Chapter 8 – Ashes to Ashes (We All Fall Down)
“You’ve got to live this life you’re given
Like it’s the only one you’ve got.”
- 3 Doors Down – It’s The Only One You’ve Got
They had spent most of the night talking about those tiny, mundane things that no-one else would have bothered about, or cared to hear. Rupert had enjoyed the chance to put up his feet and not have to worry. Simply being himself without the mask of toughness that he had forced himself to adopt was a rare thing.
True to the promise he had made to himself, Rupert had kept his peace, and had made sure that he hadn’t said anything that could have been considered harsh or bitter. Having a reason to pretend that everything had been normal for a little while had taken a lot of weight off his mind. He had laughed at the stories of idiots who had slipped in through the ranks of the Council and some of the shit that some of the new recruits had got up to. There was always that moment, just after someone started training, and before they encountered what was truly out there in the darkness, where a person tended to fell that they were indestructible and untouchable.
Rupert had managed to turn a couple of his own experiences into jokes, and keep the bitterness out of his laugh. It had been five in the morning when he had finally said goodbye and left to go back to Ethan’s, his two parcels wrapped and at his side.
The sun had just come up over the horizon by the time he let himself into the house and staggered up the stairs, shedding clothing as he went, to collapse face-first on the bed. It was only when he laughed into the pillow and then flipped onto his back, spreading his arms out that he realised he had the bed to himself.
He was fairly sure that he would have known if Ethan was in any danger. As much as he liked to deny the bond that didn’t mean that it didn’t exist.
With one last burst of energy he finally managed to scramble under the covers, before he put his head down on the pillows again. So he wouldn’t see Ethan again until the sun had set. It had too much dignity to run around outside under a flaming blanket, and there was no spell he knew of that could make a vampire immune sunlight. He should be able to sleep well today, with the silent place to himself. Closing his eyes he fell into a dreamless sleep.
It was around three in the afternoon when he woke up and left the bed, driven downstairs by hunger. He didn’t bother to pull anything on, because what was the point? There was no-one and nothing here to hide his body from.
Quietly he padded along the hallway and out into the kitchen. There, he had to laugh to himself. How mundane, how normal was a note left stuck to the bloody fridge?
He pulled it off to read.
You know the rules, and you know that I’ll be able to tell whether you’ve followed instructions. Set the wards before you sleep, and keep studying too.’
You know how to take care of yourself.’
Sure, that told him a hell of a lot, didn’t it? He balled the note up in his fist and lobbed it towards the bin, before he pulled the fridge open and pulled out some cold cuts and a beer. Probably technically far too early in the ‘morning’ to be drinking, but he found that he didn’t care.
Was this another test, like the last one that he’d failed spectacularly? There was no way of knowing until it got back and started bawling him out for what he’d fucked up on this time. At the memory of the knife touching his back, ghosting over it then digging in he shuddered.
A repeat performance of that was definitely something to be avoided, if it could be. He could think of plenty of better ways to spend his time, than being chained back to a bed and punished by a vampire.
Still, if he did have a couple of days… nights… whatever, then he wouldn’t ever get a better opportunity to start pulling his shit together. He wouldn’t have to try and go around behind Ethan’s back, or worry about deadlines and curfews.
He threw the meat between a couple pieces of bread, twisted the top off the beer with his teeth and ate where he was standing, before turning down the hall to the bathroom. A quick shower, then he would get dressed. Then maybe he would be able to track Deidre down, and get down to serious work.
His problem wasn’t exactly going to solve itself.
He took a mouthful of the beer, then put the bottle down on the side of the tub and lifted a leg to step in, pausing as he caught sight of this own reflection.
There were bruises in varying shades from yellow to purple, scars, and muscle under the taunt skin. He could recognize fist-marks and fingermarks, and the pattern of the various slaps that he’d been given over the last few days even though it didn’t strike him half as often as it once had. He supposed that he didn’t annoy it as much as he once had. He certainly didn’t try to. He was no sadist after all. It was just that keeping his head down wasn’t always easy.
