Directives of the New Watchers' Council: 1. Do not assume that all non-humans are malevolent.
Giles checked the name of the bookshop again. Then he re-checked the address he had written in his notebook. This was definitely the right place, but something about it felt wrong. He stepped up to the door and pushed it open.
He was immediately hustled back onto the pavement by a tall, green-skinned person in a strikingly red jacket.
"No. Absolutely not," the green-skinned person, or rather demon, said. "There's no one - nothing - in there that you could possibly want."
"I wanted to buy a book," Giles said. It was a perfectly reasonable request, in his opinion. He stepped to one side and tried again to enter the shop.
"Try Waterstones. I hear their coffee is almost drinkable." The demon blocked Giles, then placed a hand on his chest, and shoved hard.
"I know," Giles said, already thoroughly sick of being pushed backwards away from the shop. "Why don't we both go to Waterstones, and then you can tell me exactly why you don't want me in your shop. You are the owner I assume?"
"Co-owner. Wait there while I get a hat."
Giles looked at the demon again. Manchester was more cosmopolitan than some cities, but horns tended to attract attention. He hoped this discussion would not take too long, or involve tedious complexities. The whole point of their trip here had been to take Willow's mind off problems at home, preferably not by giving her new worries.
Directives of the New Watchers' Council: 2. Do not assume that all humans are benevolent.
Willow ignored the text message from Giles, giving details of where to meet him, until she had she finished checking out the clothes stores. He
had told her to take a break from research after all. If he had wanted her instantly, he would have called her cell; obviously he expected to be at the address for a while.
By the time she had assembled an adequate wardrobe for her time in England, coffee and some book browsing sounded appealing. She headed to the address Giles had given her, three carrier bags in each hand, and an A-Z of Manchester tucked into an easily accessible pocket of her coat.
The store, which looked as if two shops had been knocked into one, stocked an eccentric collection, judging by the category labels. She could see a sizable selection of trade paperbacks on a table by the door, an extensive queer literature section just beyond it, and the occult section at the back of the shop was larger than both put together. The place had the familiar magic shop smell of books and incense, but with added coffee. The stereo was playing early Deep Purple; Willow recognised the track from one of the CDs Giles played when it was his turn to drive. Giles, however, was missing.
Willow tried to attract the attention of the store's only other occupant. He was wearing tight leather pants, and was balanced at the top of a ladder in the films, musicals and theatre section.
On her third tentative 'hello?' he slid down the ladder, and then turned to face her.
"Hello, what can I - " He staggered back, and clutched at the ladder to support himself.
"Do I know you?" Willow studied him. He had that 'aging rock star' air about him, with the top three buttons of his shirt unfastened to reveal a silver Baphomet on a chain around his neck. He also looked as if he had tried most drugs more than once. There was something familiar about him, but she could not decide what exactly. The look he was giving her was not quite one of recognition. It was as if he did not so much know who she was, as what she was. What he saw evidently disturbed him.
"I know you." He stared at her intently. "You're one of the slayer's little friends, aren't you? Except now you're all grown up." He fingered his pendant. "And powerful, mustn't forget that, must we?" He pushed himself away from the ladder, and crossed unsteadily to the counter.
Willow followed, still trying to place the man. His aura was wrong somehow, as if a piece of it had been torn away, and what was left had then tried to stretch to cover the hole.
Directives of the New Watchers' Council: 5. Obtain information from known, reliable sources whenever possible.
"You were going to explain matters," Giles said. On their way to Waterstones he had established that the bookseller's name was Lorne, that Lorne had worked with Angel's team, and that he was mostly harmless. Beyond that their conversation had consisted of an exchange of pleasantries unrelated to their lines of work. In spite of the reassurances Giles was tense, and had a suspicion that the increased tension brought on by drinking coffee would be welcome.
"We haven't met," Lorne said, setting two mugs down on the table. "But I recognised you as soon as I saw you, and I don't need the fallout if he finds out you're in town."
"If who finds out?" Giles had his suspicions, although most involved persons - or vampires - who were missing, presumed dead. He stirred two sugars into his coffee. Willow would probably give him a lecture if she found out - since leaving Sunnydale the others had been unexpectedly concerned for his welfare - but he would worry about that later.
"It's not as if I want to read him all the time," Lorne continued, seemingly ignoring the question. "He just doesn't have the fine control not to send. It could be a result of what the Initiative did to him, but I suspect he's always been like that. You might know, I suppose."
