Rating: FR 13/15
When Ethan woke the sun was a little lower in the sky, and the day was creeping towards the middle of the afternoon. Moving gently so that he didn’t disturb his sleeping armful of man, he slipped off of the bed and stood up quietly.
For a few seconds he simply looked down at Rupert, marvelling at what sleep did for the younger man. His brow lost that semi-permanent wrinkle, and the tension in his face eased. It was like looking back in time five or six years, or perhaps even further.
He could remember doing the same thing back in Sunnydale. Back in his town. Laying beside him, watching him sleep. Rupert had been too drunk to do any more than kiss him, before they had undressed and slipped under the sheets, but even that had been a rare gift. He had always selfishly hoarded any time he spent with Rupert, and that had been no different.
Throw the dog a bone, he thought, without any heat to it, before tearing himself away from the sight, picking up the stone-cold cup and heading down to the kitchen to pour it out.
He scrawled a note saying he’d be back shortly and left it propped up against Rupert’s clock so that he would see it if he woke up, then headed out to the car and drove back home on autopilot, trying to work out exactly what he was going to say.
One of the pool-cars in the driveway told him that Amber wasn’t pulling a few extra hours at Lords, or with a client. He pulled the keys out of the car and it locked up, then headed up the path to the house. He could hear Marianne Faithful through the open windows, the music she always turned on when he was out and she wanted something in the background.
As he let himself into the house and closed the door behind him she turned the radio off, and met him in the lounge with a glass of red wine in hand.
“Hey,” she gave him that little half-smile of hers, which always made him want to kiss her. The ring on his finger felt like something that he wasn’t used to, that he hadn’t spent nearly two years wearing already.
He mustered up his own smile to give her in return, and hoped that it didn’t look like another mask.
“Good morning?” he asked.
“It went well enough, and I’ve packed you a few days worth of clothing. So, were we taking this into the lounge or the dining room?”
He recognized the question within the question instantly, although he still hesitated. The lounge was for the more casual conversations between them. The dining room, with its formal setting saw a far more serious side of their marriage. If he told her the lounge, then he could get away with a few stories of boyhood fun; stealing apples and cutting class, that sort of thing. His intention was to edit the truth, not lie outright.
“Dining room it is.”
He followed her through, circling the table to pull out the chair on the far side, while she sat nearest the door. She gave him a few moments to gather his thoughts, which he was grateful for.
“So,” she took a sip from her glass of wine, and rested her hand on the tabletop, light skin a fine contrast again the dark mahogany wood, “tell me about this friend of yours. Do you really think that you can handle this on your own, or is that just hope?”
Ethan bit down a touch of irrational anger. She was always like this with serious conversations, and it wasn’t often that it bothered him.
“Ripper… Rupert and I met when we were children. I was twelve, entered into the advanced program at my school, damn near the top of my class, and he was ten when he was entered into the same program as I was. His father had schooled him beforehand, and he was more that capable. I like to think that I gave him a little challenge, but in reality he probably breezed past me like I was standing still.”
Ethan laughed a little, “I hated him to start with, but little Ripper Giles latched onto me for some reason. Gods know why. It was only after his mother passed away that I gave him the time of day, and decided that there was something there that worthy of my attention. I was rather narcissistic as a kid, and already fascinated by chaos. It was only several years later that I realized this was precisely why I liked him; even back then he had at least four distinct, different aspects to his personality, all a part of him, and that only grew with age.
“I liked what I wanted to see in myself, but he was more… well just more… than I ever was. We were firm friends – best friends by the time we finished at school, top two of the class and went to Oxford. We roomed together to save a little cash, were a couple of years in when Rupert lost a close friend who he’d known since he was seven and decided that he’d had enough of trying to keep his facets separate. He dropped everything and walked out the next day, and I went with him. I couldn’t imagine staying there without him, he’d been a part of my life for so long.”
