No matter what Rupert thought, this was far more pleasant than getting his arse kicked in a crypt. It wasn't the sort of pub he'd have preferred, given a choice, but the sort of pub he'd have preferred drinking with Rupert Giles in only existed several thousand miles away and a few decades in the past, so he'd stick with his usual philosophy of life and take what he could get. Besides, Rupert was buying--and if he didn't, Ethan would pinch some money from his wallet to cover the bar tab.
They had decent beer on tap, however, and Rupert had promised the waitress an extravagant tip if she kept the drinks coming.
Ethan approved. When contemplating the end of the world, he'd found, being at least a little drunk was a good idea, and therefore he proposed to get most of his first drink inside of him before he even started trying to explain.
On the other hand, while contemplating the way Rupert Giles' fingers curled around a glass, perhaps it would be better for Ethan to remain sober. Some of Rupert's fingers were a bit more crooked than Ethan remembered them--and of course Ethan remembered Rupert's hands; Ethan would be willing to bet that he remembered everything from those days--and Ethan wondered what had happened. Wondered if Rupert was still able to play his guitar, if he even wanted to play his guitar these days. He didn't ask; even if Rupert answered, he thought he might not want to know.
"Just tell me what you want to tell me," Rupert said.
Ah, yes. He'd nearly forgot himself; he was with Ripper, and they always had to do things to Ripper's schedule.
He hoped he'd found the right note of mockery when he replied; he wasn't nearly drunk enough to want to be taken seriously.
"Sit down," Ripper said, sliding the glass of water a fraction of an inch closer to the center of the table. "Then put your hands on the table, palms up."
Ethan scowled at him--he loathed Ripper's tendency to start ordering everyone around--but sat down anyway, eager to get started. His left knee bumped the wobbly leg of the table as he did; everyone groused about the way the table shook, but no one had bothered fixing it yet. The table had come from a rubbish tip, after all; they were lucky it had four legs to start with.
Ripper swore under his breath as water sloshed over the rim of the glass and onto the stained top of the table. He wiped the water up with a tea-towel--where they'd got something as domestic as that, Ethan couldn't even begin to guess--and went over to the tap, filling a teacup with water and using it to top up the glass again.
"It doesn't have to be full," Ethan pointed out. "It doesn't even have to have water in it. We can levitate an empty glass just as well."
Ripper snorted. "Too easy. Floating it without spilling any water, there's the trick."
"Making our magic work together, there's the trick," he corrected. "It doesn't much matter what we do with it." Then he grinned. "Well. Not this time, at least. Once we've worked the details out, then we'll start planning what to do."
Ripper smiled back briefly, taking the seat opposite Ethan. "Put your hands out," he said; then, as Ethan did, he placed his own hands on top of them.
Ripper's hands completely covered Ethan's, and Ethan could feel the calluses that the strings of his guitar had left on Ripper's fingertips sliding roughly against Ethan's palm and wrist. Ethan smirked, his fingers closing around Ripper's. "All this trouble just to hold my hand?"
Scowling, Ripper tightened his grip on Ethan's hands, tight enough that Ethan was aware he could break a bone or two if he really wanted. Not that Ethan was unaware of that to begin with; they'd been in too many pub brawls together for him to doubt it. "Let's just get on with it."
Ethan's smirk didn't waver. "Anything for you," he said archly.
"I don't know," Ethan snapped. "We've been over this already. I've told you everything I know."
"There must be something you're not telling me."
"As difficult as it is for you to believe," he said, "there isn't. I've spent the past month or so trying to get information out of demons. I have an interesting set of new scars, but all I know is what I've told you."
"A month? I'm surprised your attention span lasted that long."
"I like the world," Ethan pointed out. "I live in it, for one thing, and that's something I'd like to keep doing for as long as possible."
"Then perhaps you should try to make yourself useful, instead of withholding information."
"I've been trying to help, damn you," he snapped, drinking down half his glass of beer before he looked up at Rupert again.
With infuriating calm, Rupert simply said, "Try harder."
"If you had any self-discipline at all, this would be working," Ripper muttered, brow furrowing in concentration.
