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.
Ethan paced, well out of reach, and watched Giles retch. Or rather, half watched, distaste warring with curiousity. "Come on, Ripper. You have better things to do."
Giles glared at him, then closed his eyes and tried to breathe calmly again.
"What brought this on anyway? You're not squeamish." Ethan paced and turned. "Much as I'd love to think this was you wracked with guilt, I know what you're like. You just get academic. Drunk, and academic. You're not hung over?"
Giles managed to sit back on his heels, and get upright again. He looked at Ethan wearily. "No. I just... had a very trying day."
Ethan's eyes narrowed. He looked at Rupert's forearm, then up at the Janus book. "Trying... Magic. How much have you done?"
"Enough," Giles stated shortly, then got hold of a shelf for leverage, and started to pull himself up.
"More than enough, by the looks of you. And the first thing you do when you get home is more. Ripper, you know better."
"You are the last person on earth to lecture me on magic," Giles told him, now back on his feet. He tentatively let go of the shelf. He only swayed a little. He shuffled forward a step.
Ethan stepped in front of him. "Where do you think you're going?"
"The bathroom, Ethan."
"To pass out quietly in a corner? Wonderful idea. I'll just call the ambulance now, shall I?" Ethan waved a hand through the shelf with the phone on. He shook his head. "Turn around, use the kitchen."
Giles blinked and had to admit this was a better idea. He turned and headed for the sink.
"Water and sugar, for a start. Real food when you can stomach it. Eggs are good."
"Yes, Ethan, I do know how to look after myself," Giles said. He rinsed his mouth out, then found himself scooping up water by the handful, parched. He turned off the tap and turned to the fridge. "Since when do you care, anyway? You're haunting me, you'd surely enjoy my ignominious demise."
Ethan, still in the doorway, crossed his arms again. "A lot of use you'd be then," he grumbled.
Giles pulled out some lucozade sport and popped the top. He downed half the first bottle before he had to pause, to control his rebellious stomach again. He snagged the rest of the four pack and closed the door, then pulled out a chair from the breakfast bar and sank down on it gratefully.
Half way through the second bottle, he started feeling human again.
Ethan was fiddling with the apothecary cabinet. Or trying to, his hands passing straight through the drawers. "You know, I tried this all afternoon, pushing leaves around."
"Did it work then?"
"Not as such. But falling leaves make an interesting meditation." He sighed, then took the second chair, opposite Giles.
"Rituals of Janus... What aspect did you call on? Transformation finally intrigue you?"
"Just the door spells," Giles replied.
"Closing or opening? Janus is more of an open kind of deity. A closed door hasn't half the possibilities."
"I'll make note of that for next time," Giles told him, sipping more drink again. He looked at the cooker, contemplating the steps needed to get any eggs. Instead he reached into the bread bin and scooped up the remaining half a loaf, pulling bits off to eat.
Ethan watched him, attempted a smirk. "My dashing hero," he muttered.
Giles glared at him half heartedly.
"Tell you what, just give that Slayer of yours a call, let her sort this out."
"No," he replied sharply, then took a breath and continued somewhat quieter. "I can handle this myself. Buffy... is retired now anyway. I've barely seen her since the funeral." He went quiet and went back to picking at the bread.
Ethan looked puzzled. "Is 'retired' the new word for it?"
Giles looked puzzled too. Then, "Oh, no, she isn't dead. She just doesn't do much slaying any more. Or work with me."
"So you really are out of the business? Never thought I'd live to see the day," Ethan said. "No, wait, I didn't." He sighed. "I should have haunted the coven."
"Any coven of yours would surely welcome you as a vampire. You worked with them often enough."
Ethan half shrugged. "It isn't me. It booted me out, it doesn't get to be me."
"Is that why you're here?" Giles sighed. "Of course, the safety of innocents would hardly motivate you."
Ethan gave him a look. "Yes, of course, my actions are entirely selfish. Now we've got that out of the way, could we perhaps do something about this?"
Giles nodded, and put what was left of the bread back. Steadier now, he got up and went into the living room. Then he turned back around and fetched some kitchen towel. Having dropped that on the mess, he stepped past to the coat rack, and pulled his mobile phone out. His travel agent, a specialist with the Council, answered quickly.
"Hello, this is Rupert Giles. I need to get to Nevada. Two tickets, high priority. Life and death... No, not an apocalypse. A vampire." He paused. "Yes, I think I really do need to take this one personally," he replied, rather sharply. "The individual is known to me... Was known," he corrected himself. His face softened. "Yes, thank you. Your condolences are much appreciated... How soon can you get me there? Teleport is rather expensive for... Not available? Fine... Yes, I can leave immediately. Well, five minutes. Can you call the taxi? Thanks. Thank you... Goodbye."
Ethan had been looking on, with vague amusement. "Two tickets? Who gets the other one?"
Giles looked briefly baffled, then weary, rubbing at his eyes. "Right. You don't need..." he sighed. "The nearest Slayer is... well, more than five minutes away..." Giles shook his head, then put the phone down and turned to the bedroom. "I'll not be a minute. I think I'm still packed from the last Slayer run. Just need to change..." He closed the door behind him.
Ethan wandered over to lean against it. And disappeared through.
When Giles headed down to the taxi, the sun had fully set, and there was no sign of Ethan. It was wet and cold, typical late autumn. Giles had dressed in layers, ready for changing conditions. He'd brought the dark brown leather coat. Phone in the right pocket, cross and holy water in the left. Not much in the way of weapons could make it through security these days.
The slight feeling of unreality he'd had ever since he got home increased as the taxi rushed him to the airport. This was all too familiar. Council contacts could pull strings, get him on flights at somewhat past the last minute, rush him half way around the world. They'd had too much practice, during the Horror. And after, when the Council was too broken to function as an international organisation and they'd been pulling Slayers one by one back to Britain. Missions of mercy, heading into the unknown with no idea if he would find a Bringer massacre or an enthusiastic teen.
This time, he already knew the ending. However this journey turned out, Ethan was dead.
His two tickets waited for him at the local airport. He took the aisle seat near the exit. On his right the window seat sat empty.
The plane took off, and dreamlike slipped into dream, as exhaustion reclaimed him.
It was an extraordinary high.
Dreaming awake, everything possible, visions such as they'd never known.
The demon flooding their flesh, letting them feel it as if it were new to them. Every touch an ecstasy, a symphony in sighs. It was...
...not his turn, and he resented it. The bleary hangover, the itch on his arm from the half healed Mark...
...Ethan with a pen, a needle, point digging in above the vein, darkness flowing down it into him...
The feel of his body when his mind switched off, floating away. When his fear left him. Every move was perfect, every strike a killing blow.
Five in a circle, one asleep, drugged or drunk or just staying up too late to let it take them.
Candles round the symbol, the Mark, in their arm from flame cleansed steel.
The sword covered in blood, spilled candles setting everything aflame.
Randall – Eyghon – his friend the demon, laughing at them all. At Ethan, suspended in mid air, dagger held uselessly before him.
"Time to go to sleep."
Giles jerked awake again, gasping.
Twice. Twice in one day. His hand went to his arm, pushed the sleeve half way up without thinking, to check it was still clean.
"Dreaming of us?" Ethan asked, making him start again.
"Yes," Giles answered. Then, "No. Of it. That last time... How did you know?"
Ethan shrugged. "I've seen you wake like that. I've had the dreams myself."
"But not now. Not lately," Giles asked.
"Not since Sunnydale," Ethan agreed. "Could be that trick with the vampire finally killed it."
"It has been around since Etruscan times. It seems unlikely one fight could entirely defeat it."
"You just wish it had been you that thought of it."
"Thirty years ago," Giles immediately replied.
Ethan's face looked briefly shadowed, then he brought the smirk back again.
"If you're going to live in the past, why choose that part? We had better nights."
Giles stared at the seat back, and rubbed his arm again. "That was where they led."
Randall was late, again.
That left the rest of them huddled outside in the cold, rubbing their arms under clothes good enough for the pub but no use out here.
"That's it, Ripper. I've had enough of this. Just pick the lock," Ethan told him.
"It's a mate's house," Ripper objected, rolling a cigarette, teasing out what little he had left to fill the paper.
"It's a garage! A cold, cruddy, breeze block and corrugated iron garage with a door you could probably put your boot through." Ethan paced in front of it. "Just get us in there so we can get the heater going."
"The point is, he lives there. And he's a friend. You don't just break into your best mate's home." He dug his lighter out his pocket and flicked it until it caught.
"If he's such a mate he'll understand. I'm freezing!"
"Then bring a bloody coat next time!"
Ethan turned those big dark eyes on Ripper and looked mournful.
The other man lit up, attempting to ignore him.
Ethan pouted and stopped pacing, stood on his right and pressed against him.
Ripper sighed, and handed over the cigarette. Ethan, still pouting, took it, though he made a face at the size. Smoke was warm.
Ripper could see Ethan shivering.
He shrugged off the leather jacket, extracting one knife and the stash tin on the way, then set it on Ethan's shoulders.
Ethan smiled then, and handed back the smoke. Ripper smiled back at him.
"Oh for God's sake," Phil said. "I'll get us in there." He stepped up to the door, fishing bits of bent wire out his pockets.
"You can't do that," Cliffe objected.
"Taught the rest of you, didn't I?" Phil said, and knelt down to lock height.
Cliffe pushed him hard enough to send him sprawling. "You think you can just walk into a mage's place?" he sneered. "See the wards, can you?"
"Come off it, Cliffe, the only wards you understand are in your hospital," Phil spat back at him.
Phil tried to push himself upright again, but Cliffe crowded him. Ripper, face hard again, stepped forward to break it up. One hand still had a knife, and he flicked it open absently.
Diedre, standing alone now in the background, suddenly turned around and started retching.
Phil and Cliffe dropped everything to be first by her side. As usual, lately, she pushed them both away. They glared at each other, and it looked for a moment like the fight would finally break out in earnest.
Randall strolled in to the middle of it all, long bundle under his arm, amiable grin on his face, wearing those daft sunglasses despite the fact the sun had long since set.
"What you all doing out here then?" he asked. He pushed the door open and turned to look at them.
"Not locked?" Ethan asked, glaring now at Ripper.
"Yeah, well, you know. Not much left to nick, is there? Unless someone wants the bed." Randall got his lighter out and started going down the right side, lighting candles as he went. Ripper took the left. Ethan headed straight for the heater, such as it was. He had to bang it a couple of times to get it started. Not much left in the cylinder.
Phil and Cliffe hovered outside with Diedre, still losing her lunch. Or more likely her breakfast, this early.
Ethan pushed the door almost closed, conserving heat, then headed back to Ripper's side.
Ripper was kicking things out of the way, dirty clothes and empty boxes, making space for the table. The top, bent trident symbol painted on, was rolled into a corner. The crate it sat on was next to the mattress, half covered in sleeping bag. Randall kicked that back on the bed and flopped down on top, reaching inside the crate for the little bottles he kept there.
"Giving up your turn, are you?" Ripper asked, hopeful.
"What? You off your nut?" Randall asked. He pulled his glasses down to stare at him. His eyes were too bright, with a glazed look that no longer left him.
"Well if you've got all that..."
"I've got a sleep potion, and some stuff Cliffe got out the pharmacy. Reckon with all that I'll nod off." He shook out the pills, and took them one by one, washing them down with the other liquid. "Or did you want to wait around until I crash out? Could be a while."
"3 months and counting," Ethan muttered.
"Manic bloody nutcase," Ripper grumbled. "You knew you were going tonight, you should have waited. No, you should have to wait," he finished as if it had just occurred to him.
Even Ethan rolled his eyes.
"If you aren't going into this right, we don't know what will happen," Ripper continued.
"Because what happened the other dozen times isn't likely," Randall remarked absently, then ignored him and unrolled the sword.
"It's a ritual. You've got to do the proper things in the proper way, and this would not be proper." He was almost whining, now.
"Give it up, Ripper," Diedre said, walking in escorted but ignoring them. "It's not your turn. It won't be your turn tonight."
"That's right, Diedre's up next," Cliffe said.
Diedre went even more pale. "No! I mean, Phil, it would be your turn, right?"
"Not if you want it..."
"It doesn't matter, right?" Randall said, rising from the bed with sword in hand. "It's my turn. I'm going. Tonight. Alright?"
"But if it goes wrong... People might get hurt..." Ripper made one last attempt.
"Right," Randall told him, stepping closer. The sword tilted between them a moment. Then Randall turned it, offered it hilt first. "Any bastard tries to mess with us, they'd be first. Right?"
Ripper looked at his friend a long moment, then nodded and took the sword. "Right."
Cliffe brought the table top, Phil the crate, Ethan the ritual candles. Diedre settled down next to it as soon as they set it up, pale and shaky. Randall took his place next to the bed.
Ripper walked the circle. First quarter watchtower, point the sword out, declaim something Latin.
Randall translated loosely, "All you uninvited, take a look at this then. Sharp and shiny and meant for killing things."
Walk around, second quarter, point the sword.
"We've locked you out, you bastards, so don't try anything," Phil contributed.
Third watchtower, face out with the sword – a little less than arm's length, circle slightly lopsided, trying not to hit the sink.
"You mess with us, even I can't patch you up again," Cliffe intoned.
Fourth tower, Diedre just said, "Keep out." Then watched with vague interest as he hopped over the bed.
Back to the start, salute in triumph.
"Watch out world, Ripper's here." Ethan grinned, eyes shining, as Ripper turned back to face the rest of them.
"Right then," Ripper said, settling down on Ethan's left, the sword left at their end of the mattress.
Randall sat down on the bed between them, grinning happily. "Time to go to sleep!"
"We were fools," Giles whispered, quiet but intense.
"Better fools than fooled," Ethan said.
Giles looked at him. "We had no idea what we were getting into."
"Knew what we were getting out of," he replied. "Pain, poverty, pre-determination. Tedium and pressure. The next test. Tired of waiting to make a mistake. I seem to recall something about dead little girls..."
"Don't." Giles cut him off. "Don't start on that. You are the last person... You threw Buffy to the demon to save your own skin!"
"Well none of my tricks were working. I thought I'd try one of yours."
"I would never..."
"Send a teenage girl to fight the forces of darkness?"
"Harm an innocent to save myself!"
"So I had to do it for you." Ethan shrugged.
"Don't be preposterous. It was entirely selfish."
"Yes, you could tell by the way I ran at the first hint of trouble, put the Mark on some eager street kid and left you to it."
"You hid behind..."
"The one girl in all the world who had a chance of surviving it. Exactly as she asked." Off Giles' incredulous look, Ethan explained, "She told me that she only wanted to protect you, that she wouldn't run, that I should hide until it was all over. With the Mark on me I couldn't hide, and she had two of us to try and protect. With it on her... Problems solved."
"You... You arrogant, self serving... What passes for logic...! You sacrificed her for your own gain!"
"Not sacrificed. Never that, not to demons. I take from them, sometimes exchange, but never sacrifice."
"Lurconis," Giles hissed. "They emptied out a maternity ward."
Ethan did a very good impression of regret. "I'm sorry about that. Really I am. I told you, I didn't know."
"Then you're still a damn fool. And a dangerous one."
Ethan smiled sadly. And faded away.
Giles blinked, shocked all over again. The man had seemed quite solid in the dim electric light. Involuntarily he reached out to the empty seat.
Then he pulled his hand back, faced forwards, and tried to settle back to rest.
But the first flight was just a brief hop, and soon it was time to change planes again.
The airport was a bustling blur, backdrop to some hurried navigation. Once again his people had come through, two tickets waiting on the first possible flight. He really should call them back and cancel one. But right now there was no time, and he was swiftly up again, for the long haul back to America.
He'd taken the window seat this time, leaving a gap between him and the aisle on his right, and now he stared out at the sparkling dark. Flying like this he always felt suspended, in space, somewhere between earth and sky, and in time, as the westward flight around the globe chased after the sunset. Go fast enough and you'd catch up with it. Teleport and you'd turn night to day, or day to night as he once had. Tonight he would be flying through almost the same moment, stars slowed to a crawl above him, darkness slightly deeper, yet still very far from passing.
Ethan was still nowhere to be seen. Giles had, of course, thought of several things to say to him; cutting, insightful things that would make it all quite clear. But Ethan was gone.
Absence was hard to argue with. And in the absence of argument, despite his best efforts, he would think of other things. Other times. Other nights.
Ethan, the first time he saw him, leaning out of the shadows wreathed in smoke, all glitter and glamour. Looking up with dark and knowing eyes, and seeing Ripper. Newly formed, in leathers that still squeaked. Ethan mocked, of course. But he also believed. And seeing himself so reflected in those dark mirrors, Ripper believed too.
They were sorcerers, and the night was their time.
Long nights down the pub, talking theory with whoever stopped to listen. Down the Rose Free House with every other mage who wouldn't play nice. The cutting edge, he'd thought then. No hidebound rules, no traditions – no brakes. No clue how it would turn out. Ready to try anything. They'd dreamed then of magic that would shake the world, change everything.
Then they'd gone out and used it for enough money to buy fags and a pint. Not exactly art. But like with the band, they'd told themselves this was just the beginning. Soon enough they'd find something bigger.
Randall was deeply asleep. He had been for hours, this time. But they knew the summons worked. The feel of the magic was unmistakable.
And then there were the dreams. Glimpses of their lives, experiences shared through the Mark, things they'd never known. Seeing each other as the others saw them, young and strong and powerful.
Getting late now. Ethan lay back in Ripper's arms, looking up at him, dark eyes reflecting tiny points of candle light. Across the table Diedre looked relaxed, at last. She leaned on Cliffe, and Philip leaned against her, still unfocused.
Eyghon the Sleepwalker was in the world, and it felt incredible.
But the candles were burning down now. Some along the walls were starting to go out. The ritual candles would go next.
Ripper stirred himself, whispered to Ethan, who sat up and stretched, slowly.
"Time?" Diedre said vaguely.
"Just about," Ripper replied.
Diedre started to sit up, then had to pinch Phil to get him to stir.
Cliffe looked over at the bed. "Shouldn't he be awake by now?"
"Don't know." Ripper shrugged. "What was in those pills?"
"He took a pill?"
"He took all the pills."
"And a potion," Ethan helpfully supplied.
Cliffe of a sudden looked rather more alert. "We should wake him up. Now."
Ethan leaned over and pinched his leg. "Oi, Randall. You've nearly missed it, mate."
Randall didn't stir.
Ripper, frowning, leaned over and thumped him. He twitched, but didn't wake. Ripper leaned up to the top of the bed then and slapped him in the face.
Randall opened his eyes, which briefly glowed.
"Eyghon," Ripper greeted him, warily. He pulled back, crouched next to the table again.
Randall pushed himself up on one elbow.
"Eyghon Sleepwalker, we conjure thee to depart." Diedre began hurriedly, alone. Her power on its own was very thin, a crackle like an empty wrapper. Ripper and Rayne looked at each other, then joined hands swiftly and reached for the others. Cliffe and Phil got there for the second line, and gradually the exorcism rite took shape.
Then the candles started to flare up.
And Randall started to laugh.
He was behind Ethan and Ripper. That hadn't bothered them until right then. But the sound coming out of Randall was not the man's own laugh.
They built the net of magic quickly. Philip's Latin was bad enough to make even Diedre wince, but he kept up with them. Diedre herself was wide eyed now, and she kept trying to hurry. Cliffe kept staring behind them.
Ethan turned his head, and his chant stumbled.
So Ripper looked back.
Randall was right behind them, sitting on the edge of the bed. He was breathing hard, fists clenching and unclenching. They were nearing the end of the ritual now, and the moment came when Randall should have started on his lines, joined in. Instead he tipped his head back and started to scream. At the last line he fell back, twitching and writhing.
Cliffe dropped Diedre's hand and moved to go to him, but Ripper kept hold.
"No. Again! Start it again!" Ripper commanded. "Eyghon Sleepwalker, we conjure thee to depart." Ripper and Rayne together this time from the start, combined power like bass and treble of a major chord. Diedre grabbed for Cliffe and joined in, voice gone shrill. Philip looked bewildered and kept stumbling over the words. Cliffe swore before he started, staring at the man having a seizure on the bed. They got to Randall's lines and the man just went limp. No words, but no more screaming. The ritual wound down raggedly, Ripper gone hoarse all of a sudden as his mouth went dry.
Last words done, Cliffe shook them off, and went over to the bed.
Ripper looked back at the candles. They were still flaring.
Cliffe bent over Randall, put a hand on his neck, reached with the other to open his eyes.
What he saw there had him flinch back. But not fast enough. Randall sat up and grabbed Cliffe, pulled him in close and grinned.
There was something very wrong with his teeth.
There was a glow behind the sunglasses. Eyghon took them off, stared at Cliffe, and laughed.
"Oh Christ," Philip said, and crossed himself, suddenly devout.
Then Eyghon surged up and flung Cliffe across the room, to crash into the wall full of candles. They crashed down on him, melted wax and flame, and his clothes started to catch fire.
Diedre started screaming. Phil grabbed her and tried to drag her to the door. Ripper turned back to the bed – and saw Randall had grabbed Ethan by the throat.
But it wasn't Randall any more. The demon had taken him whole. Skin splitting, the demon's flesh pushed out from underneath. His teeth had turned to fangs, and his eyes were not human. His clothes were the same, and the headband. Without those he wouldn't recognise him.
