There are purely human criminals in Sunnydale, too, and much of the damage left in the aftermath of Halloween has nothing to do with possessed children and everything to do with idiot teenagers. Remnants of eggs, flour, paint and toilet paper litter the town. There's even evidence of a few small fires. Luckily, Ethan had emptied the cash register on the way out, because the shop has been trashed. Giles hadn't expected to find Ethan haunting the scene of his crime, though he had called by the next day, found nothing but a mocking card.
Still, a week or so later, when he notices the door open, and movement inside, he heads straight over. The desire to punch Ethan has calmed, but not abated.
However, the figure sorting though the debris is manifestly not Ethan. She tosses a handful of broken plastic into a box, turns to the door.
“...oh, hello. Again.”
It's the woman from Halloween, though now she is dressed in jeans and t-shirt, her hair in a pony-tail.
“Sorry, we weren't exactly formally introduced before.” She grins at him, holds out a hand, “Eris Nixon.”
“Rupert Giles.” He shakes the proffered hand, then blinks. “...Eris?”
“Yes, it is
my name. Hence the Greek costume. However, jeans seem a better bet for everyday wear.”
“Um, yes.” Giles glances around, tries to think of an excuse for storming in. “Er...You're taking over the business?”
“I think Sunnydale could benefit from another bookshop. But I have to clear the junk out first, before I can measure up for the shelving.” She discards another set of broken fairy wings. “Oddly enough, not too many costumes seem to have been returned. Are you here to bring something back?”
“Oh, uh, no. I was actually hoping to catch up with the previous owner.”
“I can pass on a message.” She gives a sunny expectant smile.
“...” Giles can't very well issue a threat by proxy. “Do you have a forwarding address? We're old friends.”
“Hmm. Wasn't he the man you were punching in the face?” A shrug. “It was a very strange evening, though.”
“Um, yes, indeed.” He's not sure how to phrase it. “A lot of people were acting...somewhat out of character. You...remember?”
“Oh, I remember a few things. Like the fact that you are a southpaw.”
Watches him cough, fiddle with his glasses. She's aware that she shouldn't tease him, but really, it's so much fun.
“Quite...If I may ask, what made you choose Sunnydale?” Genuine curiosity.
“Probably, much the same reasons as yourself.” A grin. “One can have too much of the British climate. I felt like a change, and I found myself curiously drawn to this location. It seems like such a nice town.”
She can see
him fighting with that one.
“Well, er, Ms Nixon, I wish you luck in your venture.”
“I hope to see you here again when we open. I'll pass on your regards to Mr Rayne.” Sees him out of the door with a cheery wave, and then turns back. “You can come out now, he's gone.”
Ethan sticks his head round the curtain from the back room.
“I would have leapt to your defence if necessary.”
“I know, darling. But Rupert doesn't know that he has any reason to worry about me.” Narrows her eyes. “You, on the other hand, if you've eaten my bearclaw...”
“I would never get between a woman and her pastry.” Holds up his hands, and backs off. “I got coffee, too, rather than whatever that is they claim to be tea.”
“I can't decide whether the inability to make a decent cuppa is a political statement, or wilful ignorance.” Eris hops up to sit on the table, and makes grabby little hands. “Did you get the change-of-use paperwork sorted, too?”
“Yes. For a goddess of Chaos, you are quite terrifyingly organised.”
“You have to know all the rules before you can break them properly.” Coffee and donut acquired, she swings her feet, and smirks at him. “Also, I know how to delegate.”
Ethan, mouth full with his own donut, gives her a squinty look of suspicion. Eris does her best to look sweet and innocent and harmless. It's vaguely terrifying how convincing it is.
It's been a couple of weeks, and his life is in, well, chaos. Despite the shopping trips, Eris still takes his shirts, his t-shirts, even his socks. The bathroom has acquired various strange feminine things, floral-smelling soap, talcum powder. Random undergarments hang off the towel-rail. They sit up late in bed, watching stupid films, sketching plans for the shop on the lid of pizza boxes, quick and dirty business plans drafted on the fly, and a proposed logo which makes her laugh – the apple has acquired a bookworm, with a wicked little smirk. There are slow, lazy mornings, sometimes breakfast in, when he'll watch Eris make omelettes, sometimes a late brunch out. (Sometimes, the remains of the cold pizza, and not getting out of bed at all.) He's actually cautiously happy.
