Ethan paced, well out of reach, and watched Giles retch. Or rather, half watched, distaste warring with curiousity. "Come on, Ripper. You have better things to do."
Giles glared at him, then closed his eyes and tried to breathe calmly again.
"What brought this on anyway? You're not squeamish." Ethan paced and turned. "Much as I'd love to think this was you wracked with guilt, I know what you're like. You just get academic. Drunk, and academic. You're not hung over?"
Giles managed to sit back on his heels, and get upright again. He looked at Ethan wearily. "No. I just... had a very trying day."
Ethan's eyes narrowed. He looked at Rupert's forearm, then up at the Janus book. "Trying... Magic. How much have you done?"
"Enough," Giles stated shortly, then got hold of a shelf for leverage, and started to pull himself up.
"More than enough, by the looks of you. And the first thing you do when you get home is more. Ripper, you know better."
"You are the last person on earth to lecture me on magic," Giles told him, now back on his feet. He tentatively let go of the shelf. He only swayed a little. He shuffled forward a step.
Ethan stepped in front of him. "Where do you think you're going?"
"The bathroom, Ethan."
"To pass out quietly in a corner? Wonderful idea. I'll just call the ambulance now, shall I?" Ethan waved a hand through the shelf with the phone on. He shook his head. "Turn around, use the kitchen."
Giles blinked and had to admit this was a better idea. He turned and headed for the sink.
"Water and sugar, for a start. Real food when you can stomach it. Eggs are good."
"Yes, Ethan, I do know how to look after myself," Giles said. He rinsed his mouth out, then found himself scooping up water by the handful, parched. He turned off the tap and turned to the fridge. "Since when do you care, anyway? You're haunting me, you'd surely enjoy my ignominious demise."
Ethan, still in the doorway, crossed his arms again. "A lot of use you'd be then," he grumbled.
Giles pulled out some lucozade sport and popped the top. He downed half the first bottle before he had to pause, to control his rebellious stomach again. He snagged the rest of the four pack and closed the door, then pulled out a chair from the breakfast bar and sank down on it gratefully.
Half way through the second bottle, he started feeling human again.
Ethan was fiddling with the apothecary cabinet. Or trying to, his hands passing straight through the drawers. "You know, I tried this all afternoon, pushing leaves around."
"Did it work then?"
"Not as such. But falling leaves make an interesting meditation." He sighed, then took the second chair, opposite Giles.
"Rituals of Janus... What aspect did you call on? Transformation finally intrigue you?"
"Just the door spells," Giles replied.
"Closing or opening? Janus is more of an open kind of deity. A closed door hasn't half the possibilities."
"I'll make note of that for next time," Giles told him, sipping more drink again. He looked at the cooker, contemplating the steps needed to get any eggs. Instead he reached into the bread bin and scooped up the remaining half a loaf, pulling bits off to eat.
Ethan watched him, attempted a smirk. "My dashing hero," he muttered.
Giles glared at him half heartedly.
"Tell you what, just give that Slayer of yours a call, let her sort this out."
"No," he replied sharply, then took a breath and continued somewhat quieter. "I can handle this myself. Buffy... is retired now anyway. I've barely seen her since the funeral." He went quiet and went back to picking at the bread.
Ethan looked puzzled. "Is 'retired' the new word for it?"
Giles looked puzzled too. Then, "Oh, no, she isn't dead. She just doesn't do much slaying any more. Or work with me."
"So you really are out of the business? Never thought I'd live to see the day," Ethan said. "No, wait, I didn't." He sighed. "I should have haunted the coven."
"Any coven of yours would surely welcome you as a vampire. You worked with them often enough."
Ethan half shrugged. "It isn't me. It booted me out, it doesn't get to be me."
"Is that why you're here?" Giles sighed. "Of course, the safety of innocents would hardly motivate you."
Ethan gave him a look. "Yes, of course, my actions are entirely selfish. Now we've got that out of the way, could we perhaps do something about this?"
Giles nodded, and put what was left of the bread back. Steadier now, he got up and went into the living room. Then he turned back around and fetched some kitchen towel. Having dropped that on the mess, he stepped past to the coat rack, and pulled his mobile phone out. His travel agent, a specialist with the Council, answered quickly.
"Hello, this is Rupert Giles. I need to get to Nevada. Two tickets, high priority. Life and death... No, not an apocalypse. A vampire." He paused. "Yes, I think I really do need to take this one personally," he replied, rather sharply. "The individual is known to me... Was known," he corrected himself. His face softened. "Yes, thank you. Your condolences are much appreciated... How soon can you get me there? Teleport is rather expensive for... Not available? Fine... Yes, I can leave immediately. Well, five minutes. Can you call the taxi? Thanks. Thank you... Goodbye."
