Chapter 1 – The Devil (Details)
“Oh, oh, running through the details
Oh, oh, I try to quit but I fail”
-Details – Goodnight Nurse
The first thing that Rupert became aware of was that his head was killing him. There was also a dull, metallic taste on his tongue and in the back of his throat, and what felt like…oh, Christ, please don’t let that be fur… stuck between two of his teeth, at the side of his mouth.
He felt like he was going to be sick, but couldn’t actually bring anything up. Every muscle felt like it had been pulled apart by some mad doctor and then stuck back together with staples and glue. Still, at least he could think again; even if he couldn’t actually think beyond the miserable bloody state that he was in. He thought he had a memory of Ethan laughing at his curses and settling down beside him, although he was alone now, so he wasn’t entirely sure of what was reality, and what was merely his own fucked perception.
With a grunt of effort he pushed himself towards the edge of the bed, and then his muscles lost all strength again. After what felt like an eternity of effort he simply let his hand dangle down over the side. Closing his eyes again he focused on nothing more than the sound of his breathing.
It could have been ten minutes, or it could have been ten hours later when he became aware of a presence standing near him, and a cool hand reached down and drew back an eyelid, staring at the pupil for a few moments.
“I see you’re back in your right mind again.”
Oh, just kill me now; he only just stopped himself from saying the words out loud as he bit his tongue, in case they were taken literally rather than as just a complaint.
That voice seemed overly loud.
Before he could make a futile attempt at striking the hand away it was withdrawn. Bracing himself for the ridiculously bright light he cautiously opened a single eye, and winced.
“Could’ve just fucking asked me.” His voice sounded rough, as though he had been yelling.
If Ethan had been human, the way that its thumb was now running over his cheekbone would have been affectionate, with maybe a touch of concern, and not the farce that he knew it was. An amused-seeming half-smile tugged at the edge of the mask that it wore as it stared at him in a way that never failed to make him uneasy.
“Feeling better?” it asked, with only a tiny hint of mocking in its tone.
The question seemed rather left-field considering it could see exactly what sort of state he was in. But that glint in its eyes told him not to be overly hasty in replying. It wasn’t referring to his physical state, or at least he didn’t think that it was. He didn’t even have to bite his tongue to stop himself from replying, considering how much effort it took to talk right now.
“Less on edge then you were earlier?” it finally clarified.
Quietly, he took stock of himself. He felt like he’d been run over by a truck, he was bone-tired, and his head throbbed rather pointedly with every movement. But compared to the last few months, where he’d been constantly on edge, exhausted, snappy, unable to think straight, or shake his tension-induced headache, he did feel better.
He couldn’t remember any more than a few flashes of what he’d done, and nor could he stop thinking about how freeing and refreshing it had been, to have no control over his actions, how good it had been to not care. Never mind the people that had got in his way, he wanted that freedom from responsibility again, with a desperation that he found frightening.
Finally, as Ethan left him alone with his thoughts again, he blinked back a fierce stinging from the corners of his eyes.
He’d been afraid of the weight put on his shoulders, when he’d first found out about his destiny. He’d been afraid of his father when the man had struck him, even though he’d known other people who’d had it far worse whilst growing up. He’d been fucking terrified of his first vampire when he’d met it, and even more so of the gang that had set upon him on that fateful night when it seemed his life had been decided. Then of course, he had been afraid of Ethan. Anyone in their right mind would have been afraid of it.
This, however, was the first time that he had ever been afraid of himself, and what he might eventually do under Ethan’s influence and tutelage. He’d thought himself stronger, but who the hell was he kidding? It couldn’t be any more than weakness that kept him desiring freedom from himself could it?
He’d also grown complacent in this screwed-over mockery of his old life, in spite of himself, and that was something else he found worrying. It was time to give up this aura of reluctant acceptance, and start fighting towards his actual freedom again. He couldn’t just give up, lie here and keep accepting it any longer. There had to be some way out.
Once he’d accepted his fucked-up life, it had felt easier for a while, but ease was too high a price to pay when it was his own morality that hung in the balance, wasn’t it? Was it?
