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Curtain's Fall: Encore

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Ethan stayed on his knees beside Skunk on the clifftop, letting the wind buffet him, and the rain sting his face. The others stood up behind him and conversed about... something. It hardly mattered what. He couldn't hear anyway as the words were swept immediately away into the storm.

Ian's storm.

Ethan had hoped for something stronger. This one only just rated as more than a mere bluster, but when he'd felt into its patterns, he had immediately relaxed. This was a good storm, deep and complex and full of mystery and strange beauty. It couldn't have been better really.

He'd had a handful of crow feathers –well, they had been long and black anyway, sleek too– which he'd collected from all around Whitebrook House here in Devon. They had included one very special one, a pinion feather he'd felt sure by its size. It'd had a streak of white-grey near its tip. Something about it had felt numinous. It had been Ian's feather, just like this was Ian's storm.

Everyone had said their piece now, some words of remembrance or tribute to Ian, and Ethan had gone last. No one had disputed his right to that position, but after listening to the erudition of the others, and nodding or chuckling or swallowing hard as the words demanded, Ethan had found he didn't have many of his own.

He'd held his handful of feathers up as high as his arm could stretch and released them. He'd watched them loop and dance out to sea, the largest feather, the numinous one, almost pirouetting as a particular air current caught it up, but it too had disappeared from sight in the end. Then he'd sunk to his knees and whispered, "Miss you, old crow," into the wind and left it at that.

Skunk had barked twice and then sat down beside him, apparently satisfied.

Lucy, adept as always at organising social encounters, had immediately invited them all to their knees to join Ethan, and she'd led them in a – well, Ethan guessed it had been a prayer of sorts, although the wording had been strange. A Wiccan thing, he suspected. And then it was over, and Ian... was passed, past, dead and gone, and bid farewell.

He sighed. A hand touched his shoulder; he looked up and met Rupert's understanding gaze. 'Take as much time as you need,' Rupert sent, seeming prepared to wait out in the rain as long as Ethan wanted.

'I can make a bubble for us,' Ethan offered, smiling weakly, 'if it wouldn't be too rude to exclude the others. It takes a lot of power, and Ian's storm, for all its virtues, isn't exactly throbbing with nickable juice.'

Rupert shook his head. 'It's not that cold. We'll survive getting a little wet.'

Nodding, Ethan looked back down at the grass and began tracing the patterns within the blades. He waited until he'd felt the others move off, returning to their cars, horses, etc, before standing and allowing Rupert to take him into his arms. He felt Giddy brush against the back of his legs. The hound was getting very tall now. Both dogs were wrapped up in doggy waistcoats, much to their mutual disgust, Ethan was sure.

He chuckled softly against Rupert's ear. "It didn't help that some of my best memories, the ones I most wanted to share, were rather too obscene to relate with the girls present."

"I'm rather of the opinion that they're too obscene to relate with anyone present," Rupert observed wryly, "but I'm sure Ian would have taken great delight in you doing just that."

"Do you think we gave him some little joy? Something good to take with him?"

"I'm sure we did. He was rather fond of you. Not that I have any arguments with that opinion; I'm rather fond of you myself."

Hmm. Was that a hint to concentrate on the living? Ethan nuzzled Rupert's neck. "We should have sex," he suggested. "You know, as a tribute."

Rupert chuckled. "You always think we should have sex."

"He liked to watch us. We should sneak back to Lucy's and out the back to that rock in the field. God, remember that day? The power of it..." Despite the occasion, the memory aroused a fierce happiness in Ethan.

"It was a memorable encounter," Rupert agreed with a fond smile. "A breakthrough for both of us."

Ethan sighed. "I just feel so... Ian isn't here. God knows what happened to his body, and his soul, who he was, was never here. This place is just a symbol for us." Ethan pulled back to meet Rupert's eyes. "He left nothing of himself behind."

"That's not quite true," Rupert said, and there was a sparkle in his eye that seemed to signal knowledge that Ethan did not as yet have.

"What?" Ethan wiggled against Rupert encouragingly, although they were so wrapped up against the weather that the gesture probably didn't carry all that well. "Why isn't it true?"

Rupert just smiled mysteriously. "Lucy's asked us to make sure we stop by the house once more before we leave."

"You must have an idea what it's about, or you wouldn't have said what you said." Ethan frowned. "Oh, now I'm all conflicted. Outdoor sex or possible Ian goodies – that's hardly fair!"