Ripper dived for the sword, rolled upright behind the demon with sword in hand – then hesitated.
"Randall... fight it!" he told his friend. Then, sword pointed at him, "Demon, begone! By ancient rites I conjured thee, by those rites you shall depart!" He tried desperately to remember his training, started another exorcism chant.
Eyghon laughed, and started to squeeze, slowly.
Ethan, gasping, was grabbing at pockets. He pulled out one of Ripper's knives, flicked it open, and stabbed wildly with it.
Eyghon looked down at the knife in his chest and grinned.
Ethan pulled it out, pulled his arm back to try again, but Eyghon lifted him up by the neck. Suspended there, Ethan grabbed at the arm and struggled, kicking for something to take his weight, dagger waving useless before him.
Ripper's hurried Latin did nothing. The flames rose around them and the spell wasn't working.
Eyghon brought his other hand to Ethan's chest, then dug his nails in. He raked deep gouges down Ethan's side, cloth parting, nails dragging slowly through flesh.
Ethan tried to scream but couldn't get the breath. Eyghon brought his bloody fingers up to Ethan's face, cupped it, holding tightly. One last twist and he'd be dead.
"Ethan!" Ripper called out, sword already swinging. Sharpened steel met demon tainted flesh, and cut clean through.
Randall's head hit the floor at Ripper's feet, his body falling back onto the bed, pulling Ethan down with him.
Rayne coughed, gasped, pushed the corpse off and tried to sit up.
Ripper stood frozen, looking down at them.
Ethan, blood drenched, looked up at him, with something kin to worship in his eyes.
Ripper moved a foot forwards, but it caught on something – the head. Randall's head.
As he looked down on it, Giles saw only human features there.
He dropped the sword, stumbled backwards, knocked the table over and fell. The flames rose up between him and the... remains.
Scrambling up again, he turned and ran, and did not look back.
He found he had again wrapped his right hand around his left arm, as if trying to hide the mark. His face twitched into an annoyed frown, then went back to pensive melancholy with a sigh. He took his hand away, settled it in his lap and tried to relax.
His hands clenched into fists inside a minute. Not long after that he blew out a breath and leaned forward to take his jacket off. He settled the leather over his knees and leaned back again, tapping absently on the chair arm with one hand.
A minute after that he pushed his left sleeve up to check his watch, but found that wrist empty. It must still be at home, sitting next to his ring, on the bedside table. Now he'd noticed it would nag at him, but there was nothing to be done about it from here. He dropped his hands again and looked out of the window.
The second time he pushed up his sleeve he couldn't pretend it had anything to do with the time.
He had to unbutton his cuff to get the shirt sleeve high enough, but he pushed it all above his elbow and looked carefully.
Still empty. No marks. The itch, therefore, was purely psychological. His skin was entirely clean.
There had been times since the removal he'd wished he'd used something more mundane than magic, had it cut or burnt away. Something like that should leave a scar. To have instead a stretch of skin with all history removed still seemed sometimes like lying.
He dropped that sleeve again. Then, after a moment's thought, raised the other, to check on the bandages. Still clean and well wrapped, and only hurting as much as he'd expected. He covered them again, sat back, and made a mental note to get antibiotics. And painkillers. Soon.
Giles sighed, and decided he really needed a drink.
Once one was acquired, he sat there with it in hand for long moments, staring into it. Tawny alcohol, dark spirits. It was vaguely poetic.
Nothing to do, right now, nothing for hours yet. It would help him relax, and forget.
He raised the glass in toast. "Ethan," he sighed, and brought it to his lips.
"Guilty," Ethan announced, right beside him again.
Giles jumped, spilling the liquid all over himself. He swore and put the cup down, dabbed at himself futilely.
"Drinking alone already. Next you'll be making notes about the whole experience."
Giles gave up and pulled his jumper off, trying not to tangle up his glasses.
"I already have, years ago," he said, muffled slightly.
"Ah, still not about me then. I'm crushed." Ethan sighed theatrically.
Giles did not look at him, instead rolling his jumper up neatly. "Where have you been?" he asked absently, leaning down to put it in his bag.
"Here and there. Mostly there." Ethan sounded odd, offhand yet slightly forced. Giles glanced up at him. He was looking off along the aisle, smirk absent, distance in his eyes.
Giles sat up, frowning.
Ethan looked around and met Rupert's gaze. He smiled again. "For now, I'm here. Let's make the most of it, shall we?" He smirked lazily and looked Giles up and down. Then the smirk faded. "Is there anything you feel the need to say?"
Giles blinked, and looked away. "You're the one who always needs to talk, Ethan."
"Indeed." He sighed. Then, brightly, "So, what shall we talk about?"
Giles remained silent.
"My greatest achievements? My most nefarious sins? Or shall we talk about you, Ripper?"
Giles shook his head slightly. Then he looked down, and started to root around his pockets looking for something. "There is something, actually." He came out with a pen and a pad of paper. "A project I've been working on. I've, ah, actually been researching ghosts."
"So for once I'm convenient, am I?" Ethan laughed. "Put it away, Rupert. I doubt I know much more about it than you do."
"That seems rather unlikely."
"You think so? Ask a newborn how the human body works." He leaned out into the aisle and waved, looking annoyed. "I walk through doors. I can't open them. And I can't get the stewardess to pay attention." He slumped back in his seat. "Sadly unflattering, that."
"I suspect she can't see you." Giles made a note. "You're hard to ignore."
Ethan grinned. "Thank you."
"What do you need, anyway?" Giles asked.
Ethan looked at him narrowly. Then relaxed back to his usual smirk. "From the stewardess? I was thinking whiskey."
"You think you can drink?"
Ethan shrugged. "Traditional offering. Spirits must get something out of it."
Giles looked at him a moment, trying to figure out if he was kidding. Then he made another note.
"Oh for pity's sake, Rupert, put it down. Have a drink."
"Weren't you the one complaining about me drinking alone?"
"You're not alone now," Ethan told him.
Giles kept writing, little things, like the way the light did and did not seem to hit the other man. The way his eyes seemed exactly as they always had.
Ethan stayed silent for all of thirty seconds. "Say something! Start singing, if you want. I'm sure it will be more entertaining than the movie."
"There is no movie, Ethan, and I haven't sung for years."
"Really? Now that's a criminal waste. Almost as bad as the magic."
"We are not talking about magic," Giles said calmly, still looking at the page. He left the pad on his knee for a moment and scratched at his arm absently.
"Alright then. How about art? Body modification. The Mark. Why you're having nightmares."
Giles dropped his hand to his lap, curled into a fist.
"Death. Dying. Killing your friends."
Giles closed his eyes and turned his head away.
"You killed me," Ethan said.
And then stayed silent.
For long enough Giles had to look, to see if he had faded out again.
He turned to face dark eyes staring evenly at him.
There were stars in their depths, and no reflection. Not of him.
Ethan blinked, and so did Giles.
"So, apologise, and then pick a topic," Ethan said.
"You're excused," Ethan replied, and waited a moment. "Alright, I'll pick. David Bowie, best musicians who ever lived."
"Are you out of your mind?"
"I know, you'd pick Pink Floyd, or The Who if you're feeling particularly normal. But..."
"Ethan, you can't just say... What I did... It's inexcusable."
"Manifestly not. Quod erat demonstrandum." Ethan grinned, then sighed. "Look, Ripper. Randall was not your fault."
"We killed him," Giles hissed, keeping his voice low but unable to keep the intensity out of it. "We found the spell, we summoned the demon. We were the ones holding the blades."
"Eyghon killed him. The potions killed him. Wanting it killed him. How far back up the chain do you want to go?" Ethan sounded tired.
"He would never have been there if it wasn't for us."
"It was his place." Ethan shrugged.
"You know what I mean. The demons, the potions, the magic, it all started..."
"...Long before you walked into our lives," Ethan said. "Ripper... Rupert, we've said all this. We've been having this fight for twenty five years. You could say my half from memory by now. Just... fill it in, say we did all that again. You yelled and stormed off. Or I did, if you want some variety. Either way, the truth is still the same."
"Yes. Randall is still dead."
"Yes. The stupid bastard finally got into something we couldn't get him out of, and he is dead. And it is no more your fault now than it ever was."
"And no less," Giles replied. "We knew how dangerous it was..."
"Yes, we did. All six of us. They got killed, you didn't."
"I have to live with it."
"And I don't."
"And you bloody should..." Giles ground to a halt, the old accusation suddenly meaning something else entirely. He looked away again. "You should... Be alive..."
"That could be pleasant. And yet, I am a ghost. So, what do you want to talk about?"
Giles looked at Ethan again, face filled with incredulity.
"What?" Ethan said. "You're waiting for something? Shall I swear undying vengeance and curse you with my last breath?"
"You're haunting me, Ethan. I rather thought it came with the territory."
Ethan smirked. "You expected me to follow the script?"
Giles rubbed a hand over his face, pushed his glasses up and pinched where they'd rested. Then he took them off and got a cloth out to clean them.
He noticed Ethan was as clear as ever. It was rather disconcerting. The whole world dropped out of focus except him. It felt like he must be somehow closer than the rest.
Giles put his glasses back on quickly.
"Ethan, I know you. You're petty, spiteful and sadistic. If you think this act will get me to drop my guard..."
Ethan looked away and rolled his eyes. "Always cheering to be so well known." He looked off down the aisle a moment, tapping silently at the arm of the seat, then stilled his hand and looked back at him. "Alright. I'm not a saint. I've spent... however long I was locked in that box, thinking of you. And some of the time, thinking of ways you might get very slowly and messily killed. I thought of you in one of those cells. I even thought of a body swap. There aren't many human bodies on this planet as appealing to me as my own, but on balance..."
Giles looked away now, back at the notepad. He underlined the notes so far, then turned the page.
"Only there was something I wanted more than vengeance, Ripper. And I've got it now. I'm here." Ethan looked at him, for a long moment. Giles stayed quite still. Ethan continued, quietly. "I'm out of there. They'll never touch me again." He smirked once more. "Be careful what you wish for."
There was a moment's silence, then Giles spoke, almost inaudibly. "I'm sorry."
Ethan sighed. "I know, Rupert. I know."
Giles closed his eyes and took a deep breath. Then another. He opened them again, looked down at the paper, and started to write a list.
Ethan, beside him, looked on with vague interest.
Giles drew lines and divided up the page: Research. Find vampire. Gain access. End it.
"It won't work out that way, you know," Ethan told him. "Tidy lists don't much resemble reality."
"It is a place to start," Giles replied.
"It's a mind trap," Ethan countered. "False expectations. The illusion of foreknowledge. The truth is chaos."
"Your truth, Ethan. Not mine."
"You seek your truth in order and law. How's that working out for you? Has the rule book made you safe and happy yet?"
Giles tried to ignore him.
"Does the red tape help with the weight of the world? Such a heavy burden they sold you, being responsible."
"I am responsible, for all the things I've done, or not done. It was my choice."
"Of course it was. Your choice and yours alone. Your famous omnipotence."
"I've never claimed that."
"Just acted like that particular lack was some personal failing." Ethan sighed. "It's the planning that does it. You think you can get there from here. When the winds take you somewhere else you take it so personally."
"The winds have nothing to do with it, Ethan."
"Currents, courses, the way things go." Ethan shrugged. "Call it winds, and remember the butterfly. One wing flap in China and by the time we feel it there's a storm. Well there's six billion beings on this planet, human and otherwise. More every minute. And we're just a little bigger than butterflies."
"And just a little wiser. When I swing my arm I know what will happen. I make an informed choice."
"We choose what we do, but how it all falls out? That's chaos, mate. Pure chaos. Nothing can understand that."
"Absolution through chaos theory," Giles muttered. "Your answer to all sins."
"Sin is your truth, not mine."
"You hide from truth in chaos. Close your eyes to it all you want, you still carry consequences."
"Every change is changing me," Ethan agreed, "But it never stops. If I don't like what I've become, I don't crawl backwards and hide behind words. I change it again." He pushed his sleeve up without looking down. "Acid burns, but I'm free. I..."
Giles looked down with sick horror, and Ethan finally had to look himself.
He blanched, and swore most fervently. "Janus!"
On his arm was the uneven scar he'd carried since Sunnydale, but in the center of it was the black Mark he'd worn half his life, now so dark it looked like a hole.
"Janus, exaudi meam causam..." Ethan began, his voice fading as the ghost started to fade out. He clenched his fist and stopped, closed his eyes, brow furrowed with concentration. A moment later he looked solid again. He looked again at the Mark, flexed his arm and rubbed at the edges of the scar. His fingers hesitated before touching the black. He took a deep breath, focused, and started again in English. "Chaos, I offer this to thee." He placed his palm steadily over the Mark, pressed down. "As I have been, as I am, and all the ways I shall be. I remain, as ever, thy faithful, degenerate son."
Giles found himself holding his breath as Ethan lifted his hand away.
It was shaking, very slightly.
Giles exhaled, and Ethan's shoulders relaxed.
"There, you see?" Ethan told him, most of the old confidence back in his voice. Only the scar remained, rough but unmarked.
In the center there just might have been a darkness, an after image, or shadow.
Ethan rolled his sleeve down again. All the way down, and buttoned it. He unrolled the other to match.
"It might not mean anything," Giles offered, weakly. "We know so little about how a... a ghost is formed. Some walk around as little more than skeletons, others look like they did in life. You look quite unlike you did in your last moments, if that vision was accurate."
"I do?" Ethan sounded puzzled. He looked down at himself, then grimaced. "Ah, yes, the... diet. I suppose it's been a while since I had a mirror around. You recognised me, though."
"You look much like I expected," Giles replied.
Ethan looked thoughtful.
Giles found his eyes going once again to Ethan's arm. The red cloth was just as insubstantial as the rest of the man. Yet he could not see flesh through it, nor any... darkness.
Ethan stood up, and Giles looked up to see the man's face gone stormy. He started to manuever out of his seat, then paused and just stepped forwards through the seat in front. He stood in the aisle and looked down at himself.
"Now I definitely need a drink."
He stalked off forwards along the plane.
Privately Giles very much agreed with him, but the pad and pen reminded him he had some other tasks to do. He picked the paper up again, re-read his headings, and set pen to page.
It waited there some time, while Giles looked into the distance.
Rupert Giles and Ethan Rayne. Best mates, worst enemies, sometimes both at once. They've got a lot of history. So even when the Initative took Ethan away, Giles was sure he'd see him again, sooner or later...
Now the late Ethan Rayne is turning out to be twice the trouble, and Giles must be the one to deal with it.
Giles woke with a start when the stewardess touched him. Time to put the seat up and his seatbelt on. He blinked and looked down, pen and paper still in hand, notes somewhat scant. Out the window the night sky was very little changed, but under them were matching lights, a city far below. It must have been hours. He had a crick in his neck, and his hands were cold, but he had no particular feeling of having rested. Or dreamed, this time. So, no nightmares. Just a piece of lost time.
He recapped the pen and dropped it back in his pocket, rearranged the seat and followed safety precautions.
"Revealing sort of list," Ethan observed, beside him once again.
"How so?" Giles asked vaguely, reading it over again.
"Aside from your notable dislike of fire and sword?"
Under 'End it' Giles had written a short list of vampire slaying methods. Then he'd crossed some out. With several lines each.
"Swords are difficult to acquire, and a pain to get through security. Fire is unsuitable if I don't want to burn the building down," Giles replied frostily.
"And we mustn't damage the military torture factory, must we?" Ethan sniped. Then sighed. "You're underestimating it. You think it will still be in there."
"Ethan... 'it' is made from you. Extra strength and speed, but they've dealt with that before. They held you for years." Giles sounded pained, but tried to say it gently.
Ethan grinned bitterly. "Ah, but there are some things I won't do."
Giles raised an eyebrow at that, but the stewardess came back to check him, and talking to a ghost would seem unwise. When she left Ethan followed her.
The plane descended, finally touching down in the USA.
"You do know we're not in Nevada?" Ethan asked him, arriving soundlessly from behind to surprise him again. This time Giles was drinking coffee from a covered cup, and did not spill any.
"Yes, Ethan, I am very much aware of that." Giles had the tickets for the next flight in front of him, and pushed them over to where Ethan could see. "We have a slight wait."
Ethan took a seat opposite him and reached absently for Rupert's paper napkin. He frowned when his hand went right through, and started some complicated pattern of finger tapping instead.
Giles took a bite from his overpriced sandwich and then wiped his hand. He picked up his phone again and scrolled through to the next US number on the list.
Ethan watched as Giles waited, phone against his ear. Rupert's face went stormy, and after a moment he slammed the phone down.
Then picked it up, and fiddled with it, looking slightly sheepish until the screen lit up again. "Dratted things," he mumbled.
"Voice mail," Giles said, with sufficient venom for a week of swear words.
"Not a one of them. I thought I could meet a Slayer here. There should be an office. The phone rings, but what picks up? Voice mail." Giles scrolled through numbers again and shook his head. "Every office in North America." He sighed. "I'll have to try Los Angeles. God knows they've got enough on their hands without this." He left the phone on the table, face up, lit and waiting.
"Movie business become Slayer business now?"
Giles blinked, realising how much had changed since Ethan... went away.
"LA had a... mystical event. A portal, or a new Hellmouth. Effectively, the city became a small hell dimension."
Ethan's eyebrows both went up in shock. "The whole thing? Bloody hell!" Then he looked speculative. "So how did the mundanes explain that?"
"Quite a lot of them actually believed the truth," Giles replied. Ethan looked triumphant, until Giles finished. "Briefly. When stories of demon armies on the streets were all they had to go on. These days... Americans seem to think it was nerve gas. Some kind of hallucinogenic mixture, that still persists. The more elaborate theories blame everything from pesticides to genetically modified food, talk about mutations to explain the corpses." Giles picked his sandwich up again, pulled out some salad and ate it. "Of course some people still think the whole thing was faked. I particularly like the contingent who believe it's the most elaborate viral marketing scam ever set loose. Whatever movie gets made from all that... Well, I can't see it getting a rating." He looked distant, then sighed, and ate a proper bite.
Ethan slumped, looking bitter. "Of course. They keep their faith in their precious science, however badly it is broken."
Giles shrugged. "Wouldn't help much, either way. They'd still demand military solutions, and we both know how well that would work out. Send in soldiers to get fed on. Or bomb the place from the air, give the fire demons a field day... If there's nothing to be done, they may as well sleep easier, not knowing."
Ethan looked daggers at him a moment, then slipped the smirk back on. "Yes, I'm sure fear of mysterious gas is so much easier to deal with than knowing exactly how to keep the demons from your door. I bet it sells a lot of gas masks."
"In designer boxes. Look at them going through customs. Those aren't cameras they're wearing."
Ethan shook his head and sighed.
Giles finished his food, and had some more coffee.
"Right," he muttered, and picked up the phone again. "Los Angeles." He checked the number, then started the call. He listened as it rang. And then his jaw dropped, incredulous, as there too Council voice mail kicked in. "Oh come on, they can't be... They'd surely tell me if there was an apocalypse..." He was aware his voice was not quite so sure as his words. In fact he might have been starting to whine.
Ethan grinned. "Your Slayer retired, you doing ghost research... I seem to recall you were slightly worried you were over the hill..."
"That was years ago," Giles replied absently.
"Yes," Ethan drawled, and left Giles to draw his own conclusions.
Rupert glared at him, briefly, then went back to the phone.
"That leaves Riley Finn." He looked pensive, then pulled out his notepad. "I need to have words with him anyway."
"The name sounds vaguely familiar."
Giles looked across at Ethan, uncomfortable. "You met him, once. He arrested you."
"Ah. Him." Now Ethan looked grim, and stormy. His hands curled to fists on the table. He grinned in a way that had nothing to do with mirth. "I'd quite like to have... words with him myself." He focused on Giles again, and put amusement back in his expression. "All those little green men who want to know about demons... Should be grateful for some first hand experience."
"He quit the Initiative," Giles told him. "Before the base was destroyed. Ethical reasons."
"Well I'm sure that salved his conscience," Ethan said. He looked at Giles, serious again. "Rupert, don't waste your time. Maybe you could tell me he's a nice bloke. Maybe he's Mother Teresa in his spare time. He'd still be the one who arrested me 'pending a determination of my status'. Smiling like it was some great joke. Smug bastard."
Giles looked down at the notepad, flipping pages. "If I recall correctly, I was somewhat smug myself."
"Came out to see me off," Ethan agreed. "But if you knew what they were... Well, you're a better liar drunk than I'd credit you for."
"Riley didn't know either. He really believed..."
"That he was doing the right thing. Mother country and apple pie, I'm sure. Enough of this, Rupert. It hardly matters from here. Just phone the man, if you're going to."
Giles nodded, and picked up the phone again. Riley's number chosen, he waited while it rang.
This time a human being picked up, though not the one he wanted.
"Hello, I need to talk to Riley Finn," Giles said, absently writing the name at the top of a page.
Then he paused. "Not there? Yes, it is urgent, actually. A matter of life and death. No, I don't know any passwords. My name is Rupert Giles. Look it up, I'm sure... What? Of course I have clearance, I'm... Revoked?" He made a note and underlined it, preoccupied, while still talking.
"Look, I'm not asking you for any secrets, I just need to talk to... Yes I realise he's busy but... Well when will he be available? You can't say, or you can't tell me?" Giles' mouth set in a tight little line.
