If there was one thing Ethan Rayne prided himself on – well actually, there were lots of things he prided himself on, but if he had to name one thing in particular – it was his ability to sniff out mischief. It truly was a sixth sense with him and after a lifetime devoted to chaos, it never failed to excite him when he detected illicit magick in the air. And that sunny spring evening, he felt it in The Strand, an otherwise neutral London street brushed with oblivious commuters and tourists, but by licking his lips he, and only he, knew someone nearby was doing something they really shouldn’t be… something really quite delicious .
He had just closed his eyes to give himself over to tracing the experience when a female voice interrupted him.
“Do you know where you are going?”
He beamed on the charm, because he always had the charm at the ready, but was a little taken aback to realise the speaker was an elderly nun. An ordinary man might’ve tempered back his charisma into a more appropriate form of discrete gallantry, but Ethan was not a man of such qualms.
“I always know where I’m going, my dear. The question is, do you want to go there too?”
She blushed a little and smiled a rack of teeth that had either influenced her decision to be a Bride of Christ or exhibited her commitment to give up worldly pleasures such as a good dentist. Ethan raised his eyebrows suggestively to press home his point and she dropped her own eyes to her collection box.
“I was hoping you could help me,” she fluttered with a gesture.
“Of course.” He shamelessly gave her a five-pound note and she responded by looking at him thoughtfully.
“I’ll say a blessing for your endeavours, young man.”
She drifted away although Ethan knew she was still occasionally peaking over her shoulder at him. It gladdened his heart to know he still had it, and furthermore that his quest for mischief magick was now somehow Church sanctioned. He saw her point him out to some of her colleagues too, no doubt singing his praises and there was a spring in his step as he gave himself up once more to finding the source of his intrigue.
It took him only a few minutes to realise that, marvellously, he was heading to the Duck and Drake. For a public house in a very public part of central London, the Duck and Drake was deeply committed to privacy. It bore no signage and entrance was only gained by slipping down a nameless, unpromising alley and turning left through an unmarked door. He’d been a patron there some twenty years ago when a minor misunderstanding with the landlady had resulted in his being barred. The formidable Nellie Harte did not permit any magick or trouble on her premises, such things were expected to be hung up by the door like gun belts, and woe betide anyone who transgressed. Rumour had it that the gunpowder plotters of 1605 had fallen foul of her and whilst Ethan was pretty sure she was 100% human and would have needed an attic full of portraits to have pulled it off, the rumour still gave him pause for thought.
He slipped in quietly and observed the restless clientele. The bar was open to anyone, human or demon, but it was evident that the demon side were nervous of something or someone. There was a tension and excitement that something was in the air. Nellie was nowhere to be seen so Ethan bought a pint and a packet of peanuts and searched the small rooms, nooks and crannies that made up an establishment that dated from the 15 th century and remained defiant of modern trends of the hospitality trade. There was no music, no jukebox, and live bands or karaoke would happen over Nellie’s dead body, and even then, many thought she’d have strong words about it.
It was all just as he remembered it, straw on the uneven flagstones and a system of gas lighting which had been a concession to modernism made over a hundred years ago. All the alcoves and rooms had some signs of occupation apart from ‘the snug’. This was a long thin room, with a single bench table and a dart board on the far wall, that never saw action but was hung for decoration like some places hang horse brasses - quaint, but unused. As Ethan approached the room and saw it was empty and uninviting, he turned away, dismissing it as irrelevant. But then the incongruity struck him: the place had filled up quite a bit, so why was no-one was using the snug? And the fact he had felt oddly compelled to move away was significant. Someone was warding the place to look empty and uninteresting. This was the source of his mischief magicks! This was tonight’s floorshow! Someone was in there and, beaming at his own bright deduction, Ethan steeled himself through the invisible barrier and discovered…
Rupert Giles, all four-piece tweed (if you included the tie), stopped nervously pacing up the narrow room and blinked at him in shock. Ethan put down his drink and chuckled. “The lengths some people will go to for a quiet pint, eh?”
There was a blur of herringbone and glasses and Ethan found himself pushed against a wall with Giles’ hand across his throat. It wasn’t entirely unexpected because Ripper was apt to fly off at the handle, and he couldn’t help but smile at the old familiar contact and the dangerous look in his friend’s eye.
“What are you doing here, Ethan?” Giles said through clenched teeth.
