"I thought you weren't coming."
Giles had eked out his pint for an hour and a half. No wonder the landlord was giving him dirty looks.
Ethan's clever dark eyes sparkled with mischief.
"You know me, Ripper. Always fashionably late."
Giles eyed Ethan's clothes. They were clean, but there was little else to be said in their favour. His shirt collar and cuffs were frayed and his trousers shiny and worn-looking, especially on the knees. His shoes looked like they were being held together by sheer willpower.
Not to mention, the whole wretched ensemble hung loose on Ethan's spare frame, which was practically skin and bone.
Giles frowned with displeasure. "Fashion has nothing to do with it, and you know it. You just like making me wait."
Ethan shrugged, smiled an infuriating smile, and indicated Giles's empty glass.
Giles nodded and held out the glass. Ethan took it, but he'd only gone a couple of paces towards the bar before he turned back.
"The fact is, old man -"
"Here." Giles held out the ten pound note he'd had ready in his hand.
For a moment, Ethan's face twisted. The mischief was gone, to be replaced by pure, raw malevolence. But then it was smoothed away, as if it had never been.
"I owe you one."
A lot more than one, Giles thought. He watched as Ethan crossed the room, leaned his elbows on the bar and started chatting up the barmaid.
The barmaid - young, pretty, blonde - looked from Ethan's worn face, prematurely lined by equal parts dissipation and disappointment, to his worn clothes. She was obviously less than impressed. But Ethan kept talking as she drew their pints, and after a moment, Giles saw her laugh. Soon, they were giggling together like co-conspirators, in on some private joke.
At last, with a parting remark that must have been especially witty and outrageous, given the barmaid's reaction, Ethan turned away and Giles saw him slip the ten pound note into his back pocket.
Giles considered calling out to the girl, to remind her she'd forgotten to charge the old reprobate, but she was already serving another customer. Besides, what was the point? He'd settle the bill later.
"Here." Ethan put the glass in front of Giles, slopping beer all over the table. "You look well, Ripper. Being put out to pasture suits you."
Ethan's words were pleasant enough, but the undercurrent of malice was still there.
But it was a feeble attack at best, and Giles chose to ignore it.
"Yes, I believe it does."
Giles eyed Ethan's clothes again. "Can't say the same for you, Ethan. Just what exactly are you spending your monthly allowance on, since it's clearly not life's necessities?"
Ethan managed to maintain the pretence of geniality this time.
"Oh, the usual. Drink, drugs. Lots of drugs. Just like old times."
Giles rolled his eyes. "I suppose it's pointless asking when - if ever- you're going to grow up?"
The geniality was wearing thin already.
"Grow old, more like," Ethan snapped. "Unlike you, Ripper, old chum, I still have some living to do. Not ready for a pipe and slippers in the chimney corner just yet."
"Pipe and slippers?" Giles laughed out loud. "Don't be ridiculous."
Ethan stared at him from hooded eyes over the rim of his glass.
"You know what I mean." He sneered. "What do you do with yourself these days, Ripper, eh, now you've become an irrelevance? The Watchers are gone, and good riddance. The kiddies don't want you. Have you taken up gardening yet, or do you spend all day hanging over the phone in case your precious little Slayer remembers your existence?"
"I keep myself busy." Giles laughed again. It still surprised him how immune he'd become to Ethan's venom. "But we were talking about you. I can't help noticing your trousers are a little the worse for wear."
All trace of humour gone from his voice, he met Ethan's gaze and held it. "Been on your knees a lot lately, have you?"
Ethan blinked, disconcerted at the tonal shift. Then he affected insouciance. "What can I say? Occasionally, when one moves in certain circles, one just does encounter a cock that bears closer inspection. And naturally at such times, one wishes to express the...depth of one's appreciation."
Giles refrained from rolling his eyes again. "I'm sure. And far be it from me to dictate how you spend the allowance I give you, as long as you stay within the terms of our agreement."