"It's all your self-discipline that's the problem," Ethan said. "You're fighting me."
He looked up, then. "Not yet."
One eyebrow raised, Ethan said, "How very intimidating."
"If you aren't going to take this seriously, we might as well stop now."
Ethan's first instinct was to pull his hands away and get up from the table. Not taking this seriously? What the hell did Ripper think he was doing? He was taking this perfectly seriously. He wasn't necessarily taking Ripper seriously, because if he thought Ethan was impressed by snarling and bluster, he hadn't been paying attention for the past several months, but that was different.
He did remember what things had been like when they'd first met. Ripper would have starved or had to go crawling back home to Daddy if he hadn't met Ethan. He'd never had to survive without his family and their money to fall back on, and he'd been making a damned poor job of it.
And this was how he was repaying Ethan: by taking over things that had always been Ethan's domain. Thomas and Randall had already started taking his word over Ethan's--not just when they were talking about magic, which Ethan could at least comprehend, but all the time, and he thought he could tell Ethan what to do as well.
Ethan had been looking forward to working magic with Ripper; he'd have been a fool not to. But if Ripper thought it was going to be all him giving orders and Ethan taking them, then it wasn't Ethan who was the fool.
"Well? I'm losing my patience."
"And we mustn't have that," Ethan murmured. Not unless it'd lead to something amusing; Ethan would be all too happy to drive him to distraction if Ripper would react properly, but storming off to sulk or deciding to work off his irritation by hitting Ethan wasn't exactly the reaction he wanted.
But he didn't want to give this up. None of the others had a very strong natural talent for magic, no one but Ripper, and there were quite a few things Ethan wanted to do that would be much easier if not done alone. "We'll keep trying," he said, more loudly, and was rewarded with a brief grin--and then, as they both returned to concentrating on the glass, a second grin as the glass began to wobble slightly.
"What I don't understand is why you're coming to me, of all people," Rupert said, taking another drink. After half an hour's argument, he'd finally accepted that Ethan wasn't keeping anything important from him--not about 314, anyway. "Bearing in mind that I despise you, that is."
"Oh, you know," Ethan said airily; he intended to wave his hand expansively, but only succeeded in spilling a few drops of beer onto the table. "That overdeveloped sense of responsibility of yours. You'll dash off to save the world, and I can go on about my business without having to worry about demons starting a war." Not to mention, of course, that there weren't a lot of people whose laps Ethan could just drop this into, and even fewer who would actually be able, let alone willing, to do anything about it.
He wouldn't have said that, of course; Rupert would see that as some sort of justification for his tiresome behavior over the past twenty years, and there really could be no justification for that.
"Ah. Well, at least I'm good for something," Rupert said, and it hadn't been so long that Ethan couldn't recognize the self-pity in his tone.
Even when Ethan had liked him, he'd been no fun at all when he got like that, and so he paused before taking another drink. "Good for two or three things, as I recall," he said, winking, and was quite gratified to see that, while Rupert wouldn't look at him, there was a hint of a smile twitching the corners of his mouth upward.
They'd spilled a bit of water on the table; Ripper had started swearing under his breath again, until the moment when… Ethan didn't know how to describe it, precisely, but things had clicked into place, and instead of feeling as though he'd been trying to lift the glass from one side and Ripper from the other, they were doing it together.
He'd never managed to do this before. He'd never as much as tried to do this before, and he wasn't certain how well it would work with someone else. But with Ripper, right now, it was working perfectly.
The glass rose an inch or two above the table, and Ripper, who'd been staring intently at it the whole time, looked up at Ethan again, and grinned.
Ethan hadn't been prepared for that grin. He thought he'd seen them all: the predatory, looking-for-trouble grin, and the smugly superior one that he wouldn't mind smacking off Ripper's face, and even the genuine one that meant that things were going Ripper's way. This was a different one. This was Ripper, grinning at him in pure delight, and Ethan had to grin back at him.
