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November

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He hadn't expected to come back to Sunnydale, particularly not so soon.

He wouldn't leave because he was told to--and really, Rupert should have known better; Ethan had never taken orders very well--but he'd got the feeling when Trick had paid him his commission that he ought to use the money to do a bit of traveling. But he wanted to get his hands on a particular grimoire that none of his usual sources had been able to produce for him, and he'd have gone somewhere a great deal less pleasant than California if one had turned up.

And now, his business concluded earlier than he'd anticipated--the demon wasn't very good at haggling, and Ethan had got the book quite cheaply--Ethan found himself with an already-paid-for hotel room and nothing to occupy his time.

It would be a shame, really, he thought, to be back on a Hellmouth and not take advantage of all that raw mystical energy waiting to be harnessed. He'd have to think about it; Sunnydale demanded something rather out of the ordinary. He'd done some of his best work here--that enchanted candy had been a stroke of brilliance--and it wouldn’t do to let his standards slip.

So Ethan found himself out walking, his rather unnecessary overcoat--he kept forgetting that they didn't get proper Novembers in California--slung over his arm. He had no particular destination in mind; in fact, he was only barely paying attention to his surroundings. He knew the town well enough, after all the time he'd spent there in the past few years, that he had no doubt he'd be able to find his way back to his hotel.

Even though he'd been walking rather aimlessly, considering the various possibilities for unleashing chaos on the town tonight, he wasn't surprised at where he found himself.

Of course he'd end up here, sooner or later. He recognized the place immediately; once he'd known that Ripper was here, Ethan had kept an eye on him. It was always best to know one's enemy, after all.

The prudent thing to do, of course, would be to walk on past, out of this neighborhood and away from the risk that he'd be seen by either Ripper or the Slayer. He didn't particularly fancy bruises or broken bones as a souvenir of his latest visit to Sunnydale.

Ethan hadn't ever been all that prudent, however, and he found himself standing outside the flat, trying the door. He smiled to himself as the doorknob turned easily; Ripper had never been good at remembering to lock up at night. He might have changed, or tried to, over the years, but that habit seemed to have remained conveniently the same.

"--can always gag you, if you won't keep quiet any other way," was what Ethan heard as he silently eased the door open, and he paused for a moment in the doorway, smirking a bit. And here he'd been thinking Rupert had convinced himself he was above anything as tawdry as that.

Then another voice, sulky enough to be one of the brats Ripper spent his time with these days, but with a British accent. "You're just going to sit there and let me starve to death?"

"You're already dead. Besides, Xander's bringing more blood on his way to work in the morning. You can wait until then."

Ethan closed the door behind himself, letting it shut with an audible click, and turned back toward the interior of the apartment, smirking a bit as Rupert scrambled up from the sofa. He spread his hands, trying to look harmless, and stayed near the door; he might not have been cautious enough to walk away, but he still didn't fancy being beaten to a pulp.

"What are you doing here?" Rupert demanded.

"Can't I pay an old friend a visit?"

"You don't have any friends here." He advanced on Ethan, who remained where he was. "You will never have friends here."

"Oh, I don't know," the sulky voice said, and now Ethan looked past Ripper to see a youngish man with bleached-blond hair, tied to a chair with very thick rope. Then he recalled what Rupert had said about blood. Not a man, then; Rupert was keeping a pet vampire for some reason. "If he'll untie me and give me someone to eat, I'll be his friend."

"I thought I told you to shut up, Spike," Rupert snapped, not looking away from Ethan. "And I'm still waiting for an explanation."

Ethan shrugged slightly, sticking one hand in his pocket in a calculated attempt at a nonchalant pose. "If the advertising jingles are to be believed, it's the holiday season, no matter what the weather looks like here. Isn't it meant to be a time of love and forgiveness?"

Rupert snorted. "You never were very good at sounding sincere."

There were a few thumps as the vampire turned his chair around to get a better view of what's going on.

"Oh, Rupert, you wound me." But Ripper hadn't made any move to physically throw him out yet, so Ethan walked over to the couch, throwing his coat over the back before dropping down on one of the cushions. He turned to look over the back of the couch at Rupert. "Interesting choice of pet," he said, nodding toward Spike.