His gaze flicked over his reflection, from the most recent blow he’d taken to the bite-scars. From the one on his neck near the pulse-point, to those slighter ones which were closer to his chest. That deep bite which was high on his right shoulder really stood out, and the few on his arms weren’t much more than scratches and the ones on his thighs were too low for him to see in this mirror.
“I took you from the house just over a month ago… I’ve been nursing you on my own blood, a little every evening.”
How careful must it have been to not push his body too far over that time? How carefully must it have monitored him, taking note of every quickening and slowing of his heart, to keep him alive?
He finished stepping into the tub and turned up the water to full pressure and the hottest that he could stand, then took another mouthful of his drink and stood directly under the stream of water with his head tilted back, to let the water pour his neck and fall on his face, tiny drops that stung briefly then ran away.
Okay, so why had it bothered keeping him alive? Because it liked his soul? What a big fucking joke that was. It hadn’t even known him then. Apart from it had, hadn’t it? It had secured a place that was near where he’d grown up so that it could keep an eye on him. Because they were linked by a fault of deep magick? It still would have been easier for it to turn him. Maybe it didn’t want to spend any longer than necessary with a fifteen year old around. The demon that moved in drew from the memories of the human host, after all.
Maybe it simply wanted him able to protect himself after it did eventually turn him. That would make a lot more sense than any of the rest of it, especially with that bond of deep magick. There was no questioning whether that was real, not any more. He had felt enough to know that the gods did indeed have a twisted sense of humour.
He stood under the shower until it began to run cold, then finally shut it off, towelled himself dry and headed back upstairs to get dressed.
Twenty minutes later he was back downstairs and heading out the door, wondering how the hell he was meant to track down a Potential who had stayed both hidden and alive for around a year.
But then, he knew how to track. It was one of the first exercises that Ethan had made him repeat while threatening an innocent. It had pushed him hard, and made him learn all he could. The first few times he had come scarily close to losing the game, too.
His feet carried him automatically back to the alleyway where he had met Deidre. The filth here wasn’t an illusion that faded with a second glance, and the smell was ripe after the heat of the day that he’d just slept through. Half closing his eyes he breathed deeply, remembering, and began to trace the route that they had walked to the point where she had left him, following a silvery ghost-like shadow.
That point was where things got fun. He focused on his breathing and the rhythmic thud of his heart as he lowered himself further into the trance-state, using the sounds of the streets themselves to go further under, until he reached that spot where he was only just aware of what his body was doing, and the movements of that silvery, fragmented ghost which he was chasing.
There was barely enough awareness left for him to avoid traffic, yet he still managed to, as he followed that trace of silver back along the way he’d just come. It diverged a few blocks from the alleyway where he had met her.
The sounds of life around him, from the people to traffic, to the rebels and peacekeepers, were muffled as he moved down the streets with no regard for himself or for anyone who got in his way.
She was so close that he could practically feel it, could taste it on the air. He could imagine himself falling on her neck and tearing it open, the image painted in colours that were brighter than bright, by the magick that was and always would be a part of him. It wanted what it wanted, and it wanted what he wanted, and edged on by Ethan’s blood in him all that he could see was himself naked and stained in red, head tilted back as he bathed in her blood. He could feel her heartbeat as it sped then stuttered and stalled under his attentions.
He reached out to stop himself, sweating with the effort that it took because she was only a block or so away at the most. He drove his fingernails into the palms of his hands until he cut into the flesh, and the pain was enough to pull him out of that trance-state and bring him back to the real world.
He focused on the slim lines of red and his stinging palm until he was sure that he was in control of himself again, before he opened himself up a little more to the magic around, to get a more accurate idea of where she was. Then he closed himself down completely, and headed in the direction that he’d got the strongest sense of her from.
Two blocks down, and half a block that way.