"I see. Then you will have to listen. There is a vampire rising tonight... Yes, this is important. Yes, to the US military. He was in the custody of some kind of research base in Nevada... I realise they do not exist, not on paper. They may well not exist in ordinary geography in the very near future. Yes, one vampire." He listened a moment, then told them, "He was once a sorcerer. When the demon wakes, with access to that much knowledge and power... Well, it could be another Sunnydale."
There was a pause, and Giles looked momentarily pleased, then got frustrated again.
"I don't know, precisely. Riley arrested him, when he was with the Initiative... Yes, I know that didn't exist either, I was there... Could you please focus on the present danger... No, I told you, no passwords, but this is official word... Of course you've heard about it from the Council, I am the... Not formally, no, but... But I... Damn it!" The phone hit the table again.
Ethan had his head cocked, listening intently. "You know, I'm not sure which is more interesting – how you got cosy enough with those bastards to get some kind of clearance, or how you came to lose it."
Giles looked up at him and then took his glasses off, closing his eyes while he cleaned them.
"That was not Riley," Giles said. "That was not anyone, apparently, since they would not so much as give me a name. Due to the ongoing non existence of government bases, demon related initiatives, or apparently vampires, there is in fact no need to tell me anything." Giles put his glasses back on and opened his eyes.
Ethan was still looking at him sideways.
Giles looked down. He capped his pen and closed the notebook.
"Buffy was dating one of them. And you hated their boss. But you admired them. They were getting the job done."
"I did not join them, Ethan. I was there when they were destroyed."
"And after that?"
Giles sighed. "After that... Buffy and Riley broke up. He went back to the army. That was the end of it, for years." Ethan still stared, and Giles had to look away. He lined the pen up carefully, then said, "Until Los Angeles. After that, everything changed."
"You've been working with them. A military solution – run by the Watchers Council."
"We weren't in command," Giles disagreed. "But we could not stay covert, not after the quarantine. They put a ring of troops around LA so thick it really did keep demons in, and our people with them. We didn't know, then, what had happened to them all. A dozen Slayers and their Watchers... We could not abandon them. And then there were the others, Slayers from all over the country, around the world even. We could get hundreds of them in there if..." Giles' brow furrowed as a thought struck him. "If we emptied..." He opened the notebook again, and went slightly pale. Then he looked up at Ethan and blinked, flipped the book closed and put his hand on it.
Ethan raised an eyebrow at that. "What, now I don't have clearance?"
Giles crossed his arms on the table.
"Rupert, I don't care if LA falls off the face of the earth, with or without Slayers. What were you doing with those... thugs?"
Giles looked down. "Riley was the Council's contact with the army."
"And you... were his contact with the Council." Ethan stared at him a moment, then shook his head.
"I asked," Giles said, in a small voice. He looked up again at Ethan. "When we found out what they were, the Initiative... I asked after you. They said they hadn't any human prisoners. The records were quite clear. No humans at all. Including you."
"Ah, but I wasn't human. Pending a determination of my status... I wasn't anything." Ethan looked at Rupert, held his gaze. "I was not in prison. I was not judged guilty without trial. Pending determination of my status, I was not judged at all. I was not tortured, not tested uselessly. I was not any kind of demon they had discovered – yet." Ethan grinned, a bitter twist that did not reach his eyes. "I was not the answer to their questions. Every set of white coats had their own list. They were not prejudiced, you see. Never tainted with what others had thought of you. It must not matter who you are, or where you come from. Only what you are capable of." His eyes held a deep darkness. Giles could not look away. "I was a list of null results, a set of negatives. Until yesterday. I must say, it was a very tidy test. The victim must be human for a vampire to be sired, but of course once it has..." Ethan closed his eyes and bit his lip.
Giles could blink now, and looked down, to see Ethan gripping each elbow tightly with opposite hands, leaning just a little through the table.
Then Ethan looked at him and smiled brightly, though this too did not reach his eyes. "So, no, they had no human prisoners. No humans at all. And even if you'd asked for me by name, they probably would not have found me. In all the time I've been in there, I don't think I heard it even once."
"Ethan..." Giles began, voice anguished.
"Yes. Ethan Rayne. Half a century on this Earth and Janus knows how long off it. Reduce that to some bloody list? Never."
"Ethan, I'm sorry, I didn't know. I should have..."
"Give it up, Rupert. We've been over this. Even if you had known, it's not like you could have done anything."
Giles was silent, and could not look at him, for a moment that went on rather too long.
"Not a thing?" Ethan said, just a faint edge of question in it.
Still looking at the table, Giles said, "I was Watcher to the Slayer when they took you... And I've retired. But until some weeks ago... I was Head of the New Watchers Council."
Ethan's turn to be silent, and slowly Giles turned to face him again.
The mix of raw emotions there was tangled, but it settled into harsh lines and bitter laughter.
"Unbelievable," Ethan interrupted. "I guess the old guard was right." He got to his feet, backed through the chairs. "You just had to get rid of me, to get ahead with them." He turned and stalked off.
Giles was in the air again before Ethan reappeared. The lights of the city were receding into the distance, and the lights below them were becoming more scarce. Heading mostly south now, the sky moved above them steadily, moon and stars marching onwards.
"It's taking too long," Ethan said.
"Yes," Giles agreed, turning to face the other man. "But at least we're moving again."
"I'd get out and push, but it's rather dull out there," Ethan joked.
Giles just gave him a look.
Ethan smirked. Then looked away and stretched, a movement both elegant and designed to take up as much space as possible.
Giles absently dodged out of the way, even though the ghost's earlier touch had been no more than a slight tingle.
Ethan sighed, then leaned back in his chair.
Giles snorted with brief laughter, then his face fell and he looked away.
Ethan had gone right through, cut off at the shoulders by the chair back.
He sat up again with a slightly chagrined expression, resettling himself in the chair more carefully.
Giles had his eyes closed, still facing the window on his left.
"Are you going to sleep again?"
"I thought perhaps it would be best to conserve my energy," Giles replied.
"Wonderful. And once again I'm left to eavesdrop on the great unwashed."
"You don't have to be here," Giles said, looking at Ethan with half closed eyes.
Ethan stared back at him, face a mask. Then he put the smirk on again. "Yet here is where I choose. So. What shall we talk about?"
"A favourite topic. What are you in the mood for? Memory lane, or more reasons to want me gone?"
"I had a very long day, Ethan."
"Bedtime stories, then." Ethan's smirk went just a little more lascivious, as did the way he looked at Rupert.
Giles shut his eyes, and settled back.
"Or I could sing you to sleep."
His eyes snapped open again. "Oh, no. Not here."
Ethan hummed a few notes, then sat a little straighter and took a breath.
And let it out again in a startled gasp, as he jerked out his seat through the floor, fading rapidly.
"Ethan?" Giles sat up and stared. "Ethan, if you think this is funny..." He reached out vaguely to the other seat, then pulled his hand in and spoke instead. "Ethan Rayne! I summon thee... No, commands never did work..." He blinked, then frowned and started digging in his bag for his large notebook. The one with his meticulous ghost research. He flipped through quickly, then stopped and read through one. He took a breath, then started to chant, quietly, Ethan's name in every sentence. His irritation mixed with entreaty, and he said each line with care but hurriedly. Page completed, Giles looked at the seat, still empty. "Ethan Rayne. Ethan! Please!"
And suddenly the ghost was back again, fading in, standing half through the seat and half way through a scream.
"Aaaah!" Ethan cut himself off, hands held up in fists, and staggered backwards.
Giles mostly lost sight of him again, and popped up in his seat to look at the seats behind.
Which were, of course, occupied, by a pair of very American women, who stopped their chatter to stare up at him. For a moment, Giles, focused on Ethan, did not notice. "Ethan, what..." Then he refocused through him, seeing two sets of eyes now staring at him. Giles attempted a vague smile, and managed a "Pardon me." He sat again, and hissed, "Ethan!"
The ghost stepped through the seat back with a slight lurch, then collapsed down into the seat. This time the overlap provoked no humour.
Ethan looked wild, shaken and fuming. His fists clenched and unclenched. He locked his gaze on Rupert's like it was a lifeline.
It took him two tries to gather himself enough to speak.
"It... It's awake."
Giles, though in no doubt, had to check. "The vampire?"
Ethan nodded, then snapped to his feet again. "Get your rest, Ripper. You'll need it." He turned, and headed off along the aisle.
Giles moved forward just slightly, shifting weight to follow him, then stopped. Sat back. Faced front, and pushed himself back in the seat again.
He sighed, and closed his eyes.
But his grip on the book stayed very tight.
A feeling of falling woke him, jolting him out of uneasy sleep.
"Relax. Just desert and mountains."
Some announcement about turbulence came on, and the stewardess started working her way back along the plane to check on everyone.
Giles put his seat belt on, and tried to check his watch, thwarted once again by his hasty departure.
"Nearly there. Look." Ethan pointed out the window.
Above them the stars glittered still, but they were outshone from below by a garish splash of lights. Distant rainbow colors, a sprawl of city lights, and one tall beam spearing up into the heavens.
"You can see the Luxor already." Ethan did not sound pleased.
"Las Vegas." Giles sighed.
"What a waste." Ethan joined him.
Giles turned to look. Ethan was still staring out of the window.
"I'd have thought you'd like the place."
"Sin city? Millions of people lining up to try the odds. Chance so carefully controlled, possibilities limited. You know they've all got their own pet magicians? Every major casino. Statues, symbols, even their own pyramid! And what do they use it all for? Making money!"
Giles raised an eyebrow. "You worked for hire."
"Sometimes." Ethan shrugged. "Some interesting opportunities come up."
"And if you happen to get rich in the process..."
"How long have you known me? When precisely would you describe me as rich?"
"You seemed rather well off in Kensington."
"That was Laura." Ethan shook his head. "Cocktail parties, coke, and shoulder pads. She only wanted me for my magics. I could have changed her into anything she dreamed of... But she thought of it like scar free surgery." He sighed. "There's a million like her. Could keep me working a day job for life." He grimaced and faked a shudder. "Giving people exactly what they think they want, day in, day out. Where's the art in that?"
"Where's the art in poisoning a town so someone can steal babies?"
Ethan grinned. "I gave him exactly what he ordered. A town in chaos. And yet was even one infant sacrificed?"
"You can't be claiming credit for that! Buffy and I..."
"Are a quite formidable team, yes. Especially with you feeling so much like your old self."
Giles narrowed his eyes. "You... You can't honestly claim that was helpful! Every responsible adult in Sunnydale was acting like a teenager!"
"And Sunnydale teens are noteworthy for their blind irresponsibility, of course."
Giles stared at Ethan.
Ethan just smirked.
Giles turned away and shook his head.
"You turned Sunnydale upside down, and you made a tidy profit from it."
"Of course I did. But the world is already upside down. Ripper, they're using forces that can change the very nature of reality, to do some minor relocation on cash."
"We did the same, on a smaller scale."
"When we were kids," Ethan agreed. "I'd think it was about time they grew out of it."
Giles half laughed and shook his head.
"You. Talking about growing up. We worked dark magics for pleasure and gain, and you didn't stop. The only difference is in scale."
"You think so," Ethan said. "I suppose you've followed my career?"
"I've seen enough. Costumes and candy. It's like spiking the punch. Entirely juvenile."
"I change people, Ripper," Ethan spoke, low and enticing. "I take their hopes and dreams and wishes and I show them where they lead."
"You twist them into nightmares."
"Nightmares are dreams that don't stop when it's convenient. People keep looking for a happy ending..."
"And you can't let that happen. Happiness is too mundane."
"You want to let it end?" Ethan shook his head. "Everything changes."
"Especially when you give it a push."
Ethan looked annoyed, but as he drew breath to speak the plane suddenly plunged downwards, leaving Ethan behind.
Giles was grateful for his seatbelt, and clutched at the seat as the plane continued to buck. The announcement about turbulence came on again, but as the plane plunged once more Giles swore. This wasn't normal. This was far from right. He looked out the window.
His jaw dropped. "Bloody hellfire!"
Ethan, shakily, agreed. "Looks like."
Out in the dark, distance unknown, something was burning. In that huge emptiness there were no points of reference, no sense of scale. But when the next red-gold burst blossomed in the dark, it was some moments before their plane wobbled once again.
"Please, stay in your seats and keep calm," said the voice of the aeroplane.
All along their side of the machine those with access to a window were not calm at all. Someone started screaming, and soon there was a chorus of it.
In the dark, from the center of the flames, a figure started to emerge. Humanoid, but not human. Horns rose above the twisted face, mouth gaping in a scream or roar. When the next wave of fire came up, it illuminated wings. They flapped, once, and the figure started to rise.
Giles, pale and slightly sick, tried to think of a single thing that he could do that would be any help at all.
Then another explosion, larger than the rest, engulfed the demon, and it fell back into the flames.
"What in God's name was that?" Giles asked, his voice coming out a harsh whisper.
"That, I most devoutly hope, was the demise of the demon Prince Barvain," Ethan told him, voice shaky and likewise faint.
Giles turned to face him. "Barvain?" He blinked, distant a moment, then went on, "Barvain, from Sunnydale? The one scheduled to rise at sunset..."
"...The last time I was there, yes. As I recall, you turned up to stop him with two teenagers and a bag of stakes."
Giles blinked, and turned to look out the window again. The plane was leveling off now, no new explosions evident, but in the distance the fire raged.
"I was significantly under equipped."
The speakers still poured out assurances, some meaningless prattle about turbulence and light shows. The stewardess, professional demeanour firmly in place, started to check the seats. All manner of upset utterances rose up from all sides, but getting slightly quieter now.
"So the Initiative shipped Barvain out here when they took... What's so funny?"
Ethan had started laughing. "You think your commandos could have captured that?"
"They must have done something. Barvain did not rise."
"And you, of course, gave them credit. I believe your evidence was that 'too clean' look." Ethan grinned. "Trust me, Ripper, they didn't show. I should know."
"You were already in the crypt," Giles said softly, remembering. "You... You're saying you..."
"Dealt with Barvain." Ethan smiled again, if you could call something that dangerous a smile. His dark eyes sparkled, and for a moment Giles remembered exactly how awed he'd once been at this man's power.
Then his eyes narrowed, and he repeated, "Dealt with. Ethan, do you mean..."
"Cut a deal." Ethan looked away.
"Exactly what deal, Ethan?" Now Giles sounded dangerous.
Ethan looked back at him, smirk in place. "I told him I'd prepare an army for him." He waved out the window at the distant flames. "I was thinking British, but US seems to have done the job."
Giles shook his head and faced forward, face set in disapproving lines. "And at what cost? How many lives..."
"Hey! I'm here precisely because I did not like the cost. That thing in the cell thought different." Ethan looked pensive, corrected himself. "The thing that was in the cell."
"You don't think it burned?"
"No." Ethan looked away, looking distant a moment, then shivered and moved closer to Giles.
Giles flinched out of the way, without thinking. Ethan saw, and something flickered over his face too quick to name.
Then he looked up at Giles, for a moment looking serious. "I'm the unquiet dead, Ripper. My... body... hasn't had a proper burial yet. Or been cremated. I'd know."
Giles nodded and looked away. After a moment he went looking for a pen. When he sat up again, Ethan was once again elsewhere.
Giles was out of the plane, the concourse, and most of the airport before he realised he didn't really know what to do next. He ground to a halt, undecided between taxis and car hire. He needed more information.
"Ethan," he said, looking around. No sign of him, again. "Ethan Rayne?" Giles asked quietly.
Ethan stepped into view from behind him, leaving Giles to wonder quite how long he'd been there. He shook his head, then got right to the point. "Do you know where your... your remains are, right now?"
Ethan frowned, then closed his eyes. "Yes." He turned slowly in a circle, then opened them again, blinking and looking thoughtful. "No. Possibly? I think... I could go to them. In fact I'm sure of it. There's a... pull. But it doesn't seem to be directional."
Giles sighed. "Wonderful. Well could you go and come back? Get some... rough idea of its surroundings. Desert or whatever."
Ethan's expression dropped away, a polite mask there in its place. "I could. I won't. You have another plan?"
Giles opened his mouth to object, then frowned and closed it again. Instead he held up his bag. "I have some hopes for a locater spell, but you know, the greater the range..."
"...The more power it will take. Weren't you tapped out?"
Giles grimaced slightly. "Not... as such."
Ethan raised an eyebrow.
"I'll just have to be careful. I brought some ritual items that should be of help, although they... currently need a line of sight."
"So you need somewhere to set up. Somewhere central... With a view of all Las Vegas?"
"You have somewhere in mind?"
Ethan grinned. "If they've finished building it... You should try the Stratosphere. Highest tower in America. The view from the top of that..."
"...Should take in the whole city. Yes, that would help... Although there's the small problem of walls."
"We'll figure it out. Come on. Get a taxi, they'll know where it is."
They did, though Giles felt obscurely irritated to have to pay someone to drive straight down the street. Ethan had vanished again, so he couldn't voice his displeasure directly.
He got out and went through his pockets, trying to find some US cash. He'd acquired some on the way here, but for a moment could not recall what pocket it was in. His bag kept falling off his shoulder, and he managed to pull the cross out of his pocket to clatter on the sidewalk.
The driver looked bored, and kept his hand out, until the requisite notes were handed over. Then he pulled away fast.
Giles gave up and just carried his bag in his off hand, put the cross away again, and turned to face the hotel.
He yawned. Fourteen hours in transit, most of it sleeping, yet here he was thinking how good it would be to get to his room.
He stepped forward, heading for the main entrance.
It was just gone midnight here, yet there were still crowds, pushing past each other under neon lights.
Some giggling girls pushed past him, and through the gap made by their passing he saw Ethan again.
The lighting here made him look cadaverous, and for some reason he'd changed his clothes, to unbecoming olive drab.
One step further forward, and Giles realised what was wrong with that.
He grabbed for his pocket as the vampire rushed forwards and grabbed him, one hand on his left wrist and the other round his throat.
"Hello, Ripper," it said, fangs descended and face in the feeding mask.
"Ethan!" Giles gasped.
Rupert Giles and Ethan Rayne. Best mates, worst enemies, sometimes both at once. They've got a lot of history. So even when the Initative took Ethan away, Giles was sure he'd see him again, sooner or later...
Now the late Ethan Rayne is turning out to be twice the trouble, and Giles must be the one to deal with it.
The grip on his throat was tight, air a problem, and for a moment Giles thought he was seeing double. But the second Ethan had appeared in the familiar grey and red, fading in.
Ghost and vampire faced each other, and for a moment both looked surprise.
"Oh well done," the vampire said to his ethereal reflection. "I didn't think you'd get him here this fast. Not with the big push in LA." Then he turned to look at Giles again. "Or did your Slayer leave you behind again? Gone to play with the green men?" The vampire grinned, in a way made most unpleasant by his revealed fangs. "I'll be sure to send her after them, when I see her."
The vampire started to raise Giles up by the neck, until he was stretching to keep himself on the ground.
The ghost objected. "Wait! You don't want..."
But when the vampire turned to look, Giles seized on the distraction, and swung his bag up hard. He hit the thing where it hurt, and even the undead have to flinch at that. It doubled over, grip loosening, and Giles had a moment to drop the bag and grab the cross from his pocket with his right hand. He brought it up to meet the vampire's chest, and now it straightened from pain, flinching back from the holy symbol. It pushed him away, but only to arm's length, still not letting him go.
Then it stood still, snarling. After a moment, it pulled him closer instead.
Giles could hear the sizzle as the cross pressed in to the monster's chest, could smell the faint scent of burning as smoke started to rise.
"Hiding behind your dead god, Ripper?" It grinned again, madness and hate in its golden eyes.
Giles shifted his grip on the cross - made of wood, and quite large enough for a stake, if he could only get some muscle behind it. He pulled back his arm to punch it forward.
The vampire dropped his left wrist to grab at his right, instead getting a handful of cross. He wrenched it from Rupert's grasp, breaking it to splinters.
Giles pulled out the Holy Water and flipped the lid. He threw it, aiming for the monster's face, but it dodged and knocked his arm away. Instead the water fell on its left arm, still gripping Giles by the throat, where it burned like acid.
This time the monster screamed, and lost its grip.
Giles stumbled back and went for his bag again, not sure what he'd find of use there but short on options.
The vampire, seeing Ripper now free and reaching for weapons, cradled its arm and stepped away.
As Giles stood, the vampire grabbed a passer by, a young blonde woman. "Be seeing you," it said, and threw her at Giles.
He dropped the bag to catch her, kept them both upright, but when he looked around again the vampire was gone.
As was the ghost.
Giles grabbed the bag and from it pulled out the small box, at that moment still with two gold eyes glowing above it. But even as he pulled it clear of the bag they faded out. Whichever Ethan it was responding to, they were both out of range, and out of sight.
Giles looked around for a likely direction, then stopped.
Alone, unarmed, still tired, and without either plan or backup. He stood in front of an unfamiliar hotel, in a city he'd never visited before, still bustling at just gone midnight. He looked at the crowds, every one a potential victim.
He swallowed, and felt how his neck was still complaining from the vampire's grip.
He swore, loudly, then closed his bag and turned back to the hotel entrance. A room, a rethink, and perhaps some creative vandalism, would leave him in a better position.
He kept the little box in hand, a wary eye out for warning light.
He was in a room in the Stratosphere, room service steak half eaten, before the box glowed again.