Ethan had been looking on, with vague amusement. "Two tickets? Who gets the other one?"
Giles looked briefly baffled, then weary, rubbing at his eyes. "Right. You don't need..." he sighed. "The nearest Slayer is... well, more than five minutes away..." Giles shook his head, then put the phone down and turned to the bedroom. "I'll not be a minute. I think I'm still packed from the last Slayer run. Just need to change..." He closed the door behind him.
Ethan wandered over to lean against it. And disappeared through.
When Giles headed down to the taxi, the sun had fully set, and there was no sign of Ethan. It was wet and cold, typical late autumn. Giles had dressed in layers, ready for changing conditions. He'd brought the dark brown leather coat. Phone in the right pocket, cross and holy water in the left. Not much in the way of weapons could make it through security these days.
The slight feeling of unreality he'd had ever since he got home increased as the taxi rushed him to the airport. This was all too familiar. Council contacts could pull strings, get him on flights at somewhat past the last minute, rush him half way around the world. They'd had too much practice, during the Horror. And after, when the Council was too broken to function as an international organisation and they'd been pulling Slayers one by one back to Britain. Missions of mercy, heading into the unknown with no idea if he would find a Bringer massacre or an enthusiastic teen.
This time, he already knew the ending. However this journey turned out, Ethan was dead.
His two tickets waited for him at the local airport. He took the aisle seat near the exit. On his right the window seat sat empty.
The plane took off, and dreamlike slipped into dream, as exhaustion reclaimed him.
It was an extraordinary high.
Dreaming awake, everything possible, visions such as they'd never known.
The demon flooding their flesh, letting them feel it as if it were new to them. Every touch an ecstasy, a symphony in sighs. It was...
...not his turn, and he resented it. The bleary hangover, the itch on his arm from the half healed Mark...
...Ethan with a pen, a needle, point digging in above the vein, darkness flowing down it into him...
The feel of his body when his mind switched off, floating away. When his fear left him. Every move was perfect, every strike a killing blow.
Five in a circle, one asleep, drugged or drunk or just staying up too late to let it take them.
Candles round the symbol, the Mark, in their arm from flame cleansed steel.
The sword covered in blood, spilled candles setting everything aflame.
Randall – Eyghon – his friend the demon, laughing at them all. At Ethan, suspended in mid air, dagger held uselessly before him.
"Time to go to sleep."
Giles jerked awake again, gasping.
Twice. Twice in one day. His hand went to his arm, pushed the sleeve half way up without thinking, to check it was still clean.
"Dreaming of us?" Ethan asked, making him start again.
"Yes," Giles answered. Then, "No. Of it. That last time... How did you know?"
Ethan shrugged. "I've seen you wake like that. I've had the dreams myself."
"But not now. Not lately," Giles asked.
"Not since Sunnydale," Ethan agreed. "Could be that trick with the vampire finally killed it."
"It has been around since Etruscan times. It seems unlikely one fight could entirely defeat it."
"You just wish it had been you that thought of it."
"Thirty years ago," Giles immediately replied.
Ethan's face looked briefly shadowed, then he brought the smirk back again.
"If you're going to live in the past, why choose that part? We had better nights."
Giles stared at the seat back, and rubbed his arm again. "That was where they led."
Randall was late, again.
That left the rest of them huddled outside in the cold, rubbing their arms under clothes good enough for the pub but no use out here.
"That's it, Ripper. I've had enough of this. Just pick the lock," Ethan told him.
"It's a mate's house," Ripper objected, rolling a cigarette, teasing out what little he had left to fill the paper.
"It's a garage! A cold, cruddy, breeze block and corrugated iron garage with a door you could probably put your boot through." Ethan paced in front of it. "Just get us in there so we can get the heater going."
"The point is, he lives there. And he's a friend. You don't just break into your best mate's home." He dug his lighter out his pocket and flicked it until it caught.
"If he's such a mate he'll understand. I'm freezing!"
"Then bring a bloody coat next time!"
Ethan turned those big dark eyes on Ripper and looked mournful.
The other man lit up, attempting to ignore him.
Ethan pouted and stopped pacing, stood on his right and pressed against him.
Ripper sighed, and handed over the cigarette. Ethan, still pouting, took it, though he made a face at the size. Smoke was warm.
Ripper could see Ethan shivering.
He shrugged off the leather jacket, extracting one knife and the stash tin on the way, then set it on Ethan's shoulders.
