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Chapter Data

Chapter Seven

Fan Fiction: Lesser Men

Chapter Seven: Divergent Paths

Jonathan stood in front of the mirror in the restroom for several minutes, just staring at his reflection. Or, rather, Riley Finn's reflection. There was something a little strange about having Deep Thoughts while wearing someone else's face, but he didn't exactly want to zap back to his normal Jonathan-shape and watch his slacks puddle around his ankles. Especially in a men's restroom.

He thought about his parents, the ones who'd raised him for the first eighteen years of his life. He thought about their absent-minded caring, sometimes frustrating and non-supportive but always unquestionably there. He thought about their reactions the day Buffy kept him from killing himself in the tower. He thought about playing chess with Dad, watching old Bond movies with Mom, and how they'd wanted him to go to college, get a glimpse of the world outside, after the high school blew up.

Jonathan wasn't very close to them, these days, especially since he'd moved out to "get an apartment with Warren and Andrew." Still. As ineffective as they were, they were his parents. Maybe not his blood parents, but his parents all the same, with warm-fuzzy memories attached. Not that he'd ever admit that to any of his male friends. Anyway. This guy, Ethan? Much cooler. Much smarter. Also much more dangerous, and never ever a candidate for warm-fuzzy anything.

So now what? Go with his newfound father, and learn all kinds of powerful new magic? Something about that idea just felt wrong, like a reprise of the last year, only on a bigger scale. People had a tendency to get hurt when the Geek Trio took shortcuts, and Warren cared a lot less about that collateral damage than Jonathan did. Ethan's attitude? Way middle-aged Warren.

But what else was there? Keep hiding in L.A., or what?

Jonathan sighed. Better go out there and talk some more. Maybe he was getting the wrong impression. Maybe Ethan didn't always grin dangerously and make injured guys miserable. And maybe Jonathan was just making up excuses so he didn't have to add another notch to the Life side of Life vs. the Short Idiot.

Well, there was one thing he could do: he had some change in his pocket, and there was a payphone outside in the hall. He should probably tell his parents he would be away for awhile. And maybe they could tell him something about Ethan? Didn't adopting parents get some kind of information about their kids' real parents?

He turned and walked out of the restroom, digging the change out of his pocket. There wasn't anyone on the phone, fortunately, so he plunked in his 35 cents and dialed the familiar number. Then it asked for more change, and he frowned. "Long distance?" He hung up, pocketed the change again, and tried it with 1-800-COLLECT. Stupid commercials. It was easier back when the only way to do collect was to dial 0, and no one had to watch Mr. T lower himself to prance around with old ladies and payphones.

"Jonathan?" his mother answered, at last. "Is that you?"

"Yeah, mom," he said. "Sorry about the collect thing. I'm out of town, and I thought you should know."

She sighed. "Ah. Well, we weren't planning a big birthday party anyway. I'll buy you a cake whenever you're back. Are you at one of those gaming conventions again?"

Mother-guilt: faster than light, heavier than lead. Jonathan winced. He'd forgotten how gung-ho she was about family holidays, and her martyred tone was worse than any cursing-out she could have given him. "Um, no. Uh, I met this guy, he said he's my real dad?"

She was silent for several ominous seconds, then spoke cautiously. "Is his name Ethan Rayne?"

"That's what he says. Is something wrong?" Mentally, he crossed his fingers. He knew the answer was likely to be Yes, but why couldn't life be uncomplicated for a change?

"Yes," she said, sounding worried. "When we adopted you we were told your parents led very disruptive lifestyles, especially him, and that we'd be much safer keeping all the papers entirely anonymous so he couldn't track us. How did he find you?"

Jonathan sighed. "It doesn't matter." He glanced up, with the receiver still to his ear, checking to see if the person in question had left yet.

He hadn't. Neither had Wesley. In fact, Ethan was holding a mirror in one hand, or something like, that was faintly glowing... and from this angle Jonathan could see his other hand, making gestures under the table, sprinkling some sort of powder.

"Uh oh," Jonathan said. "This can't be good." Better go rescue Wesley now.

"Jonathan? Is something the matter?" his mother asked.

"Sorry Mom. Gotta go. I'll call later."

He hung up and started weaving through the crowd, headed for the table. His suspicions were confirmed when Wesley suddenly wasn't Wesley anymore, replaced by a shorter guy with intense features and graying hair. The glowing thing wasn't glowing anymore either-- definitely a mirror-- and Ethan tilted it at Wesley, who suddenly looked absolutely horrified.

Jonathan sighed, and felt suddenly older. "Um, Ethan?" he said, stepping up behind the man that spoke of the Hellmouth as a training ground. A training ground, for God's sake, as if the high death rate was worth it if a few kids developed useful talents to change the misery around them.

"Ah, Jonathan," Ethan said, with amusement still dancing in his eyes. "I think it's time we moved on. Let's leave Mr. Holtz here to his drink and go fetch your things."

"Um, I don't think, I mean... I'm not coming." Jonathan looked down, concentrating on his shiny overlarge shoes, telling himself he was indeed 6'2" right now, taller than usual, and definitely taller than three inches.

Silence. Then, "Why is that?" in a careful, even tone of voice.

He looked up. Ethan was staring at him again, with a little frown between his eyebrows.

"I just ran away from this, you know," Jonathan replied, uncomfortably. "From this kind of fun, where people get hurt all the time. I can't do it again."

"I worship chaos, Jonathan," Ethan said. His face sagged a little, then he shook his head and put that smile of his back on. "I'm not in the white hat business. It's been that way since before you were born. Watching you this last year or so, I had hoped... Well. I'll be back on your next birthday to ask you again." And then he was gone.

Jonathan watched him go. "Am I always going to wonder what would happen if I went with him?" he asked the air.

Hollow laughter answered him from the table where no-longer-Wesley still slumped. "Oh, yes. There are always what-ifs with fathers," he said, and met Jonathan's gaze with a small, sad smile.

Even with the tough new face, the man still looked like a kicked puppy. "You don't look so good," Jonathan commented. "What happened to you?"

Wesley shook his head. "It's a very long story."

"Suit yourself," Jonathan shrugged. "Need any help getting back to your hotel room?"

Wesley's eyes narrowed, and suddenly the kicked puppy was entirely Watcher, measuring Jonathan with his eyes. "Mmm, well," he said. "Since we don't seem to be enemies after all...?"

The statement hung in the air, and Jonathan decided he could afford to let a little of the truth out. "Maybe a week ago," he said, "if you came to Sunnydale. Now? Here? It's all good. I'm leaving all that behind." He stepped closer to Wesley, and offered the older man a hand up.

"Thank you."

Awkwardly, they made their way out of the bar, Jonathan leading, Wesley gripping his arm and turning greyer with every step. Jonathan paused on the sidewalk outside so Wesley could catch his breath, but the short pause kept getting longer, and Wesley didn't seem to be getting any better.

"Uh, are you okay?" Jonathan tugged at Wesley's arm. "Should I call an ambulance or something?"

"Yeah, you might want to do that."

Another menacing voice. Jonathan rolled his eyes. He'd heard enough of those today, already! Slowly he turned around, and found himself face to face with Angel.

He remembered Angel, sort of. The souled vampire hadn't interacted much with students outside the Scooby Gang, but Jonathan had seen him off and on during all the planning for the Mayor's Ascension. He'd never seen him look quite this pissed, though.

"Daniel Holtz and Riley Finn. You just made my day." With that, Angel picked Wesley up by the shirt front and hurled him bodily into the wall.

Oh, shit.


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