1. London, 1975
Thomas Sutcliffe was obviously out of whatever passed for his mind these days.
He'd picked up some bloke in a pub--that's not how Thomas described it, but then, Thomas never described it like that. Ethan was prepared to bet that the bloke Thomas had picked up, who was all leather jacket and torn white t-shirt and a scowl that was entirely too false to be threatening, wouldn't describe it that way either, even after he'd spent the night in Thomas's room. And now Thomas had actually brought the prat around to meet his friends.
And why? Because apparently, the prat, who called himself Ripper and who had a tough-guy accent that slipped every now and then into an unmistakably posh one, had boasted that he could do magic. And Thom, being one of the more gullible idiots in the known universe, had believed him.
Not that Ethan didn't believe in magic. He knew what they'd done, after all. They'd stolen enough books from cramped, dusty shops and spent enough time memorizing incantations--with a Latin dictionary close at hand so he knew what he was meant to be saying--not to believe. The difference was that he didn't believe that this Ripper character knew a damned thing about it. He was just showing off to impress Thomas, which was entirely unnecessary, because Thomas was impressed enough by someone being willing to give him the time of day. It was why Ethan had never fucked him--he didn't want to risk having Thomas latch onto him any more than he had already.
He knew Thomas wanted him to test Ripper's claims--the others all admitted that Ethan knew far more than they did about magic, and, in general, listened to what he had to say about it--but he didn't see much point. The boy was obviously just having Thomas on. He was a couple of years younger than Ethan, and that plus the outrageously macho posturing was enough for Ethan to dismiss him as a kid who'd gone out slumming because Mummy and Daddy hadn't given him his way about something.
It was rather a pity, because he actually was rather pretty, and Ethan wouldn't have minded showing him that there were better things than Thomas out there. But Ethan couldn't be bothered with someone like him, not when there was real magic to be learnt--and so by the time Thomas came back into the room, he'd decided to tell him that the bloke was a waste of time.
"Shag him all you like, Thom," he drawled, and smirked to see the little boyfriend flushing at that, "but I can't be bothered with him."
"Ripper" opened his mouth to protest, but Ethan just got up and walked out. He didn't really care what some fool he'd never see again had to say for himself.
2. London, 1977
They burnt Randall's body. Thomas knew a spell that burnt hotter than any normal fire, reducing skin and flesh and bone--and horns, and the weird spiny things that had grown out of his face once the demon took over, and who knew what else--to ash in a matter of minutes.
"Keep it going," Ripper said, suddenly, and anyone else would have said that he pulled away from Ethan. Ethan wouldn't, because Ripper hadn't been standing close enough to him to pull away--close, but not the way he usually did, not so that all Ethan had to do was lean imperceptibly so and they'd be touching, hip to hip and thigh to thigh. Now there was space in between them; not enough that the others would notice, if they looked.
Ethan noticed, and had shot Ripper finely-calculated looks of pure vitriol while Thomas worked his spell and Diedre cried and Philip prayed for Randall's soul, as though he had one.
Ripper hadn't seemed to notice. He'd just stood there, silently, watching Randall burn, and Ethan fancied that he could see the smoke from Randall's pyre curling amid the green of Ripper's irises, making him look cold and distant.
Making him look, Ethan thought, rather like his father, at least the one time that Ethan had seen him, when he'd come to try and collect his wayward son.
Ripper pulled away now, going back into the house. He left the back door open, and Ethan could see him disappearing up the narrow wooden stairs that led to their flat.
"What's he--" Thomas began, adjusting his spell so that the fire sustained itself on what was left of Randall, no matter what he thought of Ripper's request. You didn't cross Ripper. Well, unless you were Ethan, but then again, Ethan had a bit of a special dispensation, Philip said.
If that was what Philip wanted to call the fact that Ethan was rather good at dodging blows for long enough to get Ripper's trousers down and make him forget what he was angry about, that was fine with Ethan.
Ethan shook his head now in response to Thomas's question. He didn't know what Ripper was planning, or rather, he only suspected, and he didn't want to be right. They'd find out soon enough--and they did, as Ripper came back down with an armload of papers, piling them over what little was left of Randall's body.
