These days, Albert Giles takes his elevenses alone, Margo having moved in with her sister some time ago. They had tried to make a go of it, but the estrangement from Rupert puts too great a strain on the marriage. Separated, they can each try to navigate their new, childless life in their own ways and time.
And they have had time now. Rupert has been gone almost four years. Albert had feared him dead until the Council traced him living with a dark coven in some squalid London flat, sporting an earring of all things. Odd, but it was the earring that disturbed Albert more than anything else. Dangling brazenly from his son’s earlobe as they had their last fight, a visual opposite of the propriety and respect Albert has always tried to instil in the boy. Of course, Rupert refused to come home.
Albert sets the tea tray down in a space on his desk. Little point in retiring to the living room these days. And, quite aside from all her other wonderful qualities, no Margo means no cake. Albert’s own attempts to bake one in the early days of his second bachelorhood were not encouraging. He sighs deeply and lifts his teacup.
The doorbell rings. Albert frowns, sighs again and puts his tea back down. Another of Margo’s wonderful qualities: intrepid threshold guarding, ensuring he never had to deal with tradespeople or signing for parcels. In her absence, Albert has to leave his tea and go to open the door.
Rupert is standing on the doorstep. Albert blinks. Adjusts his glasses. Looks again. Yes, it’s Rupert. Albert almost hugs him, the aborted impulse resulting in an odd little shifting of his shoulders and a peculiar straggled noise. “Rupert”
“Father” Rupert looks exhausted and far too thin. Remembering his manners, Albert steps aside, “Won’t you…um” How can he invite Rupert in to his own home?
And it’s daylight, of course, or invitations might be best avoided. Rupert is that pale.
Rupert nods an understanding at his father’s confusion and moves to step inside, pausing in the doorway to say, “You remember Ethan?” A second, previously unnoticed young man is indicated. If possible, he is even thinner and paler than Rupert, though in place of exhaustion there is a nervous – and possibly chemically-enhanced – energy about him. He stands a little way off, arms crossed. At Rupert’s nod he follows them inside.
Of course Albert remembers Rayne. Given the boy is the only member of Rupert’s coven he met when attempting to retrieve his son, Albert has perhaps attached an unfair share of the blame to the young sorcerer. But not too unfair a share. Albert is a man of the world, and he had quickly been wise to the fact that Rupert was in that hideous place more from Rayne’s influence than that of the others. Unless certain rumours – and Albert can’t face those – are true, Rayne is the only coven member with whom Rupert is intimate. It really has been hard to face the rest of the council, knowing that. For his son – for a Giles! – to be one of…them, well it’s almost unthinkable. Albert would take pleasure in how far apart they’re sitting, were it not for how unhappy Rupert looks.
The truth is, for all he’s been told about…them, Albert can’t see the harm in it. As long as they don’t touch each other in front of him, of course.
He wants Rupert to be happy. And Rupert looks far from happy right now.
So. First things first. “I’ll make tea” Albert tells them and they both look at him like he’s offering them eternal salvation. Albert adds, “I don’t have cake, I’m afraid.” And then he realises his mistake: I not we. Immediately, Rupert asks, “Where’s mum?”
“Staying with Auntie Amelia” Albert replies, without adding permanently.
Of course, he has to retrieve the teapot from his study, which must look very strange to Rupert. As though he’s let things slide in Margo’s absence, Albert thinks, before remembering the state of that London flat. It’s no wonder Rupert and Rayne both look a little grubby. Watching them inhale their tea, Albert notes the holes in their clothing, their general greasy air, and, beneath where the earring had been dangling from Rupert’s ear, a spot that looks suspiciously like…
The phone rings. Albert stands. “I’ll see to that.” As he heads into the study, he doesn’t miss the way Rupert and Rayne look at each other quickly like children caught out in a lie.
It’s Quentin Travers on the phone, and Albert feels the slight, that they’d let this little upstart give him the news.