"The Initiative? I might know?" Realisation was dawning rapidly. "You're talking about Ethan?"
"Who else?" Lorne said. "I haven't heard from any of Angel's people since what happened in Los Angeles, so I'd hardly be talking about Spike."
"And he's in Manchester?" Questions involving 'why', 'where', 'how long', and 'with you' all sprang to mind, but he would start with the obvious clarification.
"I thought that was why you came to the shop. He thinks about you a lot, and then you show up. Maybe I was jumping to conclusions but - "
"I haven't seen Ethan in over five years." Giles bit back all the reasons he had to be angry with Ethan, and then said as calmly as he could, "I can think of no reason why I would want to see him."
"Because he meant a lot to you once?" Lorne paused, obviously trying to gauge Giles' reaction. "Or at least you meant a lot to him," he added quickly.
"That was all over a long time ago." Giles sipped his coffee. "Ethan delights in causing trouble, with little regard for human life - and I hardly think that turning me into a Fyarl demon is any indication of great affection."
"You'd be surprised," Lorne said, with a wry smile.
"Surprise me," Giles said grimly.
"Did it never occur to you that turning you into a demon might have been a cry for attention?" Lorne had not touched his coffee during the conversation. He picked his cup up, and drank from it. "Love the boy, but subtlety's not one of Ethan's strong points; it ranks right down there with morality and empathy."
"Love? On second thoughts I'm not sure I want to know." Giles had always known that Ethan's tastes stretched to the exotic, but somehow the concept of Ethan in an ongoing relationship with a demon, and a peaceable one at that, was a step further than Giles wanted to imagine.
"That's between me and him," Lorne said. "If you weren't looking for Ethan, why were you visiting our shop?"
"I was told that it was the one place in Manchester that might stock the book I'm looking for."
Lorne studied Giles closely, then nodded.
"You believe me now?" Giles asked.
"It's not a question of belief, it's about knowing what's true. So how about you tell me about this book, and why you need it so badly? Then I'll tell you if we have it, and if I'm prepared to discuss selling it to you."
Directives of the New Watchers' Council: 6. Careful observation is important in assessing any situation.
The man made two lattes without asking Willow if that was what she wanted. Then he added a large slug of Bells to one cup, and passed the other across the counter to her.
"Have I really changed so much?" He drank a mouthful of whiskey straight from the bottle, then replaced the cap, and stowed the bottle under the counter. "You've changed - grown powerful - but I can still see the shy little girl that wanted to hide inside a ghost costume." He picked up his coffee cup with both hands and held it close to his chest, as if he hoped it would warm him from the outside.
The room was not cold, though; Willow had removed her jacket before sitting down at the shop side of the counter. She tried to reconcile this ghost of a man, who obviously saw something in her that both fascinated and terrified him, with the smooth, self-confident man who had sold enchanted costumes on Halloween all those years ago.
"What happened to you, Ethan?" she asked gently. Okay, so probably still evil guy, but no way did Ethan look capable of harming anyone now.
"You really don't want to know." He sipped at his doctored coffee. "On a happier note, to what do I owe this visit?"
"I'm supposed to be meeting someone here." Willow started to drink her own coffee.
"Anyone I know?" Ethan asked, sounding almost hopeful.
Before Willow could answer, and test her long-held theory that Ethan was more than a little bit in love with Giles, the bell over the door chimed, and three young women walked in.
"Excuse me one moment," Ethan said, slipping his coffee under the counter where he had stowed the bottle of Bells.
Directives of the New Watchers' Council: 7. If in doubt, reappraise all known facts.
Ethan slid back behind the counter, and retrieved his coffee cup. He raised it to his lips and grimaced.
"Coffee gone cold?" Willow had finished her own while Ethan had been dealing with a second group of customers.
Ethan nodded, then started to make another. He fiddled with the stereo, and the background silence was replaced by Peter Gabriel's 'Salisbury Hill'.
"It's for the punters," he said. "It's what they expect us to play." He picked up the bottle of whisky, fiddled with the cap, and then replaced it under the counter. "You should come back tonight," he added distractedly. "The two girls - folk singers - we've booked should be right up your street."
"I think we have plans for tonight already." Willow looked at her watch, wondering if she should call Giles. His last text had implied that he was already on the way here, and that had been some time ago. Of course he might have changed his mind, and not thought to let Willow know. Maybe he had found the information they needed elsewhere, and was deep in negotiations right now. If so, she should find out where he was, and join him.