Ethan appeared, fading in slowly. He looked almost solid when he was done, just the brightest lights visible through him.
He looked around.
"Door chained, chair under the handle, table between you and the way in... expecting company? What, didn't you bring a stake?"
"As a matter of fact, no. They don't get through airport security. Conveniently for you."
"For that thing, you mean."
"I mean, Ethan, I'm not a fool. Dozens of hotels on the strip alone, a city of millions, and that 'thing' happens to find me as soon as I set foot here? What do you take me for? So go on, report my room number. I'll be ready for it next time."
The ghost managed to look aggrieved. Then enraged. "You actually think I'd feed you to... that?"
"Don't play the innocent, Ethan. You've worked with vampires before."
"None of them had killed me! None of them had... Had taken all I was, all I ever could be, and replaced it with some... Cheap imitation!" Ethan paced, ignoring furniture. "I know you don't respect my calling, Ripper. I'm very well aware you don't respect me. But you could at least understand..." He turned to face Giles again, gesticulating with cupped hands. "I serve my god, my gods, Chaos. I show the world their truth. I never expected statues or even much of a marker, but I had a reputation. That... thing, that monstrosity... Ripper, that could live forever. I've had half a century, give or take. I've done well enough with it. But if that bastard out there gets started... He'll use my name, Rupert. He'll make it mean something... Something a vampire would be proud of. He already called Barvain, a terror shut out of this world for centuries. What's he going to do for an encore? And all as Ethan Rayne!"
Giles shook his head, put the knife down and pulled notepaper forward. "The deaths, the terror, the harm to innocents, that doesn't bother you. I've seen your work."
Ethan's face set in hard lines. "Sadistic and self-centered, remember?" he said. "Believe your own words at least. I want to hurt what hurt me. That out there hurts me in ways nothing else ever could. Demon possession... I stopped playing with that when you did, and you damn well know it. Now a demon has my body and I want it gone."
"And to do that you use me. Manipulate me. Bring me here... a little faster than expected."
"You wanted to find it!"
"And you pride yourself on giving what people want. Just not in the way they want it."
Ethan rubbed his face with one hand while the other arm crossed over his chest.
"Rupert... Please. This is bad. Bad for both of us."
"I've heard that before," Giles replied, then hesitated.
Ethan looked up at him. "And can you honestly say I was wrong?"
Giles sighed, his expression just a little less hard around the edges. He would not look up.
The ghost walked over to the bed and sank down to sit on it.
He looked at Giles, still writing something.
"What is that anyway? More plans?"
"Ones with a rather higher chance of success. And no need for further confrontation." Giles pulled out his cellphone, checked what time it thought it was. Still a little early to reach the office. He put it down again. He continued to jot down notes, trying to reconstruct verse from memory.
Ethan gave up waiting for elaboration and wandered over to read over his shoulder.
"Orb of Thesula... Rare these days. Used for rituals of the undead. Me or the vampire?" He read a little further, then his eyes widened. "Hang on... Re-ensoulment? Ripper, you can't."
"I can. I'd rather leave it to someone who has before, but I believe I can acquire everything I need."
"No. You can't do this to me."
Giles looked up.
Ethan's dark eyes were pleading, looking down at him.
Giles told him, "In most cases, it would be unconscionable. The soul of the departed has already moved on, bringing it back here would be... potentially, quite awful. But you, you are already here."
"And if you do this, I'll be here forever... Or whatever damn long time it takes to find another way." Ethan sank down, until they were on a level. "Rupert, think. Janus is god of doors, you know that. Including the one between this world and the next. Vampires... You've seen it. They bounce right off."
"Ethan, you're the only man I've ever met who thinks Janus has anything to do with it."
Ethan gave an impatient shake of his head. "Alright then, go with observation. There's a demon in there. You saw what it did to Eyghon."
"So you'd be safe from that at least."
"By selling out to something worse! Damn it, Rupert, you're the one who hates vampires. Do you really hate me that much?"
Giles flinched a little at that, almost imperceptibly. But he went back to writing.
"The vampire who saved us from Eyghon, his name was Angel. He was the first vampire with a soul."
"Angelus? I've heard that name before. Your scars..."
"The spell is imperfect. At the moment, there's a way to break it." Giles hesitated, then admitted, "A moment of true happiness, I believe is the phrase."
"Oh perfect!" Ethan said, standing and throwing his arms up. "Trapped for eternity, with a demon under my skin, and not able to be happy even if I could figure out how?" He paced away again, then turned and spread his hands, asking, "Why are you even thinking about this?"
"You'd be whole," Giles whispered, making a final note then letting the pen be still. "Not... Not restored, not entirely... But..."
"Corporeal? Revivified? ... Alive? Rupert!" Ethan said, making the name a complaint. Then again, this time with affection. "Oh, Rupert..." He sighed. "What you do to yourself." He came back to the table, sat down on the nearest edge of the bed.
Giles put the lid back on the pen and put it down. He checked the cell phone again. By now, his former secretary was probably in.
He put the phone down.
"What do you want, Ethan? Really? Just... Just an ending?"
Ethan smirked slightly, bitterly. "Bit of a turn around."
Giles looked up at him, face once more full of grief.
He sighed, dropped his head. "Rupert, what I want... From you, right now..." He looked up, eyes dark, and still full of stars.
Giles only matched his gaze a moment, then looked down again.
"...Is for you to go get that thing. Stake it. Burn it. Whatever works for you. Just get rid of it." Ethan sounded tired.
Almost as tired as Giles felt. "Slay the vampire. All right." He sighed. "So, this time, will you admit you know where it is?"
Ethan looked annoyed. "I didn't know. I'd just seen this place when the tower was going up. Always meant to come back and see the view."
Giles stared at Ethan.
"Look, if you don't trust me, why would you want me back in one piece? If I'm already in collusion with that thing it would hardly change the results."
Giles looked down, then flipped the notebook closed, and put it on top of his ghost research. He dropped them back in the bag, then put the phone back in his coat pocket.
He rubbed at his eyes.
"The furniture in here is ridiculously well constructed. I'll need some time to get stakes out of it..."
But just then he felt something, and part of it was very familiar. An aftertaste like turkish delight, sweet and sticky. But with it this time an appalling mix of dust and rank blood.
Ethan sat bolt upright, and shivered.
"Red... Red magic, out there..." He pointed out the window.
Giles turned, to face the Stratosphere Tower soaring up above them. He couldn't see magic from here, but he could surely feel it, a tug both familiar and very wrong.
"Yours... The other you. Corrupted..."
He turned back to Ethan.
"Go. Find it."
Ethan swallowed hard, but nodded, and stood.
He flickered out, but only for a moment.
"Up the top, the observation deck," he reported. "I don't know what it's done, but they're already screaming."
Giles' face set, and he stepped around the table, scanning the room again. Nothing he could wrench free in under half an hour. He shook his head, and picked up the steak knife, grimacing.
He looked out the window, calculating. To move down and across... "I need time, Ethan."
Ethan's hands went to fists, but he pushed them in his pockets and squared his shoulders. "You'll have it." He faded out again.
Giles unblocked the door, and ran.
The first obstacle was the ticket office, where they charged some ridiculous amount for one elevator ride. He had to put it on his credit card. As he bent to sign, he shivered, the feel of magic drifting down from above him now. Like fur on his skin, as it always had been. But now fur that was slightly sticky, and damp.
The ticket seller saw his scowl and throught it something to do with them. "Are you sure you want to go up now, sir? We're nearly done for the night..."
"No," Giles replied, then pasted on a businesslike smile as he straightened up. "I won't be here long."
He watched them print the ticket, losing even the false smile, then schooled himself to neither snatch it from their hand nor run to the elevator. Hotel security was watching. He nodded as he walked past them.
In the lift the feel of power built swiftly as he rose up towards it. Giles kept one hand in his pocket, the nearly useless knife at the ready. In the other pocket he had a refilled bottle of holy water – probably too dilute to use, but worth a try. There were also several packets of salt. Not the most useful form of the stuff, but magically versatile.
He was the lift's only occupant. He looked around, seeing posters for Stratosphere attractions. Mostly thrill rides. At the top of the tower? If they were still running this late, perhaps the screaming had a more innocent explanation.
And perhaps the vampire would stay up there to watch the sunrise, and all their troubles would be over.
Giles gripped the knife and made sure to hold it where it could be pulled free in a moment, all tension as the doors opened.
A small crowd waited, to catch the lift going down again. Giles pushed through them, and then found the place nearly empty. He moved forward swiftly, heading for the outer windows of the observation deck.
Through the panes the city lights glittered, neon colors stretching off along the strip. A tiny model city far below, more resembling aerial photos than the view from a building. More than a thousand feet in the air.
On the other side of the glass, one of the advertised rides hung over the edge, dangling fragile humans over that immense drop. It looked like a set of green claws, a circle of seats held within them. It was stretched out into the dark, swaying slightly in the wind.
Didn't seem particularly thrilling to Giles, but then he'd never had a taste for artificial fear. He went to move on.
Then he noticed, the hotel staff were clustered around the edge of the ride, some of them looking frantic. And those in the ride were still screaming.
Eyes narrowed, he walked on, around the glass.
The first door to the outer deck was fully open, and the wind whipped through it with notable force. Screams were carried in on it, and dust, stinging and adding to the dark magic that already made his mouth dry.
Giles hesitated, then continued on along the inside of the glass. Ethan's ghost had not said which side the vampire was on. But if it was outside, there was a better chance of finding it unawares if the wind did not carry his scent.
He moved along the arc, and the screams faded.
At the second door the wind was more fitful, skimming past, not going in.
Then the screams started to get stronger again.
Up ahead a second green glow, this time a bullet shape, started to fall, down into the dark. Giles darted forwards, then slowed when it rose up, apparently unharmed. The other kind of screaming, then. He moved on again.
Suddenly he heard Ethan, his voice as clear as if he were standing next to him.
"Of course they are. Petty little peons, fooled into thinking this is all they can ever be."
He looked around hurriedly, knife half out, but couldn't see him.
"But weather is so unwieldy. And impersonal. Sure, you can whip up a wind, but what does it do?"
Then he saw them – out on the deck, near the second ride. There were two figures. One was as green as the ride, neon light falling on olive drab. The other at first seemed spotlit, but in ways that had nothing to do with the garish colors around him. He was instead the same red and grey he'd been since Rupert first saw him, at twilight. Against this darkness, he looked a little like stained glass.
The ghost, and the demon, staring out over Las Vegas.
Rupert backed away to the previous door, losing sight of them again. He stepped cautiously through, then slid around the outside of the glass, keeping the concrete supports between him and the vampire. The wind was a fitful breeze now, mostly blocked by the building. The scent of magic hung heavy in the air, and the vampire's words carried to him, though not as strongly as the ghost's.
"Did you see them squealing? All that joyful anticipation as they lined up, ready to taunt the darkness. Think they can play right on the edge and never fall. All that science and technology, meant to 'fail safe'. Hah! Show them a little chaos though..."
Giles reached the next support, and ducked his head out around it. He could just see the two figures, standing on the edge, watching the ride rise up ready for another plunge.
The green one raised a hand, and the magic spiked sharply.
This time the car dropped faster, and the only thing that rose up were screams.
Giles darted out, risked going to the railing. He had to know...
There was a second railing below, and beyond that... A green, bullet shaped car, hanging there in the darkness, below them, but no longer falling.
Giles let out a breath.
"Oh well done. The hotel will have to give them a refund." The bored drawl must be the ghost's.
Giles turned, and saw one Ethan step away from the edge and turn in his direction. They froze a moment, then Ethan's ghost, with wide eyes, nodded sharply back at the other one. Giles moved forwards, until he was again hugging the glass, and once again a pillar hid the pair.
"This is just the prelude. They're going to see the truth of the darkness. This tower will run red with blood, and the streets will fill with demons. Then let them hide behind denial!"
"They will, you know. They did in Los Angeles. Haven't you seen the gas masks?" The ghost managed to sound superior and disgusted at once.
Giles skirted around the next bit of concrete, and now he could see the ghost around the curve of the tower. The vampire stayed hidden. He'd have to hope he did too.
"Telling them never works. Showing them never works..."
"...But making them... Remaking them, re-creating them in our own image... That will work."
The ghost's expression was eloquent, and not complimentary. "Making them vampires, you mean." He shook his head. "Thirty years of magical practice, and what does it end with? A transformation anyone in your species could achieve!"
"Oh, but it will change the world," the vampire gloated. It threw up it's arms and turned in a wide circle. "All of this! Belonging to the dark!"
The ghost hastily stepped in the way and waved down at the ride still stuck below them. "And this helps how?"
The vampire looked down too, and shrugged. "Appetisers. Fear makes them taste better." It looked up and grinned, face gone vampiric now. "By the time Barvain gets here, they'll be soaked in terror."
"Barvain? Hate to tell you, but the army finished him off."
"Sent him back, yes. I saw. Your fault for running. You were supposed to be his anchor."
"Never," Ethan snarled. "I'll never serve, especially not that."
"You cut the deal."
"I never called it in. You haven't the right..."
"Oh but I have. I'm Ethan Rayne. I call upon the demon prince Barvain, iraemien erhurech saviwehr..."
The words, in no tongue Giles knew, pulsed through the magic and filled it with a new scent, until all sweetness was lost under foul butchery and brimstone. Giles felt sick as the magic flowed past him, and sicker when his own rose to block it, weakened as it was by much use. He built a cool green barrier in his mind, until the taste in the back of his mouth was mostly washed away.
He stepped out around the last support, and saw the vampire turn to greet him.
"Ripper." It licked its lips, and grinned. "Cider... Matured, since last time. Nice... Though I always could have lived without the bark. Not a comfortable power to touch, yours." It stepped forward casually. "Come to match magics again?"
Rupert flicked a glance at the ghost, uncharacteristically silent.
Ethan hung just a little off the floor, his eyes wide and his mouth moving soundlessly. He looked terrified. And the darkness around him... looked to be taking form. Something with claws.
The vampire looked over at him too.
"Yes, well... The price of doing business, I'm afraid. Sold my soul. Not like I needed it any more."
"Monster," Giles hissed, and stepped forwards.
The vampire moved back, up against the rail.
Between it and Giles there came a glow, red and gold, like the fires in the desert. Like clawed feet, and legs, rising up, outlined in fire.
"Barvain, saviwehr," the vampire started chanting again.
Giles stepped forward, the knife in his hand feeling tiny. Each leg now forming was bigger than he was. The screams from the ride below kept getting louder, and now they were joined by screams from above.
Giles looked up, and up some more. He found himself backed into the railing, trying to see.
Above them all, a face was forming. Monstrous, distorted, crowned with horns, the same demonic visage he'd seen in the desert, and still burning.
Around the top of the tower a red serpent of neon was wrapped, along which came a streak of gold. A rollercoaster, Giles realised. Wrapped around the tallest tower in America, more than a thousand feet above the ground.
The demon, still translucent, leaned in, positioned gaping mouth in front of plunging cars.
It went right through... this time.
The demon's roar of frustration joined the chorus of screams.
And the demon kept on getting brighter.
At the base of the figure, between the fiery legs, the vampire stood, eyes glinting gold. It looked up with an expression of unholy joy, arms spread.
"Barvain! Take these offerings, gifts from your servant, your right hand!"
In the demon's right hand, the ghost of Ethan twisted, pounded at the claws. When it heard the vampire's dedication Ethan's face went from fear to fury. He kicked at the thing, and when that didn't work, he ducked his head and bit.
The claws loosened in a spasm, and Ethan's spirit dived over the edge of the tower, landing on the lower level, beyond reach.
"Damn filthy demon." He spat, then turned and called up, "Exorcism, Ripper! The Janus rite!"
The ghost started chanting, Latin slightly unfamiliar to Giles, calling on Janus as god of portals to bar the one letting this demon in.
The vampire started chanting in counterpoint, voice rising. That fouled power rose with it, bringing the wind towards them now, and the screams, and the terror.
The demon looked stronger.
Giles had words of his own.
"Begone, you bastard!" He screamed, and threw the holy water at the demon.
The bottle burst, the water becoming a puff of steam, but now the demon screamed instead of roaring, and the flames on it went out.
The darkness remained, a huge shape, and the clawed hands reached out for the rollercoaster ride as it came around again higher up.
Ripper dived between the thing's legs, steak knife aimed for the vampire's throat.
It snapped out the casting trance with no time to block, and instead pushed itself up on the railing. The knife sank into the vampire's chest.
The chant cut off, and the vampire fell backwards, over the railing.
Giles lunged forwards, but grabbed the rail in time.
The screams from above came again, and Giles turned.
The golden ride sped along the red towards the dark claws.
The ghost's voice switched from Latin to English. "Janus, just get me out of here!"
Ethan faded out rapidly.
And so did the demon.
The car sped through the fading shadow without a pause, and once it had passed, the light returned to normal. Neon, red, gold, and green, but without the coalescing dark power there. The wind was still blowing, but the power ebbed away and left it almost clean.
Giles looked back down hurriedly, but there was no sign of the vampire.
When Giles finally got back to his room he had a complimentary hotel gas mask, and a discount should he wish to ascend the tower again. The hotel had been effusive in their apologies. They had also rather got in the way of his attempt at a purification rite. Along with the effects of the wind on the tiny amounts of salt, he rather doubted the efficacy of the rite, however drained it had left him.
He put the chain on the door, dragged the chair back under the handle, and turned to head for bed.
The little box on the table was glowing again.
He hit the lights and spun to check the room, fists raised.
"Sorry, only me," Ethan said, then walked through the bed for illustration.
Giles relaxed again, as much as he could with that much adrenalin going.
Then he rubbed his face and laughed.
"Nothing. Just... When the haunting is the relaxing part..."
"You're living the life. Yes." Ethan half grinned, briefly.
Giles walked over to the bed, slumped down, and stripped out of his coat. Then he bent and pulled his shoes off.
"Staying in, are we?"
"I need to get some more sleep. I'm stuck until I can do some shopping, which even here is difficult at four in the morning. You may go where you please." He sat up and unbuttoned his shirt, enough to pull it over his head. Then he paused, and turned to face Ethan. "Although... With that thing still out there... It might be better if you could..."
"Get out of here, and stop spying on you? You still think we're in cahoots?"
"No. No... I saw." Giles threw his shirt at the table. "You sold your soul?" It came out as a question, just slightly incredulous.
"I never sold my soul," Ethan objected.
Giles looked at him.
He looked slightly uncomfortable, then attempted a smirk. "There are a number of outstanding promisory notes."
"Ah. So much better." Giles sighed, then yawned. He got up to pull the covers back. "Are there any others I should perhaps know about?"
Ethan settled in on the left side of the bed, leaning back against the head board. He put his hands behind his head, leaned back with his eyes closed. "How much time have you got?"
"Wonderful," Giles muttered. He gave him an exasperated glare. "Get out of there."
Ethan looked up at him with dark eyes, and just a trace of the old pout. "I thought I'd get comfortable. For more thrilling hours of watching you snore."
"Ethan!" Giles reined in his irritation. "I actually thought... I hoped you could keep watch."
"Ah. Well. Now that's different." He sat a little straighter in the bed. "I'll have to keep my eyes open."
"In the hall, Ethan. Where you'll see it coming." Giles sighed. "Please?"
Ethan grinned, and climbed to his feet again. "You do know you've no way of knowing I'll stay there?" His grin faded a bit. "I've no way of knowing, for that matter. Daylight coming..." he trailed off, and looked down at himself, still overlapping the furniture.
"Daylight will be more of a problem for the other one," Giles said, climbing into bed. "Just... do your best." He lay down, pulled his glasses off, and closed his eyes.
It was very, very quiet, for long moments.
Giles turned over, curling up on his side.
"You know, you really do look better when you relax."
Giles opened his eyes and glared at Ethan, who was quite clear at the end of the bed, and clearly smirking again.
The ghost turned, and walked out through the door.
Giles closed his eyes, and rather to his surprise was quickly asleep again.
The phone woke him.
He fumbled on the bedside cabinet until he found the handset, then got it to his ear, still blinking away the sleep.
"Ha... Hello?" He yawned.
"Hello, Ripper," Ethan purred, sounding entirely too pleased.
"Ethan," Giles turned back over and rubbed his eyes. "I was asleep."
"Dreaming of me?"
"No, it." Giles opened his eyes, realising. "The vampire. How did you know...?"
"I know you, Ripper."
Giles looked to the table, and the telltale box. There were no lights above it. But then, anything that blocked sight blocked it.
"Ethan Rayne..." Giles muttered, looking around.
The box lit up, and on the bed next to him the ghostly Ethan appeared, half transparent in a streak of morning sunlight.
The thing on the phone of course thought Giles was addressing it.
"So you do remember me. I was beginning to wonder. 'Monster', 'vampire', 'it'... Really, that's no way to talk to an old mate."
"My 'mate' died. You are the monster that killed him," Giles replied calmly. "Where are you?" He was looking at the ghost as he said this, but that Ethan's eyes went wide and he shook his head.
"Somewhere in Paradise, making friends. You'll meet them tonight."
"Like Barvain? I haven't seen it since last night. Could be we finally killed it." Giles was still addressing the ghost, who half grimaced, then nodded and stood.
"He has been around since ancient times. It seems unlikely our fight could entirely defeat it," the phone replied. "Still, I do have other resources."