Around here there was peeling paint and broken windows and doors, and grime that hadn’t been shifted in years. There was graffiti on the buildings and broken glass and other trash in the gutters and on the road. The only cars were rusting hulks, which were held together with a hope and a prayer, and probably ran on the smell of an oily rag because the owners couldn’t afford to buy any more fuel than that.
A pair of half-cast boys who couldn’t have been any older than seven kicked a ball back and forth in the middle of the street, with a pair of beer crates set up on either side as goals. They wore shorts that had seen better years, and tee-shirts that were torn around the bottom, but they still looked like they were enjoying themselves.
The place where Deidre was holed up seemed obvious as well. There was only one place on the entire street that was warded and shielded from both malevolent and curious magic. She’d done quite a good job of it, too. If he hadn’t known exactly what he had been looking for, then there was no way that he would have noticed it. He strode up to the building, acting like he owned the fucking street, and opened the door to let himself into the common hallway of the building. Even at that distance he could feel her warding tickle over his skin.
The building had three floors, and most of the rooms looked empty. Common sense guided him to the top floor, where the best view was. The room on the right side of the hallway had the door torn off the hinges, but the door to the left had another layer of warding wrapped around it, and the door was very secure.
He strode over and rapped on the door, knowing that she would feel his presence as much as hear the sound. Then, leaning against the wall to the side he settled himself in for a wait.
It was fifteen minutes before Deidre opened the door. She didn’t step over the threshold. She was far too intelligent for that. Instead she looked to one side, then the other, keeping herself away from the threshold. Spotting him she froze, and the only thing or person he had ever seen look more pissed off at any stage of his life was Ethan.
“How the fuck did you find me? If I find out that you’ve led anyone else here out of your fucking stupidity, then I’ll do a damn sight more than just cave your stupid little skull in.”
“I swear I’m clean. No one followed, and the only reason that I could find you was because I knew what I was looking for. I started learning tracking three, four years ago, and with what you are, and what I am…”
“Yes, I get the bloody point, Ripper.” She cut him off, “Still doesn’t mean that I’m impressed, though. I don’t care how careful you think you were. If you’ve done anything to compromise my position then I will make you suffer.”
“Strangely enough I don’t doubt that either.”
“Good, because you bloody well shouldn’t,” she hissed, “Where the hell were you the other day anyway?”
“I…ah,” he looked uncomfortable, “I wasn’t in much of a state to do much of anything, I’m afraid,”
“So the only hope I might have for getting the Council permanently off my back is a useless wastrel? I should have fucking known it. You can bloody well clear off. If that’s the type you are, then I’m better off without you around. Saw enough of that with my useless bloody father, thank-you very much, and my life will not be another one of those things that someone gets to throw away.”
She raised a hand and grasped the door to slam it in his face, and he lunged forward without thinking only to be stopped dead by the barrier. How useful was he, when he couldn’t even reach a door to stop it slamming, let alone kick it in?
“Wait, it’s not like that.”
She had already frozen, staring at him. Or rather, staring at the point where he’d stopped. Well, a give-away couldn’t get any more dead obvious than that.
“Jesus. What the fuck are you?” she said it as barely more than a whisper.
“It’s day out. I’m human,” he crossed his arms and leaned against the barrier, enjoying the effect of leaning against thin solid air, in spite of himself, “just as human as you. It’s just that there are a few complications.”
“Maybe you’d better come in and talk.”
He didn’t have a chance to brace himself, instead falling straight through where the barrier had been, to land on the heavily on the floor just inside her door. She had stepped back so that he had his nose to her toe. Rolling his eyes at her shoes he pulled himself back to his feet, and after he was standing again she stepped past him and closed the door.
“Now, I think there might just be something that you neglected to tell me, mightn’t there?”
He considered several explanations he might have used, from a spell gone wrong to a curse cast several years ago. It was far too early to bring Deidre into the complications of his life. But she was already a part of it wasn’t she?
“I’m bound to a vampire.”