He frowned to himself, trying to think honestly about a question that once upon a time he would have been able to answer without hesitation. If there were going to be innocent lives hanging in the balance and there surely would, as the other night had proved, then it was his duty to pick up the fight again. It was really that simple really.
He didn’t want to turn into that monster that he had become the other night again, any more than he wanted to be turned and left with a soul. He couldn’t afford to wait for it to decide that the time was right to turn him. What use was a soul without mortality, morality or humanity?
If he wasn’t human then he wouldn’t see the world in the same way. Human lives would become an acceptable price, whatever the outcome, and that blood wasn’t something he wanted on his hands. The Council had always allowed the end to justify the means, but he wasn’t that type of person.
He hadn’t managed to find much material about vampires with souls, but what he had found seemed to be conclusive; the spirit was either a curse, a punishment which usually resulted in the cursed one facing the sunlight. It was extremely rare that the soul was bound to a person before death, and in that scenario the combination of human feelings and predatory need was said to drive a person mad.
He couldn’t see Ethan bothered by the possibility of a mad … pet, either. Pet, because it sure as hell wouldn’t view him as anything else, would it? He was no more than a toy to it, a new game to pass a few decades. It would never see him as an equal. He felt sickened by the thought that he even could have contemplated accepting such a life.
As the sound of footsteps penetrated his new wall of misery he felt another wave of nausea ripple through him. A firm hand made contact with his shoulder, pushing him over onto his back before it helped him into a sitting position and brushed damp hair off his sweat-soaked forehead.
Only now did he realise how cold he was, as it raised a glass of lukewarm water to his lips, and helped him to swallow a few mouthfuls, which he was surprised to find didn’t threaten to come up again.
“Another day of rest and you’ll be back on your feet cursing at me with all of your usual vehemence, I think.”
Again its tone of voice sounded amused. It raised the glass to his lips again, and he shook off the thought of how much such a human gesture would have meant to him before he’d hardened his resolve again. It couldn’t be allowed to matter now, least he shake off his new-found defiance.
Before the year was out, he promised himself, as his hand balled into a loose fist under the blankets. Before the year was out, then even if he wasn’t actually free from Ethan, then he would have found a way to separate himself from the beast.
He couldn’t counter the old magic directly, that much was obvious by now, but there had to be a way all the same. All that he had to do was approach the problem from a different angle of attack, and find something that he hadn’t considered until now.
When he had tried before, he had been looking for a way between the cracks, or he had tried to challenge its hold over him with determination brute strength. That had nearly killed him, so it was out of the question.
But still, there had to be a way. He just had to be smart enough, aware enough to be able to spot escape for what it was when it was eventually presented.
Starring at that glint in its gaze he wondered exactly how amused it would have been if it had known what he was planning.
It was peaceful in the library, with only the sounds of his breathing, the hum of the air conditioner and the rain against the window. The heat had broken, making way for a true Southern California rainstorm, made just that little bit more impressive by Sunnydale’s close proximity to the sea.
It would have been even more peaceful if he hadn’t had both Willow and Xander trying to stare him down.
“You shouldn’t talk down to us,” Willow said. We’re not children, Giles. If you think, for five minutes that neither of us has noticed the way that Buffy’s been acting lately… I mean, she just stares through us like we’re not even there. And I know you said to give her time, but we’ve done that, already. It’s not like she actually died, or anything. Okay, so she probably thought for a while there that she was going to, but it’s not like she did, so I just don’t…”
He interrupted the constant stream of talking, with a single raised hand, as her tone of voice began to grate on his nerves. If it had been appropriate then he would have cast a spell to ensure her continued silence, but it probably wasn’t, so the point was rather moot.
And today’s lesson in casting is, little witch…
The other hand rose to pinch the bridge of his nose.
“You presume to know how long it should take for someone who resigned herself to her own death, and walked out to meet it to recover, do you? Perhaps you’ve done such a thing before yourself?” He may have stopped himself from snarling at her, but he knew from the crushed look on Willow’s face that there was more than just the regular irritability there.
