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0_Ruthless_0
20 October 2012 @ 11:48 am
A.N Finally, properly, this world lets me back in again. Enjoy! I know I did.



22

“The point Rupert, is still that is would be a lot let individual weight carried by each person alone if there were three of us,” Buffy cleared her throat, and Ethan narrowed his eyes, “three sorcerers, that is, to carry the weight of the binding. And I’m sorry Buffy, but as wonderful as you are, as much innate power as a Slayer should have, you’re still untrained and lacking practice. What we need is practiced power, not a child at play.”

Rupert and Ethan were arguing again. Or ‘debating a point, forcefully’ as Rupert preferred to call it.

“I’m not saying that it wouldn’t be easier. What I’m saying is that the only other person, who we know with even a part of the experience towards tackling something like this with us…”

“Is the witch, yes, I know.”

“Then I’d assume you also know, or remember as the case may be, what exactly happened last time she got near a portal. She rent the damn thing open, Ethan. And I know that there’s a part of you that still thrives under Chaos, but to risk that… No.”

“She’s powerful, Rupert.”

“You think I don’t know that? But it’s a bellicose power, not a restrictive one, which is something else that you also know, surely.”

“And mine isn’t?”

“It’s not the same thing, and you know it. You’ve been fine-tuning yourself since you were what, twelve, wasn’t it? You have a bloody lifetime’s experience controlling yourself.”

“And you’ve been putting your foot down ever since…” he glanced at Buffy, and cut his sentence short; ever since I told you about it.

“Even if I have been, it’s beside the point, Ethan. We’ve pulled powerful spells together before. And I also distinctly remember telling you to think more, not less.”

“But…”

No.”

He allowed an edge of ice to come into his voice, a touch of iron that Ethan knew from pushing against in the past was something that would hold up under pressure. It wasn’t often that Rupert put his foot down, or drew the line in the sand, but when he did Ethan knew to leave well enough alone. He was stubborn, but not stupid, after all. He liked friction for the sake of friction, but not when it threatened to do real damage to the life that he was comfortable in.

“Wow.”

Rupert found his gaze drawn to the Slayer, almost as though he’d forgotten that she was there.

“Hmm? Was there possibly something that you wanted to add?”

“Sorry. It’s just… it’s been a while since I’ve heard that sort of authority in … well, it’s just been a while.”

She had been about to say that it had been a while since she had heard that sort of authority in his voice. Another stark reminder that this wasn’t the man that she knew; in those final months that she had known him he’d been more likely to brush her off than to put his foot down about anything.

“Anyway, I don’t even know what bellicose means, but I don’t see why you shouldn’t give her a chance if it’ll make things easier.”

“You’re right, you don’t see. And you didn’t see what happened last time we gave her a chance. The base of her power was corrupted by what she tapped, Buffy, and it’s something that gets more out of hand, the closer the proximity to darker powers. It turned it into something destructive, something that it never should have been.”

His expression softened a little, and he ran a hand back through his hair, a sure sign of frustration

“Sorry for asking.”

“No, don’t be. You weren’t to know, and you won’t find anything out unless you do ask someone.”

Another brief silence fell.

“Isn’t there anything that could be done?”

Ethan spoke before Rupert could, “The chance would lie in her stopping use of her power altogether, and cleansing totally. Such a thing would wipe out the base power, and, well, reset it, to a point, I suppose. Possibly. But if it did work, the magical withdrawal alone would be hell on her. And then she would have to learn how to use what she has again, from the basics up. And again, the point lays in the fact that we’re in the middle of a war, here. We don’t have the time, and we can’t afford to lose a valuable resource, even temporarily.”

He let out a slow breath, “I’m sorry, I know it probably sounds harsh to you. But we have to think in the terms of the overall outcome, not in human cas… effect.”

“And what was that word you cut off there?”

He winced, “Causality.”

She looked at him, squarely, “You know, your choices really suck.”

His laugh in response was a bitter sound, “Believe me, we’re more than aware of that wonderful little fact, dear thing.”

Then, with a glance at the exasperated-looking man who was about a foot away from him, he rolled his eyes, “Yes, Rupert, before you say another thing I do concede.”

“Good. It’s time that could be better spent planning. Speaking of which, where did we stand before you began to try picking your customary fight? On top of it I lost my train of thought.”

“Balance,” Ethan shrugged, “which is apparently out of the question, so I suppose we move onto protection, which we will need you for, Buffy. I’d much rather you were at our back than someone with a machine-gun. When Ripper and I go under we’ll be oblivious to the rest of the world, for the duration of this thing. It’s always the same way with the more powerful magick; you get given a new world in which to play in, with its own unique series of rules and laws, but the price that you pay is that you lose the one that the physical self stays in.”

“I think I actually followed that.”

“Well, considering I condensed it for you…”

Turning away from Rupert, he made to check the bag of ingredients that they’d been gathering, on the pretense of making sure that they had everything, so that he wouldn’t have to meet that pissed-off look in his lover’s eyes that he was sure that the Slayer hadn’t noticed. Rupert had made all the right sounds about sweeping the argument to one side, but it was obvious, to him at least, that he hadn’t. He knew how this worked; Rupert would carry it for a few days, and then it would dance back around again, on the heels of another disgruntlement, and Ethan would wind up apologizing for both grievances, old and new if he wanted things to settle back to what they should be.

“So,” he looked up at her, out of the corner of his eye, “have you got our backs?”

“Yeah, I’ve got it covered. So, how long is this thing going to take?”

Rupert snatched the bag from him, the movement a little rougher than it normally would be.

“Ideally, it’ll be a couple of hours. We can’t rush it, because of the amount of energy both that this will take, and because of the energy that the portal itself will be producing. We do it too fast, and not only is overexertion a risk, but the backlash from closing it too fast… well, picture it like an elastic band, stretched to breaking. Both parts lash the surrounding area, only in this situation the surrounding radius that will potentially be destroyed will quite possibly cover several city blocks, and will almost assuredly kill us, too.”

“I can see how that wouldn’t be a good thing.”

Rupert gave her a smile, that didn’t quite reach his eyes, “Yes, that’s one way to put it. Anyway, we move out just after one, so I suggest that you perhaps have a chat with Ethan, about something that I know he’s been avoiding, and then get some rest. And I’d appreciate if you didn’t kill him, because it would be a pain to have to carry the spell on my own.”

Ethan stared at him, unable to hide his shock, “That’s a little bloody underhanded, don’t you think?”

Rupert looked back at him, unflinching, “Just get the damned conversation out of the way. I’m sure I hardly need to point out that the last thing that we need is anything taking us by surprise and with something like that, forewarned is forearmed.”

The scowl that he gave Rupert’s back went unnoticed, and he made sure to lift his voice so that Rupert didn’t miss a word, “Let’s just say make sure that nothing gets the upper hand, and leave it at that, shall we?”

He froze in mid-step and turned back.

“Oh.”

Ethan found himself cursing his own natural inclination towards friction more than he usually would. It had been a long time since he had seen genuine anger in Rupert, and that cold, flint-hard look in his green eyes, entirely belied by the neutral set of his expression told him that this was no mere irritation which he had stirred up this time.

“Ethan.”

That perfectly measured ‘would you like to rethink that’ tone of his voice was another give-away, too. It only picked up that false-calm tone when he was at his angriest, and served as a warning that one more misstep would be all that it would take, the control that it was taking for him to hold himself in check evident in it.

“Christ. Sorry, Ripper,” his own tone of voice was completely reticent and sincere, although he also knew from past experience that it would take more than the single word to sooth the dog who’s nose he had just tweaked back to a lull, “you know how sometimes words have a habit of bypassing my brain.”

“I’d say that both thought and common sense do sometimes, as well,” still that fake-calm.

Ethan found that he was holding his breath, because if Ripper was going to lose it, then it would be within the next few moments. As one dragged by and then another he watched the fascinating process of a little tension dropping from his stance, although his eyes still didn’t lose that look of cold fire, and Ethan shook his head to stop his life from flashing before his eyes.

He knew what Ripper’s anger could do, had seen those unfortunates whether Council or otherwise, who had truly pissed the man off. None of it had been pretty, and yet he still couldn’t seem to keep his hands out of the fire.

“Well, are the two of you going to stop dancing around whatever this apparently vital piece of information is?”

Ethan watched as Ripper startled towards her, a hint of surprise coloring his expression. It seemed that in his effort for self-control, he had forgotten the Ace of the hand that he’d just played.

With the attention off him, Ethan finally managed to chase down his circling thoughts and arrange them into a pattern that seemed as though it may keep him from grievous bodily harm. Closing his eyes he let out a slow exhale, enjoying what hopefully wouldn’t be his last breath.

“I cut a deal with the devil; or rather… a demon to be precise. Not the first time I’ve done so in this thing; desperate times, desperate measures and all that, but the first familial power that I’ve brought into this. And I brought you into it, too. It… it wasn’t a part of the initial plan, because, to be quite frank, there wasn’t much of an initial plan outside of survival. Past circumstances, on the other hand, allowed for it. The tattoo that my, ah… counterpart, left you with is a very old form of magic, if I’m seeing it from the right angle. You got the mark removed, I’m assuming, unless it’s simply not in a visible area, but a ghost of the power from it would have remained with you, an echo of it in your blood, so to speak. What’s more is that without the mark to anchor it, it’s a non-specific … target, if you will. I drew on the power for myself, and of course it took notice of Rupert, because of what he and I have shared, but it rather took interest in you, too. So, for the sake of my, er, continued living I suggest you be careful.”

He tried not to hope that she wouldn’t ask for names. For the first time in a long time luck was on his side there, too. He watched her face changing; anger, uncertainty, thought, wonder, more uncertainty, a brief detour to something that looked surprisingly like it could have been related to Ripper’s fond exasperation of last night, and then just as he was waiting for the thrilling conclusion of his fate it went perfectly blank.

He wondered whether he dared to talk again, decided that it wouldn’t make much difference if she were planning to launch a swift execution.

“As Rupert here is fond of saying, there are times when common sense tends to get bypassed.”

Another flash of… something… reassurance…? in her expression.

“No, I don’t think that’s it. I don’t think that’s it at all, or maybe not as a prime motive. I think it’s everything to do with self-preservation. And, you know, I think I was half-waiting for this, or something like it. You want to know something else?”

She paused, actually waiting for a response, and he could recognize what was half a fond memory, and half of a painful one.

“Yes?”

“Screwing up is human. I know I’m human, so it’s kinda nice to get the reassurance that at least one of the all-powerful sorcerers is, too. Besides, even if I was going to get angry with you, then now isn’t really the time, is it? I could yell if I wanted, and that doesn’t change that what’s done is done. I could say that it was stupid, but you seem to have already covered that. I’ve also seen enough of him,” she nodded towards the leather-jacketed man, leaning against the stairway banister, who was looking a little less threatening than he had been a few minutes earlier, “to see that he isn’t too different to what I remembered. Altered by circumstances, sure, but who wouldn’t be in this fucked-up world? Anyway, the point there is that I’ve seen enough of him to trust what I see, so far. Doesn’t take a genius to see that he’s annoyed, too, but I think if what you did was a threat in any way, then you wouldn’t be standing here talking to me about it.”

