“I said it, I meant it, I never will forget it
Change never happens by itself”
- The Used – Shine
Ethan was annoyed with him. This was hardly a new thing, but that didn’t mean it was one he wanted to encourage.
The fire behind it outlined its figure and threw a flickering shadow over Rupert and the wall behind him. Ethan stepped past the coffee table and grabbed him by the shirt yanking him close. He wasn’t going to give it the satisfaction of seeing him flinch.
When it growled and let go, it pulled its hand back, like it was going to strike him, and then he did flinch. At that, it lowered it hand, and turned away, as though his disobedience was barely worth noticing let alone doing anything about.
He wasn’t sure why that pissed him off, but it did.
“You know what time I expected you back here by.”
Sunset had been three hours ago. He couldn’t exactly tell it the truth, either.
Late? Sorry, I didn’t realise. I was waiting for something that I hope will be able to help me destroy you. After I break this damned bond, of course.
Why Rupert, I thought that we’d moved past that foolishness.
He had to bite his lip to keep from giggling as he imagined its reply.
“You did,” he shrugged, trying to act casual, even as he swallowed, that touch of fear never truly leaving him. It wasn’t being back late that he was worried about, it was Ethan scenting the Potential on him and asking questions that he couldn’t answer.
Well not couldn’t, so much as he didn’t want to. If he gave himself away then not only was he certain he wouldn’t get out of it unscathed, he was also equally sure that any possible chance of escape would be over before it even began.
“So would you care to tell me why you’re back several hours late? Or is that simply a part of why you haven’t minded me for the past month?”
Rupert bit his tongue.
“I asked you a question, I expect an answer, Rupert. I don’t talk just to hear my own voice talk,” its eyes narrowed, and he found himself tensing..
Dare he try a touch of honesty and admit that he hadn’t heeded it because of what it had allowed him to do over The Disparity? That the wide glimpse of his future had scared the shit out of him, and reminded him of the reality of what this was this, being a winding path to hell?
No. The idea that it would ever sympathise with a human’s fears, when it wasn’t human was a joke. It might understand, since it wasn’t stupid, but anything beyond that was laughable.
“If I said that there wasn’t a problem?”
“My question still stands. I demand your respect and obedience, and nothing less.”
“I…I… I had to get away for a while, I went out walking and lost track of time, and by the time I realised how late it was the sun was already going down. I didn’t do it on purpose Ethan, I swear.”
“Not good enough.”
This time the blow actually fell, and was one of those ones that made his brain feel like it had been shaken from one side of his head to the other. It left his senses reeling and his cheek numb. He wished he didn’t know the sharp way that it would throb when the numbness passed, or recognize the flavour of his own blood seeping into his mouth where one of his teeth had cut the inside of his cheek, but lucky him, he knew it all.
“When I give you an order then I expect you to follow it.”
“An order, Ethan?” he made sure that the question was obvious, “Tell me what the hell happened to… what was it…that’s right, binding me as an equal to you?”
“What makes you think I didn’t?” Its tone was still completely calm, like this was nothing more than a civil conversation.
Rupert gritted his teeth.
“Should I start with the way that you treat me, which is no better than the way someone would treat a …a toy; or perhaps a pet? Actually no, most people would treat a pet better than you treat me. Or shall I start somewhere else?”
Its voice may have been calm, but his sure as hell wasn’t. He was pissed off, and had been for weeks, even though this was the first time he had let himself show it.
“I have no need to explain myself to you,”
“Why don’t you just fucking try for once?” he snapped.
“It’s not my place to coddle you. It is my responsibility to teach you what you need to know to survive for both of our sakes. What I do, is to protect you and make sure that what I teach you stays with you. How I chose to do so is not a matter for debate.”
“So, asking for a modicum of respect is too much?” he snapped, enjoying the chance to exercise some of his frustration. He didn’t care about whether he was going to get into trouble for it.
“You will earn respect once you have learned what is necessary for you to know, something that so far, Rupert, you seem to resist.”
“What the hell is that meant to mean?”