Ethan smiled then, and handed back the smoke. Ripper smiled back at him.
"Oh for God's sake," Phil said. "I'll get us in there." He stepped up to the door, fishing bits of bent wire out his pockets.
"You can't do that," Cliffe objected.
"Taught the rest of you, didn't I?" Phil said, and knelt down to lock height.
Cliffe pushed him hard enough to send him sprawling. "You think you can just walk into a mage's place?" he sneered. "See the wards, can you?"
"Come off it, Cliffe, the only wards you understand are in your hospital," Phil spat back at him.
Phil tried to push himself upright again, but Cliffe crowded him. Ripper, face hard again, stepped forward to break it up. One hand still had a knife, and he flicked it open absently.
Diedre, standing alone now in the background, suddenly turned around and started retching.
Phil and Cliffe dropped everything to be first by her side. As usual, lately, she pushed them both away. They glared at each other, and it looked for a moment like the fight would finally break out in earnest.
Randall strolled in to the middle of it all, long bundle under his arm, amiable grin on his face, wearing those daft sunglasses despite the fact the sun had long since set.
"What you all doing out here then?" he asked. He pushed the door open and turned to look at them.
"Not locked?" Ethan asked, glaring now at Ripper.
"Yeah, well, you know. Not much left to nick, is there? Unless someone wants the bed." Randall got his lighter out and started going down the right side, lighting candles as he went. Ripper took the left. Ethan headed straight for the heater, such as it was. He had to bang it a couple of times to get it started. Not much left in the cylinder.
Phil and Cliffe hovered outside with Diedre, still losing her lunch. Or more likely her breakfast, this early.
Ethan pushed the door almost closed, conserving heat, then headed back to Ripper's side.
Ripper was kicking things out of the way, dirty clothes and empty boxes, making space for the table. The top, bent trident symbol painted on, was rolled into a corner. The crate it sat on was next to the mattress, half covered in sleeping bag. Randall kicked that back on the bed and flopped down on top, reaching inside the crate for the little bottles he kept there.
"Giving up your turn, are you?" Ripper asked, hopeful.
"What? You off your nut?" Randall asked. He pulled his glasses down to stare at him. His eyes were too bright, with a glazed look that no longer left him.
"Well if you've got all that..."
"I've got a sleep potion, and some stuff Cliffe got out the pharmacy. Reckon with all that I'll nod off." He shook out the pills, and took them one by one, washing them down with the other liquid. "Or did you want to wait around until I crash out? Could be a while."
"3 months and counting," Ethan muttered.
"Manic bloody nutcase," Ripper grumbled. "You knew you were going tonight, you should have waited. No, you should have to wait," he finished as if it had just occurred to him.
Even Ethan rolled his eyes.
"If you aren't going into this right, we don't know what will happen," Ripper continued.
"Because what happened the other dozen times isn't likely," Randall remarked absently, then ignored him and unrolled the sword.
"It's a ritual. You've got to do the proper things in the proper way, and this would not be proper." He was almost whining, now.
"Give it up, Ripper," Diedre said, walking in escorted but ignoring them. "It's not your turn. It won't be your turn tonight."
"That's right, Diedre's up next," Cliffe said.
Diedre went even more pale. "No! I mean, Phil, it would be your turn, right?"
"Not if you want it..."
"It doesn't matter, right?" Randall said, rising from the bed with sword in hand. "It's my turn. I'm going. Tonight. Alright?"
"But if it goes wrong... People might get hurt..." Ripper made one last attempt.
"Right," Randall told him, stepping closer. The sword tilted between them a moment. Then Randall turned it, offered it hilt first. "Any bastard tries to mess with us, they'd be first. Right?"
Ripper looked at his friend a long moment, then nodded and took the sword. "Right."
Cliffe brought the table top, Phil the crate, Ethan the ritual candles. Diedre settled down next to it as soon as they set it up, pale and shaky. Randall took his place next to the bed.
Ripper walked the circle. First quarter watchtower, point the sword out, declaim something Latin.
Randall translated loosely, "All you uninvited, take a look at this then. Sharp and shiny and meant for killing things."
Walk around, second quarter, point the sword.
"We've locked you out, you bastards, so don't try anything," Phil contributed.
Third watchtower, face out with the sword – a little less than arm's length, circle slightly lopsided, trying not to hit the sink.
"You mess with us, even I can't patch you up again," Cliffe intoned.
Fourth tower, Diedre just said, "Keep out." Then watched with vague interest as he hopped over the bed.
Back to the start, salute in triumph.