He hadn’t been expecting her to begin laughing, “Oh, that’s rich. Ripper the rebel-type, bonded to a vampire, wants to help a Potential get rid of the Council. What the hell were you going to do, feed me to your lover? A nice, permanent solution?”
“Believe me, if I wanted you dead then I’d have already done it. No, I need your help just as much as you need mine.”
“What the hell does something like you need my help with? As far as I’m concerned you’re no better than the thing you’re sleeping with. Was she pretty, Giles? Did she make sweet noises when she let you fuck her? Did she promise you the world and everything that’s beneath it? How long did it take for you to get sick of the shell you got yourself wedged in?”
So that was where that anger of his had gone. He narrowed his eyes and balled his fists, “If you think he asked nicely and gave me a fucking choice, then tell me what fucking planet you’re living on? Did that ancient Chaos Lord give your lovely ancestor a choice? Do you think it asked nicely before turning her or did it manipulate her so that she fell into its claws?”
“What the hell does that beast have to do with any of this?”
“Oh, go ahead and use that useless lump of flesh in your skull. Why the hell do you think I brought Ethan up? Why did you think I said I might be able to get you to it, if you helped me with a problem of mine? Ethan is my fucking problem, that and the thrice-damned bloody bond that it forced me into. I need a way to break the bond and then I’m more than happy to help you kill it.”
“Yet if what I’ve read of bonding is true, then all I’d need to do to kill it right now, is kill you.”
“Did you want to try?”
He moved instantly into a fighting stance, light on his feet and ready for anything. She looked him up and down and then shook her head slowly.
“I don’t doubt that I could take you, but it would probably be a slow, painful process.”
Rupert laughed, “I doubt that you could. I’ve been taught to fight since I was sixteen, sweetheart, and it’s not often that my teacher fought cleanly. Besides, I’d say I’m a more skilled magician than you. This warding that you’ve got up is well woven, I’ll give you that, but I can tell by the way it feels that it’s not yours.”
She frowned, “Not many people would be able to tell that.”
“Well, there you go then. I’m not many people.”
She laughed, and the sound, a sudden burst of noise, almost made him jump, “Modest, too.”
“No, just honest.”
Her smile vanished as quickly as it had reappeared, and she walked through to what must have been her sitting room-come study, a sparse space with a single chair and foot stool, lined with bookshelves on one wall and windows on the other that gave her a clear line of sight down to the street.
“Impressive collection, considering your circumstances.”
She looked at him like she had forgotten that he was there, “It’s enough to get the job done. If I’m lucky, then a lot of these things will try to kill me throughout my life, so I have to know about them. If I’m unlucky, then one of the first ones will probably succeed. But if I know what I can cut a deal with, what I’ll be able to run from, and what I won’t have any choice but to stand against…” she let the silence finish her statement. Then she took a few paces back, so that she could look at all the books, “Anyway, what you need is something that has some sort of mastery over death, and the dead, isn’t it?”
“Yeah, but anything I can think of with that sort of power is also far too powerful to notice the likes of me.”
Thursday morning had been crisp and clear. If the way that Rupert was feeling like now was any indication, then locking himself inside today would actually be a good idea. He could feel his temper just under the surface, and he felt like he would be able to run or fight for hours without tiring. He could also hear a conversation that was over the far side of the library, which wasn’t something that he had expected.
All this, and the stars weren’t even in place yet. He was fascinated by the thought of how far it would go once they were, yet he dreaded it.
Several people had already caught the rough side of his temper for tiny things that wouldn’t have normally got under his skin, such as talking too loudly or bringing back books late. One girl had obviously been in shock, yet he couldn’t bring himself to feel any more than frustration with her.
He spun from the shelf that he was stacking books on, eyes narrowed, “What have I told you about calling me by such a childish misnomer?” So he was trying to pick a fight. Someone could sue him, for all he cared today.
Xander backed off, looking startled, “Geeze. You sure got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning.”
Okay, so maybe this wasn’t the best person to try and pick a fight with.
