People are wandering the streets of Sunnydale, parents and children searching for each other, still looking dazed and shell-shocked by whatever has possessed them. For most of them, it will be a blurry memory by the morning, a child's nightmare, born of too much sugar and lurid television. A few are buzzed, laughing, exhilarated by the experience, whilst some are indeed disconsolate at the loss of claws and working rayguns. One small boy is still hopefully whacking at his big sister with a plastic lightsaber.
The couple at the corner table of the diner watch the passing show. He has no obvious costume, though the deep red shirt enhances his strong features and dark colouring, gives him a faintly Mephistophelean air. Her dress is timeless in its simple, classical lines, only her hairstyle bringing certain antique statues to mind.
“So,” Ethan clears his throat, “er, what do I call you?”
“Eris.” She smiles. “It is my name, after all. I have a passport and everything. I'm...Eris Nixon, born 23rd May, British citizen.”
“Lovely.” He says, faintly. “And what do you intend to do now?”
Eris rests her chin in her hands and flutters her eyelashes at him.
summoned me, darling. I'm all yours.” Laughs at his face. “Abject terror isn't a flattering response for a girl, you know. Don't panic, I didn't come here to hurt you. Quite the opposite, in fact.”
“I'm just trying to get to grips with the whole 'accidentally summoned a goddess' situation.”
“It wasn't an accident.” For one moment, her eyes are fathomless dark. “It's a little complicated, because the concepts just don't translate well into limited dimensions with linear temporal progression... Put simply, future you called for help, but I've turned up here
to prevent the situation you were calling about. Now, full-on god-level powers striding the earth are a liability. Honking great disturbance in the Force, basically. They encourage...other things to get grandiose ideas. But one ordinary human with a headful of memories doesn't trip any alarms.” Looks down at herself. “At the moment, I am simultaneously about three hours old, timeless, and...thirty-something? It's a bit confusing.”
“You don't look a day over twenty-five.” Ethan chances, and gets a smile in return.
“I needed a doorway, a moment when I could enter this world, without drawing too much attention. This was ideal. And because the spell was broken violently, and not revoked by the caster...” Spreads her hands.
“...Fragments remain.” Ethan can appreciate the subtlety of it. He sniggers darkly. “Oh, Ripper. I may have to stick around to see the aftermath.”
“I certainly hope so. I may require your assistance. Various morons have their own sick little plans in motion, which end up screwing over this reality and causing the loss of all magic.”
“I can see why that might put a crimp in my lifestyle...”
“You didn't live to see it. You got shot through the head in a military prison.”
“Oh.” His coffee turns bitter on his tongue, and he puts the cup down. A small warm hand covers his.
“I don't intend for that to happen. Think of me as...your guardian angel.” The smile she gives him is anything but angelic. Ethan makes an undignified little noise deep in his throat.
“You want to pull it all down. Change the future.”
“Yes.” She tilts her head. “Too many people are playing silly buggers, and frankly, chess has never been my game. I much prefer dice.”
The chill down Ethan's spine does not abate. He's not sure if it's fear or excitement.
“Why me? I mean, Ripper is the do-gooder with the passion for atonement.”
“But what I need is a nasty, sneaky bastard with very few scruples.”
“Oh.” Ethan processes this. “Well, if you put it like that.” The chance to wreck the plans of the appointed guardians of order. How could he turn that opportunity down? He smirks. “I am, as ever, the devoted servant of chaos.”
“Well, you can't keep calling yourself the son of Chaos.” She pulls a little face. “Far too Oedipal, darling.”
Laughter is startled out of him.
A small part of his mind wonders about running. It is instantly clubbed to the ground and given a damn good shoeing by the rest of him. Craven instincts of self-preservation are losing out to libido.
“So, I called on you for help, and now here you are.” Takes a breath. “Have I sold you my soul?”
“I don't deal in souls.” She grins. “You did
make promises of faithful service and the like, but I think that was just sweet-talking to get my attention.”
“I'll admit that using prayer as a pick-up line had never been a thought of mine.”
“It worked, didn't it?”
“Really?” It comes out faintly hopeful. She is
just his type. Quietly pretty, in a very English way, curves rather than lean athleticism, a brunette with a roseleaf complexion. (Ripper had always favoured exotic beauties, but Ethan's tastes were informed by a boyhood staring wistfully after the girls from the local grammar school, all cool confidence, with their shiny hair and knee-socks.)
The low sweep of that neckline, the unadorned column of her throat – it's a standing invitation to the local nightlife, all that soft, unblemished skin. Undo those shoulder clasps, and the whole dress would just fall off... Ethan's fingers itch, and he catches himself. No. Bad things happen to men who profane goddesses. There might even be...smiting. He shifts in his chair.
And then Eris looks up through her eyelashes at him, and gives him a wicked little smile.
Ethan decides that he can probably live with some smiting.
In fact, Eris is quite amused at the form she has found herself in. Grins to herself – he's lucky she didn't manifest in a Catholic schoolgirl's uniform, she'd have given both men heart-attacks. Poor Rupert is already strait-jacketing himself into a stereotype, rendering himself into a sexless authority figure, and deeply miserable about it. Twenty years of suppressing everything individual about himself, to conform to a standard he'll never be able to attain, set by people who aren't worth his time. He needs to remember how to have fun. Without the whole demon-raising delinquency bit, of course. Just as Ethan needs to have someone to yank him back from being truly stupid on occasion – he has a problem with anticipating consequences. Witness the fact that he now has an avatar of Chaos flirting with him.
Rupert Giles contemplates his glass of Scotch, flexes his slightly bruised hand. In the background, Clapton plays softly.