"These, too," he said to Thomas, not looking at Ethan.
"What, all of them?" Thomas exclaimed. "We worked for months researching those spells!"
"And some of them are mine," Ethan muttered, recognizing the handwriting as Ripper got closer.
Ripper pulled out a sheaf of papers and handed them to Ethan. "Burn the rest," he said, flatly.
In one sense, Ethan wasn't surprised--Ripper had been tiresomely full of self-loathing since they'd had to put Randall out of his misery--but in another, he was. Ripper had always viewed magic as a tool. You didn't destroy a hammer because you'd hit your thumb.
But apparently Ripper thought that a grand gesture would assuage his guilt, and so Thomas nodded, and soon the papers were ablaze.
The others watched them burn, but Ripper watched him, and Ethan suddenly realized, bitterly, that this wasn't about Ripper's guilt. This was by nature of an ultimatum.
Ripper used magic because of what it could get him--even if what it got him was as intangible as the high from a truly potent spell.
Ethan used magic because…. Because it was part and parcel of who he was. What he was. Because it was beautiful, the way he could feel the magic soaking into every cell of his body. Because he loved it.
And he'd have been willing to bet a fiver that this was Ripper's way of asking him what he loved more.
The magic, his instinct told him. Without his magic, he had nothing. He was nothing.
And Ripper was still watching him, wordlessly. Of course he wouldn't say anything about it; saying something, anything, would be tantamount to admitting that he wanted Ethan to give in, and he'd never do that. He'd never admit that Ethan was anything other than a convenience.
That, of course, was exactly the way Ethan liked it. He liked shagging Ripper, and he liked doing magic with Ripper, and so he took advantage of every opportunity to do either that presented itself. But he wasn't going to be sentimental about things ending. Things did, and Ethan would move on.
So this was it, the end of things between himself and Ripper, because of course he wasn't going to give up magic. That was who he was, and all of it--the power and the pleasure and the profit he'd gained from it--had always been secondary to the pure thrill of the magic itself. How could he give that up?
Ripper's gaze flickered for a second, and he quirked one eyebrow slightly, as though to say, I didn't think so. He turned away then, to say something to Philip, obviously convinced that Ethan had made his choice.
Well, he'd be damned if he let Ripper make his decisions for him, now or ever, Ethan thought. Not to mention that he hated being predictable, and if Ripper actually thought he knew him that well….
Slowly, deliberately, Ethan tossed the papers he held onto the fire. "Those, too," he said, just in case his actions had gone unnoticed.
The startled look Ripper gave him, and then the utterly delighted grin, almost made it worth the loss.
But not quite.
3. Sunnydale, 1997
He'd had the dreams from time to time over the years, of course, but not like this. They hadn't ever seemed this vivid, this real. They were back in that grotty flat he and Ripper had shared, all six of them stoned on a combination of grass and drink and magical energy as they put Randall into his trance and started the summoning spell.
And then the horror began: the moment when they realized Randall wasn't waking up, the fear and the fighting and he and Ripper knocking Randall's body unconscious, and Diedre and Thomas holding it down while Ripper slit its throat and Philip was sick in the kitchen sink--and Ethan himself lit a cigarette, perfectly composed. Outwardly, at least.
And then he'd wake up, far less than perfectly composed--shaking and sweating and in need of a stiff drink before he could go back to sleep.
It was happening again; he was sure of it.
Thomas and Diedre were dead already. He'd rung them when the dreams had first started, and had spoken to Thomas's lover and Diedre's daughter, saying only that he was an old friend, and coming out with something insipid along the lines of "I'm sorry for your loss." Thomas would have found it amusing to hear Ethan parroting bland social niceties; he'd always been slightly shocked by Ethan. But Thomas wasn't in a position to be amused by anything, these days, and neither was Diedre, who probably wouldn't have been amused by him, anyway. She never had liked him much.