“I just wanted to help,” she muttered, looking as small as she sounded.
He hated feeling so on edge. He hated opening his mouth and not knowing what was going to come out of it, whether a snap, or an insult, or the beginnings of a tirade. He also knew that it could probably be put to rest if he could have some much-needed sleep, but for the moment that seemed like a lost cause in itself. When he did sleep normally, it was either patchy or he was disturbed by bad dreams, which was something that only grew worse on those nights when Ethan had told him that he’d made him rest.
Furthermore, now he had Xander glaring at him, and he didn’t have to hazard a guess at why. He’d just insulted the boy’s closest friend. Good enough cause for anyone to be pissed off with him.
Closing his eyes, he let out a slow breath. “Look, I’m sorry. That was uncalled for, I suppose.”
“No ‘I suppose’ about it.” The boy bristled and his glare didn’t change in intensity at all. Giles found himself torn between wanting to make an attempt to placate him, while he knew that it wasn’t his place to do so. Still, without Ethan’s old threat hanging over his head he thought that he could have still done something to settle him.
It didn’t take being a Watcher to see how Xander relaxed a little, his expression softening and his eyes loosing that hard edge when Willow bit her lip and seemed to recover some of her confidence in the wake of his apology. The boy’s original interest may have been towards Jesse but the true dead couldn’t hold sway over the living, and if Xander had replaced his original affection for Jesse with a willingness to put himself under Willow’s protection, then it certainly wasn’t his place to interfere in the natural order of things.
He had no right to interfere in the boy’s life, and that was that.
It wasn’t even worth thinking about, truly. He couldn’t have gone there even if he’d wanted to, and he didn’t want to. He wouldn’t consider such a thing. His fondness for the boy was a genuine desire to keep him safe, at least until the Witch had matured and grown strong enough to be able to take care of the boy, and because he knew that even with that solution on offer, life wasn’t going to be easy for him. It never was for a submissive, no matter the circumstances around him or her.
He only hoped, for the boy’s sake, that Willow would be strong enough by the time Xander matured. If she wasn’t, then life as Xander knew it was going to wind up taking a drastic turn for the worse, unless the Slayer stepped up to the plate, and he couldn’t see that happening, no matter how fond of Xander Buffy may have been.
It took more than just fondness, after all. In the end it was about power.
Drawing another slow, calming breath he circled the desk, pressed a brief touch to Xander’s shoulder, and then squeezed Willow’s.
“I know that all you want to do is help Buffy, but in some cases there is nothing that one can do. You’ve seen that not even I command over every circumstance. All you… we… can really do for her, is work at picking up the slack where we can, and be ready to help her when she is ready to live again. Now, more than ever, she needs the both of you to be there for her, alright?”
He could see from Willow’s stance that she was considering what he’d said. Xander, on the other hand, tended to furrow his brow, and Giles could see thoughts in his expression, but none of that showed in the way that he stood. After what seemed like an extended wait she turned to him, and nodded.
“I can do that. Or, at least I think I can. But you have to make sure you actually let us know when you need us, okay? Even if it’s for a hand with research; I don’t want you trying to do this by yourself.”
He saw the determination in her gaze, and he respected that in her. He certainly wouldn’t go running to her, when he had Ethan at his side, but he did respect that. It felt like a little weight lifted off his shoulders to agree to her request, even if there were some circumstances in which he would never take her up on it.
Without another word she left and Xander slowly turned to face him, crossing his arms over his chest and leaning back against his desk. Some deep instinct told him to step forward, put himself into the boy’s personal space, so he took a couple of steps backwards and sat himself down at one of the tables.
“You’re good with words,” Xander said softly, “But you and I both know that Willow and I are going to be the last people you call on, if you can help it. You want to keep us out of it, and that’s understandable. But that’s the thing with Willow; she’s always been trusting towards adults. I’m good at observing things, see? Gotta be, growing up with my folks. Gotta know when to… oh, forget it; -either way, I can tell that you think she has some potential to be able to defend herself, but no access to it. And for some strange reason you seem to want to wrap me up in bubble-wrap, or something along those lines. I could tell you right now that you don’t need to, that we’re both more than capable of taking care of ourselves, but I know it wouldn’t make a difference either, would it?”