"I'm not his bloody pet," Spike snapped, and Ethan turned to him with a smile.

"He's got you chained up begging for scraps, from what I heard when I came in. What would you call it?"

The vampire lunged forward--chair and all--but then sank back, wincing in pain, though Ethan couldn't see any cause.

"I should do the same to you," Rupert said, coming around to stand in front of the couch, watching Ethan suspiciously.

Ethan raised his arms, crossing his wrists above his head, and grinned. "If you insist. Though perhaps we should go somewhere a bit more comfortable?"

He'd expected to be punched for that--perhaps it had been ill-advised, but he couldn't quite resist seeing what reaction he got--and so he'd braced himself for the blow. It still hurt like hell, though.

"Don't move," Ripper said, hands still clenched into fists. "It won't take much to convince me you're up to something."

Ethan reclined against the back of the couch, lowering his arms. "So. If you're not keeping the vampire as a pet, what are you doing with him?"

Still glaring at him, Rupert said, "No, I think I'm going to ask the questions, Ethan. What are you doing here?"

"I was in town on business. Thought I'd drop by."

"What sort of business? If you think I'm going to let you--"

Ethan smirked. "Yes, I know, you'll make me live to regret it. Nothing for you to worry about, mate, I was buying a book. I'll be gone tomorrow." Never mind that he'd planned to wreak a little havoc here before he left; Ripper didn't need to know that. He'd find out eventually, of course, but by then, Ethan would already be long gone.

"You'll be gone tonight," Rupert corrected him.

"And I thought we were having such a nice chat." He smiled up at Rupert; from the way the other man's jaw clenched, it seemed that Ethan hadn't forgotten the exact facial expressions that would irritate him the most.

"We don't have 'nice chats,' Ethan. I'm going to ask you again: why are you here? Let's assume, for the sake of an argument, that I believe your story of what you're doing in Sunnydale. That doesn't explain why you decided a spot of breaking and entering--"

"The door wasn't locked," Ethan pointed out.

"--trespassing, then--was the way to pass the time. Why, Ethan?"

"I found myself in the neighborhood."

"And so you just thought you'd stop by to see if I still despised you?"

Ethan's only answer was a slight shrug, again finely calculated to get under Rupert's skin. He watched Rupert's fists tighten and braced himself, waiting for the blow. It wouldn't be so bad, not this time, he thought. He hadn't done anything, and he didn't think Rupert's new self-image would allow him to do too much damage to Ethan without real provocation. He could be wrong, of course--he'd been wrong about Ripper before--but he'd have to wait and see.

The blow didn't come at all. Instead, Ripper turned, distracted by the sniggering coming from the vampire still tied to the chair. "I should have carried out that threat to gag you."

"Don't let me interrupt," the vampire--Spike--said. "I'll just sit here and watch the two of you pawing the ground in a cloud of pheromones. It's better than TV."

"We are not 'pawing the ground,' as you so colorfully put it."

"What do you call it, then?"

Ethan drawled, "Oh, he's protecting the world from a very bad man. Just ask him."

"What, you?" Spike said, incredulously. "They're not making bad like they used to, are they?"

Now it was Ethan's turn to glare. "Do you want to wake up tomorrow in the same shape you went to sleep wearing?" He looked Spike over, musing aloud, "Hm. Something small and fluffy, I should think. Prey to anything bigger and meaner that comes along, which should be just about anything."

"You're not turning Spike into anything," Rupert interjected.

"Are you sure? It could be something that can't talk."

For a moment, he thought Rupert almost looked tempted. Just for a moment, before he remembered that he was too noble to do anything like that, and he scowled and shook his head. "That's what I'm talking about. It doesn't matter that you only came to Sunnydale for a book--if that is what you came for. You can't pass up a chance to cause trouble."

"I was trying to do you a favor. Tell me, was it the image of you as an enraged bull that you objected to, or the implication that there might still be some part of you that wants to do something other than hit me?"