Willow worried about Giles these days. She worried about everyone more since Sunnydale became a big hole in the earth, but Giles particularly. Once or twice she thought she had heard himself talking to himself in the tone of voice he had reserved mainly for Anya. That was probably not a good sign.
"Been stood up?" Ethan asked slyly.
"He'll be here eventually, I'm sure. He's probably just checking out another lead first." She was not going to think about Giles being in trouble; he had said himself that there was little to worry about in Manchester. Their visit was just routine investigative work into a mystery that probably would turn out to have a rational, non-spooky explanation.
"So it's work that brings you here, not a holiday?"
Willow stared at him, wondering if he really expected her to answer. Ethan was evil as far as she knew, although Willow knew better than most people how it was possible for a person to change.
"Why should I tell you?" Of course, if Ethan had been in town for a while, he might have up to date information on the giant otters haunting the moors, but equally he could be responsible for them being there in the first place. All of which was assuming that the otters were supernatural in origin, and not just escapees from a private zoo.
"It's work," Ethan prompted. "If you were on holiday, you'd have told me straight away. Anything I can help you with?"
"Again, why should I tell you?" Willow asked. "How am I supposed to know that this shop isn't a front for, say, turning people into demons or something?"
"Now, Willow," Ethan smiled. "There's only one demon around here, and he's got a fifty percent share in the place." He looked at his watch. "And he'd better come back before we get the four o'clock crowd in, or - "
The door opened, and a worried-looking woman walked in.
"Ethan! I was hoping you'd be here today." The woman walked up to the counter, ignoring Willow.
"I'm here every day." Ethan smiled, going back into shopkeeper mode. "Now what can I do for you?"
"I need a reading before I go out tonight," she said. "This one could be the one."
"I'm sorry," Ethan said; Willow thought she detected a hint of fear in his voice. "I'm right in the middle of something. If you come back in half an hour, I'll do it then."
"I need to be home soon. Got to get ready, you know?"
"I'll do it for half price." Ethan smiled benevolently. "That gives you enough money for a manicure, doesn't it? Now run along and get your nails done."
The girl looked at her nails, then left.
"Bugger," Ethan said. "If Lorne's not back before she is, I'm done for. Unless - " He looked straight at Willow. "You any good at tarot readings?"
"You've found me out." Ethan reached under the counter and pulled out the whisky bottle again. "I don't usually drink at work, you understand." He took a swig, then replaced the bottle. When he brought his hand back up on the counter, he was holding a deck of cards.
He cut the deck three times, then fanned the cards out in front of Willow. It looked like a Thoth tarot, she thought, vaguely recognising the design on the backs of the cards.
"Pick a card, any card."
She did so, keeping the card face down while she waited for further instruction.
"Two of Disks," Ethan said. "Representing change, darkness and light."
Willow turned the card over. It was indeed the Two of Disks. Exactly the card she would have expected Ethan to choose for her, especially after all he had said about her earlier.
"I thought you - " she began.
"A little sleight of hand, and a marked deck." Ethan took the card from her, and returned it to the deck. He began to shuffle the cards. "I can't do real magic any more. I wouldn't have told you, but - " He replaced the cards under the counter, then took a packet of cigarettes out of his shirt pocket. "If I go outside for a smoke, will you promise not to turn the shop over too obviously? I'm sure you're dying to find out how much of what I'm telling you is true."
Directives of the New Watchers' Council: 10. Avoid involvement in the politics of foreign powers.
"The title doesn't ring any bells," Lorne said. "Although there could have been a copy in the batch of books Ethan picked up from that last house clearance. How about I phone him and ask?"
"How about we go back to the shop, and I ask him myself?" Giles suggested.
His phone beeped at him. He took it out of his pocket, and read the message Willow had sent. She was at the shop, talking to Ethan and wondering where Giles was.
Lorne's phone beeped.
"No prizes for guessing who that is." He picked his phone up off the table, opened the case, and studied the screen. "He says can I get back there soon, and have I seen the work colleague of a red-haired American on my travels? That would be you, I assume." Lorne pressed some buttons. Then he closed his phone back up, and slipped it into his inside pocket. "Looks like you're coming back with me after all."