If only you knew Giles thought, but wouldn’t say it.
“That doesn’t change the fact that the both of you are still children, and the last thing that I want is to place either of you in unnecessary danger. You’ll be in enough without my adding to it.”
“You think I care about danger? Just living here is dangerous, isn’t it?”
“You may not, but I do. I already have a suitably powerful ally at my side.” He scratched at Ethan’s mark on the inside of his arm, a habit that he’d developed without even realising it, “Now, was there anything else that you wanted, other than to try to scold me?”
Xander looked at his feet for a few moments, and Giles could see that the furrow which told him that the boy was thinking was back again. He didn’t prompt or push him, as the boy raised a hand to scratch at the point just above his shoulder, a nervous habit that he’d noticed almost since the day that he’d met him.
“Your ally; -your partner, isn’t he? Ethan? Still haven’t met the guy, not even after he apparently saved the day with that Master-thing.”
“Pray that you never have a cause to, either. He’s…” Giles caught himself, and raised a hand to tug at the earring he wore, hoping to cover his hesitation, “It is nothing like Buffy’s Angel. The only time it will ever stick its head into our business is when there’s chaos stirring.”
Quietly he cursed the slip that he’d made. The last time that he had done so had been a long time ago, and he’d been careful not to make he same mistake twice. He could remember the day with utter clarity, when he’d last called Ethan him. As he still held fast to the belief that referring to Ethan as if he were a person was the start of a slope that he didn’t want to go down, so it was no real surprise that he didn’t slip more often. As long as Ethan was still inhuman; -as long as the ancient was an it, then he felt that he could justify a hell of a whole lot more to himself.
Still, he didn’t let his annoyance show on his face. He couldn’t afford to have the boy uneasy around him, not if he wanted to be able to protect him until the day that he couldn’t.
“Was this leading anywhere, other than to a misplaced desire to meet Ethan, Xander?”
He saw what had been resolve crumple to indecision, then to uncertainty and outright hesitation.
“Guess not,” Xander said, “or not to anywhere that matters, anyway.”
Giles managed to stop himself from sighing out loud, “If it matters to you, then it matters. Surely you know that you can talk to me about anything, no matter how silly it may seem to you.”
“Yeah, I do, I just…” Xander contemplated his feet again, “I just guess it’s not really all that important. It… it’s just me being me, I guess. Reading too much into things, and it wouldn’t be the first time that I did either, gotta face that, too. Just… just forget it.”
The boy pushed himself away from the desk, and circled past him as he headed for the door. Still, he couldn’t let him go without trying once more.
“If you do decide that you want to talk. About anything, and I do mean anything, then you know where to find me.”
“Yeah, you’re not hard to track down.”
He watched as the door swung shut behind Xander, and stretched, releasing a tension that he hadn’t realised he’d been feeling. He had done all that he could do, for the moment. Closing his eyes he rubbed his eyelids. The only question was where to go from here. Things couldn’t go on like this indefinitely, otherwise something was going to give and he wasn’t entirely sure that it wouldn’t be his tolerance, when it did. This had seemed so much simpler in theory.
Xander leaned against the wall outside the library taking a few moments out for himself. Tilting his head back, he tried to wrestle his thoughts into some sort of order.
So there went his courage and determination again. Couldn’t really say he was surprised, either. He needed to stop psyching himself out, maybe then he could have a conversation with the man that didn’t end with him making an excuse and leaving. Or not making an excuse, as things went; letting an excuse be made for him.
For all he knew, he was right and reading something into those words that traced a well-worn path through his head, something that had never been there. He thought he could understand Giles’s desire to keep him and Willow away from Ethan’s influence, though. From what little he’d gathered about it, it didn’t exactly seem to be a gem.
