Been a while I know. Sorry.
Characters: Ethan, Giles, Buffy in this one
Trigger warning: Mental Health issues (I probably should have warned for Giles’ PTSD long before this).Series: Bookends. All the Companion pieces in the series are listed here... It might not make much sense on its own.
Ethan Rayne was generally a heavy sleeper but he woke sharply at his friend’s first stirrings. The duvet was tugged slightly underneath him and he knew, rather than saw, that Rupert was reaching across the bedside table for his glasses. Ethan sighed and rolled across on his back. The circular walls of his bedroom were hewn rock and whitewashed and the morning light that slipped in from the single small window glowed off them. Rupert had propped himself up was looking around the room in general confusion and then at Ethan with specific shock.
“Why are you here?” he asked cautiously.
“Because this is my home,” Ethan replied with lazy patience.
“Yes,” Rupert surveyed the double bed he was in. “But why are you here?”
“Because I only have the one bed and I’m not so hospitable or so self-sacrificing as to sleep on the couch. I think the more pertinent question, Ripper, is why are you here?”
Ethan dragged himself up, fully clothed, and rested his back against the headboard. Rupert, he noted with amusement was quickly checking his own state of dress from his position under the duvet. “Don’t worry. Your shoes and jacket are over there.” Ethan pointed to the rocking chair, and his friend finally relaxed and let the duvet fall to reveal a shirt that was now in serious need of an iron.
“I don’t remember coming to bed,” Rupert said cautiously.
“You were acting a little peculiarly last night. How much of it do you remember?”
“I remember knocking on your door. I had to see you. It was already quite late I think, dark anyway. I remember I wasn’t actually sure if you’d be at home,” Rupert began.
“I’ve been doing some work for a chap in Thailand,” Ethan admitted. “But then you knew that or you wouldn’t have picked a time when I was out of the country to launch your one man scourge against the undead of Norfolk.”
Rupert rubbed his chin but answered simply, “You would have tried to stop me.”
“Of course I would. My dear boy, remove the vampires from Norfolk and you drain the county of about its only point of interest.” He was rewarded with a slight smile so Ethan pressed on. “But to return to the pertinent question… it was my understanding that as a result of that rather rash attempt, you’d had a slight change of residence, so again I ask: why are you here?”
Artfully, Rupert Giles looked at his watch. “Gracious! It’s almost noon. I must have been tired.” Avoidance being practically his friend’s middle name, Ethan wasn’t entirely surprised at the change of topic but felt no compulsion to lie to him in turn.
“That and the sleeping draft I put in your hot chocolate.”
“What? You drugged me?”
“Nothing else for it. You turned up on my doorstep last night, practically bouncing off the walls, insisting the police were after you. You weren’t making a lot of sense but I gather you think Olivia’s parents are accusing you of murdering their daughter. Ring any bells?”
“Vaguely.” When caught out, Rupert was a terrible liar.
Ethan pressed. “Are her parents out for your blood?”
Rupert swung his legs out of bed and turned his back before answering with a sigh. “No. I don’t think so. Not yet anyway, but it’s only a matter of time.”
“I see. I take it no-one has told them the truth about what really happened? Do you want me to talk to them about it? Or Buffy?”
“Buffy? Oh god, Buffy.” Ethan saw his friend’s shoulders slump. “Buffy is going to mobilise the whole bloody army to find me. Shit. I have to go.” He rose quickly and Ethan stood also and held up his hands.
“No, no. Don’t worry. You’re safe. No-one will come looking for you here, I promise.”
Rupert shot him one of his cock-eyed looks of disbelief. “You live in a lighthouse. It doesn’t exactly blend in.”
Ethan chuckled. “You’d be surprised actually. It’s exceptionally well warded even if I do say so myself.”
“I can stay here then?” Rupert had already reached hesitantly for his jacket but the question was posed with such vulnerability that Ethan had to check himself for wanting to hug the man.
“In my bed?” he dead-panned.
Rupert twisted to shoot a disapproving glare. “Here.”