He'd rung Philip's office after that, and was told that Mr. Henry was on a business trip, and his secretary would be happy to pass on a message. "Tell him it's Randall Greene calling," he said, and left it at that. If a telephone message from beyond the grave wasn't enough of a warning for Philip, he deserved anything he got.
And that left only Ripper, who was not going to be at all pleased to discover that Ethan was still in Sunnydale. Halloween hadn't been the most pleasant experience Ethan had ever had, that was certain. Although, actually, taken against the other times he'd seen Ripper over the past several years, it hadn't been all that bad.
On the other hand, Ripper had resources Ethan currently didn't, and Ripper had his Slayer--the girl he'd left Ethan for, he thought wryly, even if she hadn't been born at the time. And Ethan wasn't prepared to sit back and wait for Eyghon to take him, even if it went for Ripper first.
He'd considered having the mark removed from his arm--he should have done it years ago--but he wasn't sure it would work. The demon was stupid, but Ethan thought it could count.
And then it struck him. If he found someone to take his place, he might be able to get away. And it might not be too bad having Eyghon loose in the world; at least Eyghon wasn't the kind of demon with ambitions of world domination. It was far more of a hedonist--and then he remembered Ripper laughing and saying, "bit like a demon version of you, Ethan?" and he wasn't sure if that made him more or less willing to let Eyghon have Ripper to play with.
There was always the chance that it wouldn't work, though, and if it didn't, he'd be wise to choose someone who might have a chance of dealing with Eyghon. Someone who might be able to protect Ripper as well. If possible, he'd rather that both he and Ripper survived.
Someone, in fact, small and blonde and possessed of a ridiculously Californian name and supernatural strength--not to mention a predilection for hideously pink ball gowns. Ripper's girl.
And if she had to find out what Ripper was really like beneath the stammering and the tweed, then that was even better. She was going to find out eventually, regardless; he wouldn't be able to hide his true nature from her forever.
Let the Slayer and her Watcher face Eyghon. That was what they were for, wasn't it? To face evil while everyone else went on in blissful ignorance? Let them get on with doing their job, then, and Ethan would get on with not getting killed.
Another flash of memory: the London flat again, one of the kitchen knives sharp and silver as Ripper drew it across Randall's throat. Then the image shifted: still Ripper--and still twenty-three, with shaggy hair and an unlined face--and still the stained carpet in their lounge, but now the figure being held on the floor was the Slayer, and instead of Thomas and Diedre being the ones to pin her down, it was the boy and the girl who'd come to the shop with her.
Ethan didn't care, particularly. It wouldn't be him, and that was the most important thing; and it wouldn't be Ripper, and that was, if not absolutely essential, at least preferable to the alternative. If the girl died, there'd just be another one. That was the way it worked, with both Slayers and silly blonde teenagers.
But Ripper would care. Ethan hadn't seen him with the girl, but it didn't matter. Ripper had virtually been bred to care about her, no matter what the Council said--because Ripper wasn't the only Watcher Ethan had ever known--about the Slayer only being an instrument.
Ripper might have to be the one to kill the girl. The scene finished playing itself out in Ethan's mind; Ripper drew the knife across her throat, her cries abruptly silenced as it slashed through her larynx, and then he stood up, his hands wet with her blood and his face suddenly showing his true age.
It wasn't that he couldn't do that to Ripper. He could. He would, if he had to. On the other hand, while it might or might not get Eyghon off his trail, it would certainly transform Ripper into an enemy, and despite Ripper's penchant for hitting him in the face, they weren't quite enemies now.
So he'd let Ripper and the girl try to deal with Eyghon. They'd protect him; they'd really have no choice, no matter what they thought of him. And perhaps that would give him the time to see whether or not all those old bridges really were well and truly burned.
Three o'clock in the morning. Late enough that, barring imminent apocalypse, good little Slayers and Watchers were tucked up snugly in their beds.
Ethan did hope Ripper wouldn't mind having a house guest for the next few days, until this whole business with Eyghon got sorted out.
4. Sunnydale, 2000
If you ignored the fact that Ethan was rather afraid that the end of the world was at hand, the evening had been almost pleasant.
