-wrapped baton to bruise, and a razor blade to cut delicate random traceries over the bruises. All the while Ripper moaned like the perfect victim. Later, when the shapechanging spell ended, the handsome young man would still bear all of Ethan's marks. Two for the price of one. Ethan clenched his teeth, biting back a whimper of lust.

Ripper was still hard, bruised and bleeding though he was. Ethan dropped the razor blade and straddled him, high on his chest, lifting Ripper's head to take his cock. Ripper sucked eagerly, doing things with his tongue that the real Ripper had never done.

This boy's had even more cocks in his mouth than I have, Ethan thought. It should have killed the fantasy, but somehow it perfected it. His Ripper, with this whore's mouth and luscious, sinuous tongue.

Crushing pleasure rolled through Ethan's body, making his muscles tense and strain. He wanted to come, but wouldn't yet. At his age, he'd need half the night to get it up again, and he had no intention of waiting that long for what he needed. He pulled out, shoving Ripper's head back against the pillow, enjoying the disappointed moan.

"Do you want me to fuck you?" he asked.

"Oh, yeah. Oh please. I want your cock in me. Fuck me hard, Ethan." Not words his Ripper had ever spoken. Not an act his Ripper had ever allowed.

The stupid bugger talks like a porn film, Ethan thought.

It was a shame to take the shackles off his ankles, but there was no way to fuck him with his legs down. Ethan traced the dark bruises with his tongue before pressing Ripper's legs back.

He entered in one fierce motion. No lubrication except his spit. Ripper was tight around him, and moaned in pain as Ethan thrust. Ethan hoisted Ripper's legs over his shoulders and thrust harder. With this new angle, the moans turned eager and encouraging.

It was almost painful, fucking him dry like this, but Ethan didn't care. He wanted more complicated pleasures than a mere fuck. "Tell me how much you love me," he demanded.

"More than anything, Ethan. I love you. I need you, sweetheart, darling, my baby, my honey. Don't ever leave me. I'd die. I can't live without you."

Ethan stopped moving, agonized with the need to come. But it wasn't quite time. He had one more mark to make. "Look at me." Ripper's eyes opened and stared into his, full of adoration. "I don't love you. I've never loved you. I despise you." He began to thrust again.

Ripper's face changed, shock and pain distorting his features. His eyes were shiny and his lips trembled with grief. "Please, Ethan. Please love me. Tell me you love me. I need you." A tear rolled down his cheek. Ethan thrust hard into him, and came in a burning rush that was as much pain as pleasure.

He pulled out, noticing a little blood on his cock, and watched Ripper cry for a while. Always, before, all the tears had been Ethan's. Ripper didn't cry as prettily as the handsome young man, but his tears promised balm for what was left of Ethan's soul. An illusion, like all Ripper's promises.

Ethan bent and took the still-hard cock in his mouth. Ripper began to sob, but he tensed and moved his hips convulsively. Ethan reached out with a spider's web of magic, and when Ripper came he drained the man's power and energy, swallowing it with his semen. It wasn't much, really. He'd be exhausted for a few days, and lose a year or two off his life span. And he'd never work magic, now.

Ethan spat out the limp cock and grieved that even Chaos couldn't turn back time. Could only offer more illusions.

Ripper lay sprawled, barely conscious. His face was wet with tears and snot ran from his nose. He was sniffling and shaking. "I love you, I love you," he said, over and over.

Ethan dressed hastily, suddenly unable to bear being naked with this man who wasn't Ripper. After so much anticipation, he hadn't enjoyed his present very much. Anticipation was hope, and he should have known better.

He wondered what Ripper, the real Ripper, was doing. It was his birthday too, after all. They'd laughed, years ago, when they realized, and then been awed. It was a sign. It was destiny. They were the same person really, the same soul.

On this one day a year, he knew Ripper couldn't help but remember.

Ripper's birthday. He should have a present. And here was this man still inconveniently in Ethan's bed. A translocation spell wouldn't be easy, with Sunnydale half a continent away from this frozen city. But Ethan had power to spare now.

He'd leave the other spells in place, so Ripper could look down at Ethan's marks on his own body. See his own face as he wept with longing for Ethan. Hear himself speaking words of love.

Ripper would remember.

And that, in this bleak midwinter that never looked like ending, would have to be close enough.