You don’t know the half of it, dear girl.

For once that was a thought he managed to bite down on, though. It wouldn’t do to throw himself back into the fire, when he’d just been spat out of the frying pan, and clear of the grate. She had only seen a fragment of Ripper. If she ever saw what was behind the attitude, intelligence and forced self-control then he doubted she would hang around long enough to see whether he got back up after she knocked him for six.

He could see that edge of satisfied sociopath around the outline of Ripper’s expression, and told himself to settle back down. The man had lasted out this long in the world of the sane, on only a hint of who he had used to be. This world was enough to sate any craving of chaos. He would hang on, would be able to keep his head. After all, Ripper had always been the one with better self-control.

And for the first time in a long time Ethan had won a round.




 
 
0_Ruthless_0
02 August 2012 @ 02:22 pm


Endings Chapter 21

“But this was after you lost your Slayer line, I’d assume. I mean, I can’t see Bringers coming to power, as you put it, any time before that.”

“Yes. And I know where you’re going with this, but they had enough data on record to recreate a Slayers energy signature, and that of a Potentials, too, for that matter.”

“You’re a smart guy. You tell me how the hell they came by that sort of data.”

He glanced at her in the rare view mirror.

“Yes, well, that’s another reason why we needed the cover story for who you are. And I’m afraid, at this stage they’re the lesser of two evils, Buffy.”

She winced at that.

“I like it about as much as you do. And I like them even less. But this entire bloody world is a choice between bad and worse, Slayer. And all that those of us that are capable of fighting can do is make those damned choices, and stick to our guns afterwards, hope and even pray that we haven’t fucked up again. And that a bad choice isn’t going to spell the end of the fucking world. You think that this, that any of this is easy? You think that I wouldn’t go back to the way that things used to be in a heartbeat, if I could? That I don’t miss the ease of only worrying about us,” he took a hand off the wheel and gestured between himself and Ethan, “and getting a little fun out of life? You didn’t ask for any of this, but nor did any of us. And this isn’t a war in which we can afford to discount a powerful ally just because don’t like a few of their past methods.”

“Newsflash, Ripper,” she put unnecessary emphasis on the old nickname, “I spent seven damn years on the frontline with the fate of the world in my hands. And I started when I was seventeen. By the time I was 23 I was calling the shots in our own fight against the First. I lead people, girls that should have still been acting like children into battle, and I watched them get killed; because of choices that I made. You’re complaining to me because your fun got cut short when you got called to the front line? At least you got a proper chance to enjoy the world before you had to start fighting to keep it.”

“You have no…”

“Oh do shut up, the pair of you. My head’s killing me,” Ethan raised his head from the seat of the car, and blinked wearily as both of the others shot synchronized glares at him, “Seriously. You may want to try for a few decibels higher and then you’ll be summoning dogs and bats as well. At least they wouldn’t let me suffer.”

Giles turned his full attention back to the road and drove in silence for a few minutes. Buffy watched as the tension slowly left his shoulders, and once they were back to the usual position that tended to hold them in, he spoke again.

“Sorry, Ethan,” he took a deep breath, almost as though steeling himself for an explosion of some form, “and my apologies to you too, Buffy. I wasn’t trying to pick a fight with you, but, but sometimes I… I suppose that, that I don’t think before I speak. Sometimes these days I tend towards over-reaction. Things seem to wear a little thin,” he glanced backwards for half a second, and raised a hopeful eyebrow, “Can’t begin to imagine why.”

It was the first time that she’d heard the Giles stammer. She’d wondered before whether this one still did it, or ever had, and now she had another answer. Ethan had closed his eyes again, and was wincing with every bump that they hit.

“Apology accepted. And I’ve done the same thing before, so not like its new territory to me.”

“Still, that was a little out of bounds.”

“Yeah, it was, I’ll give you that if you’re going to keep pressing that point. But the other night, sorry to tell you but I also tracked down your diaries. And with what the two of you have been through over the last few years I’ll give you a get out jail free card, this time too.”

“You… tracked down my diaries?”

“Yeah; I wanted to see things for myself, I suppose. So, again, sorry.”

“I’d have probably done the same thing in your place, actually. But you could have asked; I wouldn’t have denied you.”

“Yeah, well, I didn’t know that. And I wasn’t sure how I felt about asking you for anything, considering the circumstances.”

At that Giles said something that sounded like it had the words curiosity and cat in it, and for the rest of the drive home they were both silent.

When they got back Giles pulled they keys from the ignition and handed them back to Buffy, so that he could help Ethan out of the car ignoring his grumbling about not being as bad off as he looked, and tucked a arm under his shoulders and around his back to give him something to lean on. Buffy opened the door, and put the keys down on the table where the phone was. He didn’t know why he bothered to keep it, for that matter, and landlines had long since ceased to operate.

Inside the door, he paused and Ethan leaned heavily into him, his exhaustion obvious.

“Did you want to get some sleep before anything else, or…”

“No,” he shook his head, and straightened up as much as his bone-tiredness would allow for, slipping free of Rupert’s grasp and leaning against the wall on the other side, “we’ve got to talk. Probably better if we do it now, while I still want to, too.”

“Would you rather the lounge or the study?” he could hear the seriousness in Ethan’s tone. The time for dancing around issues was passed, and if Ethan wanted to talk to him now, then now it would be. Giles wasn’t going to deny him that.

“Bedroom would be better. Better if I show you.”

“Can you manage the stairs?”

“I’ve done so in worse states.”

“Fine, then. I’ll just grab you a couple of codeine and that vodka you cracked to wash them down with.”

“Won’t hear me complaining,” Ethan pushed himself off the wall, and shook himself, before heading through to the stairs and dragging himself up to the second floor.

As Giles cut back through, the vodka in one hand, a pair of glasses in the other, and the painkillers tucked into his pocket Buffy came back out from the room that she’d been given dressed in a pair of loose fitting pants, and a sleeveless black top.

“I’m gonna hit the basement,” she offered, by way of explanation as she crossed his path.

“That’s fine,” he paused with one foot on the stairs, and glanced back, “just make sure that you leave the punching bag in one piece. There are times that I use it, too, and after the last time I let lose down there, we’re running of spares.”

“Will do, Giles,” for a few moments she looked unsure of herself, but then she spoke in a rush like she was trying to get the words out, “I’mnotsureifyour’regoingtoneeditandIreallyhopethatyoudon’tbutifyoudo…well, good luck.”

“Thanks,” he headed up the stairs as she flicked on the light and headed down. Next time, he reminded himself, he was going to show her where the switch for the heater was. He’d seen water freeze down there the last few times that he’d headed down.

He paused outside the closed door to the bedroom, and uncapped the vodka, taking a couple of swigs to steel himself before he met what Ethan had been dancing around for the last few days. Taking a deep breath, he tucked the bottle under one arm and raised his hand to the door-handle, turned it, and pushed it open.

Ethan was sitting in the chair on the far side of the room, with his shirt off and a folded piece of paper in one hand. And even as he wordlessly held out his hand to take it, he knew exactly what Ethan was going to say.

He stared at the fresh scratched rune-work around the old ink mark of the Etruscan, and winced. Earlier on it must have been had a glamour over it, but now the spell had been dropped.

“The other night, I was… frightened. It’s been a while since I last looked at this fight and saw my death, Rupert,” the man was breathing rapidly, lightly, and he wished that he hadn’t chosen such a solitary position, “but when I saw that doorway punched through our block of Swiss Cheese to the big toaster oven… I panicked; asked our old friend for a hand, so to speak. And I definitely discounted what she told me that I… her me had done to her, just after she got here.”

“Ethan,” he started, as his partner leaned forward, and placed the folded page on the center of the bed so that Rupert could pick it up.

“Didn’t realize until today, that our old friend would touch her, too. I… Christ, I forgot if it had been done right in the first place, and there’s no reason to doubt that since I’m apparently the one that did it in the first place, that the herb and blood mixture that’s meant to go into the ink would hold the natural power of it active in the blood. Or maybe it wasn’t so much that I forgot as it was that I was hoping against it. And I…I…I suppose an extra touch of power in a race that was born through demonic power in the first place probably would have gone unnoticed anyway,” he raised a single shoulder in a half-shrug, “I was doing a fire scry, checking on a few things, and it showed me exactly what I missed. I…”

He trailed off, looking puzzled. Because where he’d expected yelling, and more than likely being kicked out, if not from the house then at least down to the couch, once the fight had run its course, Rupert was laughing.

“What?” he asked softly, almost as though he’d thought Rupert had gone mad.

The man took a deep breath, and got himself back under control.

“And you thought this was something I’d kill you over?”

“Well, yes, considering everything. I mean…”

“I assume you were careful?” Rupert grabbed the folded page off the bed, and opened it up so that he could see the words and patterns on it, black on gray and marked with blood as they were, “Limited it, watched yourself?”

“My exact wording was power for strength, and their blood for sanctuary. So, yes, but…”

“If anything, it may have helped us already. Besides, which, it’s like I was saying to her earlier today, I suppose. The lesser of two evils… And I suppose we could throw in ‘better the devil you know’ this time, too.”

“But,” he started again.

“Oh, don’t get me wrong. I’m not impressed, Ethan, not in the slightest. But it’s far from the worst call that you’ve ever made. And besides, you’re giving me an idea or an idea of an idea at least. If it were to be strengthened a little more, it might mask her power enough to cover over whatever it is that the Bringers see and recognize as a Slayer. And if they can only feel one around, then it may settle them…” he let the unsaid remain just as it was, although they both knew it. If they can only feel one, then maybe they would only try to kill one.

Taking the lid off the bottle again, he decided to declare the glasses a futile exercise and placed them both on the floor, before taking another couple of deep drags from the bottle and circling the bed to press it into Ethan’s hands.

“What’s done is done, Ethan. And as mush as I wish you’d think things through properly, thinking isn’t going to close the gate after the horse has bolted,” the bottle was passed back, and he sat down before throwing his head back, “so we may as well make the best of the worst. After all, that’s what’s got us through the last few years.”

“So, my life isn’t in jeopardy, then?” Ethan took the bottle back again, and grasped it between his palms.

“Oh, wouldn’t go as far as to be saying that, love.”

Ethan frowned, “But you were just saying that,”

“I know exactly what I was just saying. But I can’t guaranty your safety when you go to explain this turn of events to Buffy. I’ll do my best, but she does only just seem to be beginning to tolerate you, after all.”

Ethan paled drastically at that particular thought.

“Shit, I really am dead. Make sure they burry me somewhere nice, Rupert?”