Their shoes had barely touched the pavement outside Waterstones when Lorne's phone rang. He had it out of his pocket and flipped open before the second bar of a tune Giles almost recognised had ended.
"I'm on my way back now," Lorne said. "If you can just hang on a few more minutes - " He listened intently, but still managed to keep walking, and to also sidestep a pushchair that took up most of the pavement.
Giles tried not to listen in, but the temptation was strong.
"You can handle it," Lorne said. "Just put something from the charts on the stereo before she comes back, and I'll have no trouble with my half of the arrangement." He paused again, and glanced quickly at Giles.
Giles tried to look as if he were not eavesdropping.
"Yes, he's with me; there's a book he needs to ask you about."
Giles glanced over at Lorne on hearing that, but decided he may as well ask Ethan face to face, rather than via Lorne.
"It'll all be fine," Lorne said. "You too, sugar. I'll see you soon." He closed up the phone, pocketed it, and turned to look at Giles. "Stop a moment."
Giles stepped into an alleyway between two department stores, and leaned back against the wall. He instinctively liked Lorne in spite of the antagonism of their meeting. It made Ethan's presence all the more inexplicable, and the tone of the telephone conversation - Lorne's obvious concern, and the implication that Ethan needed so much reassurance - made even less sense.
"I just want you to go easy on my boy," Lorne said, coming to stand directly in front of Giles. "Your Scully's got him unsettled enough already."
"In my experience it takes a lot more than Willow to unsettle Ethan." Willow as she was now, Giles added to himself. Willow in the throes of rage and dark forces was enough to unsettle anyone.
"A lot's happened since you last saw him," Lorne said slowly. "Did you have any idea what would happen to him when you sold Ethan out to the Initiative?"
"They said they were going to rehabilitate him."
"And you believed them? Hello? Have you been watching the news lately? Does Guantanamo Bay ring any bells?"
"I believed them when they said it." Giles was on the defensive. "Afterwards... well, there was a lot that demanded my attention. Even when I had a little time to myself, there were more pressing matters on my mind than whether Ethan was being treated well in prison."
"Fine friend you are." Lorne said angrily. He turned on his heel and paced to the end of the alley. He stopped there for a long drawn out moment, and then returned
"Maybe that was uncalled for," he said more calmly. "I guess I've seen inside his head once too often."
"I take it this," Giles paused, picking his words carefully. "This 'rehabilitation' didn't involve counselling and positive reinforcement?"
"I think it falls more into the 'experimental surgery' category," Lorne said. "Or why should we beat about the bush? Let's call it butchery and have done with it."
"They implanted him with some form of behaviour modifier?"
"Nothing so reversible," Lorne said. "They severed all connections from his power-base to the other Chakras."
"That's - " Giles was almost lost for words. "I'd call it barbaric, but the combination of magic and science required must be very sophisticated."
"The grapevine tells me that Ethan was luckier than most," Lorne said. "He survived. And they managed not to damage anything else in the process."
Giles felt thoroughly sickened. Once he and Willow returned to the Council's Headquarters in London, he was going to look into the Initiative's records, and see what could be done to help its victims. He suspected that none of those who had suffered had been innocent, but neither did they deserve punishment that left them permanently damaged or dead.
"We should get a move on," he said. "Ethan will be wondering where you are."
"He will be," Lorne said. "Whatever you do, don't tell him that I told you anything about the Initiative. I don't expect him to tell you any of it himself, but if he does you'd better act surprised."
"I quite understand," Giles agreed.
Directives of the New Watchers' Council: 13. A good reference library can be invaluable.
"One last thing," Lorne said, as they approached the shop. "Can we at least pretend that I intimidated you a little?"
"If you answer one more question for me," Giles said. "If Willow and I are Scully and Mulder, what does that make you and Ethan?"
"Well, dear Neil would have it that we stepped out of a piece of Good Omens
fanfiction," Lorne said. "But I have my doubts." He pushed the door open.
Giles followed Lorne into the shop. He had caught a glimpse of its interior earlier in the day: the multitude of well-stocked bookshelves, the tables near the door displaying more books, the cases of candles and curios, the long counter, at the far end of which stood both the cash register and the coffee machine. A few customers browsed the shelves and cabinets. In the depths of his imagination, or maybe his memory, Anya was keeping up a running commentary of approval.