He says very little as the report is conveyed, but he finds his hand straying to the framed photograph of his slayer. Wonderful Arleen, who spent her short life battling demons like the one his son summoned apparently for no better reason than fun. Traces of dark magic all over the scene, Travers tells him. A young man dead, the coven apparently scattered and generally a big mess for the Council to clean up. It seems that the demon was at least successfully banished, though further purifying rituals will be done. The Council will see that the case bypasses the ordinary police, though not, Albert suspects, for Rupert’s sake: this is simply a matter of protocol. Some of what was found at that flat is too dangerous for the public sphere.
Albert sets the phone down feeling older than he did when he picked it up. Returning to the living room, he tells Rupert, “That was Mr Travers.”
Rupert’s jaw works for a moment. Then he says, “This wasn’t Ethan’s fault” at the same moment that Rayne says, “It wasn’t Ripper’s fault.” They look at each other for a tense moment before Rupert says, “Don’t call me that.”
“I’m just trying to –”
“Ethan, don’t –”
Albert clears his throat. “That’s enough of that. Rupert, show Mr Rayne to the guestroom and then report to my study. I want a word.”
Being home again is surreal. The place is precisely as Rupert remembers it, a little like stepping straight into his own memory rather than returning to a physical place. The same towels in the guestroom loo, the same Pears soap in the same bone china soap dish. Rupert wets his face before the interview with his father and freezes as he examines himself in the mirror: below his ear is the tiniest speck of blood. He scrubs it away, frantically. God, it’s been over a day – is he ever going to be rid of the stuff?
It’s not like in films, tomato red and neatly flowing in ribbons. It’s watery, metallic-tasting and it hits the ceiling when a major artery is severed. Coats you, heavy and warm through your clothes. Turns your hair orange, sticks in the lines in your skin. Foams in black/red pools, pink at the edges, drips from every surface the spray hit…Recognising a now familiar jolt, Rupert drops to his knees by the toilet and vomits up his tea.
The door opens behind him. “Ripper?”
Rupert spits and flushes. “I told you not to call me that.”
“Sorry. Habit.” Ethan leans in the doorway, watching him re-wash his face. Rupert tells him, “It was a mistake to come here. And I still think you’d have been better off where we were.” In the mirror, he sees the pain in Ethan’s expression and his own guilt answers it. There is a gap in his memory between Randall’s – Randall’s head – between Randall dead and… and the next thing Rupert knows for sure is they were in a B and B room. Both of them, together – Ethan had presumably used magic to hide the blood and the fact they are both men – and Ethan had his arms around him, telling him everything was going to be okay. Rupert hadn’t believed him, so when Ethan left to try to phone the others – they had all scattered, everything was ruined – Rupert had grabbed the few possessions Ethan had apparently brought with them – his coat, a few books, his guitar, thank God, and what did it say about him that he had room to care about that, or to think he still had any right to thank God for anything?
It was only luck that had Ethan return in time to find Rupert packing. His hysteria had made it impossible for Rupert to leave without him.
Just luck that Rupert wasn’t here alone, and luck doesn’t always mean good luck.
In the mirror, Rupert watches Ethan force down the pain and reply, “You think I’d be better off homeless and alone in London?”
“You wouldn’t be homeless long. Or alone long, knowing you.”
“Maybe you don’t know me, if that’s what you think.”
Rupert shrugs. Really, he’s fairly sure Ethan would get on the rebound pretty quickly. Call up one of the beautiful people he’s initiated ritual orgies with in the past, bed hop for a bit, move on. Build a new life without Rupert’s taint. Instead he’s still shackled to a murderer. Painful as it is to say out loud, Rupert forces himself to say, “I’m hardly your only option.”
Ethan folds his arms. “Keep trying, go on. I’m not going to leave, if that’s what you’re hoping.”
“It’s not hope.” Rupert turns slowly and leans back against the sink. “It’s what’s best for you.”
“And here I was under the impression that’s for me to decide.”
Why he’s decided following Rupert back here is best for him, Rupert can’t phantom. Nor can he find it in himself to argue further. Part of him is so grateful that Ethan is still here that he holds back. Selfish, he tells himself, truly selfish.