“Come here you idiot,” he grabbed Ethan by the hand and tugged him up and across the small distance, reaching to grab the bottle back, and he settled the other man in his lap, looping a single arm around his neck.

A few minutes of silence later, and Ethan’s head dropped back as he gave in to the exhaustion that had been threatening to take over ever since he’d teleported. Giles raised the bottle and finished it off with one swig, and then being careful not to wake his armful of sleeping man, he lowered it to the ground and placed one arm firmly against the covers, as he shifted the both of them until they were lying down. Closing his own eyes his head swum and he knew that he would pay for it tomorrow, as the last of the vodka stole his last conscious thought.

It was just after ten when Buffy emerged from the training room, finally lured upstairs by the noise. Or the lack of it, as the case was. She felt better after pounding away at the bag for a while, then settling in to meditate for an hour or so. She had never particularly enjoyed the latter, but it was something that she had been told several times that she ought to do more often.

Besides, it had been too cold down there to stay for much longer. Making as little noise as possible, she circled through the house turning off the lights. When eventually, the only light she could see was coming from up the stairs, she followed it, and paused at the edge of Giles and Ethan’s room, looking through the quarter-gap that the door had been left open to.

She saw the two men, Ethan with his top off and both with shoes still on, twined together on top of the covers, and not for the first time in the last little while found herself wondering how much, if at all, the man that she’d known had missed this companionship. After all, until she had told him about finding Ethan’s body when she’d come too, they had actually been starting to get on better again. But after that, it was almost like he was trying to cut himself off from some parts of life. At first she had blamed herself for the change, and then she had started to blame him. Now, thought, she found herself thinking that maybe it was simply grief; a grief that she had never been given an insight of, until now, so far removed from it.

Reaching into the room, she flicked off the light for them, and pulled the door closed before making her way back down to her room. These two may not have been the same people that she’d known before, she thought ten minutes later as she settled into the bed, but she was prepared to give them a chance.

After all, what was the point of any of this if she wasn’t?

 
 
0_Ruthless_0
26 June 2012 @ 11:55 am



20

The blond tormentor...

Quietly, his gaze flicked over to her again, and he found himself biting back a fresh chuckle. He knew that Ethan’s hurriedly thought up title shouldn’t be quite so amusing, but then again he was probably almost past the point of rational thought at this moment, anyway. Concern over Ethan, and worry about the world in general didn’t help matters in the slightest.

And this time she caught his glance, and returned it with a raised eyebrow. He hadn’t seen any sign of the danger that he’d been quite so concerned about yet, and they were only a couple of minutes out from the factory but he certainly didn’t doubt that it would be out there. After all, Ethan wasn’t the type who was given to worrying needlessly.

“You may want to reach around and grab that axe you’ve adopted from the backseat,” he broke the silence as he pulled up to a halt in front of the old dilapidated building, and was stretching out with his sense of magic even before he’d opened the door of the car. He couldn’t feel anything, beyond the old magic that was woven around and through the building. Simply staring at it brought back memories, of Ethan looking younger then he had in years, hair long and tied back, as they stepped up to one of their first hits in this town.

Fear, he could feel it in the air, and could see the tension in the way that Ethan was holding himself. No one else had stepped up to this, as conventional weapons had proved useless, and no-one had been able to get away both alive and with a conclusive description.

He shot a new sideways glance at Ethan, and almost automatically reached over to brush a single strand of unruly hair away from his face. Then, side by side, Ethan nudged inwards with his power, and Giles winced at the sound that the door made as the metal screeched, twisted and crumpled inwards.

If there wasn’t a single thing in a three mile radius that hadn’t heard that, then he’d eat his books. Truly, he would.

“Sorry. Maybe a little over-enthusiastic there, perhaps.”

Only the years spent working Sunnydale, and helping keep the world spinning would help Ethan’s subtlety as far as his power was concerned. The less noise you made, the less warning anything got, and the more time you had to plan your own response, and he’d seen time and again how that could prove the difference between life and death on the battlefront.

“You think?”

Without another word they drew closet to the factory, and Giles froze out of shock as much as out of anything else.

“It’s a fucking dinosaur.”

Ethan looked at the still slumbering shape, eyes wide.

“That’s not a dinosaur, it’s a fucking dragon.”

“And how can you tell? Met one before have you?”

At that moment, the thing snorted in its sleep, and a small jet of flame shot out of its nostril. Rupert looked over at Ethan, just in time to catch the smirk which said ‘I told you so.’

“Oh, don’t you look so bloody satisfied. You realize how much harder this job just got?”

Since then the doors had been boarded over, and the only access now was where the front door had once been. Buffy held the axe easily in one hand, and took a couple of warning swipes through the air, and she bounded her weight from side to side and they approached the factory together, much like he and Ethan had done all those years ago.

He paused just inside the door and blinked, letting his power go before him, and his eyes adjust to the gloom. It wouldn’t do, to have Ethan take the sound as something hostile, and attack him.

Although it seemed he needn’t have worried. Ethan was sitting with his head tilted back, and he raised it and opened his eyes at the first sound of movement.

“Rupert,” he pushed the corners of his mouth up into a smile that looked as though it were exhausted, and pushed himself to his feet.

Still, though, he kept his approach slow, and Ethan allowed it giving him time to feel him out and make sure that it really was him. After all, it wouldn’t have been the first time that an enemy had tried to mimic someone that he loved.

He was exhausted, his power was just about drained for the moment, and all that it took was one good eye to notice the signs of a rather recent nosebleed. Ethan had stretched himself to breaking point.

Finally, satisfied, he closed the distance and came to a halt in front of him. As much as he wanted to throw his arms around him, out of relief, he wasn’t going to do that in front of the Slayer. He didn’t want to upset here any more than he could help, and as well as she was dealing with the differences from what she normally knew, he didn’t want to push things too far.

“What’s going on?”

And glancing back over his shoulder and catching Buffy’s ‘go-ahead’ look, he drew Ethan into a tight embrace. The other man relaxed into it for a few minutes before drawing back, and looking uneasy.

“What did you want to start with? The bad news or what’s worse?”

“The bad?” he phrased the statement as a question.

“That’s good, since it would be better if I broke the worse when we didn’t have any witnesses,” his gaze danced over to Buffy, and then he turned his full attention back to Rupert.

“The good news is that we picked up a Slayer. The bad news if that I think it’s possible we may have picked up more than one.”

Giles understood instantly, “Bringers?”

“Yes, Bringers, I’m afraid; drawn to my firescry. I ran, and then teleported without a base, set destination, or a focus.”

He drew a deep, slow breath.

“You idiot, Ethan; you’re bloody lucky is all and nothing else.”

“Trust me, love. I know it. It half killed me, and only the luck of Janus and you stopped me from reappearing some six feel underground or the like.”

“And it wouldn’t have done you much good if you’d flashed back in the middle of some demon nest, either.”

“Again, believe me when I say that I know.”

This was the bad news? He wasn’t sure that he wanted to hear the worst, but if it something that he or they were going to have to take a stand against, then it was better that…

“…for once, I don’t know what to do,” he registered that Ethan was still talking, and forced himself to pay attention, “whenever we try to make a move it always seems like we just screw something else up. Like I screw it up…”

Maybe something to do with what else he’s got to tell me? But that didn’t matter at the moment. All that mattered was holding it together, for Ethan’s and Buffy’s sake if nothing else.

“We do what we always do, love,” he took Ethan’s hand and helped him back to his feet, before digging into his pocket to pull out the handkerchief that he always carried, and handed it over so the he could clean up the dried blood under his nose as best he could, “we regroup, we plan, and then we keep fighting. You said yourself when we first signed up for this that it wasn’t going to be easy, but we’ve never conceded ground before. Just because we’ve got one more thing to add to the snowball, doesn’t mean that we won’t still get through this.”

“You might, but I doubt I will. Not once…” he crossed his arms over his chest and turned his back, looking pointedly at the ground.

“Look, let’s just get you home first.”

He tried to crush down his fear at the way Ethan was talking as best as he could. Focus on one thing; one thing at a time. Whatever other shocks Ethan had for him would have to wait in line until they were safely back, behind the wards of the house. Because the longer they stayed out here, with a Slayer at that, the more likely they were to attract them, even with the old magic woven through the building.

“I can live with that,” Ethan tucked the cloth into his pocket and gave him the grin of an exhausted man, and turned to the door. Buffy had watched the exchange in silence and now she still didn’t say a word, simply pulled the door open. He watched her, and tried to focus on what Rupert had said, and brush his feeling aside, as she took two steps out of the door, and then froze.

“What the hell…”

Their walk became a run, and a few seconds later he could see for himself why she’d stopped. A line of five Bringers, knives in hand were between them and their escape route.

“Those would be the things that I was trying to avoid,” he supplied for her dryly, and didn’t miss the look that Rupert shot him, which said very clearly that this was not the time.

Those are Bringers? But the things that I knew were eyeless.”

They were advancing slowly and looked sure of themselves, and sure of an easy kill.

They had eyes, and razor-sharp teeth, and the X-Y patters that she’d known them to have were instead heavy black and red markings down their cheeks. They weren’t overly muscular or large, but they felt powerful, in a way which she’d never known them to.

“Yes, that’s how these started out, too. These are Bringers in a world in which they’ve come into power. They may not be much to look at, but they’re fast, and strong, easily the strength of ten men in one. Their senses are heightened to the extreme, and they’re damn near impossible to take down. And they’re impervious to any form of magic aside from the old arts.”

Buffy took her own step towards the one that was slightly at the head of the others, and while it didn’t stop moving it did eye her warily. She gathered herself, and swung the axe at it in a two-handed strike that was no-where near as fast or powerful as it could have been, to test it reflexes. And a moment later it was over her other side.

“Okay, that’s interesting,” she spoke softly to herself. And then three of them lunged at her, and the other two spread out to either side and closed in from the back. She spun the axe in a wide, sweeping ark and was surprised to see it pass cleanly through one of their stomachs, splitting it open. She had only a second to watch it, before she found herself grappling with the next one. The next time she got to glance at it, the deep slash was knitting itself back together before her very eyes.

“That is so not fair.”

She glanced back towards the two men as soon as she got another few seconds break.

“You might want to try decapitating them, that usually holds up,” Ethan gave her what she was looking for, but not before the one that had been the first one she’d cut down managed to get through her defenses and she winced as she felt its knife tag her shoulder.

Warm blood flowed down her arm, and she sunk an elbow into its chest and lashed out with a foot that connected with its knee and bent the cap in backwards.

It went down again, and this time before it could get back up again, she sunk the blade of the axe into its neck and its head rolled a few feet before it melted into a puddle of black, tar like stuff. She wrinkled her nose at the sight, but didn’t let it distract from the next two that came forward to play. This was a fight that she wanted to end quickly, because Rupert hadn’t been kidding when he’d spoken of their strength and speed. For every blow that she intercepted, she could feel their strength behind it, making her limbs tingle. And they were never where she needed them to be.