Willow was sitting at a table close to the counter, a book propped open in front of her, and a coffee cup close by. Other tables were occupied by customers drinking coffee and reading, or talking in hushed voices to their companions. When she spotted Giles she closed the book, and got to her feet.
Before Willow could reach them however, Giles and Lorne were joined by another. It took a careful study of the man for Giles to convince himself that this was indeed Ethan. Ethan seemed smaller somehow, and less cocky. He positioned himself beside Lorne before acknowledging Giles' presence with the briefest of nods.
"I see it, but I don't believe it," Willow murmured, sidling up alongside Giles.
Giles took a step back, away from Ethan and Lorne.
Willow did the same, and then turned to face him.
"How does he seem to you?" Giles asked quietly.
"Like he expects me to strike him down at any minute." Willow paused. "At least he did, but now - " She nodded towards the other two. "Well, look at them."
Giles looked, and saw what Lorne had meant about Ethan's uncontrolled sending. Ethan was broadcasting to anyone with even the slightest psychic ability that Lorne was his, and that he belonged to Lorne. It smacked of desperation, but after what Giles had heard about the Initiative's 'rehabilitation', he was prepared to give Ethan a lot of leeway.
"I had a good look round while he was out the back," Willow continued. "I didn't find anything out of the ordinary - no statues, no sign of any dark magics being done - just shop stuff. Besides," she glanced over at Ethan. "He says he can't do magic anymore."
"That's what Lorne told me as well," Giles said. "I'm inclined to believe him." Lorne seemed to have no reason to lie. He had been open about both his disapproval of some of Angel's methods towards the end of their association, and about his 'penchant for bad boys'. They could discuss all that later, anyway, other matters were more important at the moment. "Have you found anything about the otters?"
"Not yet," Willow said. "I didn't want to ask Ethan until you got here. That book I was looking at is about non-native wildlife in the Peaks, but I'm still skimming the chapter on wallabies."
"Keep going with it," Giles said. "I'll ask Ethan about the Brewster and Jones." In the back of his mind Anya helpfully pointed out that
she would have asked about the book by now, and that Ethan and Willow had probably been reminiscing about being previously evil.
Willow returned to her table, and picked up her book once again.
Giles told Anya not to be so suspicious, and returned to Lorne and Ethan.
"Hello, Ethan," Giles said, trying to pretend that various events of the past decade never happened. "It's been a long time."
"Ripper." Ethan smiled thinly. "Or is it plain old Rupert these days?"
"I see customers requiring coffee," Lorne cut in. "I'll leave you two to talk books, shall I?"
"You're looking well," Giles said, once Lorne had gone over to the counter.
"Don't lie, Ripper," Ethan said. "It doesn't suit your new image. I know I look shit. Just tell me what this book is that you want."
"Brewster and Jones' Marine Mammals and Myths." Giles said, trying to remember Lorne's instruction not to aggravate Ethan. He was picking up fewer emotions from the man now that his demon was further away, which was an interesting phenomenon that Giles should study at some point. "It's been out of print for a good thirty years, but I was told you might have a copy."
"Might have." Ethan glanced over to where Lorne was still serving customers. "I gather you and him had a bit of an altercation." He smirked. "You think I'm scamming him, don't you? Can't believe I actually care about the big green guy?"
"What you do is up to you." Giles told himself to stay calm, and ignore Ethan's blatant challenge. Ethan obviously cared for Lorne, but that did not exclude the possibility that he was plotting something unpleasant. "I stopped caring a long time ago - when I realised you were never going to change. All I want is to finish the investigation that brought me here, and then get back to London."
"So tell me about it," Ethan said. "Let's pull up a couple of chairs with your witchy little helper, and see if the three of us can't come up with a solution."
"Do you have the book, or not?" Giles found it hard to believe that Ethan had changed all that much. He had no reason to help Giles with the investigation, so any offer to do so must come out of a desire to interfere.
"If I do, it's at home. I picked up three boxes of rare books the other week, and I've not got around to valuing them yet."
"Could you check for me?" Giles asked.
"Not until after we close for the night," Ethan said. "We've got a gig on later - which you're quite welcome to come along to." He smiled. "To show there's no hard feelings on my side, you and your witch can have coffee on the house now, and I'll let you in the gig for free later. I can even give you some tips on where to eat in between."
"We already have plans for this evening," Giles said. They were going to eat with a farmer who claimed to have seen the mysterious giant otters, and afterwards, if there was time, they were going to meet with the watcher for the two Lancashire slayers.
