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Ripper: Fools Journey 2 - Higher

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Giles stood, sword in hand, blood running along the blade. His blood, flowing in a river to be swallowed by the two faced god, who turned a smile towards him. Behind him stood Ethan, blood masked, dripping from the palms of his hands, his tributary equal and opposite. In his eyes were stars, dark depths sparkling, looking on him as the night looked on the world, all knowing.

"Believes," echoed, "In you... Doing magic and finally you know..."

Janus, surrounded by candles, turned his older face to grin wickedly, and suddenly Giles was transformed, the costume made flesh.

"Tweed-clad guardian of the Slayer and her kin."

The candles multiplied in the dark, until they burned more numerous than the heavens. So many, burning bright against the dark wood, golden names burning back to the very beginning, yet still outnumbered by those not yet lit. Buffy handed him a candle, pushed him forwards.

"No," Giles told her. "I just don't know how to use it." He let it go, let it slip away, but it still caught fire, burning brightly, falling, gold and white. Gold haired girl in white, the light so bright around her, a being of light, high above him.

He tore the tweed away, pulled shreds of fabric off and cast them in a heap, hiding the body, the other one, which had been necessary.

"She's a hero, you see. She's not like us." Quietly, explaining. "It's been thirty years and I am still that man."

Blood on his hands, again. The sword was covered in blood, and the spilled candles set everything aflame.

"Time to go to sleep."

Giles started awake with a jerk, as ever flinching back from that old nightmare, then blinked, finding his location unfamiliar.

"You asleep?" the taxi driver asked him. "I said, we're here. That'll be six sixty six."

"Yes... right. Of course." Giles fumbled for pockets, remembered he was still in his pyjamas, and instead unwrapped the coat enough to find which pocket had some spare change. He'd used it to wrap the sword up, in an attempt to be discreet, but now the blade fell out and threatened to make a mess of the back seat. Giles opened the door and took it all outside, got untangled, and pulled the coat on, finally finding the cash in the inside left.

The driver took it gingerly, then pulled his hand back in fast and wound the window up. Giles turned to close the rear door, trying to ignore the look he was getting. He had a deeper knowledge of the world, and a sacred duty. Appearing foolish to the uninformed eye shouldn't bother him at all.

The cab splashed through a puddle as it pulled away, a bit too fast. The coat, tattered, stopped very little of it.

He did not say any actual curses. That would be wrong, and entirely too much effort.

Giles stooped and picked up the sword again, yawning.

Only then did he look around and realise he was on the wrong side of the square, quite opposite his flat.

"Taxis! Next time I'll wait for the ones that know me." He sighed.

Then he checked the street and crossed to cut through the park.

It had rained again that day, while he'd waited with Andrew at A&E. But now the sun had dropped under the clouds, turning the grey into a backdrop in shades of gold and scarlet. The stone of his home picked up the colours, and waited for him, a warm glow, beyond the long shadow of the oak tree.

Something else waited between him and home – he saw movement in the shadows. Bone tired, he still drew himself up and held the sword ready, hand on hilt. Sunnydale experience urged him to draw it, but here in Bath he simply kept to the far side of the path and kept walking.

A figure emerged from behind the trunk, a man, who looked at him and grinned.

Giles stopped and gripped the sword harder, then grimaced and let it go.

"Hello, Ripper," the other man greeted him, looking him up and down with a knowing smirk.

"Ethan Rayne," Giles replied, making the name a malediction. "What do you want?" he asked, then held his hand up and turned away. "No, forget it." He started walking again. "You're just here to make a bad day worse, as per bloody usual."

"My. Someone got out of bed on the wrong side this morning."

"I have neither time nor energy for witty banter," Giles replied.

"Not even threats of violence? You have had a rough day. Still, bet mine was worse."

"I neither wish to know, nor care."

Nearly past the tree now, Ethan kept pace beside him in the shadow.

"Pity. We used to be friends, Ripper. You could at least mourn me."

Giles blinked at that and turned to look at him.

Ethan stepped out into the last of the sunlight – and almost disappeared. He stood there, translucent, casting no shadow, while Giles gaped, incredulous.

Ethan posed a moment, framed between tree and lamp post, park and road crimsoned and shadowed yet visible inside him. Then he grinned, and asked, "So, what do I win?"

*** *** ***

Giles frowned and dug his keys out as he stalked to the stairs, attempting to ignore the apparition that claimed to be Ethan, as it followed him up. In the dark it looked quite solid, just a man in charcoal trousers and a red shirt.

"So you walk away again. Go ahead, I can't stop you. If you don't want to find out what's going on..."

"Why should I need to? You say you are dead – your problems, whatever they are, have passed outside my jurisdiction," Giles told him, searching through the bunch for the right one.

"So, you've given up on the Vampire Slayer thing? Good for you. About time."

Giles stopped, looked at Ethan. "You...?"

"What's left of me. Out there somewhere, waiting to rise."

Giles got the right key, and opened the door. "Tell me," he ordered, stepping inside.

The spirit stayed well back, out on the landing. "If you'd stay long enough to hear it..."

"Stay out in the hall?" Giles narrowed his eyes and looked around quickly for traps, or black robed assailants. He saw nothing, yet the apparition hovered there still. "You need an invitation?"

The other looked up above Giles. "You changed the locks, remember?"

Giles looked puzzled, door still open.

The ghost pointed up, at the figure of Janus. The one outside the door, the frowning face, looked down now with eyes glowing gold.