“That means,” it growled again, the first notes of true anger in it and stalked toward him as he pulled back, as though trying not to draw too much attention to himself “that as long as you resist me this will be that much harder on you.”
“Harder!?” he yelled, frustration becoming true anger, which stilled him so he stopped backing away, “Look at who I am, for Christ Sake, you bastard. Look at what I am. Thanks to you I don’t belong to either world, and you think that this could ever be easy on me?”
It looked like it was on the verge of morphing, actions dictated by rage. He was expecting it to slam him back against the wall and kick him while he was down, but it didn’t do any of that. Instead to his surprise it took a deep, breath and let it out.
“It was easier on you before, when you weren’t fighting me. If you didn’t,” it circled him, “then I wouldn’t have to put you in your place.”
He turned on the spot, moving with it so that he could keep an eye on it, “Oh, so now you’re blaming it all on me?”
Clearly fed up with the conversation, it shook its head and headed over to the door.
“Get your coat if you want to, or not, I don’t care. This is getting us nowhere.”
“My coat?” he asked, perturbed by the rapid shift.
“Yes, we’ve already wasted enough time tonight. You need to put in more work on your magical defences,” its eyes glittered cruelly, “so we’re going to play a little game. I’m sure I don’t need to remind you of the cost of refusal.”
He swallowed, trying to move the lump that had quickly settled in his throat, “No. No, you don’t.”
“Good,” it opened the door and waited for him to step out in front of it.
He hated its games, which probably had a lot to do with why it wanted to play. Having to match Ethan’s challenge and do one better was hard at the best of times.
After leading the way through the dark streets, to the same old abandoned warehouse it summoned a demon to set him against, a flesh-hungry beast called a Ravven. It was something that was impervious to physical harm, but could be affected by magic.
It was an ugly brute, short and stocky. Its face looked crumpled-in like a bulldogs and it had the snout of a pig. When it drew back its lips to growl at him he could see double-rows of knife-like teeth that were hooked back like an eels. These were a dark yellow, almost brown and its breath smelt like it lived off carrion.
It hunkered down and leaped at him, hunger glittering in its cold black eyes, and he was forced to raise a hand, which skated over its slime-coated brown skin. As it landed it flicked a pointed, hairy ear back and glared at him with its bottomless stare.
It may have been impervious, but he had still deflected its lunge, which was better than nothing. It managed to twist its body around so that it landed on all fours, but he’d been expecting that. Ravven were quick little buggers.
Tilting its head to one side it laid both of its ears flat back against its head and growled at him, a sound that reminded him of a small, rather annoying dog. It didn’t sound all that savage, but it didn’t have to with the teeth that were in that mouth.
More for the sake of his own satisfaction than anything else, he booted at it, grinning slightly as his foot made contact with its slimy chest. The grin vanished quickly, as it reacted with lightning speed, grabbing his leg with its bowed arms and hanging on as it sunk its teeth into his upper thigh, several dozen white hot needle-points driving into his flesh.
With a grunt, rather than the howl that he wanted to utter, he grabbed it by its bristly ears and twisted then as hard as he could, forcing its head back and away from his leg. With gritted teeth he managed to get the teeth out of him as he dug at its face, driving a thumb towards one of its eyes. Being impervious to harm didn’t mean that it couldn’t feel pain.
Kicking out had been a stupid move and he was sure that Ethan would tell him as much later, but for now a lecture was not the foremost thing on his mind.
Trying to find his centre wasn’t the easiest thing to do as he hung onto it, fighting to keep its head away from him. He now had two sets of six claws digging into the flesh at the back of his leg, too. He could feel his leg weakening where it had bitten him, cold flooding through it from that point.
It yanked back from his grasp, tugging a slick ear free and sunk its yellowed teeth into his hand instead. This time he did howl, and the time to find his centre passed as he reacted out of raw instinct. With a gesture that he made with his free hand, pushing the heel of it out towards the beast and down he yelled the first spell that came into mind.