The ghost faded out, and Giles turned his attention to the thing on the phone.
"What do you want, vampire?"
"Ripper, you've always known what I want from you. All that's changed is what I can offer you in return."
"You can offer me nothing that I would want."
"Really, Ripper? You think you've changed that much? I remember when you and Randall first found the bite dens. Coming home with marks all over..."
"That was a very long time ago." Giles closed his eyes, then opened them again to watch the warning box. "I'm not that man any more."
"Of course. You are the champion of innocence and all things pure and good," it mocked. Then the voice became intense. "I know who you are, Rupert, and I know what you're capable of."
"Then you should be afraid," Giles told him, equally intense. "But then, you always are. You run, you hide, you cower..."
"On my knees before you, while you held a gun in my face." The vampire said it with relish, enjoyment evident. "Do you remember, Ripper? A little bite of magic and you were back. Taking your girl out on the town. Urging her on to beat me. And wherever did that delicious woman you brought get those handcuffs? The same place you acquired the gun?"
"I don't need that kind of magic."
"No... But you liked it."
"Ripper, this is me. Remember? I saw you. You thoroughly enjoyed yourself. The violence, the power... You always did. That Halloween you broke more than just the statue. Next time you found me, the first thing you did was pull me up by the hair. When we met in the crypt, thrashing me was going to improve your day. Of course, I managed that by other means... Tell me, do you remember it? That last night? What it felt like?"
"I... I don't... I didn't want... What the Initiative did to you..."
"Ha! That. Yes... I'm sure you didn't like to think of me, bound and screaming, in a big glass box. That wouldn't be like the Watcher at all. Would it?"
"I... I didn't... Ethan..." He closed his eyes, reminded himself this was the other one. The thing. He looked around for Ethan, the spirit, but still there was no trace. He gripped the phone too tight, and kept listening.
"But then the Watcher would hardly have done any of it. Not got drunk with a degenerate son of chaos. Not worked magic with him."
"You turned me into a Fyarl demon!" Giles objected. "I spent all day having to hide. I couldn't talk to anyone!"
"But by night you'd got the hang of it, yes? The power, the rage... The way everyone cowered before you. 'Pissing themselves', I believe you requested."
"Your objection to the soldier boys. You said they never even noticed you. Well we fixed that."
"Oh, yes. In the most destructive way possible. You know I was losing myself? All I could feel was the rage."
"That's all I've felt from you for a long time, Ripper. Wasn't it so much more fun to let it out?"
"Oh. It's more fun for me."
"You... Self centered..."
"... and sadistic. Yes. A matched set."
"You're telling me there was no part of it that you enjoyed? Not a thing?"
Giles opened his mouth, then hesitated. Maggie Walsh. He could tell himself she deserved it, but...
He paused too long, and the vampire drew its own conclusions. "Oh yes. I know who you are. And I know where you come from. You walked into the Rose, beat Randall before he knew he was in a fight, and matched magics with me. The Ripper, in all his glory."
"A costume, Ethan. A pretense," Giles told him, wearily.
"But you made it so much more. You made us all names to be feared."
"Yes." Giles hung his head, shame faced.
He remembered. Living in the grey areas between the mundane and the dark worlds. So determined to belong in the dark. Magic was the dream he was chasing, but not the only power he'd spent years on yet been told to never use. His martial training, finally unleashed... The thrill of it, the barbaric joy of a good punch up... The darker rush in the glint of steel, the blades he made his name with. Ripper started with vampires, staked his first when he was fresh off the train, sleeping in an alley he didn't know enough to avoid. Yet he learned soon enough that it wasn't just the demons that could make him bleed.
The first time some mere human pulled a knife on him, he was not afraid. Even when he couldn't quite twist aside in time, when it sliced his hip open even though his jeans, it wasn't fear he felt. Something closer to rage, perhaps, or wounded pride, that some guttersnipe could think to pull that with him. His return strike happened without conscious thought, his own blade pulled and used in one motion, drilled into him for years.
Randall pulled him out of there. Ripper hadn't even looked back.
It was hours later, when Cliffe had been summoned and the stitches were going in, that he even thought to wonder how bad the other man was hurt. He'd never actually found out.
But Watchers were trained to go for the heart.
"It's all ancient history. It hardly matters any more." Giles tried to dismiss it, but he sounded weak even to himself.
Ethan sounded, as always, intense. Voice low and intimate, persuasive. "You showed us what we were capable of, and we all followed your lead. Well, now it's my turn. Let me show you what we could be."
Giles tried to gather himself. "Rather too late for that."
"On the contrary, Ripper. Now we can really get started."
"You're dead, Ethan. It's over."
"All the pain, all the fear, all the baggage that tries to weigh you down. All over. Think of it, Ripper. Think of the freedom. Thirty years you've hidden inside a Watcher suit, scared of the demons getting under your skin. But you don't have to be scared, if you just let them in."
"Think of the power. All the things you could do if you just let rip..."
"And no more worries what you'll feel like in the morning – the night would be our time."
"Never. Never again."
"Every time, you say that, but it always ends the same. You let me in."
Giles got out of the bed and started looking for weapons.
"You'd never have to fear that again, either. Lose that ugly 'phobia'..."
"Don't... That's not..."
"No more needing liquid courage to work up to it. Do you even remember the last time? I do."
Rupert's hand shook, and he pulled the phone away from his ear, hesitating with it in mid air. The room was empty, the telltale lights still absent, spirit nowhere to be seen. And all he could find for weapons was a fork.
"Come with me, Ripper. You've always wanted it. All it takes now is just one taste..."
The box lit up, and Giles snatched up the fork, even as he slammed the phone down.
The ghost stood in the sunlight, quite transparent, and held his hands up.
Giles dropped the fork again, slightly sheepish.
"Did you... Where is...?"
"I don't know," Ethan replied.
"You what?" Giles glared at the phone, then returned it to its proper place.
"It has the place surrounded with wards. It was like walking into blood soaked spider webs. I couldn't look around much, I was too busy trying to get out of there."
"Brilliant." Giles sank down on the edge of the bed again, and rubbed his face. "Bloody brilliant."
"I... I heard some of that. Just remember, that isn't me." This Ethan sounded rather less sure than the other one, and was rather less persuasive.
Giles looked up at him, emotions for once naked, and conflicted. "Ethan... Don't try to tell me you wouldn't say those things. I know you. You've been saying something like them for... Half our lives."
Ethan looked down, crossed his arms. "That thing's a hollow mask, Rupert. There's nothing left in it that's real." He fidgeted a moment, then looked up. There was no smirk on his face then, and his dark eyes tried to say something the words could not.
Giles held his gaze for a long moment, then looked away. He reached for his glasses, then stopped. The t-shirt he was wearing had been through rather a lot, and he had others with him. He pulled it over his head, left it beside him on the bed, and leaned forward to snag his bag.
As he sat up, he paused, and said, "It was never about courage. Not... out of a bottle or otherwise. And god knows it had nothing to do with the opinions of the Council." He pulled the fresh t-shirt on, this one a speckled dark grey. "Not that it helps. Just..." he trailed off, and sighed. He put his glasses on again, then stood up and went to the table for yesterday's shirt.
"Just, either would make it about you. And of course it was always me." Ethan should have sounded bitter, sarcastic, but it came out too tired for that.
Giles looked up at him, and again their eyes met, all the old story between them.
Ethan stepped forwards, and raised a hand to Rupert's face.
He closed his eyes, then turned away. "Don't."
"Rupert... If not now, when? We're all out of chances."
Rupert opened his eyes again, but looked down at the table still. The glowing gold eyes on the box there looked back up at him.
"There's some things that need saying..." Ethan reached for him again.
"That thing is still out there, Ethan." Giles looked up, eyes pleading. "It is out there... Feeding... And I... I'm going to have to..." His eyes closed again, and he looked away, swallowing hard. When he spoke again his voice was back under control. "I'm going to need a stake."
He looked down, picked up the shirt, then wrinkled his nose as yesterday's conflicts rose up to meet him.
"Besides," he said, turning, "What difference would it make?" He threw the shirt at the bed, and it sailed straight through Ethan.
Rupert Giles and Ethan Rayne. Best mates, worst enemies, sometimes both at once. They've got a lot of history. So even when the Initative took Ethan away, Giles was sure he'd see him again, sooner or later... Now the late Ethan Rayne is turning out to be twice the trouble, and Giles must be the one to deal with it.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Ethan elected to stay in the room rather than go shopping. He said only that the conditions outside were not ideal for a ghost. So Giles got to navigate the crowds and the glaring sunlight alone.
When he got back, he got a full commentary on all his purchases.
"One packet of pencils... Wooden, of course. You planning to prove the pencil mightier than the sword?"
"That would not be my first choice, no. They have a tendency to break, or get stopped by a decent shirt. I just happened to be out."
"Baseball bats... Those are a bugger to sharpen. With a pocket knife?" Ethan shook his head.
"I don't plan to put a point on them. Unless we're stuck here a few days. A souvenir knife is... not the most useful I've ever owned. The blade is rather smaller than the corkscrew."
"Don't worry, Ripper. What you lack in stature you make up for in technique."
Giles gave him the expected glare, then peered into the plastic bag at the last two objects. He hesitated, but he really did need to get them out. They were no use in the presentation boxes.
"What's this... stakes? Actual gift wrapped stakes. In a little velvet box! I know you said there were a lot of Slayers now, but I didn't think they'd be a notable market for souvenirs."
"They're nothing to do with Slayers. There's some kind of show here." He got the box open, which unfortunately let the explanatory leaflet fall out, with its helpful illustrations.
"A show?" Ethan craned, to look, then grinned. "Aha, an 'adult revue'. Dancing vampire strippers!"
Giles tried to ignore him and worked on the second box.
"Of course, as a Watcher, your duty is clear. The innocence of the public must be protected."
"We're not going, Ethan. They're just dancers. It's nothing to do with us."
"Oh come now, Ripper. How can you be sure, without a close inspection? I'm sure your Council will understand. Tell me, do you do itemised expenses? Or do they make you pay for your own... stakes?" Ethan looked at the two pieces of wood.
Giles had one in each hand. He tested the grip, and found it satisfactory. The shape, however, might need a little work.
"Ripper... Are you sure those things don't need batteries?"
Giles pursed his lips and attempted to ignore him. He put one stake down and picked up the pocket knife. They were a bit... rounded, but he'd soon put a proper point on them. He carved off the first slice carefully, testing the quality of the wood.
"Ouch," Ethan remarked.
Giles couldn't help but glare at him.
The ghost sat on the edge of the bed with a serene sort of smirk.
Giles went back to the stake. He asked Ethan, "Did you get any useful details about the location of the vampire?"
Ethan lost the smirk, and stood up to pace again. He crossed his arms, and rubbed along his left arm with his thumb.
"A couple of things. I think he's settled in for the day."
"Yes. Those weren't a five minute job."
"You said they felt like blood."
Ethan, now next to the window, looked out and down. "Yes." He went to move the curtain, but his fingers went right through it. He closed his hand instead, and tucked it under his arm. "There was someone else there. At least one other. A woman, stretched out on the bed."
"So he was in a bedroom. House or hotel?"
Ethan looked up into the distance and thought. "Could be either. En suite bathroom, television... Either a very bland home, or a hotel room." He sighed, and turned to face Giles. "Which does not narrow it down one bit. What did he actually say?"
"He said he was in Paradise, making friends. I suspect that poor woman will rise again."
Ethan half grimaced, and looked out the window again. "Paradise... could be anywhere on the Strip. And quite a ways beyond it. That's the official name for the area," Ethan glanced at Giles as he explained.
"Wonderful. Well... We do have more information. The one person in the world who knows him best."
Ethan inclined his head. "Much as I hate to be connected to that thing... Yes. So. You want to know what I know about Las Vegas?"
Ethan wandered back across the room, thinking. "It's all surface, like a cheap glamour. Everyone's looking for an edge. Attraction spells on anything and everything, to the point they just cancel out."
He sighed and turned, paced slowly down the side with the bed, not pausing for furniture. "There's no one much around here I know, except in the Biblical sense. No one with a name. Present company excepted." He shrugged. "No one I'd go to in particular... Although..." He turned again, paused, face grim. "That woman... I keep thinking she looked familiar." He shook his head. "I don't know."
"Describe her?" Giles asked, gently.
"Blonde. Probably tall. Shapely. Very shapely. And even with the state she was in, drop dead gorgeous." He grimaced. "Which covers a good sixth of the people I've ever slept with. More, if they bleach."
"Yes, well... Whatever the vampire's preferences... I suspect he could find suitable company anywhere."
"Right." Ethan sighed, then started to pace again. "So... I don't have a favourite place. I've only really been here on business."
"My own," Ethan replied quickly, then gave an apologetic sort of frown. "Not exactly relevant now."
"It might be a place to start."
"I suppose." Ethan paced a moment more, back next to the table now. He paused a moment, then said, "It was for the Excalibur. Or would have been. We couldn't come to terms."
"They didn't like the price?"
Ethan smirked in that particular self satisfied way that he had about his own magic. "They couldn't find a willing employee. There were plenty that wanted to be the dragon, but the old man? And then to go live in the moat." Ethan shook his head.
"What was it, some security thing?" Giles tried to imagine.
"You've not seen the place? They built a castle, right out of a fairytale book. Every night some fake magician fights off the fire breathing drake. I think they went with puppets, eventually. You never know, though. Might have been another contractor."
Giles just stared at Ethan for a moment.
"What? It's all true. You can go up there and check."
Giles went back to the stake, now the second one, half finished.
"So... They didn't hire you. Was it... amicable? Would the vampire hold a grudge?"
Ethan shrugged. "Vampires seem to rise with a grudge against the world. But I've got to admit, I really do kinda hate that place. They've got fake Merlins everywhere, and little kids running around in pointy wizard hats, just to feed coins into all those shiny boxes." He grinned wickedly. "What I could do with the gift shop and a statue of Janus..."
"So, possibly the Excalibur then. Or the one in the pyramid."
"Oh yes. I could definitely see myself putting that to better use."
"Aside from most of the Strip, and the rest of Las Vegas?" Ethan shrugged.
Giles, exasperated, put the stake down, as finished as it was getting. He folded up the knife and dropped it in a pocket, then added the stakes, one on each side. He pushed the shavings to one side with a bit of paper, then pulled the little telltale box in front of him. The two gold ovals still glowed above it, faithfully telling him Ethan was standing in plain sight.
"You'll use that for a locater?"
"It will take some modification. It works on line of sight only, with a range of... I think it was thirty feet. More than six, less than sixty. It only had to work across the hall."
He ran his fingers around the edge of the box, carefully feeling for the seam. Then he got a grip on it, top and bottom, and started easing the pieces apart.
The top came off with a barely audible pop, and the light went out.
"What's powering it, then? Anything you can modify?"
"I believe so. If I can find... Ah, the spell diagram." Giles pulled out a carefully folded piece of paper, and put the rest of the box to one side.
Ethan peered inside, then passed a hand over it. He frowned, then tried again a little lower, moving his hand through.
"You made this yourself... But there are pieces of me in there. Looks like hair... and blood?"
"Broken glass from the kitchen. Remember?"
"Yes... A small but memorable explosion." Ethan sighed. "You know, I really didn't mean to..."
"And yet you did. Such a surprise," Giles replied absently. Having unfolded the paper, he was studying it carefully. He pulled out one of the new pencils, and put three careful dots around the circumference of the circle drawn there. "Yes... Yes, I can definitely increase the range... If I don't mind it burning out in... Ah, about a day." He looked closer at the lower left quadrant. "Make that half a day." He sighed. "That might be enough." He looked up at Ethan, then shook his head and checked the spell again. "I shall have to make it switchable, somehow. Try not to use it up in one go." He got out a fresh sheet of paper, and started making a new diagram, whispering quietly as he worked.
Ethan, for once, remained quiet and still. He watched Giles intently. Every now and then, he licked his lips.
Eventually, Giles put down the pencil and sat back.
Ethan opened his mouth, then tasted the air again, and stayed quiet.
Giles smiled at him slightly absently, and held up a finger. He pushed the chair back, went over to the mini bar, and got one of the smaller bottles out. He whispered to it as he stepped back to the table, then opened it and poured it over the new paper.
Instead of soaking the paper, it turned into faint light on the way down, and settled in between the lines on the page.
Giles put the bottle down and yawned. "There. Done."
"More of a top up. Everything necessary is already in the box. I'll have to swap the papers out." He looked dubious. The little box looked a little fragile and full to be fiddling with. He sighed. "And I'm still not sure how much use it will be through obstructions." He looked at the box a moment, then folded up the original paper and placed it back inside. He eased the lid on gently, and once closed the gold light appeared. "A small test to start... Ethan?" He looked up.
Ethan was still looking at him, just a little oddly.
"You stopped doing magic," he said, quietly.
Giles looked away. "Magic for pleasure or gain. This is necessary."
"Ah, of course." He looked distant, then blinked, and smiled. "Sure. I'll take a stroll." He turned around and walked towards the corridor. That took him through the bathroom wall. "One wall... And a bath tub. Any change?"
The lights faded, but did not quite go out. "It can see you... Just about. I wonder if it's because the door is open? Hang on..." A slight rearrangement, and back to check the box again. "No, still lit. A little further?"
"Okay." A moment's pause, then, "Two walls and a pot plant. Still see me?"
"No... No, it's dark now." Giles blinked and looked up. "But I can hear you. And you...?"
"Heard you fine," Ethan replied, strolling back in the way he'd left. "I'd guess we're not exactly talking."
"That would make sense... Or else someone would have wondered about the disembodied voice by now."
"They'd just wonder why you had a speaker phone," Ethan told him, with just a hint of disdain.
Giles got out a fresh sheet of paper, but instead of drawing he started making notes.
"Hmm? Yes... Just, thinking what we'll need."
"A tidy little list being the obvious first thing."
Giles looked up, gave Ethan a slightly exasperated look. "Ethan, this is one of your less convincing poses. Magic requires careful preparation, whatever goal you have in mind. And I know for a fact it took you weeks to get the costume shop ready. Not to mention the chocolate."
"Magic requires nothing more than imagination, and the will to move a bit of power around," Ethan corrected him.
Giles rolled his eyes. "Magic with predictable effects then."
Then shook his head as Giles went back to the list.
"Put it away, Rupert. You need these 'eyes' to see through walls, right? Get a clean piece of paper and put the box in the middle of it."
Giles looked at him somewhat dubiously, then tapped the table a couple of times as he thought.
"Necessary risks, Rupert. Work with me. I promise, you don't have to enjoy it."
Giles gave him a look, then turned, and did as Ethan asked.
"Unless you want to," Ethan added.
Giles sighed. "What do you have in mind?"
"The box was part of Janus, for a while."
"I hid it behind the carving. I'm not sure that counts."
"Close enough for this. Those lights are the eyes of Janus, and Janus can see into the past and the future. A couple of walls aren't really going to be a problem for him."
"Are you sure? There's nothing in the book about Janus based scrying. Rituals, omens, yes, but..."
"Trust me, Rupert."
Giles gave him a very old fashioned look at that.
"All right, just trust that I know my own patron deity."
Giles nodded, and looked back at the paper again.
"So... A new spell diagram?"
"Just draw Janus. One face on each side. Get the eyes lined up right, I'm sure he wouldn't appreciate a squint."
"Ah. How, ah, artistic, does this need me to be?"
Ethan grinned. "Don't worry, Ripper, I've seen your little sketches. Just concentrate on the deity. This is an offering. Skill is not required, just sincerity."
Giles hesitantly put pencil to paper. He drew rather slowly, but using only one continuous line. The end result could be seen as two faces looking opposite directions. Very simple, and not quite symmetrical, but with the 'eyes' of the box in the right place.
Giles sat back and sighed. "Looks a little like that candlestick picture."
"Relax, Rupert. Janus is a very forgiving deity. He puts up with me." Ethan grinned, then moved around to face the new Janus squarely.
"Now what?" Giles asked, moving the chair sideways to give him space.
"Now I pray," Ethan told him, then started whispering in Latin.
Giles tried to hear exactly what he was saying, but the words didn't quite reach him. He watched Ethan closely, trying to get some idea from lip reading.
Ethan looked intently at the image of Janus, expression serious, with just a hint of reverence. Giles could think of no time outside of casting that the man focused in quite that way. And even then... Ethan's face changed, filling with something else, something that made him smile. A grin that made Giles just a little uncomfortable.
Then his eyes went wide as he faded out again.
"Ethan?" Giles asked the now-empty room. He looked around, then down to check the lights. They were faded to almost nothing. "Ethan, if this was part of the plan... Ethan Rayne?" The eyes lit again, and Giles looked up, but Ethan still surprised him.
"No plan, Ripper. Remember?" He stepped up beside Giles and grinned at him, but it didn't quite reach his eyes.
Giles looked at him dubiously. "Where did you go this time? To the... other one?"
Ethan looked away. "More like the other side." He looked down at the paper. "Or the gate to it, anyway." He looked distant for a moment, then looked up at Giles, face serious again. "I think you'll have to take it from here. Magic..." He looked away, then shrugged. "Everything changes."
"Last night, the vampire... It seemed to have your power. Or some corrupt version of it."
"It has everything. Twisted..." Ethan grimaced, disgusted. He closed his eyes a moment, and when he opened them his old attitude was back. "So, you'll have to get it done." He looked at Giles, then gestured at the paper. "You're strong enough. And what's left of the spell is simple. Basically, ask Janus nicely."