He took a long swallow of his beer. "Which are very specific, if you recall - in particular the parts about not doing magic, or paying others to do it on your behalf?"
At once, the malice was back in Ethan's eyes, and this time he didn't try to hide it.
"I'm not likely to forget."
"Good." Giles gave him back look for look. "I confess I was concerned that all those years of substance abuse had done untold damage to what we're forced to refer to as - for want of a better word- your brain."
Ethan was clutching his glass so hard, his knuckles were white.
"There's nothing wrong with my brain."
"Isn't there?" Giles kept his expression bland. "Forgive me, Ethan, but I beg to differ. At the very least, your short term memory's been affected. Or perhaps it's just that you're stupid."
He considered the matter. "Actually, there's no 'perhaps' about it. You are stupid. Otherwise it's impossible to explain why you seem incapable of learning a simple lesson."
"You right bastard!" Ethan snarled.
"Be quiet." Giles's voice was bland, like his face, but, to his satisfaction, whatever else Ethan might have had to say died on his tongue. He sat silent, nursing his pint, and glaring his resentment.
Under the table, Giles made a surreptitious gesture to his minder on the far side of the bar, who'd sprung to her feet at the sound of Ethan's raised voice. All well. No threat I can't handle.
The Slayer gave him a curt nod and settled back into her seat.
Giles kept his gaze on Ethan. "As I said, I'm gratified to know that you bear the terms of our agreement in mind. Because if I thought there was one iota of truth in the rumours that have come to my attention, about you utilising your...let's call it your pension, shall we?... for nefarious purposes, the consequences would be very serious."
He smiled a humourless smile. "For you, that is. In case I haven't made myself clear."
Ethan stared at him, thin-lipped. "Got it the first time, thanks."
"Very good." Giles leaned back in his seat. "So, contrary to what I've heard, those worn patches on your trousers really are the result of some sordid, yet legal, sexual transaction, not of hours spent on your knees performing ghastly black magic rites and importuning the God of Chaos to take revenge on your enemies?"
"N-no," Ethan stuttered. "I mean -"
Giles didn't let him finish. "Because if I decided they weren't.....well, all it would take is one phone call."
He let the threat hang in the air. Ethan would understand what he meant.
Sure enough: "They're not." Ethan babbled. "I swear it. I'll swear by Janus himself, if you like. Don't send me back there, Ripper. Please! It would kill me."
You're lying, Giles thought.
Ethan was truly afraid, though, that was clear. And no wonder, the state he'd been in when the Initiative had agreed to release him into Giles's custody.
Giles drained his pint and set the glass down. "I've been more than patient with you, Ethan, for old time's sake. Consider this your last warning."
Ethan's gaze clung to him. The malice was still there, but drowning in sheer terror. "For God's sake, Ripper..." He reached out suddenly and grabbed Giles's hand in his. "We were friends once."
Ethan's hand was cold, and insubstantial. An old man's. His skin was waxy, almost corpselike. He stank of ill-health and, for those who could recognise it, of the dregs of black magic.
Giles gazed at him with distaste. "We were never friends."
He began prising himself loose from Ethan's claw-like grip finger by finger.
"Lovers, then," Ethan persisted, clinging on. "I loved you once, you bastard. You know I did."
At last, Giles succeeded in breaking free. As gently as he could, he said, "Yes, I know."
They stared at each other in silence. Ethan's gaze dropped first. He snatched up his glass, downing the contents greedily, like it might be his last drink for some time. When he stood up, he was shaking.
"A pleasure, as always, Ripper."
Watching his unsteady progress across the room, Giles grimaced.
Saying more felt like deliberate cruelty, but for Ethan's own sake, he must.
"Before you go, Ethan...."
Ethan's shoulders sagged. He didn't look around. "What now?"
"You were wrong about the Watchers. We aren't all gone. I'm watching you. Always."