A thin, high sound emerged from it, and its mouth opened as every muscle contracted. It was screaming, and the sound made the hairs on the back of his neck stand up It was sound that spoke purely of agony.
It fell to the ground twitching, and as coldness began to spread from the bite on his hand he managed to think of another spell, even though his mind was spinning. It wasn’t one that he’d had any desire to practise, but it was on his lips before he could think about it. A strange twitch passed through the beast before it went still, as its spine was severed inside its body.
He was shivering and his head swum he stared at it, watching at the flaps around its nostrils flared in and out with every breath, as its chest rose and fell. The spell had taken it out of the fight, but it hadn’t killed it.
He knew that he could finish it off somehow, that he should, but he couldn’t work out how. He could form the thoughts but couldn’t follow them through.
The ball of light that he had been shielding shimmered and blinked out.
He heard footsteps behind him, but couldn’t turn around, no matter how hard he tried. He could picture Ethan coming closer, red silk shirt glinting in the tiny light that shone in through the gaps in the walls and roof. It had developed a taste for human luxuries a long time ago.
He could feel a hand resting against the small of his back through his shirt, which was trailed over him as Ethan circled around to stand in front of him. Then it trailed its fingers down his arm to grasp the hand that had been bitten. The slightest brush sent fire through him.
He couldn’t pull away.
“I don’t have to tell you that going for the physical confrontation was the plan of a fool, do I?”
Its hand wrapped fully around the bitten hand and squeezed hard, sending a shot of pain through him, sharp enough to shock tears to his eyes.
“No, you don’t,” he managed to say through gritted teeth.
Its grasp eased for a brief moment and he took the chance to draw a breath, before its grasp tightened again, “I also assume I don’t have to point out, again mind you, that teeth and claws are best avoided? Especially if you don’t know the extent of what something might or might not be capable of?”
His leg was throbbing dully now and the chill was beginning to fade a little.
Ethan obviously wasn’t worried about the fact that Rupert couldn’t move, which meant that it obviously wasn’t life something that was life-threatening any time in the immediate future.
“No, you don’t.”
After letting go of his hand it trailed its fingers down his body, to press down on the bite that was on his leg. A fresh wave of white pain swept upwards through him and the paralysis broke. He crumpled to the floor. Strangely, being able to move was small compensation, when his leg felt like it was on fire and his hand felt even worse.
Wincing, he pushed himself up to a seated position with his good hand, holding the other close to his chest. He couldn’t stop the fine shiver that ran through him as he glared up at it, hating that calm expression on its face with a sudden vengeance.
“What the hell just happened?” Safer to say that, than what he really wanted to say.
“Its bite carried a mild paralytic. Just enough to hold its prey still while it started to eat, not enough to dull sensation. Your endorphins cleared most of it from you system.”
So, Ethan hadn’t been hurting him just for the sake of it then. That must have only been an added bonus.
“There must have been other ways to do that.”
“Yes, there were,” it said mildly, “but none that would have had quite the same impact.”
Making sure that he only used his good hand for support climbed to his feet, using the structural wood that stuck out from the wall to help him. Ethan’s arm slipped around his back, keeping him upright when he went to put weight on the leg that had been bitten and found that it couldn’t support him.
Pride told him to shove it away and struggle out by himself, but he didn’t fancy landing on his face.
“Where are we going?”
“Home, so that I can see to those bites.”
Home. That sounded good. For once he didn’t remind himself that he shouldn’t be calling the place home.
At the threshold of the old factory he paused, twisting his head back to look towards the beast’s prone body. “What about that thing?” he nodded back towards it, hating the obvious weakness in his voice.
With a flick of a hand towards it, and a brief incantation in a language that he didn’t yet understand it vanished with a flash of hot air, and wave of the sickly-sweet stench of flash-fried flesh. It had been burned up from the inside out.
The smell made his stomach churn. He leaned into Ethan, and let it help him to the door and down the steps outside, which he wasn’t sure he would have been able to manage on his own. He was momentarily grateful for its strength as he stood leaning against its cool body. He drew in several huge gulps of the fresh air outside.
