Can be read as a sequel to Never Say Farewell.
Disclaimer: Not mine, never will be.Ritual
Ritual made life bearable, made things understandable, manageable. It was a tiny concession to order and sanity. It was an allowable one.
On January the ninth, some two years after Ripper had bowed to the final law of existence, Ethan stood in the quiet cemetery, in that bright little town on the mouth of Hell.
He’d sworn to himself that he would never allow himself to weaken to the point where he would come back here, but here he was. Night had fallen a couple of hours ago, and he felt profoundly silly, standing here with his hand in his pockets. It was almost as though he’d come here in a dream.
Truth was, now that he was here, he wasn’t sure what he was going to do.
As he stood there, a dark figure came over the fence, and he automatically tensed. He’d brought a cross with him, but left it in the car. All that he had with which to defend himself with, were his own powers –not that it was the first time that he’d been in such a position.
But, if it came to it he would prefer not to fight above Ripper’s grave. He may not have had many scruples, but even he drew the line somewhere.
Even as he thought this, a hesitant voice spoke.
“Illuminous,” with the word he conjured a small light, and nodded at the approaching figure, “Summers.”
“Well,” she said after a few moments, breaking into his reprieve, “At least we’ve progressed beyond calling each other by respective offices.”
“Yes, the earth must surely be spinning out of orbit.”
Again, they fell into an uneasy silence. At least, until Buffy spoke again, “So, why’d you come?”
“Because it’s been two years. Because today is the ninth of January, the feast of Janus. It’s a ritual that harks to beginnings and endings,” his voice fell, and she had to strain to hear him, “Because I miss him.”
His eyes drifted over the epitaph on the marble.A hero doesn’t do what is easy.
A hero does what is right.
It was fitting. Ripper had never taken the easy path, for anything.
And the words under that, his family ties.Son of Adrian Walker Giles
Surrogate father of Buffy Anne Summers.
And then, the words that had blown him away –He was amazed that the Council had allowed it, even though it was technically true… Even though he’d never given his answer.Dearly missed partner of Ethan Dalmon Rayne.
“I miss him, too.”
He looked down at his hand; at the ring on it that Rupert had offered him a couple of months before he’d died. Probably when he’d told Buffy, as a matter of fact.
Ripper had offered him the ring, and he may not have said ‘no’, but he had said ‘wait.’
Next to leaving Ripper in the first place, it was one of the worst mistakes that he’d ever made. He knew that now, now that it was too late to take his actions back.
All that he had were his regrets.
He forced himself to take a breath, even though it felt as though his chest and lungs were filled with crushed glass. Shivered, in the chill.
Wished, now, that he’d thought to wear more than just a tee shirt, even though he was, by his very nature contradictory.
He traced a light finger over the engraved lettering.
“Hard to think, sometimes, that it’s been two years. Sometimes, at night I wake up, I… I think that if I listen hard enough I’ll hear his voice outside my door… berating me for being such a damned fool.”
“Pretty much every night, I tend to wind up here at some time or another.”
“At least it’s somewhere that you can come to. Randal… his family didn’t have anywhere to go… the poor bastard dissolved into a puddle of green goo.”
She looked at him; saw the barely suppressed pain in his every line, “Have you let yourself… morn? Properly?”
“I think you’re confusing us, dear. Ripper was the sentimental sap, not me.”
“Well, I think it’d do you some good.”
“Yes, I’m sure you would.”
“Well why don’t you?”
He squeezed his eyes closed so tightly that he could see white behind his lids. Oh, Janus, just let her fuck off. Please. Make her be gone
Slowly he opened his eyes again. She was still there, of course.
“Because if I start then I’m not sure I’ll be able to stop.”
There. He’d said it. Surely that should be enough.
“If you don’t, then it’s impossible to let go.”
“Who says I want to let go?”
“You can’t live in the past forever, you know.”
“It’s done me well enough until now, dear girl.”
“You said that today was about beginnings and endings, to you. If not to start afresh, then why come at all?”Stop the fucking questions.
Inside he raged. But he’d never refused a challenge, never refused to answer without at least some trait of honesty.
“Because I’m contemplating another ending.”
“Don’t. He died so that you wouldn’t have to. Don’t tarnish it.”
“He died for the entire bloody world. It was never
about me,” he snapped, “what’s one man more or less in it, especially when he’s not around to know the difference?”
“…I don’t know what to say…”
“Then don’t. Don’t say anything.”
“…but I do know that that
isn’t the solution. That’s just giving up. Sure it’s harder to live, to move on, to morn, but in spite of our difference, in spite of everything
you’ve never struck me as a coward.”
“A low blow.”
“If it’s what it takes…”
In spite of himself he chuckled, a dark smile touching the corners of his mouth.
“Are you a coward, Ethan Rayne?”
He’d never come so close to hitting someone in his entire life.
Instead he closed his eyes, and drew one deep, slow breath. And then another, and another, until he could breath without it feeling as though his chest were filled with glass.
Maybe she was right.
Maybe he could live again.
He turned, and was quickly swallowed up by the shadows that had masked his arrival, pausing only once he reached the boundary of the cemetery, to look back over his shoulder. Even though his words were low she still heard them.