"Watch out world, Ripper's here." Ethan grinned, eyes shining, as Ripper turned back to face the rest of them.
"Right then," Ripper said, settling down on Ethan's left, the sword left at their end of the mattress.
Randall sat down on the bed between them, grinning happily. "Time to go to sleep!"
"We were fools," Giles whispered, quiet but intense.
"Better fools than fooled," Ethan said.
Giles looked at him. "We had no idea what we were getting into."
"Knew what we were getting out of," he replied. "Pain, poverty, pre-determination. Tedium and pressure. The next test. Tired of waiting to make a mistake. I seem to recall something about dead little girls..."
"Don't." Giles cut him off. "Don't start on that. You are the last person... You threw Buffy to the demon to save your own skin!"
"Well none of my tricks were working. I thought I'd try one of yours."
"I would never..."
"Send a teenage girl to fight the forces of darkness?"
"Harm an innocent to save myself!"
"So I had to do it for you." Ethan shrugged.
"Don't be preposterous. It was entirely selfish."
"Yes, you could tell by the way I ran at the first hint of trouble, put the Mark on some eager street kid and left you to it."
"You hid behind..."
"The one girl in all the world who had a chance of surviving it. Exactly as she asked." Off Giles' incredulous look, Ethan explained, "She told me that she only wanted to protect you, that she wouldn't run, that I should hide until it was all over. With the Mark on me I couldn't hide, and she had two of us to try and protect. With it on her... Problems solved."
"You... You arrogant, self serving... What passes for logic...! You sacrificed her for your own gain!"
"Not sacrificed. Never that, not to demons. I take from them, sometimes exchange, but never sacrifice."
"Lurconis," Giles hissed. "They emptied out a maternity ward."
Ethan did a very good impression of regret. "I'm sorry about that. Really I am. I told you, I didn't know."
"Then you're still a damn fool. And a dangerous one."
Ethan smiled sadly. And faded away.
Giles blinked, shocked all over again. The man had seemed quite solid in the dim electric light. Involuntarily he reached out to the empty seat.
Then he pulled his hand back, faced forwards, and tried to settle back to rest.
But the first flight was just a brief hop, and soon it was time to change planes again.
The airport was a bustling blur, backdrop to some hurried navigation. Once again his people had come through, two tickets waiting on the first possible flight. He really should call them back and cancel one. But right now there was no time, and he was swiftly up again, for the long haul back to America.
He'd taken the window seat this time, leaving a gap between him and the aisle on his right, and now he stared out at the sparkling dark. Flying like this he always felt suspended, in space, somewhere between earth and sky, and in time, as the westward flight around the globe chased after the sunset. Go fast enough and you'd catch up with it. Teleport and you'd turn night to day, or day to night as he once had. Tonight he would be flying through almost the same moment, stars slowed to a crawl above him, darkness slightly deeper, yet still very far from passing.
Ethan was still nowhere to be seen. Giles had, of course, thought of several things to say to him; cutting, insightful things that would make it all quite clear. But Ethan was gone.
Absence was hard to argue with. And in the absence of argument, despite his best efforts, he would think of other things. Other times. Other nights.
Ethan, the first time he saw him, leaning out of the shadows wreathed in smoke, all glitter and glamour. Looking up with dark and knowing eyes, and seeing Ripper. Newly formed, in leathers that still squeaked. Ethan mocked, of course. But he also believed. And seeing himself so reflected in those dark mirrors, Ripper believed too.
They were sorcerers, and the night was their time.
Long nights down the pub, talking theory with whoever stopped to listen. Down the Rose Free House with every other mage who wouldn't play nice. The cutting edge, he'd thought then. No hidebound rules, no traditions – no brakes. No clue how it would turn out. Ready to try anything. They'd dreamed then of magic that would shake the world, change everything.
Then they'd gone out and used it for enough money to buy fags and a pint. Not exactly art. But like with the band, they'd told themselves this was just the beginning. Soon enough they'd find something bigger.
Randall was deeply asleep. He had been for hours, this time. But they knew the summons worked. The feel of the magic was unmistakable.
And then there were the dreams. Glimpses of their lives, experiences shared through the Mark, things they'd never known. Seeing each other as the others saw them, young and strong and powerful.
Getting late now. Ethan lay back in Ripper's arms, looking up at him, dark eyes reflecting tiny points of candle light. Across the table Diedre looked relaxed, at last. She leaned on Cliffe, and Philip leaned against her, still unfocused.
Eyghon the Sleepwalker was in the world, and it felt incredible.
But the candles were burning down now. Some along the walls were starting to go out. The ritual candles would go next.