As his head cleared pride got the better of him.
“I… I feel a little better now.”
It looked down at him for a few seconds before shaking its head in answer, a touch of amusement in its expression. It began to walk slowly, arm tight around him, tucked under his shoulder and behind his back, as it led him back home.
Over the course of the day things slowly became less strained between herself and her friends. Willow and Xander had included her in the notes that they passed, and the hushed conversations in the back of the classroom. Things were far from perfect, but they already felt so much better.
After the last class was Buffy took her time to pack up her gear and used the moment to question her friends, “So, what do you think Giles wanted to talk about? Got any ideas, guys?”
She didn’t miss the glance that Xander and Willow shared between them.
“I think maybe it’s better if you talk about it with Giles,” Willow ran a hand through her hair, pushing it back out of her eyes, “he’s better at the whole explanation thing.”
“So, you do know then?”
Again they glanced at one another, as Buffy finally swung her bag up onto her back.
“Yeah, we know,” Xander pushed his chair back under the desk and they turned to leave the classroom, heading down the hall to the library.
Buffy led the way. Pushing through the door, she swung her bag off her shoulder so she could sit down. Willow and Xander came in a few seconds later and sat down on either side of her.
Things had felt better over the course of the day, but she wasn’t stupid. She knew that it would take a lot longer than one day to make things right, but she felt satisfied that she’d made a start. The sound of a voice from the office told her where Rupert was, and she could see through the window that he was on the phone, cord twined around his fingers and a book open on the desk in front of him. His voice was too faint to make the words out, but if the expression on his face was anything to go by then the conversation wasn’t going his way.
He glanced up and on noticing the trio he hung the phone up without taking long enough to say goodbye. He was still frowning to himself, as he came out and placed the book, still open, on the front counter.
“Who was that, then?” Willow asked, looking curious.
“A stubborn bastard. Doesn’t matter, we’ll manage, either way.”
Buffy cleared her throat and looked at him pointedly, “So, what is it exactly that we’ll manage, anyway?”
He cleared his throat, “The resurrection of a vampire.”
Buffy frowned to herself, “Hang on, I know this one. Resurrection means coming back to life, but I’m assuming you’re not referring to the common-place rising of a new vamp, otherwise you’d probably just call it cemetery time and leave it at that, and I doubt you’re talking about a vampire becoming human again, which would probably be one for the history books.”
“I’m not even sure that such a thing is possible,” Rupert frowned for a moment, then shook his head sharply, “no, there are forces in town, probably members of the Order of Aurelius who are planning on trying to raise the Master again.”
He kept a close eye on her face and watched as she went a little pale. He was glad to see that her gaze stayed bright and she was still mentally with him, though.
“But I saw Ethan tear his head off. Surely that’s got to put a dent in their plans.”
“Not at all. There is nothing to stop them from piecing its bones together, and that’s what they need to do. If I’d been thinking on the night then I would have shattered the bones then, but I had other things on my mind.”
“Then where does this leave us?”
Rupert gestured to the book that he’d put onto the front counter, and all three of them crowded around, looking at it. After a couple of minutes Buffy looked up at him again, “So the English version would be?”
“The English version, as you put it, leaves us with the fact that interrupting the ritual before it gets underway is our ideal, although if we only do that there’s nothing to stop them from trying again in another six years time, when the stars are right again. What we really have to do is keep them from getting a hold of the last ingredient, and shatter the bones as well.”
“Can’t ever be straight-forward, can it? You know, like ‘stand here to interrupt the flow of magic.’ So, what’s this final ingredient that they need, anyway?”
“It’s the blood of those mortal creatures nearest to it in the moment of death.”
“Well, that narrows the field down to…” she trailed off as she realised.
“Us,” he finished the sentence for her.
“So, all fun and games, huh?”
Rupert didn’t see the point in answering.
“Can’t your partner order them to cease and desist or something like that? I mean, he did take out the old leader, doesn’t that like, make him a vampire high commander or something?”