"All's fair in love and war," Rupert quoted. "Thankfully, it's just the former we've had to deal with since Saffron Walden."

The wind was getting stronger now, and part of Ethan just wanted to lose himself in it, spread out his senses and let the storm dance roughly with them. But awareness of the increasingly bedraggled dogs, and of Rupert, whose bad leg was no doubt going to be grumbling a little after all this chill damp, rather quashed the desire to go storm-surfing. Doing things without Rupert, even special things like this, had rather lost its appeal for Ethan.

Rupert was about to give up his life's work in order to be with Ethan, after all.

He took Rupert's hand. "Come on, dearheart. Let's be good boys for once and present ourselves promptly for inspection."

"I'm sure Lucy will appreciate our obedience."

Despite his words, Ethan found he was having problems actually walking away from the cliff. "You may have to help me," he admitted quietly, close to Rupert's ear.

Rupert didn't answer in words, merely kissed Ethan lingeringly, adding a stream of magic to the touch as he did so. Ethan immediately surrendered, losing himself in the embrace because that was just what he needed to do right now. He allowed himself to become so caught up that, when Rupert moved, he just moved with him, not paying attention beyond that which was needed to keep lips in contact.

That said, it didn't entirely surprise Ethan when, after a fair while, he felt the hard metal of a car at his back. Rupert drew back, looking not un-smug, and Ethan grinned. "You can feel free to distract me again in that manner any time you like."

"I'll keep that in mind," Rupert said with a cocky grin before kissing Ethan one more time and walking around to the other side of the car to sort out the dogs.

Ethan struggled out of his heavy coat before getting into the Rover. The coat was his new one, bought during the now infamous shopping trip of four weeks ago during which he'd pushed Rupert's patience and their joint bank account to their respective limits. Three-quarter length black cashmere, it was somewhere between a coat and a winter jacket and beautifully tailored. It was a joy to wear, but rather hot for inside a soon-to-be heated car.

And not altogether suitable as storm wear either, Ethan had to admit, but it looked great and that counted for a lot. Rupert was watching him with an amused expression, but he got into the car without saying a word.

Inside, Ethan belted up and scratched listlessly at the grass stains on the legs of his trousers. "I feel strange," he said pensively. "Not bad, just... odd. I'm full of memories of the last time we were here, the ecstasy of the storm and feeling free of Chaos at last... This makes a melancholy return."

"Funerals and memorials do tend towards the melancholy," Rupert replied as he started the car, speaking in a world-weary tone that told of having far too much experience with the subject. "Grief turns even the fondest of memories bittersweet." He glanced over at Ethan. "The bitter does fade with time."

"I'm not bitter." Ethan moved his hand to Rupert's thigh once the car was underway. "I wish I knew for sure he'd found Derek, but mostly I'm just sad. Sad that he couldn't have had what we now have."

Rupert dropped his hand onto Ethan's. "We've been very, very lucky."

Who would ever have thought that Ethan Rayne would turn out to be one of the lucky ones? He smiled when Rupert glanced his way again. "Doesn't seem quite right, does it? Not quite fair."

It was a moment before Rupert answered. "Life is rarely if ever fair." He glanced over at Ethan. "But that doesn't mean you don't deserve to be happy."

As Ethan's thoughts had indeed been heading in that direction again, he squeezed Rupert's thigh in appreciation. They drove the rest of the way back to Lucy's in comfortable silence, and only as the Rover crunched over the gravel, did Ethan stir and straighten himself in his seat. "I always used to enjoy wakes and their like, but for entirely the wrong reasons. The compulsion to say or do inappropriately humorous things and ride the wave of censure is almost irresistible. Not that Ian would mind, of course... "

"Ian would have been cheering you on and tempting you to even greater outrageousness, I'm sure," Rupert observed dryly with a small smile.

"That's... encouraging," Ethan could feel the beginnings of an evil grin appear on his face. "Really, I'm obliged, don't you think? He'd expect it of me."

Rupert opened his mouth, looking as if he were about to protest, but then closed it again without saying anything. Ethan chuckled. "I'd ask for a sense of decorum," Rupert said as he pulled the car to a stop in front of Lucy's house. "But I fear that's a lost cause."

"Oh come. It's no fun if you don't tell me off." Ethan undid his seatbelt and twisted around to better face Rupert. "Don't you want to protect me from the wrath of a dozen angry witches?"

