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I. 1976

Here he is again. After the shouting and the insults and the thrown mugs of tea (Christ, how dull), after swearing he wouldn't ever come back (fifth or sixth round of threatening that, but he actually meant it this time), here Ethan is again.

He's on the same sticky, stinking mattress, under the same brown-gray blanket they never wash. He's half crushed by Ripper's sleeping weight, half strangled by Ripper's big arm hooked round his neck. Squeezed to death, and he'd give anything for a breath of air and a good wash.

He's breathless, obliterated, and so fucking, fucking happy.

 

II. 1978

Here he is again. Lurking outside the Magdalen gates like some old queen hanging round a toilet. Wearing his shoes out with pacing, blinded by the golden afternoon sun, stared at by all the future MPs and QCs and leaders of fucking society.

If there's ever a nuclear war, Ethan hopes the first missile hits Oxford, smashes all the ancient stones and dreaming spires to contaminated dust. At least then he'll be able to stop coming here for nothing. For Ripper's retreating back and his muttered, "Piss off, Ethan."

Bastard, Ethan thinks, eyes on the gate. I always hated you.

 

III. 1997

Here he is again. Bleeding. Ripper's broken one of his teeth this time.

Ah, memories.

Right foot, left foot, get out the door before Ripper--Rupert--notices. But not fast enough. Hand on his shoulder, "- hell d'you think you're going?" hissed in his ear.

Nowhere. Nowhere. Nowhere.

"Away," Ethan says. Licks blood off his lips. "Miss me already?"

And is kissed like another kick. Kissed and bitten, shoved to the floor, kissed, scratched, clothes torn, held down, stroked and kissed, bruised and kissed, (hurts hurts God it feels so) kissed, kissed and fucked (hurts yes), fucked and fucked and fucked.

 

IV. 2000

Here he is again. Drunk, sated, floating in the shapeless aftermath (body unboundaried, mind unmoored) of a good fuck.

In bed, first time in twenty-odd years.

Sheets are cleaner. Otherwise, with his eyes shut . . .

Back to the beginning, circle closed. Like the start of a working, when anything can happen.

Ripper rolls over, heavy head on Ethan's chest, hands in his hair. Heavy soft hands, stroking. Heavy sweat on his skin, heavy breath heating Ethan's collarbone.

Peace, anchorage.

Drowning.

Burial.

"Go to sleep, Rupert," Ethan says, and on Ripper's back his fingers trace a spell's first sigil.

 

V. 2003

Here he is again. London looks just the same, though Ethan surely spent centuries in that cell.

London looks like a funfair. Thrills and mysteries, prizes to win, too many sweets for the hungriest stomach.

London looks like freedom.

Which makes Ethan laugh. He's not a creature for freedom, after all. He's a dog, barking and growling but always coming back. Barely a day out of prison, he scryed to find Ripper. And now he's at the door.

Back to be petted or kicked. Back, because he loves the chain around his neck.

Furious, Ethan raises his hand and knocks.