Ripper stirred himself, whispered to Ethan, who sat up and stretched, slowly.
"Time?" Diedre said vaguely.
"Just about," Ripper replied.
Diedre started to sit up, then had to pinch Phil to get him to stir.
Cliffe looked over at the bed. "Shouldn't he be awake by now?"
"Don't know." Ripper shrugged. "What was in those pills?"
"He took a pill?"
"He took all the pills."
"And a potion," Ethan helpfully supplied.
Cliffe of a sudden looked rather more alert. "We should wake him up. Now."
Ethan leaned over and pinched his leg. "Oi, Randall. You've nearly missed it, mate."
Randall didn't stir.
Ripper, frowning, leaned over and thumped him. He twitched, but didn't wake. Ripper leaned up to the top of the bed then and slapped him in the face.
Randall opened his eyes, which briefly glowed.
"Eyghon," Ripper greeted him, warily. He pulled back, crouched next to the table again.
Randall pushed himself up on one elbow.
"Eyghon Sleepwalker, we conjure thee to depart." Diedre began hurriedly, alone. Her power on its own was very thin, a crackle like an empty wrapper. Ripper and Rayne looked at each other, then joined hands swiftly and reached for the others. Cliffe and Phil got there for the second line, and gradually the exorcism rite took shape.
Then the candles started to flare up.
And Randall started to laugh.
He was behind Ethan and Ripper. That hadn't bothered them until right then. But the sound coming out of Randall was not the man's own laugh.
They built the net of magic quickly. Philip's Latin was bad enough to make even Diedre wince, but he kept up with them. Diedre herself was wide eyed now, and she kept trying to hurry. Cliffe kept staring behind them.
Ethan turned his head, and his chant stumbled.
So Ripper looked back.
Randall was right behind them, sitting on the edge of the bed. He was breathing hard, fists clenching and unclenching. They were nearing the end of the ritual now, and the moment came when Randall should have started on his lines, joined in. Instead he tipped his head back and started to scream. At the last line he fell back, twitching and writhing.
Cliffe dropped Diedre's hand and moved to go to him, but Ripper kept hold.
"No. Again! Start it again!" Ripper commanded. "Eyghon Sleepwalker, we conjure thee to depart." Ripper and Rayne together this time from the start, combined power like bass and treble of a major chord. Diedre grabbed for Cliffe and joined in, voice gone shrill. Philip looked bewildered and kept stumbling over the words. Cliffe swore before he started, staring at the man having a seizure on the bed. They got to Randall's lines and the man just went limp. No words, but no more screaming. The ritual wound down raggedly, Ripper gone hoarse all of a sudden as his mouth went dry.
Last words done, Cliffe shook them off, and went over to the bed.
Ripper looked back at the candles. They were still flaring.
Cliffe bent over Randall, put a hand on his neck, reached with the other to open his eyes.
What he saw there had him flinch back. But not fast enough. Randall sat up and grabbed Cliffe, pulled him in close and grinned.
There was something very wrong with his teeth.
There was a glow behind the sunglasses. Eyghon took them off, stared at Cliffe, and laughed.
"Oh Christ," Philip said, and crossed himself, suddenly devout.
Then Eyghon surged up and flung Cliffe across the room, to crash into the wall full of candles. They crashed down on him, melted wax and flame, and his clothes started to catch fire.
Diedre started screaming. Phil grabbed her and tried to drag her to the door. Ripper turned back to the bed – and saw Randall had grabbed Ethan by the throat.
But it wasn't Randall any more. The demon had taken him whole. Skin splitting, the demon's flesh pushed out from underneath. His teeth had turned to fangs, and his eyes were not human. His clothes were the same, and the headband. Without those he wouldn't recognise him.
Ripper dived for the sword, rolled upright behind the demon with sword in hand – then hesitated.
"Randall... fight it!" he told his friend. Then, sword pointed at him, "Demon, begone! By ancient rites I conjured thee, by those rites you shall depart!" He tried desperately to remember his training, started another exorcism chant.
Eyghon laughed, and started to squeeze, slowly.
Ethan, gasping, was grabbing at pockets. He pulled out one of Ripper's knives, flicked it open, and stabbed wildly with it.
Eyghon looked down at the knife in his chest and grinned.
Ethan pulled it out, pulled his arm back to try again, but Eyghon lifted him up by the neck. Suspended there, Ethan grabbed at the arm and struggled, kicking for something to take his weight, dagger waving useless before him.
Ripper's hurried Latin did nothing. The flames rose around them and the spell wasn't working.