It hadn't started out that way; no matter what Rupert seemed to think, these days, Ethan had never really enjoyed pain. Not the sort of pain one got from being beaten up, at least. But now there was alcohol, and there had been somewhat civil conversation, and there had been no hitting for quite some time, and this was as pleasant as an evening with Rupert was likely to get, these days.
And Rupert was well on his way toward getting very, very drunk. Ethan had always encouraged that, in the old days, because a drunk Ripper was a Ripper who was more overtly affectionate toward Ethan--not that Ethan ever would have let him know that he wanted that, but pushing another pint or two at him and letting things take their course was another matter altogether.
These days, of course, Ethan didn't expect anything like that. Not being punched was as much affection as Rupert was likely to show him, and he wasn't going to complain about that. Not really.
Not until they'd had a few more drinks, and Rupert had started talking more. The Slayer had been ignoring him lately. All the children had been ignoring him, apparently, between school and boyfriends and girlfriends and whatever it was that they did when they weren't trying to spoil Ethan's fun. For the first time in the past twenty-odd years, Rupert sounded as though he wasn't enjoying this life he'd abandoned Ethan for.
At least, for the first time while he was talking to Ethan, and Ethan didn't like thinking about the fact that there were things he didn't know about Rupert Giles, these days. He ought to know them. He used to know Ripper as well as he'd known himself, and how dare he change that?
But things were going well tonight, and Rupert was talking--rambling, really, because he actually was quite drunk; and Ethan was just listening, soaking up the rare luxury of sitting with him without any real animosity.
"Everything's different," Rupert was saying.
"It's your fault if it is," Ethan muttered. "I didn't want it to change." Then, when he realized what he'd said, he looked up at Rupert challengingly, just daring him to take advantage of the moment's weakness.
But instead, Rupert only said, "In part, at least," and reached for his glass.
That was new as well, Rupert admitting that this wasn't all Ethan's fault, that he had some part in what had turned them into enemies. New, and rather unsettling, because it was harder to be properly angry at him when he was admitting, for once, that Daddy's perfect little Watcher might have made a mistake. He hadn't even used the word "slumming" once as they reminisced, and that was new as well.
It was enough to make him think twice about the tiny phial in his pocket, the one that was the reason he'd suggested they have a drink in the first place. It wouldn't be permanent, of course; it would wear off in a few days, and then Rupert could go about the business of stopping 314. But until then, it'd be terribly amusing, and nothing more than Rupert deserved.
Except that perhaps things could change between them. Perhaps Rupert was actually beginning to see that he'd been wrong about things--and perhaps he and Ethan could come to some sort of an arrangement. Hellmouth aside, Sunnydale wasn't that interesting; Ethan could be persuaded to leave it alone, if he had the proper encouragement. And no matter how much Rupert denied it, Ethan could tell that he still knew exactly what the proper encouragement would be.
Rupert got up then, making his way unsteadily toward the back of the pub, and Ethan reached into his pocket, fingers closing around the potion. Three weeks it had taken him to find all the ingredients for this. It'd be a shame to waste it.
But he doubted that Rupert, even in this unusually pleasant mood, would be able to forgive being turned into a Fyarl. Even if it would be harmless and temporary and terribly funny.
Granted, that was a flaw in Rupert's character, but one that had been there even in the old days, so Ethan could tolerate it.
Still, too much effort had gone into this to waste, so Ethan got up from the table, and, under the pretext of going over to one of the pool tables, managed to tip the contents of the little bottle into a glass of beer whose owner was at the bar. He'd be in for a surprise come morning, and Rupert would never know that Ethan had anything to do with it, or that Ethan had planned that particular surprise with him in mind.
When Rupert came back, Ethan had already returned to the table. He'd made a quick circuit of the pool tables and sauntered back as though he'd simply been stretching his legs. He grinned up at Rupert, and was at least a little pleased to see the corners of Rupert's mouth twitching upward in reply.
"Have another drink, Ripper," he said.
And then he grinned even more when Rupert's response was to sit back down and say, "Think I will, actually."