"Just ask?" Giles raised an eyebrow dubiously. "And he'll ask for what, in return?"
"From you? Very little. You'll have to make the offering, of course, but a drop will do."
"A drop of wine," Giles insisted, getting up to go to the mini bar again. "Wine is a widely accepted libation."
"Like sacrificial VISA," Ethan agreed. "But really, is it much of a sacrifice?"
"At mini bar prices?" Giles found a suitable bottle, and a use for the corkscrew.
Ethan shrugged and nodded.
Bottle opened, Giles paused. "Just ask, you say?"
"In Latin would be best."
"Ah." Giles put the bottle down and pulled the notepad over. He muttered to himself as he quickly translated. "I want to see Ethan..." He shook his head and started over. "I need to find the vampire that was once Ethan..."
Ethan peered over his shoulder to read. "Little convoluted... Try something a bit more straightforward."
Giles looked over at the new Janus, and the telltale box. He looked back at the paper, translating easily this time. "Let the magic in this box work no matter what gets in the way."
He looked up at Ethan, who nodded agreement.
Giles got a drop of wine on his finger, then hesitated with it over the Janus face. "Please..." he started, then sighed, and let the drop fall on one sideways facing mouth. It could have been his imagination, but the eye glow seemed stronger. He called up his power, let it fill the Latin as he spoke. This time magic flowed through him unforced and unopposed. It felt like a cool drink, refreshing. After a moment, he got a second drop, and gave it to the other mouth. "Thank you."
Now the Janus face looked just a little smoother than he recalled.
As he looked at it, one of the golden 'eyes' went out, for just a moment. It looked for all the world like Janus winked.
Giles blinked and sat back away from it.
Ethan leaned forward, grinning again. "Janus..." He raised a hand, held it over the image. Then the grin faded, and instead he looked tired and worn. He snatched his hand back and put it in his pocket. "Right then..." He blinked, then spoke without looking at Giles. "I'll keep going until you say stop, or I get out the other side of the hotel." Ethan walked away.
Giles picked up the bottle, then put a bit of paper under it and wrote in large letters 'FOR JANUS'. A cleaner would probably still get rid of it, but it would at least not be his fault.
"Three walls," Giles heard Ethan say.
The lights stayed on.
"Four..." said Ethan, and then his voice faded. The box stayed lit a little longer, but soon faded out as well.
"Ethan Rayne," Giles said, and the spirit was back by his side in a second.
"Did it work?"
"Stopped working just before I called you. But this is the short range spell. I believe the walls were not a factor." Giles looked at the box, and the paper, and his brow furrowed. "There is the question of portability..." He picked up the box carefully, and found the paper came up with it. He put his hand under it, trying to support it flat.
"Just roll it up," Ethan said. When Giles looked at him in surprise, he amended, "Respectfully, of course."
"All right..." Giles gingerly complied, turning the paper until he had a neat tube.
Then he turned it around again, to check, and sighed. "No lights. Wonderful."
"Hold it still a minute," Ethan told him.
Giles held it sideways in his hand.
Ethan walked past the end, watching carefully.
"Turn it around about a quarter turn... There. Right..." He stepped back again, until the tube was pointing directly at him, then grinned.
The golden eyes were visible again, hovering above the paper.
Ethan stepped back beside Giles, and they gradually faded out.
"Directional... Perfect. That was the last hurdle," Giles said, grinning for just a moment.
Ethan grinned back at him, triumphant. Then the smile gained a bitter twist, and he looked off into the distance. His face fell, and he turned away.
Looking down at the table again, and the wood shavings from the stakes beside the knife, Giles became equally cheerless.
Ethan looked out the window. "You're going up the tower again?"
Giles checked his pockets again, then started pulling together the rest of what he'd need. "Yes, I think so. The extra height might give me a more precise idea of where this is pointing." He picked up the rolled paper, trying not to crease or crumple it. He looked around, then got one of the empty boxes the stakes had been in. It fitted inside with plenty of room to spare. He packed the second spell diagram in beside it, and a spare bottle from the mini bar, just in case.
When he looked up again, Ethan was still next to the window. He stood in the sunlight, translucent again. He had one hand pushed through the glass, holding it outside in the sun. As Giles watched, he grimaced and pulled it back in again, crossing his arms. He stepped sideways into the shade. Then he looked up, chagrined when he noticed Giles.
"Does it... hurt?" Giles asked, quietly.
Ethan looked away. "No. Not at all." He looked very tired for a moment, as he added, "It's not even warm." He sighed, then rubbed his face. "You go ahead. Go... find it. Stop it. Do your duty."
"Ethan... Are you sure? This isn't the only..."
"Rupert, please." Ethan turned to face him, and for the first time Giles could see plain desperation. "I've thought about the options. I know what I could do. And so does that thing. Every last idea I ever had, that demon can use. If you think you've seen the worst of it you haven't thought it through. Go. Stop it. Hope it sleeps through daylight, or I don't know how much time I have..."
Giles closed his eyes, turned his face away and tried to stop the wave of grief that suddenly caught up with him from showing, with limited success. He stayed that way a long moment, swallowed and took a calming breath.
He felt something against his face, a chilled tingle, like he'd felt once before. He jerked back before he even opened his eyes.
Ethan had his hand out, trying to touch. He was standing very close. For a moment all Giles saw were his eyes, dark and glittering, with feelings achingly familiar.
Then he took a step back, and crossed his arms. He blinked and managed a bitter sort of smirk. "If you need me, call," he said, and faded out.
"Ethan?" Giles said. "Ethan Rayne?"
This time there was no sign of him.
Giles closed his eyes and sighed, then softly swore.
He'd called him twice already, once when he reached the top of the tower and switched to the long range paper, and again when he first got a sign from their spell. Now he was back inside the glass. Yet still, no answer.
He sighed and rubbed his face.
"Ethan, I could buy you a drink..."
"Don't waste time," Ethan told him, appearing in the seat next to his. His brow furrowed as he looked around the table, with most of a large sandwich still in its wrapper.
"I'll eat on the way there," Giles assured him. "I just needed to check... Are you sure the vampire wasn't going anywhere?"
"Did you get a location?"
"Roughly. Somewhere up past the pyramid and castle. Which could mean the airport."
Ethan shook his head. "He isn't going anywhere yet."
"Are you sure? Knowing he's hunted... If he could put himself on a plane, even as cargo, he'd have the whole world to hide in."
"Knowing when to walk away is one of my strengths... But not when it involves you," Ethan said. "He'll be here, somewhere."
Somewhere, it turned out, could be anywhere in a wide area past the end of the strip. That the telltale worked at such a distance was something of a miracle – if such a word could be used about the gifts of the most likely god. That it lost some precision was no surprise.
But it did leave Giles requiring a rental car, a map, and rather a lot of time.
The sun stood high in the sky, for now. He made the necessary arrangements as swiftly as possible, and headed out while that remained true.
With no knowledge of the ground and nothing but magic to go on he had to keep the car pointed in the same direction as the rolled up spell. Unfortunately, at first, that took him down the whole length of the strip. Traffic there was terrible, cars and taxis and buses and wandering tourists crowding together along it. He rolled past the various hotels slowly, with ample time to take in details. Each of them appeared a different kind of fairyland, borrowed styles of adornment pasted on with a heavy hand, and everything covered in glitter and lights. By night the whole of Las Vegas had appeared a multi-coloured starscape, or some kind of firework show. By day the concrete holding up the lights was visible, bleached and aged in desert sun, and it lost a little of its magic. But the more literal enchantments Ethan had warned him of nagged from every doorway and billboard, as varied and excessive as everything else about this town.
The road bent south at Caesar's Palace, and the telltale lights got stronger. Up ahead was the castle of the Excalibur, and beyond it the Luxor pyramid. From the top of the Stratosphere tower, with Las Vegas spread out below almost like an aerial view, Giles had been fairly sure that was the closest the vampire might be. From down here he only had a direction, and massive buildings blocking every view. He drove past slowly, a wary eye on the entrances, but the telltale didn't flicker. Further south, then.
Beyond lay the airport. Massive, bustling, full of opportunities. Giles hesitated, then drove past with no attempt to park. Ethan was sure. And besides, hunting there would be a bureaucratic nightmare. If the vampire could get himself out through all that security it was probably better hidden than Giles was prepared to deal with anyway.
South of the airport, the telltale lights flickered, then faded out. Giles pulled over, into a side street, then somebody's driveway. He got the map out and marked it, then turned the spell until it lit again. He drew a line across the page.
Then he looked around.
Somewhat to his surprise, he couldn't see a hotel. Or a casino. Nothing here had neon on it. Very little glittered, mostly the polish on parked cars, or the windows of vehicles moving past. The buildings around him looked, more or less, like an actual town. Like the south west United States in fact, which was to say, rather a lot like Sunnydale.
Giles was at once reassured and reminded of all the reasons to worry. He was out here hunting one vampire. Only one, thus far. He had the resources to manage that, even alone. Many more than that would be a problem. And the vampire had said it was making friends. If by that it meant raising new vampires, they likely had until sunset. If it meant instead it found some here... In a place like Sunnydale, there would certainly be some to find.
But no place on earth was quite like Sunnydale, not even the place itself, these days.
He checked his pockets, and made sure both stakes were to hand.
Then he drove on, slowly, checking the spell and his surroundings carefully.
Even with the car's air conditioning, Giles could feel the heat of the day intensifying. That was probably all the reason that the streets were so near to empty. But by contrast with the bustling hordes of tourists, it felt unnatural.
Not that there was anything natural about this city. Carved out of the middle of the desert, depending on tourism for its lifeblood.
The further he drove, the less there was to tempt any tourist. Every shop he passed had a few slot machines inside, but nobody much seemed to be playing them. Instead he saw women loading shopping into the back of cars, or hurrying along with young children in push chairs. Or at least, at first glance, they seemed to hurry. When he thought about it he realised they merely moved with purpose. No gawkers here. Just an ordinary day.
At the next corner a man waited, staring across the road. In one hand he had a black rubbish bag, bulging with unnamed things. In the other he had a bottle, wrapped in a paper bag. As he raised it to drink Giles could see under his hat. He paused a moment, looking for other traffic, and wondered idly if the man were part demon, or just very unfortunate in his looks. Then he moved on.
He drove steadily, no longer impeded by the stop start of taxis or bus stops. Despite himself he began to relax.
The sun was a little lower now, casting short shadows before him as he travelled. The light was still fierce. It beat down brightly from a brilliant sky, quite strange to eyes used to British grey. He recalled how colors always seemed brighter here.
He found himself wishing for sunglasses, though he'd always managed to avoid them before. Instead he merely squinted, and anticipated a headache.
Soon enough, the telltale went out again. He stopped once more, and drew another line on the map. Now he had a box to work inside. He was getting closer.
On the far side of the search area was Paradise Road. That would fit. It would be just like Ethan to practically give him the address.
His mouth was dry. He turned around and went back to the last shop he'd noted that sold bottled water.
Now things got more complicated. The telltale, useful as it was, lacked a few refinements. Such as some way of indicating if he was getting closer. If the spell could make a precise bearing he could triangulate, but it seemed at a distance to be more of a fuzzy cone. The area the bearings overlapped was still quite large from here. And it was a maze of drives and avenues, twisting and turning. He'd have to get right in there and search methodically, until he could get close enough the telltale only worked on one precise line, as it had in the hotel room.
He rather hoped it did not require him to be quite that close.
With pencil, map, and water, he set off again.
A proper search pattern meant turning around frequently, now with the sun at his back, then in his face again. The spell sat on the dashboard of his car, more often than not in direct light. As he reached to turn it once again, he hoped that was the only reason it seemed so warm. Bad enough if the spell gave up too soon, without it burning out in quite so literal a fashion.
He finished the water, and the shadows grew long again.
But he was getting closer.
Eventually, he narrowed it down to just the one street. Matching suburban houses all around it, soullessly identical. But here a contrast. On one side run down houses, many standing empty, with real estate signs set out on dried up lawns. On the other, new building sites. Some of them were barely staked out, only the outline of future houses there. At the other end the houses were complete, new, and mostly still for sale.
Somewhere along here, the vampire was hidden. The spell was now quite clear. The eyes glowed brightly, for just this street.
He picked up the telltale, and had to juggle it from hand to hand a moment, surprised by the warmth. Quickly, he unrolled it, then pulled the top off. The spell diagram looked a little singed around the edges. He frowned, and got out the box with the replacement paper. Shorter range, this one. But perhaps enough.
He got out of the car, the heat hitting him immediately. He kept his jacket on. One hand stayed in the pocket, wrapped around a stake. The other held the telltale box up, trying to shield it enough he would not miss even a fading light.
The sun was at his back now, very low. His shadow stretched out along the street, and the sky before him had begun to darken.
He hesitated, then checked his cellphone again. Still no messages. No contact from the Council at all. His worry about that would have to wait. What it meant right now was he would have to do this without a Slayer.
He considered calling up the ghost. But that would only put Ethan in danger, if the vampire had any plans or defences. And it would render the spell useless.
He squared his shoulders and stepped forwards.
He walked on the side with the construction sites. They offered little concealment, and nothing that would fit the description of 'a very bland home'. But that allowed him to concentrate on the other side of the street, which was filled with homes that seemed very bland indeed. The stucco came in three different colors, all now headed for a sort of off white. The garage doors all matched. And most of the gardens were empty, as well as dead.
He saw movement, and froze, eyes on the window opposite. The spell in his hand was still warm, but not lit.
The figure moving behind glass was far too wide to be Ethan, and did not fit the description of his victim. Provisionally, Giles decided it was just a local resident.
He moved on.
Down the end of the street the new construction was finished. Taller, bigger, better built than the places across the street. Most of them looked empty, no curtains at the windows, blank windows all dark. But at the far end was a building with a 'Welcome' sign outside, a show home. Which, for a vampire's purposes, was not a home at all, just a furnished building and an invitation.
This one Giles was going to have to check more carefully.
He gripped the telltale spell more firmly. He already had a white knuckled grip on the stake.
He walked up the short driveway, to the front door.
He sensed nothing out of the ordinary. No blood soaked cobwebs across the porch. But if the wards were only set inside... Reluctantly, he let his magic fill him, concentrated on that sense, and stretched out. Carefully. Ethan knew his magic very well. If anyone could set a trap for him...
But he felt nothing.
The telltale spell stayed dark.
Giles considered the door. The lock looked simple enough. He hadn't practiced much lately, but last time he'd needed it he hadn't lost the knack. If he could open a door with one of Cordelia's hair grips he could certainly manage with the tools he had to hand.
Still, the building wasn't so very huge. The spell should be able to sense inside it from out here. So he turned, and started a careful circuit of the building.
Whenever he crossed a window he glanced in. The curtains were all open on the ground floor, and there was no hint of movement within. Neither was there unnatural stillness, a shape that should be moving but would not. The spell stayed dark.
The back of the building was in shadow. Giles hesitated. But in truth, everywhere was shadowed now. The setting sun offered less and less protection. He turned again.
By the time he got back to the street he was sure, and swore quietly at the wasted time.
But now he walked up alongside the smaller, older, houses, and with luck the spell should have power enough to read them from the pavement.
He walked more quickly. He didn't have to squint from the sun. It was just a red glow on the horizon.
The signs on this side told him many of these were rented accommodation. Likely bland enough, and enough like a hotel. But too many curtains were drawn still for him to make any inferences from that.
Lights came on in the house next to him. He froze, checked the telltale box, and wondered if the spell was still working, all in one panicked instant. Then the curtains were drawn back by a balding man in a faded t-shirt. He yawned, and scratched himself as he turned away. No guarantee he was alive, but he was definitely not Ethan's type. Giles ignored him and hurried on again.
He heard a car starting, somewhere ahead of him. He sped forwards, but he was still thirty feet away when the car pulled out of the garage and reversed onto the street.
The telltale lit, now Giles didn't need it. The car windows were lowered, and the driver leaned out to grin, with fangs showing.
Giles pulled the stake and ran, but the car pulled away. Giles hesitated only an instant, aware the house might be full of those 'friends' it had mentioned. But he had one vampire in his sights now, and he couldn't risk it getting away. He raced for his own car instead. Inside, spell on dashboard, keys in the ignition, and a quick u-turn. He reached the next corner just in time to see the vampire's car turning.
The chase that followed was not exactly the stuff of Hollywood. There were more cars on the road now, and more pedestrians. Giles had to drive with due care.
Ethan's driving had always been careless, since he felt the rules of the road no more binding on him than any other laws. It was even worse now he could just eat any police that tried to stop him. He kept getting ahead.
Somehow Giles kept him in sight, or at least in range of the telltale spell.
The road became more crowded now, and larger. They took a different route than Giles had taken on the way down, so he didn't recognise the place until the vampire's car was already at the junction. Giles, stuck further back, didn't quite recognise the hotels on either side of him. But across the road, there were two very familiar shapes. The pyramid, and the castle.
The vampire pulled out into traffic, and Giles couldn't see which way he went. But when he reached the junction in his turn the spell was quite clear – the castle, that called itself Excalibur. Giles pulled in to the parking circle just in time to see the familiar figure step inside.
"Ethan?" Giles spoke quietly, almost whispering. He was tempted to shout, try and get the vampire's attention, but this really wasn't the place. "Ethan Rayne."
Giles looked around the lobby of the Excalibur, spell box in his right hand, left hand wrapped around a stake in his pocket.
Ethan appeared promptly this time, but scowling. He tried to dodge out the way of a family group, but they spread out so much there was nowhere to dodge to, and the youngest walked right through him. The child stopped, shook his head, and shivered. He looked around, then settled his small wizard's hat more firmly on his head and ran to catch up.
Ethan crossed his arms and tucked in as close to Giles as he could without touching him. Giles tried not to shy away.
"What?" Ethan asked, looking at everything except Giles.
"I was going to ask at the desk... What names would it be likely to use?"
"Depends when he wants you to find him," Ethan answered absently. He edged back from a large woman with a larger suitcase, and this time Giles had to step back from the chill.
"Don't you mean if?" Giles asked.
"Not likely. It's never as much fun without an audience." Ethan turned to look at him. "And he already called you with an invitation."
Giles looked away. "Ethan Rayne, then."
But no such man had checked in. And the ghost was gone again by the time Giles finished talking.
Reluctantly, Giles got out the search spell, and found a quiet corner to swap the papers once again.
It heated up almost immediately. He rolled it quickly, then brought it around in a quick circle. He thought he saw it blink, but was going to fast to be sure. Despite the rapid heating he had to slow down, check the whole arc carefully.
He'd just got the bearing again when the scent of smoke reached him.
He unrolled the paper with a quick twist, then grasped the box firmly. Heated, it didn't want to separate. "Come on..." he entreated. Another second, and the lid came off with a sharp pop.
A quick flare of flame rose to greet him, and the box slipped from his fingers.
"Ow! Bugger!" Giles stamped out the tiny fire, sucking his fingers and trying to keep what was left in the box from spilling. Then he scooped up the remains, checked to see if anyone had noticed, and crossed to a space nearer where the spell indicated.
He sighed and poked at the somewhat diminished ingredients. The glass was still there, with the old blood stain, though the hair was amongst the ashes. He folded the paper carefully, and put the lid back on. The whole thing was a little darker, but basically intact. He sighed, and tried again. "Ethan Rayne."
Ethan appeared slowly. The lights were even slower. And harder to see. In any decent lighting he would have to concentrate to make them out.
"Is it here?"
"Yes, somewhere in there." He gestured behind them, towards the casino.
Ethan looked around and grimaced. "Under the magician's watchful eye. You'll have to be careful. Casino policy..." His voice faded out along with his image, and Giles was once more left alone.
"Ethan? What policy? What do you... Ethan Rayne!" Repeated summons did nothing to bring him back. Giles shook his head, then turned to examine the new hunting ground.
The clattering, crashing, crescendo of coins and slot machines that was the casino beckoned, stretching out quite far enough he'd have to walk it all with spell in hand, dodging hyperactive children under the blank gaze of over embellished dragon statues and ridiculous false Merlins.
He'd sold kitsch like that, albeit on a smaller scale. He'd even worn some clichéd wizard's robes a time or two. Yet what had seemed amusing at the time lost all appeal when done on Vegas scale.
"Ethan... Are you sure you can't get another look at it?" He asked the empty air. "Ethan?" No appearance, no answer. No choice then.
Giles stepped in, past the photo opportunity dragon, to the crowds all trying to steal their piece of its gold.
The utter cacophony of slot machines chirping and bleeping all around him was at first almost overwhelming. The people on every side were all concentrating on the next blinking money box, and he pinballed between them trying to stay in the empty spaces. The shining, blinking, glittering lights flashing on everything he passed made it all the harder to concentrate on the telltale box in his hand, yet he couldn't devote all his attention to that. The room was a vast cave of artificial lights. There was nothing in there to even slow a vampire down.
He got to the other side of the hall, walked down a few rows, and turned around to come back.
He had his left hand in his pocket. He had to keep his weapon hidden there. He twitched every time some machine lit up yellow or orange or gold, mimicking the glow he was waiting for, had been waiting for all day. Since this happened at least every third step, he was rapidly becoming very tense indeed. Yet when he finally got the sign he was looking for, he almost missed it. Just for a moment, he looked around for gold on a slot machine, and nearly missed the man. Then he saw through the crowd a dark red shirt, a slim back moving in a familiar way. He pulled the stake out, kept it flat along his arm, and brought it around to shield the telltale box.
