Spike watched them come in, the distance between them as marked as the difference in their attitude. The man leading the way was confident and assured, with sparkling, wicked eyes, but slightly worn around the edges, like a designer shirt picked up at a jumble sale with a button missing, a curling collar.
The man who followed him, moving as if he was attached by an invisible rope and was dragging his heels...well, well. What the hell was Rupert doing in a dive like this, with a man who looked as if he’d go for your knackers in a fight without even blinking? Spike saw them sit down and order drinks, cocking his head as Giles stood abruptly after a moment, his face tight with anger, and then allowed himself to be coaxed back down by his...friend? Maybe. Someone he knew, anyway. The Watcher wasn’t under a compulsion – not that Spike would have been racing to the rescue, not bloody likely. Bathtubs and chains and week-old blood? Didn’t build up the gratitude. Besides, it would’ve been amusing to see Giles perform.
No, these two went back a long way. You could tell by the way they were behaving with each other; Giles was leaning back, casually sipping his drink, not putting on an act: the other man was watching him closely, anticipating every gesture and meeting it with a perfectly timed response. Spike stretched out; got another drink from a waitress besotted with his accent, with a simple widening of his eyes and a tap of a finger on his glass, and watched the floor show with both curiosity and amusement.
Giles was getting drunk. Beer and whiskey chasers flowing like...well, beer and whiskey. The alcohol was loosening him, letting the man show through, and Spike felt a flicker of regret that he wasn’t there with them. Been a while since he’d got pissed with friends. Years. Not that the Watcher was a friend but in his more honest moments, the ones just before he blacked out, a stone slab softened by drink into a mattress fit for the gods, Spike knew that the Slayer and her little gang were about as good as he was going to get in the way of companions, now he had the chip in his head. Which was usually the realization that started the urge to get pissed, but never mind.
A couple got up and left, arms wrapped around waists, heads close. Spike glared at them half-heartedly. In the good old days, a month or two ago, he’d have followed them out and made the girl watch her man die and then had her for dessert. Now he was reduced to moving casually over to the table they’d left vacant and eavesdropping on old Rupert from a secluded corner. Mayhem and slaughter seemed so dignified in comparison.
When he heard what they were talking about, it became quite tame.
He’d missed a conversation about the Initiative; Giles was waffling on about how ineffectual he was compared to the fucking soldier boys but the other man was looking as bored as anyone would when Giles was whining like that and he soon changed the subject. Good; if Giles thought he was fooling anyone with the, ‘I’m so old and helpless’ routine...well, he wasn’t fooling Spike. Power shone from him. They didn’t pick just anyone to watch a Slayer. Scratch the tweed and you’d blunt your claws on steel hard resolve. Spike found he was rubbing his wrists where cuffs had bitten deep and scowled.
Giles said something sharp and angry and Spike had a name for the stranger. Ethan. Why did that sound ...oh, right. That guy. Figured that he’d be back; once you got involved with this town, it sucked you in...but he knew Giles? The guy was ripe and rotten with power; Spike could taste it. Giles and a Chaos mage? Did the Slayer know what her Watcher got up to when he was out of her sight? And how much would it be worth to keep him from telling her? Spike’s eyes narrowed and he leaned in a little closer.
“ – don’t believe it!”
“Oh, trust me, Ripper; it’s still there. Lie to yourself all you like; Chaos adores deception...but trying to fool me? Please.”
“What we had, Ethan, is so long dead that it’s dust in the wind.”
“Poetry? I remember you used to read that aloud to me. You’d sit in the window seat –”
“- wearing that red robe, your legs bent so that it fell away and showed every –”
“One more word and I’m leaving.”
A strong, slim hand moved and took hold of Giles’ wrist. “No, Ripper. You’re staying right here. Tomorrow you’ll have the old problems back, plus a new one –”
“A hangover, my friend.”
Ethan’s words were smooth, as he sat back but Spike frowned. The man was skimming the surface of the truth and souring the cream.
“Oh. Yes, maybe I have had a little too much.”
“Rupert, you disappoint me.”
Spike shook his head as he heard Giles’ voice acquire a wistful timbre. For God’s sake! Now Giles was fucking flirting with him; had the world gone mad? Suspicion flared as he saw Ethan reach casually forward and pluck a hair from the arm of Giles’ shirt as he patted it reassuringly. Hair, nails... they were used in dozens of spells and usually not the sort that cured baldness either. Spike half stood and then thought better of it. He was confused; should he help Giles or not? Mood the man was in, he’d probably resent it. Besides; why help him?
Because he helped you, took you in, because you went to him when you’d got nowhere else to go.
Spike had no trouble dismissing the voice in his head; though getting rid of the waitress who mistook his irritable tapping on the table as a come-on was a little harder. By the time she’d gone, twitching her arse indignantly, Giles had staggered off to the bog and Ethan was alone, a gently scornful smile on his swarthy face.
Spike slid into Giles’ seat and looked at him. “Hello, Ethan.”
The man looked shifty. “Sorry; don’t believe we’ve met. Let’s keep it that way, shall we?”
Spike smiled. Knew he had to make this fast but fuck, it would’ve been fun crossing swords with this one. “I’ll piss off when you tell me what you’ve got planned for my old mate, Giles. Share, why don’t you?”
Wariness looked as if it was at home on Ethan’s face. “You know Ripper?”
“Handy with the cuffs and chains? Testy if you leave the top off the toothpaste? Goes for a little demon in his man?” Spike let his fangs out to play as he served up his lies the best way; salting them with a dash of truth, and smiled slowly. “I know him. Sounds like you do, too. Part of that past he doesn’t like to talk about, were you? Thought so.”
The door to the washrooms swung open and Spike’s eyes flicked up. Not Giles, but it’d been a warning. He leaned over the table and held out his hand, palm up.
“You want something?” Ethan said, contriving to sound haughty, even though there was a nice amount of apprehension mixed in with it – and a lot of regret and hurt, too. Spike filed that away to think about later.
“Not money,” Spike said, hearing the words and not quite believing he was saying them. “The hair from his head you took. You’re not working any mojo on him.”
Ethan didn't bother with protestations of innocence. “And if I refuse?”
Bloke had guts. “You’ve got guts.” Spike timed the pause with a century’s worth of practice. “Want to see them?”
Ethan reached into a pocket with a resigned sigh, and pulled out a hair. Spike took it, flicked his lighter and burned it, watching it crisp and crumble in the flame. “Going to go back over there now, but I’ll be keeping an eye on you. Oh, and don’t bother pointing me out to him. Don’t think he’d appreciate me helping him and I’ll deny everything.”
Ethan ran a speculative look over him. “Can’t imagine why he’d mind,” he said politely. “Off you go, then; Rupert’s quite safe with me, I promise.”
Spike snorted. “At least try for a bit of sincerity.”
Ethan shrugged and said quietly, without turning around, “He’s coming back.”
Spike slouched back to his table, brooding silently about what he’d done, stubbornness keeping him in place even as he cringed at the Watcher turning maudlin with every swig of ale and the thought of his own impulse to help.
They left together, an hour later, both too drunk to stand alone, and Spike smiled. There was another substance Ethan could use to work a spell, but he didn’t think either of them was up to what was needed to get it.
When he saw Giles the next day, he realized he’d been wrong about that.