Sorry for the unscheduled hiatus. But I’m back now, with a clear head and after having a brilliant time. Hope you enjoy.
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.”