"'Want' may be too strong a word."

Ethan pouted. "Spoilsport."

Rupert smiled faintly and leant over to kiss him. "Come on. I'm sure they're waiting for us." He opened his door and got out. He then opened the back door to free the dogs.

Ethan stretched wearily after getting out of the car, his urge to commit mischief already fading. Where was the joy to be found in such behaviour when it would only hurt people he cared about? "We don't have to stay long, do we?"

"No." After locking up, Rupert slid his arm around Ethan's waist. "I think you'll be happy we put in an appearance, but we don't have to stay any longer than you want to." They started to walk up the pathway to the door, the dogs walking beside them and seeming subdued.

The door was on the latch, so they just pushed it open. The ground floor was full of people, complete strangers mostly, drink in one hand and small plate of canapés in the other. They spoke in hushed voices and smiled sympathetically at Ethan when they saw him. What, was he wearing a badge or something? It wasn't as if he'd been Ian's significant other. Maybe they were just smiling like that at everyone.

The urge to break the shell of respectability into brittle smithereens was suddenly appallingly strong. Only the fact that Ethan knew Lucy had a much more appropriate bacchanal planned for her coven later, and that this genteel gathering was mostly for the more mundane of Ian's friends, was stopping him indulging in the most atrocious behaviour.

He stopped just inside the door and closed his eyes briefly, squeezing Rupert's hand tightly.

Lucy materialised out of the crowd and came up to them, reaching out to take each of their free hands. "How are you holding up?" she asked, looking directly at Ethan.

Afterwards, he never could explain what it was about that particular question that did it, but Ethan suddenly found himself with his face buried in the crook of Rupert's neck sending, 'Get me out of here,' in the most urgent tones he could manage.

He heard Rupert and Lucy exchange words, but he wasn't paying enough attention to figure them out. Then Rupert was moving them both, going up the stairs, the sound of the crowd fading away behind them.

All the emotion, all the loss Ethan had been repressing, because he'd had to, from the moment of Ian's death was suddenly there on the surface, and he was struggling for any kind of self control at all. 'Ripper, help me,' he sent as he bit Rupert's coat collar hard. He couldn't breathe properly. Fuck.

"It's all right," Rupert murmured near Ethan's ear. "I've got you."

He was moved forward again and then urged to sit down. A quick feel around with his pattern senses showed Ethan they were alone, and in what Ethan strongly suspected was the Beech Room. Immediately, he remembered his birthday party in here. He'd been sick, but it had been his best birthday ever even then. Ian... Ian had given him that book of erotic photographs and had sat a little to one side of everyone else. Always aside, always apart...

The tears came now, and Ethan didn't try to stop them. He was well beyond the point when such displays of unmanly emotion could embarrass him when Rupert was the only witness. He'd never been macho; let's face it. Even as a child, he'd been called 'sissy' and 'girl' because tears had come too easily. Until the time they'd stopped coming at all.

Rupert just held him, a solid presence for Ethan to cling to as the emotional storm broke over him. He felt Skunk move to half sit on his lap, panting softly, and Giddy sat beside him, a silent, comforting presence.

Ethan had no way of telling how long he was crying messily on Rupert's shoulder, but eventually he drew back and fumbled for his handkerchief from his trouser pocket. "Well, this is a new one for me," he said shakily, trying to laugh before he blew his nose.

"You haven't lost anyone you felt for like you feel for Ian," Rupert pointed out gently.

"I lost Nana, so I thought. I lost you," Ethan answered quietly, looking down. "But I was a small child when they took Nana and with you it was... different."

Rupert nodded. "There was always still hope for us, even at our most distant."

"I wish I knew for sure he'd found Derek." Ethan supposed he kept saying it in the hope that some proof would suddenly materialise.

"Parts of a whole will always be drawn together," came a voice from the door. Ethan jerked his head up to see Keri standing there holding a large cardboard box. "Ian and Derek were two halves of the same thing. They would have been drawn together like iron to a magnet, just as you two were."

Ethan didn't particularly want anyone else in the room right now, especially witches who were known for seeing rather too much. On the other hand, if anyone would know the answer to the question so consuming him... "Have you seen? Are they together?"

Keri smiled enigmatically. "The tide goes out, leaving the shore, but it always returns in its time. Everything is a cycle. Life and death and life again, the wheel is always turning. What was ripped apart will rejoin in its proper time."