Eyghon brought his other hand to Ethan's chest, then dug his nails in. He raked deep gouges down Ethan's side, cloth parting, nails dragging slowly through flesh.
Ethan tried to scream but couldn't get the breath. Eyghon brought his bloody fingers up to Ethan's face, cupped it, holding tightly. One last twist and he'd be dead.
"Ethan!" Ripper called out, sword already swinging. Sharpened steel met demon tainted flesh, and cut clean through.
Randall's head hit the floor at Ripper's feet, his body falling back onto the bed, pulling Ethan down with him.
Rayne coughed, gasped, pushed the corpse off and tried to sit up.
Ripper stood frozen, looking down at them.
Ethan, blood drenched, looked up at him, with something kin to worship in his eyes.
Ripper moved a foot forwards, but it caught on something – the head. Randall's head.
As he looked down on it, Giles saw only human features there.
He dropped the sword, stumbled backwards, knocked the table over and fell. The flames rose up between him and the... remains.
Scrambling up again, he turned and ran, and did not look back.
He found he had again wrapped his right hand around his left arm, as if trying to hide the mark. His face twitched into an annoyed frown, then went back to pensive melancholy with a sigh. He took his hand away, settled it in his lap and tried to relax.
His hands clenched into fists inside a minute. Not long after that he blew out a breath and leaned forward to take his jacket off. He settled the leather over his knees and leaned back again, tapping absently on the chair arm with one hand.
A minute after that he pushed his left sleeve up to check his watch, but found that wrist empty. It must still be at home, sitting next to his ring, on the bedside table. Now he'd noticed it would nag at him, but there was nothing to be done about it from here. He dropped his hands again and looked out of the window.
The second time he pushed up his sleeve he couldn't pretend it had anything to do with the time.
He had to unbutton his cuff to get the shirt sleeve high enough, but he pushed it all above his elbow and looked carefully.
Still empty. No marks. The itch, therefore, was purely psychological. His skin was entirely clean.
There had been times since the removal he'd wished he'd used something more mundane than magic, had it cut or burnt away. Something like that should leave a scar. To have instead a stretch of skin with all history removed still seemed sometimes like lying.
He dropped that sleeve again. Then, after a moment's thought, raised the other, to check on the bandages. Still clean and well wrapped, and only hurting as much as he'd expected. He covered them again, sat back, and made a mental note to get antibiotics. And painkillers. Soon.
Giles sighed, and decided he really needed a drink.
Once one was acquired, he sat there with it in hand for long moments, staring into it. Tawny alcohol, dark spirits. It was vaguely poetic.
Nothing to do, right now, nothing for hours yet. It would help him relax, and forget.
He raised the glass in toast. "Ethan," he sighed, and brought it to his lips.
"Guilty," Ethan announced, right beside him again.
Giles jumped, spilling the liquid all over himself. He swore and put the cup down, dabbed at himself futilely.
"Drinking alone already. Next you'll be making notes about the whole experience."
Giles gave up and pulled his jumper off, trying not to tangle up his glasses.
"I already have, years ago," he said, muffled slightly.
"Ah, still not about me then. I'm crushed." Ethan sighed theatrically.
Giles did not look at him, instead rolling his jumper up neatly. "Where have you been?" he asked absently, leaning down to put it in his bag.
"Here and there. Mostly there." Ethan sounded odd, offhand yet slightly forced. Giles glanced up at him. He was looking off along the aisle, smirk absent, distance in his eyes.
Giles sat up, frowning.
Ethan looked around and met Rupert's gaze. He smiled again. "For now, I'm here. Let's make the most of it, shall we?" He smirked lazily and looked Giles up and down. Then the smirk faded. "Is there anything you feel the need to say?"
Giles blinked, and looked away. "You're the one who always needs to talk, Ethan."
"Indeed." He sighed. Then, brightly, "So, what shall we talk about?"
Giles remained silent.
"My greatest achievements? My most nefarious sins? Or shall we talk about you, Ripper?"
Giles shook his head slightly. Then he looked down, and started to root around his pockets looking for something. "There is something, actually." He came out with a pen and a pad of paper. "A project I've been working on. I've, ah, actually been researching ghosts."
"So for once I'm convenient, am I?" Ethan laughed. "Put it away, Rupert. I doubt I know much more about it than you do."
"That seems rather unlikely."
"You think so? Ask a newborn how the human body works." He leaned out into the aisle and waved, looking annoyed. "I walk through doors. I can't open them. And I can't get the stewardess to pay attention." He slumped back in his seat. "Sadly unflattering, that."
"I suspect she can't see you." Giles made a note. "You're hard to ignore."