“I’ve been irritable since I woke up,” he offered by way of explanation. He may have been in the wrong, but he wasn’t going to apologise to anyone, “It’s this bloody star alignment, is all. I’ll be back to my old self tomorrow. It’s calling what blood of Ethan’s that I carry to the surface. He’s powerful, and its blood is strong, to say the least.”
“See. This is what happens when you go sharing you blood with others. That’s why people put up all the flyers about it.”
Rupert managed a weak smile, “Is it really?”
“Well, it wouldn’t be for any mundane reason, would it?” Xander frowned, “So, if it’s doing this to you, and you’re just a regular ol’ London-town boy, then do you have any idea what it’s doing to them?”
“Nothing good for us, I’ll tell you that for free,” he drew in a deep breath, and almost stopped breathing. He knew it was just another side-effect of enhanced senses, but Xander smelt well, good. That was the only word for it. Nothing good for us may have been an understatement. If another monster out there got close enough to smell him, then there was bound to be trouble. A proper vampire wouldn’t even have to get that close.
Well there was nothing else for it. He would have to keep a close eye on the boy until the insanity had passed. He would have to see him home when he was ready to leave, and stay around him here to keep an eye on things. Or even keep him in here.
“Did you just growl?” Xander looked at him curiously.
“It’s possible,” Rupert allowed.
“So, that’s a regular Vigeous side-effect, too?”
“I’ve no idea,” he muttered, turning over ideas of how to keep the boy close without telling him anything.
“It only happens once every few centuries. I’ve never been through it before, and there’s a high chance that I won’t be human myself come the next one.”
“Oh,” Xander scratched the side of his head, “that makes sense.”
He could only think of one way to do this that would be subtle enough to work.
“Did you have any plans?”
“Not really. Why?”
“Well, there’s a lot to be done; research, idiots to deal with, books that have to be shelved, and stakes to be whittled. I can take care of the research, but I’d appreciate a hand with the rest of it. Especially as it’s likely that if I keep talking to people the way I have been, there’s a chance I’ll find myself fired by this time tomorrow.”
“Idiots to deal, with, huh?” Xander raised an eyebrow and looked amused at the way he’d put it.
“Well, that part of things is only for another half-hour or so. I…I could give you a little cash for it if you wanted. I’m not always sure this job is worth keeping, but it would be an inconvenience to have to pack up all my books for removal, to say the least, and it’s handy to be working at Buffy’s school.”
“I’ll do it even without the bribe, G…iles. You’re not that bad to hang out with.”
He laughed, “You may be revising that opinion by the end of the day.”
Over the next half-hour, before the school closed to set up for Parent-Teacher Interviews another four people found their way into the library, one to return books and the other three looking for other titles. It showed how observant Xander was, that he could already guide people to the right shelves without missing a beat, while Rupert himself hid in the office watching through the window and not talking to anyone.
When the constant low murmur of conversation that had been increasingly on the edges of his perception all day finally stopped for the moment he was grateful. The fact that he knew it would only be another couple of hours before the buzz of pissed off parents and reluctant students took its place meant that he appreciated it that much more.
Xander pushed the office door open some ten minutes after the last person had left,
“Well, I think that’s the last of them.”
“I know it is.”
“Again I’m reduced to saying ‘huh?’”
“The only voices I can hear are coming from the hall and the teacher’s lounge.”
“You can hear that far?” Xander looked impressed.
“Not specifics. Or, not yet at any rate. But certainly enough to know that there are people there. In a couple of hours it’s dusk. I can feel the sun burning outside, and around an hour after that the stars settle into position. By then it may well be a different story.”
Xander sat it the chair in front of his desk, tugging that loose Hawaiian of his down so that it was straight, “So, how long until it passes?”
“The stars hold position for somewhere near four hours, before then begin moving apart. Someone like me, I felt it starting to build a few days out, so I’ll probably feel the fringe effects for another couple of days. Something as old as Ethan probably felt it a week out. I…I as far as a regular vampire is concerned, I honestly have no idea. Probably depends on both age and power. There have been complete idiots that have managed to survive for a couple of centuries, after all.”