“Again, I’m afraid it’s not that simple. Ethan can’t interfere, for the risk of throwing the worlds themselves out of balance, and besides which, even if it could, then I’m not sure that it would; Ethan doesn’t usually so something that it can’t see a personal advantage in.”
This time it was Willow who frowned at him, “Then why did he step in before… oh.”
Yes, oh indeed. Willow didn’t know any more than that Ethan was his bound partner, but she was still intelligent enough to work it out.
“Oh? What’s an ‘oh’?” Buffy demanded.
Rupert let out a slow breath, “There was a personal advantage. Ethan wanted to keep me alive.”
Buffy frowned to herself,” I guess I should have worked that one out. But he seems so much more like Angel than like those things out there.”
“Don’t make that mistake, Buffy. It cares and it protects what it considers its own, but that’s as far as things go.”
Frowning, she thought about the night that had been meant to free the Master and leave her dead, trying to remember exactly how things had gone down.
“He said that you were his, and I was yours.”
“Yes. There’s a certain truth to that, too. You are my Slayer after all.”
“But even with that he still won’t do anything?”
“As far as Ethan is concerned he already has done plenty, Buffy, in teaching me to survive, and showing me what I would have to know to pass on to you so that you could do the same.”
“And what, that’s it, game over, he’s out?”
He may not have liked Ethan’s decision, but to his surprise he found he didn’t resent it, “Buffy, please…”
“Look,” Willow interrupted, and they both looked at her like they’d forgotten she was there, “I can see that the two of you are letting off a bit of steam here, but aren’t there more important things to be talking about?”
“Willow’s right,” Xander backed her up, “we should be planning or something, shouldn’t we? If the Master’s bones have to be destroyed, without whoever’s casting it getting what they need then we need a way to get close enough to do it.”
“Yes, Buffy and I do need a plan to get close enough without getting our throats slit.”
“Hold on just one moment there. What’s this ‘Buffy and I’ stuff? We’re meant to be a group. One girl, one Watcher, and one pair of friends.” Xander straightened up sharply and looked at him, and Rupert, never one to back down, crossed his arms and met his gaze.
“Exactly what it sounds like, Xander. The duty is Buffy’s and mine. If the two of you come along then that’s two more people to protect when it comes down to the fight, and a distraction can mean the difference between a life and death, especially if that wolfhound is there.” Besides I can’t risk exposing you to magic. Not when even a latent spell has the potential to do the damage that it might.
Buffy took a step back from the desk, “Wolfhound?” she asked, “Bristly fur, stands about this tall, serious overbite?”
Rupert looked at her, “Yes; remarkable creatures, extremely intelligent and loyal, and completely impervious to magic. I’ve often considered looking into where to source one from. You’ve seen it around?”
“Not around, as such. Xander and Willow are coming.”
“No, Giles. In the dream I had last night it was just the two of us, and that thing tore your throat out. If having them there is enough to upset that prediction, then I’ll take it.”
He had to fight to keep his surprise off his face. Last night Ethan had been walking in Buffy’s dream, and now she was telling him that she had seen his death.
Damn it, but there were times when he didn’t understand Ethan in the slightest. If Buffy’s dream was truly one of those prophetic ones then why the hell wasn’t the vampire stepping in? Unless it was using this as some sort of a test, whether for his charge or for himself. He didn’t see what it would gain from letting things play out, though. Or maybe that part of the vision was something that it had planted completely, in spite of its insistence that it wasn’t going to interfere.
He was also reluctant to tell Buffy that Ethan had been inside her head last night. He knew how she reacted to things and people pushing into where they weren’t welcome, and he doubted that she would have ever have considered inviting Ethan into her mind.
“Good, so you’re not arguing with me then,” some of the defensiveness left her posture, and he felt himself relax a little in turn.
He shifted his attention from her, to the other two teenagers, “Right, then. I suppose that’s sorted. If the wolfhound is there, then that will be as much a threat as anything else. How many vampires are present will also have an influence on things, although there shouldn’t be too many. They won’t want to risk interrupting the flow of power that needs to be channelled. From what I’ve read today, and what I’ve been told in the past, a Revivification Rite is a tricky enough little bugger as it is.”