"So you don't need the book until tomorrow?" Ethan smiled again, although it seemed to be more from nervousness than anything. "Problem solved."
"I was hoping to spend a couple of hours reading it before I went out for the evening."
"Well you can't." Ethan was getting increasingly twitchy.
Giles had a nasty suspicion that if he pushed too hard Ethan would crack, and then he would find out what Lorne was really made of.
"Very well," he said. "We'll come back in the morning." He turned to face the tables. "Willow?"
She picked up the book she had been reading, and walked over to join them.
"I think I'll buy this," she said. "Not very relevant to the otters, but a good read. Are we going now? Because I wanted to talk to Lorne about Fred; I never got the chance to know her as well as I should have."
"Ethan was offering to give us tickets to the gig tonight," Giles said, shooting a quick glance back at him. He turned to face Willow again. "Why don't you come back here after we've eaten? I can deal with the other meeting by myself."
"Are you sure?"
Giles nodded. For some reason he suspected that Ethan would be unhappy with the idea, but Ethan could just put up with it.
Aleister Crowley, The Book of Lies, extract from 15. The Gun-Barrel: Mighty and erect is this Will of mine, this Pyramid of fire whose summit is lost in Heaven. Upon it have I burned the corpse of my desires.
Ethan locked the door, and turned the sign from 'Open' to 'Closed'. They had had a busy couple of hours since their unexpected visitors had left, but now the last customer had gone. They had some time to relax, and then to set up, before the first of the gig attendees turned up.
He had tried to put Ripper and the witch out of his mind while he faked three tarot readings, but even so he had fallen short of his usual standard. Lorne had given him good pointers: clear visions that he should have easily converted to well-balanced spreads, especially since he knew all three customers and their expectations well. His customers had seemed satisfied, but Ethan knew he would have to do better in future to maintain the reputation he had built up.
He knew also that his usual charm had been absent when dealing with straightforward sales and enquiries. Damn Ripper, and damn his witch, for being able to get under Ethan's skin the way no one else could.
It was hard to say which of his two visitors disturbed him the most: Ripper, who mysteriously seemed no longer to harbour any grudges about the various Sunnydale incidents, and was keeping his somewhat ambiguous power well under check; or young Willow with all her dark power disguised as sunshine and flowers. Ethan pondered the matter while he pulled down the blinds over door and windows, but it only served to make him more anxious than ever about the prospect of dealing with them again. Ethan Rayne anxious? My, how the mighty had fallen.
He told himself it was just pent-up energy - from the fight Ripper had failed to give him - amongst other things. Ethan had wanted a fight, but he had wanted Ripper to be the one to start it. Deep down he knew that he had also wanted Lorne to be the one to finish it. Fights were always so much better when other people were beating the crap out of each other, especially if they were doing it over Ethan. Afterwards, in his version at least, he would have played the devoted boyfriend and patched up Lorne's minor injuries, while sending a much more battered Ripper on his way. But none of that had happened, much to Ethan's disappointment.
Ethan slouched over to the counter, where Lorne was cashing up, and leaned over it to retrieve the bottle of Bells, and find a glass. As he had told Willow earlier, Ethan did not usually drink at work. At least not during the day - cocktails on music nights were another matter entirely. The whisky was purely for emergencies, which today certainly counted as.
Judging by Lorne's expression, if he had had eyebrows he would have raised them.
"There are worse things I could be doing," Ethan said as he poured himself a generous measure. He could go over to Canal Street as soon as it got dark, and get thoroughly fucked by the first man to notice him. Or he could take a stroll into Moss Side, or Longsight, and get thoroughly hammered on a variety of illegal substances, with the added excitement of possibly being shot in the process.
"There are better ways of dealing, too." Lorne moved to the shop side of the counter. He leaned around Ethan to move the bottle and glass out of Ethan's reach, and then wrapped his arms around Ethan's waist. "You could always try talking about it."
"There's nothing to talk about." Ethan leaned back against Lorne. "While I appreciate you keeping Ripper from turning up without warning, I still had to deal with his tame witch staring straight through me all the time you were gone."
It had hurt, more than Ethan cared to admit, knowing he was the object of Willow's pity. He hated feeling others' power, now that he had none, and that was multiplied a thousand-fold in this instance, because he had met Willow before she had claimed hers.