Two golden eyes looked up at him.
He looked around the crowd again, swore quietly, and quickly rolled the paper around the box. He lost the lights for a moment, then got the thing lined up again, and quickly pushed forwards to follow.
Near the end of a row now, hurrying with attention split between the box and checking every figure in the crowd. He stepped out past the last machine, and the crowd thinned, leaving him with a clear view.
Ethan stood in plain sight, leaning against a wall, hands in his pockets and smirk on his face.
"Ethan," Rupert growled, and stepped forwards.
Only to be pulled up by heavy hands on his shoulders.
He tried to pull free, stake ready, but the two very large men beside him got a firm grip.
"If you could just come with us, please, sir," one said, in that flat tone that made it clear they were not pleased with this at all.
It gave him pause, the lack of expected gloating, and he realised they were wearing uniforms. Hotel security, both of them, with more approaching.
The vampire started to laugh.
"Please, you've got to listen – that man, he's..." What? A vampire? A ruthless killer? What would get their attention? "He's a thief and a cheat. He's here to take advantage..."
"Of course, sir, I'm sure you can explain it all."
"Listen to me!" Giles struggled now, but four men were emphatically encouraging him towards an office door. "Ethan! Ethan Rayne!"
The vampire stood straight, and waved at him. A flash of silver showed where he, as usual, had too many buttons open on his shirt. Then it turned away, and the last Giles saw was its retreating back, as the guards pushed Giles out of the casino.
I did not invent the vampire strippers. They were something I learned about Las Vegas during my very careful research. I researched them quite a lot, with pictures.
Rupert Giles and Ethan Rayne. Best mates, worst enemies, sometimes both at once. They've got a lot of history. So even when the Initative took Ethan away, Giles was sure he'd see him again, sooner or later...
Now the late Ethan Rayne is turning out to be twice the trouble, and Giles must be the one to deal with it.
Rupert stepped out into the Excalibur's mall under the watchful eyes of at least three security guards. One took up station near the door back into the main hotel, and the other two walked along at a leisurely pace, about six feet behind him.
"Ethan Rayne!" Giles said, whispering but emphatic. "Ethan, would you please just..."
"Alright, already, I'm here. What happened? Did you find it?"
Ethan looked a little more faded than before, a little less solid. It might have been the lighting. Vegas loved the bright lights.
"Yes, I found it. And hotel security found me. Why didn't you tell me there's no magic allowed in the casino?"
"Ah. That. Sorry." Ethan attempted a grin. "I did try, but..." He shrugged, faded for a moment, then came back. "So... did they let you keep the box?"
"No they did not! Not the box, not the knife, not even the bloody stakes. And the damn vampire saw me. Laughed at me. If it is still here, it's only to catch me at a disadvantage."
"While security looks on? Not on his own. He'll be long gone." Ethan said.
"Damn it all... This is just... Bloody useless!" He threw up his hands, fuming.
"Look on the bright side," Ethan offered, "There's plenty of weapons here." He waved at the window displays. "Looks like a dozen different Excaliburs. And you won't even have to pull it out of a stone."
"Ethan, that's a costume shop. I very much doubt there's even one sword there worth the name."
Ethan shrugged. "Shouldn't matter. Some candles, some magic, we can make it real. At least for one night." He smirked, then stopped, staring at the next window. "Of course, so could the thing..."
Giles followed his gaze, and swore. "Silver. Under his shirt." He stared at the display, a classic knight in shining armour. "He bought a breastplate. Damn it!"
"So... stakes weren't much of a loss then."
"No." Giles sighed. His expression, already stormy, hardened. "Right then. By the sword."
This time Giles followed Ethan's instructions without quibbling. Until they got to the sacrifice.
"More wine should be fine. If Janus doesn't like the vintage I'm sure we can send for something more to his taste."
"Not for this. Not true transformation. If you want the image of a sword then wine makes a fine offering. But the truth of it, the essence – that requires you give of yours."
"My essence is rather more than blood."
"Yes. But blood is its symbol."
Giles shook his head. "Ethan, you should have said. There has to be a proper sword shop somewhere around here. I could try asking at the desk..."
"Ripper, that thing could be at the desk! Along with any 'friends' it made today. The sun set hours ago! You can't go out of here unarmed again."
"Searching an entire city takes time," Giles said defensively. "And this spell of yours..."
"Is nearly complete! Just give the offering."
"I gave already today." Giles rubbed his face, corrected himself. "Yesterday... Before I got home." He sighed. "I lost more blood than I like then. And Janus... seemed very pleased to take it." He remembered the feeling of breaking the last spell, the hesitation that had left him for a moment unsure if the deity would let them leave. "I've called quite enough attention to myself. I would rather not have called on him again any time soon, let alone this soon."
"Rupert, I call on him all the time. Yes, you get his attention – but how is that a bad thing?"
"He's the two faced god of Chaos, Ethan! And I do not worship him!"
"It's just one more spell, Rupert. You'll be fine."
"I'll be wiped out! The man I worked with yesterday was still in hospital when I left! He could barely keep his eyes open! And I'm running on... adrenaline and... stubborn pride." Giles sat heavily on the edge of the bed, and yawned like he'd been wanting to all day.
"So get something to eat first," Ethan told him, exasperated.
Giles decided that was not a bad idea. He looked around for the room service menu, but it remained stubbornly hidden. "I suppose I'll have the steak again. And wine. A bottle of their most expensive red."
Ethan rolled his eyes.
Rupert glared at him.
After a moment Ethan threw up his arms. "Fine! I'll go talk with him. Janus! Hear me!" He faded rapidly.
Giles sat up, vaguely alarmed. "Ethan? I'm not sure that's..."
Ethan reappeared, noticeably still more faded, standing next to the table where the sword lay surrounded by candles. He spoke to it in Latin, then held his hand over the hilt.
He stood there a long moment, then frowned. He shook his head.
"It... didn't work?"
"Not completely." Ethan sighed, rubbed his eyes tiredly. "Rupert, I can't promise you Janus won't take you. You're right, he is Chaos. And he doesn't always smile." He looked across at Giles, face serious for once. "What I can tell you is, if you can risk this, if you're willing to sacrifice... You will have a weapon that no demon can stop. A holy sword, Rupert. Blessed by a deity who has no love for vampires."
"Two faced creatures, with a liking for blood, who upset the natural order? No, I'm sure he doesn't."
Ethan looked frustrated, then swallowed it down and tried again. "Rupert..." He stopped, closed his eyes, then started again. "Rupert, if you walk away from this, you lose a little pride." He opened his eyes, looked directly at Giles. "I lose my soul. Everything I have left... If it gets away from you, or worse... I'm damned. Do you really think I'd lead you wrong with that at stake?"
Giles looked down, shamefaced. Then he blinked. He answered, "Not deliberately."
Now it was Ethan's turn to look away.
Giles stood up, came over to the table. He looked down at the sword, already looking almost real in the dim light. He looked across at Ethan, arms crossed and fingers digging in to his elbows.
"I'll need a knife."
Ethan looked back at him, weighed how serious he was. He shook his head. "Just make the offering. Janus will take it."
Giles reached out, held his hand over the hilt. "I'm getting tired of having blood on my hands," he said, very quietly.
"It's different when it's your own," Ethan offered, equally quiet.
Their eyes met, and Giles dropped his hand to the sword hilt. He gathered his power, and spoke.
"Janus, tonight, let my blade be true."
The pain from his hand was sharp, but he barely noticed in the flood of power. His own magic flowed into the blade, suddenly surrounded there by brilliance he could only assume was of Janus. He gasped, and the candles flared up.
He picked up the sword.
Clumsy costume frippery was suddenly transformed into a thing of deadly grace, balanced like an extension of his arm. The blade gleamed with more than just candlelight. He raised it up, and it seemed of itself a tongue of fire.
"Excalibur!" Ethan exclaimed, delighted.
Giles swung it tentatively, and it parted the air with a sound that was almost musical.
"Oh for goodness sake..." Giles said, swinging it a couple more times.
"What? So Excalibur is a singing sword."
"But really... it's... it's like a bloody lightsaber!"
"And this is a problem?" Ethan asked. "Wait, since when do you know what lightsabers are?"
"Oh, Andrew had some idiotic talking Yoda, and a little blue plastic thing that made noises. Said it was training him to fight." He swung the sword again, listening to the notes it made. "Really... This is ridiculous. Anything in the room is going to hear me coming!"
Ethan raised an eyebrow and swallowed his first response. "Just try cutting something," he told him.
Giles looked around, then got out one of the baseball bats. He took a few moments to prop it up at a useful angle, stood back, then swung.
The sword went through so smoothly he barely felt it.
The bat stayed in one piece for a moment, then the top section slid slowly down.
Giles found he was grinning, in that way only familiar to those who had known him in the 70s, or the unfortunate few demons who had caught him on a very bad day.
He turned the bat around, and swung again. The second cut was just as easy.
"I could get used to this," he observed.
A third swing and the bat was reduced to a long and very pointed stake. He counted himself an expert swordsman, yet accuracy like that was more than he would expect on his best day.
He picked the new stake up in his right hand. It seemed to weigh more than the sword.
"I could definitely get used to this... Ethan, I've never heard of anything like this. So simple..." He shook his head. Then he narrowed his eyes and looked up at the other man. "Where's the catch?"
Ethan shrugged nonchalantly. "You know. Just working with Janus. Most people won't risk it."
"You assured me the risk was..."
"Minimal. Truly. Just this once." Ethan smiled a little bitterly. "Janus is almost as offended at what happened to his priest as we are. Right now, we get a little more grace than usual."
"Until he changes his mind again." Giles shook his head, then dropped the new stake in his shoulder bag. He gathered up the spare pieces then sliced them until he had a small stack of passable stakes dropped in with it.
He found himself reluctant to let go of the sword. He held it up to look at it, shining brightly.
"My knight in leather armour," Ethan said softly.
Giles looked over at him, then put the sword back on the table. He let go of it, then turned his hand to check the wound. It was thin as a paper cut, and though it stung it was barely seeping. He let out a breath, and his shoulders relaxed just a bit. Then he yawned, suddenly exhausted. He stumbled back to the bed, then stretched out there, face sinking into the pillow.
Ethan chuckled, in a way that managed to sound quite wicked.
Giles rolled over to face him.
Ethan was looking him over with a heated gaze.
Giles shook his head. "How you see me."
"I just... appreciate more sides of you," Ethan smirked.
Giles looked at him. "You see things in me... Things that were never there, Ethan. Then... resent me for not measuring up." He sighed, tired in too many ways.
Ethan looked at him seriously, the smile changing to something more private. "You sell yourself short, Rupert. It's all there. You buried it in tweed for years... But here you are again. Leather jacket, sword and knives, and working magic again. With me, even. It took twenty five years, but here you are. The man I fell for."
Giles looked away. "You fell for Ripper."
"Who do you think I'm talking to?"
Giles looked back at him, expecting the mocking smirk, but still that softer smile was in place.
"You never really got it. Too busy beating yourself up." At that, the smirk twisted again, but it soon smoothed out. Ethan moved closer, up beside the bed. "You think about Eyghon, and you call yourself a killer."
"We killed him," Giles whispered, somehow reluctant to interrupt, but never able to let that point lie.
"We chanted him to sleep, sat next to him, and dreamed together, for an hour or four." Ethan's voice was low now, and he was standing almost in arm's reach. "And when it came time to all wake up... It wouldn't end."
"A demon in a friend's face, Cliffe thrown across the room, and fire... fire everywhere." Ethan looked distant for a moment, rubbing the side of his chest, where Rupert knew the burn scars were. "Everyone else ran. But I couldn't. That thing had me by the neck." His hand went higher a moment, then dropped back down, to his side. He focused on Rupert again. "And then you were there."
"I... I tried... The exorcism..."
"Didn't work. Neither did the knife. I tried, but it paid me back in kind." Ethan's other hand ghosted over the claw marks, then dropped too. He looked at Ripper intently. "But then you had the sword."
Giles flinched, and looked away, but Ethan came and sat beside him on the bed. "You can't see past Randall dying. Do you want to know what I saw?"
Ethan waited, until Giles faced him again.
"You saw me run away."
Ethan smiled bitterly at that, dropped his gaze a moment. "Yeah. Later. But first..." He looked up, dark eyes intense. "You saved me."
Something in Giles ached. Somehow he wanted to deny it, say every complication, point out all the ways Ethan was anything but saved.
But right then Ethan looked at him the same way he had before, that way that had something of worship in it, and more that was just about the two of them, and all they'd been together.
"My dashing hero, my knight in leather armour, my Ripper. Right then, I saw you. And ever since, whatever you've tried to hide behind. You can call it your dark side, but I call it salvation."
Ethan was very close now. Giles didn't back away.
But he couldn't stay silent either.
"Ethan... Yes, I saved you. You think I didn't see that?" He closed his eyes. "It was all I could see. What I did... I did it for you."
The silence lasted a very long moment, and when Ethan spoke again he was far away, and bitter.
"So they were right again, your Council friends. I was the one that wrecked you."
Giles opened his eyes, sat up again.
"No... Not... Nothing so simple. I just... You talk about that night like I was some shining champion. You just ignore... You won't see the other face of it."
Ethan turned at that, eyebrow raised. "You say that to me?"
Giles nodded. He pushed himself upright. "You tell me Ripper was real, that I made it real, however false the costume was to start. But then you mock the tweed... Which, I'll admit, was not my most... daring fashion choice." He attempted a grin, then got serious again. "But I put more work into it than I ever did anything else in my life. You mock my calling, Ethan. My sacred duty."
"Sacred to who, or what? Your Council of old men?"
"To life. To... protect all life. It isn't flashy, it doesn't come with miraculous powers or prayers to turn the world upside down, but it is sacred, just the same." He stared at Ethan, and this time it was not Giles who dropped his gaze. "I can wear leather... It's the closest thing to armour I can afford. A sword is still a useful tool, knives even more so. And I use magic... When I have to. If that makes me Ripper... I can live with that. But I am still a Watcher. Not in a suit, tweed or otherwise. In my blood. It's what I'll always be."
"Watchers stand by and take notes, wait for their one girl to save them, while the world keeps going to hell just the same as always." Ethan looked at him. "You're more than that. You always have been."
Giles looked away. "Watchers always have been... The best of us, anyway." He stood up, carefully, then went over to the table. "And as for going to hell... You always seemed eager to hurry it along." He picked up the sword, again feeling the sting and the rush as the magic filled it. He held it up straight as the strength of it filled him. "I will give my life to prevent it." He smiled, then turned and very carefully slid on the sheath. Somewhat to his surprise, it stayed in one piece, so he put them in the bag that way.
As he let go of the hilt again, exhaustion hit him quicker and harder than before. He sagged back on the bed and missed Ethan's first reply.
"Ripper? Rupert? Are you all right?"
"Possibly not," Giles replied absently. Things went a little fuzzy for a moment, and he reached up to take his glasses off to clean them. Then he saw the line of dark red in his hand. Couldn't get that on them. He wiped it on his shirt, which stung rather. He reached for his glasses again, then decided to just lean back a moment.
"Come on, Ripper, it wasn't all that much of a spell... You've done more. Several times a night."
"When I was twenty, maybe. At fifty... it takes a little longer to recover." He was well aware of the entendre, and quite expected one of Ethan's smart remarks. What he got instead was Ethan looking actually concerned. That worried him rather. He must look rough.
Ethan looked away and paced.
Giles sighed. "I'm in no shape for this. I had a desk job. I've been pushing paper around all year." He grimaced. "And the paper won."
"You're the only one here, Ripper." Ethan's voice again held that edge of desperation.
Giles sat up straight, and when that didn't make things hazy he stood. He went over and, unthinking, reached out to put a hand on Ethan's shoulder.
It went straight through, of course, with an odd combination of chill tingles and warmth from his cut.
But Ethan stilled and looked steadier.
"I'm not walking away from this," Rupert assured him.
Ethan nodded, took a deep breath and let his arms uncross.
"I don't know where to go next," Giles added with some frustrated irony, "But I'm not walking away."
"That my cue again?" Ethan sighed. He looked very much less than pleased at the prospect.
"Right now we haven't even a hint. If you can get so much as a glimpse... I know it's dangerous, but..."
"...It's my neck on the line either way. Yes." Ethan visibly pulled himself together, standing straighter and assuming a strained sort of smirk. "Right. One snapshot... I'll be right back."
He faded out, and Giles found himself holding his breath. But he could let it out again almost immediately as the ghost returned at once.
"Somewhere dark... A corridor I think. And he's surrounded by women. Probably why he didn't notice me."
"Wonderful. Well that really narrows it down."
Ethan still looked distant, concentrating. "They looked familiar. They all looked familiar. I can't have shagged all of them before, I'd surely remember..." He paused, and something on the table caught his eye. "Oh bloody hell... Costumes. They were all wearing..."
Giles turned and grabbed the leaflet, the one for the adult revue, 'Bite'. He unfolded it quickly.
"He wouldn't... Would he? It would be so... So obvious!" Ethan complained.
Giles held the leaflet up, now a mini poster. Ethan's face fell.
"He didn't?" Giles asked.
"He really did. He's backstage at the vampire stripper show."
Giles turned and grabbed the shoulder bag, scanned the room quickly and grabbed whatever else looked remotely helpful.
"Make the costumes flesh and blood... Of course..."
"So bloody trite! Practically a rerun!" Ethan complained.
Giles pulled his new watch from the shopping bag and checked the leaflet again.
"Ten thirty... Damn it, they're nearly starting."
"Don't worry. He'll wait for his audience."
"But will they?" Giles gestured at the girls. He checked the room one last time, then headed for the door.
Ethan swore, and followed him.
Getting in was ridiculously easy. Giles kept his cut hand in his pocket, and his jacket pushed closed. Blood didn't show up too badly on the dark green shirt anyway. But the sword stuck out of his bag, and even if it did look like a cheap souvenir Giles had expected to have to make some excuse for it. But the man selling tickets merely looked bored, took his cash, and told him to have a nice day.
Any hopes he had for help from hotel security evaporated about then.
When he got inside the lighting was dim enough that once again the ghost beside him glowed faintly, as if spotlit. Up on the stage the dancers gyrated to some rock track Giles didn't bother to identify. One glance showed him the vampire Ethan was not among them.
"I'll find it," the ghost promised, then faded again.
This time Giles saw him fade in again across the room, next to a table half full of seated men.
One of them wore red. Giles moved back along the wall, and recognised the profile.
The vampire lifted his head and sniffed.
Giles curled his cut hand to a fist, well aware that wouldn't help against a vampire's sense of smell. He pulled a stake out of the bag with his right hand, and started to cross the room.
The ghost pointed urgently at the stage, and Giles turned to see some of the dancers descending from the stage. He brought his stake up and backed away.
"Vampire hunter! Cool!" A slurred voice from beside him called out loudly. "Hey, buddy, got a spare? I'd like to stake one of them myself. You know?" The drunk laughed heartily at his own joke.
Giles swore quietly, and turned to shush him.
Sat beside him at the table was a tall blonde woman, quite stunningly attractive.
Until her face changed.
"What the hell...?" The drunk lurched back, knocking Giles aside.
The blonde stood, and darted across between tables to Ethan.
The other vampire stood up, and grinned. He mouthed something, then took the blonde by the arm and strolled up to the nearest dancer.
The ghost reappeared beside him, and reported grimly what he'd said. "Showtime."
Giles turned, and tried to get through the crowd.
A dancer grabbed his arm, and he whirled, stake raised.
She let go of him immediately and shrank back, shrieking. He could see her fangs – tidy and pointed, the classic costume shop set. He swore again and ignored her, pushing forwards.
The blonde vampire had her dancer pulled tight to her, face buried in her neck. The men at the table nearest to her urged her on, hooting happily.
Until she dropped the corpse between them as a centerpiece. Then the more sober of them started to look ill.
The most drunk reached out to paw at the dead girl.
Giles tried to ignore them and get to the stage.
A man at the next table caught his arm. "What's going on? Did they change the show? I didn't miss a rehearsal. Oh god, did I miss a rehearsal?"
"They're vampires you pillock – the real thing. Get out of my way!"
But now the man looked stony, and stood up, convinced he was talking to a madman.
Giles punched him in the jaw and moved on before he could recover.
The next dancer to reach him wasn't wearing false teeth. "What's the hurry?" she leered, posing provocatively and reaching for him.
He raised the stake, then hesitated. She could just be...
Hungry anticipation filled her, and her face changed to the feeding mask. She was dust before her fangs fully descended.
Now some people started screaming.
Ethan looked around, saw Ripper and the mounting chaos in his wake, and smiled happily.
Giles pushed forwards again, but men from the next table stood up and started arguing in his path. He dodged around, keeping his eyes on Ethan.
The vampire reached the stage, and unhurriedly climbed up.
There were two dancers there, now draped around a man in a sleeveless leather coat. They looked like the cover of one of Andrew's comic books, all curves and bits of string. Giles would have said they had about as much to do with real vampires as they did with leprechauns. But now they raised their faces from his chest, and whatever beauty they'd had was lost. Yellow eyed monsters, they stepped away from the bemused 'Vampire Lord' to greet Ethan.