Ethan bloody Rayne. Everything he never wanted to think about again, in one insolently grinning package. He's the symbol of everything Giles is ashamed of, all the pieces of his past.
It hadn't been all bad, that was the worst thing. The heady excitement, the rush of power, nights of excess. They'd been young and stupid and arrogant, thought they were invincible, until it all went to pieces, in a welter of fear and pain and recriminations. Phil had already been in the squat, always with a coterie of dazed girls passing through. Tom was there because of Deidre, mainly, and she was there because she wanted to hit back at her parents, acting out against the stifling boredom of suburbia. Giles almost has to choke back a sob of laughter at the idea – to be resentful of quiet normality seems unimaginable to him now. Randall...god, Randall, if he hadn't died from the demon, it would probably have been from a needle in his arm. If you could smoke it, shoot it, or snort it, Randall was in there. He'd been the Money in their little group. The Giles family weren't poor, but Randall... Ethan, with his glib tongue and sly grin, evading questions about his past, always ready with a new idea. They had dared each other to new heights, or new lows. He'd had to be so much harder, rougher, more vicious, to shake off the name, the weight of expectation – those had been his own words thrown back at him tonight, his own savage condemnation of his future. Looks down at the jacket slung over the arm of the chair, and tosses back his drink. Snivelling and tweed-clad indeed. He'd wanted
to hit Ethan, and it had felt far too good.
Idiot children, playing with magic. And twenty years on, that stupid berk is still standing back and watching the wreck. He has a slight pang of conscience, he hopes that that woman is okay, and that she is giving Ethan hell, however he's trying to explain himself.
Outside, the night is a symphony of sirens. Ethan closes the curtain against the world, turns back into the room. The hotels and motels of Sunnydale are a veritable hunting ground for all sorts of predators, there was no way he was going to let Eris stay on her own. He's trying to think of it as the promptings of the atrophied remnants of his conscience, but he's aware that far baser instincts are cheering him on.
Normally, there's been a whole awkward dance to get here, sometimes dinner, usually drinks. Ethan, unaccustomedly sober, gives a tentative smile. Eris lifts her chin, a gesture half challenge, half invitation, and grins back. It's enough.
He was right about the shoulder clips. The entire gown slithers to the floor in a whisper. Eris simply laughs against his mouth, and continues to unbutton his shirt.
“You don't hang about, do you?”
“Ripper would suspect me of seducing you with sorcery.”
“Well, he's not far wrong...” Eris slides her arms up round his neck. “Big bad warlock.”
“You hijacked my spell.”
“I needed a focus. A mind to give me form.”
“And a very nice form it is, too.” Ethan leers, pauses. He has had a few shape-shifting bed partners over the years, not always with foreknowledge – it is a wise idea to find out beforehand if what you go to sleep next to is still going to look the same in the morning. Call him old-fashioned, but he does actually prefer standard human female, in the singular... “You're not going to suddenly turn into some tentacled Lovecraftian horror, are you?”
“Why, would you like me to?”
“No!” He yelps, settles down again when she laughs at him.
“I'm just a person, now. I can probably go toe to toe with you in terms of magecraft, but...eh, I'm only mortal.”
“So how do you think you are going to enjoy that?”
She looks at the man in front of her, the wicked eyes, the sensual curl of his mouth.
“I think there may be compensations.”
His hands are dark against her creamy skin, and she is warm, soft, and entirely, happily human beneath his touch. Any smiting is purely consensual.
A battered Spike stumbles in through the doorway of the hideaway, cursing the bloody Slayer. Forgets all about lighting his cigarette when he sees Drusilla crouched in the corner, rocking slightly and burbling about apples.
“It's all changing, twisting and screaming in my head.” She clutches her skull. “The magician looked too long into the Abyss, and it winked at him.”
“Easy, now, pet.” Spike gathers her up.
“Illumined by flashes of lightning, we'll be...” Drusilla giggles, even though her eyes are still bright with fear. “No dawn to break, and no twilight to fall, she's cleverer than all the tricksy voices in our heads, because she's not real, either.”
“No other voices here, luv. Now, come and have a lie down, and I'll fetch you a snack. Bound to be one of those little morsels not made it back to mummy an' daddy.”
“Too late now. Bad little butterfly has flapped her wings, and she'll blow us all away.” She turns tragic eyes towards him. “The Whirlwind will be reaped.”
Eris runs her fingers gently through his hair.
“You prayed to Chaos, before the end.” Her voice is very quiet. “Everyone else got the big hero scenes, so many second chances, offers of redemption and absolution, all their sins forgiven. And they left you in a cell to rot. But you're mine, Ethan Rayne, and I chose to alter your fate.”
The sleepy murmur comes out in a rather smug tone, and slightly muffled by her breasts, and Eris laughs softly. She will never let this wickedly grinning man end up as that wasted, frightened creature who had called so desperately for anyone to help him.
She knows exactly who and what Ethan Rayne is. Not a Champion of Light, certainly, he's devious and self-serving and not always trustworthy. He isn't evil, though, just a bit morally deficient. He's smart, and funny, with a dry, mordant wit. And he's a lot of fun in bed. He'll do very nicely.
He's drifting off to sleep, his face half-pressed into her cleavage, all untidy dark hair and that ridiculous nose. There were some surprising muscles under that shirt, he's in good shape for a man his age. Eris' fingers hover over, but do not touch, the tattoo on one bicep. That will have to be dealt with.
She grins into the darkness, an expression which would severely frighten any number of beings. She doesn't need anybody to be her Champion, she fights her own battles, in her own way. Her acolyte has opened the way for her, and the world had best be wary. One little pebble can start an avalanche.