Rating: FR13, for theme
Characters: Buffy, Willow, Xander, Giles, Ethan (past)
Warnings: Mentions of Giles and Ethan. No details, but you can do the maths.
Summery: Some pets are better-suited to their owners than one may realize at the time.
Of Spiders and Fish
Giles made a private bet with himself, as to who out of the children would notice it first and if he’d placed money on it then he would have cleaned up. But then, Willow always had been one of the most observant out of the children, as far as the minor details were concerned anyway.
The only thing he’d flipped a coin over was whether to back Willow or Oz. Buffy and Xander hadn’t entered into it, and while Cordelia was observant over some thing, this wasn’t really in her circle.
The fish-tank had sat where it did for three days before he walked into the sitting room to find Willow staring into it, and gesturing to Buffy and Xander to come over for a look. Oz was at home sleeping, as last night had been the final night of his shift.
Buffy twisted to look at him, “What are those tiny little ones? They’re kind of neat. And how long have you had fish anyway? Why fish? Are they like, something you’ve always wanted but never got around to having, or did you have them when you were young or something? ”
“The little ones,” he lowered himself into the seat that he’d set up near the tank, “are Mountain Cloud Minnows. You can only see a couple at the moment but there are six all together. Those two normal-looking fish are Comets, and the one with the unusual-looking tail is a Red Fans. I’ve had them a couple of weeks, but I only just moved the tank downstairs. As for the why, well, I’ve always had a soft spot for goldfish ever since I nicked four of them out of a pond back when I was twenty-two.”
Buffy looked at him in dead silence for a good half-minute, and then started laughing. When she could draw breath again she wiped at the tears in the corners of her eyes, “You have got to be kidding me. You did not just say what it sounded like you did.”
He gave her a fond smile, “I did. Ethan had the exact same reaction when I came back with them, too.”
She began to giggle again, “The fearsome Ripper stole goldfish. Oh, I wish I’d been there to see it. How in the world did that come about?”
He shrugged a single shoulder, and tapped lightly at the tank, sending a couple of the Minnows over to the other side, “After Ethan and I got a place we were lucky if we had ten or fifteen quid to rub together after the rent was taken care of. As you’d probably expect we turned to the … err…cheapest of discounts.”
“The old five-finger one, huh?” Xander was grinning as well.
“Exactly. I was out one day, doing some shopping around at the places of people that could better afford it, the pond was there and it seemed like a good idea at the time. Didn’t think about fish-food until a couple of days after the fact, either. Came home with them in a plastic bag, and put them into a storage bin filled with water. One of those clear plastic ones with wheels. It did the trick.”
“So, you got the fish,” Buffy’s voice held a note of teasing.
“Yes, I did. There wasn’t much that was relaxed about my life back then, and I found watching them to be …well, soothing. I certainly preferred them to the bloody great tarantula that Ethan kept after it crawled out of a bag of clothing that he acquired. I had dreams about that thing getting out and crawling onto my face while I was asleep for weeks. Which, considering I like spiders is saying something.”
Dinner smelt like no more than a rather distasteful-looking cheese on toast (formally bread that was just starting to grow) cooked over the fire, since the power was out for the fourth time this week. Much the same as dinner had been for the last three days, although in altering portions and unfortunately, edibility.
Earlier on they’d snacked on stale biscuits, and yesterday it had been half-cooked pasta, thanks to a combination of that being the third day that the power had been out, and too much impatience to wait for the water to boil properly on the fire.
No-one had ever said that hunching down in a squat would be easy, and nor had Giles expected it to be. But some part of him, which had still been able to hope, had flourished on the ideal that with escaping Council detection everything else would have fallen into place.
There was the thought that while they might not ever be rich, at least they would have, should have been comfortable after all the effort that it had taken to get this far.
Of course, it didn’t help that they couldn’t use magic to make this place more habitable than it was for fear of detection. Masking spells had never been his, either of their fortes; -it was said after all, that magic was an extension of one’s personality and that things which came easier to you were because of who you are.
Well, he had never snuck and hidden. Crouching down here was the closest that he had ever come to such a thing. He’d always been straightforward; in you face, and told things as how they were. He was also aggressive and stubborn, determined. None of which went with hiding, and seeming like less than one was.