Ripper grabbed him by the shirt-front, pulling him up off the couch. Ethan didn't struggle, making sure to give Ripper a knowing smirk even as the other man drew his fist back to punch him.

Ethan fell back on the couch when Ripper let him go, his hand coming up to rub his jaw gingerly. "There's my answer, then," he said, though it was difficult to keep up the smirk through the pain.

Rupert was losing control of his temper, and Ethan wondered if the Slayer or any of her little friends had ever seen that. He might be the perfect Watcher when he had himself under control, but when he got angry.... Well. When he got angry, it was obvious that somewhere under the facade, he was still the same Ripper Ethan had known all those years ago.

Not that Ethan enjoyed deliberately provoking him, just to draw that out. Of course not.

"Oh, for god's sake, you're both ridiculous," Spike muttered. "Either kill each other or shag--don't argue, Watcher, I can smell it--but make up your bloody mind. And the ponce over there on the sofa is supposed to be dangerous? I've seen kittens that were scarier."

No matter what Rupert wanted, Ethan was going to be turning Spike into something small, defenseless, and above all, mute. Then he'd find somewhere with large, hungry attack dogs, and throw the vampire over the fence. Kittens, indeed. Just because he didn't have yellow eyes and fangs, and he preferred something a little more creative than hitting people in the face-- "I had this entire town in a state of pandemonium, I'll have you know."

"This is Sunnydale, mate. We get pandemonium at least a couple of times a week."

"Shut up, Spike," Rupert snapped, before turning his attention back to Ethan. "I'm going to ask you again: why have you come here? If this is part of one of your schemes...."

"Call it a whim, Ripper." He was hardly going to tell him that he'd just started walking and had somehow found himself here. Not even if Spike hadn't been here providing commentary.

But Rupert wasn't buying the "whim" story; he could see it in his expression. Ethan didn't think much of his chances of getting out the door before being caught, and he didn't feel like being hit again, so he shrugged. "Besides, it's November. It seemed appropriate."

"Now that is the dumbest--Harmony could think of a better excuse than...." Spike began. Ethan didn't pay him any attention. He was concentrating on Rupert's face, instead. He remembered; of course he did.

He didn't say anything at first, though, only went over to drag Spike's chair down a hallway, over loud protests from the vampire. Ethan turned to watch him shove the chair through a doorway, closing the door before coming back to the living room. Not that Spike hadn't heard enough already, even if what Ethan had been told--by Ripper, as it happened--about vampire senses wasn't true, and Spike wouldn't be able to hear them from down the hall, if he wanted to. Ethan wondered how long it would be before the Slayer and her friends heard about this--assuming, of course, that the Slayer knew that her Watcher was keeping a vampire tied up in his flat. That might be another one of Ripper's dirty little secrets, like Ethan himself. But Ethan didn't care; he didn't plan to visit Sunnydale again. It wasn't his spotless, stuffy reputation that would suffer.

"You thought I needed a reminder?" Rupert said when he returned, folding his arms across his chest.

Of course he hadn't. And it wasn't as though he was spending his days mourning for the others. They'd been stupid or unlucky or both, and the only thing Ethan thought about it was that he was glad it had been them and not him. On the other hand, if Rupert believed he'd come here out of some sort of sentimental nostalgia, it improved Ethan's chances of getting through the day uninjured. "Don't you?"

"You think I've forgotten?" Rupert shook his head. "Of the two of us--"

"Of the two of us, one of us has done his best to pretend that he never even knew the others. Don't tell me you wouldn't forget everything about those days if you could." Not that there weren't things Ethan would gladly forget, but not everything. Not the rush of power at their first summoning, not the way Diedre used to dance when she was stoned, not the feel of his face pressed against cold wet brick when Ripper decided he couldn't wait any longer and dragged Ethan out of a club and into an alley.

"You aren't the one who had the unenviable task of helping Philip's family make funeral arrangements, not to mention talking them out of filing a complaint about the disappearance of his body," Rupert said. "And I'm not the one who turned Randall's death into a joke."