Reaching under the desk he grabbed out a bottle of whiskey and a shot-glass, “One-time offer. Did you want a nip?”
The stars flashed over Xander’s head, although he couldn’t see them unless he tilted his head back and to the side, although he had no intention of doing that at the moment. Instead, he tightened his grasp around Rupert’s waist and rested his head against the back of his shoulder, eyes darting from side to side as he felt the wind tugging at the leather jacket that Rupert had lent him for the ride. He could feel the speed and power of the bike as they crossed the centre line to pass a couple of cars, then passed the next one on the other side simply for the sake of it.
He was well over his fears, that he would fall off, that he would make too much drag and slow things down, that he would make a wrong move and send the both of them tumbling painfully to meet the hard road below. They were well away from Sunnydale, and climbing into the surrounding country, and Rupert had stopped only once, probably an hour ago by now to ask whether Xander had a time he had to be home by.
He had come to realize already, that this was about trust, and he did trust Rupert.
He trusted him not cave their heads in against the curb, and he trusted him do what he could to keep him safe when they went up against things that could snap his neck like a twig. He just didn’t trust him with the story of his life, although he knew that it could have been a lot worse.
His butt was feeling numb when Rupert finally stopped, in what must have been the middle of nowhere, at a rest area on the top of a hill with a massive spreading oak growing by a picnic table. Rupert kept the bike up while Xander carefully got off and staggered the couple of steps that were separating him from the seat near the table, on legs that hadn’t ever felt like that before.
Kicking the stand down, he crossed over to sit at the table next to Xander, pulling his helmet off. Feeling slightly sheepish Xander did the same.
“Keep the jacket and pants on. You’ll be freezing if you strip those off.”
“Sure, I knew that,” Xander re-did the buckle that he’d just loosened on the jacket, “So, what is this place?”
Rupert placed his helmet on the table and then went back to the bike to grab the small pack that he’d strapped to the back, the only sounds around them the natural noises of the night, the ticking of the bike’s engine cooling and leather brushing against leather. Grabbing the bag he came back to the table and sat down beside Xander.
“I don’t know, and I don’t care. All that matters is that it’s steeped in natural magick, and I happen to find the feel of it quite soothing.”
“Mmm. There is something that’s peaceful about out here.”
Xander watched as Rupert pulled a six-pack out of the bag and pulled two of them free.
“Care for one?”
His parents were always trying to get him to loosen up. ‘Just one, Xander.’ ’One won’t hurt you.’ But this was different. He trusted Rupert.
“Sure, I’d be into that.”
Rupert cracked both bottles with an opener that was attached to his keys, and passed the other one over. Xander took a sip of it and rolled the flavour around on his tongue before swallowing, and taking a deep breath of the crisp, cool air, drinking in the feeling of peace that seemed to leach into his bones.
“Sure. And there’s another thing. Any idea what your friend will be getting up to tonight?”
Rupert sighed to himself as he poured out a couple of shots, and knock his back in one movement, before twisting the cap back onto the bottle.
“In an ideal world Ethan would be hunkering down and waiting the night out.”
“So, in the real world?”
“In the real world, it’s probably best that I pretend not to know.”
“That bad, huh?” Xander took a sip from his shot, and then threw the rest of it back, wincing at the burn.
He caught the look that Xander gave him, a look that said one of these days we’re going to talk, and he didn’t doubt it. One of these day he might well be in a position to explain Ethan to him. One of these days he might even explain to the boy why he was protective over him. However, for now it was still best for all concerned that Xander didn’t know.
Leaving the bottle out, he went into the book cage, where he kept a few knives and a couple of boxes of doweling, which he carried through to the office. Sitting the box down on top of the desk he went back around to his side and sat back down, poured another shot and grabbed one of the knives.