But luck was on her side, as she took another swing at one of them, and another actually stepped into it. The blow did nothing mote than sink into it’s shoulder, but it was still enough to distract it. She tugged the axe free, spun it and slammed the end of the handle into the underside of the jaw, wincing as it actually sunk through the skin and into the flesh. Throwing her body weight into it she tossed it to the ground and made short work of that one, too.

The two that had swung around to behind her still didn’t move, and the remaining third of the original three that had engaged her circled her with a little less confidence then it’d had to being with. But she was already worn. The fighting was fast and furious, and she didn’t want to let start again on their terms. Not only that but she couldn’t afford to, not if she wanted to walk away from this.

She feinted with her left and attacked from the right, and it didn’t even flinch towards the feint, only responded to the attack with a swing of its knife that looked aw though it would have cut her stomach open back to her spine if it had connected. She flicked upwards with the head of the axe, hoping to catch its hand but with a back up if it didn’t. Just like she’d thought it would be, the hand was drawn back too fast, but she stepped forward following it back as she continued to bring the axe up, and then it was against the wall, unable to go any further. She flipped the axe, brought it out to one side and then swung back across with all the force that she could out behind it. The axe buried into its side and she stepped backwards as she tugged it out, so that it fell onto its front. One well placed blow in its back severed the spine and she watched with satisfaction as it joined its friends as a puddle of tar-like substance.

The two that were left simply stood there.

“Come on then, just you try me,” she yelled at them, advancing. And they turned tails and fled, which was just what she’d hoped for. She didn’t think that she had enough left in her to take on the other two as well.

She couldn’t stop shaking, as Giles took her by the shoulder, Ethan gently grasped the handle of the axe and took it off her, and Giles lead her to the car.

“You took out three of them. Three, in hand to hand combat.”

Ethan sounded as though he almost couldn’t believe it. And Giles was looking at her with a strange look in his eyes. As Ethan opened the back door of the car for her she finally realized the other think that had been bothering her.

“Why didn’t they go for either of you?”

Giles sat back into the driver’s seat and waited as Ethan circled around to the other side of the car and settled himself into it, beside her throwing Rupert a glance as he did.

“They may have come into power, but they’re still limited in what they can affect; to a point, anyway. They have eyes, but through them they can only see certain things. Potentials and Slayers, and areas of power, or magic, and that building that we were in, is a place that had old magic woven into it. Staying inside the limits of the building meant that we were masked to their sight by the power that lingers in its walls.”

As he talked, Ethan had grasped her injured arm and placed a hand lightly over the wound that was still weeping, and she could feel him prodding with his power. All of a sudden a shot of pain went through it, and he looked at her apologetically as she gasped.

“Sorry, that wasn’t overly subtly, was it? In my defense though I am completely wiped, and I thought you may prefer not to be bleeding out.”

She shrugged with one arm, as he removed the hand.

“I can live with a little pain. Not the first, and if this place is anything to go by then it won’t be the last either. And how do you know all of that? I mean, it seems like quite a bit of fine detail to actually know.”

“Mm-hmm,” Ethan close his eyes, and twisted until he was in a reasonably comfortable position in the seat. As his breathing even out seconds later, Giles started the car and put it into gear.

“We’ve our friends at the military to thank for the information. Soon as they came into power they captured three… or was it four? Can’t quite remember, now, but they rounded up a few, and ran some tests and such; comparing and contrasting energy signatures, and points and types of power, seeing what they could, would and did respond and react to.”

Giles spoke as Ethan dozed, gaze darting from one side of the road to the other. The twisted wrecks which were almost at regular intervals along the street here were the only other sign of human habilitation.

 
 
0_Ruthless_0
21 June 2012 @ 02:44 pm



19

Running was seriously understated. He’d always been of that particular opinion, but now he would swear it on his mother’s grave.

Where ever that was.

Running… running could save lives.

He leaned over a little further, ducking down under the height of the parked, abandoned cars that he was cutting through, and for a few seconds his fleet-footed flight became a stumbling scramble. At the end of one row he twisted to the side and began to hare along the next.

Only when he’d reached the end of this one did he pause and sink to the ground for a few precious seconds, gathering his strength again and listening for some sound over the gasp of his own breath, which he was trying desperately to slow and make a little quieter.

Because if something or someone wanted to find him at the moment, then all it would take was a sharp pair of ears.

There.

The sound of feet; quieter that his own dash, but still coming his way none-the-less.

“Damn it,” he snarled, forcing himself back to his feet. He’d counted on a longer break than that.

ARR! ARR! ARR! ARR

“Yes, that’d be good, thanks.” Giles put the phone back down and heaved a sigh, rolling his head to one side, and rubbing at the crick in his neck, frowned to himself.

“Giles?” Buffy spoke from behind him, and he spun.

“What?” he snapped and she winced. It was something that he regretted the second he’d done it, but damned if he could help the fact that he was getting irritable; or slightly concerned for that matter. Ethan had said after all that he would be back by four and it was edging towards seven. He had every bloody right to be getting annoyed. Although not to be taking it out on Buffy, he reminded himself with a quick glance at the young woman who was standing at the opposite end of the hallway.

He took a deep, steadying breath and closed his eyes for a heartbeat, “Sorry, that was uncalled for. I’m just a little wound up, is all. What was it?”

She crossed the space between them, and held out his phone, which was flashing up with the missed call symbol. He pressed a few buttons to call up the details.

Of course it would be Ethan, wouldn’t it, he mussed. The one call that he’d been waiting for would have to be the one that he missed. Quickly he rung through to the voice mailbox, and put in his pin. Ethan’s voice sounded slightly harsher than usual, ragged as though he’d been exerting himself, and a little annoyance crept through, too.

“Bloody hell, Rupert; not much use you having a bloody mobile if you never have the damn thing actually with you. Look, here’s hopping that it doesn’t take too long for you to get this. And … ah, if you could pick me up from the old factory on Blain that would be excellent, too. I’ll explain later.”

He went back into the details, to check the time. The message had only been left five minutes ago, which was good. To a point, anyway; since it meant that Ethan couldn’t have had enough time for even him to get into trouble since making the call.

Though what had kept him from making the call until now on the other hand had to be something reasonably serious. What was it that he’d said? I’ll explain later? What exactly was there that had to be explained?

He remembered the wound that hadn’t healed, and he tried to tell himself that it was nothing to do with that.

Blain was a good fifteen minute drive from here, too, so how that hell Ethan had wound up all the way over there was anybodies guess. He closed his eyes for half a minute, and took a steadying breath, before he rung back. The phone was answered on the second ring, and for a few seconds all that he could here was the sound of someone trying to get their panting under control.

“Rupert? I sincerely hope that’s actually you.”

He rolled his eyes, although he knew that no-one could see it, “Yes, Ethan, it’s me. I’ll be there in fifteen, if the roads stay clear.”

“Thanks. Yes, and, ah, Ripper, one more thing?”

“Yes?”

“I know you’re handy in a fight and all, but you may want to bring the blond tormenter with you.”

“What the hell...”

“Like I said,” Ethan cut him off, “I’ll explain later. All you need to know is that we’ve got trouble on the streets.”

“Right,” he trusted Ethan that much. If the other didn’t think that he needed the extra worry for the moment, then he would trust that judgment, too.

“I’ll… we’ll be there shortly.”

ARR! ARR! ARR! ARR

Closing his eyes he tilted his head back against an old table that was covered with dust, not caring for the moment that it would get everywhere. All that he could feel was the blood pounding through his veins, and the musty, damp smell of the building invaded his nose and made his eyes water. The only reason that he’d ducked into the old factory was because the old magic woven into the building would make it difficult for anything passing with a sixth sense to pick up on him.

And, by the time that he’d made it here, having put just enough distance between him and his pursuer he hadn’t been able to go much further.

Trying not to think, he raised his hand and pinched at the bridge of his nose. He’d have fought, but they were impervious to any hasty magic. The old magics, now they could affect anything, but that kind of thing took days to prepare in the best of cases. The more serious spells could take anywhere between a year, to prepare and cast, to as little as a month.

It seemed as though there was only one real question left unanswered. That was, of course, which would kill him first? Would it be this wonderful, freshly dangerous world, or would it be Ripper himself?

It just went to show, really. Whenever his instinct tried to have a say in matters, he would definitely be better off going against it.

It was such a pity that he hadn’t come to that conclusion any earlier than this.

 
 
0_Ruthless_0
31 December 2011 @ 10:42 am

Wordcount: 1,838


18

Dawn threw her book across the room in frustration and sunk back into her seat, heaving a sigh of exhaustion and frustration, then almost instinctively glanced around to make sure that no-one had seen it, before crossing the room to retrieve the fallen text.

This is hopeless.

Ever since Willow had got in touch with her and told her what had happened, what with the disappearing act that most of the active Slayers, Buffy included by the looks of it, had performed she had been looking for a reason behind it. The reason she was following this line of enquiry was because she thought that if she could work out why, then she might be able to direct someone as to how to eliminate the reason why, and that might have reversed things.

And she found herself left with a lot of guilt, because of a reference she’d turned up which had been in one of the few books that hadn’t been left to Faith or the Watcher’s Council. And there was a mind-trip in itself, Giles leaving almost everything to Faith.

It was a prophecy in Samarian, referring to the scattering of the Chosen Powers across the bright spaces over the darkened skies. And as far as she could calculate, the math gave her a date of roughly when most of the Slayers had vanished. Although that still didn’t give her any hint as to the why behind it.

And she knew that Buffy and she may not have been close lately, but that didn’t mean that she didn’t miss her, in spite of the fact that Buffy may not have noticed it. The reason that she was letting herself become devoured by the word was because it meant that she didn’t have to think about hoe this was possibly her fault for not picking up on it earlier.

She was also trying to tell herself that Giles wouldn’t have noticed it before the fact, too.

If there was one thing that she was certain of in any of this, it was that there had to be a way to reverse it and bring her sister back.

ARR! ARR! ARR! ARR

Twenty minutes later and his sides still hurt as a consequence of having had precious little to laugh at over the last while. As Ethan scowled at him and pointedly rubbed at his arse all that Giles could do was shrug helplessly at him, in a way which he seriously hope that conveyed that it wasn’t his fault.

And if not… well then, at least he knew.

For the moment, the easiest thing to focus on was not so much the prophecy any more, but a way to close the portal. And the latest line of enquiry that he had turned up in his father’s old notes, referring to a mouth of fire which had been decommissioned by an 18th century French Slayer, Danielle Marie Deveraux, and her Watcher, looked as though it would prove more promising than anything else that they had come across so far.

He had most of the old journals, courtesy of his father’s will, and the fact that his father had kept copies in the house for the sake of research. There may have been a good few years where he’d challenged everything that his father had said, but in the end they’d been on the same side.