He knew that he didn’t get why Giles stuck with it, knew that he probably never would, that he was only seeing a fraction of the story there, what with the anger that bled through in Giles tone occasionally, when he spoke of Ethan. He didn’t think that Willow noticed it, as subtle as it was.
Like he’d said, though, he was fairly good at reading the signs in between the signals; had to be, to avoid being chewed out. It was even possible that Giles didn’t realise exactly how much he gave away at times, when he spoke of it.
At the school entrance, he found Willow waiting for him. Half a year of doing this now, and it still felt decidedly odd, to be in the school after hours. Schools were meant to be filled with noise and people and squabbles and sound and collisions, not this eerie silence and emptiness. It made it feel like the library used to before he started spending time in there.
“Did you do what you wanted to?” she asked, raising an eyebrow at him.
He shrugged, “Sort of. We almost talked, that’ll do for now. So, what next? I don’t know about you, but I’m not really in a hurry to go home.”
He remembered something as he went to tuck a hand into his pocket, and grinned at her.
“Hey, I’ve got ten bucks on me. We could always head over to the Double Meat Palace for illicit munchies.”
She opened her mouth to reply and then closed it again, staring at something down the end of the street. He raised his head and followed her line of sight, to see Buffy heading around the corner, going in a very familiar direction.
“Okay, is it just me or is the resident Slayer spending way too much time at the home of one tall, dark and scary?”
Willow looked at him again, hope obvious in her expression, “But that’s got to be a good thing, right? I mean, spending time with her boyfriend is something completely normal. Okay, so maybe he’s not completely normal, but still… if she’s spending all this time with him, then maybe she’s starting to feel… better?” The last word of that sentence held more hope than the rest of it combined.
“Yeah, maybe,” he said, knowing that he sounded unconvincing even to himself.
At least Buffy’s attraction to Angel was easy enough to understand, even if he didn’t like it. Certainly it was a lot easier to understand than Giles’s own friendship. If Buffy liked the idea of something unchanging and unchangeable, in the face of her life, then yeah, he got that. Maybe he even understood it better then she did herself, having had someone that he cared for pretty much stolen from him. Then again, he still didn’t know exactly what she’d been through, throughout her life, either. Much like Giles was, she was guarded about some things.
Sure, he’d seen enough to draw a few conclusions, but not enough to set a solid foundation in stone.
“…you listening, Xander?” Willow asked, snapping him from his thought.
“I said, sure, Double Meat sounds great to me.”
He twisted his expression into the grin that he knew she was expecting, “Cool. Because, at least, recognizable, you know? Unlike the mystery meat in the cafeteria lunch.”
“Unless they actually source the Double Meat from the school cafeteria.”
“Now, Willow.” He sighed, a drawn-out, put-upon sound, “Do you really want to put me off of eating there for the rest of my life?”
She shuddered, as though she’d only just realised what she had said, “Okay, bad thought. Strike that.”
“Very, very bad thought, and can we please agree never to go there again?”
“Done,” she nodded and pulled a face.
The streets never really changed unless something apocalyptic going down and tonight was no different. The occasional vampire hunted along the streets, but most hung out in the sewers for now and they didn’t come across anything that could really be regarded as trouble on the walk from the High School over to the good half of town.
As they settled down at a table to wait for the food, Willow took a long drink through her straw, before turning her attention back to Xander.
“The streets aren’t exactly crawling with vampires, though, are they?” she said quietly. “That means she’s still got to be slaying.”
“Maybe,” Xander shrugged, “or maybe they all went to ground with the death of the Master. I mean, having the big guy killed has gotta send a message, right? That there’s a bigger, big bad dog on the block.”
“Xander,” Willow sounded reproachful.
“I just don’t like it. Not knowing exactly what’s going on, whether this quietness is a build-up to something, or just because all the bloodsuckers are running scared, or because Buffy’s doing what she’s meant to be doing. I just wish that she’d say something more than ‘hello’, you know?”
“I do know. But what can we honestly do, if she’s determined to avoid us?”