He had felt contempt from Willow too; Ethan had let himself get caught, whereas she had managed to turn herself into a good little girl for Ripper. Lorne probably knew all that already. Ethan had not wanted to know what Ripper thought of him - it would probably be worse than Willow's scorn even - hence the forestalling of any comments.
"You coped though," Lorne said, his breath tickling Ethan's ear and pulling Ethan out of his musings. "That's something to be proud of, surely?"
"Aren't we Mr 'Always Look on the Bright Side' today?" Ethan tuned around to face Lorne, then rested his head against Lorne's shoulder.
"I'm proud of you, sugar." Lorne wrapped his arms around Ethan.
Well, that was oddly predictable. Ethan could tolerate large doses of sentiment these days, although he tried not to give out too much in return. He slid his hands around Lorne's back, and then down to rest over the demon's heart. The strong steady rhythm was reassuring; having loved precisely two people in his life, Ethan sometimes had trouble accepting that the second loved him just as much in return.
"You deal with powerful people every week," Lorne continued. "But I can see that it's got to be harder for you when they're people you knew before."
Ethan nodded. He had coped with the witch by himself earlier; it would be easier to face her again later when she would have pretty girls to distract her. Doubtless she and Ripper would talk about Ethan over dinner, but there was no reason why Ethan needed to hear about it when Willow returned for the gig.
"Don't forget, I'll be here with you, and I'm the one she wanted to talk to some more." Lorne shifted slightly, and pressed his lips to Ethan's temple. "We've got time to eat before we set up. Do you want to get take-out? Or - " Lorne traced circles on Ethan's back with one hand. "Is there anything else I can do for you?"
What Ethan wanted to do was stay exactly where he was. The movement of Lorne's hand and the slide of Ethan's silk shirt over his skin were soothing. He could feel a faint buzz from the whisky he had drunk earlier, more so now that his black mood was lifting. Ethan concentrated on Lorne's heart beating beneath his hands, on Lorne's hand moving across his back, and on the half-familiar tune Lorne was humming softly to him. He had been doing better recently; he had hardly thought about the details of how his life had fallen apart after his last visit to Sunnydale in months. One little blast from the past was not going to blow everything wide open again, unless he let it.
"Just like the first time, isn't it?" Lorne murmured. "Locked shop, you and me, no work to disturb us for a while." He ran his hand slowly down Ethan's spine. "Except this time..." he moved the hand resting on Ethan's waist a little lower. "Leather pants."
Ethan nodded. The day he had met Lorne had been the day he had finally broken, after two years of struggling to hold himself together. But it had also been the start of his recovery, so yes, it was a good memory to hold onto. He drew in a sharp breath as the hand on his back lingered over where the Initiative had pushed their electrodes through Ethan's skin.
Ethan pressed his head into Lorne's shoulder again, not wanting to remember any of that. He had been conscious for the procedure, had felt each inch that the electrodes moved, every piece of magic and jolt of electricity that the operatives had used.
"It's okay, my sweet, Lorne's here." Lorne ran his hand up Ethan's back, and then down again. Up and down. Silk sliding on skin, fingers outlining and mapping Ethan's spine.
Ethan forgot about the Initiative, forgot about Willow, forgot about Ripper even. There was just him and Lorne, Lorne and him. He had vowed long ago never that he would never need anyone again, but times had changed. He had changed, and he could not see a time when he would not need Lorne. Nor could Ethan see a time when Lorne would leave him, and that thought comforted him almost as much as the hand stroking his back.
He passed from needy to relaxed to aroused to desperately needy in an entirely different way. He overlooked the fact that he was whimpering, and concentrated on the tunes Lorne hummed to him.
Lorne continued to run one hand up and down Ethan's back, but with his other hand he unfastened Ethan's trousers. He slid that hand inside and squeezed gently, then the hand at Ethan's back worked its way under the waistband. Everything was as it should be - apart from their location.
"Storeroom," Ethan insisted, while his brain was still partially functioning.
"Who's going to catch us?" Lorne asked, continuing to tease. "And, more to the point, why should we care?"
"Storeroom," Ethan repeated. People - he was not going to think about which people - knew how to pick locks, and he was not going to have them ruin his fun.
He thought they only knocked over one chair on the way from the counter to the storeroom, but it could have been two. Ethan closed his eyes, and blanked out his surroundings for a moment. He felt almost whole again; in control, yet not; tightly bound to this demon who inexplicably loved him.