“Me? That’s rich!” He felt the need to climb on his highest horse. “You do realise Nellie is going to have you on toast for this?” He felt the grip relax across his chest ever so slightly. “Why? What’s happened? Tell your Uncle Ethan everything, dear boy,” he purred softly.
Giles dropped his hold completely and resumed his nervous pacing. All the while he pushed his hands in his pockets but then fidgeted them out almost immediately
“Did anyone follow you in here?” he asked, casting worried looks over Ethan’s shoulder towards the wider bar area beyond his wards.
“Why should they? Aside from my sparkling personality that is.” Languidly opening his packet of nuts, Ethan stepped from wall and turned to look out through the warded magick. The vision was blurred but he could still make blobs of restless patrons. To his amusement, he saw a couple of his nuns had entered and were shaking down the drinkers for contributions. They must have been having a grand day of it, guilt being a secret weapon for filling the collection tin.
Ripper had started to suck his teeth and flap his arms which had never been good signs. “You’re looking jolly tense there. Would you care for a dry-roasted peanut?” Ethan inquired.
His friend sniffed. “People are chasing after me and you are offering bar snacks?”
Ethan shrugged. “Suit yourself. Exactly who are after you?”
Giles produced a large encrusted pendant necklace from his pocket. It was all garish stones and technicolour sparkle and either worth a king’s ransom or something won at a fairground. Ethan couldn’t tell which from a distance and hedged his bets.
“It’s going to be the devil to find earrings to match,” he suggested breezily.
Ignoring him, Giles popped the centre piece and showed him the real treasure, a large red pearl with a black swirl. Ethan’s eyes widened and his head spun. Had the crazy Watcher actually stolen It …he didn’t even dare say the name in his head, but it was It. This was huge, this was, well, practically suicide, but still huge and awesome. This was the boy he’d known all those years ago: so reckless, so dangerous, so... stupid.
“That’s not the… is it? You haven’t…have you?” He looked at his friend in unadulterated adoration. “Oh Ripper, I’m so... so...proud.”
“Funnily enough, that doesn’t make me feel any better.”
“I mean I thought you just had Nellie angry at you," he gushed. "But this, this , I could kiss you! You do know you’re going to die horribly right? I mean, just as an FYI.”
But Giles was staring past him through the wards where the blurry figures had begun to move rapidly as newcomers had arrived, bringing fear, anger and an incredible amount of violence with them.
“As they are here, and none too picky who they eviscerate in a melee, I’d say we’re both going to die horribly.”
“Oh bloody hell, Ripper. I’ve still got most of my pint left.”
Risking possible death aged twenty-three was hedonistic fun, facing actual death at fifty-three (and it not being in any way his own fault) was unpardonable folly. Ethan had long gotten past thinking dying like Butch and Sundance would be romantic. His current ethos was to live forever, and then a tad more if possible. He wanted his own set of damn portraits and spread across several attics to boot. Bloody Giles, however, seemed to be going out of his way to thwart that ambition. His magick ward, for one thing, was purely camouflage. Bottles and chairs broke through easily and it was only a matter of time before someone lumbered through and found them to be easy prey. With the human patrons having presumably run off, the remaining demons were outraged by the attack of the newcomers and full-scale war had broken out.
Ethan and Giles had upended their table for what little protection they could and together they cowered behind it.
“Not wanting to be pushy on the timescales, dear boy, but when does Buffy sweep in and save the day?”
“Oh well…” The dear boy suddenly became quite evasive. “Buffy and I are actually having one of our periods of um, ‘Apart Time’.”
“How far apart?”
Giles tried to sound airily indifferent. “I believe she’s in Rome...”
It didn’t work.
“Rome?” Ethan exploded. “Rome? What the hell is she doing there? No, don’t answer that. Why isn’t she here ? What’s the point of keeping a Slayer if they swan off to take selfies at the Colosseum whenever you need them?”
Half a bar stool crashed over their barricade and hit Giles, sending him sprawling. With a sigh, Ethan grabbed him by the shoulder and pulled him back to their relative cover. With a distinct lack of gratitude, Giles sought to continue their conversation.
“Firstly, I don’t keep a Slayer,” he said huffily. “And secondly,” Rubbing his head ruefully he gestured to the now clear battleground having lost his concentration in maintaining his camouflage wards, “Do you have anything constructive to add here?”