As far as chaos went; well, that mask side of things, and throwing everything into confusion may have seemed all about hiding, hiding ones true colours and intentions and purpose and desire, but the thing that one had to remember about chaos, and a chaotic lifestyle was that surface impressions were fleeting, and nine times out of ten, if the surface impression wasn’t all that existed it was certainly all that one got.
So, not overly well suited for a solid defence, either; -and for all of their precautions he wasn’t honestly sure how well they really were hidden. He had a feeling that if they were ever in any danger, or if they, themselves ever presented a risk then someone whom he didn’t want to meet would be in the doorway before he could even begin to swear. Although that wasn’t a hunch that he was likely to ever likely to discuss with Ethan, either.
After all, sometimes it was nicer to exist in the fantasy, than it was to open oneself to the pains and problems of reality.
The beer crates that they had nicked and piled on top of one another to make seats weren’t the comfiest things to sit on, but they did have the advantage of being lightweight and easily portable.
Frowning to himself, he raised his head and stared at the twenty litre clear plastic container, the water in it lit through by candle-light, and shining through to the opposite side in weak, constantly shifting patterns. Raising a hand he tapped at the side of the container, stirring one of the fish that was there into a half-frantic dash across it, candle-light glittering off its scales. At the other end, it swum headlong into the other three that were gathered there, and he smirked.
Of all the things that he hated about living like this the fish weren’t one of them.
He doubted that he would ever forget the day that he’d spotted a whole pond of them in the back yard of the house that he was relieving of several unessential items. At first it had been a half-amusing thought, a game of what exactly can I get away with, but Ethan hadn’t been around and so it had progressed from a thought, to his doubling back into the house for a plastic bag. Filling that with water had been easy enough, but netting the fish that he’d wanted with magic had been considerably trickier.
Ethan had almost pissed himself laughing when he’d got back with the fish in one bag, and bread, fruit and mince in another.
So how long until those things are big enough to make more than a bite?
He had stayed amused, too, until Rupert had chucked fish-food onto the weekly shoplift list.
Most people would have called them boring, but he found he quite liked them, with their laid-back life. All that they had to worry about was when their water was going to get changed, and when their next feed was coming.
He heard a footstep in the doorways, and a single heavy breath. But he was drifting far enough, lost in glints of orange-yellow sparkling off of silver and white and bronze and orange as he stirred the fish from one side to the other that he didn’t react until a hand came to rest on his shoulder, and then his reaction was to jump.
“Rue? I called you three times. Guess I should have figured you were drifting with the fishes,” he laughed, although this was one of those rare times when it sounded completely false.
In that moment, he felt a flare of gratitude. Ethan wouldn’t be here, suffering alongside him if he hadn’t been following his decisions after all. He had wanted to run, to get away from his destiny, and the life that had been set out before him, and Ethan had basically said well what the hell are we waiting for?
That had been the first moment that he had realised the point that he could trust his best friend too. And the moment that he had realised how much he depended on him already; after all, without the encouragement he wouldn’t have got out while he could. Hell, even with the encouragement he wouldn’t have done it if Ethan hadn’t been willing to go with him; after all, they had practically grown up together.
He couldn’t imagine life any other way, and although Ethan would never say it, he was reasonably sure that the other was in the same boat, too. There were just some things that weren’t said.
“Like you don’t spend hours playing with that bloody spider, catching flies and bugs for it and watching it hunt them.”
This time Ethan’s laugh sounded a lot more genuine, “You’ve got me there, mate. Can’t see any flies to catch them tonight, though.”
Giles looked coolly at him, “Guess you’ll have to find something else to entertain you tonight, then.”
Ethan stepped up behind him, and placed his hands on Giles’s shoulders, “Oh, but I think I already have.”
He closed his eyes and leaned back a little, voice soft and slightly rough, “Go ahead then, wrap me up in that web of yours.”
The children had left several hours ago, leaving him alone with his memories. It had been a long time since he’d though of that spider, and only now did he realise how appropriate it had been.
Its owner truly had spun his own webs, to lure in friends and strangers and allies and enemies and innocents alike. Trick people with a pretty light, a glimpse of some shiny prize held outstretched in his hand, and watch people walk in all on their own.
Far more fun that way, Ethan had always said.
In the beginning he was fairly sure that there had been some innocence about it, too. But that didn’t make the webbing any less sticky.
Even now he wasn’t out of it, was he?
Raising a hand he tapped at the tank again, watching as the Red Fans flicked its tail and he tried not to see spiders in the shadows.