He shifted uncomfortably, and stared down at his hands, “We found a squat in London, and a few more friends.”
Amber cleared her throat, “So that… that was when you began to practise chaos seriously, wasn’t it? Dark chaos? I remember you telling me that you started after getting to London.”
“It was. Rupert threw himself into it fully, and one day we summoned something that we couldn’t hope to control. It killed someone, and Rupert felt like he had to take the full weight of responsibility onto himself. Never mind that there were six of us, old Rupert had to be the martyr. He couldn’t keep himself separate from who he was any more and headed back. I would have gone too, but,” he made it clear that he didn’t want me following, “things came up.”
“Is that it, then? You’re trying to what, make up for going astray with him?”
“Hardly,” Ethan shook his head, “If Rupert hadn’t got out of Oxford when he did then there was every chance he’d have started taking pot-shots from off the roof of the bloody library. We met up every now and then over the years, and it wasn’t often amicable. I can count the number of times we got on, on one hand. The last time we managed a civil conversation I also let him down rather badly, and through that I wound up in the hands of the Initiative. I’m not doing this to make anything up to him, Amber. I’m doing to because I honestly think I’m the only one still around who knows him well enough that I might be able to get him through it with minimal scaring.”
He watched as Amber finished off her glass of wine, while he waited for the other shoe to drop. For her to pull back and exclaim, in that tone of shocked realisation Fuck. You loved him…love him…don’t you? It didn’t happen. Instead, she laughed shakily.
“Ethan, Ethan, Ethan. How well do I even know you? This person…this man was obviously a huge part of your life, and you’ve never even mentioned him before now.”
“As well as anyone else human, dear woman, or better now, actually. I’m sorry, but…I don’t talk about Rupert, not to anyone. There’s too much there, and when he went back I… well, I lost my best friend,” It’s too painful, “if it weren’t for this, then I still wouldn’t.”
“Oh, I suppose I should feel privileged, then.”
He caught the cold tone of sarcasm in her voice and winced, “Amber, please don’t turn this into a fight. The only people other than him, who knew about Rupert were myself, his father,” who actually liked me well enough until we left Oxford, so didn’t I bugger that one up, “and I. So I think you’ll just have to live with being the only living person, outside of Rupert and myself, to know about my best friend.”
He hated that note of peevishness that crept into his voice just as much as the next person did, but he could see by the look in her eyes that she was going to let it go, for now anyway. She nodded slowly, and stood up, then pushed the chair back in.
“Well, your bag is just inside the bedroom door, and there’s a chilly bin with food in it beside that. Don’t you think you should get going again?” her tone was still as cold and crisp as a winter morning, but he knew that she would get over it. He hadn’t told her anything for hold a grudge against, and she hadn’t picked it up so with a little time it would pass.
He stood, and circled the table to tangle his fingers through her hair, and kiss her hard, before letting her go and stepping back. Turning, he headed down the hallway to their bedroom, and grabbed his bag from where she had said it was. On his way back down the hallway he paused, looking at her, at the strands of light red hair that were highlighted by the sun. She hadn’t moved from the dinning room. Instead, she was leaning against the table, looking thoughtful, with her arms crossed, the dark blue material of her dress flowing loosely around her. Her dark eyes caught his wandering gaze and held it for a brief moment.
“I’ll see you later.”
She was beautiful. A better man would have loved her, would have been more than satisfied with her. He wasn’t lying when he said that he truly liked her, but sometimes he still hated himself for the fact that that he couldn’t be the person that she deserved.
“Ring me again later, Ethan?”
He put the bag and bin down so that he could open the door and get going again. For most people, bearing a soul was supposed to be healing, but he felt even more torn than he had before.
He could tell himself as many times as he wanted, that he wasn’t going to sleep with Rupert, but it didn’t make his feel any less guilty for thinking about it. The knuckles of his hands were white, from gripping the steering wheel.
Damn it, but he was meant to have killed off the part of him that felt guilt years ago.