He took a breath, “Buffy,” he looked at her, and found himself wrestling with his desire to tell her what to do and exactly how to do it, “how do you think we should approach this?”
“I reckon that we can put the dog down between us. Then as far as the vampires, and getting to the bones, it’s probably best to play a game of distraction. If we can keep the vampires hopping, maybe even take a few of them out then it’ll be that much easier to get through.”
Rupert cleared his throat, and closed the book on the desk, “The bones will be extremely brittle, which will be another advantage for us. It shouldn’t take more than a few well-placed blows to shatter them. If we can break the skull, and scatter the fragments, then that’s even better. Weapons will give us another advantage. We go in hard and fast, and straight for the target.”
Willow leaned forward and stared at the cover of the book again, before looking up at Rupert, “Look, all this is well and good, but, um, do we have any idea where it’ll take place?”
“Ideally it would take place where the Master was killed, but I doubt they’ll risk taking it underground with the barrier still in place. The next best bet would be somewhere stepped in dark energy such as over the mouth of the Hellmouth itself, but we don’t know exactly where that is, either. So, what we’re looking for is a place that’s open enough for them to work in, but has a violent history, something that would suggest a pertinent dark energy. Willow, can you pull up anything from that on the computer?”
“Or we could, you know, take clues from my dream?” Buffy suggested.
“Go on then, Buf. Did you see a sign anywhere, maybe one that said ‘Disneyland Car Park?” Xander looked over to her.
“Forever hopeful, aren’t you? No, but I did see things in the building that just screamed ‘old factory.”
Xander shot her a quick grin, “Ah, but where would I be without my hope? I just know that one of these days you’re going to have a dream about a demon attacking either there, or the Playboy Mansion. And on that day I’ll be ready with my ‘told you so.’”
“Xander,” Willow reached over and clipped him fondly across the ear.
“What?” he shrugged, “I am a guy, after all. I have needs.”
“Xander,” Willow repeated, pointedly.
“Okay, shutting up now.”
“Right, so that’s a plan and a place. Did we have a time?” Buffy stretched, and shifted her feet.
“The signs will be in alignment tonight, actually, and they’ve got almost everything that they need, already.”
“Tonight, huh. Doesn’t leave much room for error,” Xander said.
“No, it doesn’t, particularly,” Rupert looked down at where his hands rested on the desk.
“What would you have done if Buffy hadn’t snapped back to her senses? No offence, Buffy.” He glanced at her.
Of course Xander had to ask.
“It doesn’t matter,” Rupert made sure that the tone of his voice was sharp enough to let Xander know that part of the conversation was over, “because it didn’t. If we spent our lives questioning what could have been, then we wouldn’t move again after the day we first realised what it was to think and question.”
“You would have tried to track the area down and gone on your own, wouldn’t you?” Willow obviously had it figured out too, and of course she would back Xander up.
“Maybe,” he shrugged, “But again, that’s getting off-topic, especially since it didn’t happen. Now, the stars will start to shift into place at around ten, and they’ll have to begin no less than an hour later.”
Buffy stepped back from the desk and headed over the where she knew that Rupert kept the weapons, “So, we’ll have until then to break into where they are on our own terms, rather then get dragged in like parcels.”
“You think we can do it?” Xander shifted, all of a sudden feeling nervous, now that he knew they actually were going in too. He never would have refused, but he was definitely feeling edgy. Willow, however, looked completely comfortable relying on Buffy and Rupert, as though with the two of them there, nothing could go wrong.
Xander would have given his left arm to have Willow look at him like that once upon a time.
Buffy looked sideways at Xander, “I don’t think so. I know so.”
She only wished that she felt half as confident as she knew that she sounded. She knew that if they didn’t manage to stop things, Sunnydale would have an old, powerful vampire running free. One that would have the power to wipe the town off the face of the earth, and possibly the desire to, too.