So, of course, that's when the dreams start again.
Ethan twists up out of the nightmare of Randall's death, flames and screams. He doesn't have to explain himself, hunched over, forehead to knees, shaking and sweaty. Eris rests a gentle hand on the back of his neck until his breathing calms, and then she just holds him. Ethan allows himself the fragile comfort. He doesn't delude himself that it is a guilty conscience. There are plenty of things in his past that should make a man wake in a cold sweat, that fail to trouble his sleep. This is a tangible threat.
“Hiding from a demon on a Hellmouth?”
Eris knows, of course she knows. He wonders if he has any secrets from her, finds that he doesn't much care at this moment. Even if she knows the worst of him, she's still here.
(She's told him some of what he would have done. He has to admit, if he'd known what Lurconis' tribute was, he would never have taken the gig. He also has to admit, that he carefully wouldn't have bothered asking.)
“After Randall...died, we knew it wasn't really over.” He says, quietly. “None of us really kept in touch, you understand, we scattered to the winds, put our lives back together as best we could, looking over our shoulders all the time. We've always known, though...” His fingers creep up towards his arm, pull away. “Rupert had his precious Council to clean up after him, but the rest of us were on our own. Deidre went back to Mummy and Daddy, played the good girl, even married a stockbroker, though it didn't last. Philip was 'something in the City', too – he was far too greedy to have ever left the life behind.” In the eighties, you could smell the sorcery hanging over the Square Mile, even through the usual psychic fog of London. The City would swallow the Hellmouth, and never even notice. “Tom was always more of a follower – he became a monk, of all things. Some off-beat sect in the wilds of Northumberland, all back to nature and eschewing the decadence of modern civilisation. Twenty years of living in a bare stone cell and mortifying the flesh might be good for the soul, but it's very bad for the body. He died, and somehow, that's when Eyghon found a way back. The dreams started.” A late night call in New York, and how the hell Philip had found his number... a frenzied babble, Tom three weeks dead, and Deidre convinced she'd seen him in her garden, and now Dee gone, in what looked like a messy suicide.
Ethan stares up into the darkness for a long while after Eris has gone back to sleep. He'll have to talk to Rupert. Hopefully, without getting clobbered. He'd put Philip off on the phone, bailed without leaving an address. But Philip had been around the edges of the Dark World just as long, even if he moved in more rarified circles. There's every chance that he'll run here for the same reasons, either out of some attempt to warn Ru, or to throw somebody else, probably Ethan, into Eyghon's path. He and Ethan had never been each other's favourite person.
Unaware of the cooling corpse that is even now being loaded onto the coroner's wagon, he closes his eyes. He'll leave it until the weekend, less people around.
Eris looks up from her book catalogue, glances at her watch, frowning. Ethan had come limping back, muttering about being beaten up by teenage girls, sulked restlessly in front of the tv all afternoon, and now he's disappeared again. She does some quick calculations in her head, dates and events...
“Oh, bugger.” She snatches up her bag, and heads for the store.
Buffy comes to, with an aching head, and a buzzing in her ears that resolves into voices.
“You didn't have to hit her.” A female voice, sounding just like Giles when someone crumples a page.
“I panicked. I wasn't sure if she was going to go for the whole 'slay first, question later' thing. And since I have a demon hunting me, you'll forgive me if my nerves are on edge.” Ethan.
Buffy becomes aware that her wrists and ankles are tied, which is not of the good. She tests the bonds, but obviously not cautiously enough.
“Oop, we have consciousness.” Then, “Buffy? I do apologise for Ethan.”
Buffy opens her eyes. Ethan is lurking behind a dark-haired woman, and looking noticeably un
apologetic. She glares at him.
“Apology not accepted. I'm gonna paste him.”
“Ah. Hmm.” The woman pauses. “See what you mean.” She's holding a knife. It's only a small, plain one, but a blade is a blade. Buffy goes tense, and wonders if she can snap the rope holding her wrists. The woman looks down. “Oh. Look, I was just going to cut the rope, but if you prefer to go for the burn, feel free.”
She's not getting demon-y vibes off the woman, but hanging out with Mr Creepy isn't winning her any points. Still, she doesn't have any ink on her arms, so Buffy is going to go with 'semi-innocent bystander', and try and avoid the move to 'demon chow'. Ethan obviously thinks the same.
