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Chapter Twenty-Five: Ethan
Fan Fiction: Never Look Back
Chapter Twenty-Five: The Die Is Cast
SATURDAY, JUNE 8, 2002, 7:55 PM (GMT)
The ripping, tearing pull of the transportation spell peaked, connecting two chosen points in space via a burning channel of energy, then faded, leaving Ethan Rayne scorched with exhaustion in its wake. He caught himself on torn palms, leaving bloody handprints on the slick concrete floor, and gasped for breath as he stared down at its smooth grey surface. If it hadn't been for the fact that the greater ring and pentagram of symbols he'd drawn to effect the teleportation had all vanished, he'd have feared he hadn't actually gone anywhere at all. The same serviceable flooring, the same institutionalised scents; what had Ripper been doing with himself while Ethan and Wesley were fighting for their lives?
He looked up, ready to mock his old friend-- then choked on a laugh. No need to ask, after all. Rupert bloody Giles, scion of two prestigious Council bloodlines, Watcher to the most successful Slayer of the modern era, and once and again elemental mage, lay on a tough blue mattress with his hands laced behind his head, staring up at the ceiling. Four unadorned yellow walls, one set with a metal door, hemmed them in; a utilitarian toilet and washbasin completed the furnishings.
Rupert flinched at the rasping sound of his voice, struggling to a seated position with hands clumsily linked before him, and stared aghast at the source of the disturbance. Now that was a more familiar sight; one Ethan would have enjoyed teasing into a wicked smile in their younger years, or a passionate snarl back in Sunnydale. He thought he might enjoy finding out which way the coin would fall now that their fates were linked again; a sort of knife's-edge uncertainty that appealed to the chaos mage in him as much as did the man.
"Ethan? What on Earth are you doing here?" Rupert asked. Then his eyes fell to the blood streaking Ethan's arms, and his frown deepened into something dark and jagged. "I rather thought you were intent on avoiding my notice, not risking your immortal soul-- and incidentally your blood volume-- to teleport to my side."
The acidic edge to the words spoke more of concern than anger; not that the anger was far beneath the surface, but then, it never was with Ripper. Ethan grinned at him, reminded again of their first encounter in Sunnydale after he'd visited harm-- however coincidental-- on part of the Watcher's flock, and sat back on his heels to spread his arms.
"What? No hug? Aren't you pleased to see your old mate?"
"I would suspect that depends on your definition of 'pleased'," Rupert said dryly, then held up his own wrists. Silvery wire caught the light, wrapped around and between his arms; streaks of dried blood showed where he had struggled. Ethan winced; he'd seen the like before. They didn't precisely block the wearer from doing magic, not like null space did; they punished him for the slightest touch of it, instead.
"Perhaps I should refine the question: why are you here, rather than, say, on the other side of that door?"
That called for a more direct response; Ethan struggled to get his feet under him, then grunted and put a hand down as one of his legs failed to cooperate, cramped and gashed deeply from the struggle in the Rollright complex. "Oh, I wasn't so much teleporting in as teleporting out. It seemed simplest to appear wherever you were, that we might... ah, compare notes, given the change in circumstances," he replied, sinking back to the floor. "I had no idea you'd cocked things up so thoroughly. Why the devil would you allow yourself to be caught in such a way to begin with? Rather careless of you, Ripper."
Rupert's jaw worked, and he made an abortive movement to stand that ended with another wince as the razor-edged wire pulled taut. "At first, I thought that the man who accosted me was a legitimate policeman," he admitted irritably, "but as it happened, he was one of Travers' under glamour. As were these. They appeared to be quite ordinary handcuffs at first."
Ethan had rejected what he thought of as the White Hat concern for broken things earlier that day, when accompanying Wesley to the Stones; but he found rather the opposite emotion churning in him at Rupert's instinctive gesture to help. Whether because this was Ripper, or because he genuinely could have used the assistance this time, didn't seem to matter. He made another effort of his own to stand, this time achieving his goal just long enough to stagger the few steps to the bed, and collapsed to a seat at Rupert's side. His old friend made a strong bulwark despite the awkward circumstances, a welcome support as the little energy he had left flickered and guttered with fatigue and pain.
"Naturally," he replied, wearily. "And when the initial twenty-four hours are up, they will no doubt discover the paperwork... misfiled. Or similarly glamoured. In the meantime, you've been penned neatly out of the way, separated from the children and all possibility of interfering with Quentin's grand plan, whatever that might be. Maximum results for minimal effort. Almost admirable, really."