Now, of course, the only problem was in getting a hold of the text that the entrance referred to, since Danielle’s Watcher hadn’t gone into any precise detail over the specific technique used before-hand. Afterwards she had only written in her Journal three times, before both she and her charge had been killed in a fight against a Basilisk, although not before fatally wounding it according to the closing notes which had been jotted down in a different hand.

If the Council’s library had still survived it would have been a reasonably easy task, but without the stockpile of centuries of information it was no where near as simple. He’d put feelers out amongst a few people he knew, some who traded in antique books, and others who dealt in even more antique magic. And as soon as Ethan got back from wherever the hell he’d taken himself off to he would get him to do the same.

Giles closed his eyes and gave himself a few moments of indulgence. It would be nice if things could be straightforward even just this once although he knew that there was no point in wishing for it.

Instead, after years of swearing that he wanted nothing to do with it he still wound up fighting on the side of good.

ARR! ARR! ARR! ARR

Ethan slipped through the quiet streets and alleyways, glad to be in his own company for the first time in a while. While Rupert gave him his own space in their home, there was nothing quite the same as getting out on his own for a few hours. He knew now that nothing he did would permanently turn Rupert against him, but life seemed so much easier when he could avoid even the little arguments.

And just like anyone else, he still needed his own space in which to think, every now and then. The point of getting out of the house to perform a ritual even if it was only a basic dedicatory ritual meant without Rupert or anyone else questioning him meant that he still had some control over his own life.

He paused, and scratched at the old Etruscan tattoo on his arm, staring at the skin around it as it went red under the assault and frowning at it as he did so. There had been times when he’d wondered what his life would have turned out like without the demon’s influence during his twenties, and during his darkest moments he found himself admitting that he probably wouldn’t be alive without it.

The other high point of getting away meant that he didn’t have to spend unnecessary time with the Slayer. Even though he liked her well enough, she stole his time with Rupert from him, and whilst he was happy to protect her he was under no illusions as to how she felt about him. Hell, she might even smile at him every once in while, but he had known even after the first day that if he gave her the slightest excuse then she would be more than happy to thrash him.

There was a field some distance from the house, which had once been a rugby pitch before the battle lines had been drawn, and it was this that Ethan came to pause at a half-hour after setting off. Hed used it frequently enough that it only took a couple of circles and ten minutes to reset his wards, before he bowed towards the four corners, and the four elements as well as Order and Chaos for good measure, then passed his hand over the lines of bare earth.

Ignus, he breathed, dropping and settling back on his heels with one eye fixed on the line of fire as it spread out over the earth map.

This particular exercise was a variation on one that hed learned back in his twenties, a combination of a simple meditation and channeling of power and a scrying. Giving the power free reign through him was always a good thing with the way that it refreshed him. And the informative side of things didnt hurt in the slightest, either.

Closing the open eye he focused on the sensation of the play of power through him, and relaxed into it. A few minutes of deep breathing gave him the mental space which he had to be in, and when he opened his eyes and passed his left hand over the closest part of what was now a fire map, the flame lightened over most of it.

Magus, he spoke with all the confidence that he could put into it, now.

A yellow spot, several oranges and a few varying shades of blue sprung up over the far side. He eyed his own spot, which was red and then flicked his gaze towards the green spot which was Rupert. Almost overlapping with the green, was a gray that was threaded through with varying amounts of black and white, which could be none other than Buffy herself. This just went to show how fine a line it was that the Slayer walked.

The second time he passed his hand over it several spots of purple came up as the others faded.

Purple? He frowned to himself. It had been years since he had last seen purple amongst the flames. Would be even better if he could remember exactly what it had meant back then, because that might give him some clue as to what exactly it meant now.

He let his eyes become unfocused, as he stared at one of the spots.

Oh.

Well that made things interesting, didnt it?

Stragus, this time the word was accompanied by his right hand, since the left linked to the metaphysical and the right to the physically supernatural. Over thirty white spots came up over the expanse of the map.

Demons.

His gaze flicked over the denser spots; larger groups or the more powerful variety, taking note of where exactly they were. Nothing around the hellhole, though. That was a stroke of good fortune, for once.

Hominus, he spoke again without a single gesture and the white spots flickered out leaving a good three dozen or so spots of bare earth, some sharing space with where the white spots had been before.

Show me, this time it was a command, not a query. Eight of the spots which had become bare earth gained a delicate white glow over them. Vampires or half-bloods... Or… his gaze passed over the two blues which had come back in the same manner, flicked towards his own red area and then back towards the general area where Ruperts green had been.

Bugger.

Perhaps a touch of an understatement, but a little less effort than saying Im buggered. And he couldnt even palm the blame off, because she had mentioned any information that had been relevant.

Although that was still only if...

Just went to show how much attention he paid, really. And a heartbeat later on of those purple spots flashed up a few inches… feet… from where he was, and the trance broke quite spectacularly as he flew to his feet and spun to face what was represented by a tiny purple dot. Seeing what it was he parted the flames in front of him and drew them back together behind himself. If nothing else it would give him a few moments in which to compose himself.

Well at least that explained a few things a little better. And as the flames drew closed behind him he did one of the things that he did best.

He ran.

 
 
0_Ruthless_0
20 December 2011 @ 12:05 pm


Wordcount: 2535
 
17
 
“Rupert… Mr Giles… We need to talk.”
 
“Wrong place, I’m afraid,” A pissed-off looking young man crossed his arms over his chest, and narrowed his eyes, “Mr Giles is my father. And I’ve nothing to do with him, or the family business these days, and I don’t want to know what you white-collar jerks want with me. I’m over it. Out. Have been for years, in case you missed the bleeding memo, you wanker.”
 
Once he would have been afraid of talking to someone whom was so obviously from the Council in such a way, but his time with Ethan had given him a confidence which he never would have previously suspected at.
 
“Mr Giles, please, just listen to what I have to say.”
 
He scowled at the man in a way that he had discovered in the past tended to make people feel out of place, and turned to head back into the depths of the home that he shared with Ethan, smirking to himself at the cursing of the bloke who was stopped short by the wards as he made to trail him inside. He and Ethan had spent a lot of time on preparing the warding around this place, and then Ethan had left the weaving to him; some would have called it an obsessive amount of time.
 
Ethan, however, had been proud of how far he’d come through his efforts. And that had been all that had mattered. He had capitalised on the places natural defences, or rather, the part of them which had meant that it was impossible for a vampire to cross a threshold uninvited. He had strengthen it, and expanded on it, and now nothing that could think for itself could cross without an invitation. It may have taken a lot of effort but it had been worth it; not only were the minions of the Watcher’s Council kept out; it also made a considerable difference to the number of flies that he wound up swatting each year.
 
He paused and shot back, over his shoulder from the doorway heading into the study, “Ten seconds. And drop the Mister. Give me one good reason to stay and listen to anything that you may have to say.
 
“We need you.”
 
“You’ll have to do better than that, Uncle Sam. Seven seconds and counting,” he kept his tone completely absent of anything that could have been taken as any form of respect or fear. The only way to survive amongst these types was to be a drone, “Just because I’m not adding to any of your troubles, you honestly think that means that I’m going to help you against anything that does have the beating of you? In my ideal world you’d never have existed in the first place.”
 
“Look, Giles. What you’re saying is nothing that we haven’t heard before, and rather more recently than not during the last few months. There isn’t anyone amongst us today that hasn’t heard of how you reacted on being offered a Slayer. But the fact stands, that if there’s no world for you or your partner to live in, in the future then what point remains in working against us? Surely you know that if we weren’t desperate…”
 
That was definitely enough to stop him from firing a spell at this bloke, one which would blast him to the other side of London in several rearrange-able, transferable and only possibly reattach-able pieces. In fact, it was enough to grasp his attention.
 
“You think you got something that’s gonna interest me? You’d best come in and explain yourself, I think, mate.”
 
And with any luck Ethan wouldn’t be home again for another few hours. Because if he did come back early to find a Council representative sitting on their couch… his eyes flicked up and he smirked; -correct that, standing uneasily against the wall of their sitting room, looking around as though expecting the walls to jump forward and bite him… well, it didn’t need to be said that he wouldn’t be impressed.
 
“Don’t worry, I wouldn’t waste any serious magic on the likes of you.”
 
If possible, the bloke went even paler. He’d been so sure of himself out on the street, but now he was in the Ripper’s territory, and he knew it.
 
“Please, take a seat,” he grinned again. Oh, but it was worth this just to see the way which the man squirmed. Remember the reason why they’d left him to his own devices for as long as they had.
 
He sat down, looking as though he wished that the couch would eat him… now there was an amusing thought. And whilst thinking it, he did everything to come across in much the same manner as the cat which had cornered the bird. Staring at the man, he dropped into his favourite armchair, directly across the room and folded his hands behind his neck, giving off an air of I don’t care.
 
“I’m not trying to sell you on anything, Mr… Sorry, Giles. The facts are that the First is moving against us. Systematically wiping out the Potentials. And a world without a defence, a world without a Slayer is a world that’s open to any form of attack. How long do you think we could last without the Slayer bloodline? The truth of it is that we need any powerful Mage which may be at our disposal, and yourself and Mister Rayne fit that description. We need to try and pre-empt the First, and mount an offensive, but our own operatives are failing at it quite spectacularly. We… they think that perhaps someone who’s closer to the, the workings of… well, of Chaos might stand more of a chance.”
 
He felt his cockiness up and vanish, pulling a face at the echoing space which it had left behind. He didn’t need someone who had spent a lifetime working amongst that sort of thing to spell it out. If the Slayer line were wiped out… Although he didn’t see how such a thing was actually possible. It had to be the Council jumping at shadows again. Any other thought was incomprehensible.
 
But something like this was, if nothing else, worth looking into themselves.
 
“You get one thing straight. If Ethan and I are going to do anything, then it’ll be in our own way, and on our own terms. If there’s one thing I know it’s that there’s no way I’m putting myself back under your damned thumb.”
 
“But we…”
 
We know how to fight, thank you very much. I’ll say that I will have had more practise with magic over the last six months then you will have had reason to use it over the entirety of your lifetime. We will look into it, see if it’s as serious as you say, and then I’ll talk to Ethan about doing anything. You take that back to your superior, that’s more ground than anyone else has gained over the last few years.”
 
The man rose, looking relieved. And it was only then that Giles realised that he hadn’t asked his name. Quickly he told himself that it didn’t matter. Chances were he would never see him again, anyway.
 
“Hey,” he called, as the man made the door, and paused to look back towards him as he spoke again, “We’ll get in touch with you. Anyone else shows up here, the deals off. I don’t care what dire straights you’re swimming. You and yours give us that much respect, at least.”
 
“Danke, Giles (#),” the man responded, and in spite of himself he felt the corners of his mouth twitching towards a genuine smile.
 
“Kein Problem(*),” Giles responded, and the look that he received in return made it more that worth it.
 