"No, you were too busy getting out the sackcloth and ashes." Ethan shrugged a little. "And then you were too busy begging Mummy and Daddy to let the prodigal son return."

"That isn't how it was."

"That's exactly how it was." Randall had died in mid-November, and before the month had ended, Ripper had been gone. It would have been sooner if his father hadn't been reluctant to welcome him back. "You couldn't wait to start doing penance for the heinous crime of... what, exactly? Being better at magic than Randall, so you lived when he didn't?"

Rupert shook his head, but didn't answer him, and Ethan decided he'd had enough of this. Coming here had been... a whim, just as he'd said it was, and now he'd be going. "As I said, I was just in the neighborhood," he said, starting to get up.

He was surprised--not incredibly so, but surprised just the same--to find that Ripper pushed him back down. Ethan looked up at him, trying to look harmless and startled. He doubted it'd work as well as it had twenty-five years ago; no one was going to believe that he was an innocent, these days. But it might throw Ripper a bit.

It didn't. "You couldn't wait to be rid of me," Rupert pointed out in a deceptively mild tone. Or perhaps it wasn't deceptive at all. Perhaps he really didn't care that much any more.

"I never said that," he said, and then frowned slightly. Had he? They'd both said a great deal.

No, he hadn't, he realized, as his exact words came to mind, from the argument they'd had the morning after Randall died: "You're doing a good job of making me hate you, Ripper." Ripper, the idiot that he'd been, had taken him seriously--and Ethan had been angry enough not to try to change his mind.

"I never said that," he repeated. It was true enough, even if it wasn't entirely honest. What did Rupert expect him to say now? Did he think Ethan was going to apologize, to admit that the whole sordid mess between them--and it wasn't over, even a vampire could see that; Ripper might want to put it firmly in the past, but Ethan, at least, didn't have the luxury of being able to pretend as much--was his fault?

Bugger that.

Suddenly, though, it wasn't nearly as much fun to irritate Ripper any more, and Ethan thought it best for him to just go, before it became tempting to consider how things might have been different if, for once in his life, he'd learned to hold his tongue. He didn't believe in regrets, and he certainly didn't believe in sentimentality.

"I'll be going, then," he said, and this time he was allowed to get to his feet.

"If there's even the slightest hint of trouble, I'll come looking for you," Rupert warned him.

"I know, I know. You and the Slayer will team up to kick my arse. You're getting irritatingly predictable, Rupert."

"Dare I hope that means I shouldn't expect another visit from you?"

Ethan shrugged. "There's always next November," he said, picking up his coat from the back of the couch and starting toward the door before Rupert decided to hit him again.

There wouldn't be, though. Ethan never intended to set foot in this town again, and he planned to steer clear of Rupert from now on.

The fun had gone out of it, after all.

***

He hadn't expected to come back to Sunnydale, particularly not so soon.

He wouldn't leave because he was told to--and really, Rupert should have known better; Ethan had never taken orders very well--but he'd got the feeling when Trick had paid him his commission that he ought to use the money to do a bit of traveling. But he wanted to get his hands on a particular grimoire that none of his usual sources had been able to produce for him, and he'd have gone somewhere a great deal less pleasant than California if one had turned up.

And now, his business concluded earlier than he'd anticipated--the demon wasn't very good at haggling, and Ethan had got the book quite cheaply--Ethan found himself with an already-paid-for hotel room and nothing to occupy his time.

It would be a shame, really, he thought, to be back on a Hellmouth and not take advantage of all that raw mystical energy waiting to be harnessed. He'd have to think about it; Sunnydale demanded something rather out of the ordinary. He'd done some of his best work here--that enchanted candy had been a stroke of brilliance--and it wouldn’t do to let his standards slip.

He seemed to recall there was a demon-friendly bar a few blocks down from the hotel. Not that Ethan necessarily enjoyed the company of demons, but it was usually good for a bit of inspiration.

And while the Slayer--and her Watcher, of course--were familiar with demons, he doubted that either of them drank with them, which improved his chances of getting through the night without broken bones.

He left his overcoat tossed casually on the bed; he wouldn't need it in Sunnydale, even in November.