When the Initiative first released Ethan, he had screwed or been screwed by anyone that would have him: man or woman, human or demon, anyone that might just keep him from feeling so powerless. Magic had almost always been better than sex, and casual sex could never replace the feeling that came from a successful working. Ethan had realised quickly that the Initiative were watching him, and probably writing papers on his behaviour. He had locked himself in a hotel room for a month and tried to deal with the 'problem' by himself. When that failed to accomplish anything, he had given his observers the slip, and tried to build a normal life for himself. Things had got better after he had met Lorne, who knew what Ethan needed without being told, sometimes before Ethan knew what he needed himself.
Ethan opened his eyes, and returned to the here and now. He found himself with his shoulders against the wall, his shirt unbuttoned, his trousers and briefs pushed down over his hips, and Lorne looking back at him. Lorne never demanded much in return, although Ethan had been quick to figure out what he liked. Lorne liked tiny bites over his collarbones; Ethan unbuttoned Lorne's shirt and applied a few now.
"You just relax, sugar." Lorne pushed Ethan back into the wall, then took him in hand again. With just a few words, touches and snatches of old songs, Lorne could make Ethan feel release close to the one that magic had given him in the past.
Ethan could feel himself very close to that point now, and sank his teeth into his bottom lip, forestalling the moment. There was a big difference between a quickie, and 'too damned quick to notice'. He pushed Lorne's hands away from him, and then shoved hard against Lorne's chest, spinning them both around, so now Ethan was the one pinning Lorne to the wall. He held Lorne there with one hand, fumbling a little with the other as he got Lorne's trousers open.
Lorne was hard, but the spines on his cock were not fully erect. Ethan solved that with two rough strokes of his hand, the spines like sandpaper against his fingers once they stood to attention. He kissed his demon fiercely, and allowed all the emotions he could not express aloud to flood his mind. My love. My safety. My sanity.
There was no time right now for anything more than a hurried jumble of hands on cocks, and lips on lips, but they could make up for that later at home, after the gig. Later there would be time for Ethan to work on Lorne's horns before he did anything else, but right now he needed both hands on Lorne's cock: one hand on the head, and the other just below the spines.
Now he was not fighting his memories every second of the day, Ethan had a lot of spare energy. Once he would have used it for magic, but now he needed to expend it on other pursuits. At times it felt like he would burn up if he did not do
He dipped his head to bite, then tilted it back up for more kisses, pressing against Lorne to keep him in his place. He was hopelessly sentimental these days - or at least he let Lorne see how hopeless he was in that respect - but they had a good deal going. Lorne liked taking care of Ethan for some reason, but it seemed he had few illusions that Ethan was reformed as well as constrained. For all the pet names Lorne liked Ethan with that wicked edge, and he was not about to up and leave the moment Ethan stepped beyond some invisible line.
Lorne took control again, and Ethan's back was against the wall before he had time to think about it. He gave in this time, and concentrated on what he was doing to Lorne, and what Lorne was doing to him. He was feeling too much to think now, moving his hands on Lorne by some strange instinct of how humans and demons fitted together, not noticing if his fingers got grazed in the process.
Ethan came first, with Lorne not far behind him. Ethan sagged forwards into Lorne's arms. He liked this feeling of safety afterwards. It was a different buzz to the one from cheating the odds and surviving chaos, but equally rewarding. He would rest here a while with his demon; there was no need to start preparing for the gig yet.
As he slowly came back down, Ethan's hand started to throb. Lorne took hold of Ethan's wrist, and raised his hand to his mouth, then gently licked Ethan's fingers clean. One day Ethan would manage to bring Lorne off without making his fingers bleed, but evidently not today.
"One thing," Lorne said, releasing Ethan's hand. "Aren't those boxes over there from the last house sale you went to?"
"So they are," Ethan said lazily. "And I think the Brewster and Jones is in one of them." He smirked into Lorne's chest. "I wasted half my life waiting for Ripper to come to his senses. Now I've come to mine, I don't see why he shouldn't have to wait for what he wants."
Yes, it was petty, but Ethan got his fun where he could these days. Although now that he had the Initiative off his back once and for all - Ripper would keep his word on that score - it might be time to look up a few other old friends. He would start with an ex-Watcher he knew in Kirkcaldy.
"Interesting times," Ethan murmured. Tomorrow was soon enough to start plotting; he had better things he could be doing right now.