Searching High and Low

“How long was he here for?”

“Found him in the stacks, Giles; didn’t ask him questions. Little bit busy dodging the flying bookcases and fighting your dead zombie friend. That was months ago; what’s the big?”

Buffy gave Giles a puzzled look that he returned with a small, pained smile. “Of course you were, and it’s – nothing. Really.”

When she’d gone he went back to his office, where the note from Ethan lay, edges flattened from being squeezed for months in the aggressive embrace of Master Dimmock’s Herbal Remedies, six inches thick at least. Scarlet-inked words glowing softly in the dimness, luring him into reading. And it was ink; theatrically appealing thought it might have been; blood would have browned and Ethan was far too canny to leave anything that could be used against him in a spell or a charm.

It wasn’t finding the note, inserted between the pages of a book he’d had no reason to open and still wasn’t sure why he’d taken down, that had left him a messy mass of jittery anticipation.

It was the fact that at the top of the page, underlined in a careless slash of the pen, was the number four.

Giles’ gaze went from the book-cluttered walls of his office to the shelves of the library proper. Searching them would be a Herculean task.

He read the message again, this time aloud, and his lips tightened.

“This is all there is, isn’t it?” he said to the air. “You wanted me to think there were more, wanted to watch me search, frantic and desperate...why?”

“Because you would’ve been thinking about me as you did it?” Ethan said lightly.

Giles turned to face him, the paper clenched in his fist. “So why are you here so soon? What made you change your mind?”

Ethan’s mouth twisted in a smile. “I haven’t.” He stepped forward and Giles watched him shimmer and shift for a second. “I’m not even here, love.”

“Don’t call me that.”

“Why? It’s not an insult is it? Oh...perhaps it is. I’m sorry; I hadn’t realised quite how loathsome I am in your eyes. Still; a cat may look at a king, and a former lover and friend may still –”

“Leave.”

“Shan’t,” Ethan said. “And now you’ve made me behave like a child perhaps we can dispense with the aggression?”

Giles sighed. “Oh, very well,” he muttered. “Just explain to me why you left this here and what your no doubt diabolically cunning plan is.”

“You never were very good at the sarcasm, Rupert. Leave it to the professionals, hmm? I did it because I was bored, of course. Do you know how long I spent in the library waiting for you to show up? Hours. Not very industrious of you to be so late in to work.”

“It was a bloody Saturday!” Giles said, moved to protest. “And I’d been up half the night researching Eyghon and, if it makes you feel any better, trying to track you down to warn you.”

A silence feel. “Ah. Now that I didn’t expect. Odd. I feel the faintest sense of –”

“Shame?” Giles suggested acidly.

“Oh, no. Not that. Gratitude. Equally rare though in my rainbow of emotions. I suppose this is where I say thank you?”

“Don’t bother.”

“And I suppose it never occurred to you that I came here for much the same reason? To warn you?”

Giles folded his arms across his chest. “If it had I would have done just what I’m going to do now.”

“Which is?” A dark eyebrow was raised in a polite query.

“Dismiss it with a scornful, disbelieving laugh,” Giles said. “Ha. Ha. Like that.”

“I’m sorry? Was that an attempt at humour?” Ethan staggered back, hand on heart. “I think the shock might prove fatal.”

“I can but hope,” Giles said dryly.

“Now, you know you don’t mean that.”

“This summoning won’t last much longer, will it?” Giles said. “The energy required to sustain it; the risk to your corporeal body...”

“As ever, my dear, you’re completely correct.” Ethan smiled and came closer. “Suppose we call it a day, then.”

Giles blinked, taken aback by the easy capitulation. “That’s it? That’s all you wanted? A five minute chat?”

“Of course not. But I was never one to intrude.” He began to fade. “Oh, bugger. Time’s up...and Rupert?”

“Yes?”

“If you were to look under ‘E’ for ‘Ethan’, or possibly ‘C’ for Chaos, or...well, I’m sure you know how my mind works as well as I do, you might find a slightly more powerful spell that would bring me here in person. And instead of just chatting, we could – oh, fuck...”

Giles sighed and tossed the now blank piece of paper in the trash as Ethan disappeared.

“Oh, we probably would,” he murmured. “And I know just what you’ll have filed it under...And you can wait, you manipulative bastard. I’ll not dance to your tune again. You can wait...”

He held out for three days before stalking, tight-lipped and furious, to a battered copy of “The Midnight Folk” and turned to the page with the picture of Rollicum Bitem Lightfoot...



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