Ethan grinned. "Thank you."
"What do you need, anyway?" Giles asked.
Ethan looked at him narrowly. Then relaxed back to his usual smirk. "From the stewardess? I was thinking whiskey."
"You think you can drink?"
Ethan shrugged. "Traditional offering. Spirits must get something out of it."
Giles looked at him a moment, trying to figure out if he was kidding. Then he made another note.
"Oh for pity's sake, Rupert, put it down. Have a drink."
"Weren't you the one complaining about me drinking alone?"
"You're not alone now," Ethan told him.
Giles kept writing, little things, like the way the light did and did not seem to hit the other man. The way his eyes seemed exactly as they always had.
Ethan stayed silent for all of thirty seconds. "Say something! Start singing, if you want. I'm sure it will be more entertaining than the movie."
"There is no movie, Ethan, and I haven't sung for years."
"Really? Now that's a criminal waste. Almost as bad as the magic."
"We are not talking about magic," Giles said calmly, still looking at the page. He left the pad on his knee for a moment and scratched at his arm absently.
"Alright then. How about art? Body modification. The Mark. Why you're having nightmares."
Giles dropped his hand to his lap, curled into a fist.
"Death. Dying. Killing your friends."
Giles closed his eyes and turned his head away.
"You killed me," Ethan said.
And then stayed silent.
For long enough Giles had to look, to see if he had faded out again.
He turned to face dark eyes staring evenly at him.
There were stars in their depths, and no reflection. Not of him.
Ethan blinked, and so did Giles.
"So, apologise, and then pick a topic," Ethan said.
"You're excused," Ethan replied, and waited a moment. "Alright, I'll pick. David Bowie, best musicians who ever lived."
"Are you out of your mind?"
"I know, you'd pick Pink Floyd, or The Who if you're feeling particularly normal. But..."
"Ethan, you can't just say... What I did... It's inexcusable."
"Manifestly not. Quod erat demonstrandum." Ethan grinned, then sighed. "Look, Ripper. Randall was not your fault."
"We killed him," Giles hissed, keeping his voice low but unable to keep the intensity out of it. "We found the spell, we summoned the demon. We were the ones holding the blades."
"Eyghon killed him. The potions killed him. Wanting it killed him. How far back up the chain do you want to go?" Ethan sounded tired.
"He would never have been there if it wasn't for us."
"It was his place." Ethan shrugged.
"You know what I mean. The demons, the potions, the magic, it all started..."
"...Long before you walked into our lives," Ethan said. "Ripper... Rupert, we've said all this. We've been having this fight for twenty five years. You could say my half from memory by now. Just... fill it in, say we did all that again. You yelled and stormed off. Or I did, if you want some variety. Either way, the truth is still the same."
"Yes. Randall is still dead."
"Yes. The stupid bastard finally got into something we couldn't get him out of, and he is dead. And it is no more your fault now than it ever was."
"And no less," Giles replied. "We knew how dangerous it was..."
"Yes, we did. All six of us. They got killed, you didn't."
"I have to live with it."
"And I don't."
"And you bloody should..." Giles ground to a halt, the old accusation suddenly meaning something else entirely. He looked away again. "You should... Be alive..."
"That could be pleasant. And yet, I am a ghost. So, what do you want to talk about?"
Giles looked at Ethan again, face filled with incredulity.
"What?" Ethan said. "You're waiting for something? Shall I swear undying vengeance and curse you with my last breath?"
"You're haunting me, Ethan. I rather thought it came with the territory."
Ethan smirked. "You expected me to follow the script?"
Giles rubbed a hand over his face, pushed his glasses up and pinched where they'd rested. Then he took them off and got a cloth out to clean them.
He noticed Ethan was as clear as ever. It was rather disconcerting. The whole world dropped out of focus except him. It felt like he must be somehow closer than the rest.
Giles put his glasses back on quickly.
"Ethan, I know you. You're petty, spiteful and sadistic. If you think this act will get me to drop my guard..."
Ethan looked away and rolled his eyes. "Always cheering to be so well known." He looked off down the aisle a moment, tapping silently at the arm of the seat, then stilled his hand and looked back at him. "Alright. I'm not a saint. I've spent... however long I was locked in that box, thinking of you. And some of the time, thinking of ways you might get very slowly and messily killed. I thought of you in one of those cells. I even thought of a body swap. There aren't many human bodies on this planet as appealing to me as my own, but on balance..."
Giles looked away now, back at the notepad. He underlined the notes so far, then turned the page.