He kissed them both, then went to meet the man at center stage.
Giles broke through to the front of the stage, stake held ready. The two dancers came forward to meet him, jumped down and circled. He pulled a second stake from the bag and circled to keep them both in view.
So he didn't see the blonde, come up behind him through the crowd. She pushed him forwards, tripped him, left him sprawled on the floor.
The other two turned him over, got a grip on his arms and pulled him until he could see the stage.
Ethan stood at the front edge, his arm around the shoulder of the other man. He was pushing back, trying to break the grip, but with only human strength not getting anywhere.
Giles struggled, tried to kick, but the blonde dropped down across his legs and lounged there.
Ethan, on stage, smiled darkly. He moved around behind the other man, wrapped his arm now around his chest, and ran a hand up his well muscled arm. He turned to look him over, taking in the chiseled features, then bent his head to the man's neck and licked.
Behind him on the stage the ghost appeared, looking furious. The rock music overwhelmed most voices, but Giles heard Ethan clearly.
"Not like this, you stupid bastard!"
He reached forwards, knowing it was futile, and tried to grab the vampire.
There was a flash of light, and the ghost staggered back with a muffled scream. He faded away again.
The vampire raised his head and grinned triumphantly, then changed to his feeding face, and bit down.
Giles struggled against the three women, having momentary flashbacks to Dracula's lair. But this was worse. He watched the man on stage be drained and couldn't do a damn thing about it.
Then the vampire stopped, raised his wrist, slit it with one thumbnail, and gave it to the man to drink.
"No!" Ethan called out from beside him. Giles saw him stagger forwards, one hand clutching the arm he'd grabbed with. The sleeve looked ragged, and the man more faded than before.
On the stage the actor dropped, probably dead, and waiting now to rise again.
Giles pushed furiously at the vampires holding him. He'd lost the stake on his left, made slippery as it was by the wound there. Now the vampire on that side raised his hand, still leaking blood, and licked along the palm. The blonde on his legs ran one hand up to cup him, and the girl on his right played with his chest. Another dancer was coming towards them, bottle of vodka in her hand.
He shuddered, and tried to call his magic to him. There wasn't much left to call.
Then the dark skinned woman with the drink raised the bottle and broke it around a vampire's head. Soaked in alcohol, she staggered back, letting go of him.
"Light it!" Giles yelled at his rescuer, but she didn't need telling. Already the vamp was going up in smoke, though she made it far enough between tables to spread the flames first.
Left hand suddenly free, Giles grabbed for his bag, and the sword hilt there. Magic met him in a rush, and the glittering power of the blessing in it. He pulled it free and had the blonde vamp dusted in one smooth movement. The vamp on his right reared backwards and turned to run, but Giles cut the legs out from under her. Grotesque, but effective. He rolled up onto his knees and finished her, trying to ignore the screams.
Now the auditorium was emptying, fast. The other dancers were gone, dust or running, he didn't know. The fire was spreading, and the smoke reached the alarms. Suddenly he was trying to see through rain, as the sprinkler system kicked in.
"This way!" one of the Ethans called, and Giles followed him. Up the stage steps and across to the darkness backstage.
Somebody cut the music. The piercing wail of the fire alarm continued, and the distant sounds of panic. They faded as Giles worked his way further back, until the alarm sounded alone.
The darkness never quite became total. There was a fire exit backstage, as well as a dimly outlined door that presumably led deeper into the performer's territory. Giles hesitated a moment, then his Ethan appeared, glowing in the darkness. He wasn't near the way out. So, back through the dark Giles went.
He kicked the door open and swung through, though the ghost shook his head and beckoned he should hurry. This kind of hunt had never been one of Ethan's skills, but he'd never been lacking when it came time to hide. The vampire would have the same devious strengths.
There were props back here, and costumes, cast off bits of this and that. Some were thrown hastily at railings. Others were in boxes, stacked against the wall. It was a hunter's nightmare, full of camouflage for even a flamboyant man.
Giles edged forwards slowly, stretching out his senses, trying to get some warning.
Ethan's ghost was impatient, off at the end of the corridor. Giles followed slowly. Now was no time to rush in. The sprinklers were on back here as well, and the floor was slippery.
Ethan looked at him, frustrated, and called quietly, "Come on!"
Then the vampire stepped out beside the ghost and threw a punch.
Ethan looked purely shocked when it connected, with another flash of light.
He was thrown back through the wall, gasping in pain.
Giles advanced quicker, sword held ready before him, right hand now holding the bat stake. He readied it despite the likelihood of armour. Ethan's might not be the only vampire back here.
The vampire stood there waiting for him, then dashed off around the corner when he reached striking distance. The sword sang through the space it had just vacated, and Giles swore again. "Vampire! I thought you wanted to see me!" he called out. "I thought I had an invitation!"
"Oh, you have. You are very welcome to stay." The voice, familiar but for a slight hiss the fangs caused, came from just around the corner.
Giles paused, drew himself up ready, then stepped around, scanning the new area.
He got a brief glimpse of boxes before he had to block the pike falling towards him. Sword swung up in reflex, knocked it aside easily. Then he had to jump back to dodge the pile of props that followed it. In the corridor again, waiting as things thudded to the floor, then cautiously sticking his head around the corner.
The demon smiled, golden eyes reflective like a cat's in the dark. Then he vanished between the careful stacks of a store room.
Giles stepped carefully over the random junk, and followed it.
There was smoke in here too, somehow, and so there was a steady stream of water from the ceiling. The sprinklers and his glasses interacted badly. It finally reached the point where he had to admit he'd see better without them. He pulled them off and dropped them in his bag, now reduced to looking for movement, details blurred to shadows.
There was plenty of movement, even though the vampire was still not in sight. Bits of costume sagged under the weight of water and slithered off the shelves. Random bits of scenery glittered and shone, and a unicycle's one wheel turned slowly, as if just bumped on the way past. Alternating light and shadow fell as scarce fluorescent strips were blocked by intervening shelves. Splashes of red showed up on every shelf, and there was gold everywhere, sequins or stars, glittering and keeping him on edge in expectation of eyes. Every time he brought the sword around, the blade singing quietly as the indoor rain hit it. He was ever more aware of the magic within it, of what it was meant for. He found himself wanting to cut his way through this costume forest.
A barely heard rattle alerted him, and he looked down to see ball bearings on the floor. Little silver spheres, still rolling out from the gap to the next aisle. Giles wanted to hurry, but instead he had to skate his feet along the floor, watching his footing carefully.
So he didn't see the boxes fall.
The first he knew was when the weight of them hit his back, shoulders, and arm. They knocked him flat. The bag full of stakes ended up somewhere beneath the junk. Worse, the sword was knocked from his hand. It skittered off, under the shelving, just out of reach.
And now the exhaustion hit him with a weight worse than a box. It dragged him down and greyed out the edges of his vision. He gasped, and tried to struggle, but he couldn't get the energy to move. His eyes unwillingly sank closed.
"Ah, Ripper. Such a disappointment. But I suppose pride goeth before a fall, and all that." The voice was several feet away, but getting closer. Slowly. There were little noises on the way, as of metal being carefully kicked aside.
"You should know," Ethan spoke again. "Just look at you. I thought we'd learned already – it's always trouble if we stay and gloat."
"Can't run out before the job is done. You know very well, I'm not done with him yet. I'll never be done with Ripper."
Now Ethan was conversing with himself, and Giles, fighting total fatigue, tried to get his eyes open to make sense of it.
"He and I will turn this world red. We'll make of it a bloody ruin."
"Oh, of course. You'll be the terror of the nations. The nightmare nasty. The baddest bad guy that ever tried badness." Ethan's mockery was filled with contempt.
The other answered, stung despite himself. "You, of all people, think to mock that? You know what I can be."
"Oh, yes. A vampire. Very frightening."
"I could tear you to shreds, little spectre. I will, when Ripper wakes up to see it."
Giles had his eyes half open, but hastily narrowed them to slits, before the vampire turned back to look.
"I know he said he tended to get knocked on the head a lot... But it's very inconvenient." The vampire grumbled, and nudged at him with one foot. Getting no reaction, he bent down and pulled the stake from his hand. Giles couldn't muster the strength for even token resistance, much less a surprise attack.
He heard a distant clatter as the bat struck the floor somewhere. Then the boxes, one by one, went the same way.
Now nothing weighed Giles down except the draining effect of the sword's loss. Unfortunately, that was entirely enough. He tried to reach for the blade, but he could barely even twitch.
The vampire moved again, going to crouch beside him.
"It is a bit pathetic." Ethan's voice again, and for a moment Giles thought it must be the vampire, though the agreement in the tone seemed strange. Then the ghost moved into view, and kept on talking. "But not half as pathetic as what's left of me."
The vampire, frowning, stood again and turned to face the taunting spirit.
Giles breathed deep and even, and started to use every trick he knew to draw on his energy reserves, such as they were by now.
"There's nothing pathetic about it. I could destroy the world without him, if I wanted. But with him... Watching him, as he tears out the throats of every ageing suit or little green man..."
"Making him the kind of monster who'll tear throats. You think that will really be him?"
"Everything he hates, set free at last."
"And all the rest thrown out. You may as well shack up with any vampire – with that primped up goth boy on the stage out there. They'll be just as much a monster when they wake."
"Ripper's a better monster than any of them, even now."
"Yeah, right now, he is. But not if you go killing him."
"I'll make him immortal!"
"You'll make him a cheap copy of himself. An empty mask. Just like you."
"Like hell. I am Ethan Rayne."
"You're Hostile Two Oh Eight. You're what they were looking for in there. They finally stripped away so much they found it. Tell me, what does it feel like, knowing that they made you?"
"Satisfyingly ironic, thank you. They made the very thing they feared, then died by it. Every last one of them will die – even if they weren't there when the base went up. I had time to look around. I've got their records. They really were working for the Council, you know."
"With them. Apparently they disagreed about who was in charge."
"Says your Watcher friend? What else did he say? Did he tell you why they did it?"
"Something about a fyarl, remember?"
"Not that – the vampire. The final test. Did he tell you why it was then?"
There was a pause. Giles wasn't sure which one it was spoke next.
"Because they needed the space. Because the Council is off hunting monsters, and the bloody US Army needed boxes to put them in."
Giles felt suddenly sick. He bit his lip, and tried to concentrate on moving again. This time his arm started to stretch, out towards the sword, where it was wedged.
"So the little green men and the white coats were promised new toys. Decided you weren't worth the space."
"You weren't. I am something better."
"No, you're really not. You're just an evil thing."
Now the vampire was incredulous. "Since when do we have any room to criticise on that basis? For that matter, since when do you even draw that line?"
"Since what moved into you stays so firmly on one side of it. You don't get it, do you? What you've lost?"
"All my inhibitions... Surprise though it is that I had any left."
"You lost your choices, vampire. You lost your spark. Whatever claim we ever had to brilliance, innovation, creativity..."
"Oh I've still got it, never fear. Six billion people on this planet. I'll find a different, and creative, end for each of them."
Giles had his arm out at full stretch, and still the sword was just out of reach. He'd have to move the rest of him. He gathered his strength for the task.
"Yes. You'll end them all," the ghost mocked. "Do you even hear yourself? Since when are we about endings?"
"Every end will be a new beginning. They'll be reborn. I'll change them all."
"And all into the same thing. One giant heap of carrion, and all becoming vampires. Nasty little puppets of the dark."
"Carrion was a problem for you, if I recall. Another thing I've lost, my squeamishness." The vampire laughed. "Give it up, ghost. I know what this is about. Envy."
"You think I'm jealous?" Now it was the ghost's turn to laugh.
"I'll do what you never could manage. I'll change the world, forever."
The ghost still laughed, and the vampire got increasingly annoyed.
"Do you really think I can't?"
"Oh, I know you can. Blood and darkness and all that. You're a pretty, efficient, little evil puppet."
"I'm nobody's puppet! I do this only because I can."
"You do it because you can't not. It is instinct, little puppet, little dupe. It is the blood it gave you, making all the decisions. You think I'm jealous? I pity you. The moment you understand, you're going to envy me with every last drop of your being. You know why? Because I was better than you."
"Oh yes, you were practically a saint," the vampire mocked in return. "I've no interest in sainthood any more."
"But much interest in the reverse. To exemplify evil, to be the thing the darkness looks down to. But you never will be. You'll always be in my shadow."
"You were nothing. You were human! You pulled back before you ever did any real damage."
"Sometimes. Sometimes not."
Giles edged forwards, just an inch, then froze as something scraped, frantically hoping the vampire hadn't noticed.
The ghost was louder now, not shouting, more orating as from a stage.
"That's what makes it meaningful, you see. I could have chosen anything, been anyone, changed my mind at any time. Every time I chose the darkness, it was because I wanted it."
"You think I don't?"
"I know it. You haven't got that in you any more. You don't even remember what it was like to care. Not about anything, not even this world conquest. You think you've got the fire, but you're just ashes that haven't stopped moving yet. I'm the spirit of Ethan Rayne. I'm the passion. I'm even the hate. You think you can still feel that, without love? Shadows without light. Doesn't work."
"Love? Is that what this is about? Bloody hell, you're trying to save Ripper. A bit late for that turn around, don't you think?"
Now the vampire turned again, back at Rupert's side. He used his foot to roll him over, and Giles went with it, getting that bit closer to the sword.
"Save him? When he put us in that cell? When I spent years hating him?"
"Trying to hate. You never quite got it pure. Don't worry though, I've managed." The vampire crouched down, eyes gold and glittering. It brushed one clawed hand over Rupert's chest. He tried not to shudder.
"You're an empty echo. You'll never have your freedom. You'll never be free of me! Every other demon will laugh at you, because they know, you'll never be the kind of bastard I was!"
The vampire grinned, looked back at the ghost.
Giles hitched himself up, just that tiny bit more, and his fingers brushed against the sword hilt.
"Maybe not," the vampire conceded. "But I will never be alone."
With that, it turned, and saw Giles reaching for the blade. Its eyes widened, and it reached up for his throat.
Then it reared back, coming to its feet in surprise.
Ethan, the ghost, had put his hands over the vampire's eyes, reaching right through its head to claw at them. And now both of them were burning, whatever spell the demon found to armour itself flaring around them.
The twin screams of agony gave Giles that last jolt. He reached up, closed his hand around the sword hilt, and rolled to his feet.
The vampire lurched away from the ghost, light crackling around them, and got free just in time to look, wide eyed, as Ripper swung the sword.
His head did not fall. It didn't have the time. The ashes formed, as with a shriek to match the alarms, the demon was forced out of the borrowed flesh, and the vampire was dust. It fell, dark rain, mixing with the water.
Giles was left facing Ethan, both wide eyed and panting.
"Ripper," Ethan said softly, everything showing in his eyes.
"Ethan," he replied, and went to him, sword trailing and right arm reaching out for him.
But the ghost faded away.
Giles dropped to his knees. "Ethan?" he asked. "Ethan Rayne." He drew a breath, and tried to remember the summoning ritual. Any ritual. All that came to mind was, "Ethan! Please!"
Rupert's shoulders shook. Water poured over his face, over the floor, where the ashes already washed away.
He dropped the sword.
Then he fell forwards, and let the darkness take him.
It took a few days to sort out the aftermath. Luckily Giles was unconscious for long enough that other Watchers had taken over by the time he woke up. They mostly left him to himself, to recover. With a teenage Slayer as a guard.
He heard bits and pieces as gossip. Her partner had returned from Los Angeles with a broken arm, and heaps of glory. She'd worked closely with the head Slayer herself, or at least got within thirty feet. She'd seen the grand reunion, as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce masterminded the return of both the legendary loves of Buffy's life, the two vampires with souls. Back from the presumed dead yet again, then. Giles ground his teeth and tried to ignore her over caffeinated over enthusiasm, but despite all his practice with teenage babble, he found himself snappish whenever her conversation circled back that way.
All he could think about were a certain vampire's ashes, gone past all recall.
He asked instead about business, how the local clean up was doing. Apparently relations with the hotels were strained, and somewhat contradictory. The Stratosphere had cleared out Giles' room, packed everything into a hotel branded suitcase, and even added some vouchers should he wish to return. But there was also talk of a law suit. Something about reckless endangerment. Giles sighed, and tried not to be embarrassed, or too annoyed.
He had assumed the 'Bite' show would be history. Far from it, as it turned out. They were getting bookings even though the theater would not be ready for weeks, and the cast possibly longer. They'd have to replace most of them. Rumour had it that the new Vampire Lord would be a rather different sort – something about fire magic, this time. Giles vaguely approved.
Mostly he ignored as much as he could get away with, and pushed to be allowed to recover at home.
His Slayer escort saw him to the airport, and stuck with him until a woman from the airline came to see him the rest of the way.
Giles would have complained about being mollycoddled, but he had not yet replaced his glasses, and there was very little of the world he could actually bring into focus. Besides, he fell asleep so quickly after take off he had his seatbelt on all the way back to England.
He got to the train home mostly on autopilot, through long practice. He'd done that journey after late nights at work so many times he woke up automatically the station before Bath to call and have a taxi waiting.
It dropped him off neatly on his own doorstep, and drove off again.
Rupert paused then. He looked back across the road, at the oak tree. This time there was no hint of movement underneath it. He didn't see a figure there, familiar or otherwise. And he had been calling Ethan, in every private moment, to no effect. But...
He sighed, crossed the road, and went into the park again.
The shade under the oak was cold, and all the leaves had turned since he'd gone. The ground around the tree was crisp with fallen gold. The setting sun threw shifting shadow branches across almost the whole park.
Giles headed for the trunk. There was something inscribed there, usually hidden amongst the rough bark, but just now made visible as it caught the light, edged in fading gilt.
ER, RG. The two sets of initials intertwined in the middle, like the Rolls Royce sign. Ripper had carved them, years ago, back when they'd sit for hours out here, smoking and talking together. Ethan had carved the shape that surrounded them. Oak bark was deeply furrowed, and knives had never been Ethan's forte. The result had been a rather wide sort of heart, only spread out more by intervening years. The point hadn't quite joined, either. Rupert had laughed, but Ethan had tried again, added a sort of long hook underneath. Then declared it an elephant.
Giles grinned, remembering. He ran his fingers over the cut edges, then placed his hand there a long moment, and bowed his head. When he moved again, the rough bark snagged his bandages, making the cut underneath sting.
Giles smiled at that, and nodded.
Then he turned and went back in the house.
He paused outside the door of his flat, looked up at the frowning face of Janus. For a brief moment he had a very strong urge to swear at it. Then he hesitated, keys in hand, as he considered what the wards might do to him, now.
He sighed, and unlocked. He slipped inside without noticeable problem. The door closed behind him, and the wards with it. Home again, and safe.
He kept his jacket on, and his shoes. They'd been half way around the world and back, and would probably carry most of it all over his carpets, but the floor was still a mess from his earlier reaction. He tried to avoid it.
He dropped the suitcase on the bench, crossed to his desk and turned on the little space heater. Then he turned and went to the kitchen, picked up the kettle by habit and took it to the sink. Some tea would take the chill off.
He stopped, kettle half full, and turned the water off. He leaned on the sink a moment, then turned around and went back to the kitchen door.
There were a thousand things he should be doing next. He could see many of them from here. Cleaning, of course, for a start. And after that... The light on the answerphone was blinking, the papers on his desk stacked up, and he hadn't checked his mail. The notebooks were safely in the new suitcase, and he had a dozen things he should add to them, before writing up his report. And then there was changing dressings, and prescriptions to take.
He turned, instead, to the drinks cabinet, and got down the really good scotch. Took two glasses, and poured measures into both of them. Then doubled them.
A glass in each hand, he returned to the living room. He looked around, then chose the window seat. He placed one glass on the left of it, at a seated man's right hand. Then he went back to the wing chair and sat down.
He looked out the window. The sun had fully set now, and the tree outside was all shadows. Above it the sky still held a hint of blue, but the brightest stars were coming out. It felt like the end of a very long day.
They'd shared a lot of evenings, looking out at just exactly this.
He raised the glass formally.
He closed his eyes, and tipped his head back, savouring the taste like bottled smoke.
Giles sputtered, started to cough, and spilled scotch down his shirt as he sat up and stared.
"Surprise," Ethan added, voice matching the self satisfied smirk. He sat framed in the window, glowing like stained glass, and crystal clear to Rupert's eyes.
Giles gasped, then looked down and patted at his shirt, blinking water out of his eyes. "You're just going to delight in doing that, aren't you?" he accused.
Ethan laughed happily.
"Really, I can forgive it when it's just airline booze, but you could at least respect the thirty year old."
"You got out the good stuff, because of me? I'm touched. But drinking alone?" He shook his head.
Rupert looked at him and grinned, full of fondness and pure relief. He raised his glass again. "But I'm not alone."
"No," Ethan agreed. "You won't be."
He smiled then, the most genuine smile, that most rarely saw the light.
Rupert smiled right back at him. He raised the glass again. "Ethan," he said, and this time he made the word a welcome and a blessing.
"Rupert," Ethan replied, reverent in his turn.
Rupert drank, swallowed what was left of the good spirits and let it warm him.
Then he put the glass down, and pulled at his shirt again. "I'd better take this off now. I won't be a minute." He got up and headed for the bedroom, hanging up his coat along the way.
Ethan, of course, got up, and followed him.
*** (BEGINNING) ***