Oh, and that meant what? Ethan had forgotten just how infuriating Keri could be... and also how intimidating. He said nothing and moved a little closer to Rupert.

"Lucy asked me to bring this up," Keri continued in a more normal tone, stepping forward and putting the box down on the bed. "We thought that, of us all, you would find the most meaning in its contents."

It was a largish box, loosely filled with a variety of things. Ethan reluctantly separated himself from Rupert as Keri seemed to be expecting him to look. It wasn't that he didn't want to see, more that he was scared of breaking down again in front of her.

He pulled out something large from the top. It was made of bright yellow and navy blue fabric – waterproofed fabric, in fact. It was an old sowester jacket, obviously well worn. God, he could almost smell Ian in the fabrics of the threads; his old mentor's patterns ran through the weave like embroidery.

Rupert smiled and reached out a hand to finger the fabric. "I suspect this is proof you're not the only one who liked standing out in a storm."

"We spoke about storms, about how we'd like to experience one together, but he already knew that we wouldn't. Look, there's a hat to go with it." Ethan reached into the box to lift the waterproof hat out, but instead found himself lifting a wooden wand. It had a pottery crow's head with glittering silver-black gems for eyes. A crow's feather dangled from the other end. "This is–" He'd been going to say 'lovely', but then his pattern sense kicked in. "Powerful."

"Indeed." Rupert was careful to keep back from touching this particular item. "Lights up rather like a Christmas tree to mage sight."

Skunk sat up straight, staring avidly at the wand. "It's not for you, girl," Ethan said, petting her with his free hand until she settled again.

He pressed the bird's head to his lips thoughtfully. If the coat was interwoven with the pattern of Ian's physical presence, this wand held the pattern of his magic. He wondered what it had been used for. As their kind of magic didn't have to involve ritual, why had Ian had a wand? Ethan supposed he'd probably never know. With a small sigh, he put the wand down reverently on top of the coat and looked back in the box.

Rupert looked in the box himself and laughed as he pulled out a plastic bag with some familiar looking seeds. "Now this is certainly a legacy worthy of Ian."

"Oh, blessed man!" Ethan flicked a glance over to the doorway, but Keri was gone. "Now we need one of those mini-greenhouse things in the back garden."

"I'm sure we can work something out," Rupert said breezily, almost too breezily.

Ethan gave Rupert a sharp look but was distracted when Rupert lifted something else from the box, a book. There were several books in the box, mostly old novels, but this one was different. A journal perhaps or... sketchbook? Rupert offered it to Ethan unopened.

Taking it a little nervously, Ethan carefully opened the hardbound cover. The first thing that happened was that a photo fell out and dropped to his lap. Putting the book down for the moment, Ethan investigated the photograph. It was an old black and white Kodak of two young men, one slender with a shock of black hair and a familiar wildness about his eyes, Ian. The other was larger, broader, fair-haired and with a strong jaw and a possessive arm around Ian. It had to be Derek.

"God, Rupert, look."

Rupert shifted to be able to look over Ethan's shoulder at the photo. He was silent for a moment then said softly, "So we finally have a face to put to the name."

Ethan trailed a finger over Derek on the photograph. "You can tell he was from the East End, just by looking at him. Couldn't have looked less gay, really – looks like a sodding gangster, like a Kray twin. Christ, poor Ian. All those years..." He turned and wrapped his arms around Rupert. "I think I've looked at enough for now. Are these things for me to keep?"

"Yes. As Keri said, they all think you are the one who would treasure these things the most."

"They are treasure. Can we go now?"

"We can." Rupert slid an arm around Ethan in a seemingly unconscious imitation of the photo. He turned his head to press a kiss to Ethan's cheek.

Ethan turned his face for more kisses. "I know we'll not get home 'til very late; it's just... I really don't want to stay here tonight. Not at this moment."

"It's all right. In fact, I have some plans, if you're up to them. Or we can just drive back to the city if you'd rather?"

"What kind of plans? Good plans?" Something that wasn't awash with a sadness he couldn't ease?

"I'd like to think so." Rupert was wearing a secretive smile now.

"I like that smile." Ethan tried his best to return it. "I think mystery plans could be just what I need right now."

"All right." Rupert kissed him one more time then stood. "Gather up your treasure chest, and we'll be on our way."