“Of course you can. As long as you like.” It was so like old times that Ethan felt quite sentimentally foolish and set about on some practicalities to cover his embarrassment. “I’ll go downstairs and fix us some breakfast. The shower and bathroom are down a level, help yourself.”
Breakfast had been ready nearly ten minutes when Ethan climbed back up the spiral staircase to the bedroom and found no sign of Rupert and got no reply to his casual calls. He took the further flight to the observation lounge he’d installed when the lighthouse mechanism and mirrors had been removed. He stopped a couple steps short but was through the access point enough to see the full room. It was his favourite space in the building with 360 glass and magnificent views out to sea. The brass telescope had belonged to his father and he liked looking at the stars or just pulling on a beer and watching the clouds. Rupert was standing with his forehead on the one glass panel that was capable of opening to the narrow ledge where Ethan grew his pot plants. His gaze was fixed on the rocks below. Ethan had never had need of a lock on that door before, but seeing the way his friend stood, it flittered into his mind that he really should have had one added.
“I’m going to be in a lot of trouble for leaving the hospital,” Rupert brooded, aware of his friend’s presence but not turning to look. “They might insist on moving me to somewhere more secure.”
“Yes,” Ethan agreed brightly. “What are the fashions with strait jackets these days? Is it still the same drab colour choice?”
Rupert folded his arms but kept his forehead against the thick paned glass. His body language radiated such fatigue and despair that Ethan resolved he shouldn’t permit his friend to walk alone along the cliff path any time soon.
“I won’t let anything bad happen to you, Ripper. We can straighten this whole thing out.” Ethan completed the last steps of his ascent and went to sit on his wicker chair. “Did I ever tell you about the time I ran away from boarding school?”
“You were expelled,” Rupert grumbled.
“Before then, obviously. When I was first sent there. I absolutely hated it so I ran away back home.”
Rupert banged his forehead slightly on the glass. “This is hardly the same thing.”
“On the contrary, it was life and death to a ten year-old boy.” The banging stopped and Ethan sprawled a leg over the worn edge of his chair. “When I got home, I couldn’t face my parents so I went round to the kitchens and begged cook to hide me.”
“And did she?”
“For two whole days. No-one knew I was there and it was bliss. She was Irish and perpetually fascinating to me, so she and I talked a lot. And frankly I made out in like a bandit in the pantry - I swear food has never tasted as good since. But finally, when I was ready, she borrowed my father’s car and drove me back to the school. I was nervous but she spoke with the headmaster and made sure I wasn’t in any trouble. A real trooper that woman.”
“Your point being that your family were incredibly wealthy and had devoted servants?”
“My point being that it was good to have a special place to hide. Somewhere to feel safe and a friend to help me when I couldn’t see the options.”
“No.” Rupert sighed heavily but he left the windows and sat on the chair opposite. “Your real point being that you went back.”
Ethan studied him intently before answering, “But only when I was ready, Ripper, I promise.”
There was only one car at the agreed meeting place, so Ethan pulled up alongside and waited. Eventually he gained the satisfaction of seeing Buffy Summers huff as she cracked first, left her own vehicle and came across to sit in his passenger seat.
“Have you dropped him back at the hospital?” she asked a shade brusquely.
“No, I have him gagged and bound in the back.” His voice dripped sarcasm, unable to contain the slight anger she always caused him. “Of course I dropped him back.” The woman and her officious ways exasperated him and there was no getting around that.
“Is he OK?” she asked through tight lips.
“He seems fine now. A little embarrassed at having absconded. Made me swear I wouldn’t tell you.”
She turned her head to look at him. “Why?”
“He seems to care what you think of him. So maybe he is nuts after all,” Ethan mused heartlessly, though before she could respond he added, “Did you find out what triggered it?”
Buffy nodded. “Olivia’s parents arranged a visit next week. I called them this morning to ask why. Seems they’d heard he was remembering more and wanted to ask him if he had any further details about their daughter’s death. They’re not accusing him of anything of course. They seem like nice people.”
“They are nice people. I take it you haven’t told them the full version where vampires and demons are real and rip apart your loved ones?”