Selfish to be here at all, really. Selfish not to end his life after ending Randall’s. Selfish to let Ethan drag him to that grotty B and B. Selfish to drag Ethan from London. “We should have gone back to the flat” he tells Ethan. “Dealt with things. The Council will have done that for us now and God knows…” God knows what they’ve done with Randall’s body. Will he even get a grave? Let alone a marked one. Rupert sinks to his knees again, more out of general horror than nausea this time. Ethan kneels besides him, grounding hand at his shoulder. “Look, Rip…Rupert. We’re here now. So let’s focus on us, alright? There’s no point more lives being ruined.”
Ethan is selfish too, Rupert allows himself to note. Perhaps everyone is, deep down.
Randall never struck him as selfish, not once. Wild, naïve, occasionally petulant, yes, but not selfish. Is that why Eyghon had chosen him? Or was it pure opportunism?
Rupert stands up and wipes his face again, checks himself in the mirror. Killing himself now, now that they are here, now that his father is offering…well, whatever punishment the council deems the situation demands, it would be a further act of selfishness. Or perhaps just thinking that is selfish too.
Perhaps he should leave: turn left instead of right when he goes downstairs and head out the door. Selfish to leave his father to deal with the scandal, and the inevitable taint it will leave on his own career, but then, possibly it would be worse to stay. Perhaps the situation will blow over quicker, from his father’s point of view, if he leaves now. From his point of view, it will never be over. He understands that much. Part of him will always be in that room, swinging that sword.
But if he leaves, what about Ethan? It’s one thing to leave him in London where he knows people, another to leave him here with no bus fare and the council probably aware by now of his role in the whole thing. Perhaps he could take Ethan with him. But with him where? And even if he does, how can they possibly make this work? Much as Rupert loves Ethan, he doubts he’ll ever see anything but Eyghon when he looks at him ever again.
Facing Ethan again, Rupert says, “You must know my father isn’t exactly approving of us.”
Ethan shrugs. Ethan seems to view the concept of parental approval in the same way other people view alien life: maybe it’s out there somewhere or maybe not and there’s no way of knowing either way. Rupert adds, “And he won’t tolerate chaos magic in his house.”
“I can go down the garden or something.”
“Ethan, this isn’t the same as sneaking out for a smoke. Janus is everything the Council despises.”
“Well, we’re not staying with the council. We’re staying with your old dad.”
“It’s, it’s practically the same thing.” Frustrated at his school days’ stammer making an appearance yet again – it’s more or less full-fledged again since Eyghon – Rupert heads out the door, shaking off Ethan’s attempt to waylay him. “I’d better go, or he’ll think we’re having at it.” At Ethan’s grin he adds, “Oh grow up, Ethan. You’d better, being here.”
Ripper stays cloistered with his dad for the rest of the day. Sneaking a listen at the door once or twice, Ethan is aware that a few tense phone calls are made as well as the father-son heart to hearts. No raised voices, of course, not in Ripper’s house. Makes sense.
Rupert. Not Ripper. Got to watch that.
Eventually, Ethan raids the pantry before going to bed. They’ve barely eaten or slept since it happened, stunned out of self-preservation by their encounter with violent hell. The one time Ethan did sleep, on the train here, was shallow and fitful, and he started awake once he realised he was dreaming, and not about Randall, as if he’d already forgotten, to find Rupert sitting across from him, wakeful and solemn in a way that made Ethan feel guilty.
Well, guilty or not, here he still is. Ethan finds a safety pin in a bowl in Ripper – Rupert’s – hallway and uses it on his palms for an adulation. Janus will understand why it’s late, of course, because understanding is what gods do. Understanding and occasionally intervening, the latter of which would really have been appreciated when Randall’s eyes glowed green. Appreciated but apparently not to be, and Ethan quashes a budding bitterness about that; he is not the first person to wonder why a deity didn’t have his back. Unless he did, of course. After all, he is alive, and so is Rupert and it could so easily not have worked out like that. A lingering and heartfelt adulation then, for gratitude, and then Ethan clambers into the cold guest bed, still in his jeans and t-shirt. Tries for an undisturbed sleep at last.
He is woken hours later by Rupert shaking him gently. “Eth?”
Ethan regards him blearily. “Time to go?” Damn. The old man could at least have let them stay the night. They’re in the middle of bloody nowhere.