And then to look at Ripper again, thoughtfully; there was a warmth in the way he was looking at Ethan that Ethan really hadn't expected. He had, of course, tried seducing Ripper the first night they'd met; it was always useful to know whether or not that would be a productive way to manipulate someone. Disappointingly, it hadn't seemed to be, in this particular case.
But now, he grinned back at Ripper, just as warmly, and this time, when he squeezed Ripper's fingers again--just a bit, just enough that he could still fall back on the spell as his excuse, Ripper just murmured, "Do pay attention, Ethan."
Rupert wasn't precisely a lightweight when it came to drinking, but it was having more of an effect on him than it used to; he must have let himself get out of practice. It was a novel feeling for Ethan, being relatively sober compared to Rupert. Only relatively, of course; he knew he was far from sober, and that didn't bother him at all.
This entire evening was a bit of a novel feeling for him, these days; he and Rupert hadn't spent this much time around one another without violence since the early eighties, and that had only been because they'd both turned up at the same party, and Rupert hadn't wanted to offend their hostess by starting a fight.
Perhaps things were changing. Perhaps Rupert had finally managed to dislodge that official Watcher's Council stick up his arse, and he'd start behaving more like an actual human being again, if not the human being Ethan had known.
Perhaps Ethan was just drunk and nostalgic; that seemed far more likely. Still, he had no pressing engagements elsewhere. He might stay in Sunnydale for a bit, just to see how things turned out with 314, whatever that turned out to be.
Without talking about it, they seemed to have reached an agreement that leaving the glass hovering about a foot above the tabletop was good enough, and now, Ethan had to admit, they were playing: rotating the glass slowly clockwise, then counterclockwise; pushing the glass lazily back and forth toward one another, blocking the push and sending it back again.
The water didn't spill; it didn't even come close, and while Ethan wouldn't do anything as wet as admitting how pleased he was about that, it certainly wasn't a bad thing. He thought Ripper felt about the same, too; at least, he didn't show any interest in stopping.
"We'll need a good deal more practice," Ripper said. "Perhaps not the glass, but something else small."
Ethan nodded, wondering if Ripper were surprised that he didn't argue. Ethan's aversion to hard work was well-known, but magic was, had always been, the exception. Then he thought about the way Ripper had grinned at him when they got the glass in the air the first time, and decided that Ripper probably wasn't surprised at all. "And then?"
"And then," Ripper said, starting the glass rotating slowly again, "there'll be nothing we won't be able to accomplish. Not if we're casting spells together."
Ethan grinned, suddenly, their success making him even more reckless than usual. "I know what I'd like to accomplish right now," he said, rising up from his chair a bit and leaning forward.
Ripper looked surprised for a moment, but when Ethan leaned across the table to press his mouth against Ripper's--brief and hard, or at least that was his intent--it was his turn to be surprised when Ripper didn't hesitate before kissing him back--
Ethan shrugged into his coat as they left the pub, wondering when he'd got old enough, or his blood had become thin enough, that he'd started thinking of a California night as cold.
Rupert was right behind him, and Ethan waited until they were out on the pavement before turning back to him, smirking. "Going to ask me back to your place, then?"
He hadn't expected an affirmative; what he'd expected, to be honest, was a tiresome speech about the past being exactly that, and perhaps a side lecture about Ethan needing to move on.
He got neither; instead, Rupert's face darkened, and Ethan took a step back, not really wanting Rupert to pick up where he'd left off with thrashing him. "I've been civil," he said, in a low voice that Ethan remembered all too well from other, less unfriendly, times, "because you may have been helpful. That's far more than you deserve, Ethan; don't press your luck."
Ethan felt suddenly, unpleasantly sober; the comfortable haze of alcohol had all been burnt away under Rupert's glare. Whatever truce they'd temporarily called while they'd been drinking had well and truly come to and end. "I should worry about your luck more than mine, dear Ripper," he murmured softly, turning away.
Rupert didn't come after him, which he told himself he didn't find at all surprising.
--and then, as their concentration faltered, or rather shifted focus, the glass, which Ethan had mentally nudged out of his way as he leaned over, fell, shattering on the scuffed tile of the kitchen floor.
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