Inside Rupert’s office, Buffy found the sword that she favoured, several stakes and an iron-headed war hammer. She knew that he kept that wicked-looking flick-knife of his in one of the drawers in the filing cabinet, but she didn’t feel comfortable grabbing that out. Not when it had been his for longer that she had been alive.
She put the stakes down on the table, handed the hammer over to Rupert, who grasped it lightly and kept the sword at her side, then looked at Willow and Xander who were dividing the stakes out evenly.
“So, any requests?”
Xander raised an eyebrow, “You mean we get to choose? Cool, I call the crossbow.”
“I’ll take that Lignum Vitae knife with the wards carved into it.”
Rupert looked at her pointedly.
“With the wards that I know absolutely nothing about,” she hurriedly amended, glancing away.
Rupert’s expression softened a little, and he gave her a small smile, “Don’t worry about it. In fact, if I’m going to start showing you more than how to levitate a feather, remind me to start with runic magic. It makes for a fairly solid base, and it’s easy enough to build from.
“Cool,” she looked at him again, “but seriously, where did you get something like that? It’s not exactly new, and that’s some serious work gone into it.”
“It was made by my great grandfather, and he passed it to my grandmother when she was given a Potential. In turn she passed it on to my father when he started training to be a Watcher,” here Rupert winced, a touch of fond memory and a touch of pain visible in his expression, “and he gave it to me on my thirteenth birthday. I left it behind when… well, it doesn’t matter when. I got it back, though.”
“I had no idea,” Willow breathed, shaking her head, “if you’d rather I didn’t use it then, you just have to say.”
Rupert swallowed against the sudden lump in his throat, “I… I don’t mind. I probably should be using it myself, but I find myself strangely reluctant to… never mind.”
Willow didn’t take her gaze off him, “I do mind though. You’re reluctant to what?”
His expression became almost sheepish.
“I’m reluctant to contaminate something that was designed specifically to use against vampires.”
“You wouldn’t, you know,” Buffy sounded certain in her statement, “with the way that knife feels, it’d take more than a touch and you using it, to screw anything up.”
Rupert laughed and there was a touch of bitterness in the sound, “I do know. It’s simply that knowing it in my head and knowing it in my heart are two very different things.” He cleared his throat, and shook his head slightly, before heading into his office to grab the crossbow, a quiver of bolts and the knife. After a few seconds of thought he also unlocked the drawer of the filing cabinet and grabbed out the flick-knife, which he tucked into the back pocket of his jeans, then pulled his shirt down to cover the handle of it.
He knew that it wouldn’t do much against a vampire unless he used it for decapitation, even with the spells that he’d woven into it over the last few years, but he’d always had it when going into a fight, whether it had been against a few human thugs or against something far more serious.
Unique fucking security blanket he chuckled softly to himself. Coming back out, he put the two new items down on the counter. “Well, did the three of you want to go home and have dinner before we meet back here, say around nine? That should give us enough time to set things in motion.”
Xander and Willow nodded in agreement. Buffy, however, looked at him.
“Mum’s not back until tomorrow. So, I was kind of wondering if you minded my company until then.”
“Now why on earth would I mind?” Rupert looked at her for half a moment, then away, only a tiny trace of sarcasm bleeding into his tone.
“That would be our cue to get going,” Xander interjected quickly, “so we’ll see you about nine. Coming, Willow?” he asked, as he held the door open.
“Yep. See you.”
She waved over her shoulder and ducked under Xander’s arm. He let go of the door, and Buffy watched until she couldn’t see them any more. Then she turned her attention back to Rupert.
“Well, it kind of goes without saying, that I haven’t exactly been the best of company lately, I guess.”
He was silent, as he walked around to the table that she and the others had been sitting at earlier, and pulled out a chair for himself, gesturing for her to sit down as well. She took the seat that was across from him, finding his silence and the way that he kept his cool gaze on her to be a little unnerving.
He waited almost pointedly, as she shifted uncomfortably in the chair and rested one arm flat on the table, then lifted it and put the elbow of her other arm down instead, resting her chin on her fist.