Ethan threw his pint glass at the fighting throng and then his peanuts. Both projectiles went unheeded.
“Don’t look at me like that,” he said. “I’m not good under pressure.”
Giles slumped down.
“I don’t understand how they found me so quickly,” he mused. “The Warriors of their Order don’t have any magick themselves so they can’t possible have tracked me... They could only have followed someone else who...but no-one knew I was coming here.”
Peering around the side of the table, Ethan saw his elderly nun riding high on a demon’s back. The demon was twisting and grabbing and crashing into walls to unseat her, but she responded magnificently in holding her balance, although she rather spoiled the balletic effect by suddenly stabbing the creature viciously in the neck. The blood spewed everywhere.
A thought then struck Ethan as he suffered one of his rare indigestion attacks in the pit of his stomach. An ordinary man would have regarded this as conscience, but Ethan always rose above such superstitions.
“Out of curiosity,” he began. “What do these Warriors of the Order types look like?”
“At the moment,” Giles said grimly. “Black and white and red all over. They don’t take holy orders of course. I think they just like the clothes.”
The battling nun was now using her teeth on her victim. They weren’t exactly vampire fangs, but clearly strong at ripping away flesh and muscle. He was probably already dead but she took the guy’s arm off for good measure.
“Ah,” said Ethan. “That makes a lot of sense actually.”
There seemed to be three nuns, and whilst they lacked home field advantage, they were clearly a superior force making, quite literally in some cases, mincemeat of the opposition. It was a terrifically one-sided affair, until, to Ethan’s mind, a goddess with raven hair and - somewhat more importantly - a bloody great sword arrived and started levelling the scorecard.
Mere demons, seeing the way the wind was blowing, picked up whatever body parts they’d dropped and ran when first one, and then two nuns fell under the sword of Ethan’s new best friend. She was magnificent in his eyes: an elegant street fighter in black jeans and t-shirt, she parried attacks and manoeuvred her final opponent towards a back wall.
The nun, Ethan’s nun (although he’d decided never to mention that), reached towards the pipe that fed the pub’s gas lighting, savagely wrenching it free and gleefully turning it to incinerate her opponent. Giles called out in horror, “Watch out, Faith!”, but instead of a torrent of flame there was a slight pop and all the internal gas lights cut out.
Faith was the first to react over the collective sense of anti-climax, and swung her sword cleanly at a horizontal, decapitating the nun who died with a strong look of disappointment in her eyes. Her head flew towards Ethan and Giles - neither of whom were minded to catch it - and it landed with a dull thud between the two of them. Ethan excused himself by never having been one for rugby and he suspected Ripper viewed this as a common-or-garden occurrence if he now spent his time hanging out with the Goddess of Slice & Dice.
Faith stormed over to where they stood and laid into Ripper verbally.
“What in the hell did you think you were doing?”
“I was scouting for an opportunity,” he responded with hurt pride.
“I saw one”.
“You were supposed to be casing the joint, not playing Gentleman Giles, international cat burglar. For a Watcher you’re crazy bad at the job description. Half of London is blowing up my cell. I even got a text from the Pope.”
Ethan blinked. “Really?”
“Adam Pope from the Council,” Giles explained hurriedly before turning his attention back to Faith. “They can’t do the ritual now, which is what we wanted, so everything is fine.”
She gestured to bloodbath around them. “Sure, everything is swell.”
Ethan decided it might be time to diffuse some of the tension in the room by deploying his charm.
“Hello. You must be Faith. We haven’t actually met, but I’m a big fan. I always said I liked you the best. Better character arc, I thought. More potential for growth. Less judgmental.”
Immediately casting doubt on her judicial impartiality, Faith looked him up and down as if she’d probably filleted his kind before and turned to Giles.
“Who the hell is this guy?”
“Um, Ethan Rayne. He’s a sort of…” Giles swallowed hard. “...friend, mainly annoying, but almost quite helpful tonight I suppose.”
That was probably as much of a compliment as he was going to get from Ripper’s resumé, but Ethan took it positively. The word friend has been used after all, even if grudgingly and he hadn’t heard that in twenty years. There was no time to bask however, as a commotion at the entrance signaled the sheepish bar staff appearing from secure hiding places but also the return of the formidable landlady Nellie Harte. The latter brought an immediate chilling hush to the pub as she slushed through body parts whilst clutching a grocery bag and a large pineapple.