Rupert snorted, but his warmth against Ethan's shoulder remained in unsubtle welcome. "I feared you had suffered the same-- or worse," he said, more softly. "Have you enough strength left to deal with these?"
"Given a moment's rest," Ethan sighed, reaching over to prod at the offending wire. His fingers felt three times thicker and clumsier than usual, and the wire bit at his fingertips with chill, coppery energy that tasted foul on the back of his tongue. It would challenge his abilities to magically defuse them even on a good day-- but necessity had always been the mother of improvisation. "I have no desire to be caught in yet another trap of Quentin's devising."
"How did you free yourself from the last? And where's Wesley? When I saw the video that the children intercepted...." Rupert's voice trailed off with a shudder that rippled through them both.
Ethan frowned at that. If Rupert had been locked up for some hours, and was yet unaware that Wesley had been freed... he could only have seen the initial confrontation, down in the sterile halls beneath the circle of the Rollright Stones. He didn't need to ask how they'd acquired the video at all; Rupert's children were highly resourceful. He could only hope that Jonathan hadn't seen it; he hadn't shown to best advantage in any of that day's misadventures.
...Or should he hope that his son had seen, and worried after his fate? A jolt of filial concern might just provide the edge Ethan needed for....
The thought trailed off into sour uncertainty, and Ethan shook his head at himself. For what, exactly? Jonathan had already made his stance more than clear.
"They set their trap for Wesley, not for the likes of me. I destroyed the wards, both mundane and magical, then cried surrender once he was clear. I'd done enough damage they couldn't simply bring them up again, so I let them lock me in a room and dose me with suppressant." He smiled at that, a bitter, wry curve of mouth. "Fortunately, it was the same drug the Initiative used; I was right about that connection. Eventually someone will learn that attempting to keep me without my consent is a losing proposition, but today was not that day."
When that day did come, it would probably mean the end of him; but for now, where there was breath, where there was chaos, there was life. Perhaps even a life worth living.
The weight of Rupert's gaze was heavy on the side of his face. He ignored it stoically as Rupert took a ragged breath and let the subject drop.
"You seem unusually concerned with Wesley's wellbeing," the other man murmured. "And Faith's, by extension. There was a time you would never have flown back to England on another's behalf, much less ensured anyone else's escape before your own."
Did he detect a hint of bitterness beneath that statement? Or perhaps jealousy? Amusing as that was, Ethan was no more selfless now than he'd been when they were young; best nip that potential source of toxic expectations in the bud. "Time was, I hadn't yet been caught by the side effects of old, broken bloodline oaths."
Ironically, it was even true. He'd finally come to some conclusions about the anchor his life seemed to have acquired over the last few months, and was finding it rather... karmically appropriate. He hadn't understood when he'd first chased Rupert to Sunnydale; the 'snivelling, tweed-clad guardian of the Slayer and her kin' hadn't been a false mask after all. It had always been a part of the man. But the Ripper still was, as well. Janus permit the same remain true of him, if he followed the choices before him to their logical conclusion.
"What do you mean?" Fine lines crinkled around Rupert's eyes and between his brows as he shot Ethan a sidelong frown.
"You should recall," he replied, lightly. "You were the one who quoted them at me when you left."
After Randall's death, Rupert had retreated into his father's teachings, where Ethan had been unwilling to follow: an armour of self-righteousness, forged of guilt, duty, and repentance, as effective as earplugs at warding off truths one did not want to hear.
"I had finished the training; I swore the oaths. But you did not." Rupert's forehead wrinkled further, that one off-centre vertical crease on the right side of his forehead just begging to be smoothed out with a rough thumb.
Ethan clenched his hands in his lap, ignoring the impulse to touch. "The sins of the fathers visited upon the sons. I had cause to look the wording up, after my last visit to Sunnydale. 'Bound to serve the Slayer, so long as our line and hers shall endure; unless the sea rise and drown us, or the sky fall and crush us, or the world end.' It's rather old-fashioned these days; I don't believe the various field squads have been required to swear it for quite some time. But all the old families, and the ones who join now with the hope of Watching a Slayer... you all still do. As did my father, and his father before him, clear back to the first Rayne to join the Council."
Rupert digested that, eyes widening. "I... I've seen Wesley's research. He's shared some of it with me, but I never...." He swallowed. "It's, it's true that whatever the original Shadow Men may have done to create the first Slayer could never have perpetuated so long without either a very significant sacrifice, or an equitable bargain with the avatar of Sineya. More likely both. If the oath is a part of that...."
"Something changes, when a Slayer and a compatible Watcher are placed in proximity," Ethan confirmed. "Some vital part of you both is forever altered; something that modern Watcher training glosses over entirely. If you check the records-- how many field Watchers trained in Travers' distant, negligent school die with their Slayers, or within five years of her passing?"