5. London, 2001
When he'd escaped, he'd run and hid and cowered in the shadows like a whipped animal until he realized that no one was following him. He supposed they were too concerned with recapturing the demons that had escaped as well, and no one much cared about a middle-aged sorcerer who'd stopped being interesting months ago. He'd been a model prisoner, in fact, because it wasn't worth it to be anything else, and he laughed at himself for it now. He didn't know what he'd been thinking; they wouldn't have released him, no matter how "rehabilitated" he was.
And Ripper wouldn't have come back for him, either. Not that he'd ever hoped for that.
He'd made his way back to England, if only because he couldn't bear the harsh glare of the sun in Nevada and California, and he'd succeeded in putting the past behind him. All the past; he'd finally realized that he was wasting his bloody time on Ripper. If he wanted to suffocate himself, stuffed into the ill-fitting role of a Watcher, then let him. There was nothing Ethan could do about it, so it was time to forget about it all.
That explained the girl tonight: less than half his age, and pretty in a cheap sort of way. Pretty in the way Diedre had been, back in the old days: too much makeup and too unnaturally blond; skirts too tight across the hips and top cut too low. She'd been just as easy to get into bed, too. This one presumably thought she'd found a nice older man to take care of her, and she was delighted to go home with him. She'd tasted of bad white wine and melon-flavored lip gloss, and fucking her had been effortless and meaningless and therefore exactly what he wanted.
He'd let her stay the night, because he didn't really care as long as she'd let him sleep, and that had been a mistake. He'd had a nightmare, and he didn't realize it until he woke up to find the girl, whose name he'd never tried very hard to remember, cradling his head against her chest and trying to calm him. Her makeup had left dark rings under her eyes, and she simultaneously looked very old and very young.
She'd been sincere in her concern, he realized, and that made him push her away, getting to his feet and going to the bathroom to wash his face and drink tepid water until he had himself under control. When he came back out, she looked up at him, very obviously worried.
Ethan settled himself in the uncomfortable chair, just to make the point that he wasn't going to be rejoining her in the bed.
She just looked at him for a minute, and then said, softly, "Who's Ripper?"
Ethan glared at her, furious with his subconscious for letting that slip. "No one."
"Okay, only you--"
"No one," he repeated sharply, glaring at her, and was pleased, on some level, to see that she shrank back against the headboard.
It was true. Ripper didn't exist, not any more; that bloody Watcher had destroyed everything that was worthwhile about Ripper, and the more Ethan thought about it, the angrier he got. Ripper could have been great; the two of them together could have done anything, and it was obscene to think of all that power being wasted. He got up, dressing quickly without looking at her. "I'm going out for a bit."
The girl wasn't a coward, he'd say that; she might have shrunk back from his glare, but now she got up, looking for where her own clothing had fallen. "I'll go with you."
"No, you won't," he said. "You're going home like a good little girl, and if you're smart, you'll forget you ever saw me."
"Here, what's going on?" she demanded, folding her arms across her generous chest. "What are you talking about?"
"Get your clothes on," he said, suddenly wishing he'd never gone out on the pull in the first place. What the hell had he been thinking? If he was bored, he knew better ways to amuse himself than this. It had been too long since he'd done much magic at all. Nothing with any flair, certainly, and it was time he changed that. Time he let the world know that Ethan Rayne was back.
He waited impatiently while the girl dressed, ignoring all her irritated questions. Finally, she was gone--slamming the door behind her out of childish pique--and Ethan grinned. He didn't have the supplies for any really ambitious spell, but he could get his hands on some candles and a knife, and he could manage a small ritual of rededication. That would be enough for tonight.
Tomorrow, he'd think of what he'd do to announce his triumphant return to the world.
Tomorrow, he'd see what he could do about Ripper, as well. He could create illusions; it wasn't that difficult to dispel them. And what was Ripper's belief that he could change himself on any fundamental level but an illusion?
Ethan would have to show him the error of his ways. It was for his own good, after all, and in the end, Ripper would understand.
Ethan could make him understand, and he wondered why he'd never thought of that before.