She stopped briefly to survey the dead nuns, rolled her eyes, and said, “Well this is a first.”
Everyone knew better than to laugh. Even Faith actively avoided eye-contact. On reflection, Ethan thought this was why it was impossible to describe Nellie except in terms of energy, force and an incredible amount of sarcasm. She just wasn’t someone you wanted to catch the eye of.
“Rupert Giles... I remember you, I remember barring you.” She got very close to Ripper who flinched even though he was a good deal taller than the woman. Nellie stared at his Watcher suit in disdain. “Were you bitten by a demon librarian or something?”
Giles opened his mouth to gurgle some sort of reply, but by then she’d turned her laser attention to Ethan.
“And Ethan Pain.” The contempt in her voice noticeably echoed around the pub and he felt aggrieved.
“Rayne,” he corrected with a certain amount of hurt pride.
“ PAIN ,” she stressed adamantly. “I should’ve known you’d be at the bottom of this! You have one hour for you and Tweedie-Dumb to get these dead bodies out of here, wash everything down and then I never want to see either of you again. Is that understood or do you need diagrams?”
It was a rough, back-breaking sixty minutes, but both men knew better than to waste any of it in arguing. To Ethan’s annoyance, despite being the cause of a good deal of the viscera up the walls, Faith was excused clean-up duties and spent the time drinking French brandy at the bar with Nellie. Laughter could be heard which was well, unheard of. There seemed no justice in the world.
They finished with thirty seconds to spare and, receiving no further word, slunk out onto The Strand where Faith eventually dragged herself off her barstool and joined them.
“Good job, boys,” she enthused, and Ethan decided he’d gone right off her.
After cleaning his glasses, Giles too gave her a moody glare and said, “Right, now I suggest we should take the pearl to…”
Faith cut him off. “ We’re not going anywhere. I’ll see the pearl goes to the right place. You two are probably safer together so lay low, play nice, and try not to burn down the West End while I’m gone.”
“Excuse me?” Giles spluttered.
“Fair’s fair, Ripper, you do owe me a pint,” Ethan added gleefully.
But Giles was indignant. “I’m not spending the rest of the night with him .”
Faith tipped her head on one side.
“Giles, I’ve beheaded three nuns tonight so don’t give me any more crap.” She turned to Ethan and added threatening, “He’s your responsibility now, Rayne. You break him, you pay for him.”
Whilst Faith didn’t mention diagrams, Ethan understood she had provided enough visual aids earlier to get her meaning across. Both men nodded obediently, and the Slayer left them. What was it with Ripper and scary women? Why was he catnip to anyone with lipstick and a fire-axe? The great Rupert mystery he mused. Always wanting things that were bad for him and always somewhat oblivious about it. Well, the night was still young.
“Oh I definitely like her better than Buffy. And you heard the lady, we have to stay together tonight. Where shall we go?” He turned on the charm. “My place or yours?”
Possibly that was a little too much as Ripper began to stalk off. Ethan called after him, “Hey, this isn’t my fault you know. Don’t take it out on me.”
Giles stopped and straightened his back, so Ethan carried on, “You brought this on yourself.”
“What do you know about it?” There was a fire in his eyes as Ripper retraced his steps and stood menacingly close. “Come on, Ethan, let’s hear those deep thoughts of yours.”
“I know you better than Faith does,” he countered. “Better than any slayer does. You enjoyed yourself today. Play the Watcher for her, not me. You didn’t just see an opportunity to steal that pearl. You were always going to take it. Because responsibility and slayers be damned, sometimes you just like to cut up a little. Some habits don’t change.”
Ripper gave a tiny smile and Ethan felt like twenty years had vanished. “There’s my boy,” he breathed. “And now that the adrenaline is pumping and the two of us have cheated death once again, what would you like to do now? All the delights of the capital lie at our feet. We can be gods for the night.”
The smile had grown but there was caution in Giles’ voice. “I think perhaps one near-death escapade is enough for today.”
“How about a curry then? I know a nice curry house near here. You can tell me all about how annoying Slayers are.”
The bait was taken and Giles laughed. “How long have we got?”
Ethan beamed and said, “Let’s see how it goes, eh? And maybe after that, who knows?”
For the night was indeed young.