“I was trying to keep it away from you, too.” He mumbles.
“But I'm not helpless.” Eris sighs. Now
, he decides to get chivalrous? Well, in his own twisted way. She reaches a hand up to his face, and kisses him. “You wanted to lure a demon into an already supernaturally strong body. No, darling, just...no. Horribly bad idea. And if I ever catch you trying to feed people to things again, then I'm going to get angry.” Oddly, that actually sounds like a threat, even though her voice is calm. It certainly makes Ethan clam up.
“Hey, I'm glad you two are making with the smoochies and all, but there's something evil on the way here, and...luring it into my
body? What the hey now?” Buffy rattles the ropes angrily. Eris turns back to her.
sorry about him. He still thinks ethics is somewhere east of London.” The ropes part under the knife. Buffy rolls to her feet, and stalks towards Ethan, who backs up, hands waving.
“Could we focus on...erk.” The hard little fist catches him in the jaw.
“Hey! He might be an idiot, but he's my idiot, so could you please not punch him again? Thank you.”
“Look, I don't know who you are...”
“My name's Eris.”
“...but you should probably leave now.”
“Not without Ethan. I don't trust you two to play well together.” Folds her arms. “And I'm not completely useless in these situations. How are you planning on dealing with Eyghon?”
“Hit it 'til it bleeds seems to be the standard M.O.” Ethan grumbles, checking his teeth.
“I'm the Slayer. I slay.”
“And the fact that it's in the body of your friend?” Eris asks, gently. Buffy sets her jaw.
“Well, I'll just have to hold onto it until Giles gets here. He'll
know what to do.” There's just a hint of uncertainty there, beneath the defiant jab. “Like I told your, um, boyfriend, you can hide until this is over.”
“Sounds perfectly reasonable to me.” Ethan says, attempting to steer Eris towards the back room, adds with only the slightest sarcasm. “I'll just put the kettle on, shall I? This could take a while.”
“Not necessarily.” Eris says, and pokes the point of her knife into his tattoo, chants a sharp phrase. Ethan's back arches, his mouth and eyes open wide in soundless shock.
(In his flat, Giles is momentarily felled by a vision, pain and flames and screams, Ethan's face twisted in startled agony. Flails up off the floor, scrabbles for the door.)
“Bloody hell, woman.” Ethan unwelds his teeth, hand clapped over his bicep. “You stabbed me.”
Buffy isn't against the idea of poking Ethan with sharp things, in principle, though she does think she should get a go, if she isn't allowed to punch him again. That looked like it hurt a lot more than a mere jab should have done. Plus, chanting not in English is rarely good.
“Okay, what was that?”
“Boosting the signal. Sorry, darling, but patience has never been my strong point.”
“You could have warned me.” Ethan moans.
“Where would be the fun in that?” Pries his fingers away to look. “It's only a scratch.”
Buffy decides right then that Eris is probably more creepy than Ethan. Or maybe they are equally creepy, when they both turn their heads at the same moment to look towards the front door. And then she doesn't have time to worry about it, because the demon stalks in. It doesn't really look like Jenny at all any more, open bluish sores on the elongated face, all goaty features and sneer.
Things go a little screwy after that. Eyghon goes for Ethan, Buffy swings a table. Giles comes rushing in, trying to be noble, and then the room is suddenly full of people, including the black-clad form of Angel, lunging in an open-handed tackle.
Jenny, herself again, drops to the floor, her face slack with shock.
Angel's body twists and jerks as the demonic entities fight for control...
Eris holds both hands in front of her, the knife actually hovering
between them, chants again, a rapid yet measured cadence, something that sounds more Greek than Latin.
...The blade flies across the room, hard and straight, buries itself to the hilt in his chest. The shade of Eyghon howls into dusty oblivion. And Angel just has time to look pained and astonished, before he goes up in a pillar of blue-green flame.
(The Powers and Partners alike reel in shock, entities shriek with impotent rage as they are forever denied form and being, sucked into non-existence, possible futures folding and collapsing, entire realities negated at a stroke, scrolls of prophecy reduced to so much waste paper.)
A twisted lump of metal clatters to the floor amidst the fallen ashes.