“No,” she conceded. “International espionage. Giles’ family party was just in the wrong place, at the wrong time and got caught up in it. All covered by the Official Secrets Act. Dr Clarke thinks that after months of refusing to discuss what happened that night, Giles had a bit of a crisis when faced with the prospect of her parents asking for a truth he was going to have to lie about.”
“Oh bravo, Dr Clarke. Faboulous work! Even I had figured that one out.”
Buffy turned in her seat sharply. “What is your problem, Rayne?”
“My problem? You, Summers. You’re my problem.” The lady had asked him a question and Ethan felt honoured bound as a gentleman to give her both barrels. “How could you have let things go this far? I thought you knew what you were doing, that you were helping him. I leave the country for five minutes and he pulls crap like this.”
“Oh, because it’s all about you, Ethan?” For a fraction of a second, Ethan wondered if they should both step out of the car, Slayer or no. “You with your secret trips and visits behind my back,” she was continuing. “You’ve constantly undermined my authority-“
“Your authority?” he spluttered. “What authority? Slayer saves the World from dangerous Watcher? How valiantly noble of you.”
“No. Slayer saves stupid Watcher from himself.” She shouted him down. “I care about Giles and I don’t want him to get hurt and you haven’t exactly been supporting me in this.”
Ethan felt the need to defend himself. “I called you as soon as he showed up at my place.”
“Yes, once, you’ve called me exactly once.” Buffy leaned towards him and poked a finger. “But what else goes on between you the two of you? Did you know he was baiting demons and staking vampires for kicks? You did, didn’t you? But you didn’t rush to call me then.”
“I assumed that that was how your two spent your weekends,” he responded primly. “It always used to be.”
“If you mean Sunnydale, I used to be the one doing the staking, not him. I would not encourage him in anything that could get him killed.”
Ethan opened his mouth and closed it again. Buffy too, was breathing hard and they were both misting up his windscreen. They took five.
“I don’t want him to get hurt either,” he admitted softly. “I thought I was helping.”
She surprised him with the sympathy of her reply. “Yeah, that’s OK. I know how that goes. The doctors say he needs the support of his friends.”
“Actually that’s another thing.” Ethan waited until she looked at him. “I don’t like this doctor you’ve picked for him. I don’t think this Dr Clarke is doing any good whatsoever. He seems to have zero rapport and it’s just getting worse not better.”
“He’s an expert in his field,” she began but Ethan interrupted.
“Well his field isn’t Rupert. You can’t sit Giles in a chair and demand he tells you what happened. He’s stubborn like that.”
She nodded. “I’ve been thinking that too. I’m going to ask for someone else.”
“Ethan, why did Giles run to you?”
“He wanted something you couldn’t give him.” He felt her tense again and suddenly Ethan felt very tired of butting heads and softened his tone. “He just wanted someone else for a time, someone safe.” She dropped her chin to mock and take them back to their comfortable place of mild antagonism, and he took it well. “Relatively safe then,” he ginned roguishly, and she smiled back and Ethan found himself sharing the story of his running away from school with her.
“I suppose it probably hurt my parents dearly when I went to the cook for help instead of them,” he concluded.
“Were they mad when they found out?”
He shook his head.
“They knew all along. Domestic staff don’t have the power to hide kids, borrow cars, or square away school authorities without their parent’s knowledge. She was a cook not Mary Poppins. I imagine she must have told them almost immediately and then they teamed up to let me think I was making my own decision to go back. Took me years before I figured it out, but that’s OK, it was what I needed at the time.” He wrote down a telephone number and passed it across. “Call me if he goes walkabout again or if you need anything.”
She looked at him shrewdly.
“Does this come with an address if I need to find you?”
“Not yet, maybe one day.” His sanctuary was his sanctuary and he worked very hard to keep it that way.
“Uh huh.” Buffy climbed from his car and turned briefly before shutting the door. “Thanks, Ethan.”
“I still think you’re a bossy cow, but you’re welcome.” She pulled a face but retreated and Ethan watched her drive away before starting his own engine. “Oh Ripper, what strange bedfellows you do make of us all.”