"However you did it, Janus won't be talked back around. I've tried."

Giles actually blushed slightly. "Ah... That." He stepped back out, then reached up and felt around above the mask. After a moment he drew out a small wooden box, tied and hidden above the lintel. The glowing 'eyes' came down with it, two ovals glowing in mid air.

Ethan's turn to look shocked, then, and Giles got brief satisfaction from it.

"You really never found that?" he asked.

Ethan, looking chagrined, admitted, "Never got close enough. I put those wards up, I know what they could do. And Janus... With everything we do for each other, for him to be frowning on me..." He blinked, and grinned. "Was the one thing I wouldn't risk to get in here. As you well knew."

Giles found himself grinning just a little. He looked down at the box, checked the seals and turned it around in his hands. "It's just a little telltale spell, a proximity detector really. Tuned to you..." To Ethan Rayne, specifically. Which would suggest... But not prove. Rupert's face went blank and he stepped back inside, closing the door between them quickly. The wards closed along with it.

The apparition stepped right through the wood. It grinned, and turned to nod respectfully at the other Janus face. This one smiled back at him. "Janus," the shade whispered. "Vestra sancta praesentia..."

"Do not start that here," Giles told him sharply.

Dark eyes turned towards him with a frown, then looked back up at Janus and mouthed something.

Giles reached past to lock the door again, then stepped around his visitor to go drop the keys in their bowl.

The other finished and turned around. He looked into the bedroom, then glanced back at Rupert with a smirk, before starting a tour of the bookshelves. "The more things change, the more they stay the same... Sunnydale or Somerset, books and more books. Nice little collection you've got here."

Giles had dropped his sword back in the coat stand, and hung what was left of the long coat beside it. He pulled both books from the pockets, pushed the larger one onto the nearest shelf, then went to put the smaller back in the key bowl. He'd relabeled it 'Doors', but some time that day the label had peeled away, and once again it proclaimed itself 'Rituals of Janus, by Ethan Rayne'.

Ethan, turning, saw him, and his face hardened. "Easier to accumulate when you steal them, of course."

"I didn't steal the book, Ethan, you left it here," Giles replied, old argument happening by habit. Then he shook his head and turned away, heading for the kitchen and the apothecary cabinet.

"Funny how things get misplaced like that when you're running for your life."

"I wasn't trying to kill you."

"Then," Ethan agreed.

Giles found what he was looking for, an envelope of dust with a Latin label in precise script. He turned, reading the phrase in a quiet whisper, and opened the packet carefully.

"What's that for?"

"Veritas," Giles replied, and blew a pinch of powder at the apparition. The magic blew out through him. Immediately the vision took them.

There was a white room. Plain and unadorned, white tiles everywhere and a steel sanitary arrangement in the corner. Everything was lit from outside with harsh fluorescents, and the front wall was glass.

A figure sat in lotus position, leaning back against the far wall. Unkempt beard met straggly long hair, both going grey. Skinny enough to look skeletal, at first it more resembled some statue of ascetic Buddha than any living person.

Then the glass wall opened, and something else walked in. A vampire, walking skeleton itself, looking fearful but hungry. It walked up to the other and grabbed it, pushed the hair away from his neck, and bent to drink.

The figure's eyes snapped open, and with a shock Giles recognised the man – Ethan. Older and ill-treated, but the same man he knew.

He started to struggle, but weak as he was he never stood a chance.

Had he been watching with his own eyes, Giles would have closed them then, or turned away. But the vision gave him no such respite.

The vampire stopped drinking, and the human sagged, drained, only the last gasp of life in him.

That was when the vampire turned him around, cradled him close, and opened a wrist for him to drink from.

"Ethan! No!" Giles cried out, lurching forward and stumbling to his knees as the vision broke.

"Oh, I tried," Ethan told him, sounding shaken. "Believe me. I did not choose to drink. But you don't have to... One drop of that gets in, and all your body wants is more..." The ghost raised a hand to curl in front of his mouth, other arm crossed defensively in front of his chest. "But I did not want it. I did not." He looked distant, lines etched deeper for a moment, and not a trace of a smirk there. Then he dropped the hand, crossed arms, and looked at Rupert with all the old, bitter challenge. "So, here I am."

"Here..." Giles said shakily. "The vampire is...?"

"Still over there," Ethan said. "Right where you left me."

"I left you? Ethan, I haven't even seen you since..." he trailed off, appalled to even think it.

Ethan finished for him. "Since Sunnydale. Since the Initiative. Since you watched the green men spirit me away one night to god knows where."

"No." Giles shook his head. "No. They were closed down. The base was destroyed. We were there."

"And I wasn't. Lucky me. So the cell and the scientists and all the rest were a dream."

"But you were not in Sunnydale..." Giles remembered. "Nevada... For rehabilitation."

"Ha! Well, there's your explanation then. I'm quite incurable."

Giles brought a hand up to his face, went to take his glasses off, then just pushed them up to rub at his eyes. His sleeve fell down to show the bandages, and his hand trembled.

Ethan stared at him, as he knelt on the floor, pale and shocky. Then he stepped over and reached out to him, put a hand on Rupert's shoulder.

Through his shoulder.

Giles looked at Ethan's spirit, translucent against the window, confirmed by truth spell, quite unequivocally dead.

He felt the world fading out around the edges, fell forwards and barely caught himself on his hands. He concentrated on not being sick.

Then he just tried not to get any on books or bandages.