ARR! ARR! ARR! ARR
Looking into things had proved to be it’s own problem. Giles was almost surprised at the way that certain paths closed up whenever one tried to explore them. However, after around five months worth of work, in their own way he and the Council following in the footsteps of himself and his partner, and a few others who lived for magic finally managed to draw ahead of the First, and gain some ground before it. It was hard work, to gain and then maintain a leading position. And in spite of anything that he may have sworn, he and Ethan still found themselves with a Slayer to protect and keep safe, to keep in front of the First’s constant hunt.
 
For three months after that the Slayer was safe, and secure. For a whole three months they impressed the Council, in spite of Ethan’s best efforts not to. And then hell on earth broke out for the first time, as for some reason they couldn’t pinpoint the barriers separating the realms from one another fell apart. And the Slayer, a sixteen-year old girl known by the name of Amber Tarason was killed, during that crucial thirty minutes, where every single world ran into the next.
 
In a way he was glad that a good thirty or so Council members had been wiped out in that same instance; at least it meant that there were fewer people around to criticize his and Ethan’s methods. But on the other hand, it was also difficult for anyone to pinpoint the next active Slayer.
 
And it seemed that whenever any one of their number got close to her, the First’s forces, it’s Bringers were always four steps ahead of them at the very least. It was half a year after that, that several synchronised bombs exploded in the heart of the Watcher’s Council, just as they were about to catch up with the active Slayers again. And the active Slayer was killed in the exact same moment as the newest potential was killed.
 
After all, the way that the Slayer’s powers were transferred was simple enough. It was called a magnetic transference; as the active Slayer was killed, her powers flowed down the line to the most recent Potential and caught on the first along the line that had the right magical signature. Without the newest Potential alive to draw the Slayer’s power down the line when the Slayer was killed, then the powers and gifts of the Slayer were lost.
 
All that anyone could do after that was fight to keep the world alive. And eventually, after a while he and those who were working alone the same lines as he and Ethan finally began to make up some ground on the First’s forces, and bring things back to an uneasy middle-ground. And eventually even began to make some ground up, although hr knew that the only reason that such a thing was succeeding was because of the damage that the demonic bleed had done to the First’s ranks.
 
And with all of this they had no way of reactivating the Slayer line. And because of this, when the second chaotic bleed occurred, as far as Giles was concerned it was only the thought of Julius Jäger Wolf, the only bloke amongst the entire Council line who’d had the courage to approach himself and Ethan that made any point what-so-ever for him continuing the fight.
 
Even once he’d discovered that the man had been killed in the second chaotic bleed he didn’t mention the fact to Ethan. After all, these days he felt justified in fighting for what was right. He didn’t want to see the world crumbling to hell around him. And he was relatively certain that Ethan felt the same way.
 
After all, who the hell knew what was waiting for people like himself and Ethan on the other side of this life? He wasn’t a bad person, but he had done bad things, and by no stretch of the imagination was he a good person. Ethan’s continuing existence gave him a reason to keep fighting. The rest of the world could go to hell as long as his lover was safe.

ARR! ARR! ARR! ARR
“Rupert?” Ethan’s voice was soft, so as not to startle him, and he slowly blinked his eyes to bring things back into focus, before pulling off his glasses and beginning to polish at them with the edge of his shirt sleeve, so as to give himself a few more moments in which to gather himself.
 
His legs felt stiff, which meant that he would surely pay the price when he went to straighten up, especially with his bad knee, and he had no idea how long he’d been crouching down in front of the glamour on the wall, simply staring at the blank space there. Almost sheepishly he smiled at Ethan, “Sorry. Just… thinking. Remembering. I suppose I spaced for a few moments?”
 
“A few moments?” Ethan’s tone held a note of teasing that Giles was sure he hadn’t heard in a while, “Closer to the realm of half a hour, luv. Face it, you’re getting old. Old and absent-minded.”
 
The mage drew away, laughing as Giles shot to his feet and only just caught him by the shoulder as he made to clear out. Giles tightened his grasp and pushed Ethan back against the wall, trailing one hand down Ethan’s arm to grasp the wrist, and grabbing his other arm at the elbow, pinning him.
 
“Old, am I?” he prompted Ethan, daring him to continue, his own laugh bitten back although he knew that Ethan would most certainly be able to feel it.
 
“Old.” Ethan confirmed, giving his best devil-may-care smirk, “Slow, too, Ripper. Once I wouldn’t have had time to take so much as a step.”
 
He pressed his body flush to Ethan’s, resting his full weight against him, and breathed into his ear, allowing a touch of his old edge to slide into his voice, “You honestly think that I’m going to allow you to get away with that?”
 
He felt Ethan direct his power, but didn’t have time to react before a spark of energy made him let go and draw back, giving Ethan the space that he needed to get a few more steps between them, “Allow me? You’ll have to catch me again before you allow anything, Ripper.”
 
It had been a while since they had played this. And Ethan, with his attention entirely on the man in front of him didn’t see the table that they kept near the door before he backed into it, stumbled and found himself sitting on it, as three of the four legs broke and it deposited him on the ground.
 
“Where’s the atta…” Buffy stopped short, as she came dashing out at the sound of the crash to find Ethan on the ground, leaning back against the broken table and Giles on his knees beside him, one hand on the ground and the other on Ethan’s arm as he simultaneously tried to make sure that he was okay, and control his laughter.
 
Buffy pulled a face, “In the words of people far wiser than me, get a room guys.”
 
She turned back towards the study and Giles gave up all his effort at trying to control himself, sinking to the floor beside Ethan, shaking.
 
Translations: # = Thanks, Giles
* = No problem

 
 
0_Ruthless_0
06 December 2011 @ 11:56 am


Wordcount: 1,737
 
Sorry for the unscheduled hiatus. But I’m back now, with a clear head and after having a brilliant time. Hope you enjoy.
 
16
 
It felt strange to be admitting to a feeling of relief as they headed back to the barrier, and drove through to what she had mentally taken to calling their side, but there it was. After spending a day around crowds, she was glad to be heading back to the peace which was only marred by demons. It was a different set of people on duty this time round, and as the second gate closed behind them, Buffy muttered to herself, under her breath, “Lock-down.”
 
Ethan glanced towards the back and raised an eyebrow at her, but didn’t comment.
 
After eating, they’d hit a store to pick up some food that Ethan was less likely to wrinkle his nose up at than the stock that they had been getting down to. Then, Giles had swung by the post office to see if there was anything waiting for them that had been stopped at the border, and came out with a heavily-wrapped parcel which he refused to identify. Ethan had also promised her a return trip eventually, to pick out some clothing that she actually wanted, and then coerced Giles to a trip to the bottle store to pick up the next months worth of liquid supply. With Ethan’s promise, she found herself thinking about things again.
 
Even after her first few years of Slaying, clothing and fashion had still been relatively important to her. Now though, that she was in a position to think about it, she realized that she couldn’t exactly say when it had ceased to be so.
 
Giles stopped the car on the curb, and shared one of his regular conspiring glances with Ethan, who pulled a face and nodded. It was with a roll of her eye at the performance, that Buffy undid her seatbelt and went to get out of the car. Her hand had just brushed the door-handle when a brush of power, Ethan’s, judging by his expression, pushed her firmly back into her seat as Giles twisted to look at her.
 
“The wards have been disturbed,” he spoke, almost hissed, in a low voice, as though afraid that something with ESP-like hearing would pick his voice out through the muffling of car and house combined.
 
“Not just disturbed. Broken,” Ethan corrected him, earning himself a sharp glance from Rupert, before he slowly opened hid door and sat with his legs outside of the car with his head tilted to one side as though listening for something that Buffy couldn’t for the life of herself, hear. After a few moments of fierce concentration he spoke again, “Human. Or close to it, that’s all I’m getting; certainly not who, or what, or why, or anything of the sort.”
 
He glanced at Giles in return, who only shook his head, although whether in disagreement or say saying that he couldn’t get anything past that impression himself Buffy couldn’t be sure.
 
“I’ll go first and you can back me up,” Ethan was out of the car and halfway up to the house, before he was stopped short and shot a glare back at Giles, “Let me carry on please, Rupert.”
 
“Our backing you up doesn’t involve your having a ten-foot start on us. We’re hardly going to be much use back at the damned car.”
 
“Well do me a favor then, and please get a move-on,” Ethan kept his voice as polite as was possible as he drummed his fingers against a denim-encased leg whilst waiting impatiently for Buffy and Giles to join him.
 
As she did so, he gave her an uncertain glance, almost as though he was wondering what sort of use she would be beside two experienced magicians. If it was anything that they couldn’t take care of, then she couldn’t help but wonder herself, even as she bit her lip in an effort to refrain herself from reminding both of them that it had been her who had taken care of their Queen-monster. Even if only because she could imagine how childish such a thing may have sounded.
 
Because, after all, step one on the road to proving that you were responsible was to sound and act like it.
 
“You know that I don’t like the thought of anything disturbing our place any more than you.”
 
“Huh. Could have fooled me, then. I’ve known pack-ice that’s moved faster,” Ethan growled peevishly, as Giles came up to his other side, and rested a tensed had on the door-handle, slowly turning it, to discover that not only had the door been closed, but locked again as well.
 
Maybe it was just a coincidence that it had been their place. Stranger things had happened, after all.
 
So, whoever had broken in had been that intelligent, at least. And rather than mess around with the key, Giles passed his free hand over the lock, and unlatched the door with a few seconds of concentration, and a word. Without so much as a click, the door swung inward, and the two men paused delicately on the front step.
 
A smell, which wasn’t quite smoke, but wasn’t far off it greeted them as they stepped over the threshold, the not-quite fight dying in the face of the possible seriousness of the situation and the need for silence.
 
Buffy noticed a slightly unpleasant tingle passing over her skin as she stepped over and joined the two men, where they had come to a pause in the entrance hall. She followed Giles’s line of sight, and spotted it instantly. No blood and no body.
 
A touch of a scorch on the wallpaper to one side of the hall, almost deliberate enough that she thought she could make out the start of some sort of message in it. On the other side there were several sets of wild looking claw-marks, and a knife in the wall, the first few inches of blade driven into the wood.
 
The sideways-glance, and the raised eyebrow said it all. Human, huh? Giles though, but didn’t dare voice as he flicked his gaze to Ethan, the young woman behind their back forgotten for the moment. Still maintaining their silence, Ethan’s hand found his, and he felt the reassuring brush of Ethan’s power. Nothing in it that was soothing this time; although that was a good thing. Giles didn’t need soothing. Soothing would get them both killed in a heartbeat. He needed tense, and angry, and ready to react.
 
And the Slayer’s tread had become totally silent, like a predator stalking some unknown prey. And he was exceedingly grateful that she was on their side.
 