Nervous movements, something he recognized well enough.
“Yes, it does rather go without saying,” he took a slow breath, trying to work out where exactly to go with this, and tried to find some consolation in the fact that Buffy looked like she was trying to work out the same thing.
“How much do they know, exactly?”
It sounded like a non-sequence, but he was sure that it wouldn’t be if he thought about it. Quietly, still focusing on her, he ran today’s conversation back through his mind before he worked it out.
“Nothing essential; not much more than the fact that a vampire is my… my... well, whatever the hell h… it is. My partner. Neither of them are silly people, though, as you well know.”
Buffy shook her head, “No. They’re really not.”
Still he didn’t move, didn’t invite conversation. She knew that it probably wasn’t meant that way, but it felt almost like he was telling her through his silence that she should have pulled her head in sooner. It was a stark contrast to those other times last year when they had kept one another company. Then, they had spoken easily, like they had known one another for a lot longer than the handful of months that it had been.
“I…don’t suppose it would help if I apologised again? I can’t exactly say that I don’t know what I was thinking, because I did know.”
“No, it wouldn’t. You’ve said it, and I’ve accepted it. We prove ourselves best through action. If you’re apologetic, then you don’t do it again. It’s as simple and as complicated at all that. Still, feel free to enlighten me.”
Rupert stood and pushed his chair in, “You said you know what you were thinking. I have my own understanding of the matter, but that’s not quite the same as straight from the horses’ mouth.”
“Oh,” Buffy didn’t look like she had been expecting to be called on it, “well, um, I… it was because after I found out that I was meant to die, and it didn’t happening I thought it might be better, easier, on everyone else if no-one actually liked me…” she trailed off.
“If no-one actually liked you?” Rupert sounded incredulous, as he raised an eyebrow at her.
“Or, not actually didn’t like me, as such, but more along the lines of if people weren’t close to me, because if they weren’t all that close to me… well, I almost died once. It’s bound to happen again, you know. Only next time it wouldn’t be an almost. I mean, I’ve cheated death already, a lot more that once, and probably way more than some Slayers get to. If they weren’t close to me… if you weren’t, then it should have hurt you less.”
“And your Angel, then? What about it?”
“I wouldn’t exactly have been the first person that he saw die, you know? He’d have been able to handle it better than Willow and Xander. Maybe he could have even handled it better than you. I mean, I know you’ve been through a lot, but you’ve already told me how much you hate the thought of my death.”
“Buffy,” sighing, he shook his head, “I’m afraid it’s not your place to choose who likes you. You can’t change people’s minds, and you can’t control them. You made your choice when you first let them into you life, and all you can achieve in trying to shut me out is hurt me before the fact. My life, my destiny is woven into yours like the shadows are akin to the light.”
He shifted, took a fresh breath, “My life is a mixture of things I don’t have a choice about, that I can, that I have to tolerate, and a few that I don’t mind quite as much. You, though, I can honestly say that I care for you with no regrets, no matter what no matter what may or may not happen.”
She stood and pushed her own chair in, before looking at him again, “I guess you think I was being pretty stupid, huh?”
Again he shook his head, “Surprising though it may be to you, I don’t. What you were trying to do makes a lot of sense. It’s just that what you were trying to do wasn’t practical. You could have made Willow and Xander hate you, but even that wouldn’t have stopped them from caring, or worrying on some level.”
For a moment he stared at the table, before he decided what to do. Circling it he stacked the chairs up and pulled it to the side. Then he took a stance, facing her with both hands loosely balled into fists, one shoulder forward and the other back, light on the balls of his feet.
“Let’s spar. Might do us both some good.”
“With you not wearing any pads?” she looked at him, like she expected him to admit that he was joking at any second.
“Buffy, I have spent over half my life getting my arse kicked by Ethan. If you get through my guard then I hardly think that a few more bruises will render me incapable. Just remember that I’m only human.”
“I can do that,” grinning, she squared off against him, then frowned slightly, “hang on, if I get through you guard?”
“You don’t think that I might be able to surprise you?”