“So, this thing kicks off in about three hours, right?” Xander grabbed the other knife, and one of the pieces of wood, and sat the point of the knife against the wood about ten centimetres from the end.
“Yes, that’s right.”
“What’s the bet some tall, fanged creeps decide that the High School looks like an ‘all-you-can-eat’ buffet?”
“I’d put money on it.”
“Damn. Because you see, if you’d said that you wouldn’t, then I’d have bet against you.”
“This, from the person who refused my bribe earlier on?”
“Okay, so you’ve got me there.”
They spent a couple of hours working and talking to one another, mild, inane chatter that Rupert found came easier to him than he’d thought it would. Both Willow and Cordelia had come in, in the last half-hour, promoting a move from the comfort and privacy of his office, to one of the main tables outside.
“So, how is Buffy’s set-up looking?” Xander asked, as the school opened again, and parents began coming in.
“It’s looking really good,” Willow put another sharpened stake back into the box, and straightened up, “all the banners are in place, all the painting on them is inside the lines, the teachers have their tables and chairs set up. The only thing to avoid is the lemonade, and Snyder, who I don’t think is physically capable of being satisfied with anything,” she gave Rupert a quick glance, “Sorry.”
“Nothing to apologise for, not to me at least. The only reason he got the job was because there were no other applicants, and those who are unsure of their power often find it necessary to take out their unease on those around them, never mind whether it makes then popular or not. Cowards are often abrasive people.”
When things kicked off, an hour and a half later, just as the last of the interviews were finishing, they did so with not a bang, but the familiar sound of shattering glass. Willow and Cordelia, who had gone to check on things in the hall bolted past the door, and the only way that he could stop Xander from taking off after them, was by grapping his arm and holding him until he’d stopped fighting tooth and claw to get away.
When the boy looked at his face he froze, as though he’d been sucker-punched.
“Fuck. Your eyes.”
Even as Xander stopped fighting against his grasp, Rupert didn’t loosen his hand in case it was some form of ploy.
“What about my eyes?”
“Have you seen your own reflection? Or won’t you be able to for the next few hours?”
“Get to the point,” his grasp tightened, and he saw the touch of pain that spread into the boy’s expression. He was also aware that his voice was a growl again.
Flicking his tongue up over his teeth which that had been aching for the last half hour he found then slightly elongated. His head was aching in that distant way which told him a migraine was building. The only thing that settled him even slightly was the way that Xander smelt to his temporarily over-developed senses, and he wasn’t actually sure whether that was the right word.
The lights went out.
“There are these flecks of amber through them, and when you’re in the shadows like you are now, there’s definitely some eye-shine happening. It’s way creepy.”
Letting go of the boy he started to pace, making sure that he was only taking the shallowest of breaths. He could hear the pack that had invaded moving through the school, hunting those that hadn’t already escaped. He wanted to be out there, fighting tooth and magic and claw against those that had dared to cross onto his territory. He wanted to kill those that were hunting what was his prey, and he wanted to be hunting the humans himself. He wanted to tear their throats open with his teeth, which was something that the rational part of his mind said wasn’t a good idea.
He also had to get the stakes that they’d prepared over to Buffy, but there was no way of doing that without leaving Xander, or taking him out there with him and he wasn’t going to leave the boy to his own devices any more than he was going to take him out amongst a pack.
He didn’t feel much like a Watcher at the moment.
It was a relief when Buffy came down through the ceiling and stashed the stakes that they had made up around her body. She didn’t say anything about his eyes, but he caught the way that she hesitated before leaving to go back up into the ceiling.
Twenty minutes later Xander was getting restless. He could practically smell it in the air, like the way that he could smell the blood on it, and the ashes of vampires that Buffy must have already dusted.
“Look, Giles, if Buffy and the others can be out there then I can make a break for it and get us some help. I know I can do it.”
Xander had already said this at least four times in the last ten minutes, and Rupert had simply ignored it for the stupidity that he felt it was.