Xander frowned to himself, “But it’s not us, is it? It’s life that she doesn’t want to face. So, I dunno, maybe if she saw us acting like things are as normal as they ever were? Maybe we could stop acting like she’s going to shatter, or something. Encourage her to act normally, rather than encourage her to … to carry on the way that she’s acting.”
“But I am normal around her. I don’t act like she’s delicate.”
Xander looked at her.
“Okay, maybe I do keep a couple of things to myself, but…”
He knew that he was on the right track, and the way that he had backed down earlier in the face of Giles’ questioning gave him the determination that he needed right now in order to make his point.
“But nothing. We’ve all been acting around her like she’s less capable of managing than she is. Even Giles had been. And if that’s the way we’ve been acting, then it’s certainly not going to make her sit up and realise that life goes on.”
“No harm in trying, right?”
“Right,” he nodded, and fell silent, as the food was finally brought over.
Buffy had lost track of time, drifting as she was in Angel’s cool, dark gaze and the sensations of his hands on her shoulders, his cool lips tasting and chasing hers in darts and teases. It felt right, his height above her, and his strength right there for her to lean against. In spite of the time that she had spent with him she was sure that this was one thing in life that would never go wrong and never lose its thrill.
She tilted her head back and held him a little closer, a little tighter and he leaned down, kissing her properly. She drew it out, because she knew that when he broke away this time that would be the end of her escape from herself for this night.
Sure enough, when he broke away from her ten minutes later, it was to nudge her away from him, putting a little space in between the two of them.
“Buffy,” his voice sounded pained, “we shouldn’t be…”
“Don’t start that again, please,” she cut across his words, “we’ve had that talk before. I’m old enough to know what I want, and what I’m getting into.”
“Oh, don’t give me that you’re still a child patronizing bullshit; because that’s all it is, bullshit. I can’t take any more of that. If life was measured in experience rather than age, then you know I’d be older than most people out there.”
“No, don’t you Buffy me. It’s amazing what facing your death does for you perspective.”
He sighed softly, and grasped her shoulder, “I know.”
“If you know that, then you know that I know what I’m talking about.”
“That still doesn’t mean that it’s…”
Again she cut him off, “You know what? I’m done with talking for the night. I’ve gotta get home, go to bed, then hit the streets. You’re welcome to meet me outside the Bronze in oh, say, an hour, but not if you’re going to try and carry this particular conversation on.”
She twisted away from him, pulling her shoulder from his grasp and grabbed the stake that she had put down on the table near the front door.
“I’m sorry,” he said to her back as she wrenched the door open.
She didn’t respond as she headed out into the darkness.
Giles recognized the voice, even as he spun from his observation of Angel’s door and Buffy’s exit through it. He had taught himself long ago not to jump when Ethan stepped out of the shadows without warning. If the ancient vampire wanted to be heard or felt in its approach, then it would be. If not, then there wasn’t a single hope this side of hell.
“You don’t say,” he replied, dryly.
“Something’s building, and your Slayer has to be ready to face it when it comes. I can’t interfere, not this time Rupert. Nest’s old loyalists are gathering, coming together for something big, something that will change the face of everything if it comes to fruition.”
“Vampire are hierarchal, aren’t they?” Rupert’s voice was cold and low, as he started to walk, shadowing Buffy’s route home. “You defeated the old Master; if you stepped into its place and took out the dissenters then surely they’d sit up and pay attention.”
“It’s not my place to, Rupert. This is her life; the task that she’s been charged with. Even if it were my place to step in, I’m not sure that I would. Controlling a pack is a game for fools. Besides, the result of this new game could be quite interesting. Change will certainly creep across the world if it comes to fruition. It would be an example of Chaos at its finest, and once that change begins to come through then no amount of planning would be able to save anyone..”
“If you’re going to be of no use, then you’re welcome to go and fuck yourself. I don’t care about your fucking devotion to bloody Chaos. I’ve had more than enough of it for this lifetime.”
“No faith in your Slayer, Rupert?” There was only a touch of amusement in its tone and none of the anger that he had been hoping to prod into life.