How long would Rupert have lasted, if Buffy hadn't returned? Ethan had stolen a few moments with the Watcher diaries of that time, and knew the man had been at odds with his Slayer when she'd died.
The same seemed to have occurred to Ripper; he paled. "And how many have their Slayers returned to them?"
"How many ever acquire a second?" Ethan added, wryly.
On one level, Rupert was Watcher to two Slayers; on another, he was Watcher to a single Slayer essence in two bodies. It was unprecedented... just as unprecedented as the evident avatar of a new, male Slayer line, still linked to his former Slayer, the both of them newly bound to Ethan's soul. That it should be the two of them so affected... there was a point when coincidences stretched past the bounds of possibility. How long had the Council been following their oaths only in letter, to build such a debt?
"You are not the man you were before you met Buffy; or before Dawn was sent to her. Nor am I the man I was before Wesley's death and transformation. And if I'm right, whatever Travers hopes to accomplish this day...."
"...Will be visited back upon him, threefold." Horror warred with savage satisfaction in Rupert's tone.
"The house of cards he is attempting to build will fall about his ears," Ethan agreed. "You can be assured of that. But whether that fall comes soon or late... would seem to depend largely on how well you've taught your children, I'm afraid." A crooked smile tugged at the corner of his mouth.
Quiet pride crept into Rupert's expression, complement for the lingering fierceness. "I would love to claim the children's talents as a result of my teachings, but they came into my care fully formed and rather inclined to disobedience. I am-- I am quite sure Buffy and her friends will prevail. But I would not say that we are out of it yet," he added, gesturing with his wrists again. "Not if you can do something about these."
"Say please, then," Ethan replied. No giving without qualification; did he not recall?
Rupert's mouth twisted; but this once, he did not object. "Please," he repeated quietly, earnestly.
The word resonated like a note struck from a harp; it was enough. "Then hold still."
Ethan rested a fingertip against the manacles, bracing himself for the bite of their energy, and took a moment to bring his will to the test. It was as he had expected; his mind and spirit were still raw, too much so for the delicate work required to remove them without damage to himself, the prisoner, or the wire itself. A simpler solution would be required.
Some part of him mourned the very idea of destroying such a potentially valuable tool; but it was no more than a twinge, and he reached for the two-headed coin in his pocket. He ran a thumb over its serrated edge, murmuring spells of sharpness and purpose, then struck it against the wire with a quick, decisive motion.
Rupert cried out as the energy of the manacles flared, then sagged against him as the enchantment let go. He shook off the remnants of wire, rubbing at the wounds left behind with shaking hands, and Ethan quickly tucked the coin away again.
"Feeling a bit more the thing?" he inquired, lightly.
Green sparks lit in Rupert's eyes as they met Ethan's, and he opened his mouth to reply.
Whatever he might have said, though, was lost as the world shook around them; more metaphysical than actual, due to their likely physical distance from the epicentre, but nonetheless as clear as a trump from on high.
"Ad quod damnum," Ethan murmured, half in prayer, half in observation; may the remedy be in proportion to the damage. It really was up to the children now.
Rupert's brow furrowed, and he closed his hands in fists. "If I remain here while they fight this battle without me-- I violate those oaths as surely as my ancestors."
Strain grew in his face as his knuckles whitened-- and the walls began to shake in earnest, sprouting feathering tendrils of roots along one side that soon grew into thick, wooden fingers, splintering concrete and plaster apart with no more difficulty than loose earth. Green sparks whirled around him, and another phrase crept to mind: sowing the wind....
"Ripper," Ethan cautioned him, mouth dry at the sight. "Not that I disagree with the sentiment. But you do realise we're inside the walls you're currently tearing down?"
As if in response, one of the vinelike roots swarmed up his legs to twine around his waist, then branched out to surround him in a swiftly growing cage; as debris began to fall from the sagging wall, it struck the roots and slid aside. He stared in delight and alarm as parts of the room above collapsed as well; then the roots pushed them outward, surfacing amid the wreckage like a bubble in water.
"Time to go," Rupert said, turning with a sharp-edged smile and holding out a hand.
Ethan took a breath, then returned the gesture, drying blood slipping between their fingers as they clasped tight, the pressure on his wound riding the fine line between pleasure and pain.
Whatever the outcome-- and whether Travers was the source of all, or only a part of some other entity's play, as Ethan was beginning to suspect-- the time for a reckoning had come at last.
"Then what are you waiting for?"
Alea iacta est.
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