“I know that your friend isn’t around, but Angel is a vampire, even if it does have a soul. It would be able to fight on the same level as these things,” he saw the determination and realized that the boy actually meant to do it, “So, are you going to wish me luck?”
He acted on pure instinct, fingers curling around the boy’s throat as he slammed him back towards the wall, a mockery of something that Ethan might have done to him. He could smell the spilled blood somewhere outside, and what was racing just beneath the surface of the boy’s skin, and that in itself, was rather intoxicating. There was no doubt about the growl in his voice this time, “Absolutely not. You will fucking well do as I say, for once in your damned life. You go out there over my dead bloody body, and if you try to make it happen then I won’t be held responsible for my own actions.”
He could have snapped his neck like a twig, and they both knew it. With an extreme struggle of will, he made himself loosen his grasp, and only then did he see the look of betrayal in Xander’s expression. In those few brief moments he truly felt like a monster, but he still had to drive the point home.
“I know it doesn’t set things right, but I’m sorry. The point still stands, though, that I could tear you head off your shoulders with my bare hands. There is no telling what a real vampire could do, would do to you. You would be the dinner and drink, and entertainment rolled up into one convenient package. Buffy doesn’t need to be worrying about you, either. She has more than enough to deal with at the moment.”
Xander slunk away from him, not taking his eyes off him as he made his way towards the far side of the library, and moved a chair into a corner, so that he could sit with his back to the wall.
“Look, Xander, I…”
“I get your point. Kind of just want you to shut up, right about now.”
Rupert fell silent.
Talk about screwing up he berated himself, silently. He probably couldn’t have fucked up much worse if he’d scripted it. The boy was skittish and flighty about some things, with bursts of incredible confidence and goodwill, a hell of a stubborn streak, and the occasional stupid idea. He was especially skittish around friendships, and to do something like that when he’d been starting to win his trust wasn’t good.
“Oh, yes Rupert, good bloody show. You do know how to dig yourself into a hole,” Rupert spoke softly to himself, as he sat down to wait it out.
It was another thirty minutes before Buffy came in to give them the all clear, and the only drama in all that time was the waiting. As soon as he found out that it was safe to leave he crossed the room without giving Rupert another look, a certain coldness in the way that he moved. It was obvious that he didn’t want to talk to anyone, but he still wasn’t going to let him go out there alone.
“Buffy, can you catch up to him and make sure that he gets home safely? Maybe get your mother to give him a ride on the way back to yours.”
“But I thought that…”
“Please? I…I…I’ve a few things to take care of, and I don’t particularly want him, or any of you for that matter, walking alone before the stars have started to move apart, and that won’t be for another few hours.”
“What about you?”
I’ll be fine. I can handle myself.”
Why shouldn’t I be? It’s not like I’m all that different from those monsters out there, after all.
She turned and left, hurrying to catch up with Xander. He stood, watching through the window as she caught up to Xander, and after a few moments of heated debate Xander gave in and nodded, falling into step beside her.
Rupert waited until they were out of the building before he grabbed his leather bike jacket and tugged it on, tossed the whiskey bottle into his bag, and shoved his flick-knife into the jacket pocket. He stepped into the leather pants and tugged them up, zipping and buckling them over his jeans and tucked his helmet under his arm. He put the helmet on the back of the bike alongside the spare, and swung himself on without a second thought.
The darkness within him, the monster that had thought it a good idea to use threat to get what he wanted still wanted blood. Fear didn’t sate it in the slightest, and he could smell that sweet metallic scent even more clearly out in the car park. He didn’t just want blood either, he wanted to be the one to spill it, wanted to join in the blood-feast and feed the beast that was as much a part of him as his magic was.
“Give me one good reason why I shouldn’t,” he whispered to the darkness, and tilted his head to one side as though waiting for a reply.
Only silence answered. Kicking the stand up, he shoved the key into the ignition and twisted it, before revving the bike and taking off. If he crashed headfirst into an unmovable object, then the worms were welcome to him for all he cared at the moment.