Systematically, Giles and Ethan lead the search through the house, starting with the rec-room-cum-training area-cum weapon storage that they had set up in the basement, up to the attic, which doubled as a second private library, although this one of Ethan’s darker texts, and some of Randal’s old books.
 
And the search turned up nothing, other than the small battle-ground in the entrance hall.
 
If they had waited outside for five minutes longer, though, it would have been a slightly different story.
 
Finally, Ethan came to a pause in front of the burnt patterns again, and crouched down in front of it to inspect it properly. Buffy tilted her head to one side, standing back, her eyes darting from one side of the hall to the other, while Giles focused on the slashes.
 
Six sets of four, as though something had taken several swipes at someone roughly the same height as Buffy, missing all the while. Pulling a face, he drew his sleeve down to cover his hand, in case there was a skin contact curse on it, and grasped the handle of the knife. Bracing himself, he pulled sharply and almost stumbled back against Ethan, surprised at the ease with which it pulled free.
 
More of a dagger, then a knife, he thought to himself, as he turned the blade in his hand so that he could study it properly. Quite a pretty little thing, really.
 
He put it down on the small phone-table near the door, and dropped to a crouch beside Ethan, so that he could finally see what was absorbing his attention, and Buffy to advantage of the space that that created, moving up a little closer.
 
Across the road a single dark figure emerged from the house that it had washed itself off in, a body in it’s arms, and rapidly put space between itself and the area, having decided that it wasn’t worth it to hang around.
 
“Looks like,” Giles started.
 
“Danke…Thanks,” Ethan cut in.
 
“In German,” Giles finished, to clarify for Buffy. He glance at Ethan, as though he would hold all the answers, “although why, I’ve no idea.”
 
“And I’m meant to know, why?” Ethan flexed his hand, as though the cut from yesterday was still bothering him, when Giles could see clean, unblemished flesh.
 
“I never said that you had to know.”
 
And it was true that there had been no defensiveness springing to life in Ethan’s tone. Giles took it at face value.
 
With a wince, Ethan finally straightened back up, and passed his hand first over the burn-marks, and then over the apparent claw-marks, casting a small linked glamor. It was cheaper than a physical repair-job, in both senses of the word. Less taxing on his power, if he’d fixed wall with a wave of his hand, and quicker that going out and buying plaster, then mixing it up and waiting for it to dry. Come to think of it, he wasn’t sure if there were any places that still sold that sort of thing left on this side of the town, anyway.
 
It was really only the bare necessities, there days. And home decoration probably didn’t count.
 
A slight tremble which was only just strong enough for someone who was on high alert to notice it, passed through the ground.
 
Buffy went to pick up the dagger for her own closer inspection of it, only to be stopped sharply by Ethan, who had been watching her through what were apparently the invisible eyes located in the back of his head.
 
“Don’t. Not with your bare hands, please. Rue and I may be able to dance a locator spell off it, with a little luck,” he glanced back and gave her a smile, “although I possibly shouldn’t have said with a little luck, because I’ve probably just doomed us all.”
 
 
0_Ruthless_0
22 November 2011 @ 04:30 pm
Sorry about infrequent updates latley. I've spent the last few weeks getting ready to fly out to a concert that I'm leaving for tomorrow, hence life has been a little on the hectic side.

You can expect life to return to normal (story updates included) in just under a week's time.

See you all on the flip-side of Elton John. XD

Cheers.
 
 
0_Ruthless_0
31 October 2011 @ 12:53 pm

A.N. So do I carry on fighting with the Windows XP that has the fucked video card, or do I go back to the Windows ME which seems ridiculously slow, and only wants to open MSWord half the time that I actually want it to? Hmm, choices, choices. And none of ‘em good. Ah well, good thing I’ve learned tolerance. LOL.  And spent half the morning typing up the almost-end on my old manual type-writer (just to add to the fun), while the inspiration was there. Not that that’s saying we’re anywhere near the actual end yet.
 
Wordcount: 1,404.


 
15
 
The first thing that Buffy noticed on the other side of the barrier, was the several meters of bare space in which building had been demolished, and low rubble left in tact so that nothing which was bound by the normal rules of existence would be able to sneak up on anyone who was risking their life to keep the battle from spreading further than it had to.
 
Giles drove the streets as though he knew them like the back of his hand, and before long he was pulling up to a place that looked rough enough on the outside that back home she wouldn’t have given a second glance, let alone any of the few precious minutes that were actually hers to waste accordingly over the course of the day.
 
As she hoped out of the car she took her usual mental notes. This place wasn’t as quiet as it was on the other side of the barrier, but there was still an air of if not outright fear, then at least nervousness around. But at least there was life here, not that empty shell effect that she had seen before.
 
That just hadn’t been right. It had almost been reminiscent of her High School days, hanging around a building which was deserted aside from herself and Giles. Places which were meant to be populated just shouldn’t been seen like that.
 
Only one of the other tables was occupied, by a youngish man, who was sitting with his back to the door, and a woman about her own age, who she still recognized in spite of hair which was usually red being black, and what looked like then lower half of her ear missing. Her face was grim, an expression that had been formed by the constant battle. It was Willow.
 
The man turned his head as the door opened, and Buffy again had to bit her lip to hold back a gasp, “Rayne, Giles,” this world’s version of Xander greeted them with a casual incline of his head, before frowning at Buffy, “although I’m not sure I’ve met you. Alexander Harris.”
 
This Xander had both eyes still, but there was a highly noticeable scar running diagonally down the side of his head, and it looked like his nose had been broken a few time. And she was sure that she was only seeing the tip of things. And his eyes were harder than those of the man that she’d known too, although that seemed to be a common factor running through most of those that she’d met here, that they’d had to toughen up in order to survive.
 
“Probably not,” she allowed, “Buffy Summers,” she frowned for a second, as she recalled the cover she’d been given, “I’m Ethan’s niece.”
 
“Another magic-user then,” he nodded, “Welcome to ground zero,” he gave her a grim smile, before turning back to Willow, who hadn’t said a word, but was looking in her direction with an odd expression on her face.
 
After another half-minute Willow blinked, and Buffy finally felt as though she’d been dismissed and given permission to move again.
 
There were plenty of places to choose from, but the two men headed towards the back of the place, and Buffy trailed dutifully behind, as was expected of her. As soon as the three of them had sat, she looked at Giles.
 
“How long have they been in it?”
 
“Since before the first bleed. Any particular reason why you ask?”
 
“Yes…no…yes…how did they get into the fight?”
 
“Willow stumbled into magic looking for a cure for her partner’s lycanthropy. She summoned something that she shouldn’t have, tried to cut a deal with it, and things got out of hand. It trapped the poor boy as the beast. Alexander became a part of things when the beast went after him. They… they had been close friends before that. He was luck that Ethan got their when he did, otherwise it would certainly have been a lot worse. I think ever since then she’s been trying to make up for her mistakes. And he’s been doing everything that a human possibly can to protect her.”
 
Buffy felt a little sick inside, as she listened to another grim tale. It seemed so much as though what could have gone wrong in her world actually had happened here.
 
“Now, don’t suppose you’d care to tell me why it was that you asked?” Giles asked again.
 
“I knew a couple of people like them back home.”
 
“Ah,” Giles left it at that.
 
And Buffy was left with her thoughts, wondering if there was perhaps a permanently soulless Angelus here, or maybe an insane Cordelia, or something along those lines. It wasn’t really something that she wanted to spend too long dwelling on, otherwise it’d probably do her head in more than she needed right now.
 
“So, anything in particular that you wanted?” Ethan gestured to the menu, negating to say exactly what he’d done on finding the aforementioned scene, with an almost audible avoidance. Not that Buffy was entirely sure that she wanted to know the extent of it, anyway.
 
She shrugged, “You know, all of a sudden I don’t’ feel particularly hungry.”
 
At that moment the lone owner-cum-waiter came over, and pulled the last remaining out from the table, leaving Buffy face to face with another old Sunnydale face, Willey, “So, what’s the news from the front-line? And what’s a nice-looking young thing like you doing palling around with a pair of old faces like them?”
 
“Nothing good,” Ethan spoke to defuse Buffy, who was scowling at the man, “And that young woman would be able to have your head off as soon as you’d blink. And just as easily, too,” he gave him that smart-arse smirk which Buffy had seen a few times back home when he’d been trying to talk himself out of serious bodily harm, the one that had made whoever was closest want to hit him again.
 
“Sorry,” he drew the word out, as he stood back up, “Just trying to be friendly, you know?”
 
Giles cleared his throat, “Now, if the two of you have finished your bi-monthly bicker…?”
 
“You give anything that you’re trying to be a bad name,” Ethan rounded off, with a touch of noticeable satisfaction.
 
“Coffee and full breakfast all round please,” Giles spoke quickly, before pressing a pair of fingers to his forehead, “and please, for the sake of my sanity ignore Ethan.”
 
The man in question laughed.
 
It was only after Buffy had started eating that she realized how hungry she actually had been. The meal passed in a comfortable silence, and it was only once she’d finished that she looked up from her plate as a shadow fell across her back.
 
It was Willow, who was peering at her with a intent expression in her dark eyes. Giles looked up, too.
 
“Was there something we could help you with?”
 
She spoke only to Buffy, her gaze never leaving her face, “Your only trace of magic is Ethan’s. Somehow, somewhere, I know you,” she slipped a hand under Buffy’s chin and tilted her head to the side, long nails brushing at the skin of her throat, “I don’t know how, but I know…”
 
Buffy raised her hand, and caught Willow by the wrist, drawing her away and hiding her uneasiness, “I’m afraid you must be mistaken. I know that I’ve never met you. I mean…I’m sure that I would remember someone like you,” she fumbled for the right words, and felt a wash of relief as she finally withdrew and followed Xander through the door that he’d used a couple of minutes ago.
 
If she hadn’t been sitting down already, then she would have had to have after that, she was sure.
 
As much as that may have seemed like Willow she was nothing like the person that Buffy had known. She had seen the grief that she’d spiralled into after Tara had been killed, but this was something else altogether.
 
Ethan covered her hand with one of his, and only then did she realise that it was trembling, “She does her best, Buffy. We can’t ask for anything more. And… she is powerful. She’s made a difference to things a few times.”
 
“I’m sure,” Buffy said, as she tried to shake off the feeling of standing in her own personalized shadow on a warm summer’s day.
 
 
 
0_Ruthless_0
25 October 2011 @ 10:02 am
Wordcount:2,361
A.N. Ethan-muse is behaving again, after a prolonged argument. And I've just finished reading Indri's wonderful fic, so no more distractions. Anyways, read and enjoy.


 
14
 
The sound of laughter mocked him, the sort of mocking which was aimed to rub him up the wrong way, rather then to roll with him. He hated it.
 
It mocked him, called him out as a coward.
 
And if there was one thing which had ever gotten under his skin it was someone poking fun at him. He couldn’t stand it when people gave him the shit, made him out to be less than what he was worth.
 