"Only there was something I wanted more than vengeance, Ripper. And I've got it now. I'm here." Ethan looked at him, for a long moment. Giles stayed quite still. Ethan continued, quietly. "I'm out of there. They'll never touch me again." He smirked once more. "Be careful what you wish for."
There was a moment's silence, then Giles spoke, almost inaudibly. "I'm sorry."
Ethan sighed. "I know, Rupert. I know."
Giles closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then another. He opened them again, looked down at the paper, and started to write a list.
Ethan, beside him, looked on with vague interest.
Giles drew lines and divided up the page: Research. Find vampire. Gain access. End it.
"It won't work out that way, you know," Ethan told him. "Tidy lists don't much resemble reality."
"It is a place to start," Giles replied.
"It's a mind trap," Ethan countered. "False expectations. The illusion of foreknowledge. The truth is chaos."
"Your truth, Ethan. Not mine."
"You seek your truth in order and law. How's that working out for you? Has the rule book made you safe and happy yet?"
Giles tried to ignore him.
"Does the red tape help with the weight of the world? Such a heavy burden they sold you, being responsible."
"I am responsible, for all the things I've done, or not done. It was my choice."
"Of course it was. Your choice and yours alone. Your famous omnipotence."
"I've never claimed that."
"Just acted like that particular lack was some personal failing." Ethan sighed. "It's the planning that does it. You think you can get there from here. When the winds take you somewhere else you take it so personally."
"The winds have nothing to do with it, Ethan."
"Currents, courses, the way things go." Ethan shrugged. "Call it winds, and remember the butterfly. One wing flap in China and by the time we feel it there's a storm. Well there's six billion beings on this planet, human and otherwise. More every minute. And we're just a little bigger than butterflies."
"And just a little wiser. When I swing my arm I know what will happen. I make an informed choice."
"We choose what we do, but how it all falls out? That's chaos, mate. Pure chaos. Nothing can understand that."
"Absolution through chaos theory," Giles muttered. "Your answer to all sins."
"Sin is your truth, not mine."
"You hide from truth in chaos. Close your eyes to it all you want, you still carry consequences."
"Every change is changing me," Ethan agreed, "But it never stops. If I don't like what I've become, I don't crawl backwards and hide behind words. I change it again." He pushed his sleeve up without looking down. "Acid burns, but I'm free. I..."
Giles looked down with sick horror, and Ethan finally had to look himself.
He blanched, and swore most fervently. "Janus!"
On his arm was the uneven scar he'd carried since Sunnydale, but in the center of it was the black Mark he'd worn half his life, now so dark it looked like a hole.
"Janus, exaudi meam causam..." Ethan began, his voice fading as the ghost started to fade out. He clenched his fist and stopped, closed his eyes, brow furrowed with concentration. A moment later he looked solid again. He looked again at the Mark, flexed his arm and rubbed at the edges of the scar. His fingers hesitated before touching the black. He took a deep breath, focused, and started again in English. "Chaos, I offer this to thee." He placed his palm steadily over the Mark, pressed down. "As I have been, as I am, and all the ways I shall be. I remain, as ever, thy faithful, degenerate son."
Giles found himself holding his breath as Ethan lifted his hand away.
It was shaking, very slightly.
Giles exhaled, and Ethan's shoulders relaxed.
"There, you see?" Ethan told him, most of the old confidence back in his voice. Only the scar remained, rough but unmarked.
In the center there just might have been a darkness, an after image, or shadow.
Ethan rolled his sleeve down again. All the way down, and buttoned it. He unrolled the other to match.
"It might not mean anything," Giles offered, weakly. "We know so little about how a... a ghost is formed. Some walk around as little more than skeletons, others look like they did in life. You look quite unlike you did in your last moments, if that vision was accurate."
"I do?" Ethan sounded puzzled. He looked down at himself, then grimaced. "Ah, yes, the... diet. I suppose it's been a while since I had a mirror around. You recognised me, though."
"You look much like I expected," Giles replied.
Ethan looked thoughtful.
Giles found his eyes going once again to Ethan's arm. The red cloth was just as insubstantial as the rest of the man. Yet he could not see flesh through it, nor any... darkness.
Ethan stood up, and Giles looked up to see the man's face gone stormy. He started to manuever out of his seat, then paused and just stepped forwards through the seat in front. He stood in the aisle and looked down at himself.
"Now I definitely need a drink."
He stalked off forwards along the plane.
Privately Giles very much agreed with him, but the pad and pen reminded him he had some other tasks to do. He picked the paper up again, re-read his headings, and set pen to page.
It waited there some time, while Giles looked into the distance.