“No. They, err, they let…Here, move over, can’t you?”
Ethan shifts and Rupert climbs in under the covers. Whispering, he explains the situation: he’s to report to a council tribunal in three days’ time and, if all goes well, and he passes some tests to ensure no forbidden magic lingers, they’ll find him a low-level, highly supervised position.
Ethan is very glad it’s too dark for Rip – Rupert – to see his expression. Honestly, he was assuming they’d be out of here in a few days. Let Rupert get the yearning for the comfort of home out his system and head back to London. Or maybe to Manchester. Hell, maybe New York. Let his lover see how little there is to console him here and he’d be all Ethan’s again. Not this. “Where the hell does this leave me?” he manages.
Rupert sighs – Ethan feels it against his cheek – and wraps an arm around him. The first time he’s initiated anything resembling a cuddle since Eyghon. Ethan finds himself burrowing into the embrace. “I don’t want to lose you.”
“Oh, Ethan. I’ve been a bastard, haven’t I?”
“Not really” Yes, really, but anyone would be after what Rupert had to do. Really, Ethan’s just grateful his lover can function. Five hours had passed, after all, between the swing of the sword and Rupert finally saying something. Five hours. Six before anything he said made sense.
Wrapped in Rupert’s arms, with Rupert possibly still wanting him, with Rupert stringing together entire sentences and apparently able to make plans, the overwhelming temptation is to just go along with said plans. So Ethan says, “I suppose I could just ignore the council. If they ignore me.”
“I’m not, I’m not sure –”
“Not sure what?” Ethan jolts up, as does the pitch of his voice. “Ripper, what’re you saying?” Heart rate picks up. Not this again. This You’re-Better-Off-Without-Me crap is really starting to scare Ethan. If he’d been just ten minutes later back to the B and B, if Rupert had already packed and left…Ethan shudders. “Are you breaking up with me?” Gods, his voice is almost a squeak now – he’d break up with him sounding like that so no-one could blame Rupert if he does too.
But Rupert is sitting up beside him, enfolding him again in strong arms. “No. No, Eth. But…”
“But what?” and there’s bite to his voice now, hardness. Because this dithering is just cruel.
“You don’t want this life. You’d be happier if you go back to London and –”
“Not without you.”
“Ethan, you realise n-no-one in the Council will…They, they’ll all be scandalised by you.”
“And they, they won’t accept us. No-one will treat us like a couple.”
“At least we’ll still be one”
“Is that really how you want to live? In the face of constant disapproval?”
“Constant disapproval? As opposed to the warm and accepting response of the average London copper?”
“This is worse. The Council…Ethan, they, they have power you can’t imagine.”
“What I can’t imagine is life without you.” Ethan insists, and he feels Rupert tense in the darkness. Rupert’s next question more or less breaks his heart: “Why?”
Ethan hugs him hard. Where to start? “Because you’re Rupert” he replies, remembering to use his lover’s real name easily when it’s this crucial. When Rupert doesn’t speak, he continues, “Because you sing like an angel and fight like a hell-born marauder and no-one gets me off like you do. Oh, and there is the little matter of my being madly in love with you.”
Rupert exhales the faintest chuckle against his skin. It’s small but it’s there, the first hint that some humour survived. “I don’t deserve you Ethan.”
“And I don’t deserve you either.”
“Damn right. You don’t deserve a life hiding your interests and coupled to someone who has to constantly put duty first.”
Ethan pulls away to face him properly, even though it’s dark. “What if that’s the life I want?”
For an extended moment, there is silence. Finally, Rupert replies, “Then I’m sure it can be arranged.”
Ethan allows himself to relax. Lies back down, and wraps his arms around Rupert when he lies down too. “That’s that then” Ethan tells him. “No going back on it in the morning.”
“No. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to make myself warn you off again.”
“Glad to hear it. And if I kiss you in front of your old man tomorrow, do you think he’ll chuck me out?”
“Shouldn’t think so. Though he might have a stroke.”
“And the council won’t arrest me or whatever it is they do?”
“No” Rupert responds. “Especially if you keep the chaos magic, well, um, subtle.” Then he sighs again. “Or invisible.”