It was a lingering reaction from childhood, he supposed, from forever being told that he was a disappointment, or that he wasn’t worth the breath taken to say his name.
 
A waste of space.
 
He’d heard it once too often.
 
He lunged, fists swinging, only to find his arm caught by Rupert.
 
Glancing to the side, half a dozen of his more creative curses on his tongue, he caught Rupert’s eye, and his expression gave him pause.
 
“He’s not worth it,” Rupert’s voice was soft, so that only he could hear, “You hit him, his daddy will stick up for him in court. Look at him, Eth; just another rich boy-dandy, trying to make himself into more then what he is. Don’t give him this round.”
 
Rupert’s tone of voice, more than his words, broke through to him. And only once he realized that he had Ethan’s full attention did he speak again, “You’re worth more than he is just by being.”
 
Ethan nodded, and turned away, his focus solely on Rupert now.
 
“That’s right,” the bastard jeered behind him, “follow your boyfriend-masters orders, you arse-licker.”
 
A few weeks ago he wouldn’t have held back. Hell, a few minutes ago he wouldn’t have. But Rupert was here. And that was more than enough. Rupert was always enough, these days, to curb his wilder impulses; he wasn’t always sure what he wanted out of it, but he knew that he wanted his mates’ approval.
 
 All he did, instead, was glance back over his shoulder.
 
“You only wish you had someone half as good,” he snarled, allowing Rupert to steer him away.
 
Ethan woke easily from the half-faded memory, to find the room flooded with grey pre-dawn light, and to find that Rupert had done those thoughtful little things that only he had ever seemed to do, like take his shoes off and tuck him under the bedclothes, in spite of the tiff they’d finished the day on yesterday.
 
Those little signs that he cared belied his momentary hint of fear on finding that he was alone in the room.. He had hidden the sketch which he’d brought into a new lease of life, and he’d been extremely careful not to pour too much power into the thing. That was why he’d neglected the chant.
 
That was why he’d left the power in it at a bare necessity.
 
                                                                                     ARR! ARR! ARR! ARR


It had always been in the last couple of hours before dawn, that Giles had found his peace in earlier days, and it seemed that this morning was rather reminiscent in that sense It used to seem that he’d spent his last few hours before he had to face the world with the façade that he’d woven trying to talk himself out of feelings of guilt and failed obligation. Now, watching Ethan sleep he was doing the same, although from a different angle.
 
Even the deep sleep which he found the Slayer in, once he’d risen and made his uneasy way to her room to check on her, didn’t actually help him settle back down, to any extent.
 
It was only five minutes after he rose for that final time, that Ethan woke looking as though he’d had a better sleep than he’d had in months, at the very least.
 
There was a funny sort of smile, the sort that always made Rupert think of plots and pushing limits on his face as he blinked his eyes open, and glanced around the room, until he spotted Giles leaning against the door, watching him.
 
“Ah.”
 
“Most people tend to go for good morning,” Giles stated dryly, none of his anger remaining in it.
 
“So, it is then?”

Giles frowned slightly at that, “And there’s some reason that you’d care to inform me of, as to why it wouldn’t be?”
 
A glint passed from Ethan’s eyes, and his body relaxed, releasing a tension which Giles hadn’t noticed until that particular moment, “Not really. You,” he paused for half a heartbeat, a pause that wouldn’t have been noticeable if Giles hadn’t been alert for something like it, “just don’t look as though you had much of a restful night.”
 
“Amazing, what the absence of your tossing and turning can do,” Giles locked eyes with him for a few moments, and a silent battle of wills took place, before Ethan sat up, using the movement to break gazes.
 
“Yesterday took more out of me then I realised.”
 
“If you say so.”
 
“Whatever happened to your trusting me?”
 
There was a tiny trace of resentment there, and Giles found himself fighting with the sudden urge to snap you’re what’s happening to it at the moment. Instead, he bit his lip, and forced his own body to relax a little more, “Ethan. Please, let’s not start the day like this.”
 
“Fine.”
 
Ethan closed his eyes again, and fell back against the pillow again, leaving Giles a good couple of minutes in which to wonder what was going on.
 
The time seemed to stretch, until Ethan opened his eyes again, and twisted his expression into a faux-smile, “Good morning, Rupert.”
 
In spite of the fact that the smile was completely false he could see a hint of Ethan’s more usual humour coming back into his gaze and this more than anything made the world feel right again. Giles felt the last traces of his own tension dissipate, and he crossed the room to sit on the side of the bed for a few moments, raising a hand to push a few of the more unruly strands of his lover’s hair back.
 
“Good morning, Ethan,” he smiled slightly, as Ethan tilted his head towards the touch, a cat following the sunlight-warmth, and stilled for a few impossible moments.
 
“You’ve looked in on the Slayer?” Ethan finally spoke again, in spite of his reluctance to break the comfortable silence that was hanging between them.
 
“She was still asleep, last I checked. She’d be recovering from yesterday, herself, I’d guess.”
 
“That’s good then,” Ethan tucked himself a little closer to the warmth of Rupert’s body, and let the silence stretch out again, the ghost of a memory showing in his expression.
 
Telling himself that it was common sense which was ruling, Giles finally detached Ethan for long enough to slip back under the blankets and stretched out next to him, holding himself up on one elbow, and half leaning over him. A single hand loosened the belt of his dressing gown enough to slip inside, and rub lightly at the hair underneath, as Giles lowered his head and rested his forehead against Ethan’s, staring at him.
 
Truth told; the fight had started a few weeks ago, in spite of both of their efforts to manoeuvre around it. It was only yesterday that had made the worst of their tensions spill over again.
 
And this reconciliation, something which should have happened last night, had been far too long in coming.
 
“Love you,” Ethan whispered against his lips, letting him feel the honest need in it, which Giles responded to as much as he did to the words themselves, before tilting his head forward to kiss him.
 
An hour later saw him finally able to find some peace, as he held Ethan tightly to his chest, enjoying the alluring notion that it was only a fine layer of skin that kept then apart. Raising his head slightly, he buried it in the crock of Ethan neck between head and shoulder, and breathed in deeply, almost as though he could draw Ethan beneath his skin, and into himself, into a place where the fighting wouldn’t be possible ever again, and the peace could last out until the ends of the earth.
 
Almost lazily, he flicked out his tongue, tasting the tiny patch of skin under him, enjoying that flavour which was uniquely Ethan; sweat, and a dark-storm hint of his magic. The way that Ethan giggled in response put Giles in mind of a man who was far younger than either of them had felt in an age, and he smiled to himself as he rested his head back down on the pillow behind him.
 
This was the way that things were meant to be.
 
This was the way that he wished they could stay, wistful thinking though it was.
 
                                                                                     ARR! ARR! ARR! ARR


Buffy had already gone back to the research when footsteps, which were headed in her direction, alerted her to the fact that Giles and Ethan were finally up and about again. She glanced up for half a second, to see them walking past the entrance to the study, Giles with his arm looped casually around Ethan’s neck, and into the kitchen.
 
So, obviously they’d made up whatever had been between them.
 
She stared after them for a few moments, and forced her attention back to the text in front of her when she heard the sound of the kettle being filled, seconds before Giles came into the room. He was dressed casual today, blue jeans and black tee-shirt, with a white button-up shirt pulled on over that.
 
“Good morning,” Buffy finally said around a yawn, and watched as he smiled at some private joke or other.
 
“Good morning to you, too. Eaten yet?”
 
“Nah,” she gestured to the book as an answer, “Straight into it.”
 
“That’s actually a good thing,” Ethan cut in, as he came into the study himself and placed a cup of coffee in front of her book, two more down on their side of the table, and proceeded to sit on Rupert’s knee, “Because I’ve talked our taskmaster into taking us out for breakfast today. Successful operation, or what ever excuse I could think of on my feet,” he grinned at her.
 
“Out for breakfast?” Buffy frowned, questioning him, “In the middle of a battle-zone?”
 
“We’re thirty minutes off of the front line,” Ethan offered, by way of an explanation, “and on the other side life tends to go on as normally as possible. People tend not to see what they don’t want to. The end of their existence as they know it tends to fall into that category,” he finished with a dark chuckle that didn’t seem as out of place as it should probably have.
 
“Yeah, I’ve seen the proof of that sort of thing,” Buffy muttered, rolling her eyes, “Sunnydale syndrome. Rationalize what you can, and forget what you can’t.”
 
“Precisely,” Giles nodded, “hence the reason that there’s a relatively solid permitter thirty minutes from here, complete with a check-point, and life beyond it carries on with that infamous resilience which humans are known for.”
 
It didn’t take long for the two men to organize and hustle her into the car. And it definitely didn’t feel like it was thirty minutes later, as Giles drove the car past the solid metal barrier which was topped with barbed wire. Half a minute later, he was pulling up next to a booth that had three men armed with high-powered rifels, and an anti-aircraft gun set next to it.
 
He clicked his fingers at Ethan, who handed an I.D card over to Giles, who passed them both out the window. The man who seemed to be in charge at the moment gave them a cursory glance, before turning his attention to Buffy.
 
“And the woman?”
 
Ethan leaned over Rupert, “Is my niece. As I’m sure you’ve read in the latest news bulletin, or whatever it is that you fellows are issued. Every hour, on the hour, isn’t it? And both you know, and I know that the cards are only truly necessary for getting back into restricted territory. Hence, if you have any of those temporary passes, for the time being…?”
 
The young man frowned and Buffy found herself wondering whether it was in response to being told his job, or Ethan’s general habit of getting under other peoples skin, or a combination of the two. However, rather than pick an argument, he gestured for her to wind her window down. A quick glance at Giles showed her that she ought to co-operate, and the moment she did, he held a scanner up to her eyes, then crossed back over to the booth.
 
“A few minutes, please, Rayne,” he spoke in the politest tone that he could muster, the sort of tone which was usually only adopted by someone talking to a superior who he couldn’t stand the sight of.
 
Buffy glance at Ethan, but the only response which she could see was a smirk of grand proportions. And the fact that a few minutes later he was back with a card that had her name on it, told her that Ethan’s assumption had been right on the mark.
 
“It’s a day-pass,” he snapped, in a superior tone of voice, “You give it to the offices on duty on your return. You’re out any longer than that, and you’ll have to apply to P and P for direct permission to cross the border.”
 
He then crossed over to the gate, and swiped his own card through it, and it slid smoothly open. Without another word, Giles started the car again, and accelerated, probably breaking the speed limit as he blew past the guard post on the other side. Buffy waited until he had slowed to a sane speed, before she looked at Ethan.
 
“Okay, so what the hell did you do to rub him up the wrong way? Because there was no way that was just general animosity.”
 
Giles cracked a grin, even as he hurriedly cut across any reply which Ethan may have been forming, “Believe me when I say that you’re better off oblivious.”
 
 

 
 
Current Mood: awake
Current Music: Men Are All The Same - The Used