He didn’t reply, because he wasn’t sure how to, without sounding as though he didn’t trust her. Which wouldn’t have been a problem before, but since she had faced the Master there was no denying that she had changed.
“You should trust her, you know,” Ethan’s voice became a little more serious. “This is her life, after all. She wouldn’t have been given it, if she weren’t equipped to handle it.”
“But you saved her.”
It grasped his shoulder with one hand, spun him around, and took his chin with its other, forcing his head up so that he had no choice but to meet its gaze.
“No, I didn’t. I stopped a fool from throwing his life to the dogs, and mine by way of consequence.”
“She would have been killed,” his voice rose a little and became harsher. “The prophecy said it clearly.”
“Yes, and prophecies are such simplistic things that they can be believed word for word, and there’s no way around them. What you did, Rupert,” it growled low in its throat and its fingers on his chin tightened, “was cut her off from a chance to realise her own strength.” The anger in its tone was very real.
Rupert braced himself for it the explosion that he felt was imminent.
It carried on, “You went wading into a situation that was well over your bloody head and, as a result, fate had its hand forced. You know that it’s well beyond due time that she proved her strength to both herself and you. Furthermore it’s also about time you started acting like a real Watcher. You are meant to support and guide her, not tackle her challenges for her.”
Ethan’s eyes glistened with that do you really want to argue with me look, which was a combination of anger, frustration, challenge and taunt. And no, he didn’t really want to pick a fight with it, as much as he had been trying to a few minutes ago. It really wasn’t a good idea to pick a fight with something like Ethan. Not that knowing that had stopped him from trying several dozen times over the years.
Still, there was a difference between throwing himself on Ethan’s temper when he knew that the elder was genuinely pissed off and reacting to a situation and doing it unintentionally. Considering how much anger bled through in Ethan’s tone, Rupert was surprised that Ethan had been as easy on him as it had been over the last couple of weeks.
A car drove past, throwing harsh light over them and picking out Ethan’s outline with an almost fire-like yellow light which Giles found rather appropriate.
“So, you’re saying I shouldn’t have tried to save her?” he couldn’t keep his own anger out of his voice, as much as he wasn’t prepared to challenge it.
“I’m saying, boy, that you should have let her save herself,” Ethan’s voice dropped to a low hiss.
He locked his gaze with Ethan’s, “Don’t you fucking call me boy.”
Its grasp tightened fractionally on his chin before it let go.
“You will still be a child until you learn to control those impulsive actions and reactions of yours. A child doesn’t think rationally. With the effort I’ve put into teaching you how to behave you are slightly better than you were, but you’ve still got a lot to learn about this world, Rupert.”
“Tell me how the hell I’m meant to be her Watcher, then, if you won’t let me close to her?” his voice raised a little, cutting through the night that little bit clearer.
“I’m not stopping you from doing what you’re meant to. To the contrary, I’m trying to keep you from interfering where you shouldn’t.”
He took a slow breath, in through his nose and out through his mouth, fully aware that he was beginning to push at Ethan’s patience.
There was no point in arguing, not right now.
“Look,” he said, struggling to keep his tone of voice even, as he took a step back pulling out of its grasp and twisting away from it, “I’m going to take a sweep through a couple of the cemeteries. If you insist on continuing then this can we please do so at home? Buffy isn’t doing her job unless it’s a life or death situation, so someone has to keep up appearances.”
He glanced back and wasn’t surprised to find an empty patch of air beside him. He knew that Ethan would have still heard everything that he’d said, but had already said all that it wanted to.
He was good at keeping up appearances, at wearing masks. He had to be, considering he’d had so much practice Smile, and pretend that everything was normal for yet another day. Pretend that he could handle it, that nothing ever got under his skin or worried him, that he wasn’t worried about Buffy’s state of mind, or about how much longer he could keep living two fake lives.
Ethan was right in that she needed something to bring her back to herself, if only because he wasn’t sure how much longer he could handle this balancing act.
Just another day at the fucking office, wasn’t it?