“Well there’s a lot of fun to be had with invisibility spells.”
“This isn’t a joke, Ethan. There’ll almost definitely be questions about the chaos magic at the tribunal.”
“Your Chaos magic. Will you actually give it up? Or just tell them you will?”
“I act, actually will.” A firmness underlays the stammer. Ethan rolls his eyes, though only because Rupert can’t see it. “Rupert, what happened…” Damn it, but he can’t even say it. He can’t say what happened with Eyghon or what happened to Randall. He can’t even say Randall out loud. The name is sacred now, out of reach to the likes of him. Ethan forces himself to say, “It didn’t all go to hell because of Chaos magic. Summoning is something else entirely, you know that.”
“I know. But if…as…as you, you’re um, staying. They’ll want to know what you’ll be getting up to. While you’re staying. For as, for as long as you’re um. In my life.”
Forever then. Ethan reflects that if he wasn’t so in love with the git lying beside him, he might regret committing to a lifetime lived by his rules. But just the thought of returning to London sans-Ripper is unbearable.
Still. Ground rules. “I’m not going to change Gods, love. They’re not like underwear, you know. You don’t choose the right God for the occasion and take a spare when you go camping.”
“I know. But, but just be a-aware. They might want you to r-register as a practising warlock with them and, and agree to certain terms.”
“Well, they’ll probably want you to join the Council for a start.”
Later, Ethan will swear he didn’t mean to laugh. When he manages to stop, he asks, “Is this before or after the magic required to give pigs wings?”
“I, I said “want”, Ethan, not “insist”. If you refuse, then other terms will be discussed.”
This is feeling more and more like an audition for role of Rupert Giles’ Council Approved Lover. Which is madness when one considers that the council still calls their love sodomy. They’ll never actually approve: that’s not the point. The point, Ethan understands, is to choose one of three options: leave Rupert (Not going to happen), stay and refuse to follow their rules and proceed to be framed for Randall’s murder and sentenced to life imprisonment by an unaccountable secret society (He’ll pass, thanks), or stay and live by their rules. Ethan stifles a groan in the pillow. “Fine. Tell me about these ‘terms’”.
“I, I don’t know the details yet. I need to get through the tribunal first. It, it might not be much more than what they ask of all registered practitioners, and that’s not too bad.”
“The main thing will be not to kill anyone with magic, which…”
“Which let’s not anyway.” There is a pause then, a grim and jaded again that goes unsaid. Ethan powers on with, “Agreed. What else?”
“You’ll be forbidden from mentioning chaos worship to Council members I expect. Actually I, I doubt you’ll be invited any Council events, so –”
“– Oh no! Not invited to council events? However will I cope with the disappointment?” In the darkness, he can sense Rupert’s answering glare, and grins.
“Sorry” The grin stays in place.
“Let me just focus on the tribunal, alright? In the meantime, just don’t mention Janus to any council members who come to the house. Or c-curse them. Keep the magic, um…”
Even in the dark he can sense Rupert’s incredulous expression. Rupert tells him, “Nothing too awful. No curses. No hexes. Nothing dangerous or world altering.”
Ethan is a little pleased that Rupert thinks he’s capable of anything world altering.
They lie together in restful silence for a moment before Rupert asks, “Are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes. Because if not, then, then I’d, I’d rather know now. Because I can’t…I, I almost lost you, Ethan.”
“Worked that out, did you?” Ethan’s anger flares up without knocking first, as is its wont. Because sod it – he’s said he’ll stay, hasn’t he? Not to mention all this affection when just this morning, “I thought you were pissed off I survived.”
“Oh, that’s not fair! Ethan, you know…” Rupert trails off with an exhausted sigh. Let’s his face rest briefly against Ethan’s neck. “All I know is, if I stay here – if we stay here – I can redeem myself. Because it’s all my fault, Eth.”
Ethan shakes his head and then remembers Rupert can’t see it in the dark. Instead he runs a soothing hand over Rupert’s strong shoulders. “No. That’s not true at all, love. We all knew what we were getting into.” Rupert doesn’t believe him, of course. But Ethan will keep saying it. As many times as he has to.